The Curious Allure of Suicide

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With all this debate on healthcare reform and with much speculation about killing off grandma, I was reminded that more than 32,000 American adults take their lives every year.   That’s right; 32,000 Americans elect suicide, annually.   This may seem like a lot but when compared to other parts of the world, America falls somewhere in the middle of the rankings.   Here is one place where we are definitely not number one.

In fact, Lithuania is the league leader with 68 suicides per hundred thousand people.  Russia has 38 suicides for every hundred thousand people.   There are in fact enough suicides in Eastern Europe that is considered either a hallowed tradition of a cultural problem.   Take your pick.  France has a significant suicide, rate, as does Japan.  In China, the odd thing is more women commit suicide than men.   And so it goes down the line with suicides increasing around the world.

As with anything else there are the doers and the dreamers.   According to a new American survey, millions contemplate suicide and even go as far as to make plans to do themselves in.   Over eight million adults, in fact, at least admitted to giving it serious thought.  Two million or about a quarter of them went so far as the planning stages.

So around the world, there is a varied but definite allure to leaving this planet once and for all.   Some I’m sure are choosing their own demise for physical reasons to avoid the pain for themselves and others due to fatal disease.  But these are the relative few.   For some it is the pain of the world, the desire to no longer endure another day of isolation, humiliation, frustration and the overall feeling the world is a lousy place to dwell.   For some it may be some romantic notion, the supposed domain of artists and poets who end their lives and leave behind an enduring legacy.  Or not.

For some it may be the  offbeat notions of  Hermann Hesse’s  1920’s novel, Steppenwolf, that regained such popularity in the counter culture of the ’60’s.   The novel, dormant to some degree in this period, will make a reappearance every now and then.  Provided people can still read.    The novel defined partly by metaphysics and partly in an existential toxic relation with the world, had the lead character opt for suicide so that he could be reborn.  Until, in the case of the novel, he had second thoughts.

In any event, suicide has its own curious allure.   There is a culture built around it, and a worldwide fascination, combining the lure of its comforts with the repugnance of the act itself.   We can understand the act, in general, but are shocked when someone opts out by their own hand.   It is like there is some built in, chemical mechanism that causes us to flirt with ending our own lives while at the same time finding the act deplorable and even sinful.

The attraction of suicide goes far beyond the attractions of, say, illicit love with another person’s spouse.  Yet we may feel more guilty about an contemplating extramarital affair than contemplating suicide.    Is it that one we find so remote and ephemeral while the other is so visceral and viable?   It’s hard to say.

But for sure suicide is here to stay.  As the world grows more complex and fewer find they have the tools, the headset, the emotional makeup to deal with the planet’s dramatic changes, the suicide rate will continue to increase.   On a personal level, if it is someone close to us, we will wonder why they decided to take their lives.   We will consider the finality and recoil in horror as we speculate on their pain and frustration.  But we will also understand it.   For us, as well as others, suicide will always pose a curious allure.    Like sex, it is an urge we will confront one way or another.

Unlike the few million who responded in the survey, if we do consider suicide we will probably keep it to ourselves.

When You Wear Pants In Sudan

women in pants

I have also quoted Ayaan Hirsi Ali.  Ali for the less informed Ali grew up in the draconian circumstances of her native Somalia where she was forced to endure genital mutilation and the ignominies of an arranged marriage.   She managed to flee to the Netherlands where she became a political activist and criticized Islam.  Among other things,  books, papers, etc.,  she wrote the screenplay and appeared in the controversial film, by Dutch director, Theo Van Gogh.   Van Gogh faced harsh criticism for his film and was  ultimately assassinated by a religious zealot.  Subsequently, Ali received numerous death threats.  She lives in seclusion under the protection of the Dutch government.

Anyway, among her writings, the quote I so remember is that “The West refuses to recognize the obvious.”   This statement in stark in its simplicity and so very true.   It brings to bear Western History in the 20th Century where strategies of appeasement and distraction threatened the collapse of civilization as we know it.   And once again, we are confronted by similar challenges.

I am reminded of all this because of the recent instance where a a Sudanese court fined a Sudanese woman $200.00 for wearing pants in public.    A woman wearing pants in the 21st Century?  Who could imagine such a thing?  Surely the woman, Lubna Hussein, a notable journalist, is no shrinking violet.      She is an educated woman who tested the law and understood the ramifications of her act.   The penalty could have included jail time and the traditional forty lashes.   Some places just love their traditions.   I guess it is one thing to sing Happy Birthday, and quite another to deliver forty lashes for wearing pants.  But in this case with the world watching, the judge expressed his leniency by merely handing down a fine.

Islamic law calls for women to dress modestly.   In countries where Islamic law is in fact the law, the laws should be obeyed.   We would expect the same here.  Or do we?   But in Islamic countries, traditions and laws are such that any real interference other than lip service results in invasions and nation building, and we have seen throughout history where that gets us.

I really find it hard to take issue that these laws are preserved with only a smattering amount of protest that is often mitigating by social pressure and outright fear for one’s well being.   Nevertheless,  it is their country and their laws, and it is up to their people to compel changes, if they so see fit.   There are, after all, issues of sovereignty.

However, with that being said, there is a major distinction between being critical of such practices and wanting to go to war over them.   There is a distinction between tolerating nations for what they do within their own borders and pretending we can tolerate it in the Western world.   This is the breakdown.   This is where the West in its pandering to other cultures refuses to recognize the obvious.   These practices are archaic at best, often barbaric and perpetuate sexual subjugation that we didn’t tolerate in our darker moments, before women had the vote or the right to make a decent wage.

We fake it.  We pay lip service to ideas that we really can’t stand.   We pretend that draconian issues require our understanding and we try to engage those who willfully and wantonly reinforce this culture.   Simply put, we have given these practices enough credibility that cultures who practice the subjugation of women can somehow behave that way within Western borders.

We read periodically about men living here who kill and beat their wives because of the perceived shame they bring the family.    We read about the guy who destroyed his TV because it was showing a woman’s bare legs.   We pretend this is understandable and that those whom emigrate to the West and fail to adopt to Western culture are somehow practicing their ethnicity.    Yeah, if it means following certain dietary customs.   But it is not okay when men, especially men, can’t get used to the idea that their women have a greater freedom of movement in the West.   That we can in fact criticize damn near anything with relative impunity, based on our constitutional rights.

We are the product of the Age of Reason.  It is often forgotten here.   We cling to our own arcane traditions, or what we believe are traditions, ignoring the thoughts and practices of our founding fathers.   We praise them, vaunt them, but we really don’t have a clue or sense of the age they came from.  But nevertheless, it was The Age of Reason.  The Age when people quested after science, a logic.

So while we are unified as human being in one world, we are not unified by a single set of beliefs.   And while we can tolerate the beliefs found in other nations, we don’t have to accept them as our own, make excuses for our own way of thinking, or  pretend we are more equanimous than we actually are.   We aren’t.   We prefer what we have to what others have.   We want to practice as we see fit and wear our pants around our heads if we so choose it.   We don’t care for restrictions about religion.   Hell, we don’t have much tolerance for dress codes.   We like our women in blue jeans.

Hey, it’s obvious.

Obesity and Healthcare Reform

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While everyone rants and raves on one side or the other about healthcare reform, little is said about one major contributing factor to the outrageous cost of healthcare.   Fat people.   I know it is a term that makes everyone flinch as it is no longer politically correct.   There are other terms to use instead, full figure being one of my favorites, but at the end of the day there are only two real terms that apply.   The first is obesity.   The second is fat.

That’s right–fat.   We are a fat country.  We are a nation that eats like pigs.   We have more all you can eat buffets in this country than anywhere else in the world.  Maybe we have more all you can eat buffets than there are in the rest of the entire world combined.   We stuff food into ourselves as if we were loading up to hibernate in the winter.   We got to the big buffets and just pile food on top of food until our oversized plate looks absolutely grotesque with its oddball combination of food, laid out this way and that.  We put the smoked salmon with the pork chops, the pizza with the chocolate souffle.   We would put our ice cream on our T-Bone steak if most buffets didn’t extend the hospitality of a dessert plate.   We eat cabbage and crustaceans with equal glee.  We don’t care.  As long as it is food.  Dump it on and stuff it down.

And while food is relatively cheap in this country our binge overeating formula and guide to what we call happiness does not come without a price tag.  In fact, our eating habits are quite expensive.  Two thirds of our country is overweight and 25 to 30% are seriously obese.  Fat.  A walking health danger.

According to a non-profit study from RTI International and The Center for Disease Control,  spend 42% more in healthcare costs, about $1,500, than people of normal weight.    In all, we spend  $147 Billion, annually, to provide medical care to fat people.   Obesity now accounts for 9.1 of all medical spending.  That’s right.  Nearly ten cents out of every dollar spent on healthcare is being spent to take care of fat people.    What obesity does to create heart and cardiovascular problems can make your head spin.    Unfortunately, it doesn’t make the belly tighten.  The high risk of certain cancers may result in that form of extreme weight loss.

Additionally, it has been reported on WEBMD.Com that obesity can lead to brain loss.  The brain may actually atrophy because someone is too damn fat.   And then there is, for the bonus plan, an increased risk of dementia.

It would seem that this damning evidence combating obesity should not merely be a suggestion.  Obese people should be penalized and forced to pay more for their indulgence.   Better, still, if they lost weight, but that would mean self-denial and increased discipline, and we are hardly a nation for that, anymore.

So before we start worrying about pulling the plug on grandma and some other arcane, if not insane ideas, that have popped their little pus heads on the public scene during the past couple of months, maybe we should concern ourselves with the reality of our own condition and get to work on that.   Eat better.  Eat less.   And move around some.  Who knows, you may even get to like it.

Texas Secession Just Won’t Succeed

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I used to live in Texas.  I lived in Austin, and I lived in Houston.   I served, if that is the term, in the Army Corps of Engineers, defending Houston from the floods occurring from the torrential downpours and the sudden rising of  the rivers, bayous, and sloughs.    It was a different era, back when.   But I enjoyed that period of my life and my time in the Lone Star State.

Two things always struck me about Texas.  The first, and most important, is how easily Texas is misrepresented.  Its artists and intellectuals are often overlooked.  The average Yankee does not think of Texas as a particularly literate place or a  place where you have passionate supporters of the arts.   Texas moderates and liberals are ignored as the focus the responsible conservatives and the unpredictable extreme right wing fringe.  All right, call them nut jobs.

The second thing that struck me in Texas is how it seemed any more traditional Texan can proudly boast with or without any prompting that when Texas seceding from the Union, in that War of Northern Aggression, better known as the American Civil War, it never officially returned to that Union.    There was never a formal agreement, just acknowledgment by proxy that Texas was once again a  part of the United States.

The  impromptu Texas historians will wax on how Texas can print its own money if it wants and make laws that ignore or override Federal statutes.    It is only by choice, they say, that Texas remains in the Union.    Otherwise, should it decided and its Hasta La Vista, Baby, for the Lone Star State.

Okay, for decades this bit of rhetoric was mere conjecture.   It was a mark of pride, that rugged individual spirit that allowed  Texans to conquer the range, drill for oil, and construct  sub-divisions on every foot of that formerly open range the blowhards still reminisce about.     It was talk.   It was the talk of  guys with belt buckles the size of serving dishes and women with beehives  and bras that stood in rugged defiance to gravity.   It was harmless.    Anyone who was forced to listen, nodded “Yeah,” and then went on their happy way.

Not now.  Now there is actual talk of secession.   That’s right, in case you hadn’t heard, and few haven’t, there are Texans making noises about leaving the Union once and for all.   I would say these are unbalanced Texas, but one of the initial advocates or, more than likely, big talkers was Texas’  Governor, Rick Perry.  Rather than accept that dirty federal bailout money, Perry threatened to lead Texas into a new era of independence.  Rather than deal with the creeping tide of socialism, Perry proposed he pick up the Lone Star State and move it all the way back to Texas.

Sane people, albeit moderates and conservatives alike, all commonly bound by mutual recognition of common sense and sanity, looked askance at the Governor.   Some questions, with Texas facing the same lousy economy as everyone else, why he would leave good federal money on the table.   Socialist money or not.

Conservative politicians such as Kay Baily Hutchinson called for “more enlightened leadership in Texas.”  She termed the secessionist issue “silly,”  and said the party leadership is lacking and requires immediate change.   Hutchinson also announced she was planning to run for Governor.

With all that being said, and with Hutchinson being a stalwart in Texas politics, you would think the secessionist nonsense would die down.  It hasn’t.  If anything it has grown stronger.   It has provided living proof that nut jobs will gather around anything without forethought of consequence or the ramifications.   There is now the Texas National Movement.  There is a website, Texas Secede.   There are any number of numb skulls thinking this is actually a solution to the economy and well being of the State and not merely a means of adding to the woe and dissolution.

What seems to be forgotten here is that the federal government already provides the State of Texas with a ton of money.   The money is allocated for health and human services.   There is federal money for education, for business development.   There is  federal money for the interstates and other road.   There is  federal money for the Texas National Guard.   There is federal money for the legal system, for law enforcement, for fueling the Governor’s car as he prepares to embark on this intrepid journey.

The federal government has provided Texas in the year 2008 to 2009 with over $50 billion in funding.   One could argue that this is money from the federal socialist program that would corrupt good old Americans who wish to live independently.   But the sad fact remains that in the year 2006 to 2007  the federal government had the audacity to deposit some $49 billion in the Texas coffers.   A dastardly move if there ever was one.

So for the blowhards and nut jobs that keep talking about secession, they should give this a moment’s thought.  They should think about the money they would be losing and then concern themselves with maintenance and upkeep of their roads, communications systems, education systems, law enforcement, and military that, at least in part, anyway, fall under the federal purview.   The Texas Nationalists what fate would have in store for a state too short sighted to realize the error of its ways.

I would not be the only one to predict that most people in Texas are far too sane to secede from the Union.  Most thinking people do not to wish to return to a bygone era that is best left as a bygone era.   Clearly, most Texans have attained a level of maturity to recognize a really bad deal when they see it.    As for those who actually believe secession is a good idea, there is a lot of space still remaining in Texas.   Obviously, in some cases that space rests between the ears.