Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Baltimore lament

First, in the "I do believe there is life after surgery" category: This week I am starting to feel like a human being & not an experimental lab monkey. Not that the surgery was experimental, just that I've felt caged, fed, and benignly cut open (not in that order). Although lab monkeys usually don't get cut open until after the experimentation. That's what I learned on Veronica Mars this week.

Now, on to the outside world. George Weigel had an essay published in my diocesan newspaper today. He grew up in Baltimore at the same time as Nancy Pelosi, who grew up as Nancy D'Alesandro, daughter of the mayor, "Big Tommy" D'Alesandro & brother of "Young Tommy" D'Alesandro, mayor during the race riots of the 60's. He made this observation about politics, Democrats, and the Catholic Church:

"It was January 1966, and the City Council was considering an open housing bill -- a key plank in the platform of civil rights leaders. "Young Tommy" D'Alesandro, then president of the council, invited Cardinal Lawrence Shehan to testify at a public hearing on the proposed measure. The diminutive cardinal had barely gotten the first sentence out of his mouth when raucous jeers broke out, to the point where Young Tommy had the cops clear the room so the hearing could proceed.

"The Jeering of the Cardinal" was the big story for days thereafter -- a story from which some of us took an important lesson: the Catholic Church stood shoulder-to-shoulder with those deemed outside the boundaries of society's protection and concern.

It's hard to imagine Young Tommy not telling his sister about that episode, but Nancy Pelosi doesn't seem to have learned the meaning of those heady days for the 21st century - that the legislative bagttles to protect the right-to-life of the unborn, the elderly, and the handicapped, (not to mention the battle against treating human embryos as research material) are civil rights struggles in moral continuity with the civil rights struggles of the ' 60's.

The questions are the same: Who enjoys the protection of the laws? Who is inside the boundaries of the community's protection and concern? Who is safe, if some of us arrogate to ourselves the power to declare others of us outside those boundaries?

[Weigel then describes Pelosi's defense of abortion rights & her support for destructive embryonic stem cell research]

... Then there was the carefully choreographed Jan. 3 Mass at Washington's Trinity University, where Pelosi had attended college. At the speaker's invitation, the celebrant and homilist was Jesuit Father Robert Drinan -- the man who, more than anyone else, gave the moral green light for the Democratic Party to tarnish its modern civil rights record by embracing the abortion license; the man who, during his years in Congress, consistently defied the Church's settled conviction on the great civil rights issue of the day; the man who helped turn Senator Edward Kennedy from the potential champion of the pro-life cause into the dessicated, Wolsey-like specimen he is today. If Father Drinan is honorary chaplain to the Pelosi speakership, ten Nancy Pelosi has betrayed the great public lesson of the Baltimore Catechism in which we were both brought up.

I pray that my fellow-ex-Baltimorean changes her mind, but I'm not holding my breath. I'm also praying that my skepticism is misplaced."

AMEN. Maybe we should all start praying for Pelosi, Drinan, Kennedy, Biden, and the rest of the Catholic Democrats who sold their civil rights birthrights for a mess of political pottage. Part of it was the zeitgeist of the sexual revolution and the women's movement. But part of it no doubt was the hunger of second and third generation Catholic ethnics to shed their uncool allegiance to the Church and attain the respectability and power of the blue-blooded Puritan/Anglican/Episcopalians who dominated the corridors of American political power.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Visualizing Landscapes

My brother Mark is still on this coast, having walked from California to D.C. last summer with CROSSWALK AMERICA. He spent Christmas here and helped me through my immediate convalescence after surgery, giving me foot massages and tea and all the creature comforts he could think of.

Coexistence, a small literary magazine from Chicago, published his poem "VISUALIZING LANDSCAPES" in its latest issue. The poem has a Walt Whitmanesque feel to it; it's too long to transcribe completely, but I want to give a taste of it. Mark is an authentic American voice, one of the few poets I know who lives as he writes. He also reminds me of William Blake.

He writes in all caps. Coexistance also published his essay on why he does so but that's for another day.

VISUALIZING LANDSCAPES
BY "PERFESSER" MARK CREEK-WATER

I VISUALIZE LANDSCAPES

I VISUALIZE WRITE-ING ABOUT LANDSCAPES -
LANDSCAPES WHICH I HAVE EXPERIENCED WHILE
WALK-ING ACROSS AMERICA FOR MOTHER-EARTH,
AND FOR FATHER-TIME, AND FOR WORLD-PEACE...
I VISUALIZE WRITE-ING EXOTIC-EPIC POEMS,
REALISTIC-LY SURREALISTIC + SURREALISTIC-LY
REALISTIC, BEAUTY-FULL + WONDER-FULL + GLORY-FULL...

I VISUALIZE MY FRIEND + FELLOW POET GALAVANT -
ING BOHEMIAN-LY AROUND PARIS, FRANCE; EVEN
NOW AS I RECKON SUN-SHINE ALREADY SHINES ON
HIM, IN PARIS, FRANCE; WHILE DARKNESS STILL
RULES THIS EARLY-MORNING CALIFORNIA-TIME...
I VISUALIZE INDUSTRIAL-STRENGTH BEAUTY + WONDER + GLORY.

I VISUALIZE VISUALIZE-ING LANDSCAPES-WHOM-I-HAVE-KNOWN
ON-TO THIS-HERE LITTLE PAPER-PAGE,
BUT REALIZE THAT I JUST-SIMPLY CAN'T DO IT:
BECAUSE THE LANDSCAPES THEM-SELVES ARE MORE
BEAUTY-FULL + WONDER-FULL + GLORY-FULL THAN
ANY POSSIBLE VISION OR VISUALIZATION...

I VISUALIZE WALK-ING ACROSS AMERICA, AND THE USA:

I VISUALIZE WALK-ING ACROSS LANDSCAPES SO
BEAUTY-FULL THEY WILL DRIVE ME CRAZY; ME, WHO
DID YEARS-AGO CHOOSE TO NEVER-AGAIN DRIVE A
MOTOR-VEHICLE DRIVED + DRIVEN CRAZY BY
LANDSCAPES - WHO DID-NOT EVEN DRIVE, BUT JUST-
SIMPLY SAT THERE: LANDSCAPES DO-NOT NEED TO
DRIVE: BECAUSE THEY DO-NOT NEED TO GO
ANYWHERE: BECAUSE THEY _ARE_ "WHERE" - WHERE
IT'S ALL HAPPEN-ING... LANDSCAPES ARE
"PLACES" - THE ESSENCE OF "WHERE" - WHERE-EVER
YOU, OR I, OR ANY-BODY GO'S, THERE IS ALWAYS A

BEAUTY-FULL WONDER-FULL GLORY-FULL
LANDSCAPE THERE... LANDSCAPES ARE LIKE SAINTS
+ BUDDAHS: FULLY SELF-CONTAIN'D + SELF-
REALIZED: THEY DO-NOT NEED TO STRIVE TO THRIVE
OR TO STRUGGLE TO SURVIVE OR TO STRESS +
STRAIN TO OVER-COME PAIN, LIKE WE DO;
LANDSCAPES ARE ALWAYS THERE, ETERNAL-LY,
WITHOUT EVER EVEN LIFT-TING A FINGER ...

I VISUALIZE WALK-ING ACROSS THESE LANDSCAPES,
AS I AM NOMAD + I AM MIGHTY + I AM FREE; SO SEE
MEE WALKK...AND HEAR ME ROAR, + SING, + LAUGH,
+ WHISTLE HAPPY TUNES, AS I WALK...

I VISUALIZE WRITE-ING RE THE LANDSCAPES WHERE I
WALK, AS IF I AND THE LANDSCAPES ARE A UNIFY'D
FIELD-OF-THOUGHT.

I VISUALIZE MY THOUGHTS AS LANDSCAPES:
INTERIOR LANDSCAPES, INSIDE MY MIND, IF INDEED I
ACTUALLY HAVE A MIND...

I VISUALIZE THOUGHT IT-SELF AS LANDSCAPES: AS
BOTH INTERIOR + EXTERIOR LANDSCAPES, EVERY-
WHERE, DEMONSTRATE-ING THAT, AS WE SAY, "WE
ARE ALL CONNECTED" ...

I VISUALIZE MYSELF WRITE-ING MORE + MORE +
MORE + MORE WORDS, UNTIL THE WORDS SOUND-
LIKE GIBBERISH - PERHAPS THEY ALREADY DO-
SOUND LIKE GIBBERISHTO YOU ...

I VISUALIZE SOMEBODY SPEAK-ING CHINESE OR
MALAYSIAN OR NIGERIAN OR NAVAJO OR FINNISH,
AND IT SOUNDS LIKE GIBBERISH TO ME, BUT SOUNDS
PERFECT-LY OK TO SOME-BODY WHO UNDERSTANDS
THAT LANGUAGE: AND ALL-OF-US, WHAT-EVER
LANGUAGE WE UNDERSTAND OR FAIL-TO
UNDERSTAND, WE CAN APPRECIATE LANDSCAPES,
RIGHT??

I VISUALIZE MY-SELF WRITE-ING THE GREAT-EST
PROSE-POEM IN THE ENGLISH-LANGUAGE - WHICH
WILL-BE SPOKEN-WORDED AT POETRY-READINGS +
PRINTED IN BOOKS, DURING THE NEXT 10,000 YEARS:
WELL, PERHAPS... PERHAPS NOT: BUT HEY- A GUY
CAN STILL VISUALIZE IT, RIGHT??

I VISUALIZE STAND-ING UP + TELL-ING MY HIGH-
SCHOOL ENGLISH-RHETORIC TEACHER "WHAT DO
YOU MEAN I CAN'T WRITE LIKE THIS?? YES, I CAN;
AND I WILL..."

I VISUALIZE THE SUN RISE-ING UP AND KICK-ING THE
DARK-NESS'S BUTT, AS I JUST-NOW LOOK'D UP + DID
SEE THE DAWN'S EARLY LIGHT:

I VISUALIZE EVERY DAY AS A BRAND-NEW DAY,
WHERE ANY-THING IS POSSIBLE.

I VISUALIZE WALK-ING HUNDREDS OF MILES, THRU
RAINS IN FOOT+KNEE+HIP, ACROSS COUNTIES +
STATES, GROW-ING STRONG-ER BONES + JOINTS +
TENDONS + LIGAMENTS + MUSCLES; AS IN DEED I
ALREADY DID...

I VISUALIZE WALK-ING UP TO THE NESA-TOP + THEN
ACROSS THE MESA + THEN DOWN THE OTHER SIDE +
THEN ACROSS THE HARSH DESERT BETWEEN THE
MESA: AS IN DEED I ALREADY DID...FROM THE MESA-TOP
I LOOK TOWARD THE HARSH DESERT DOWN-
BELOW AND VISUALIZE IT AS IF IT MIGHT-BE OCEAN-
WATER, AS I RECKON MANY YEARS AGO, DURING
GEOLOGICAL TIMES, PERHAPS, THE OCEAN DID FLOOD
THIS LAND... IF SO, THEN THE MESAS MIGHT-HAVE
BEEN ISLANDS, SURROUNDED BY SALTY-WATER...

I VISUALIZE WALKING ACROSS AMERICA FOR
MOTHER-EARTH + FOR NUCLEAR-DISARMAMENT, +
FOR HOUSING-NOW (!) + FOR GLOBAL-PEACE, + FOR
FAMILY-SPIRIT + FOR HOLY-WEEK, + FOR BAY-AREA
SHELL-MOUNDS: AS IN DEED I ALREADY DID...

I VISUALIZE WALKING THRU THE COAST-RANGE; + TO
THE BEACH; + ACROSS THE MOUNTAINS; + ACROSS
THE PRAIRIES, AND TO THE OCEAN, WHITE WITH
FOAM; AND I VISUALIZE WALK-ING ON BRAND-NEW
METRO-AREA SUBURBAN SIDEWALKS, AND FINDING
IN A TRASH-DUMPSTER BY A CONVENIENCE-STORE
HUNDREDS OF CHOCOLATE CANDY-BARS, LIKE
HERSHEY-BARS + MILKY-WAY BARS + 3-MUSKETEER
BARS + MORE, LIKE, 6 INCHES DEEP ON THE BOTTOM
OF THE TRASH-DUMPSTER; AS IN DEED I ALREADY
DID...

LANDSCAPES: I WALKED BY MANY LANDSCAPES: SO
DID YOU:
LANDSCAPES ARE, LIKE, EVERY-WHERE, RIGHT??

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Nobody gets out of here alive

Thirty-five years ago or so, I got into a discussion with my cousin Cecelia about whether or not a person who had the talent to become, say, an exceptional brain surgeon also had a responsibility to pursue that calling. Did they owe it to themself and the rest of us to fulfill that potential, or would it be okay to turn their back on that potential and live a minimalist, self-sufficient life doing whatever the heck they wanted to do?

Cecelia argued in favor of each person being obliged to live up to their potential, for the benefit of all. I argued that just because you COULD do marvelous things with the talents you'd been given, you did not HAVE to develop your talents and put them to use for the common good. If you thought that you could be happier living the life of a hermit or a bum, then you should go for it.

I was an atheist at the time we had that discussion. Later on, after coming back to the Church, I developed an understanding of vocation but I never re-visited the question Cecelia and I had discussed.

As I approach my retirement after 27 years at the University, I am thinking again about that question. Life is hard. Death is inevitable. We all have gifts and talents. But vanity of vanities, all is vanity; in the end we pass on barely leaving a footprint in the sands of time.

What's it all about, Alfie?

Every Catholic baby boomer remembers the Baltimore catechism's first lesson:

Q: Why did God make me?
A: God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.

A good deal of the interior difficulties I have experienced during my recuperation from surgery has to do with the realization of how inevitable and how close in time (relatively speaking) is my own death. While I have always been able to see the intrinsic value of the lives of those that I love, it is a different matter when it comes to perceiving the intrinsic value of my own life.

I'm feeling a bit like Zelig in that Woody Allen movie. I can blend into any environment. And just as easily, I can eliminate myself and fade into oblivion.

I was praying the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary today and my meditation kept coming back to Jesus on the brink of death. As St. Paul says, we preach Christ crucified, and what a long, strange trip it is to Calvary. A long, strange trip that we all must make.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Poem for january 2007

Following on my last post, here's a poem I wrote years ago, that most expresses how I'm feeling at the moment. It's not a poem I understand, but it has a power for me that most of my poems do not. I am running on a blade at the moment, and need to embrace the alcoholic's prayer: change what I can, accept what I cannot, and for the sake of all that's sacred suss out the difference between the two.

Oh, and I have started dreaming again of writing...
*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*

In the age of the blue madonna
(for Jess)

Each morning - may I have a cracker please? -
as befalls a pregnant woman, glucose levels strained,
I awaken to the craving for endorphins.

Each day for morning prayer I misremember
lessons taught in desert sands & gothic stone
cathedrals, droughty wastes & massive structures
only minimally fit for lovely water-bearer's child.

Not that the grand accomplishment of science
erodes; but that the slow, grand, tidal flood
of fatal femme blue consciousness makes clean
dark waters pouring with salvific flow
in time of need: Madonna's tides.

No wonder the morning sickness never ends,
that of the flat grey ash-filled air
the Fathers left behind, neglecting
the basic housekeep chores, imagining, perhaps

that we the wifely helpmeets would not stop
knee scrub & dust & make it tidy for their reasoned
wants, assist them to contain the luminescence
spilled in gathering folds around the lap of Earth.

No garment will this seamstress cut to business
boxy shape; but free-released the fabric flows
in male & female couplings, patterned to blitz
the ancient itchy fig-leaf haute couture,
& stun the limber serpent, with blue age stone reserves.

black hats & white hats & dull gray mousy hats



I'm still in a cranky, rebellious mode WRT my convalescence. So I've been reading fan fiction from Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe. Then watching Buffy videos on You Tube. Right now I am focusing on Drusilla, the devout young woman driven insane by Angelus as he slaughtered first all of her family and then all the nuns in the convent on the day of her profession, before siring her as a vampire. All very Byronic stuff, with 18th-century gowns and wimples and carriages and raging fire.

Drusilla was introduced in Season 2 of Buffy, the Nancy in the Sid and Nancy romantic doomed couple Spike and Drusilla. Although Spike went on to have a longer character arc, his story was never as compelling as when he was Drusilla's adoring, sarcastic, evil lover. These two were the epitome of artistic "good evil" characters, villains we love to hate and hate to love but do.

What examples are there of bad evil characters? All the best villains who come to mind in fiction are like Drusilla and Spike -- compelling because of the joy they take in doing evil, and the sadness of their knowledge of and regret for their own damnation. Villains in fiction are the "great sinners" that Augustine talks of, the folks Jesus prefers to those who are lukewarm in their affections.

Passion. The passion of the lover. The passion of the Christ. The fierce commitment to good or evil. The aspect of fallen human nature that we most need to keep under the control of reason. The aspect of redeemed humanity that makes us like our Creator.

Fire. Passion. Fiction's job is to untether our passions and let them take us to heaven and to hell, while in real life the last thing in the world we want is to live 24/7 with a passionate companion. We are comfortable when our saints and our sinners keep a distance, and let us turn them off and on by the click of a remote or the closing of the pages of a book.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Histostem: hope for ethical stem cell therapies

It's 2007 and that means the pro-human embryonic stem cell research (pro
-hESCR) folks are out in full regalia introducing local and federal legislation to use human embryos as research material.

Besides trying to convince people of good will that using embryos for spare parts is wrong, I am following up on the progress of Histostem, the South Korea cord blood researchers doing clinical trials for a variety of therapies.
When their chief financial officer Y.S. Kye came to Delaware last year, I was impressed by his realism and lack of hype. He and I talked about what a disadvantage non-US researchers were at simply because they did not come from the Promised Land. Add to that the scandal of his fellow South Korean falsely reporting cloning success, and you can see that it's not easy being a non-US scientist doing non-embryonic stem cell research.

So I'm going to collate some information on Histostem and its efforts. I would like to help YS Kye find partners in the US research community. In particular, if a reputable Delaware hospital or a high-profile patient got involved with Histostem, it could be the proverbian "win-win" situation. But everyone is skeptical, and with good reason. Its hard to separate hype from hope in such a politically charged biotech environment.

So first, here's the resume of the two chief officers of Histostem:

Dr. Hoon Han, M.D., Ph.D., Co-Founder, Chairman of the Board of Directors. He served as Executive Director of Catholic University of Korea Umbilical Cord Bank, and Executive Director of Catholic University of Korea Hematopoietic Stem Cell Bank, Seoul, Korea from 1994 to 2002. He was a professor in and Chairman for the Department of Microbiology, College of Medicine at the Catholic University of Korea from 1986 to 2002. He serves on several professional associations including as Secretary of the Korean Journal of Biological Response Modifiers since 1999, Vice President of Korean Society for Biomaterials since 1998, Member of International
Society for Experimental Hematology since 1999, and Member of American Society for Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics since 1991. He received his Ph.D. in Microbiology from the Catholic University of Korea in 1988; Medical Doctor in Medicine from the Catholic University of Korea in 1979; an
]d Masters Degree in Microbiology from the Catholic University of Korea in 1981.

Prior to founding Histostem-Korea, Dr. Han was the Chairman of the Department of Microbiology in the College of Medicine at the Catholic University of Korea from 1986-2002. Also at the Catholic University of Korea, Dr. Han was the Executive Director of the Hematopoietic Stem Cell Bank and the Umbilical Cord Blood Bank. Dr. Han and Histostem-Korea originated and developed a method for extracting stem cells from human umbilical cord blood.

Chief Financial Officer (CFO):

Mr. Yung-Su, Kye is responsible for the Company’s finance and strategic planning and policies, comprising of strategic financial planning and auditing. Prior to joining Histostem, Mr. Kye was the Managing Director and CFO of Haitai Confectionery Co., Ltd., Korea’s second largest food and confectionery manufacturing company, from 2001 – 2005 and served as Vice President, CFO and HR Director of Doosan Seagram (now Diageo Korea) from 2000 to 2001. Mr. Kye was the Executive Director of Finance
(CFO) for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals Korea Ltd. for ten years, from 1990 to 2000. Mr. Kye also worked at Ford Motor Company in the U.S. and LG (now GS) Construction Co. in Korea. Mr. Kye holds a master’s degree in Management from Northwestern University’s J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management and a Master’s degree in Mass Communication from University of Minnesota’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

Monday, January 08, 2007

there IS life after surgery (or: my so-called Christmas vacation)

What's the good, the bad and the ugly about spending your Christmas vacation recovering from total hip replacement? That's the question I had answered for myself this past month since my last entry.

The good -- everyone is home for the holidays rather than at work or at school, so if you get it done on December 18 like I did, you have a maximum amount of help at home. Bill's last day of the fall semester was December 14, so I had his undivided attention during surgery and afterwards. That was good.

Also you don't have to fret over holiday cooking, cleaning or gift-giving, you do the best you can before the surgery date and after that you leave it for everyone else. Since I perpetually sweat it over how to celebrate Christmas or The Shopping Season That Fuels the Rest of the Year's Economy, this was good.

The bad -- The drugs were not all that I had hoped for. In my old age I seem to have become overly sensitive to opiates, so morphine and percoset and their ilk made me pukey and nauseous most of the time. So it was six of one, half dozen of another when it came to pain. The ex-hippie in me was hoping that legal drugs would be the only up side to recovery, but alas it was not to be.

The ugly -- being unwell sucks. You can't pray, you can't read, you can't socialize, you can't look forward, your world turns into hours of endurance punctuated by the smallest joys, like taking your first post-op shower. It's not for nothing that most of Jesus' miracles involved healing the sick. Unless you are living in starvation-level poverty, the poorest healthy person has a better life than the richest sick person. I am reminded again of how the whole caregiving/care-receiving cycle mimics the fall and redemption of humankind. We are fragile, we forget how fragile we are, we are dependent on the kindness of others, we are all connected to one another and to creation, and all creation is still laboring to reveal the sons of God, as St. Paul writes.