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Michael Jackson will be remembered, most likely, as a shattered icon, a pop genius who wound up a mutant of fame. That’s not who I will remember, however. His mixture of mystery, isolation, indulgence, overwhelming global fame, and personal loneliness was intimately known to me. For twenty years I observed every aspect, and as easy as it was to love Michael — and to want to protect him — his sudden death yesterday seemed almost fated.
Improvement is a simple, natural impulse — everyone wants to see a better life for his family and society. But when you add the ingredient of sin, improvement becomes clouded. Is it an improvement to deny women education and health care, to dictate what they wear in public, and to regard them as inferior beings? To the Taliban and the clerics in Iran, those ideas are considered steps on the road to an Islamic paradise. But every society dominated by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam has had to struggle with the notion of sinfulness. The supposed sinfulness of women, as many Muslims see it, is that the mere sight of a woman inflames sexual passion and arouses temptation, thus pulling men away from God.
Theocracy and Democracy in Iran– Given the election-related turmoil in the Islamic Republic of Iran, can democracy ever take hold in a theocracy? How should the Obama administration respond to the disputed election and to Iran’s ruling clerics?
To someone outside the Muslim world, the ideal of a pure Islamic state looks like a reactionary form of repression. The contradictions between a modern state and one based on the Quran, a divinely inspired document from the seventh century, are simply too great. The issue of theocracy comes down to that. Even though over 70% of Iranians are in favor of electing their supreme leader, a democratically chosen dictator remains a dictator, and the vexing problems of modern life will still be filtered through medieval dictates.
A recent cover story in a struggling news magazine, under the title “Crazy Talk:” accuses Oprah Winfrey of spreading “dubious advice” in a wide range of health issues from menopause and hormone replacement therapy to autism, cancer, aging, and weight loss. The tone of the article was the same tiresome blend of gotcha journalism and selective fact-reporting that fills tabloid coffers.
The issue of Iran’s nuclear threat escalates every day, but it is already wearisome — one more threat to add to a pile that’s too high already. Several weeks ago Iran launched a solid fuel missile capable of striking Israel. Reading the news, I felt Cold War déjà vu. Anyone who grew up in the Fifties, even in India, had no choice but to feel like the arms race was a matter of life and death for the whole planet.
Now we have a choice. Either history will repeat itself or we will learn from it. That is, either Iran will be treated like a mini-Soviet Union, a nation of bogeymen with deeply evil intentions, or we will find another way.
What should be done when parents rely on religion instead of medicine to heal sick children?
This is a column about optimism and why there’s reason to feel it. Over the weekend one of the news shows referred to “morning in America.” That was Ronald Reagan’s call to optimism thirty years ago. The country was demoralized and just beginning to come out of a long recession. The point of bringing up Reagan’s slogan is that in many ways he promised a false dawn while Barack Obama is promising a real one.
Thursday is National Day of Prayer, as mandated by Congress. What should President Obama do? Should he follow tradition and sign a ceremonial proclamation? Should he follow President George W. Bush’s practice of hosting a formal White House event? Should he ignore it completely?
It seems clear that the question of torture won’t go away. It would be easier to talk about moving ahead. Images of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo belong in nightmares. As a physician, my personal nightmare is of the doctors who stood by during torture sessions to monitor the victim’s vital signs. This was supposed to be humane, but what about the Hippocratic oath, which says that a doctor shall do no harm? Is making sure that waterboarding doesn’t cause a heart attack doing no harm? The whole rationale is grotesque.
This is one of those moments when painful truth is the only way to heal.
A new poll has brought some welcome new. When asked, “Do you think the country is headed in the right direction?” more responders say yes than no. This is in stark contrast to the latter stages of the Bush administration, when the no’s were mounting to unheard-of levels, past 80%. The headline says that Pres. Obama’s honeymoon isn’t over, but this poll means something more.
It’s about the melodrama of meltdown.