A Good Death — Ebola and Sacrifice — NEJM

A Good Death — Ebola and Sacrifice — NEJM.



You know, we all kind of live the life like the guy in Memento. His memory fractured time in such a way he couldn’t piece life together. He would remind himself of something that happened and restructure the memory anew, fictionalizing it. We do the same thing. For example, I just had this great insight into this recurring human theme: redemption. Atonement.

I made my slow way home
Limping on broken bones
Out of the thickest pine
Across the county lines
On to your wooden stairs
I know you can repair
I know you’ve seen the light
I know you’ll get me right

Get Me Right, Dashboard Confessional

We love this shit. We love thinking we redeem ourselves. Whether it’s through Christ or hard work or forgiveness or music or whatever. This trope connects with us. I listen to this song and just feel like yeah, that connects with me. But was thinking of redemption as a trope my idea?

I probably heard it somewhere, on a podcast, logged it away, and recall only part of the memory. Now I create a back story to fill in the blanks, and bam. I just had original thought. Nope.

Fat and Salt

FatFaeriesLast week was my first day in cadaver lab.  It was by far the coolest experience I’ve had thus far in medical school.  How very grateful I am for those kind people who donated their bodies to the University Medical school so we could practice and learn skills and techniques to help others in the future.

That said, several of the cadavers, including ours, possessed an incredible amount of adipose tissue (read:  fat).  It is the grossest tissue there is.  It’s yellow, buttery, and smelly.  It seriously looked like a bit vat of butter right underneath the skin on one cadaver.    Fat is vital for survival in small quantities, yet most americans now carry around more than they need.  And to their detriment.  Hence the topic of this blahrg.

Lately, I’ve been trying to get healthy, and so should you.  That means exercise, (at least thirty minutes of moderate activity a day), eating less salt (about a teaspoon or less a day), losing weight (having a BMI around 23), eating plenty of vegetables and fruit, among others.  Now, these are simple changes, but sometimes hard to implement.  Along with that, there are also about a trillion people offering advice as fact about what diet to use or what new fad will change everything.  Most of it is bullshit.  Let me say just a couple things:  First, weight loss happens by changing your caloric intake.  It is extremely hard to lose weight by exercise alone.  Someone who walks briskly for an hour, depending on his or her weight, may only burn a couple hundred calories.  That’s an Oreo cookie.  Exercise is vital, but should really be for cardiovascular exercise, and not the sole tool of weight loss.

Second, we gotta cut down on salt.  Cutting down salt, lowering blood pressure through exercise and healthy eating and possibly medication, refraining from or stopping smoking, and losing weight, all dramatically reduce the risk for stroke.  Dramatically.  Smokers can be back to baseline within about five years, and other health benefits start almost immediately.  Removing salt from the diet prevents cardiovascular problems that ultimately end in stroke or heart attack.  And losing weight does it all.

Let’s be healthier guys.  For all our sakes.  Let’s quit the bad habits and increase the good.  We can lose weight gradually, but the other crap let’s fix today.

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The University of Utah

6-957758-1You scattered few of my readers, thank you for checking back at The Blahrg.com.  You alone have noticed I have been away for several months.  Where you might ask?  Graduating from that religious institution known as Brigham Young University.  Yes, I am a college graduate.  And not an Honors Thesis too soon.  How great it feels to be done, and to be free of the dogmatic fetters I have known so long.  Am I grateful to my alma mater?   Of course!  BYU has given me so many intellectual experiences, they are uncountable.  I would be selfish should I not express my sincere thanks.  Yet I cannot help but breathe a sigh of relief to finally move on and embrace new challenges.  Onward, and forward I say (tongue in cheek).

I have also been busy getting accepted to medical school.  I was accepted at several gracious and respectable institutions, the pinnacle being University of Utah Medical School, where I will be attending.  I am extremely excited to be at such a fine institution, and to be close to home, and to not pay over $40,000 a year in t


uition (although my own dues will barely be less than that, unfortunately).  No matter, I am on my way to medicine.  Funnily enough, I was recently declined health insurance for the pettiest of reasons, and I find great irony that as a legitimate medical student I cannot get private health insurance.  Go Obamacare, go.

So thanks again for your patience, stalwart readers.  The few of you have more blahrgs to look forward to again

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Why a bridge of faith?Hemingway has quickly become one of my favorite writers.  His terse prose is appealing to me, as he writes simply the events that take place as his narrator encounters them.  His characters are believable, which makes the dialogue between them clever, funny, and, at times, poignant.

This book, The Sun Also Rises, is in part an unrequited love story, and at the same time much more than that.  It is about the disenchanted lives of a group of young Americans after the first World War.  Jake, the protagonist, injured from his stint in the military, is haplessly in love with the frivolous Lady Ashley, who plays on Jake’s feelings for her by taking advantage of him time and time again.  Their group of friends decide to take a trip to Spain to watch the bull fights at Pamplona.  Most of the story unfolds around their witnessing of the bull fights, their dinners and lunches throughout the festival, and their drunken revelations as they face their vulnerabilities.

Mostly, I loved the dialogue in this book.  If only I were a writer and could be as cunning as one of Hemingway’s characters.  At one point, Ashley has brought up a count to Jake’s room.  As they drink an expensive bottle of wine, Jakes says to the count, “You ought to write a book on wines, count.”  The count replies, “Mr. Barnes, all I want out of wines is to enjoy them.”  At once, the importance of living in the moment is brought home.  It rings true both to the reader as an applicable bit of advice, and to a man whose generation was forced to live in the moment because of a deadly, revolutionary war.  Many of the discussions throughout the book between the characters allow a gentle sadness to seep though the words.  As another example, while in Pamplona, Jake enjoys the banter between his drunk friends and thinks to himself as the night draws to a close:  “It was like certain dinners I remember from the war.  There was much wine, an ignored tension, and a felling of things coming that you could not prevent happening.  Under the wine I lost the disgusted feeling and was happy.  It seemed they were all such nice people.”   Of course Jake spoke of the bull fights and his disgust for some of the more brass comments made at dinner, but he alludes to the war outright, and the sadness he feels is made overt ever so subtly.

Why a bridge of faith?This sadness, expressed by almost every character, is the inevitable outcome of every action throughout the book.  There is no fulfillment, even in the partying by Jake and his friends.  The most calming sequence of events takes place as Jake fishes with one of of his friends before getting to Spain.  The several days they spend out on the water evokes a nostalgic feeling, but again the sadness is ever present as the reader realizes it will soon come to an end.  It is a reminder that no matter where enjoyment is attained, it soon comes to an end.  All things die, including happiness.

Whether or not you agree with the motifs presented in the book is irrelevant.  All things end; there can be no evading the inevitable.

Play it again, Sam.

Jolie Clinches number oneOn any list of Who’s Who in American Cinema will be the film Casablanca.  It has not only been an iconic piece of cinematic history, but has also risen in its role as a historical document about America during the 1940’s.  Analysis on the film is both wide and deep, and any library search will yield several well researched articles on one point or another.  This essay will draw upon some of the contributions to this body of research, as well as elicit certain points I found through my own viewings and analysis of the film.  I will first give a brief background of the film followed by a plot synopsis.  Then I will discuss the historical setting as evidenced by certain elements in the film.  I will then discuss several messages Casablanca was meant to deliver to its wartime American audience through examples directly from the film.  

Casablanca was first presented as a play entitled, Everybody Comes to Rick’s, written by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. The project never really came to fruition but came to the attention of Michael Curtiz, who became the film’s director.  Hal Wallis became the producer.  The studio funding the film contracted Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman for the lead roles.  Bogart was the on American actor to star in the film, as the rest of the leads were played by Europeans, some of who had escaped the Nazis months or years earlier.  

Casablanca was one of 500 films that premiered after 1942 and before 1945 that addressed the war. It was meant to strengthen support for the war and buoy up the allies.  It’s premiere on November 26, 1942 was only eighteen days after the allies landed in northern Africa.   The film was made with $950,000, and earned a respectable but not spectacular $3.7 million during its initial release.  It was nominated for the 1943 Academy Awards and took away Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screen-play.  

The film takes place in Morocco at the city Casablanca.  It centers around protagonist Rick Blaine, a nightclub owner of his own Rick’s Saloon Americain.  Hardened by life, he is a self-proclaimed Isolationist, catering to the rich and famous refugees escaping the Nazi onslaught in Europe.  Many people in the Resistance would make their way to Portugal via Casablanca, the only safe route still available.  Unfortunately, Vichy French and the Nazis had made it extremely difficult for anyone who arrived in Casablanca to leave, and thus there was a large body of foreigners who attended Rick’s nightclub on a daily basis.  Rick comes into possession of exit papers much to the dismay of Louis Renault, the Vichy General who cares first for himself above anyone else, and General Strasser, the Nazi Commander stationed there.  Both are aware that Victor Laszlo, leader of the Free French Resistance, has just arrived in Casablanca.  They want nothing more than to put him in a concentration camp, and look for every opportunity to do so.  He arrives with a beautiful woman named Ilsa, who, as it turns out, had a short but meaningful romance with Rick months earlier in Paris right before the German invasion.  They were both in love with one another, but when they were to meet at the train station to leave together, she never showed.  Rick struggles with his remaining feelings for her as well as his anger at her betrayal.  As the story unfolds, Rick learns that Ilsa was previously married to Laszlo but thought him dead, and when he turned up ill in a box car outside of Paris a day before she was supposed to leave with Rick, she had to return.  She eventually confesses her remaining love with Rick, and even concedes her remaining agency in any further actions she will take.  Rick becomes the quintessential American hero as he maneuvers through a difficult love triangle, get Laszlo and Ilsa out of Casablanca, and remains safe himself.  He even befriends the waffly Renault in the process.  

Casablanca remains an exceptional historical work that tells us much about current trends going on during the early 1940’s.  One of those trends was smoking.  In the film, ten different people smoke cigarettes a total of 31 different times.

This was not uncommon for commoners; in 1943 290 billion cigarettes were manufactured, reaching an all time record.  It would only be fitting for a nation going up in smoke to watch a film that was mimmicking it’s habits.  

Rick, Victor, Ilsa, and Louise all drink heavily throughout the film, another infatuation of America.  Between 1942 and 1943, production of alcohol had increased by 50 million gallons.Jolie Clinches number one Nightclubs were the place to be in the forties for Americans, and this is well documented in Casablanca.  Most of the film takes place in Rick’s Saloon, where alcohol was easily accessible, smoking allowed, and music abound.  If Americans weren’t watching films, they were out on the town.  In New York City alone, there were 1200 nightclubs in 1942. If people couldn’t afford to dress up and go out, they read about nightlife in magazines such as Time, Newsweek, and the Saturday Evening Post.  

Amongst these examples, the one that was most heart-wrenching was the separation most Americans felt with their loved ones.  This happened to be the basis of the love story between Ilsa and Rick, who were torn apart in Paris by events out of their control.  That there were not a few love longs popular during the period Casablanca premeired is undisputable, and hits like “I’ll Never Smile Again, Until I Smile at You” by Frank Sinatra was just one.  Many of the tunes were meant to stir up old, happy memories, just as the song, “As Time Goes By” in the film said to do.  If people could escape their pangs of emptiness at loved ones lost by remembering better days, then that’s what they did.  Jack Nachbar documents the many other examples of this trend in a different article.

The film also reflects a modest liberalism on blacks in society, as advocated by the NAACP.  Sam, the black pianist in the film, seems to be a friend and partner to Rick.  He has traveled with him as well has co-owns the business with him.  Sam’s role was created and written most likely due to efforst by groups such as the NAACP.  The NAACP was active during the war years to promote blacks in society not as equals, but at least obtaining full citizenship in Hollywood and elsewhere.

Many black Americans were signing up for the war, since it was there they could find opportunities for advancement that didn’t exist elsewhere.  

The ending of the film not only was reworked considerably from it’s initial script, but was made patriotic.  At first, Rick was to shoot Strasser to allow Ilsa and Laszlo’s escape, after which he would be arrested and sent to prison.  This ending ultimately let the Nazis win against the Americans, and was unacceptable to Curtiz.

He had it re-written to allow Rick to not only kill Strasser, but also allow Lasko and Ilsa to escape and remain out of prison.  This was accomplished with the help of Renault, who finally settles on the side of the free French with the symbolic gesture of dropping the Vichy bottle of water in the rubbish bin.  Rick and Renault walk off into the fog of Casablanca hand in hand, solidifying their friendship as well as representing their respective countries as allies.  Curtiz ensured that viewers of the film would feel the patriotic triumph of America over the German villains.  
Protagonist Rick Blaine was entirely an American symbol for audiences, first as the independent Saloon owner and then inevitable hero.  His gradual involvement with helping the free French parallelled America’s own involvement in the war.  Although harboring anti-fascist ideals all along, he refrained from explicitly involving himself in the underground resistance movements until it was absolutely necessary.  But this faux neutrality was with notable exception.  For one, Rick helped a Bulgarian family obtain their leave papers through a conspicuous Roulette win.  Without him, the young wife may have had to resort to certain sexual favors to win the French inspector’s aid.  At another instance, Rick gives the go ahead for the Saloon’s band to play the French tune “Marseillaise” to drown out the German patriotic tune “Die Wacht am Rhein”, which the Nazi soldiers had begun singing throughout the parlor.

Yet these instances would still fly under the radar, much as America’s supply freighters to England dodged their inclusion in the second World War for a time.  But this wouldn’t be for long.  

For Rick, the score became personal when it involved his past love interest Ilsa, who seemingly left him stranded in Paris on the day of the German invasion.  When he finally understood why she had left him, and that she continued to love him still, he sprung into action to organize a perfect plan for their escape.  This paraphrase could easily be a description of America’s involvement in the war with the Axis powers.  At first, although against the Fascist regime in Berlin and Italy, America had refrained from involvement to protect it’s own interest (remember Rick’s favorite snub “I don’t stick my neck out for nobody”).  Then it became personal with the bombing of Pearl Harbor December 7th, 1941.  By that time France had been at war and conquered in six weeks, and England was holding her own against the constant bombardment of artillery from the Nazi Luftwaffe.

Jolie Clinches number one Throughout the front lines and especially in the minds of Americans themselves, the United States were coming to save the day.  The film’s storyline only reiterated what Americans already believed; that they were the saviors of the free world, and it was up to them to step in and take charge.  Ilsa made it clear that the situation at Casablanca was too complex for her, or for anyone but Rick to deal with when she said, “You must do the thinking for me, for all of us.”  To Americans, that meant it was up to their democratic, free country to save the world.  

French portrayal in the film also was suggestive.  Victor Renault, the head of the Vichy army in Casablanca, was self proclaimed as “tossed where the wind takes me”.  Vichy French became the micromanaged under the Third Reich after French army’s quick defeat.  Vichy, a part of southern France, was allowed to remain somewhat self-governed due to their claimed loyalties to the Germans.  To many of the allies, the right moment might allow the Vichy to rejoin the fight against Germany.  Robert Willson rightly described Renault as symbolizing the hopeful French ready to take up arms again with England and America.  He wrote that Laszlo may even have been speaking to followers of Charles de Gaulle as well as Rick when he said, “Welcome back to the fight.  This time I know our side will win.”

True, but it also was encouragement for America’s own citizens that the french, as well as other allies, were more than ready and willing to fight alongside America.  Renault didn’t side with Rick until the very end of the movie, and it was only after the American had blatantly inserted himself into the conflict.  And although Laszlo was portrayed as the most noble of the characters, he was helpless without Rick, just as France was helpless without America.  

One important message to viewers of Casablanca was that of self sacrifice for the greater good.

Until Pearl Harbor, the U.S. wanted nothing to do with what was taking place over seas.  In 1937, 94% of the respondents in a gallup poll opposed getting involved in foreign problems.

Franklin Roosevelt even campaigned on the promise, “Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign war.”

This was in 1940.  After America entered the war, it was important that its soldiers knew that fighting overseas was the right thing to do, even if it meant great sacrifice.  This message was made clear through Laszlo and Rick’s interaction.  At the end of the film, Rick says to Ilsa, “the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill o’ beans in this crazy world.”  Ilsa replies, “God bless you, Rick.”  Moments later, Laszlo and Ilsa are on a plane to Portugal to continue the resistance efforts safely.  The final scene has become iconic, but to audiences in 1943 the message was that sacrifice was not only necessary, but undeniably good.  The message was not unique to Casablanca.  Advertisements portraying the sacrifice of families sending their sons off to war as positive were being circulated throughout many of the newspapers.  One ad showed a wife and son reading a letter from their husband in the army.  The tagline read, “It becomes the patriotic duty of every American without exception…to sacrifice without restraint…,” Thus, Casablanca’s message was just part of the propaganda campaign throughout the country that focused on sacrifice.  
Casablanca continues to be an important classical work of cinema, as well as an informative, historical tool in evaluating the war years of the early nineteen-forties.  It tells us today what it told viewers then; that America is the heroic savior of the world, and a trusted ally of its friends.  It would be wrong of us to not utilize this film for a better understanding of America’s history, and thus we should heed the words of Rick Blaine when he said to his piano player, “Play it again, Sam.”  

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The Shack

House M.D.More and more frequently pieces of literary shit are passing as precious metals.  Consumers eat up the most horrible writers, Stephanie Meyers to name just one.  But The Shack may take the Golden Strawberry award for me.  I bought this book earlier this year thinking it would be a good meditation on life and death, since I’d heard so much about it.  I thought the plot sounded fresh and intriguing:  a man’s little girl is kidnapped, murdered, and God invites him back to the shack it all happens in.  I knew something was wrong when the characters started calling God “Papa”, a gross misnomer.  The book got worse from there.  And I mean much worse.

William P. Young, Papa bless his heart, is the worst writer of all humanity.  Worse than a caveman.  Young really wanted to pontificate his primary school take on every single difficult question humanity has ever faced in 200 pages of the worst plot development of all time, and he did so in his book.  He’s the one laughing, since I last saw a fresh new pallet of his book at Sam’s Club earlier this month, but how anyone reads this book after the first fifty pages is beyond me.  Well, I take that back, because I did, but maybe everyone is like me, and when they heard about its crazy success, they read the book and kept hoping something eventually would redeem it, and then they ended up throwing it off the back porch.

Not only is Young’s take on death, murder, etc. the most elementary, simpleton and insulting expression of God ever (besides extremist Islam), he has the writing ability of maybe a high school cheerleader.  You get the analogy.  For instance, “Papa” eventually reveals himself as a large black woman from the south who starts out chapters saying things like “sho is” and “Mmmm Hmmmm!”  Who can make God into a flat literary character?  Then Young’s own typecasting doesn’t even hold up, because when he starts to get preachy, all of his characters lose their insulting stereotypes and just start preaching in white-speak to the reader.  For example, at one chapter, you get to see Mack, the protagonist, sitting at the breakfast table with Papa the black woman God, Jesus the lumberjack, and an asian gardener who is the Holy Ghost.  That sentence is funny enough, but as Mack starts asking all of these questions, all of the characters just turn into your average Sunday School Teacher trying to explain the heavy questions to a seven year old.  Except the Sunday school teacher can do it better.

House M.D.The ending of the book was even more insulting.  After losing his little daughter, Mack comes down from the Shack after his week hiatus with the Godhead, and is [spoiler alert] struck by a car by someone who ran a stoplight.  He’s in a coma for four days which conveniently explains his godly “vision”, but then he leads his family to where his daughter is buried, because “Papa” told him where she was???   Please.  Young obviously wants everything in the world to work out just perfectly, and I think he believes it.  But anyone who gives credence to his explanation for religious dilemmas that have plagued theologians and philosophers for centuries needs to seriously, seriously, seriously reconsider.

Please do not read this book.  Please tell your friends to not read this book.  Please do not support literary trash like this, or else we will continue to be infested with it.

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