The science news of the day is that nearly half of the practicing doctors today prescribe placebos to their patients at some time. A placebo is a medicine that medical science believes has no curative powers for the symptoms or disease involved. Common placebos are sugar pills, or saline solution injections. Also common are prescriptions for common pain killers in complex symptom sets such as fibromyalgia. The doctors prescribe these medications, knowing that according to their science of medicine there is no reason for the treatment to work. Yet, according to the New York Times (October 22, 2008), “Some 30 percent to 40 percent of depressed patients who are given placebos get better, a treatment effect that antidepressants barely top. Placebos have also proved effective against hypertension.”

There is significant controversy in the medical community as to the ethics involved in prescribing placebos to patients. Continue reading “Placebos”

Endings and Beginnings

In the Jewish calendar, tonight is Simchat Torah. The idea behind the holiday is that we read the Torah completely through, once each year. Simchat Torah is the night when we finish reading the last page, and begin reading the first page again. At the end of the story, Moses is leading the people to the border of the promised land. His reward for decades of service of the light is to gaze upon the goal and know that his people will cross into this land of milk and honey, their dream and fulfilled. But we learn that Moses will not cross into this Haven, but rather into Heaven. He dies on the mountain before crossing into Israel.

At this point, we know that the community will survive, but Moses will only survive in memory. His life ends as the story ends, with the last word of the story being “Israel.” In Hebrew as in English, the last letter of the word “Israel” is the letter “L.” That is how the story ends.

On Simchat Torah, after reading this ending, we immediately read the start: “In the beginning…” Continue reading “Endings and Beginnings”

Singing the World’s Song

In my dreams last night, I recognized that part of my role was to sing.  The particular story that I sang was the history of a beautiful princess.  Her health was fading and so was her mood.  She didn’t want to be sick, or be on her way to death.  But somehow the song that I sang calmed and soothed her.  It was a long song, more of a poem set to music.  It started out with the feel of the “Circle of Life,” and then merged into the feel of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” both from The Lion King
As I sang this song, both the Princess and her lover moved from a feeling of despair to a feeling of pride and hope.  They were good people who were not disappearing from the world; rather, they were becoming immortal.  Their story was changed to one of hope.  It was oriented toward the future, not the past. Continue reading “Singing the World’s Song”

Does Worrying Help or Hurt…

The lead story on CNN’s website when I read it this morning was about how “Hard times hit heartland.”  This is the kind of story that troubles me the most in the news today.  The slant of these articles is that we are in tough times; we are going to experience tougher times, and woe be us who try to live in these tough times.  The news is pessimistic and discouraging, and seems to be calculated to inspire depression in all who read it.   

And it’s not bad enough that this story is the headline today.  So we must watch them wring their hands in public and tell us that they are the candidates to help us through these particularly tough times.  Am I heartless enough to discard the  troubles and worries of the day?  To discount the pain that has hit Marengo, Iowa and so many other cities and towns across our nation?