04.25.13

The Feast

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:06 pm by Administrator

If i could write the story of my life
I would begin at the end, which would not be the end.

I’d work my way back, across stripped fields bare of their fruits,
then suddenly untrampled and overgrown around me,
later dissembling to sprouts,
and now bare yet again,
just an idea in some farmer’s mind.

They look the same, then and now. I’ll write it as such.

Time and chance will run their furrows through my skin,
wishes will come out of those rich dark runnels, restless.
We’ll feed on them when they’re full grown,
pulling them out by their roots,
ripping husk from the fruit,
your spit mixing with mine
in the juices that flow from the fervor.

And the ground, with time, will close back over the wounds.
It will be like before.

The winterblown field looks so much like a desert.
I’d wager one cannot know the difference
except by digging it out again, planting the seeds,
all the while imagining the sweetness of the corn,
torn from the cob and chewed with lustful abandon.

why syria will be the litmus test of what we believe

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:00 pm by Administrator

the situation in syria is beyond awful. nearly one hundred thousand people have died in that civil war, and the relative parity between the government and rebel forces promises that the war will continue to drag on. despite the scale of the horror, syria’s situation rarely gets headlines nowadays; and compared to the boston marathon story, it’s little more than a side-show under the international news column.

but a new element has been introduced into the equation: the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons—specifically sarin. and with that new twist, the syrian story now promises to become a media centerpiece yet again, as well as a thorn in the side of this Obama administration.

the Syrian situation is about to become the litmus test of Obama’s true foreign policy in the Middle East. more than any other nation in the region, Syria now represents the complexity and contradictions of an American foreign policy that on the one hand aims to tackle Al Qaeda and on the other hand seeks political order to stem the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. while Egypt and Libya have exposed the tension in these objectives to some degree, Syria is the very picture of America’s contradictions—a despotism that has long supported Israel’s sworn enemy Hezbollah, in a fight to the death against a Sunni-dominated opposition fueled by America’s sworn enemy Al Qaeda.

there is no question that up to this point America’s rhetoric toward the Syrian regime has been clear. Hilary Clinton has openly called for transitional government and the immediate removal of Assad. and the Americans have every reason to despise Assad; no line of Arab despots has been more single-handedly responsible for sowing chaos in the Middle East, starting with Syria’s role in inciting the Six-Day War and extending to their indirect and ongoing warfare with Israel through Hezbollah. the Assads have distinguished themselves through unusual cruelty (i.e. Hama) and through their murderous meddling in Lebanon, which has all but destroyed that once beautiful nation. Syria, to put it bluntly, has been a cancer to the region.

as ugly as the Assad regimes have been, there is one thing that the Alawites have not tolerated, and that’s Sunni fundamentalism. and on this one matter, Assad and the Americans couldn’t be more aligned. because if there’s one organization that America despises more than Hezbollah, it’s Al Qaeda. and now, it appears, Al Qaeda is one of the main organizations fueling the rebellion against Assad. in fact, Al Qaeda has been so effective in fighting the Syrians that they have become a legitimate stakeholder in the government that will replace Assad, should the rebels ultimately prevail.

and the U.S., which is funding the rebels, simply won’t stand for a government aligned with the organization responsible for the worst act of terror on American soil. herein lies the great challenge to Obama’s administration.

to this point, the U.S. has been content to allow the Syrian civil war to rage on, supporting the rebels without directly committing American manpower. it’s learned to become something of a tribal warlord among tribal warlords, pitting the rebels against the Syrian government while also playing the rebel factions against one another. America’s goals have been muddled by its contradiction of imperatives, but as it has not been a direct combatant, the U.S. has not been compelled to follow through on its commitment to anything or to anyone.

until now, perhaps.

the use of chemical weapons by Assad, if proven, will necessarily force the U.S. into a true decision, and it will be a nearly impossible decision. which of the evils presented will the U.S. take to bed? what are America’s true goals in the region? Obama has a real headache to nurse here, and for sure Hilary Clinton is glad to be out of this hotbed of imminent controversy. because whatever decision Obama’s administration makes—whether to ignore or minimize the chemical weapons issue (hence supporting Assad, or at least a divided state) or to commit American forces as previously threatened (thus enmeshing America’s interests with Al Qaeda’s—this decision will be inherently problematic, and it will alter the balance of power in a region already on the cusp of a new wave of Islamic Fundamentalism.

04.24.13

tolerance, coexistence, and love

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:57 pm by Administrator

words, especially buzz words, say much about the evolution of our belief system. and when it comes to the discourse regarding American subcultures, there are certain words that people use (sometimes with the best of intentions) that rankle me for various reasons. those words are tolerance, coexistence, and love.

when it comes to matters involving the LGBTQ community, the heterosexual mainstream will position itself as “tolerant” when it attempts to distance itself from a prejudicial viewpoint. “tolerance” is preached as a virtue in our society. now, according to a dictionary definition, tolerance is defined as a fair or permissive attitude toward one who is different. in colloquial usage, tolerance is what we exhibit when we choose to allow behavior that is not merely different but potentially offensive. for example, i will sometimes “tolerate” the temper tantrums of my children in certain situations, though the noisy outbursts can be construed as very reprehensible behavior. no one “tolerates” something that is clearly excellent; one embraces or enjoys that excellent thing. rather, one tolerates something that is not ideal.

those who find themselves having to tolerate people of LGBTQ inclinations reflect their own insidious prejudice. it’s truly an inappropriate verb for those who identify with or feel alignment with members of that community. as such, i really don’t like the word; it rankles me. no one, least of all Bible-believing Christians, should aim to be tolerant of those who are already unfairly marginalized and persecuted in our society. tolerance is a minimal gesture! mutual understanding and reconciliation are the true aspirations of those who care about their brothers and sisters from LGBTQ backgrounds. obviously mutual understanding and reconciliation go well beyond fond feelings; they require active engagement, a change of attitude, and genuine submission. how many God believers can attest to this sort of interaction with gays and lesbians?

i have a “Coexist” bumper sticker on my car, but i’m about ready to rip it off because i feel like it says nothing useful. since when was “coexisting” with someone something to boast about? i coexist with lots of people and things that i don’t particularly feel fond of. coexistence for me implies the most minimal degree of mutual acknowledgement imaginable. “you’re absolutely disgusting, so don’t ask me to do anything more than coexist with you.”

the absolute irony of this virtually meaningless word is that it provokes some shockingly inordinate responses. my friend’s parents rebuked me (veritably rebuked me!) for my bumper sticker, stating that the religious symbols of the bumper sticker implied a kind of pantheistic theology. i had to remind them that i happen to believe in one God—Jesus Christ, and none other! but yes, i’m okay with “coexisting” with people of other faiths, and in fact i’m willing to do a lot more than coexist with them. i’m willing to work with them, befriend them, break bread with them, and celebrate their happy moments with them. i should be rebuked not for agreeing to coexist with people of other faiths but rather for not insisting on something far greater than coexistence!

“Coexist” doesn’t just rankle me. it frankly pisses me off. it makes for a great bumper sticker until you start thinking about what it really means; and then it’s just fucking stupid.

now, for the last word, “love”. when it comes to bridging differences, i see “love” used so much it’s nauseating. for example, “make love, not war”. “i love you, brother”. “hate the sin, but love the sinner”. that last one is the absolute worst of the set. it’s much worse than arguing for coexistence. it implies that one’s heart is so big that he can love someone despite how reprehensible everything about that person actually is. it directs affirmation not to the object of that love but rather to the person who is loving, out of the utter magnanimity of his soul. it is one of the most disgustingly hypocritical statements i have ever bore witness to in my thirty-seven years of life.

“Love”, like tolerance and coexistence, is a word we should all be using much less often in the discourse of differences. because love is a challenging word. it connotes much more than mutual understanding and reconciliation. the standard for what love ought to look like was set by a man who, about two thousand years ago, actually suffered and died for the sake of people who betrayed and tortured him in various ways. love is an illogical, self-nullifying, self-destructive, and totally encompassing thing which invariably transforms both the one who loves and the object of his love. in the absence of that mutual transformation, love cannot be proven. love does not exist, except where it betters the lives of those who experience it.

people who accept one another despite their differences are not expressing love. they are simply not acceding to a form of hatred. love is not the mere absence of hatred; to reduce it to such a thing is to demonstrate the utter baseness of one’s sensibilities. this is why i think it is incredibly silly for one to say that he loves gays, or loves Americans, or loves black people. it is unique and powerful enough when we can experience love for a single person, much less a group of people. when we conflate love with tolerance or acceptance, we cheapen what love is. it’s not necessary to draw that word into the discourse of differences; it’s unnecessary, and in fact it’s boorish and unseemly.

04.22.13

old mentors

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:37 am by Administrator

over the past month or so, i’ve interestingly (and unexpectedly) crossed paths with three men who previously mentored me in various ways. all three moments were very poignant for me, stirring up sentiments and questions both pedestrian and profound. i realize, through these reactions, that the question i’m wrestling with nowadays isn’t any longer the question of my significance. rather, it is the question of whether i have found peace, the peace that comes from knowing my place in the world—and being satisfied in it.

a little over a month ago, i met up with my research mentor from my fellowship days, and he took me out to dinner with the rest of his lab at a conference in Atlanta. it was a lively dinner, as the new, young grad students overflowed with paeans for one another, while gushing about new projects that they had in mind. i imagined that it was gratifying to Bob, to see his students growing around his influence and his ideas. i felt an instant connection with the young Ph.D. hopefuls around the table, even though i’d never spent a day with them in the lab.

in any case, i didn’t have much time to catch up with Bob outside of the chit-chat at the big table. but we did have a moment together on the street after dinner. Bob asked me, in so many words, if i was happy. happy with my family, with my career, and with the decisions i’ve made. and i told him i was.

when i was in Bob’s lab, we rarely got to a really personal level. science has always been more than enough to dominate his conversations with his students. but Bob saw me struggle in his lab; he saw me depart from the academic path; and whether he liked it or not, he took that journey with me, off the beaten path. a couple years ago, maybe Bob wanted to know whether my program (or even he himself) had failed me, or whether i felt i had failed him or others. at the time, i felt a need to assure him that i was all right. but this time, when i told Bob that i was happy, what i was telling him is that i really have moved on. once, i was one of them, a man who loved science and craved a legacy in it. now, that stuff is just memories. like most people with a job, i’m just trying to get by. and, mostly speaking, that’s ok with me.

the pastor who raised me, spiritually speaking, just resigned his pastorship a week ago, after a series of long and heated battles with his lay leaders. i’ve been following the developments through my mother, who maintains ties with many people at the church. seeing him resign this way, in anger and in discord, saddens me deeply. though i do not feel very much linked to a church that i have not visited in more than twelve years, i will always feel spiritually connected to the man who preached the Word to me in a way that convinced that the Word was living.

after all, he is the one who counseled my parents through their years of battling. he is the one who comforted me, when i struggled through a freshman year fraught with the pains of a long-distance relationship. he read my blog to his congregation; he encouraged me into full-time ministry when i shared with him my emerging sense of calling. through these moments and many more, i received more than just his insights or his wisdom; i received his spirit. and in this way, i became something of a son to him, in a spiritual sense.

it is possible that he has failed in recent years. perhaps it’s even possible that in some ways he has become a failed man. it isn’t for me to judge, and i can’t come to his defense. but regardless of what he has done, i’m linked to him, in the lineage of God’s people. i come from a long line of failed men, beginning with Adam, going all the way through Abraham the coward, Moses the murderer, and David the traitor, adulterer, and cruel king. i too am already a failed man, with more than enough betrayal and sin to define my life many times over. i remember that it is not for heroism that i was called. it was for death and for new life that i was called, not to reclaim virtue but to crave redemption.

my pastor was fruitful, and hope for his soul lies ahead of him, as it always did. my hope as well is to be fruitful and, beyond this, to be redeemed.

i took my son to the LA Times Festival of Books yesterday to see Henri Cole, my old professor of poetry from undergraduate days. Henri read a few of his poems to us, gathered on a quiet grassy knoll beneath old sycamore trees. they were poems about innocence decayed, family members dead, a finger divested of its ring and yet somehow still vital. i cried while i listened to him read, because he had not read like this fifteen years ago when i’d last seen him. this was Henri, exploring the places of his being that are hard to explore, entertaining the idea of his death, and wishing beyond a mere wish for transient hope or a touch of happiness.

we talked for a few minutes as he signed his newest book for isaac (and my copy of The Visible Man from fifteen years ago). we talked about our class, about my wish to keep writing, about the Boston bombing and about his commute to Ohio. he told me that Mark Strand is fighting cancer, and i told him that Baltimore is a tough town. random things shared by people negotiating the great beauty of the space between them. what i wanted to tell Henri (but didn’t) is that i fell in love with poetry when i heard him read “Self Portrait as Four Styles of Pompeian Wall Painting” at Adams House back in the Fall of 1997. i fell in love with the written word because i heard what it sounded like when it was spoken. i realized that writing is most beautiful when it is taken off the page, rendered as the story of life from one person to the next, replete with all the rhythm and feeling that is given not only through the voice but through the very sharing of life.

i realized, when Henri read that poem about his mother, her hands folding and unfolding, who chased him with a broom stick and then brushed his hair, that i still want to write. even when all successes and failures have been trampled by life and its insistence on relentless and total forgetting, even when all my efforts have come to nothing and less, even when all my ambitions have been whittled away, i will still write. it’s what i do, not to be important but to be connected, to the vast tide of humanity and to the few that i call my beloved. on a little patch of grass, i listened to Henri Cole share his life, and i remembered what is most beautiful about life: how we hold on, despite all, to the things that we love

04.18.13

from sadness to malaise: a change of mood, not feeling

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:25 pm by Administrator

it is hard for me to explain my moods. i’m not moody in the classic sense; my moods don’t shift quickly or unpredictably. but my moods are very powerful. they encompass more than feelings; they imply a certain experience of life, deep enough to hold its own version of memory, its own beliefs.

i move between moods. i like some better than others. but ultimately, i move through them all, over and over again. the truth of my moods is that they give way to one another. no mood lasts forever. every mood starts some process of the mind that it cannot finish. ultimately, the succession of my moods allows me to complete processes of change. what was born during a mood of restlessness and hunger will often take shape during a mood of reflection.

independent of my moods are my feelings. the feeling of sadness looks much different in my life during a mood of pondering than it does during a mood of expansiveness and engagement. sadness can look like fatigue, or it can look like hopelessness, or it can look like drama and creativity. how i channel a feeling depends on my predominant mood. i’d liken it to weather during various seasons. if my feeling is rain, then the rain feels different depending on the time of the year. rain in the spring feels familiar and even good, though it might be wet and cold nonetheless. winter rains are invariably a dark experience, a deep wetness that draws cold into the bones.

i draw this context only to better understand how it is that sadness feels so different to me than it did in my youth. when i was a child, sadness was sharp; it was often sudden, immediate, and all-encompassing. sadness provoked me to action, even bodily movement. i remember my sadness at seeing my mother with a broken arm. i could not help but be seized by sudden sobbing and a great fear of what was to come.

it is harder for me to remember my moods, from those times. but when i think of the moods beyond the feelings, i see that there was a certain acuity to everything i experienced in those days. it was a product of being a child; i saw and felt things with an ingenuousness, such that my feelings were inseparable from the things that caused them. and from this i can recall that the predominant mood of my childhood was shaped from vigilance and anxiety, a constant wrestling for balance.

i don’t experience sadness like that anymore. but what i do experience is malaise. it is the malaise of boredom, or of dissatisfaction, or of despair. for years, i’ve thought of it as the product of failure or depression. but when i think of it now, i think that the feeling at the root of the malaise is the same sadness i felt when i was young; and the only reason it feels different now is that my moods lend that feeling different colors, new textures. i have a broader, more complex palette of seasons now than i did in my childhood. if my childhood was simply spring, i truly have summer now, as well as autumn of a kind, and perhaps even a winter mood as well. and even the spring i had when i was a child is a different kind of spring now. the spring of my childhood, full of color and surprises and new life, is now a spring of rediscovery and renewal.

when i reflect on this, i’m inclined to believe that the kind of sadness i feel now is no easier or worse than the sadness i felt when i was a child. perhaps my feelings persist longer now than they once did; perhaps my feelings are not as abrupt or vivid as they once were. sadness doesn’t stop me in my tracks nowadays, not even sadness of the hardest kind. i can work through my sadness, sleep through my sadness, eat through my sadness. but when i was a child, i moved on from one brilliant feeling to the next, and there was an amnesia in the transitions. now, my feelings seem to bleed into one another. this is because my moods allow my feelings to take deeper root, to evoke memories, to linger.

i am learning to see my feelings with a philosophical eye. even what i feel does not exist in a vacuum; it needs a context to be understood. my moods are that context, that temperature for the food, that texture for the surface of the sculpture. i can carry my feeling without being consumed by it; indeed, i can see that feeling evolve, though it persists, as the season of my soul shifts from summer to fall.

malaise in spring is a malady; in summer, it is a thirst; and in the fall, it is a remembrance of failures and losses. malaise in winter is something i have not yet known, and i hope i never will. but this is the thing about being a creature with a soul; life pulls at the mind, like gravity tugs the body toward the grave. that pull, and the stumbling that follows, and the fighting against time, the struggle against the inevitable—that stretches the heart, forcing it through pain. the moods are what we are left with.

what might be difficult to remember is that even in winter, a winter without any hope of spring, there is probably such a thing as happiness

04.17.13

the marathon

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:39 am by Administrator

there’s a silence we share
in those late miles.

it’s the silence of prayer,
of your troubles, and mine.

it’s the silence of wondering
if it was not senseless of us

to break our bodies apart,
to run ourselves into the ground.

why did we come?
why did we run?

but then, the voices tear us
from the relentless pull of the earth,

all the world, like us, drawn by our suffering
across those last, silent miles

all the way to broken tape and broken bodies,
where our blood and our lives run in the streets.

amidst the smoke and the fire, we remember
why we began this race:

just to find ourselves, and one another,
at the finish

04.16.13

going for the jugular

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:56 pm by Administrator

among my many sinful tendencies, two of the characteristics i most struggle with are 1) my powerful craving for worship, expressed either in achievement or sexual conquest, and 2) my wish to be justified through consummate victory. i’ve written about the former struggle many, many times. but the second characteristic is where i focus my attention today.

no one who knows me well can fail to recognize how much i enjoy winning. my whole childhood was arranged around competitions; i proved myself as a young man by excelling in academic pursuits, relative to my peers. last year a consultant interviewed a select group of leaders at my company, and they asked me to describe my attitude toward results. i told her that i don’t ever feel the need to be perfect at something; i just need to be better at it than anyone else.

my competitive instinct is so powerful that it extends to surrogate representatives of myself. when my nation is at war, my instinct is to wish for the humiliation and destruction of its enemies. when my sports teams are fighting for a championship, i wish misfortune on their opponents. to me, “clean” wins and good sportsmanship are unnecessary pleasantries. i’ve previously written that if i could be a dominant athlete in any sport, then i’d be a mixed martial artist. my idea of triumph is me in the octagon standing over my opponent’s bloody, motionless body.

i struggle with this aspect of myself because i don’t find it moral, per se. but more important to me than any moral considerations is the fact that my relish for winning implies my deep and terrible dissatisfaction with losing. i never forget the times when i lose. the psychological anguish i feel at losing is sometimes intolerable. it’s for this reason that being a philadelphia sports fan has been a consistently traumatizing experience for me. i am not exaggerating when i say that i genuinely dislike donovan mcnabb and andy reid for the things they failed to achieve during their tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles.

this past weekend, kobe bryant tore his achilles’ tendon, ending what many have described as a heroic campaign. it was in many respects a remarkable season for him, at the tail end of a very productive career. my brother-in-law, a long-time Laker fan, was devastated by kobe’s injury. at a family gathering this past weekend, my wife’s cousins, nephews, and nieces mourned the loss of their superstar over a somber dinner. at a delicate moment in the conversation, i happened to volunteer my opinion—that kobe’s injury is the best thing that’s happened to the nba this season.

guys in the media always have their stock phrases for these kinds of incidents. “no one ever wants this sort of thing to happen”. “when we root against a guy, it’s not personal”. “of course we all wish the best for the player and his family.” in my case, none of those statements apply. i’ve rooted against kobe his whole career; i’ve disliked his attitude, his personality, and his teams; and i’ve been repeatedly demoralized by his success, which often came at the expense of teams i rooted for. for the past decade, i’ve openly expressed my wish that he suffer a season-ending injury. it’s not because i’ve wanted him to experience physical pain; it’s because i’ve wanted him and his teams to lose, by any means necessary. i don’t draw a line between legitimate losses and tragic losses. when i say i despise kobe and his lakers, it’s because i actually despise kobe and the L.A. Lakers. his loss is my gain—always.

now, let me step back at this point and say that what i’ve written here makes me feel a bit unhappy. after all, i don’t have a personal relationship with kobe, and i don’t feel that it’s particularly loving or generous of me to wish misfortune on him. but that is the natural result of my competitive instinct, which in the case of NBA basketball has been sharpened to an ugly point by years of Laker success. i’ve often wondered how i would react to kobe if i actually met him, and while i generally soften to anyone that i personally meet, i’m 50/50 on whether i’d be able to forgive kobe for the pain he’s caused me. there’s a part of me that says that an achilles’ tear is part of the $500 million career he’s chosen to take on, and i have no sympathy for him or for his perpetual pre-teen mentality. there’s also a part of me that says that if i’m ever at the point where i’m delighting in another man’s misery then i’ve gone too far.

i go for the jugular. i don’t feel ambivalent about that; i feel bad about it. but there’s no way i’m going to back off of my true sentiments and sugar-coat what i feel. when i go for the win, i’ll take it any way i can. i want to believe that somehow i can redirect this competitive drive someday, so that i don’t need to trample other people in order to feel like a man

04.12.13

picking the right people

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:51 pm by Administrator

part of my job is interviewing and on-boarding candidates for primary care employment in community-based clinics. over the last three years, i’ve followed a lot of docs and mid-level providers starting work at my company. i’ve seen some of them do very well; and i’ve seen others struggle and eventually leave. i’m happy to say that the providers that i personally interviewed and recommended for employment have done very well. while i didn’t have a direct role in the hiring of the providers who struggled or left us, i did get to speak with some of them during the exit process. the contrast between the two groups is rather striking. here’s what i’ve learned thus far, about picking the right doc for the job.

1. when it comes to primary care, where a provider went to school just isn’t a good reflection of that provider’s potential. the docs who do well in a community clinic setting are often IMG’s (international medical graduates) or individuals who had a difficult time passing their step or board examinations. those tests might be a fair reflection of a certain kind of aptitude (whether you call it test-taking ability or concept memory), but that aptitude doesn’t predict success or effectiveness as a primary care doc.

2. the most important characteristics that predict the durability of a provider in a community clinic setting are patience, perseverance, and comfort with ambiguity. primary care in virtually any setting requires a mix of fortitude and flexibility, but in a community clinic setting, the ability to handle chaos, change, non-insurance, and ambiguous insurance places an even higher premium on these particular qualities. the docs i’ve met who’ve lacked one or more of these three qualities have left the company, in one case within four weeks of being hired.

3. the most important characteristic that predicts the happiness of a provider in a community clinic setting (and primary care in general) is a satisfaction with routines. the nature of the work is repetitive. creative people who thrive on stimulation and new challenges do very poorly in primary care (and in medicine in general, outside of a few niche settings). at my company, i look for people who find simple satisfaction in a good day’s work.

if you know anything about me, then you’ll understand the absolute irony of what i’m saying here. i’m the prototypical poor fit for any primary care setting. i’m from big-name schools, which essentially counts against me given the natural (and nauseating) sense of entitlement generally exhibited by Ivy League types. though i’m often comfortable with ambiguity in various situations, i would certainly not count patience and perseverance among my prime virtues. and, to top it all off, i find it nearly impossible to satisfy myself in routines. a life of routines is my worst nightmare. i constantly require stimulation of very specific kinds, and i’m aesthetically very particular. i’ll admit it; i’m a poor fit for the jobs i try to fill.

one of my close colleagues decided this week to tender her resignation papers, and it’s going to be a tough loss for my division. but when we talked about her decision over lunch, i told her honestly that i’d be making the same decision in her shoes. the difference between her role and mine is that she’s a full-time clinician while i’m split between clinical practice and management. the management aspect allows me to connect with and lead a diverse group of people. without that, i’d be going “against the grain” every day here; there’d be very little to keep me here in the long run.

beyond simply recognizing the qualities that make docs successful, i’ve come to respect these very same qualities in the people i work with. while i was training on the East Coast, the docs i venerated were smart, articulate, and impressively educated men who read books, traveled extensively, and maintained interesting social circles. they were men in the mold of William Osler, the figurehead of my residency program. but the longer i work out here, the more i find myself admiring doctors of different molds: moms balancing a tenuous work/personal balance, immigrant Latinos trying to give something back to their communities, hard-working positive people who fought through a variety of difficult obstacles to get their medical doctorate degrees. their resumes aren’t “hopkins pretty”; but their spirit is unrivaled. their success and happiness as doctors illuminate my own ongoing struggle to find satisfaction in my career (and in life, in general).

for most of my life i’ve been groomed to esteem creativity, innovation, and genius. it’s a bias engendered by a liberal arts education. but now, i find myself wishing more often than not that i could have the fortitude and flexibility that i never previously valued. as innate as these characteristics are, i think i’ll never be a natural when it comes to simply keeping my nose to the grindstone. but i think that i can learn to imitate those who demonstrate those virtues, and in the process of imitation i can learn to own something of those qualities for myself.

happiness is hard. success is just as difficult. i’d never pass the first round of my own interviews. and that’s just as well.

04.11.13

kobe, the first law, and malick’s early reviews

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:23 pm by Administrator

i’m just never in synch with L.A. fans when it comes to kobe bryant. for decades they’ve glorified the guy, while i’ve despised him all along. they’ve blamed his teammates (i.e. Shaq) for being lazy, while i’ve mocked him for repeatedly undermining team chemistry. but when it comes to his behavior this particular season, and when it comes to his performance last night, i’m the one who can’t seem to find anything wrong with what he’s doing. last night, he turned in a 47-point performance on 14/27 shooting, with 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 4 blocks, and just 1 (just 1) turnover in 48 minutes, and because of the win the Lakers’ playoff hopes are still very much alive. the press, the fans, and his teammates are accusing him of being a ball-hog, which is ironic because pau and dwight got off 26 shots and 43 points last night.

i will never be guilty of liking kobe bryant. but i can’t ignore the irony of this Laker season: that L.A. fans are working so hard to pretend they don’t care that they’re dismissing the singular achievements of their star player. it’s classic L.A.—classless fans, always moving on to the next big thing.

i just finished joe abercrombie’s first law trilogy, which for me was a very strange experience. on the one hand, i found the writing inventive, funny, and gripping. on the other hand, i found the deliberate and constant irony to be more than a bit heavy-handed at times. abercrombie is allergic to idealized heroes and happy endings, and postmodern Gen Xers will appreciate his biases. but there’s something just a little sadistic about his treatment of his characters (across the board), which makes for an oddly unsettling reading experience. i’ve never read a fantasy series in which it is genuinely impossible to like any of the characters. but there it is: first law is a first.

i was reminded while reading “first law” of GRRM’s Game of Thrones. the universe of GOT is much grander than the world of first law, with a more expansive geographical scope and many more secondary characters. in such a broad story universe, GRRM’s frequent disposal of seemingly central characters seems somewhat more acceptable; there are just many more available characters to fill in the vacuum left by every death or murder. but abercrombie’s world in first law is significantly smaller, and the focus is so restricted to a few central characters that one expects to be a bit more emotionally invested in this coterie than what abercrombie permits.

i’ve been recently anticipating the release of Malick’s new movie “To the Wonder”, as i find him vaguely intriguing (though more often frustrating). but no matter how intrigued i might be at the idea of a movie, i simply won’t watch it if the RT reviews are not positive. and reviews of “To the Wonder” are so lurid as to suggest that the experience of the movie is psychological torture of an unprecedented variety. if you want a good laugh, just read the snapshots of various reviews on the RT website. my favorite (by Harkness): “Insufferable in almost every way.”

it has lately become a dream of mine to produce, write, and direct an awesome dramatic film someday. but actually, i’m more interested in designing what the Rotten Tomatoes website for my film would look like. here are some of the capsule reviews i’m anticipating for my eventual tour de force:

—NY Times: “to call this film a monumental achievement is to describe the Mona Lisa as merely an artistic milestone. Phillylo’s debut movie is the Mona Lisa of contemporary art…”
—Boston Globe: “Phillylo is what Terence Malick tried to become; he is indeed what we all aspire to imitate, albeit badly…”
—Rolling Stone: “the theater smelled so bad after the movie because everyone in attendance had literally shit in their pants and then refused to go to the bathroom, for fear of missing anything.”
—Village Voice: “i nearly gouged out my eyes after the movie…. i was afraid that i would never see anything so delightful, ever again.”
—Time Magazine: “granted, it’s only summertime, but we’re already declaring Phillylo the Time Magazine ‘Man of the Year’.”
—Playboy: “the movie was spectacular. more importantly, i found Phillylo to be stunningly handsome.”
—Jesus Christ: “obviously the movie demanded my second coming. as rapturous as the experience was for everyone, i only had space on my chariot for him.”
—Kay Kim: “i knew that my son was wasting his time as a doctor. i knew it all along.”

04.05.13

Korean War

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:49 pm by Administrator

i’m afraid of renewed war on the Korean peninsula. i’m more afraid than most. perhaps a year ago, i began to believe that renewed war was probable, as opposed to merely possible. i believe now that war between the South and North is imminent. i hope that i’m wrong.

what’s interesting is how consistently the Western media has emphasized two things with regard to N. Korea: 1) its pattern of belligerent rhetoric, and 2) the logical unlikelihood of war, consistent with the Obama administration’s analysis of the situation. both factors would seem to suggest that N. Korea is issuing threats only to gain political leverage, either within the Kim Jong Un government or among the international community.

as i’ve written before, i don’t think our blithe belief in the logical impossibility of war is warranted. to clarify my thoughts and apprehensions, i would appeal to the analogy of Nazi Germany of the early 1930s.

there are evident parallels. autocratic leaders facile at depicting their respective nations as long-suffering victims. dire economic straits. over-investment in military development. long-standing, consistent hostilities with bordering nations. near-total insularity with respect to the international community. a history of concessions and appeasements by the international community, and a consistent underestimation of the probability of war on their part.

it has been an American tradition to either demonize its rivals or to excessively self-project onto them. as a result of this careless naivety, America has consistently preached a false sense of order to its own citizens. we were led to believe in the 1960s that Vietnam would be a short war; “victory” was always around the corner. we suffered severe humiliations during the Iran hostage crisis and again in the aftermath of the Beirut bombing, when it was evident we had no answer to these challenges. we underestimated Al Qaeda during Clinton’s administration, and we were woefully unequipped with any actionable intelligence on that organization after 9/11. we stumbled into an unwinnable war in Afghanistan (which we are on the brink of losing). we architected a disastrous plan of invasion and occupation in Iraq that accomplished nothing except to create a hotbed of Sunni-Shi’ite conflicts, which will feed radical Islamism for the next generation.

and in the midst of these consistent, recurrent debacles in foreign policy and war, we have maintained the illusion of peace. the idea of “limited war”, invented during the first Korean War, has now morphed into a concept of “compartmentalized conflict”. despite the fact that we have been fighting at least one major war for the past dozen years, the average American citizen does not grasp the idea that war has become the rule rather than the exception in our post-millenial reality. thus, we survey Korea through the oddly distorted lens constructed from our belief that war is an exceptional, unusual, and unusually costly phenomenon for all involved nations. this perception is unfounded, and it is not held by the leaders of foreign governments which have been shaped by the militaristic American world order.

we are in an age where a nation’s survival and prosperity are predicated on two things: its export market and its military prowess. North Korea has graduated from the notion of being a competitive industrial nation; it has progressively fallen behind in its economic rivalry with the South every year since 1970. N. Korea’s leadership understands that it is declining at such a precipitous rate that even its military technology, its most important asset, will soon be irrelevant. the window of opportunity for leveraging its primary strength into a surer political footing is closing. if you want to consider the situation rationally, it is rational for North Korea to imminently go to war.

North Korea has no interest in decimating the South. its aim would be a quick war that would spare the economic infrastructure of the South. the country is small and geographically isolated enough (on account of only having one bordering nation, and a neutral nation at that) that air superiority won’t dictate the ultimate outcome. North Korea’s army is designed to reach Seoul in days, and its firepower and manpower could conceivably overrun every major South Korean city within two weeks. that’s too short of a time window for the United States to land a substantial army. once taken, the peninsula would be held hostage and virtually immune to reinvasion, on account of North Korea’s established nuclear program. for better or worse, the international community would have to deal with a united Korean nation.

it’s one of the rare situations in which preemptive war is conceivably justified, as opposed to anything else the United States has done militarily over the past sixty years since the original Korean War. but we’re incapable of that exercise of power now, and we delude ourselves with a sense of logic that it is more reassuring than it is substantive. we are as Britain and France were, on the brink of the Second World War. we build our Maginot line of missile defense systems, while the DPRK takes this as an open invitation to annex its neighbors.

what i fear even beyond the probability of terrible war in Korea is the effect that this war will have on Asians, particularly Koreans, in the United States. i am not so generous in my assessment of my fellow citizens to believe that they will distinguish between South and North Koreans once Americans are killed in a renewed Korean war. after all, in the aftermath of 9/11, they didn’t distinguish between Sunnis and Shi’ites, nor between Islamists and secular Arabs, nor between Arabs of various Middle Eastern nations. Americans, once shocked out of their blissful naivety, will be quick to categorize their perceived enemies and express brutal violence, out of sheer indignation. they will hate Asians, and they will persecute Koreans regardless of their nations of origin. after all, it is our American tradition to pretend at liberal sensibilities, while justifying our keen racism as an occasional and necessary evil.

i’m afraid to underestimate Kim Jong Un. i see him as nothing other than the product of generations of warmongering and the dream of a unified socialist nation. this is the legacy he desires, to prove his might and to unite the country. it’s not his idiosyncrasies or insanities that i fear; it’s the rational analysis that i fear, the facts that prove beyond a shred of doubt that the DPRK stands to gain by going to war again

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