Thursday, December 17, 2015

Bronchiectasis: An Early Christmas Gift

Today turned out to be a really really good day. But before I tell you why, let me first give you the backstory.

It all started with really bad news. I contracted pneumonia in February 2014 while training for a triathlon that month. Since then my lung function decreased by more than 25% and I continually picked up one respiratory infection after another.

I eventually went to a specialist three weeks ago. The accompanying x-ray literally lit up like a Christmas tree. What it revealed was widened damaged inflamed bronchi, with prominent mucus cysts. The diagnosis was Bronchiectasis and the prognosis for it wasn’t good. Essentially it is degenerative and that I would in all likelihood be dead by 60. The most likely cause of death: suffocation by lung fluids; or a heart attack because it would be battling to transport the limited oxygen.

Typically when I receive bad news I usually give myself half a day to be depressed or down-cast—usually from the time I receive the news until I go to bed. In this case, however, there was no feeling of despondency, just relief. I’ve been battling this for almost two years and I was happy to know the cause of my discomfort. This allowed me to do my homework in order to know what I was dealing with. To cut a long story short my plan of action was to buy a nebulizer, a focused diet, and lots of exercise.

Now to the good news. Went for a CT-scan on Tuesday and awaited the response. Well, this was it: My lungs were perfectly healthy, let alone that there was ever any signs of Bronchiectasis. I.e. there was no widening, inflammation, or any other damage shown in the bronchi, and no mucous cysts.

One cannot ask for a better Christmas gift, the gift of health. I know it’s cliché, but once you’ve received such a scare, there’s nothing better.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Pondering the “Vaccines cause Autism” Debate

At first glance the preponderance of credible evidence does point into a particular direction. It is that vaccines do not cause autism, or in the very least, that it is not a significant contributor that possibly could account for the dramatic increased incidence over recent years. Vaccines were also largely administered in the US long before then, thus the dramatic increase since 2000 does not coincide with the wide administration of vaccines in the US over more than 40 years.

I generally did not pay this issue much heed but an interview with Dr Stephanie Seneff, a MIT computational researcher, prompted some investigation. In another article she convincingly argues that glyphosate herbicide could be a contributing factor in causing autism, though not vaccines per se. She however is considered by activists against vaccination as strongly providing an argument against it. Her argument against glyphosate herbicide, used in common household weed killer, makes sense and she appears to have the statistical data to back it up. And surely, she would’ve been fired from MIT if she had made spurious assertions. It also is not helpful to call her a quack since most great pioneering scientists were indeed referred to with such derogatory language. She however does not definitively point to vaccines as a primary causative factor, although she does lead towards it as they too contain similar harmful chemical components.  

Notwithstanding her argument, the increase incidence in the US is far more marked than elsewhere though they vaccinate worldwide. Given the steady increase, particularly in the US and other industrialized nations relative to less developed nations, there must be a direct environmental cause not prevalent to the same extent there. This therefore points to a greater environmental causal factor in the US other than vaccinations. The volume of supposed causative chemicals is additionally small relative to other agents generally found in the environment. Another diminishing factor is that vaccines are usually administered for one year olds and older, and the dose of harmful chemicals administered at that stage could most likely not be as detrimental as earlier childhood environmental factors would’ve.

Providing some clarity on the cause, a 2014 University of Chicago study suggests:
Essentially what happens is during pregnancy… there are certain sensitive periods where the fetus is very vulnerable to a range of small molecules – from things like plasticisers, prescription drugs, environmental pesticides and other things. Some of these small molecules essentially alter normal development. Autism appears to be strongly correlated with rate of congenital malformations of the genitals in males across the country, this gives an indicator of environmental load and the effect is surprisingly strong. The strongest predictors for autism were associated with the environment; congenital malformations on the reproductive system in males (that is given that males have a more than 5 times greater incidence).
The following extract from extract from the Harvard Health Review is also quite revealing:
Factors may also be responsible for the increasing rates in post-industrial countries… This immune dysregulation is post-industrial specific because of the way our immune system evolved. According to the “Biome Depletion Theory,” our immune system co-evolved alongside microbes and parasites, of which are lacking in urban, post-industrial societies. It is therefore our lack of parasites or microbes interacting with our immune system that is causing our immune response to overreact. This is consistent with the observation that in some developing populations, such as in Cambodia, rife with parasites and infections, the autism incidence is extremely low. In this case, a probiotic drug that is able to control the inflammatory response in pregnant women may be able to prevent some of the onset of autism.
Perhaps what the above suggests is that the obsession with health and cleanliness in industrial nations, therefore, may ironically well be the indirect cause. This applies to other diseases as well. For instance pig farmers, but children exposed to farm animals in general, have a much lower risk of developing asthma and other respiratory diseases. This, as in Cambodia, is most likely because of their ubiquitous exposure to disease which consequently boosts their immune systems.

In fact that is exactly what vaccines do: providing a controlled exposure to disease to mitigate actually getting it.

I do however think that, other than the basic dread disease vaccinations, flu vaccinations and the like are mostly unnecessary and often may well be driven by profit. The problems experienced by Pakistan because of the Taliban’s killing of vaccination officials on the other hand is an example of the consequences of not vaccinating against polio for example, and highlights the incredible human suffering that could result if we do not do so.  

The definitive study that could answer this question would be to determine the ratio of autistic kids who were vaccinated against those who are not. A study from the Philippines indicates that those who are vaccinated do significantly better, even cognitively, than those who were not.  Why the Philippines is an important study sample is that it has a relatively high unvaccinated population. This is opposed to the US where the benefits of vaccination are spread to the relatively small unvaccinated population because the general susceptibility of getting the disease is significantly decreased in advanced societies. So in a way, the unvaccinated individuals in industrialized societies are immunized by the significant population that is.

In the final analysis it is clear that the issue is not with the vaccines – i.e. the genetic organic compounds that counter the disease. Rather it is the chemicals used to administer it that appears to be the problematic factor cited by scientists as the concern.

Thus for me the solution to the problem appears to be obvious. Instead of spending vast amounts of money developing new and largely unnecessary vaccines, perhaps big pharmaceutical conglomerates should err on the safe side and take the claims made by Seneff and others seriously.  Thus to rather change focus towards manufacturing less harmful, though perhaps more expensive, alternatives to safely deliver the  life-saving vaccines that are already out there. 

Newton Fortuin, 21 February 2015

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Media & Other

A philosopher to take note of…
I had the fortune to read some of Newton Fortuin’s work and find it very incisive, imaginative and courageous, given the fact that he has little formal training in the many branches of academic philosophy.
At the end of the day, people like us are all lovers of wisdom and seekers of truth, so we should help one another, since we are a rare species, almost on the brink of extinction in the present consummerised world…
The Scourge of our Time is a very original and provocative work.
WL van der Merwe, Ph.D.

Professor:  Philosophy of Language, Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Culture and Metaphysics – Free University of Amsterdam


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Happiness in a Mad World

Psychologist Oliver James, author of Affluenza and now The Selfish Capitalist, believes that the madness does not just stem from Freud's tension between the individual and civilization, or from Eliot's observation that we have to put on faces to meet faces, but from the fact that politics has gone profoundly wrong in the English-speaking world.
We have been infected by affluenza, the notion that our most profound psychological needs – for security, intimacy, autonomy – can be met by things, decisions, actions that cannot possibly meet them. The sex addict is emblematic: they long for intimacy and seek it in promiscuity, the very action that prevents intimacy. James has assembled evidence to show that the people who suffer most from mental illness are those who suffer most from status anxiety, as Alain de Botton put it – the desire or pressure to be beautiful, famous, wealthy…
Why should this result in poor mental health, that is unhappiness?
Advertising tells us this by manufacturing desire and keeping images of how the rich live in front of us… It leads to massive debt – personal and corporate – and a fear-based career as you struggle to earn to pay the mortgage. It undermines intrinsic values… It is a bleak picture, one of massive collective neurosis… The implication is that we are missing the good life even as we think we are pursuing it…  

Extract from Happiness in a Mad World by Mark Vernon

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Godless Atheist

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. — [Bertrand Russell]
As an agnostic I certainly don’t have a problem with anyone choosing to be an atheist. It however has been my experience that many of the atheists I interact with oftentimes tend to be more dogmatic and intolerant than religious conservatives. My casual observation suggests that they definitely are more so than the average religious person. And oftentimes it is not only the religious that has to bear the brunt of their ire, even agnostics are labeled as wimps for being too soft on “the enemy”, the religious that is, and often are referred to as fence sitters when it comes to the general issue of belief. The following utterance by political satirist Stephen Colbert conveying the general sentiment: Isn't an agnostic just an atheist without balls?
I know I’m generalizing but that is my personal observation based on my own experience. But let me relate an incident that highlights the typical mentality. The resulting consternation upon which this example is based was triggered by the following innocent email.
Good morning everyone. It seems that Monwabisi's condition has worsened and he is in hospital again. His girlfriend relayed that he is at the Vincent Pallotti Hospital in the Poplar ward. He is said to be extremely ill. Guys, please keep him in your prayers and thoughts.
As innocent as this email was, all hell broke loose after the sender apologized for sending it to the wrong mailing list. She meant to send it to her department only, but chose a group email that sent it to all the staff at the university. The apology followed five minutes later, but soon afterwards emails flooded my inbox requesting to be removed from the list. It became so bad that the secretary of the chancellor had to ask the operations manager to train staff on the “Reply to Sender” function (which is the default function on the GroupWise mail-server) and they used the “Reply to All” (incidentally not the default option which had to be deliberately selected).
The result was that hundreds of were forwarded in this way. By the third day the emails were still streaming in, upon which someone responded with the following.
To ALL those who don't want to be part of this mail:
This was a simple mail, requesting prayers for one of our sick colleagues. What is so difficult praying for someone, why does that bother you so much?
If you can't pray for him, just delete the mails that come to your mailbox and stop filling other people’s mailbox by requesting to be taken out of the mailing list. Tomorrow may be your turn to need prayers. How will you all feel being in Monwabisi's shoes? The Bible instructs us to pray for the sick and to LOVE our neighbors as ourselves.
So, where did Ashley go wrong by asking us to pray for one of us that are battling with ill health?
The more people that pray for him the better.
Yet, this did not end the chain mailing, bearing in mind that these mails were also being sent to Monwabisi mailbox as well. This is when I thought I’d have my say and changed the email header to “Is this an Institution of Higher Learning?” and responded to the previous email, even though the author clearly had strong religious sentiments.
I agree fully with your email, and I hope the other 2000 or so people who cluttered the email system by purposefully selecting the “Reply to all” (as they had to as I purposefully did in this case), actually got your message.
I thought this is a university of higher learning? And that there may be half a chance of finding civilized intelligent compassionate people working here. I know there are, but this clearly had been an exhibition to the contrary. 
I will keep Monwabisi in my thoughts.
After this all the emails stopped with the exception of the following.
Sorry, you might but I don't deserve any rebuke!
Let me explain why..... I never 'replied to all', neither did I ask to be removed from the list. I am sorry to hear of a sick colleague, even if I don't personally know him. But actually it is not about that, it is about boundaries. It is very inappropriate to send out an email asking the entire staff of a University to pray for someone. This is not what work place emails are for. If that was the norm where would it end?
We all know people who are in need of support. Can you imagine if everyone suddenly implored us, via internal mail, to call on divine intervention on behalf of someone else? We'd be flooded by thousands of letters on a daily basis. Use the social networks to do that sort of thin. (By the way they are far more effective).
It is equally inappropriate to send out a manipulative and sickly rebuke reminding us of some biblical injunction or telling us we might be ill tomorrow! It's preposterous! I'm not a child that I need to be chastised. “This was a simple mail, requesting prayers for one of our sick colleagues. What is so difficult praying for someone, why does that bother you people so much?” Do you get how patronizing that is?
On top of that, in the correspondence comes an innuendo that I am neither civilized intelligent or caring! What do you know of me or anyone else on this campus? What is it about people like yourselves that believe it is alright and fitting to adopt a high moral stance because people didn't respond in a way you thought appropriate...
To which I responded.
Let me not draw this out into a lengthy debate, someone made a simple mistake by choosing the incorrect group address (and invaded your personal boundary), and apologized very shortly afterwards. But moreover, with a very simple request, and all hell broke loose. I would not have known you were supportive of that stance, but now I do. By the way, I'm agnostic, but I respect others efforts to elicit concern for those in need, and why not do it by mail. I receive hundreds of spam daily, so what if a legitimate call for concern for someone in need slips in once in a while. If it offends you so much, delete it, unless it gives you some perverse gratification to air your objection to the world…
While I cannot say for sure whether this person is an atheist as I had never met him, he does exhibit the typical cynical demeanor in his tone.  As far as those who sent the emails, I cannot say either, but more than likely are must be both religious and non-religious individuals who participated. This however is more reflective of the mob mentality referred to in this work, for, once the first email was sent, it appears as if others also wanted to be part of that dissent, and thus to show all that they also had something to say, no matter how ridiculous. Indeed I would’ve called the section Narcissism in Action because of the total disregard for Monwabisi and his circumstance; that the responders were more concerned that their boundaries were invaded. 

Either way, whether he was atheist or not, this certainly is reflective of the growing narcissistic, uncaring mentality of our time.  And just to remind you, this incident did not happen in urban US, but had taken place in Cape Town, a city on the southernmost tip of Africa.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Neo Heresy

I do not know how to teach philosophy without becoming a disturber of established religion—[Baruch Spinoza]
To highlight the reality delusion associated with many neo esoteric beliefs I want to recount an incredibly horrific incident.
It concerns an atrocity that occurred just a few miles from my home in which a seven year old girl was brutally raped, her throat slit, set alight and left for dead.
In spite of the inhuman savagery the girl suffered, she miraculously survived, though now most certainly having to bear the scars of this unspeakable horror for the rest of her life.
And to add to the depravity of the act, it was perpetrated by a close friend of the girl’s family, someone she knew and most likely trusted unconditionally. Though someone who in a single hour shattered her innocence, and with it most likely diminished the potential of her young life.
However the real tragedy is that this is a far too common occurrence in a society having been the victim of centuries of brutal colonialism, savage slavery and racial oppression. Though now in post-colonial South Africa the former victims of past oppression are sadly brutalizing their own.
When looking at this particular instance of inhumanity logically and you do hold strong esoteric views, then you unavoidably have to come to some rather irrational conclusions about why this girl supposedly must’ve earned or even deserved her fate.
For instance if you believe in karma and reincarnation, then it must also be your view that what happened to her – as a consequence of your belief – had to be as a result of her past misdeeds. That is in this life but also of her past lives, and that she now must be repaying back some monumental karmic debt.
Or if you believe in personal spirit guides then they in their infinite wisdom must have orchestrated this monstrous event from some or other higher cosmic vantage. Perhaps it is so that the girl had willingly chosen this lifetime to learn her spiritual lessons through pain and indignity.
Or if you subscribe to the views of The Secret, that “You cannot "catch" anything unless you think you can, and thinking you can is inviting it to you with your thought”, in spouting this profanity you must be of the view that her conscious or unconscious thinking must’ve been responsible for bringing this cruel inhumanity upon herself.
Or if you are of the opinion that “love is all there is, all else is an illusion”, a quote by John Demartini a contributor on The Secret, explain to her that her horror is not really real, but that from a deeper perspective had been an act of love. And furthermore that the actions of the perpetrator were in fact not a vile and monstrous one, but motivated by some or other form of cosmic love which he had unconsciously enacted upon.
If these indeed are your views then my honest opinion is that you are not living in my reality, and particularly not of that girl’s, but rather in a sick delusional fantasy.
Though if you are of the opinion that you are not deluded, then you must be an incredibly cruel and unfeeling person for having had the gall to confidently proclaim that these are your views. What you therefore are implying is that at some supposed more consequential level, this poor girl had not been the innocent victim of human savagery, but at some obscure ‘cosmic’ level had deserved what happened to her.
Such attitudes are very real and unfortunately are significantly increasing with the advent of New Ageism. The real danger in these neo ‘spiritual’ views is that they essentially are escapist. For instance at a talk I gave in Cape Town where I spoke about this very incident, a prominent person in the city’s New Age movement attempted to defend the notion that “love is all there is, all else is an illusion” by indeed rationalizing it from Demartini’s perspective.
In defense of his ideology he intimated that, unless one takes mental heed of the event, it did not really happen at all from one’s individual perspective.
In his argument he literally equated the events of our lives to the fictitious events on a movie screen by indicating that, if a particular event was not captured on film, it then does not exist from the vantage of the movie audience watching the showing of it at all and thus is not a reality for that particular audience.
Quite frankly, this is the most inhuman argument that I have ever heard.
I say this because I always understood from my Judeo-Christian upbringing (not that I’m a Christian or Jew but an Agnostic, if anything) that one’s capacity to become conscious of the suffering and inhumanity around one and then to actively reach out to those ill-fated by circumstance, is the most consequential act of humanity one can ever show.
Moreover, it is imperative we fully acknowledge that the brutality of ‘humans’ are real and omnipresent and cannot be wished away or meditated into spiritual oblivion as is becoming the predominant view.
Rather it is incumbent on us to fully acknowledge that this type of barbarity takes place, being a scourge within humanity that must be bitterly fought against if we indeed are to collectively evolve to a higher level of being.

 Copyright © 2007 by Newton Fortuin

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Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Life We Know

Courtesy - Brian Dye

Man—in his endless search for greener pastures—has gone to great lengths to improve his existence as mere mortal on earth. While most do so honourably, many rob, cheat and even kill to gain more from life. But alas, irrespective of the life lived, its conclusion is simple, exact and irrevocable. A fleeting moment of light returned to an inevitable darkness.
Where’s the justice in this?
Why is death so cruel and merciless and why is it often accompanied with dreadful pain and suffering?
Why live at all for it to be reduced to the sorrow of dying?
The answers certainly are not clear. In an attempt to explain the inexplicable, we must be aware that we are dealing with the mysterious, but two views do emerge. The first is simple and addresses the essence of life - the survival instinct - every creatures’ inherent drive to stay alive.
The other is more complex, yet paradoxically, amazingly simple, requiring insight of the workings of the greater universe - none of which anybody really understands - and ones place in it. It demands a profound and honest understanding of oneself and one’s true purpose. It can be a painful journey to hard-to-reach accesses of ones’ inner self, requiring a lifetime of dedication to maintain.
The first view is a mystical, magical one, shrouded in the supernatural. Though not based on reality, but on the power of illusion, it has become the most active force in man’s physical development. It provides a ready consolation to a world ravaged by disease, natural disaster and the daily battle for survival. More than this, it’s been the most powerful social tool in history, instilling great levels of cohesion, discipline and most importantly, a fear of wrong-doing and consequently a primitive sense of justice.
What is this magical spell and what is its power over one as ‘knowledgeable’ as humankind?
The answer is not hard to find. From the moment man realized his mortality, it became an all-empowering force. The mere thought of death is still his worst fear. Would a second chance at life not be the ultimate gift for one destined to die?
Would the promise of a better eternal life not be the ultimate motivation needed to inspire humankind to superior heights of discipline, achievement and morality?
Consequently, the philosophy of “a life well lived will be a life well rewarded after death” predominated through the manifestation of religion. Separated by the widest oceans and the highest mountains, numerous religious doctrines developed. Despite physical barriers their essence is universal with the ultimate goal, the attainment of immortality.
What would the world be without these ideals? Surely the rules of the jungle would prevail, where only the fittest, fiercest and most cunning can survive?
For many, death would simply be the end to a pathetic life. By creating the illusion of life after death, man has found the means to lift himself from the realm of savage, to the godlike realm of the immortal. Now, instead of living only by the instinct to survive, he can now be guided by his passion to live. Convinced that contribution to society, compassion towards others, obedience and hard work will bring an eternal life, man has developed himself to an astonishing level of sophistication.
Is this not the magic and wonder of it all? Whether life after death is fact or fantasy should be of little importance, isn’t the significance the reality it has achieved?
If you believe in magic and the power of illusion, this life view is sufficient although not complete. You will be guided by your desire to achieve the ultimate, that magical life beyond the pain of death. Unfortunately though, you are not the master of the course you are taking, for it has been carefully drawn by the magician’s wand.
Like all magic though, the illusion only lasts as long as there is belief in its power. Many have doubts or lack the resolve to follow through its purest intent. For them, this magic has less meaning than their own understanding of their very existence. Even under the control of religion, man’s desires and whims exist and do get the better of him. In attempting to adhere to a doctrine, these feelings are merely suppressed, producing conflicts between these desires and the dogma rigidly forced upon him. The repercussions can be small and insignificant or can take the guise of religious fanaticism, demonism, sadism and war. What is paramount is not the mere adherence to a fancy doctrine in order to achieve a convoluted and somewhat distant goal.
What is important is that man discovers his true inner self. Deep within he should discover the real meaning of life and all that is of true significance.
But how does one find that inner being? Would man not find a wanton demon hidden in his depths, ready to devour all within its power to consume? Would he not become the savage he once was?
He need not. In his journey through life man should have grown from the helpless infant who needs nurturing guidance, past the troublesome adolescent who has to obey the house rules or face the consequences. He should have developed faculties far superior to the wantonness of primitive man. With his superior comprehension, rational thought and the wisdom of time as his guide, he should by now be able to find his own way.
For after all, is he not the same being capable of sending one of his own to outer-space? And is it not he who conquered the skyways and airwaves so that the entire planet is within his reach, while doing this, also tapping into the very atom of all existence releasing a magic genie so awesome that even to this day it is beyond his comprehension?
These are but a few of man’s uncountable ‘victories’ against the forces of the universe. But alas, with all this greatness, man’s potential greed and zest for power has given him an infinite ability to use his knowledge to destroy himself and his world.
For now, from the ashes of man obsessed with death, a new savage has arisen. One obsessed with life. His own. Cybernetic man. A narcissistic being preoccupied with what he can accumulate in his mortal lifetime.
Domination and control of all that surrounds him is an obsession of this being. Because of this, all living things are vulnerable to his exploitation. Hardly any aspect of life has escaped complete alteration or annihilation as a direct consequence of his meddling. All life forms not suiting his purpose he has killed off or fenced out to suite his convenience. The very life-form precious to all that breathes is being mowed down to satisfy his vanity. The mighty oceans are slowly dying. The skies are losing their once ever-prevalent shield against the constant bombardment of the sun. Our generous mother earth is turning to desert as she rapidly ages, having to provide for an ever growing and demanding humankind.
More destruction and decay was caused in one mere lifetime of cybernetic man compared to the entire lifetime of the earth. Another human lifetime of this insanity is all that is needed to destroy the billions of years of harmony and balance that has been ever prevalent in our world.
As man and this world face what could be their final hour, he should ask this crucial question: “If I am so wise and omnipotent, why do I willingly destroy the essence that sustains me?”
There can be no logical answer. These actions are that of a demon bent on self-destruction. Surely there is no rational thought at play with such acts of obsessive greed?
Do we not need our world to thrive for us to thrive?
Do we not need our world to be at peace for us to have peace?
Should we not give love to be loved?
Yes, the answer was always there: give that which you wish to receive; reap what you sow.
Is that not truly the essence of living the one life we really know?

Copyright © 1986 by Newton Fortuin