Wednesday, December 22, 2004


Longtime holiday pianist silenced by Midway rules: "By performing Christmas tunes on a piano, Phyllis Silhan can get an airport concourse to break into song or provide comfort to a grieving traveler. Not this year. After 22 years as the piano lady of Midway Airport, Silhan -- a woman once called Chicago's best ambassador by Mayor Daley -- is no longer playing at the airport. Faced with more restrictions by the city -- including a new rule that she could no longer place a tip jar on the piano to collect money for charity -- Silhan decided enough was enough."


There is something unique about diabetes: it is an incurable illness that can be controlled. It is a medical success story - perhaps one of the greatest of the twentieth century - that is now being treated as a modern plague, an out-of-control epidemic. For the very reason that diabetics no longer face certain death, it is one potentially fatal disease that public health campaigners, health journalists and anybody else can comment on with impunity. With a clear conscience, every health guru can take a good kick at the unhealthy, King Size Mars bars guzzling masses who are apparently asking for the wrath of diabetes to be visited upon them.

A thinly disguised paternalistic condemnation of underclass fat munchers breaks out when the 'diabetes crisis' is publicly discussed. Ulster Unionist assembly member Billy Armstrong was in tub-thumping form when he declared 'the diabetes epidemic must be addressed!' and, citing concern about economic strain on the NHS, Billy issued dire warnings about the cost that diabetic slobs could inflict on society: 'If the diabetes epidemic continues to rise, the losers will not simply be those who suffer the condition. All of us could be directly affected. Each of us [has] an obligation to encourage people to practise healthy living, both in dietary form and in physical exercise. If we do not, the prospects are too terrible to contemplate.'

Diabetes UK, a charity that has done much to support diabetics and their families, is not immune to the 'brought it on themselves' point of view. Diabetes UK national manager Delia Henry said: 'We also know that because of lifestyle changes, people being overweight and not having as much activity in their life as they should have, that can be a trigger for diabetes. The combinations are not good for the future and we know that the number of people with diabetes will double.' (2) A recent advert for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation reads 'Juvenile diabetes strikes our children at random. Let's strike back' (3). I'm all for striking back, but the first part of this well-meaning declaration is a serious misrepresentation of scientific fact.

Diabetes is not random, and juvenile diabetes is the least random of all. There are two types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is early onset, and there is a considerable body of scientific research that shows a strong genetic predisposition to developing this sort of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is late onset, and is thought to be associated with obesity in some cases.

At the heart of current representations of diabetes is a medical profession that has lost a sense of its duty to cure rather than chastise. When the medical profession turns to prevention instead of cure, the disease becomes fetishised around individual behaviour and experience rather than an understanding of the disease itself. The disease comes to define the person rather than being a physical obstacle to be overcome.

Even if there is a link between obesity and some forms of diabetes, shouldn't we focus on cure rather than lecturing people about their lifestyle? Prevention is not better than cure: it is more often than not a copout.

There are many dedicated medical researchers and doctors determined to find a once-and-for-all cure for diabetes. The turning away from cure is something that has happened within a society that no longer believes in progress and in our ability to defy the odds with which we are born.

More here


Among the most foolish ideas to emanate from the foolish '60s is that what you feel in your heart is more important than what you publicly express. According to this thinking, to cite one example, patriotism is a feeling, not a flag displayed on national holidays. On the contrary, such displays are derided as "flag waving," which has been rendered a pejorative term. We have lost an appreciation for the monumental significance of public ritual in maintaining our national identity and values. We have also greatly overstated the ability of feelings to be maintained without public expression of those feelings.

Additional examples make this point clear. Ask your wife if she would feel equally loved and appreciated if you never gave her a card or gift on her birthday, your wedding anniversary or Mother's Day. After all, if you really believe that feelings need not be manifested in any formal, ritualistic way, why bother with a card or gift on her birthday? Presumably you love her just as much on that day as any other, so why engage in card waving?

The reason is that for the vast majority of people, their birthday is a significant day, and its significance should be publicly manifested and even celebrated, not just internally felt. "Honey, there's no card, no dinner out, no party and no gift, because I don't believe in those things. I love you in my heart" -- that doesn't work. Nor does, "I love my country, so any public manifestation or celebration of that love is pointless." So many Americans are tone-deaf to patriotism as anything more than public dissent, or affirmation of the Constitution, or personal feeling. Yet, Americans have died for the flag, and members of Congress had tears in their eyes (as I had in mine) when Republican and Democrat alike sang "God Bless America" after 9-11.

That is why many of us want the Pledge of Allegiance with the words "under God" said in schools every day. The argument that anyone can do all the God-talk they want at home or at church is no more convincing than the argument that anyone can sing the national anthem at home, so why have people do it at baseball games? Public expressions of societal values are crucial to keeping those values alive. An America without its flag displayed on national holidays is an America that has lost its sense of self. I am not arguing that displaying the flag guarantees patriotism, only that (a) it is an indispensable aid to its survival, and that (b) never displaying the flag will eventually kill patriotism.

Which brings me to Christmas decorations. A Christian can feel deeply religious and personally celebrate Christmas with great fervor without hanging one light bulb in front of his home. But society suffers from such a self-directed faith. It will be a very sad day in America if Christmas decorations are entirely absent. I am a religious Jew who deeply bemoans the absence of Christmas decorations (or menorahs in windows) in large parts of my city, Los Angeles. My city and I are the poorer for it.

Life is greatly enhanced for Americans of all faiths by people who take the time and pay the expense to put up Christmas displays. Do some people put up displays so lavish that the purpose is partly to outdo their neighbor? Probably. But so what? The rest of us benefit from such competitions. So here's the bottom line: If you celebrate Christmas and you put up no public display, please reconsider. It is one way you can immediately have a positive impact on our society. But if you won't, at least consider this -- send a thank-you note or some other token of appreciation to your neighbor who does put up a display. They are doing a major public service.

From Dennis Prager

No comments: