Religious Inversions of Ancient Tales

2 10 2014

Confusion reigns in many ‘modern’ religions as ancient scriptures and rituals try to find relevance and meaning in a post industrial world. If ancient texts do have meaning for today’s world, then that meaning’s discovered through interpretation. Interpretation is the art of finding the original meaning in a text and then showing how that might be relevant today. Interpretation is particularly important for religions that hold ancient ‘texts’ to be important. In Christianity (my religion) the interpretation of ‘the scripture’ focuses on the Bible. Understanding the Bible therefore is a major area of concentration in the lives of all Christians. One would hope that better interpretation would lead to better Christians, but that does depend on what we get from our interpretive effort, and on how we then apply what we got to our lives!

Unfortunately, as a religion Christianity is very far away from finding any consensus on how the Bible is to be understood.

Rather than diving right into the various attempts to interpret the Bible (which would certainly take more than a series of blog posts to cover) I am going to just try to outline how I personally understand the Bible and how that understanding affects my thinking about one currently ‘hot’ cultural topic, that of sexual orientation.
The Bible is an ancient text. It was last contributed to over 2000 years ago and the entire span of its writing covers over (at least) 1000 years! All the various parts of the Bible are written for and about particular happenings in particular places and communities during that millennium. The Bible is not monolithic. The Bible has been built brick by brick and stone by stone, and it has stood the test of time! The Bible’s story culminates in four gospels that tell us about Jesus, and then (in the New Testament part of the Bible) goes on to follow the birth of Christianity over the next few decades. It’s worth noting that for the writers of the New Testament (NT – about Jesus and the early church) their Bible actually constituted of the largely memorized Tanakh of that day’s Judaism, which is mostly our present ‘old’ testament (OT).
The NT writers record the introduction of belief in Christ in various parts of the Roman empire, and simultaneously, they record Jesus’ life and ministry in a very interesting way. The style of their records of Jesus are fascinating both for their commonalities and for their differences, but the picture of Jesus that emerges from the reading of ‘the gospels’ is an incredibly powerful and gripping story of the person Jesus, who did what he did so remarkably well that lives were transformed for good. Jesus’ impact is the very heart of what becomes Christianity.
We cannot reconstruct from these gospel records anything like a ‘Life of Jesus’ though not for want of trying! We can, however, get to know Jesus himself, and I think the main reason for this slightly odd phenomenon is that many people who personally knew Jesus went to incredible lengths to pass on what they knew as accurately and completely as they could. Naturally, they stuck to stuff that had so startled them out of their slumbers that it became clearly imprinted in their minds. As a natural consequence, their records are not given to being strung together either chronologically or subject-wise, but do provide a wonderfully clear picture of the person, Jesus.
By studying the gospel accounts in parallel, we can see that many witnesses had come forward to tell what they knew. The result is that 4 different authors draw breathtakingly similar pictures, yet one can clearly see that the roots of their stories have been gathered independently. One impressive explanation for the striking similarities and critical differences comes from B. Gerhardsson who shows that there was a definite “Rabbinic method” that teachers of that day followed to accurately orally preserve their words, and it explains so well what we find in actual fact in the gospels themselves. Incidentally, in cultures such as India it is well known that teachers (gurus) orally train their disciples, and it is precisely this sort of tradition to which we owe the preservation of the sayings of the Buddha (for e.g.).
So, at the culmination of what was essentially a one tribe story (the Old Testament – OT – of the Bible) we have Jesus bursting onto the scene and creating a cataclysm. For Jesus, the OT – his scripture – was given by God for guidance to mankind. However, Jesus introduces a striking change in how the OT is to be understood… if you want to understand the scripture, (says Jesus, in effect) you have to look for the Father – our loving Father. Don’t therefore take the letter of the law as the final thing, though every bit of that is important (as your primary source material), but look instead for what the OT can teach you about the Father, and apply that knowledge of the Father to what you are about today! So, the OT actually records the give and take between the Father and His people, with the people vacillating between periods of understanding and obedience and living in love and justice, then sliding right back into doing all the things that they know will irritate their Father to the utmost.
Jesus goes on to show us in his own life what really seeing and believing the Father means in day-to-day life. He summarizes the main principles as:
1. Love God.
2. Love your neighbor as yourself.He tells us that in these two principles reside everything that God wanted us to know from the entire OT.
I don’t think we can easily grasp how shocking Jesus’ teachings and doings (based on these two principles) actually were to his contemporaries. The religious leaders of the day at first tried to analyse his message, then when they realized the implications, they tried various methods to discredit Jesus, and failing these, they finally found a way to ‘permanently’ silence him – that is, they had him put to death by their Roman rulers by claiming that he was a very real terrorist!
All this happened in a cultural milieu, and fortunately, because of extensive writings preserved from that period, and the meticulous work of archaeologists, we do know a fair amount both about Jewish history, society and culture, and that  too of their rulers of the day, the Romans.

Now, what’s happened in effect is that Jesus, in the life he lives, reveals to us anew who God the Father is. Everything that happens subsequently, with the founding of Christianity, is the working out of this renewing knowledge of God and the resulting renewed relationship with God the Father in and through His Son Jesus. The authenticity of the message of the gospel and of Jesus Himself comes with a terrifying bang at the end of all four gospel accounts, first with His horrifying death, and then with His most unexpected resurrection.

We can clearly see some of what God has done (in the Bible), and it presents us with a puzzling conundrum. Why has God done these things? The answer that the Bible gives, that Jesus emphasizes, is LOVE!

Unfortunately for us we are far too fascinated with the ‘why’ and ‘how’ types of questions to not enter into speculation. Speculation is the mother of doctrine – and we will see where that takes us soon enough! Suffice it to say that the gospel is so simple that no one can mistake it – at the same time we can also choose to build huge edifices upon it and eventually we will forget the simplicity of the foundation and remember only the complication of what we have constructed!

As we dig into the gospels for more on Jesus, it is hard to miss the concept of Emmanuel (God with us), by which Jesus is introduced to us (Isaiah 7-8, ‎Matthew 1:22-23). God is with us, and Jesus focuses God’s presence in his teachings on what the reality of God’s kingdom is all about, especially that the Father is particularly with the downtrodden, the suffering, the sick, the disenfranchised, the poor, the outcaste, the seeker, and all those others that religion and society have left in a lurch.

And that’s pretty much my own basic understanding now of how I find relevance in the Bible, for it’s the Bible that leads me to Jesus, and that makes me want to follow Jesus, and to know Jesus. I see Jesus most clearly in his life, his doings, and his teachings as they are found in the gospels and in turn, the gospels help me to see what the whole of the Bible is about, revealing both God the Son and God the Father to me.

Just as that great crowd of witnesses had memorized and learned from their teacher, so we too should immerse ourselves first and foremost in those very same gospels that record whatever could reliably be remembered of Jesus. I am certain that the very reason we have so many gospels independently covering so much of the same ground, is that for the new believers, the most important thing, the most critically important thing, was to be able to know and then follow Jesus. They needed to get together all that they could of him from reliable witnesses while these were still around, and they did! The same process took place wherever there was any concentration of original witnesses to be had, and voila, out of all those efforts we have now our 4 gospels!

In the rest of the NT we do not find much of Jesus being quoted, though allusions to His teachings and doings are numerous. This has long puzzled scholars, and bizarre theories have been generated by them in turn. But I suspect that once folks had memorised all the available stuff and were holding these findings in common with others who had also memorised the same stuff (about what Jesus said and did), they rarely needed to keep quoting the known bedrock to each other. Rather, one gets on with understanding and discussing how this works out practically, and you remind one another of where you are more by allusion than by quotation. In fact that’s what the word ‘gospel’ comes to mean in the rest of the NT, and that’s probably why outside of ‘the gospels’ themselves (that constitute that entire bedrock of critically important knowledge – “the gospel”) we see so little of the quoting that we would otherwise expect. The ground on which discussions take place IS common.

The gospels would then constitute something like the basic ‘catechism’ (boot camp), and the new believer’s first job is to memorize (remember that books were uncommon and extremely expensive back then) the gospel.

Everything that we have in our gospels is therefore The Gospel that was then taught, preached and memorized as the story of Jesus spread out. I do think this grounding process took time and there is evidence in the NT that the time was taken to establish these basics properly.

Unfortunately, our modern and post-modern church gives scant respect to the gospels and I think this is perhaps why Christians of today scarcely remind us of Jesus the Christ whom they are supposedly following and believing! Instead of a people who behave in a manner consistent with intimately knowing Jesus their Lord and Savior, we all too often see packs of doctrinalists and literalists, who in their loveless rantings more resemble the religious enemies of Jesus than Jesus Himself!

I have little doubt that ‘the gospel’ was precisely what Paul (who wrote many of the letters in the NT) had to learn after he suddenly realized that Jesus was The One, and his resulting ‘gospel’ he finally checked for consistency with other disciples of Jesus who were then congregated in Jerusalem. But all that is speculative… I have no doubt that it is this very gospel that was what Paul proclaimed as he moved through the length and breadth of the Roman empire.
For the present, I think that’s a fairly good summary of my current understanding of what the gospel is and how (and why) it came to be the way it is.

What happens next in the NT is that this gospel goes out and meets various groups of people scattered across the Roman empire, eventually creating scattered fellowships of Christ believers/followers. Jesus has been acknowledged by these believers to be the long promised messiah of the OT and is therefore God’s anointed one, and in Greek, that is what the word Christ signifies, hence our word Christ-ian.

In the process of spreading out from Palestine into the larger Roman empire, practitioners of the gospel encounter cultural realities/environments that are not similar to those of Palestine at that time. In these strange new cultural environments, how is the gospel to be worked out? And so we have Paul, John, Peter, James and so on all communicating by way of brief letters (epistles) to address particular situations that arise after the proclamation of Jesus, and as their gospel walks out into unfamiliar cultural territory.

Now, here we are 2000 years further along in time. We are therefore now in a situation that was reminiscent of those querulous first few steps that the gospel took once long ago, for both cultures and societies (and religion) have changed remarkably over the interval, and yet the same gospel is there to guide us as to the nature of the Father, and the revelation of the Father is seen just as clearly now in the life, teaching, and doings of the Son Jesus. The gospel that Jesus lived out has not changed. The gospel is still addressing human beings, and in spite of our culture, our ‘advanced’ society, and our technology, we are still just human beings in need of and in search of our Father.

As I leap out over this chasm, I also notice that in many instances when the gospel spread into the Roman empire, there was culture shock and then cultural accommodation, and we can see this accommodation taking place in the epistles of the NT itself. Some of these cultural accommodations are sensible and sound applications of Jesus teaching and principles, while others fly in the face of the principles that Jesus taught, i.e. are contrary to the gospel of Jesus.

One excellent change for example, was that racial discrimination was tackled as it became obvious that not only people of Jewish descent were responding to Jesus and believing in Him.

A contrasting area of cultural accommodation, was the young church’s inability to tackle the issue of slavery. There are a number of reasons for the church not to have taken this issue on. However, in subsequent Christian history, eventually it was realised that slavery in any form is not compatible with believing in and following a just and loving God. Eventually, Jesus and his gospel won.

Since Wilberforce and his friends fought their epic battle in the 19th century,  the battle against slavery – of the official, culturally acceptable kind – has been mostly won. In consequence, colonial influence has waned and we do have a slightly more equitable world to live in.

Other areas of conflict that were left unresolved by the NT included that ubiquitous thing called war, which is an outgrowth of our tolerance for violence in so many forms, and prominently gender equality, and sexual orientations. As with slavery, the young church was unable to step back and ask whether Jesus’ gospel called for changes in these areas. We can see that Paul in particular was aware of the clash as his statement in his epistle to the Galatians (3:28) and again in Colossians (3:11) actually follows the implications of Jesus teaching to their conclusions. But he himself was unable to do much other than to toe the cultural norms in his other writings.I am privileged to live in India, which due to its decidedly Eastern culture and agrarian economy has a lot of cultural similarities with life in Palestine 2000 years ago. Still, the changes that have taken place in the world are huge^^.  In India, the gospel as understood by India’s mainline churches has its own peculiar cultural blind spots. At its root, we find that we have inherited a literalistic approach to the Bible and subsequently many of the wrong cultural tendencies of peoples from biblical times are used to justify very wrong and un-Christ-ian practices in our present day church life. The most obvious of these is the failure to tackle the evil of casteism. We have also not tackled our male dominant society, and we have chosen not to take on issues of wealth, poverty and the ownership of property! We have also chosen to avoid questioning the church’s status quo on matters of sexuality and in particular the homophobia (LGBTA-phobia) that we have inherited from the Victorian colonial West.

In general, in the world of the 21st century we actually have a strange situation where many gospel implications (based on the gospel principles of justice and equality) have been wholeheartedly accepted by post-enlightenment, secular, science oriented, common sense based thinkers.

At the same time we have an even stranger phenomenon of the bulk of Christianity wrongly preferring the norms and mores of the 2000 year old culture that Jesus Himself challenged with His gospel!

The very fact that modern and post-modern thinkers have decided to support equality and justice seems to have enraged our religious conservatives, and the key question of whither the gospel will lead has been blanked out by blind reactionism. Where we see this most clearly is regarding sexuality and sexual orientation. While abuses in the ‘institution’ of heterosexual marriage are rampant, most especially in the propagation of male dominance, domestic violence, and in heterosexual exceptionality, we find many Christians concentrating their rage instead against persons with differing sexual orientations (the LGBTA) and particularly focused on ‘gay bashing’, homophobia. I am frequently told by would-be conservative ‘scholars’  that this is because of their ‘interpretations’ of the Bible, and it involves a savagely literalistic use of some texts*.

 I have no doubt that singling out any group of people and discriminating against them because of issues of differences from the ‘norm’ (in this case because of their sexual orientation) is unjust, inequitable, dehumanizing, and against Jesus’ gospel!

The (conservative/non-affirming) church has actually created a class of untouchables and has been the agent of evil in denigrating these persons’ humanity. Rather than reaching out to the downtrodden, we (the church that claims to follow Jesus) have become the authoritarians who tread upon the lives of others – what a travesty!

Yet the conservative-doctrinaire branches of Christianity insist on discriminating against anyone who does not toe the heterosexuality-only line. The fact that ‘sin’ is found as commonly in heterosexual relationships seems not to count at all. In fact there is a strong tendency to disregard in any active discussion, all heterosexually sinful activity including marital rape, premarital sex, and divorce, from the purview of ‘sin’, though oddly enough, adultery does still seem to be a sticking point for some…

The shrillness accompanying any discussion of sexual orientation other than heterosexuality is amazing to me. Forgotten are Jesus’ directions to take responsibility first for our own sins and to be nonjudgemental of others, let alone being so willing to cast the first verbal stones. Perhaps the most startling thing for me was the discovery that conservative heterosexuals freely admit that they are not aware of when they chose to (‘obeying God?’) become heterosexual, yet homosexuals (really, any LGBTA) are accused of choosing to be homosexual, therefore denying God, and therefore worthy of hellfire etc.!

So, do we follow Jesus
or
do we follow the very worldly, religious,
literalistic-doctrinaire-conservative ‘way’?
It’s for you to decide…
On the one hand, as the gospel enjoins, there is love, justice, equality, respect, acceptance, and a lack of judgmentalism.
On the other hand there is condemnation, ostracism, outcasteism, denial of rights, judgementalism, lots of hell-talk, injustice, suppression of personality, vituperation, and often outright hatred – all presented supposedly as legitimate expressions of God’s love.




ADHD – LD6

17 03 2008

ADHD kid
 

While I personally find autism the most challenging and confusing disorder to deal with (perhaps because it is not “one” disorder?), Attention Deficit Disorder-ADD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder-ADHD is certainly the most common of all childhood developmental disorders and also has generated the greatest amount of controversy as far as standards of diagnosis, treatment and parenting are concerned.

Undoubtedly, something that affects up to 5-10% of all children will call for a great deal of attention. ADD or ADHD (I generally prefer the second term but there are some kids who are attention deficit but not markedly hyperactive), should be detected as early as possible. What is often considered naughtiness is most often ADHD. In severe instances, the child will be thought of as “uncontrollable”, “terribly disobedient”, and perhaps also “unmanageable”. Hearing any of these terms (or their many cognates) should indicate the need for a professional evaluation.

In older children, once in school teachers will notice the short attention span and perhaps also the fidgetiness that goes with it and may call for an evaluation. Children with ADHD are often as intelligent as their peers or more so but will lag behind in the developmental testing due to the cumulative effecs of the short attention span. It is not uncommon to find dyslexia and or dyspraxia also showing up in a detailed evaluation but more commonly ADHD occurs alone. ADHD is now thought to be a catch-all designation that includes at least 5 or 6 different types of disorders, but you can find out more about that in your own research.ADHD chart

Common signs that we look for include:

  • Consistently not completeing tasks.
  • Not listening or paying attention.
  • Keeps losing things.
  • Swithches from one activity (or play) to another, more frequently than his/her peers.
  • Easlly distractable.
  • Refuses to do things considered “boring” (including homework).
  • Acts without thinking, very impulsive.
  • Needs constant supervision.
  • Seems to have “too much” energy.
  • Climbs, jumps, runs, more often than peers.
  • May be short tempered.
  • Seems to fidget a lot, has difficulty sitting still.
  • Child can be inflexible, argumentative, and stubborn.

The professionals of course will have a much more detailed list and lots of questions to ask about stuff like developmental milestones, but if any of the above seem to apply to your child, do have a child psychologist do a complete evaluation.

So, if you do have a child with ADHD what’s next? depending on the age and the actual developmental level as well as the child’s own personality and what types of symptoms are present, the professionals will give you detailed instrucions. It is also very important that you do get into a support group with those who are also having to learn how to effectively deal with ADHD.

Controversies are many, so here I’m just going to tell you what I think and leave you to research the various issues and decide for yourself.

In my experience medications are almost always avoidable, but here the proviso is what sort of a parent or caregiver you are. If you are the type who finds all this difficult to accept and would rather not be bothered, then perhaps you should ask the psychaitrists to help both you and your child with some pills. Mostly a type of stimulant is used that strangely seems to calm ADHD kids down. But, I do believe that with a little care and the right support, your child probably can avoid needing to be medicated.

You need to start a journal. Note down behaviors, good and bad as they occur as well as stuff like sleep timings, diet – quantity as well as type, and how the child is coping with studies, feedback from teachers, achievements and especially the developmental milestones.

ADHD is treatable. 

Stay in close tough with the counselors, teachers and other professionals who are going to be dealing with your child’s ADHD, share ideas, ask questions and make suggestions. Find a team/school that both you and your child are comfortable with and work together to sort things out. We have found that in addition to counseling, occupational therapy, sensory integration and yoga have all proved helpful. Treatment is usually successful when done with a will to succeed. Your child may always have the tendencies, but will slowly learn how to keep them under control, how to concentrate better, and how to be better organised about life and the various tasks that go into making one more successful.

We pay a lot of attention to diet, but there are many who feel that it’s not that big of a deal. Generally, in our experience, cutting carbs and increasing mixed fats and proteins usually helps almost immediately to modulate hyperactivity and more slowly also has an effect on increasing attention spans. But, this may be anecdotal… We have also found that some children are “set-off” by particular foods or spices. If you do your journal properly, you will find your child’s pattern – if there is one!

We have found that identifying each child’s interests is an important first step. It’s much easier to work on the attention span using the child’s own interests as a springboard. Boredom is one of the biggest enemies, so trying a ‘standard formula’ rarely works across the board.

Keep plugging away. Both you and your child should realise that having ADHD does not make one less valuable as a person. The real point is that each and every child should have the best possible shot at realising their own unique potential – and that’s the Challenge!

cheetah running

P.S. There’s lots of half-baked stuff out there. Use your common sense, resarch thoroughly, discuss issues threadbare before jumping on to the latest bandwagon. A little thoughtful hesitation never hurts!

Digg!





Tiger Troubles

18 02 2008

tiger litho

For the first time in a large number of years, I will not be attempting to participate in any animal censuses this spring/summer. The reasons are mostly personal, but I am still feeling very bad about my nonparticipation as this is a critical year for India’s overall conservation effort.

It had became obvious a couple of years ago (especially after the IUCN study) that India’s forests had reached a crisis point. Our top predator, the Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris) was at a population nadir. The known numbers of tigers had been suddenly found to be less than half of what it should be. Even more frighteningly, in certain important tiger zones like Sariska, the tiger has completely disappeared. The extinction of our tigers stares us in the face.

The government has come up with various ‘explanations’ including increased poaching, but the most disingenuous reason put forward for the sudden dearth is that the tigers were never there in the first place! The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) and their minions in “Project Tiger” now wants us to believe that poor counting technique is to blame for an earlier “inflated” statistic. They argue that now that proper camera traps have been placed, and things are being done in a “more scientific” manner, we should all acknowledge that the tiger popultion has not actually fallen much – that the population always was less than half of what we had projected…

I say that this is disingenuous (i.e. bullshit) for a couple of reasons.

1) Long term forest dwellers, the tribals and the Forest Department personnel themselves in each forest, get to know their animals very well indeed. Larger animals like the elephants or bisons and certainly both the leopards and the tigers in each of our forests are easily recognisable and identifiable as individuals.

2) The census methods used in the past, though rough and ready, are yet certainly scientific enough. When censuses are based on physical evidence such as scats and the plaster casts of paw prints, then there is absolutely no way that someone can claim that the populations so determined are inferior to that of phototrapping. I would argue that in fact the phototrap is a ridiculously unscientific way to determine absolute populations when compared to the older methods!

In fact we are left to surmise that if one takes the trouble to go through the physical evidence that had been gathered over so many years of painstaking censusing, our tiger populations have long been declining – steadily and now quite drastically. The problem then lies with the MOEF/state Forest Departments’ perennial habit of inflating the actual counts in order to satisfy the powers that be, and in order to pacify the many and vociferous critics of the government’s very many inadequacies in this regard.

In other words they have been cheating on the numbers for quite some time, and quite systematically too, and now that they have finally been caught out, the easiest recourse has been to point the finger at the supposedly faulty methodology of the past.

But why has the tiger declined and is it only the tiger that is in trouble?

The short answer is  NO! It’s not only the tiger that has troubles. The forests as a whole have been grossly overexploited.

A case in point in the present instance is the debate on allowing forest dwellers to continue to occupy their niches within the confines of the many forests of our land. Persuasive voices say that here is a major factor in the degredation of our prime habitats. I personally believe that it is not the tribals themselves who are to blame. Many have found it easy to manipulate and utilise the unique rights that tribal forest dwellers have, to indirectly reach into and steal the forests’ wealth. Well there is little left to steal now and the tribals are left holding the bag on having to live in forests that can no longer sustain their needs.

There are many other factors too. Take a look at the great number of private estates that sit squarely within our forest areas. They are certainly doing their bit to destroy the forests around them for one thing, with their use of fertilizers and pesticides and for another the exploitation, contamination, and pollution of the forests’ precious water resources are all having a disastrous impact. Then we have our MOEF’s penchant for suddenly granting mining and even forage/fodder licenses in our few remaining forest areas. They will then even come up with environmental clearances for these absolutely destructive projects and all in the name of ‘development’!

But these issues, though important, are not yet the worst of the culprits. The forests as a whole are under great threat due to lopsided and simplistic mismanagement over many decades. We know that our hardwood fig “strangling”trees are being poached along with our sandalwood. Trees such as the rosewood and mahogany are simply never seen within our ‘Reserve’ or National Park Forests. If we can’t protect these huge trees that are so difficult to transport out (where the take per tree is less than 200,000 rupees now for the illegal logger) , then where is the question of our being able to protect our leopards and tigers? A tiger will earn a poacher not less than a million rupees and all that it takes is a well placed wire trap or some poisoned bait – and a buyer.

In other words, if we can not protect our trees, there’s no way that we can claim to be adequately protecting our precious tigers. Combine the losses to poaching with the ridiculously bioinverse policy of planting large tracts of monocultures of “economically important” species such as teak or bamboo – and of course these then have to be harvested – and you do indeed begin to have the recipe for the disaster that we have been cooking up.

Once the forest’s precious tree diversity is gone, the forest itself gets degraded and becomes a poorer and poorer habitat that will soon not be able to support top predators like the tiger. Biodiversity is undermined at all levels. Other critical large-animal populations, notably the elephants, leaopards and bison, will then have to start wandering out of the ‘protected’ zones in search of food and water, and that will lead to increasing incidences of man-animal conflicts in the forest’s surroundings.

One final point for today’s debate: The earmarked, and presently “protected”, territory is very inadequate. Tigers roam over huge areas of range (as indeed do elephants). They spread out so that they do not much have to encounter one another. I have twice seen wild tigers while hiking in scrub jungle, well outside the confines of the nearest reserve forest. Clearly we need to expand the buffer zones around the “core areas” of our remaining tiger populations. We also have to eventually find the funding to fence the forests and forest denizens in (and the poachers out).  Ever thought about what it would take to fence-in an elephant?

In the meantime, if we can start by adequately expanding the buffer areas and perhaps even provide linking corridors between nearly contiguous stretches of forest, this in itself will start to make a fantastic difference!

Environmentalists and forest watchers who care and who have raised their voices of protest have been silenced by committees of armchair scientists, most of whom have never even seen a real live wild tiger to speak of. It’s up to us now, the common folks of this great land of the erstwhile Royal Bengal Tiger, to keep the issues alive and to make the careless of officialdom accountable for the precious heritage that they are allowing to be destroyed before our very eyes.

IF YOU CARE AND WOULD LIKE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE:

Let your voice be heard.forest strata

Make the protection of our forests a major issue of national importance.

Teach your children well, for the future is in their hands.

Publicise (write to the editor or to an investigative journalist of your local paper), document, and protest each and every incident of forest abuse that you see or find out about. Keep a weather eye out for stuff like this!

Get personally involved; participate in animal censuses, take up projects to help forest tribals become independent of the forests, talk to your friends about the plight of our forests and encourage one another to become activists for the sake of saving the little that still remains.

Let’s not leave our kids with just this:tiger rug

Let us instead come together to fight to preserve what we still do have left!

Digg!





SLLOOOWWWW LEARNING, LD-5

17 12 2007

Some educationists speak of slow learners as those not specifically diagnosed with a learning difficulty but yet who are below their grade level in studies. Others use this term to mean children with lower than normal IQs but who would not be considered retarded.slow-l-brain-imaging1.jpeg

Both of these definitions are wrong. There are a very wide variety of causes for slow learning, not all of which are understood. Often it has absolutely nothing to do with IQ at all. In fact those with lower than normal IQs should not be called “slow learners” for not only will they be slow but in absolute terms they will never become age normative – that’s not slowness. Those who are just a bit slower will eventually catch up and will even sometimes go on to become exceptional.

In my experience, slow learners may have any combination of identifiable dysfunctionalities like ADD, hyperactivity, dyslexia, dysgraphia or dyspraxia, and sometimes none. But these disadvantages will be partial in effect and not severe enough to be uncompensatable. Very often, we have found that slow learners also have problems with visual-motor coordination. There therefore may be issues in delayed development of visual motor ability and there may be accompanying dyspraxia. While slow learners will lag behind their classmates, they will somewhat manage to keep up. Typically they will do better orally than in written testing and simple things like completing classwork or homework in time may be a constant headache for both parent and teacher- but this is to be expected if your child is slow!

Therapy in self organisation is very important. Building up the child’s self-confidence is also very important. Identify the child’s strengths and use these to bolster their confidence. Teachers should work harder at encouraging and stifle the urge to criticise and particularly should be careful about comparing one child’s performance or work with another’s. At the same time demand and expect performance. Do not let the child be satisfied with less than their best effort. You may find at one stage that there will be a sudden improvement in handwriting neatness and speed or perhaps in an ability to do sums, and this is a strong sign that the right parts of the brain are being stimulated to catch up and they mostly will then do so quite quickly.slow-l-tortoisehare-2.jpg

Orally work with the child one-on-one whenever possible doing mental sums, or any kind of mental gymnastics, including solving puzzles, conundrums, and having fun with expressions and word plays will prove to be very helpful. At the same time make the child work on basics like arithmetic and handwriting on a daily basis.

Again encourage improvement without being too critical but don’t let the child dodge doing the basic amount of work. Daily work on keeping their workspace organised as well as getting them to maintain a daily routine in all things is very important. You will see change happen and sometimes it will happen quite dramatically. Till then a consistent effort will be needed to prepare your child to adequately compensate for whatever part of the mind is temporarily hanging back.

As we have discussed earlier, diet is very important. Get a professional evaluation done as soon as possible and then annually, and do discuss your child’s progress and difficulties with teachers and with your pediatrician. Religiously keep a journal. If the school is not handling your child properly be prepared to shift elsewhere. Do not compromise on the proper learning environment, for once your child feels put down you may never see anything but defeat.

Finally, find a support group. Slow learning is only recently being recognised as something different, so the closest fit will be a support group for ADD/ADHD kids some of whom may also be dyslexic or have other problems.slow-l-brainl_normalmovie_colorbar.gif

Tackling any learning disability or developmental delay is a bit like setting out on a marathon or trying to climb a tall mountain. It won’t be over quickly. Slowly and steadily and with determination and encouragement from fellow travelers, you will succeed in the end. Remember that your child is unique. No formulaic approach may work, but with your love and your commitment, your child will be best able to reach all of their own unique potential as a uniquely valuable human being – and make you proud of how much they have and will achieve.
Digg!





LD4 – Autism

30 10 2007

Autism, despite its name, is not just one type of disorder. The better term is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD henceforth) and that includes a number of distinct developmental deficits and perhaps also from a variety of etiologies (causes) too. DSM IV does distinguis between ‘classical’ autism and PDD NOS (pervasive developmental disorders – not otherwise specified) which does include most of what I’m here calling the autism spectrum.

ASD actually results in a failure to relate. The affected child may not make good eye contact, may find close physical contact disturbing, and will not easily speak even to express basic needs. In other words, the ASD child may not even recognise “the other” as similar to but distinct from “the self”.

Observant care givers will be able to identify the more severe forms of ASD quite early as the deficits in achieving developmental milestones and interaction may be discernible even from the 9th month onwards, but sometimes it takes much longer to detect.

Common signs include:

  • not turning when the parent says the baby’s name;
  • not turning to look when the parent points and says, “Look at…” and not pointing themselves to show parents an interesting object or event,
  • lack of responsiveness.
  • repetitive motion, rocking back and forth.
  • failure to speak, babbling.
  • lack of ‘pretend’ play.
  • repetitive, mechanical, play.
  • smiling late; and
  • failure to make eye contact with people.

(The above signs may not all occur together and may not all be discoverable at the same ages)

The lack of interaction can have a devastating psychological effect on the parents. While all developmental deficits are challenging to parents, the parents of kids with ASD perhaps have the hardest time. But, if the challenge is taken up, even severely affected kids will show improvement and sometimes the improvements will be remarkable.

The challenge is really not ever to give up. The parent (or caregiver) must insist on a relational response and then must insist on the right response. It can be a lifelong struggle, but ultimately very rewarding.

Once ASD is suspected, the child psychologist or paediatrician will be able to confirm the diagnosis. Therapy involves intensive one-on-one occupational therapy, with sensory integration, and directed play involving the child. Behavioral approaches as well as cognitive ones have proved to be helpful but it is most important that the parents learn what they have to achieve at home and work to effectively reinforce whatever the therapists are doing. Some parents actually take the lead in providing therapy and we have seen this approach produce excellent results. The more the parental involvement, (in my experience) the better the child responds!

In our experience even severely affected children can show remarkable improvement, so don’t get discouraged and don’t give up hope.

While all the parents of children with developmental deficits will be under some extra pressure, especially the parents of autistic kids can find the pressure and tension very taxing. So, it is particularly important that they get support for themselves and being a part of a group with the parents of other ASD affected children can be a great help.

Asperger’s Syndrome is somewhat related to ASD and sometimes even considered to be a part of the ASD spectrum. In Asperger’s, the language deficits may not be present. These kids will have normal or even gooeye contact - mother childd language skills but will still be lacking relationally.

All ASDs are treatable. Sometimes, remarkable improvement is seen. With dedication and will, a lot can be done! Get help, and then stick to the task at hand. Take it one day at a time, be patient, set yourselves tough but achievable goals, and you may be surprised at what you and your child can achieve together.

Insight into your child’s personality, what he (ASD is about five times commoner in males) likes and dislikes, getting your lives into a routine, and keeping a detailed journal that covers nutrition, moods, therapies, and anything else that comes to mind – will all prove to be very valuable aids to doing the best that you can for your child.

The American Association of Pediatricians has just published two papers on Autism. For further information, this is an excellent place to start.
AND Please, please, PLEASE look at all the wonderful and up-to-date information contained in theYale’s Autism Seminar“!!!!Digg!





Dealing with Snakebites in India

22 09 2007

INDIA’S “BIG FOUR

The Russell’s Viper (Top two pics)

Echis carinatus – the Saw Scaled Viper
Notice how variable the colouring can be.

(the three pics below)

Saranya, my 19-year-old daughter, just recovered from a snakebite last month.

I haven’t really kept myself very up-to-date on the developments in

mirror, mirror
mirror, mirror

treating snakebites for the last couple of years as my snake rescue work has almost been non-existent of late. It’s very good to see that the next generation is showing an interest in preserving these wonderful, though somewhat dangerous creatures! Naja naja, the Spectacled Cobra

Now that I’ve had to brush-up, I thought I would take the opportunity to summarise the steps to be taken

when bitten by an Indian snake…

The Common Krait Bungarus caeruleus

First and foremost, no snakebite should be ignored. Most bites may be from nonpoisonous snakes and sometimes even venomous snakes do not

deliver enough venom when biting to prove dangerous, but that is no excuse not to go to the nearest emergency room, get evaluated, and if necessary, have treatment started. Early treatment is the key to preventing complications, and to saving lives, limbs and kidneys!

In India, it is conservatively estimated that up to 20,000 people die annually from snakebites. Morbidity is also significant. These are not small numbers, and there seems to have been little improvement in reducing the fatalities over the years in spite of now having good supplies of polyvalent antisnakevenom available in all population centers. The major reason for the high mortality rate (about 5% to 10% of all those reporting bites) is the delay in getting the victim to a well-equipped casualty treatment facility fast enough.

About 80% of the venomous snakebites in India come from the saw scaled viper (Echis carinatus) and this little fellow can cause problems perhaps a little more slowly than the others of the “big four” (cobra, krait and Russel’s viper) so it’s probably true that a lot of the fatalities that do occur are in fact preventable.

FIRST AID:
In the absence of a nearby doctor, those accompanying the bitten one need to first calm the victim down and then immobilise the affected limb (if it is a limb). Tourniquets, applying any sort of chemicals or external medicines, and cutting into the site of the bite to suck out the venom (all of which were the mainstays of first aid in my heyday) seem to have fallen out of favour.

The use of pressure bandaging is controversial but if done with something like crepe bandage and not too tightly, perhaps combined with a simple splint or sling, it may help to slow the spread of venom through the lymphatic system. Blood supply must NOT be cut off! On the whole, perhaps if the bitten one will be getting to a HOSPITAL within 3 0r 4 hours, it may be better not to attempt any pressure bandaging but advice on this point varies.

Try to remove any jewelery worn on the affected limb like rings, bangles, bracelets, anklets, or metti (toe rings) as these may cause problems if there is swelling or edema associated with the bite.

Next, get the person to the nearest good hospital as fast as possible. Walking and running for the victim are best avoided as is movement of the affected limb. Try to carry the person at least on a pallet or makeshift stretcher if no vehicles are available.

Giving anything by mouth is best avoided except if dehydration is a risk, in which case oral rehydration fluids (clean water mixed with a little salt and sugar will do OK).

Some poisonous snakes have cardiotoxins (poisons that can slow or stop the heart) so if possible try to keep the affected limb below the level of the heart. The victim should be encouraged to breathe deeply and evenly to bring the pulse rate to a steady state.

Particularly as you move towards the closest hospital, keep a watch on breathing and on keeping airways clear. If the person has difficulty breathing first see that there is nothing blocking the airway (like the tongue, secretions, or vomit) and if necessary be prepared to help the person to breathe by doing mouth to mouth. Rarely will the heart be affected so full scale CPR may not be needed.

Those having cell phones should call ahead so that even if antivenom is not available, it will be made available by the time the patient arrives. remember that 5, 10, or even more vials of antivenom may be needed, so ask whoever is at the other end to ensure an adequate supply, OR in the absence of definite knowledge, try to take the victim to a hospital that is large enough to be likely to have stock of the antivenin. In Tamil Nadu, the government hospitals are expected to have stock of antivenom

Observe the snakebite victim carefully while taking them to the hospital. Note the time and location of the bite and try to get as much accurate information on the appearance and size of the snake. Any symptoms such as discolouration at the site or of the affected limb, swelling, changes in eyes (e.g. droopy lids), eyesight, speech, breathing, sweating, unusual eye movements, bleeding, lowered level of consciousness or other difficulties should be noted.

If the snakebite victim happens to faint the most important thing is to make sure that they are able to breathe. If possible lean the head backward and depress the tongue to keep the throat open. Do not waste time trying to make them recover from the faint. Make sure that they are breathing and concentrate on getting to the hospital fast. If as you move towards the hospital, you do have access to a phone or mobile, ask the doctors who are waiting for you for advice perticularly in case of fainting as sometimes this may indicate that a medical condition called “shock” is setting in and that is potentially more dangerous than even the effects of snake venom!

Try to get information on what snake it was, appearance, size, etc. but please don’t waste time on this! Getting the person to a competent hospital is the only major priority!

TREATMENT:
Mostly, if there are symptoms, the doctors will immediately do a spot test dose in the skin to check for allergies to the antivenom. Depending on the symptoms, they may then start the antivenom treatment and then one will most profitably spend one’s time praying that there will be no complications.

On admission, and at relevant intervals afterwards, doctors will probably check on how well the blood is clotting (bleeding time, clotting time, and sometimes tests like PT and aPTT), kidney function (urine output, blood urea, creatinine and electrolyte levels), and of course the vital signs – pulse, breathing, temperature, blood pressure and the amount of oxygen in the blood (pO2). They may also keep tabs on the patient’s haemoglobin, blood cell counts, and perhaps the blood gases too.

Sometimes, even after a day or two, things can go wrong with the patient starting bleeding, kidney failure, or even the heart could be affected, so keeping the victim under medical observation even after the antivenom has been administered is important. Most of the time, alert medical staff will successfully deal with the crises as they arise.

Saranya (my daughter) was probably bitten by the Saw Scaled Viper (Echis, see above), but sometimes a non-big-four candidate can cause trouble. In our our area of South India, especially in hilly areas, we do run into bites from the Hump-nosed Pit Viper (Hypnale hypnale pic. above))

or the Bamboo Pit Viper Trimeresurus gramineus

and very, very rarely,

the King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah).

There have been so many hits on this article as well as requests for more information that I thought I would share some of the resources that I found most helpful:

Snakebite Envenomation in India: A Rural Medical Emergency
Indian Pediatrics 2006; 43:553-554

http://www.indianpediatrics.net/june2006/june-553-554.htm

Kraits deliver some powerful neurotoxins that cause few initial symptoms at the site of the bite but can be deadly within a couple of hours.
Detailed Instructions for Krait bites can be found here:
http://www-surgery.ucsd.edu/ent/DAVIDSON/Snake/Bungarus.htm *Note that Indian polyvalent antivenom is effective against Krait venom also.
The University of Adelaide’s toxinology resources website has an excellent database of information on most of the poisonous snakes in the world, first aid, treatment, and antivenins. Use the search engine to find the information you need: http://www.toxinology.com/fusebox.cfm?fuseaction=main.snakes.results&Common_Names_term=&Family_term=&Genus_term=Daboia&Species_term=&countries_terms=®ion_terms=

Snakebite Research Unit, Little Flower Hospital
Angamaly, Kerala
First Aid

http://www.lfsru.org/firstaid.htm

A helpful interview with Romulus Whittaker in The Hindu: http://www.hindu.com/mag/2004/06/13/stories/2004061300400200.htm
Digg!





Snake Dharma

13 09 2007

A comment on Ponnvandu’s sister blog Challenge,

Mahil Carr said…
“There is a story about a sage praying on the riverbank when he notices a scorpion falling in the water from a leaf on a tree at the bank. The sage plucks the scorpion from the water with his hand and puts it back on land but is stung by the scorpion. The scorpion probably suffering from acute depression with suicidal tendencies, climbs the tree and onto the leaf and jumps off again. Once again the sage saves it and is stung again. The scene is repeated ad nauseam and a curious observer asks the sage why he keeps saving the scorpion even after repeated stings. The sage replies that it is his Dharma to save life and the scorpion’s Dharma to sting.”

reminded me of a snaking trip during my first few hesitant months in the U.S. way back in 1974. I had come to study Biology and was trying to find my feet in this strange new place. It was a bit of an adjustment. I had been brought up in Africa, with very few people, infrequent electricity and ingenious but primitive seeming technology. For example, our fridge ran on methylated spirit and baking cakes in a firewood fed oven is a real challenge.

I was just as terrified of snakes as my fellow humanbeings right till the age of 11, which is when I ran into my first ‘snakeman’. There was a small reptile collection in what passed for a zoo at Lusaka. There I spent a day in 1969 and was amazed to see the local ‘snakeman’, one Mr. Vincent, casually handling snakes that I knew to be very dangerous. He eventually convinced me to pick up a Whip Snake (Psammophis), and it wasn’t slimy, in fact quite dry, and even pleasant to hold!

That made all the difference! I became a friend, and wherever possible, protector of snakes. Shortly thereafter I found a 2 foot long black snake (unidentified) in our garden, and coaxed it into a large bottle and hid it in my bureau. I then took off to play. Unfortunately, the next morning my mom suddenly got the urge to clean my (admittedly messy) room. She casually pulled out the big bottle and set it on the dresser and kept cleaning till she thought she saw something move. Needless to say, things went downhill rapidly after that. I got home to find my mom shaking with fury, refusing to enter the house, and my dad looking rather helpless.

Anyhow, skipping forward a few years, here I was in Cincinnati, staying with my sister and her hubby (the Jeyaveerans) when a close friend of theirs dropped by. Roger Stuebing was an expert in statistics and worked at the U.C. computer center. Roger decided to try and help me out with my acclimatisation. We got to chatting and soon found that we had a lot of common interests one of which was snakes. A few days later Roger picked me up early and we headed out to join my first American snake collection trip.
Now, if Vincent had been interesting that was mild compared to Dr. George T. McDuffie. A Ph.D. in herpetology (that roughly covers the crocs, gators, snakes, lizards, turtles, frogs and salamanders), McDuffie lived in a big brownstone with a huge basement. We joined an assortment of folks at his place and headed out to the hills. We were after any snake, but he was particularly interested in copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix)
and timber rattlers (Crotalus horridus – below) both pit vipers.

McDuffie had his right arm in a sling and as we drove, the conversation veered round to his most recent snakebite, and hence the sling. It
turns out that he had been bitten by a rattler 3 days back and had a slightly swollen and painful arm. He had lost count of the number of times he had been bitten, but it had reached the stage where he had developed some natural antivenom (immunity) and McDuffie had also become allergic to the usual (horse protein based) antisnakevenom, and so could not be treated with that at all!

I had no idea what pit vipers were, so the day turned out to be very interesting indeed. We found one beautiful timber rattler and McDuffie had it on his snakestick when I saw someone struggling to hold the sack open with two more sticks. I promptly picked up the sack and held it up for the snake to be lowered into between my outstretched hands. McDuffie calmly let the snake down into the sack and I bagged the snake and handed the bag to McDuffie.

He then looked intently at me and said “that was a very brave thing to do”. I was really puzzled and asked what other way there was to bag snakes. Only then did it dawn on McDuffie that I may not know what pit vipers were! Indeed, in Africa there are a plethora of venomous snakes but no pit vipers.
The common vipers in Africa were the Puff Adder (Bitis arietans, not shown) and the very striking Gaboon Viper (Bitis gabonicus – left), neither of which have the heat sensing capability of the pit vipers.

That beautiful, big, timber rattler could clearly ‘see’ my hands as two large, live, hotspots on either side of its head as it was being lowered into the sack, and I didn’t even have a clue as to the danger that I was in!

That was the same snaking trip where McDuffie caught a big Black Racer (Coluber constrictor) using only his teeth, but that tale can wait, as can the account of what we found in that large, hot, basement of his after we got back…

Bitten to the point of immunity, McDuffie really did live-out his dharma. I was saddened to hear that George died (apparently of natural causes) this April at the age of 79 – a true snakeman and fondly remembered!








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