Friday, October 26, 2018

If His Lips Are Moving

A brief columnar interlude. Couldn't stand being silent.
My recent leave-taking resumes after today. There’s only so much…  
Nevertheless, the latest torrent of atrocities by the person squatting atop our government ought not pass uncommented. Nor should the continued obeisance of his adoring mob. Though Trump’s lies and insults to decency have been unrelenting for years, what pricketh me just now is his insane claim, at a recent “I’ll-speak-of-my-greatness-while-you-shout-your-affirmation” rally, that the just-passed opioid bill received “hardly any votes from Democrats.” The actual vote was 98 -1 in the Senate, with the only no vote coming from a Republican. In the House, it was 393 – 8. That’s sickness.  
And, of course, there’s the calculus – to which some well-known preachers unashamedly have subscribed – that murdering a reporter, cutting him into pieces while still alive, lying about it, providing a series of increasingly bizarre explanations, must be overlooked so we can sell $110 billions worth of weapons to the perpetrators. 
Which is also a lie. $110 billion is fantasy, consisting of promises extending for decades, deals done by the previous administration, and about $4 billion actually in the pipeline. Plus, every time Trump mentions it, he up-puffs the numbers of potential jobs created. Four-hundred thousand, then five, then six. Most recently, a million. Says the Pentagon: maybe forty-thousand. 
Claiming unspecified Russian cheating, Trump would end Reagan’s nuclear treaty, to build short-range nukes. Coincidentally, wanting to deploy them around his borders, Putin proposed the same, ten years ago. Puppetry?  
Trump said his people were working “around the clock” on a middle-class tax cut before the election. White House staff hadn’t heard of it, so they’re scrambling to pretend it’s real. 
What do such ridiculous lies tell us, about the “president” and about those who excuse them? Is there an explanation that doesn’t foretell the end of our Republic? We’re in a dystopian world, arguing whether a “president” of the formerly exceptional United States isn’t really lying because he’s too stupid or uniformed to know truth; or whether he lies deliberately, dismissing his supporters as too dumb or Foxified to awaken to it; or whether he’s a diagnosable pathological liar. Which explanation is the least disturbing? Which suggests there’s room for moral awakening among his enablers?  
Oh, but Democrats want mob rule! If Lindsey “ignore-what-I-used-to-say” Graham buys it, so should you. Democrats want open borders, oppose the rule of law, would end Medicare by improving it, turning the US into Venezuela; are paying caravans of criminals to come to America to vote in November. The more preposterous, the more evidence-free, the more it’s repeated by Trump and rightwing TV propagandists and air-jockeys. And swallowed whole by Trumpists. 
Whose rallies are actual mobs spewing hate at reporters, demanding locking up former opponents, ignoring the law? For that matter, who benefits from refugees heading this way? George Soros, or those fear-mongering and demonizing them right before the election? A “national emergency,” says Trump. They’re walking. A thousand miles.  
Across the country, Republicans are purging voter rolls, refusing legitimate voters (assisted by Brett Kavanaugh’s first SCOTUS decision), distributing falsehoods about polling places and closing them in Democratic districts. When you can’t win the battle of ideas, you block the doors to the arena. It’s what the “party of Lincoln” has become. 
I know intelligent, thoughtful conservatives who claim to dislike Trump but who’ll vote for his party anyway, who pretend it’ll miraculously cleanse itself, requiring no action on their part. Who, one concludes, dislike Trump’s transgressions much less than they profess.  
Beyond his ludicrous lying, we’ve just learned Trump is considering going after transgender people, because… well, because he can. Because the same national “Christian” leaders who place money above morality – it’s their own business model, after all -- will praise his “defense of Christianity.” It would harm more than a million Americans, helping none. Other than Trump, that is, who’s made a career of hurting others to his own benefit.  
Trumpists don’t like being told they love him because he hates who they hate, nor having it pointed out that their acquiescence to Trump’s malignant mendacity can be explained only as preference for lies. By now, though, it’s undeniable. If his lips are moving…  
And this, just in: Trump doesn’t encourage violence or praise people who body-slam journalists. So those bombs sent to everyone he targets at his rallies? False flag 
November approaches, America. It’s now or never.
   [Image source]

Friday, October 5, 2018

Surgery: The Flip Side (And Trump)

This is gonna be my last newspaper column for a while, but I'll still post stuff on my blog. Sorta tired of pissing into the wind.
Implicit in the ability of a surgeon to do good is the potential for harm. If dwelling on it can be paralyzing, ignoring it is dangerous...  
Imagine being parents of a perfect newborn. The joys and worries of pregnancy have resulted in a beautiful boy. He coos, wraps his hand around your finger as you feed him. You’ve never felt such love.

Then, at six weeks old, your baby begins vomiting, keeping almost nothing down, not gaining weight. Hypertrophic pyloric stenosis, the surgeon calls it, speaking Greek, or Martian, telling you an operation is needed. Like a raw doughnut tossed into a fryer, the circular muscle at the bottom of the stomach has grown, too fast, preventing the stomach from proper emptying. Pyloromyotomy is the curative operation. 
Think of a tight ring over a gloved finger. The aim is to cut and open the ring, but not the glove; to see the glove fabric bulge up through the ring, indicating it's free. But if the fabric itself is pierced, it’s a bad thing. The glove is the inner lining of the stomach, so a hole in it causes leaking stomach contents. 
It’s necessary to divide the entire muscle or the operation won't be effective; too deep, there’s the hole. The local anatomy is tricky, increasing the chance of damage, and everything is tiny. If recognized, a hole is sewn up. The danger is not noticing. That can be deadly. And it’s up to me. 
In a fog of fear, the parents listen. I tell them about the possible problem and what’s done to avoid it. I caution that their child might still vomit for a few hours, but in all likelihood, he'll be home in a day or two, doing fine. They agree, of course. 
There's something outlandishly disproportionate about a little baby on a big table in a huge OR. I could cover the entire person with my two hands. All the machinery, the tools, the drapes, the surrounding team seem grotesquely outsized. It's like a joke, except it's real and the stakes are high. Ignore the reality and focus on the job at hand. Tiny incision, toy-like instruments, fine little sutures at the end. It goes perfectly. 
"S#!t," I say, as the phone jars me awake at two a.m. It’s my usual response, whatever the call. Now a nurse informs me the baby has a fever of 103ยบ and his abdomen is rigid, an ominous sign. "I'll be right there," I tell her, forcing words through my suddenly constricted throat. 
It's easy to describe how I felt, because it happens again whenever I think about it. Had my wife awakened, I’m certain she'd have seen me appear ghost-white. My stomach was acid; my hands were ice. I could barely tie my shoes, those cold hands shaking, not following commands. An algid force gripped my neck; I could hardly swallow. 
After splashing water on my face, I ran to my car. As I drove, hands so tightly on the wheel that they were getting numb, I told myself I'd do whatever was in my power to save the child, whatever it takes. Stay by his side till it was over. And then never, never, ever, ever do a pyloromyotomy again. And if he did poorly, I'd never operate again. This was a baby. Someone's precious baby. 
Not waiting for the elevator, I took stairs two at a time to the pediatric floor, saw the nurses standing by, felt as if a million eyes were on me, accusing and angry. (They weren't. But that's how it seemed.) And there he was. Fussy face flushed with fever, but moving around actively, looking otherwise okay. His belly was soft as, well, a baby's belly. An X-ray appeared normal. Whatever that fever was, it was gone by morning. 
Nearly limp, still shaking, I drove home barely able to control the car, wrung out like a wet sock. Exhausted, I crumpled onto the bed, relieved, but absolutely spent. An hour or so later, I dragged myself to work. And next time a pediatrician called me about a kid with pyloric stenosis, I took a deep breath, recalling that night, and said... "I'll be right there."  
And now, for a sad return to current events, read this eulogy for America. Vote for decency and against Trumpic cruelty in November, or it’s lost. There’s nothing more to say. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

Easy Choice

Saturday's newspaper column, today.
Let’s ignore whether Brett Kavanaugh’s behavior as a teenager predicts future character. After all, who among us didn’t attempt a rape or two in high school? What parents didn’t raise their children, boys and girls, to understand it’s just how things work? And what evangelical preacher son of an evangelical preacher hasn’t taught us that attempted rapists “respect” their victims when they “walk away” after the girls lock themselves in bathrooms? 
That aside, assume, for a moment, Professor Ford is being truthful. Is it hard to imagine how traumatized she’d have been? Might one understand her sense of injustice at seeing her attacker ascending to our nation’s highest court? Is it impossible to believe she’d feel compelled to speak out, for her own sake, if not for the country’s? 
Consider other possible responses. What if Kavanaugh had the human decency to say, “I don’t remember the events, but I got so drunk in those days I can’t say they didn’t happen. If so, I’m deeply sorry, and I understand the anger and hurt. I hope people can believe I’m no longer that boy.” What if, instead of attacking Professor Ford, Republicans had expressed a modicum of empathy and understanding? Might it make approval more palatable?  
None of that happened, of course; empathy and understanding aren’t who they are. Leaders and, evidently, most members of today’s Republican Party, including, amazingly enough, many women, don’t regard women that highly. Their responses to Kavanaugh’s accusers include only “she’s lying” and “what’s the big deal.” Comments coming from the Republican men on the Judiciary Committee (most of whom voted against the Violence Against Women Act) ought to appall all women and at least that subset of men who have wives, daughters, sisters, or mothers.  
Having elected a “president” who bragged about sexual predation, the reaction from the right is consistent. Trump’s amorality was well-enough known before the election that it must have been thought a positive by his voters, making their current attitude explainable. 
To characterize Professor Ford as anything but brave is to be willfully blind. She knew what she was in for, including now-routine death threats, yet decided sharing her story was important enough to risk ruining her life. Will it ruin Kavanaugh’s? Hardly. He’ll likely be approved anyway; if not, he still has a lifetime job with cushy hours and enviable pay.  
That she didn’t report the crime when it happened is no mystery. Girls have always known what to expect: insinuations and accusations, word against word; especially privileged word. Who can doubt the fear and shame, the blame and repercussions certain to follow? Republican leaders, and Trumpists, is who. 
So the question isn’t just whether Brett Kavanaugh belongs on the Court. It includes the much larger issue of how women are treated, especially by our respective political parties. Whether women who accuse men of sexual crimes should be considered truthful unless proven otherwise, or only the accused? Someone is lying. Why should that presumption apply only to the claimant? Yes, false accusations can happen; as can false declarations of innocence. Which is why not rushing to Judge-ment is called for. 
Accordingly, one might ponder the significance of Ms. Ford requesting an FBI investigation, while Kavanaugh and his backers stand against it. Maybe they’re worried about his fishy finances being addressed, too.  
But, okay. She’s lying, as are the others who’ve since come forward, because what woman wouldn’t? Besides, assaulting women is simply what guys do. As it happens, though, there remain compelling reasons to reject Kavanaugh, beginning with the gnathonic, non-independent-judiciary-ish words he spoke at his nomination ceremony, and ending with lying to Congress, at least twice, under oath. Not that Republicans ever considered the latter an impeachable offense.  
Dodging questions, claiming memory loss, offering self-righteous refusals, Kavanaugh made Neil Gorsuch seem like Moses on Sinai. Running to Fox “news” was glaringly unjudicial in itself, and pathetic as he repeated rehearsed talking points, again and again. But, having chosen him not for integrity, but for his views on presidential indictments, regulations, workers’ rights, plus his irrefragable future approval of their voter-suppression tactics, Republicans are determined to seat him, regardless.  
Whatever else is true, his performance at Thursday’s hearing, unhinged, making crazy claims about the Clintons, hyper-partisan shouting, emotional instability, says he’ll never be an impartial jurist. And that was when he was sober! His unsuitability for the Court couldn’t be more evident
[Image source]

Friday, September 21, 2018

At Last, A Truthful Trumpist

The next newspaper column:
Put up your umbrellas when you go outside, folks: pigs are flying. 
I heard from a Trump supporter who admitted, without the usual pretense, why he supports him. Were it me, I’d have been ashamed, but at least he was honest. The more usual critics repeat Trump’s lies, deny the obvious, ignore my point, and insist what I write is nothing more than baseless hate for Trump and his supporters. 
It’s an easy way out, passing off criticism of Trump as blind hate. Were I to spend time in his company, it’s likely I’d find Trump’s arrogant ignorance repulsive, not someone with whom I’d want to spend more time. Rather than hate, I’d call that realistic. I know several Trump supporters, and I don’t hate them. Some, I consider friends. But I sure find their rationales repellent; particularly their all-too-common delight in seeing liberals upset by what Trump says and does. What a hoot: unhappy about making climate change worse, attacking the press, lying about pretty much everything, demanding to use the DOJ for personal vendettas against perceived enemies.
Silly libtards. Advocating a cleaner, cooler planet, a sustainable budget, access to healthcare, a president who’s occasionally truthful: what a bunch of haters. (Trump just rolled back methane reduction rules, the worst greenhouse gas. I do hate that. Everyone should. And who knew liberals could feel sorry for Jeff Sessions!)  
Which returns us to the subject Trumpist. Until our conversation devolved, as he began forwarding an endless stream of repetitive rightwing memes based on misquotations and outright lies, preceded by gleeful “This will make liberals’ heads explode,” and when the barrage continued even after I’d respond with proof of their falsehood, we had exchanged a few borderline thoughtful emails.  
I asked if and why he stopped caring about deficits, now rising to over a trillion dollars; whether he had children or grandchildren about whose health and future survival he worried, given the increased pollution and climate change we’re seeing. Did it bother him to see nonstop attacks on institutions designed to protect us from dictatorship? At first, he responded with by-the-playbook distractions and what-aboutisms. Eventually, though, he got down to it. “I don’t care about any of those things,” he wrote “Trump’s tax cuts are making me rich.” (Paraphrasing, but not mischaracterizing the message.) 
He’s the prosperous business owner at whom those cuts were aimed. Deficits, pollution, climate change, truth, democracy itself: not among his concerns. And if they’re the next generation’s problem, his kids’, and theirs, so what? It’s the current agenda of today’s Republican party in a nutshell, isn’t it? 
I guess you could say such candor is refreshing. Better, I guess, than what I hear more commonly to excuse Trumpism: he’s draining the swamp (seriously, by what possible metric?), he’s fixing the economy Obama ruined (a tad unhistorical), he cares about every American (rich white males), he never lies (just passed four-thousand), he’s fulfilled every promise (other than most). All said to pretend away the obvious, that they love him for what he hates. Oh, they don’t like it when I say that, but what else is there? Are they wealthy enough to be getting richer like my other pixel-pal? Don’t they have children who’ll need healthcare, breathable air, and drinkable water? Deficits suddenly don’t matter? Dictatorship trumps democracy?  
How timely then, after our exchange, to learn of two very wealthy and generous longtime donors to Republican candidates and causes who’ve announced their intent to fund Democrats. First was Ohio’s biggest Republican bankroller, billionaire Les Wexner, who seems to have had an epiphany when President Barack Obama visited Ohio last week. “I just decided I’m no longer a Republican,” he announced, and called Obama’s visit a “great moment for the community.” Among other things, he said he was “ashamed” when Trump refused to call out white supremacists.  
Next was Seth Klarman, New England’s biggest Republican moneyman, who said, after assuring people he’s not a Democrat, “I think democracy is at stake. And maybe I’ll be able to convince some other people of that. And get them to support Democrats in 2018.” He too acknowledged making money under Trump, but, he said, “There are things more important than making money.” 
Which is where my conversation with the Trumpist ended. At what price, is what I asked.             
[Image source]

Friday, September 14, 2018

Bet On Brett

Saturday's newspaper column, today:
Outcome predetermined, the Senate hearings on Brett Kavanaugh were revealing nonetheless. They were the culmination and confirmation of the lengths to which the devolved Republican party has gone to gain and maintain power despite having an agenda with which the majority of Americans disagree. And they showed the depths to which that party has descended since the days of such admirable Senators as Dan Evans, Mark Hatfield, Lowell Weicker, Everett Dirksen, Jacob Javits, Margaret Chase Smith, and so many more: people with whom one could disagree respectfully, and who sought common ground. Because that used to be America. 
Third only to Trump and Gingrich, Mitch McConnell has done more damage to our legislative process and trust in our political system than any in modern times. The personification of hypocrisy, his career, by his own admission, committed to party over country. Calling it his proudest moment, he allowed not even meetings with President Barack Obama’s final SCOTUS nominee, let alone hearings and a vote, claiming precedent where none existed. And now he’s pushing a nominee whose pre-judicial career was partisan hackery unknown in any prior candidate who made it through. Kavanaugh’s boorish behavior continues today. 
Forcing hearings before the record could be reviewed, looking the other way when tens of thousands of documents were withheld, Republican Senators made clear their desperation to solidify ownership of the Supreme Court before the next election, without even pretending to the Senate’s past integrity. It’s not mysterious. 
Sure, their base will delight when Roe v. Wade is overturned, and when access to birth control is further reduced. But that’s distraction from the aforementioned truth: a majority of Americans disagree with nearly everything Republican for which they stand. Lacking a path to power by persuasion, counting on stacking the courts for cover, they turned to rigging the game. Which they’ve been doing with undeniable success. 
Because whereas Republican Party affiliation has been declining for years, among young people Democratic membership has been on the rise: about twice the number identify as D over R. Among non-whites of all ages, well, it’s unsubtle. Self-described independents now number around forty percent of voters; among them, support for Trump is at its lowest, down to barely thirty-percent. Although still above eighty-percent, approval is lessening even among Republicans. Consider: eighty-percent of twenty-percent of Americans, plus thirty-percent of forty-percent means Trump’s quantitative support is impressively exiguous.  
Importantly, it’s not just the current “president:” Republican members of both chambers, despite being in control, received a lower percentage of votes than Democrats. Yet there they are. Whether it’s the esoteric, like net neutrality and cannabis, or the broad-based, like tax reform, budget priorities, immigration, minority rights, religious separation, LGBT issues, abortion, or healthcare, Americans reject, widely, Republican priorities. How, in a democratic republic, is that possible? Ah. There’s the nub.  
Gerrymandering, voter suppression, and Constitutional quirks. The last on the list won’t change anytime soon, if ever, but between the Electoral College, created before there were political parties or announced candidates or campaigns, and the preference given to voters in small (i.e., Red) states in the Senate and the number of voters per Representative in small states, it’s easy see how the minority of the populace can become the majority in representation, intended or not. 
Worse, though, because they’re deliberate, extra-constitutional, cynical gaming of the system, are extreme Republican gerrymandering and intentionally suppressing votes of citizens who prefer Democrats. In those four states Trump won by a total of less than eighty-thousand votes, over two-hundred-thousand legal voters, mostly Democrats, were denied the right by “voter ID” laws, under pretext of non-existent in-person fraud. We’ve yet to learn if Russians hacked voting machines, but it’s as clear their fakery affected votes as it is that Republicans intend to do nothing about it.  
With popular opinion and demographics abandoning them, Republican leaders came to understand they can’t win fairly on the issues. Seeing the writing on the wall (not all of it in English), they turned to virtual electoral fraud. Lower courts, both state and federal, on too-rare occasions have overturned their most egregious efforts, but it’s not over until the Supreme Court has its say. They’ve already gutted the Voting Rights Act. Enter Kavanaugh. We know what’s next.  
Once upon a time, principled Republicans would have rejected embracing theft over cogency. Do any still exist? 
[Image source]

Friday, September 7, 2018

Mister Nice Guy

My next newspaper column, mostly written before the latest shit hit the fan:
I take seriously complaints about my rhetoric. Would that my apprehension over Trump’s authoritarian attacks on democracy were less intense. By ignoring climate change, caring less about the effects of unregulated pollution on my grandchildren, I’d sleep better; likewise, finding less depressing the contrast between a president who believed in bringing us together (but failed), and one who chooses to aggregate power by deliberately inciting division and hate for one another. Maybe I should regard Trump’s followers more highly than he does.  
I’ve told myself to tone it down, on the chance it might convince people of the ominous prospects we’re facing. If I asked more politely to think beyond enmity and fear, to consider the damage done by his lies, his virulent attacks on the press, former opponents, our system of justice, on people unlike them, might Trump’s supporters listen? 
Scorched-earth politics didn’t become a signature of the formerly honorable Republican Party until Lee Atwater, Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove decided no lie, no personal attack was out of bounds in the pursuit of power, no compromise acceptable. Trump has raised it to cosmic levels, but he’s their rightful heir and predictable result.  
Maybe I’m wrong.  
Whoever’s to blame, zero-sum gamesmanship has supplanted polity. Yes, I’ve thought Trumpists like him for hating whom they hate; and I’m told people like me are America-hating, commie “libtards.” I’ve tried more respectful interchange with those who say so, but no matter the beginning, it ends the same. Were I nicer to those who reject all evidence for everything I believe, everything that made America exceptional, would it make a difference? Experience says, “No,” and it asks, “Why bother?” But maybe I can understand Trump’s people in ways that wouldn’t make me despair. 
Maybe climate scientists really are a loathsome international cabal. Might trickle-down economics be logical? Maybe those who believe so deserve rehearing. Would people raise themselves out of poverty without help, find jobs, not turn to crime, their children grow strong, break the cycle of poverty, if only we stop giving them “handouts?” Is our future made brighter by redistributing wealth to the already-wealthy rather than spending on infrastructure, protecting elections, helping working parents with childcare, funding public education? Maybe shareholder profit really does outweigh increased wages. I’ve found nothing that confirms these things, but I could look harder. 
Let’s assume Trump’s right: protests should be illegal. Canceling raises for federal employees (forty-percent are veterans) to pay for millionaire tax cuts might support capitalism more than maintaining a middle class. It’s unremarkable, if unprecedented, that Trump withheld records of his Supreme Court nominee; not outrageous that Kavanaugh dumped forty-two-thousand pages twelve hours before the hearing. It absolutely doesn’t suggest he’s a partisan hack. Or that the Senate no longer serves the people (Cory Booker excepted). 
Maybe Trump’s defenders think he lies to them so they’ll appreciate truth if they ever hear it; Reaganomics would work if Republican economies didn’t keep crashing; the DOJ should only prosecute Democrats. It helps to think so. 
Conceivably, people who aren’t bothered by increasing pollution are convinced it will make children stronger. Possibly they’re thinking unselfishly: if some kids die, even their own, the ones that don’t will breed poison-resistant humans, evolved through natural selection to metabolize toxins healthfully, make following generations extra smart. If so, I’ve misunderstood them.  
Perhaps I’ve misjudged those nice folks at Trump rallies who, on his urging, turn to face the press in the back rows. Maybe those expressions aren’t hateful at all; maybe they’re using sign language to say, “Have one on us!” I could’ve misheard what those principled patriots are chanting. Sure sounds like “Lock her up,” but that’s so removed from American-style rule of law, it can’t be. “Brought our cups.” That’s it. 
Could be Republicans were right to denounce Obama’s (declining) deficits but not Trump’s exponentially increasing ones, now over a trillion dollars. Despite paying for top-heavy tax cuts by severely cutting Medicare, Medicaid, and more, their 2019 budget benefits everyone. Let’s say. 
Maybe when Trump said he prefers soldiers who aren’t captured, he was making an impassioned anti-war statement. Putin probably loves America more than John McCain did. Suggesting Russia attacked our electoral process is un-American; looking into it, treasonous. Blinded by partisanship, I’ve failed to see it. Henceforth, I must strive to be best. 
Or find a nepenthe.  
[Urgent addendum: That anonymous NYT author, et. al., should resign, go public, force Congresspeople to go on record. Everything is at stake. It’s a Fifth Avenue moment, Trumpists, without precedent. This once, read the links. Withhold your first response. And second, and third.]
[Image source]

Friday, August 31, 2018


Something different, upcoming-column-wise:

Respite from The Great Unraveling, written long ago, updated: 
A focused pre-med in college, I was mostly disinterested in the arts. I handled the required English and history courses, a philosophy course, but the finer arts held little attraction. For the easy credit, I took a creative art class, made a sort of cubist construction, tower-like, that I was a little proud of. When the prof asked what I liked about it, I said, “It looks like it should tip over, but it doesn’t.” Incisive art critic, I. (Recently, a nearly identical structure, a tilting stack of red boxes, has appeared in downtown Everett. Mine was white.) In med school, I entered a creation into a juried art show, and was accepted. “Like smoke,” they described it. Sold for fifty bucks. 
Then I spent a summer involved in medical research in Yugoslavia. Enroute to Belgrade, Rome was my first-ever landing in Europe. As it happened, a family friend, Father Paul Waldschmidt, president of the University of Portland, was there at the same time, and gave me a private tour of the Vatican. Wow.  
Though I’ll claim a measure of spirituality, it’s years since I felt religious. To the extent I ever was, it was for having been raised in a Jewish family. After attending religious camp, where I learned more about girls than Torah, I figured on becoming a rabbi, sharing my uniquely brilliant adolescent insights with a grateful world. Whatever soaked in rinsed out by the time I was in college. 
And there I stood, in St Peter’s Basilica, all but embraced by Michelangelo’s Pieta.   
Of course I’d heard of the artist, the name somewhere in the disused part of my brain where resided random names: Rembrandt, Churchill, Botticelli, Marx, no difference among them. In that moment it all changed. I was awestruck if ever the word meant anything. That such life could have been freed from inanimate stone, hot as a heartbeat, cool as skin, speaking in silence, beyond the moment, was outside my experience and imagination. Till then.  
I don’t remember how long I stood there, captivated by an apotheosis of exquisiteness about which I’d never bothered to know. It changed everything. Later, Father Waldschmidt showed me the Sistine Chapel, and, yes, it’s impressive. I’m sure I couldn’t lie on my back that long, and I couldn’t draw a pleasingly curved line if someone put a paintbrush to my head and threatened to pull the trigger. But that marble, become flesh, given breath as surely as it took away my own: that was as different from a painted ceiling as a Northwest sunset is from a cloudless sky.  
It wasn’t enough. I bought books, read all I could about Michelangelo (boy, was he abused by the Church!), took the train to Florence just to see his David. If he’d managed only one of his many creations, I thought, it’d have been a full life of artistry. I’d seen Roman statuary, and Greek, and they were impressive testaments to what man will do to win favor from his gods; but they seemed incomplete, air-brushed, anatomically uninformed. David’s hand alone, or Mary’s clothing, any of it spoke more persuasively of perfection than a roomful of the ancients. As did the unfinished giants hunkering nearby David, hoping for Michelangelo’s help as they struggled out of the rock to share the space.  
It was like seeing the breadth of the world for the first time, an awakening to what I’d slept through for so many years. It felt as if my own mind opened itself to me, allowing entry into parts of itself I’d never bothered to look for.  
Laszlo Toth. The name might mean nothing to you, but I’ll never forget it. Not long after I’d been there, he took a hammer to the Pieta, like attempted murder, who knows why? Now Michelangelo’s restored masterwork sits behind protective glass, the magic undoubtedly filtered, maybe less available, physically and emotionally. 
Not for me, though. It remains as fully accessible in my mind as the day I saw it, a moment in which I began to see the larger world, was led in new directions, and, without a doubt, made a better person. A better doctor, too. The memory even makes it easier to recognize and reject the profane venality of Donald Trump. (Sorry. Had to. It’s Saturday.)

Friday, August 24, 2018

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

My next newspaper column:
Evening skies, the color of smokers’ teeth. The shrouded sun, smearing cirrhotic orange across our region. As asthmatics crowd hospitals and schools keep children inside, it feels right to try, again, to convince Republicans of the catastrophe that is man-made climate change. How did addressing it become a “party” thing? Oil money? Surely, they’re not that deplorable.  
Ryan Zinke, ravager of public lands, assures us that wildfires torching North America are unrelated to climate change. Because common sense tells us trees desiccated from heat and drought are no more flammable than ones growing in Okefenokee. In another swamp, the one Trumpists say he drained (“come for the emoluments, stay for the felonies”), truth has died of suffocation.  
With evidence all but choking them, deniers must be deaf, blind, and dumb. This applies especially to the squatter behind the Resolute Desk. At best, it’s deliberate ignorance, motivated by undisguised corporate greed. At worst, like Trump, it’s a pathological need to hurt people; specifically, President Barack Obama and progressives, regardless of the planetary damage it causes. There’s no word for it but sick. Evil. Deranged. Criminal. Sociopathic. Contemptible. 
To Trump, climate change is a hoax birthed in China. To others, it’s a conspiracy of the Trilateral Commission (or some other code words for Jews) intended to destroy America. Still others claim that suggesting humans can affect climate is an affront to whomever they pray to. (Yes, climate has been changing since the beginning. But, no, never close to the speed we’re witnessing, and never paralleling such rapidly rising greenhouse gas levels.) 
It’s the confluence of conspiracy, scientific illiteracy, and illogic, confirming recently published research into the relationship between science denial (specifically creationism, but it applies equally to climate change), conspiracy theories, and a shared particular cognitive flaw. 
The investigators assessed the commonality of teleological thinking amongst conspiracists and science-deniers. Defined in the study as “the attribution of purpose and a final cause to natural events and entities,” teleology is considered scientifically invalid. Common in children, maybe it’s a necessary first step toward making sense of the world. If it enhances the expansion of young minds, that’s good; in adults, though, it’s detrimental, a poor substitute for rationality. 
A positive correlation was found. Their conclusion: “… the ‘everything happens for a reason’ or ‘it was meant to be’ intuition at the heart of teleological thinking … could also be a more general gateway to the acceptance of anti-scientific views and conspiracy theories.” Rationality vs. irrationality. Progressivism vs. Trumpism. This, or something like it, must explain Trump’s and his psychological ilk’s information-averse rejection of the obvious. 
Though not the study’s intention, it underscores the brilliance of Republican leaders a few decades ago, when they decided to rope in the “religious right” as receptive fodder for their one-sidedly lucrative, long-term destructive, reality-dismissing agenda.  
Here are some current, uncontestable, ominous facts, denying which threatens everyone, including the deniers:  
The Arctic’s densest layer of sea ice has broken up for the first time in recorded history. 
Oman, Jordan, just had the hottest overnight low ever recorded (107°). Around the world, nighttime temperatures are rising, bringing significant health implications, even more than daytime. Increased susceptibility to heat stroke among them.  
Ignored by Trump and his Congressophants is the impending world-wide water crisis, including the US, if not yet the PNW. In southern (i.e., Trumpophilic) states, aquifers are drying up, as is the Rio Grande; it’s another massive climate-related disaster about which the aforementioned malefactors don’t care, or are making worse; Trump’s self-aggrandizing wall among the ways.   
While Trump and his best-people, swamp-born henchfolk are actively increasing America’s output (insanely, he just allowed more deadly coal-fired emissions), China, to whom Trump has ceded renewable energy research, has achieved its carbon-reduction goals twelve years early. As it steadily switches to non-polluting power sources, Trump holds near-daily “Make America Gullible Again” rallies to demean the foundations of our republic. His latest rodomontade on coal was breathtakingly incoherent, demonstrating a level of ignorance astounding even for him. He doesn’t care. What’s his enablers’ excuse?  
Teleology or handcrafted misinformation: whatever the explanation, those who still deny the danger of human-caused climate change need to repudiate their false idol, un-wash their brains, seek to become better informed. Recognize the need to consider their progeny, if not all humankind. Engage adult thinking, put away childish things. 
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Friday, August 17, 2018

Stuff Driving Me Nuts

The next newspaper column:
Semi-random thoughts:  
Having learned from a boss famous for doing it himself, people who work for Trump seem to feel the need to record their conversations, with him and with his people. This tells us much about the whole bunch. One imagines a dozen or so lawyers approaching a jury box, laying recorders on the rail, pushing “play” and returning to their seats while the recorders chatter away until there’s a verdict. If the jurors were AI robots, no human would have to sit through it.  
It’s pretty laughable when a lying, self-promoting, untrustworthy, obnoxious, slimy former “reality” star wants to tell us what goes on in the White House. The same applies to Omarosa. 
When the cheering dies down, Trump’s flummoxed flock should consider the ramifications of him (through his functionaries) firing Peter Strzok. A storied, dedicated agent, responsible for taking down more Russian spies than any preceding him, his “crime” was privately sharing thoughts about a “president” he, who should know, considers dangerous. So, was his firing because he let his opinions be known, or because he was getting in the way of Trump’s Russian pals? Asking for a country.  
Should we be rejoicing in the loss of a counter-terrorism expert by pressure from above, solely because of presidential pique over his private communications? Thought experiment for Trumpists: switch a name or two, and ask yourself again. 
Trump just revoked John Brennan’s security clearance, to more exultations among the implication-analyzing-incapable.  
My dislike for third party candidates is increasing. What have they ever accomplished other than causing other candidates to lose? Too, (h/t L.S.) I find those who insist on voting for them self-righteous and delusional. How many of their candidates, knowingly or not, are financed by people wanting to harm serious opponents to their paid-for office-seekers? Is it coincidence that in New Mexico, for example, where polls show the Democratic contender for senator handily beating the Republican, Libertarian Gary Johnson has suddenly in-ringed his hat, having previously announced he was done with politics? 
Which is not to say I think our two major parties are covering themselves in glory. It’s just that, realistically, on a national scale, third parties are mainly splinter groups (Greens from Democrats, Libertarians from Republicans) who’ve achieved nothing but disruption, appealing only to the kind of purists unable to see or care about the bigger picture. I saw a car with a Jill Stein sticker the other day, and wondered, considering the saprogenic menace of Trumpism, has the owner had any second thoughts? Probably not, else it’d have been torn off by now.  
Serious Oedipal stuff going on in a couple of Republican families. Retiring (none too soon) Republican Representative and head kangaroo for the Strzok “hearing,” Bob Goodlatte sure has some issues with his son, and/or vice versa. The offspring is actively supporting the Democrat running for daddy’s vacancy, and apologizing to Strzok for how he was treated by his pop. Sometimes the apple falls far from the acorn. 
And if it’s not classically Oedipal, far as we know, Steven Miller’s uncle, speaking for many Holocaust survivors in that family, has nothing good to say about his nephew’s efforts against immigrants. What American would, if by “American” we mean people who understand, believe in, and support what America stands for? Or used to.  
Another letter appeared in this opinion section recently, spouting the Foxojonestrumpian climate change inaction excuse: that it has always changed and, therefore, humankind has nothing to do with it. If I thought such people would spend the time, I’d provide links to article after article, videos, online courses, refuting their nonsense and making understandable what the science is. But it’s obvious they won’t inform themselves: by that argument, they’ve announced preference for disinformation. Assuming humanity survives, history will consider them traitors to the planet and their progeny. Or something unkind.  
Denying anthropogenic climate change is akin to denying that Trump lies. How can recognition of reality, scientific and otherwise, have come to predict of which political party a person is a member? It’s baffling. It’s like seeing your house on fire and saying, well, these things happen. My kids are in there? What’s for dinner?  
Or, “Maybe it’s real, but it costs too much to fix.” Like “My daughter has cancer, but I won’t spend the money to treat her.” Inexcusably selfish, inexplicably evil.    
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Friday, August 10, 2018

Thy Will Be Done

Saturday's newspaper column to be:
It’s a given among a certain conglutination of Trump supporters. Adulatory artwork celebrates it on “social” media. So I’ve been pondering what God had in mind when He granted the presidency to Donald Trump. Because if it’s true, it follows that He also chose Barack Obama to precede him; and, for that matter, every president beginning with General Washington. In for a penny, in for a pound. 
Likewise, Mitch McConnell, Joe McCarthy, Daniel Webster. Otherwise, they slipped His notice, which is unbiblical. If He intervenes to place someone in office, then not doing so is no less of a choice. Not that surgeons consider themselves like unto God or anything, but when evaluating a critically ill patient, I’m equally responsible for the outcome whether I decide to operate or not. Having the power, inaction is action. If Trump, then the whole lot.  
In limited space, let’s focus on God’s most recent presidential picks, for there couldn’t be two people more different than President Barack Obama and Trump. The former acted to reduce and repair the damage we humans are doing to Earth, God’s signature creation. The latter is not only reviving those damaging ways, but intentionally making them worse. Our former president helped provide health insurance and other compassionate succor for millions in need; the current occupier is abolishing them. 
We can be sure God sees that white supremacists, and American Nazis, whose heroes killed millions of His chosen people, have chosen Trump. Junior Don comparing Democrats to Nazis might fool Trumpists, but God? Not possible.
President Barack Obama spoke of our common humanity. Trump, who holds rallies to spew and encourage hatred of concocted enemies, inspires attendees to denounce opponents and threaten the press. His supporters have been convinced to praise Vladimir Putin, the dictatorial murderer Trump loves. Those same people found President Barack Obama to have been unforgivably divisive, while gratefully hearing Trump speaking only to them. Specifically and especially them; not those “others.” 
If President Barack Obama failed to reach everyone, he tried. Unconcerned about the consequences, Trump uses animus and fear to rend us apart, for personal glorification. Plainly, a loving, just God would disapprove, both of Trump’s malicious demagoguery and those who howl their approval. 
When hecklers interrupted President Barack Obama’s speeches, he said, “Let them speak.” When protesters appeared at Trump’s, he urged, “Beat the crap out of them.” President Barack Obama remains with his only wife and is devoted to his children. Trump, well, his marital faithfulness is like his veracity, and he ignores two of his five children. He’s made pretty creepy remarks about some of the others. It’s said God keeps account of such matters.  
For people in pain, President Barack Obama sang “Amazing Grace.” Trump golfed, mostly.  
Given such differences, bright as a burning bush, one assumes that, having put them sequentially in office, God was sending a message. And if it’s true God cares about us and our world, the message must be, “I’ve shown you protectors and destroyers, giving you a choice. Do you love My creation and all My children, or only yourselves? Will you heed the words of My Son, or a pretender to righteousness?” Paraphrasing. 
We know what God does when humans tick Him off. Floods, locusts. Boils, frogs. And now, Trump. Except to those who’ve thrown in with a “president” who lies about everything, it’s obvious. Only if you believe Trump’s torrent of lies can you claim God chose him for any purpose except a warning.  
Maybe Trumpists excuse Trump’s impious desecrations, figuring he’ll trigger the Rapture. But supporting such a man might well bring a Judgment that hasn’t occurred to them. It seems risky.  
Given these paradoxes, the best explanation is that it wasn't God who thumbed the scales. Let’s go with that.  
Enough theology. We finish with the labyrinthine path truth has recently taken, regarding Russia: They didn’t attack us; they did, but there was no collusion. The meeting was about orphans; it was about dirt on Hillary. Trump didn’t know; he knew, but it’s not collusion. Trump didn’t dictate Junior’s lying explanation; he did. Collusion isn’t a crime; everyone seeks dirt on opponents; happens all the time. Ergo, hiring Mr. Steele was normal, and Trump’s claims about it are just more lies. See how easy that was?  
Moral: Don’t believe anything Trump says about anything.
[Image source]

Friday, August 3, 2018

Selling Out

Comes now another newspaper column:
Economic news is pretty darn good, and Trump deserves credit for maintaining the Obama recovery. By some measures, it’s gotten faster. To investors, this is pleasing. Inexplicable except as unbridled greed and indifference to average Americans, Trump’s reportedly looking into making high-income investors even richer. Super. Except for those from whose flesh another hundred-billion in tax cuts will be sliced. 
Despite such recklessness, the economy is humming, and that’s a good thing. So why can’t Trump ride the wave without lying about it? What in his hagridden brain drives him to make claims so easily debunked? To wit: He claimed he “turned the economy around.” Had he done so, to a robust economy growing steadily when he took over, he’d have tanked it, which, thankfully, he didn’t. 
So what’s the point of saying something like that? And then, because lie father, lie son, Don Jr. said there was never a quarter with such high GDP growth under Obama. There were several. Nor, as junior claimed, is it true that Obama never saw growth higher than two-percent. 
As with the difference between debt and deficit, many people misunderstand how quarterly growth rates differ from annual ones. But people at high levels of government surely know, so what they claimed aren’t mistakes, they’re lies. It’s what they do. Because it’s what their diehards want, I guess. I don’t get it, but the evidence is everywhere.  
One wonders who exactly is benefitting from the growth spurt. Can those who regularly inform me of their displeasure with my writing point to something specific that’s better for them? For sure, the very wealthy can. But regular folks? Continuing an eight-year trend, many have gotten jobs, more than have lost them because of tariffs and the increased pace of outsourcing. The poor, though, especially the working poor, are undeniably worse off, caught as they are in the backwash of money flowing upward at the expense of programs that were helping them. Likewise, people with pre-existing medical conditions and those on Medicaid. And auto workers.   
While still enjoying the record profits begun under Obama, affected businesses are passing the costs of Trump’s tariffs to consumers. Other than a couple of highly-touted but isolated, brief, and minimalist boni showily handed to employees, wages are stagnant as Trump’s upside-down tax breaks are being used for enormous CEO payouts, stock buy-backs, and investor profits.  
Yet this selective economic goodness is seen, by those whose lives aren’t and won’t be improved, as justifying their glorification of Trump. It’s like his lies: in the long run they harm everyone, but are loved by Trumpists for their own dark reasons. It’s a safe assumption that when the economy tanks, as economies are wont to do, especially under pressure from massive deficits, the cultists will love him even more. Call it the Shockhome Syndrome. 
Here’s another safe bet: after months of being assured there was “no collusion” with Russia, Trumpists will be unbothered by the sudden, hoofbeat-hearing switch to “It’s not a crime.” Or, “There was no meeting before the meeting, and the ‘president’ didn’t attend it.” Or, as we’ve already seen, tapes proving the “fake news” that Trump agreed to pay off yet another playmate wasn’t fake at all. For loyalists, brazen lying has become a non-issue.  
At some point, you’d think it’d sink in that what Trump calls “fake news” is true unless proven otherwise. Nope, not for the cultists, to whom the obvious dangers of a constantly lying “president” will never occur. For everyone else -- people, that is, who see the forest and the trees -- the inability to trust a leader on critical issues because he lies about everything, is a serious matter.  
No collusion. No interference. Fake news.  
We know Russians gained entry to some voting machines, and we’ve just witnessed how easy it is to obtain complete control. Seventy-seven-thousand votes out of 135 million, changed, deleted, or influenced by trolls, is all it would have taken. 
Sounding panicky, Trump just demanded Sessions immediately end Mueller’s “rigged” investigation, while, ironically, declaring Democrats would get rid of law enforcement. His latest rally, ominously including deranged Q-Anon believers, was the ugliest yet toward journalists. 
Too many people refuse to acknowledge the peril of Trump’s perfidious, hate-mongering demagoguery. Does good economic news justify ignoring it? Decide. We’re at a crossroads.  
[Image source]

Friday, July 27, 2018

Swamp Gas

Next newspaper column:
Every time I’m readying something non-political, the swamp off-gasses another stench. Comes another Trumpian lie, the exposure of which, for Trumpists, won’t change a thing. 
Nevertheless, he persisted.  
In the latest episode of “As the World Burns,” the Department of Justice released a much-redacted but revelatory four-hundred-page copy of its request for a warrant, plus three subsequent renewals, to wiretap Carter Page, petroleum lobbyist, former Trump (oxymoron alert) policy adviser, and self-described “informal adviser” to the Kremlin. After those requests, granted by four Republican-appointed federal judges, were made public, there followed a tweenami by the Donald, who’d have us believe they confirmed pretty much everything he’s ever said, possibly back to when he beat up a kid in military school. 
There’s no way Trump made it through the first page, of course, let alone all four-hundred. His claims are based on the stylings of Three Dolts on a Divan (an appellation I wish I’d invented), otherwise known as “Fox and Friends.” In fact, the document categorically disproves Trump’s claim that the FBI misled the courts about the “Steele Dossier.” His non-stop prevarication to the contrary, beginning before and continuing after the release, it shows the FBI explicitly informed the courts about Steele’s potential partisanship. Which also proves Devin Nunes flat-out lied about that, and much else, in his highly-touted “memo.” Lying about a matter of critical national importance ought to end his political career. In another reality, another party, where truth begat admiration, it would.  
Nunes admitted not reading the FISA requests. Trey “Benghazi” Gowdy, however, did, and chose not to call out Nunes’ lies. Peas of a podium, are they. Even with the redactions, we’ve learned the response by Democrats on the Republican-majority (oxymoron alert #2) “House Intelligence” Committee, unmasking Nunes’ scam, was accurate. Republicans lied. Democrats told the truth. (cf. feather, knocked down by.)  
Whether or not Carter Page was a Russian agent is immaterial to the propriety of the warrant. What’s at issue is whether there was reason to consider it a possibility, and the pages provide plenty of evidence. So do the subsequent renewal applications, which, approved by those Republican-appointed judges, while largely redacted, imply substantive information was being collected. Trump’s twit-fest notwithstanding, it’s clear the decision to investigate Page’s dealing with Russia was neither unmeritorious nor political. Even breeze-blown Marco Rubio agrees.  
Following his life-long pattern, Trump, who, conjuring George Orwell, just told veterans at a rally not to believe their eyes and ears, is making another glaringly dishonest claim. (His Orwellianism was aimed at the same press that’s been highlighting the plight of those same veterans ever since Bush invaded Iraq.) He’s lying about facts undeniable, confirmed by reading actual words in an actual document. Among today’s Republicans, though, who once bought principles high and now sold them low, Trump’s approval remains around ninety-percent. 
It’s as if they approve him because he lies, kowtows to murderous dictators, despoils and plunders our lands. Granted, that’s ninety-percent of a minority of people, and his approval has fallen among Americans as a whole (latest Quinnipiac: 38%); but it still defies understanding. Other than greed, what explains a once-great party’s fawning capitulation to an egregious liar? In rational times, Republicans called out their own liars. Even created the EPA, the Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts. What happened?  
Last week, another reader joined those declaring love for Trump because he "makes liberals’ heads explode.” It’s beginning to sound like the explanation, even as it admits simple-mindedness as their criterion for approval. Pollute air and water, heads explode! Cool. Crush people’s access to health care! Oh, look: liberals call it cruel, so let’s love it. Unprecedented deficits, more spending on the military than the Pentagon requested, slashing programs aimed at helping people lift themselves out of poverty, cutting veterans’ benefits, making climate change worse, twelve-billion taxpayer bucks to compensate farmers for losses due to (“The greatest!”) tariffs. Plants closing. We didn’t much like those things a while back, but, hey, liberals hate ‘em. So, yay Trump.
And this, just in: if Michael Cohen testifies, as he’s said, that Trump knew of the upcoming meeting in Trump Tower with Russian agents offering dirt on Hillary, then we’re at a crossroads for Trumpists: either you give up on a “president” in power with the help of a foreign enemy, or you admit to your own sort of treason.
Update: I replaced the original ending, which was posted for a while, with the paragraph addressing Michael Cohen's claim that Trump knew about the Trump Tower meeting with Russian agents.

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