Saturday, May 29, 2010

War And Reason

Nice words, from a guy who, according to the RWS™, hates the troops. Actions, though, are more important.

To those who consider the president's absence from Arlington this Monday a figurative middle finger raised to veterans (and I know they are many who see it exactly that way), I'd only ask, in relation to Barack Obama's words above, how they think his actions compare to those of our previous president, in terms of providing for the needs of vets and families.

And if I were predisposed to ranting, I'd also ask: how much better might their care be -- how much better off would our county be in countless ways -- had we all, including those teabaggers professing love of country while demanding an end to "outrageous" taxation (at its lowest point in decades), agreed to a war tax (a gas tax would have been perfect, in several ways, especially if there were a way to moderate it for low income people), starting when it all began and ending when it was over?

But that would have been, you know, reasonable and proper. And it would have required a bit of sacrifice. Not exactly their cup of tea, don't you know.

Friday, May 28, 2010

He Is Their Leader

Maybe the reason we don't see comments defending Glenn Beck around here any more is that even SomeSympathizers have a toe tethered to reality; the balloon of hot air to which they cling occasionally dips close enough to the ground that they touch it, if only very lightly. Which is not to say that full-throated empty-headed teabaggers are in the same category. Hateful hypocrisy is who they are. But one might wonder if, even among those true believers, there might be one or two who'd be offended by this.

BECK: (imitating Malia) Daddy? Daddy? Daddy, did you plug the hole yet? Daddy?

PAT GRAY (co-host): (imitating Obama) No I didn't, honey.

BECK: (imitating Malia) Daddy, I know you're better than [unintelligible]

GRAY: (imitating Obama) Mm-hmm, big country.

BECK: (imitating Malia) And I was wondering if you've plugged that hole yet.

GRAY: (imitating Obama) Honey, not yet.

BECK: (imitating Malia) Why not, daddy? But daddy--

GRAY: (imitating Obama) Not time yet, honey. Hasn't done enough damage.

BECK: (imitating Malia) Daddy?

GRAY: (imitating Obama) Not enough damage yet, honey.

BECK: (imitating Malia) Daddy?

GRAY: (imitating Obama) Yeah?

BECK: (imitating Malia) Why do you hate black people so much?

GRAY: (imitating Obama) I'm part white, honey.

BECK: (imitating Malia) What?

GRAY: (imitating Obama) What?

BECK: (imitating Malia) What'd you say?

GRAY: (imitating Obama) Excuse me?

BECK: (laughing) This is such a ridiculous -- this is such a ridiculous thing that his daughter-- (imitating Malia) Daddy?

GRAY: It's so stupid.

BECK: How old is his daughter? Like, thirteen?

GRAY: Well, one of them's, I think, thirteen, one's eleven, or something.

BECK: "Did you plug the hole yet, daddy?" Is that's their -- that's the level of their education, that they're coming to -- they're coming to daddy and saying 'Daddy, did you plug the hole yet?' " Plug the hole!

GRAY: (imitating Obama) Yes, I was doing some deep-sea diving yesterday, and--

BECK: (imitating Malia) Daddy?

GRAY: (imitating Obama) Yeah, mm-hmm, mm-hmm, I was doing--

BECK: (imitating Malia) Why--

GRAY: (imitating Obama) Yeah, honey, I'm--

BECK (imitating Malia) Why, why, why, why, do you still let the polar bears die? Daddy, why do you still let Sarah Palin destroy the environment? Why are -- Daddy, why don't you just put her in some sort of a camp?

Especially because it comes on the heels -- within hours, in fact -- of saying (rightfully, if you can believe it) that kids of politicians should be off limits. Of course, that was in the context of his creation, Sarah Palin.

So not only is Glenn Beck a liar and a paranoid lunatic, he doesn't even make a pretense of consistency. He has no grounding, no morals, no principles. And yet, to teabaggers, he's the soul of their movement.

Sickening. Unsurprising. Depressing. And really, really sickening.

[Update: He has apologized, and I give him credit for that. However, the relish with which he engaged in that banter, and the ease with which he did it having just let the air dry on protestations about the evil people who attack Sarah Palin's kids (whom she egregiously and aggressively used as campaign props and still does) tell me he'll say anything at any time with no regard for truth or principles. I wonder if his apology was spontaneous, or arose from the blowback he got. And I wonder if he got any blowback from his flock.]

The Enemy

So, I wonder, how do you fight this with armies, and drones, and with the deaths of our soldiers?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Press Release


Like Presidents Reagan and Bush before him, President Barack Obama will not attend ceremonies, on this one occasion, at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day. Rather, he will give honors at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, near Chicago.

"Abraham Lincoln presided over the most divisive time in our history," President Obama said. "In a time when our country's very existence was gravely threatened, he managed to overcome divisions of American against American, and to begin the healing process. I can only aspire to the greatness of President Lincoln, for few if any will achieve it. But in many ways, these are nearly equally perilous times. In attending events this Memorial Day at the national cemetery that bears his name, I honor his memory, the memory of those who fought so bravely in the Civil War, and that of all who have served our country, in all wars, in all times."

There was no such release, of course; no such statement. Had there been, I wonder if it would have made a difference to those who have risen to such anger over President Obama's impending absence from Arlington while ignoring those of our recent Republican (and therefore, by definition, patriotic) presidents.



I've been a mild to moderate baseball fan most of my life, starting with watching the Portland Beavers at Vaughn Street Stadium. A team in the Pacific Coast league, which at that time included the San Francisco Seals, the Oakland Oaks, the Los Angeles Angels, the San Diego Padres, Seattle Rainiers, and probably a couple more, and which was pretty much separate from if not quite equal to the "major leagues," the Beavers had players several of whose names I still remember: Frankie Austin, Eddie Basinski, Henry Arft, and Clyde Someone-or-other. Or maybe it wasn't Clyde. Royce Lint, Dino Restelli. Managed by Clay Hopper. Year after year, the same players, the same manager. Unlike today's Triple-A, the PCL was sort of a destination, not a way-station.

Anyhow, I remember going there with my dad, who used to go there with his dad; and in that third generation back, my dad told me, they had buckets of water all over the wooden stadium to throw on fires that regularly started from tossed away cigars and cigarettes. Money changed hands constantly among the baseball-crazy immigrants like my grandfather and his pals, who bet on everything: the next pitch, hit or miss, score. Runs were enumerated at the end of each inning by the clang of a hand-pulled bell, like at "prize fights" in those days, sponsored by Gillette Blue Blades and Pabst Blue Ribbon.

I'm no expert, and never kept a scorecard; it's not until fairly recently, mostly from listening to Joe Morgan on Sunday nights, and maybe a little back when my son was good enough to play in a Mickey Mantle League World Series in Dublin, Ohio, that I began to understand at least the first layer or two of strategy. Pitch locations, doing what on which count, stuff like that. Only a little.

So I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I just learned something I'd never known. Until, like, maybe yesterday, I always thought that when fans hung out those "K" signs after strikeouts that they were too drunk or just weren't paying enough attention to know when they sometimes had one backwards.

After all these years, I should have known.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Those Damned Facts

Among the commenters who used to troll here but seem, mostly, to have left when they found the stuff they spout doesn't float in deep waters, a favorite comment is that I should stop blaming Bush for our problems. Forget facts, they would have us. Rely on simple and wrong, they prefer to. Ignore information such as the above chart, they do.

Which, of course, is exactly what Congressional Rs and their mouth organ are assuming the public will do as well. That they're probably right doesn't change the central truth; it just reinforces the reality of our collective stupidity and preference for easy answers, misplaced blame, and magical thinking. In times such as these, which demand our best, teabaggers and those of similar disposition toward angry but devoid certitude are the unfortunate -- yet apparently inevitable, given the milieu -- response.

In my practice I was called upon on a (mercifully) few occasions to try to undo the damage done to a patient by a previous surgeon. Picking up the pieces left by another (especially when the patient had had the opportunity to come to me in the first place and have things done right) is by far the most unpleasant and undesirable situation I -- or any surgeon, or any physician at all -- ever encountered. Depending on the extremity of the situation, it can be deeply and irreparably no-win. And yet, there the patient is, in need; and there you are, needed. Among other unpleasantries, it's nearly certain that, no matter the outcome (because it's likely the patient will never be as well-off as if the first operation(s) had been done properly), you know you'll be among those to whom blame is assigned: sued, in other words.

Since an operation is never as easy or more likely to go well than when it's done the first time, there will almost certainly be technically daunting challenges. There may be no good choices; your options might be only among those least likely to be disastrous. Faced -- as I have been -- with distorted anatomy, pockets of pus everywhere, unrecognizable structures, all in a patient depleted of physical and psychological reserve, you may have no other course but to embark on something very hazardous, with countless opportunities for complications, or outright failure. To use the proper medical phrase, from the time of Hippocrates: it really really really sucks.

I don't see much difference, except in orders of magnitude, between those professional experiences, and the assuming of office after George Bush screwed up a (possibly necessary) war; took us into and screwed up a clearly unnecessary and ill-advised (in several meanings of the term) second war; set the economy toward ruin with his tax cuts and steadfast refusal to pay for his wars; ignored our energy crisis and, in fact, made it worse by reversing the meager steps that had been taken before him; increased the Republican assault on science and reason; it goes on and on. It was not without an easily recalled sense of my own fears and trepidation in context of my care of previously-damaged humans that I wondered, during the recent election process, why ANYONE would want to assume the presidency. Anyone with serious ideas and a sense of the magnitude of the problems, that is, which excludes most of the R candidates and, most certainly, their eventual nominees.

It's in this same context that I'm inclined to temper my disappointments with Barack Obama. He's been far from perfect, in my view: not enough focus on jobs; health care possibly ill-timed and too complex, too much based on insurance companies; too slow on DADT; too quick to compromise with or cave to disingenuous criticism from the right. But at least he's trying, with serious intent, facing unprecedented challenges. FDR, after all, faced The Great Depression and WWII more or less single file, and it was only one war, with a couple identifiable and locatable enemies; there was no energy crisis, no oil polluting from a mile under the ocean; no coordinated 24/7 disinformation network annealed with talk radio and the length and breadth of the opposition party to poison the well with deliberate lies; and there wasn't a public unable to face adversity and unwilling to sacrifice for the greater good; a public willfully misinformed and actively engaged in remaining that way.

Which still doesn't explain why the hell Barack Hussein Obama wanted to take it on. I wouldn't have. He's a much better man than I, and he still can't do it.

Which tells you something.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Viktor Frankl: holocaust survivor and shrink.

I find the clip both inspiring and depressing. Inspiring, because I think he might be right, and I should snap out of it. Depressing, because of how low the bar has been set in America, by such people as Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, teabaggers, and the rest of the screeching right-wingers, who appeal only to our basest selves.


Very, very successfully.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Document Dump

Below this one are several posts I've written in the last week or two, not all of them finished. I'll line 'em up and leave 'em while I consider whether it's worth doing any more. Looking around the country and the planet, the most consistent feeling is "Why bother?"


Many of the security initiatives put in place by George Bush have been flops.
A high-tech "virtual fence" to catch illegal border crossers. Next-generation nuclear detectors at ports. Tamper-proof driver's licenses in every state. These were signature Bush administration initiatives to protect the country against terrorism and secure its borders. All have been proven to be flops, according to government and outside experts, and expensive ones at that.
The Department of Homeland Security paid defense contractor Boeing Co. $1.1 billion to build what is sometimes called the virtual border fence. But the system of radars and cameras can't consistently tell terrorists from tumbleweed, according to the Government Accountability Office. In March, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano froze funding on the project.


Napolitano aides say they don't blame their predecessors, who were under intense pressure to prevent another terrorist attack, for attempting fixes that ultimately didn't pan out. But outside analysts say the failures were the predictable result of an agency with too little experience at making major purchases and of contractors peddling untested products.

I come here to praise George Bush, not to bury him. That is, I agree with the above that he was under pressure and had to do whatever he thought might help; it isn't necessarily his fault these initiatives were failures. Could be. Might be. Probably is. But not necessarily. Yet there is an important lesson: in saying George Bush "kept us safe" after 9/11, and, in pointing to Times Square and saying Barack Obama hasn't, the lunatic mainstream is ignoring reality.

Clearly, it's NOT that George Bush "kept us safe." Dumb luck outweighed the short-term effects of useless systems and counterproductive acts, such as invading Iraq, Abu Ghraib, leaving Afghanistan... all that stuff. Not to mention that the trillions spent fruitlessly in Iraq and Afghanistan (and, yes, Obama has continued it), combined with the deficits that began with the Bush tax cuts and unfunded wars, along with the catastrophic economic ruin he oversaw, have left us unable to spend the sort of money required to secure our ports, and our industries.

I went to bed last night and the sun didn't come up until morning. Pressed with truth, I'll have to admit: the one isn't responsible for the other. But I'd still like to think so, and you should, too. Similarly, Republican legislators, the RWS™, Fox "news," and teabaggers would have us believe cause and effect with respect to Bush/safe/fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here.

Ain't buying it.

What He Said

Conor Friedersdorf is a conservative thinker with whom I don't often agree, but I'd love to talk with him. He's among those rare conservatives nowadays who thinks the power of his ideas is such that they don't require lying to convince people. Like me, he points out the disrespect the RWS™, in their constant lying, show for their audience and, for that matter, the very ideas they promote. He's also been involved in the "epistemic closure" debate, for which he's earned the wrath of the epistemically closed. His talk partner, above, is the guy who first used the term.

If our political debate were on the level he tries to provide, and if the teabaggers would recognize the low esteem in which they're implicitly held by those shining them on, educate themselves (a lot of catching up to do), and think of ways to join a useful dialogue, well, maybe we'd be closer to pulling it off. By "it" I mean surviving.

Whereas it's refreshing to see at least a few conservatives call out the deceptions of the radio clowns and, by inference, the talking heads on Fox "news," and whereas it's nice to hear repeated the very things I've been saying about the disregard for truth, for their audience, for the process of democracy that the aforementioned screamers evince every day, it's also depressing. Because, on the right anyway, such voices are so rare as to round off to zero. And, pretty much by definition, such reasonableness is to teabagging as magnets are to credit cards.

Just For The Heck Of It

It Goes On And On

Here's another of countless examples of the right wing adopting totalitarianism even as they claim to hate it. Only recently I've mentioned the big lie and extralegal removal of citizenship. Dumbing down of education, in order to achieve a malleable, fact-averse electorate, is a common theme here. Texas is the most obvious example. Now it's demanding the promulgation of a hard-right political point of view. State-sponsored propaganda.


Dumb And Deaf

Can these guy hear themselves? I mean, if I were to say something one day, and then the complete opposite the next, I think I'd feel compelled to acknowledge it in some way. "Well, yeah, yesterday I said the earth revolves around the sun. Today, when I point out that it's the sun that revolves around the earth, what I mean is that what I meant yesterday was that I don't mean it and never did. Yesterday's gone. Never happened. So don't be bringing it up." Or maybe, "Okay, let's just be frank (or Frank?): I'll say whatever I damn please to oppose this president, and if it's a one-eighty from what I said when there was another president, who cares? It's politics, okay? I have no beliefs. I only have power plays. Okay? Okay."

For those with shorter memories, or even less consistency than John Cornyn, it was mere months ago that Rs were claiming that understanding the law's effect on people (something we might call "empathy") was irrelevant. Bad, in fact. Not to mention, of course, that a couple of years ago they (this guy, in fact) were also proclaiming Harriet Myers' lack of judicial experience was a good thing. Funny how that works, huh?

Now, I've always proposed a pox on both their houses; Congressional Ds most certainly aren't above switching when the winds change. But has it ever been so pervasive and reflexive? Have we ever seen a party, virtually in unison, disclaim every single principle (using the word extremely loosely) the minute their party lost power? Without so much as blinking? Seriously. When Nancy Pelosi is on shaky ground she flaps like a flag. To me, it means she has the remnants of a conscience. Not these guys. They must have been born lying. Not the flicker of a flinch. For them, hypocrisy, like glycolysis, is chemical.

Our federal legislators are not a generally impressive group. But these Rs? Beyond pathetic, beyond respect. And way far beyond interested in actual governance.

Help Wanted

As some of us have been saying since the dawn of the Obama era, here's why it matters that he's been trying to improve our image among Muslims and in Muslim countries.

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security have made an urgent appeal to Pakistani-American groups and Muslim leaders for help in determining whether the man who planted a car bomb in Times Square had accomplices elsewhere in the Pakistani-American community.

The request, made in a barrage of phone calls and email messages from the FBI since the bombing attempt Saturday, comes in the wake of several cases in which Americans of Pakistani origin have been implicated in terrorism. The list includes a Chicago man who pleaded guilty in March to involvement in the deadly 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India.

Stop The Presses!

One more time: Fox "news" is fair and balanced.

The real power of brainwashing is that the victims don't recognize in what they've been bathed. A couple of them come here and prove it, with regularity.

Better Said

Above is an appropriate followup to my "Science Speaks" post. Much better than I have or could, it demonstrates the deliberate falsification (or, at best, the credulous ignorance) of the deniers. I particularly like the part in which Fox "news" trumpets the retraction of an article about predicted rise of the ocean, while ignoring the fact that it was retracted because the authors were convinced they'd underestimated the rise. The most-watched cable network. Deliberate liars.

The final minute or so of the video is especially resonant to me: the hatred of science fomented in our society will be our ruin.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Same Sh*t, Different Day

Eric Cantor, among the more facile and shameless liars in Congress, came up with a nice gimmick recently. Called YouCut, it's a website for teabaggers and the rest of the credulous to vote, given a list provided by Mr. Cantor, on what cuts in government programs they'd like to see. Naturally, Cantor poisons the poll with prevarication. Here's how he described the first winner, prior to the vote, on his website:

The program was recently created to incentivize states to increase their welfare caseloads without requiring able-bodied adults to work, get job training, or otherwise prepare to move off of taxpayer assistance. Reforming the welfare program was one of the great achievements of the mid 1990s, saving taxpayers billions of dollars and ending the cycle of dependency on welfare. This new program, created in 2009 is a backdoor way to undo those reforms.

Well, who wouldn't want to end a travesty like that? But, to the surprise of no one in the reality-based community, his description was wildly dishonest. From the preceding link:

  • The Emergency Fund will enable states to place 186,000 unemployed individuals in subsidized jobs by the end of the summer. It’s the largest subsidized employment effort states have ever taken under TANF, the national block grant created by the 1996 welfare reform law. (More details here and here). A large share of the jobs are in the private sector.
  • The claim that the Emergency Fund “incentivizes states to increase their welfare caseloads” is simply wrong. States don’t have to increase their caseloads to qualify for money from the Emergency Fund. In fact, some states whose caseloads have sharply declined despite the recession have used money from the fund to help create subsidized jobs for low-income parents and youth or to provide one-time assistance to families in crisis (such as help paying a back rent or utility bill for a family facing eviction). In addition, states have to contribute 20 percent of the costs.
  • Individuals receiving TANF assistance funded through the Emergency Fund must meet the same stringent work requirements imposed on other TANF recipients. They have 12 weeks to find a job — an extremely difficult task in today’s labor market — after which they must meet their work requirement through other work activities, such as unpaid work. A limited number of recipients may be permitted to pursue short-term education and training.

According to the above source, even the odious Haley Barbour favors the program.

So, once again we see the disregard Republican leaders have for their followers, for the democratic process, and for the future of our country. And once again I ask teabaggers: how much of this deception will it take before you wake up? When are you going to stop letting yourselves be lied to, manipulated, and fomented into voting for the very people who first caused and still represent the problem, not the solution? You're right to be angry, worried, and to demand things change. But you've hooked up with the lowest of the lifes out there, enabling the worst offenders, and you refuse to see it. You're a bunch of co-dependents.

Because you refuse to see clearly into our problems and to reckon seriously with the difficulties of finding solutions, I'd say you and the Republican leaders, and the RWS™ who provide them with their talking points, and the "news" outlet that spreads the manure deserve each other.

Problem is, the rest of us don't, and it's us you're determined to take down with you.

As In "Crite"

I think the Republican Party needs to change its symbol from elephant to hippo.

Another day, another congressional R found to be doing that against which he rails. Family values. Abstinence. The louder the protest, the more likely the deceit. No matter. The hollering works.

Falling right in line, presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty has just vetoed a Minnesota bill allowing basic and humane rights -- hospital visitation, end of life decisions -- to same sex couples. It wasn't even about marriage. It was about nothing more than simple human decency. No matter. Decency? Unwelcome. To be invited to the tea party, a Republican must, evidently, peddle hatred. Absent useful ideas, having had their bedrock tax-cut/deregulation/small government tropes thoroughly discredited, all they have left to rally their troops is the hope that they'll forget. How better to accomplish that than continual bombardment of sexual politics. What else is there for them?

Well, fear and hatred of immigrants. Let's not forget that.

Manipulating and stoking rage against the weak or different has a long and generally successful tradition in the party of Karl Rove, Tom Delay, Newt Gingrich, Fox "news" and the RWS™. I keep hoping the teabaggers will wake up and realize they're being played for fools, by dishonest people whose real agenda is anything but what it appears.

I also keep hoping I'll win the lottery.

And I don't even buy tickets.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

For The Public Good

Lately it's being said compressions without breaths is just as effective, and maybe less dangerous, particularly when done by the untrained. But why quibble? I'm not arguing with the girls.

You'd Think...

In a nutshell, this is exactly what is driving me slowly crazy. There's nothing really surprising that the guys who lost power are trying to get it back; nor, given who they are, is it unexpected that they'd be lying to accomplish it, saying the exact opposite of what's factual, day after day. It's not even startling that the so-called news network which is unapologetically committed to carrying the polluted water of those democracy-hating prevaricators echoes and enhances the dishonesty.

What's so deeply disappointing is the ease with which so many fellow citizens have bought it. How thoroughly they've forgotten where we were on January 20, 2009, and how we got there. What's so deeply disappointing is the banality of the political "debate" over solutions; and the fact that our electorate, in numbers big enough to make a difference, are so lazy of thought and absent of knowledge, so used to being fed easy solutions and graven images that they neither notice or even care. That's what's disappointing, and I've said it time and again.

There's much to worry about; there are decisions President Obama has made and priorities he's elaborated which which I have problems, and I've said that, too. But I don't doubt for a minute that he's trying to find and do what's best, and that he's hampered by unprecedented obstinacy on the other side. I acknowledge that the problems he faces -- we all face -- are so huge as to be nearly impossible. Neither have I the slightest doubt that we'd be much closer to solutions were the opposition party, as constituted in Congress, even a little bit willing to help out. To work for solutions rather than destruction. And, most importantly, if the public were able to face facts rather than to seek to reinforce their need for victimhood and easy answers. (Socialism. Nazism. Ignoring terrorism.) But that's simply not the case; and, it seems, given the rise of magical thinking and the deliberate destruction of education that it might never be again.

It's likely that the next elections will bring major shifts in political power. Faced with governing again, will Republicans simply resort, as always, to their discredited solutions of tax-cuts and deregulation? And will the public let them, once again, embody that clichéd but true definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Oily To Bed

The above is an appropriate followup to the previous post.

Well, it's a point of view, that raising liability limits for drillers (from seventy-five million!) is a bad thing. Lisa Murkowski is a Republican from Alaska, which puts her in questionable company. Oil company. But I'd give her more credence (maybe not) were it not for some of the things she's said in defense of big oil. Here's one, in a Senate hearing, referring to a BP VP:
Mr. Rainey, I appreciate you stating for the record that the oil and gas industry is high-tech. For people who don’t know about Perdido and about what is occurring at Liberty, it is nothing short of phenomenal to think that we can be exploring and producing in the depths that you’re talking about, 35,000 feet is the record, but what’s going on at Perdido at 8,000 feet, 200 miles offshore, tapping into things in a 30-mile radius. I had an opportunity to see what Shell is doing with the 4-D seismic technology, and it’s better than Disneyland, in terms of how you can take technologies and go after a resource that is thousands of years old, and do so in an environmentally sound way. So, I commend you for the efforts that have been made to really play out the technologies so that you’re able to gain the resource while at the same time working to care for the environment.

Thoughtful. Better than Disneyland. Okay, she was searching for metaphor. She was.... wait... what?....THOUSANDS OF YEARS OLD????

To think that I get critical comments here, claiming I'm an elitist for saying we're becoming a bunch of uneducated, science-denying idiots! And that there are consequences.

Silly me.

Need More Proof?

Could it be any clearer that Congressional Republicans 1) aren't serious about governing and 2) are enemies of science and education? For that matter, isn't it also obvious that Congressional rules are so arcane and bogged down that our country simply can't function as a political entity?

The problem, I think, is that when the rules were made there was an assumption that the minority party, no matter which one it was, would retain a scintilla of decency, and a glimmer of commitment to country above party. Using the phrase heard commonly of late to excuse the most egregious of errors (9/11, oil spills, Iraq insurgency, derivatives crisis...), "no one could have foreseen" the disastrous alignment of a theocratic party, a news organization committed to promoting it, the capitulation of the rest of the media, and the willingness of the electorate to be tagged and teabagged by them. There was even a time, I think, when such a grievous failing would have been understandable. In the barely recalled past, parties talked to one another, and a common desire to do right was assumed, even during disagreement. No more. We have only one serious political party, and, given the way Congress works and the devolution of the public sensibility, that's not a good thing. Our system was built in and depends on good faith.

Here's the latest example of Republican indecency. There was a House bill aimed at raising funding for scientific research and for math and science education. You know, the stuff that might save the future for us... It had passed out of committee and was ready for floor vote. But some Republican congressman -- a Texan, no less -- had a way to stop it. (Science?? My god, what will those Nazi Democrats do next?) It's complicated and simple. Evidently, you can demand a bill get sent back to committee by a "motion to recommit" which he attached to an amendment requiring that money not be spent in salary to anyone found to have watched pornography. So Democrats had two choices: deny the motion to recommit, thereby risk being campaigned against with the claim they'd voted in favor of pornography, or pull the bill off the floor. Brave souls that they are (well, realists, too: sure as hell the claim would have been made and the public would have undipped their bags long enough to drink it in), they pulled the bill.

Now, I have no doubt that there was much high-fivin' going on in Republican cloakrooms; I'm certain the if-Obama-is-for-it-we're-against-it crowd thinks their boys in Congress are cool as hell. But science? Really? (Well, of course. Nowadays, their whole foundation is denialism.)

And thus we see the seriousness, the patriotism, the respectability of our opposition party; the party that wants control again after taking us up too and well over the brink, the party Fox "news" is all about promoting 24/7, the party the teabaggers just love to death. The party that, despite its failings and because of its willingness to distort, dissemble, and deceive, is quite likely to regain power faster than I'd have thought possible.

But that was when I still had residual faith in the electorate and (I can't remember why) hope that the media were up to their responsibilities.

We are so screwed.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Animal Love

Most people have already seen this:

Here's something like it:

I guess each story is sort of beautiful, although it seems both animals would have been better off had they never been in captivity in the first place. The "Christian" story has always made me feel good. Somehow, though, I felt bad for the gorilla. I hope he has a short memory, but it looks like he doesn't.

Friday, May 14, 2010

"Truly A Miracle"

So says Jerzy Buzek, head of the European Parliament. (There's a European Parliament? Who knew?) A plane goes down, killing everyone on board except a young boy, who has not yet been told that his mother, father, and brother are dead.

A miracle.

He'll grow up without his mom and dad, bearing survivors' guilt and God knows what else; in an instant, his life is changed for the horrible, forever.

A miracle.

A hundred people are dead, hundreds more grieving, kids without parents, parents without kids, futures erased by the stroke of an unseen hand. And a kid survives.

A miracle.

Because the god or gods that killed off a hundred, destroying hundreds more on the ricochet, decided not to kill one, but, rather, to leave his life in ruins, people see the hand of their deity and like what they see. But I wonder: which is the miracle, the killing or the saving, and why? God/gods must have been involved in each outcome, right? If he/she/it/they did the one, they most certainly did the other. If, as Ms Merriam Webster says, a miracle is "an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs," why is it the saving and not the killing? And what does it say about the god/gods who did it?

Well, that part is pretty obvious. What's not so obvious is why people find joy in it. I simply don't get it, and I can't imagine that I ever will. I do get why people need to put their eggs in a godly basket. I get that for most people, the capriciousness and finitude of life requires some sort of transcendent hedge. But coming up with an explanation that involves deeming such an event as this to be a miracle... who'd want to believe in such a higher power as that? Where's the comfort? Killing off a kid's family and breaking both his legs is a sign of deitific intervention? The deity they're down with? Yikes.

Their answer, I assume, is some variation of the basic theme: he/she/it/they work in mysterious ways. Giveth...taketh...blessed be... Which, really, is saying, simply, "Who the hell knows." With that, I'm quite okay: who the hell knows? And I wonder what the world would be like if everyone just accepted that truth, instead of their particular choice among all the disparate, internally and externally contradictory, hateful, destructive, rejectionist beliefs that seem to be destroying our planet and us. Accepting the uncertainty, what would it be if everyone settled on their own answers, let everyone else have theirs, and kept it all to themselves? Actually, I know what that would be:

A miracle.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Had Dick Cheney not thought $500,000 was too great a burden on builders of oil platforms, I wonder if this might not have happened.

We'll never know.

Science Speaks

And I say it's about time. (Of course, I also say it'll make no difference at all to the thought-challenged among us.) In response to the overwrought and underthought rhetoric that passes for legitimate discussion nowadays, two-hundred-fifty scientists have written a succinct and clear statement about what science is, and, in particular, the facts as currently established about climate change. Appearing in one of the world's most highly regarded scientific publications, Science (in which my brilliant niece has placed several papers), the statement says, in part:

We are deeply disturbed by the recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular. [...]

Scientific conclusions derive from an understanding of basic laws supported by laboratory experiments, observations of nature, and mathematical and computer modeling. Like all human beings, scientists make mistakes, but the scientific process is designed to find and correct them. [...] But when some conclusions have been thoroughly and deeply tested, questioned, and examined, they gain the status of "well-established theories" and are often spoken of as "facts."

[...] Climate change now falls into this category... [...]

Many recent assaults on climate science and, more disturbingly, on climate scientists by climate change deniers, are typically driven by special interests or dogma, not by an honest effort to provide an alternative theory that credibly satisfies the evidence. [...]

But there is nothing remotely identified in the recent events that changes the fundamental conclusions about climate change:

(i) The planet is warming due to increased concentrations of heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. A snowy winter in Washington does not alter this fact.

(ii) Most of the increase in the concentration of these gases over the last century is due to human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

(iii) Natural causes always play a role in changing Earth's climate, but are now being overwhelmed by human-induced changes.

(iv) Warming the planet will cause many other climatic patterns to change at speeds unprecedented in modern times, including increasing rates of sea-level rise and alterations in the hydrologic cycle. Rising concentrations of carbon dioxide are making the oceans more acidic.

(v) The combination of these complex climate changes threatens coastal communities and cities, our food and water supplies, marine and freshwater ecosystems, forests, high mountain environments, and far more.

You'd think (or hope, anyway) such a statement would be unnecessary. But as this product of our education system shows (and I don't think he's even Texan), it's only gonna get worse.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

This County Will Self-Destruct In...

States are passing laws allowing people to carry guns in airports. We're becoming a nation of gun-totin' brown-arrestin' citizenship-revokin' paranoid lunatics. Is this really where we're headed? Wild West justice, hang 'em first and shoot questions later? Vigilantes? Are we finally so destroyed by those guys in caves that we have thrown up our hands and said, "You win?" So frightened, so lacking in confidence that we're just turning on ourselves? Seriously.

Adding injury to insult was a show on PBS, part of which was devoted to the "open carry" movement. Featuring lots of guys walking around with handguns on their hips, it gave fair voice to that side of the argument. Mostly, it's that if you have a gun on your person, you might have an opportunity to prevent a crime. I get that; can't really argue with it, per se. In fact, if I had a gun handy were I to come across someone committing rape, for example, I might just pull it and saying something impolite.

Yet I had a surprisingly visceral reaction to seeing those guys packing so smugly, one of whom had the hammer of his weapon in cocked mode. Maybe it's that it took me back to my days in Vietnam, when, on flying missions, I carried a .38 pistol, per regulation, in my survival vest. Some of the fighter jocks added bandoliers with a couple hundred extra rounds. Me, I figured if I was on the ground in a situation where that much shooting was required, with a bitsy sidearm like that, alone, all I'd need was one bullet.

But I don't think it was that. It was the simpering macho certitude, combined with the showing of pro-gun rallies featuring speakers saying President Obama is the most anti-gun president ever, with signs saying something like, "Yeah, Barry, you can take my gun. Muzzle first." Because, as anyone should know, the only action Obama has taken regarding guns is to loosen regulation of them in national parks. As with many of the policies of this so-called socialist liberal, he's getting hot criticism from his left over his lack of action on gun regulation. So it's not simply that there's a large segment of the population packing heat openly and proudly. It's that they're Fox-fed, RWS™-brained nutjobs. It's that they're proof paranoid of how far back we're falling, based on falsehood.

I know we'll never be crime-free nor gun-free. But I really doubt the guys carrying are thinking much about being crime-fighters. They're getting off on that thing in their pants; they're reveling in the attention they get and the discomfort it causes. It's about intimidation; and people who need to intimidate indiscriminately are not nice people, or healthy.

Because we already have laws allowing concealed carry. You need a permit, though, which open carry, mostly, does not. (Why, after all, would we want to regulate people who need to walk around all gun-hipped?) So it's not about fighting crime. It's about show. It's about in-your-face. And, parenthetically, it's about taking us to a place where the Second Amendment has never gone.

It's like walking around with your dick hanging out, only not as subtle.

My question is this: was it really al Queda that brought us down so easily, so thoroughly, or was it the specter of a Black Guy in the White House? Whichever it is, or whatever combination of the aforementioned, it sure as hell didn't take much to get us to toss it all overboard.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Oh, Man!

Can there be a more clear demonstration of the insanity of the right wing than this?

If Kagan genuinely believed that the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law was "a profound wrong--a moral injustice of the first order," why would she make herself complicit in implementing the grave evil? Yes, of course, it's true, as the article points out, that "barring the recruiters would [have] come with a price." But, as George Bernard Shaw would have said to Kagan for selling out her supposedly deeply held principles, "We've already established what you are, ma'am. Now we're just haggling over the price."

Here's what this guy is talking about: Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan, evidently disagrees with the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. Yet, as president of Harvard Law School, she allowed military recruiters on campus. I repeat: SHE ALLOWED MILITARY RECRUITERS ON CAMPUS. And this conservative pundit is offended. He thinks it's terrible that a potential justice would be able to put her personal beliefs aside in making an important decision. I repeat: .... no, I don't. It's just too amazing, too unbelievable, too obviously stupid and UNCONSERVATIVE (so they'd usually claim) a statement from a so-called conservative to take up more ink (or whatever this stuff is) than it already has. Discounting pragmatism or open-mindedness, in his article, which appeared in NRO, a reflexive organ for negativism no matter the issue as long as Obama is involved, the writer suggests the decision was only about money. Really?

It will, of course, get worser and crazier. And the cynicism will have no bounds.

The bony anorexic believes, and the unrepentantly stupid prevaricator agrees, that a fight over any Supreme Court nominee by Obama is a good deal for Republicans. This, of course, was said without knowing the pick. (My best advice is: don't watch the clip if your head isn't well-glued onto your neck. "Everything Obama has done is radical..." Gimme a break.) Consistent much?

So here we are. The objection to Sonia Sotomayor was that she might insert her personal beliefs into her judicial reasoning (yeah, like Scalia, Roberts, Alito, Thomas don't. I only know of one judge who never did. There might be others.) And now it's gonna be that Kagan won't?!?!

If you repeat a lie often enough, people begin to believe it. That piece of political truth and social realism has never been more overtly adhered to than by the current cabal of Republican leaders, their house organ, and the right-wing screamers. (Ironic, isn't it? The freedom-loving anti-communists have adopted the seminal strategy of the Bolsheviks, the sine qua non of totalitarianism: lying. In print, on the air, everywhere, all the time.) There's no question that lying is the agreed-upon response to Barack Obama. The only question is whether it will continue, forever, to find the receptive and malleable audience that is so far has, in teabaggers, whether out of or in their cups.* Is there any point at which even they might say, "You know, events simply don't support the crap they're feeding us?"

Doubt it.

[Reality-based fact: as usual with most of Obama's actions, which, predictably, are anything but radical, there's some unhappiness on the left with his nominee.]

*Some will get that.

Monday, May 10, 2010


Lying within a couple of bytes of permanently fallow, my better blog, Surgeonsblog, still gets visitors. Some find it when searching for a specific surgical topic; others seem to stumble upon it from a moldering link on another site. When comments are left, questions asked, I reply. That it remains viable after I've mostly left it, still providing useful information or entertainment for people (or, quoting an email I just received, "inspiration") gives me satisfaction. Too, once in a while, it drives me nuts.

A post that gets regular traffic is this one, about gallbladder flushes. Like all "cleansing" procedures -- especially colon cleanses, a favorite among liberals for some reason, if reading the Huffington Post (which I do, regularly [no pun]) is any indicator -- such holy happenings are peddled prodigiously by the deluded or the deceptive, and carried out with commitment by the credulous. Unlike colon cleansing, which has no visible verifier except the expected effluvium, gallbladder flushes produce something tangible, something magical, something given the credence of a brickbat. It's real, it's there for the looking. It's proof positive.

It's bullshit.

And yet, I still get testimonials for the treatment, along with vigorous personal derogation for dissing it. Did so again recently, got into quite a little tête á tête. Hand in hand, such belief is accompanied by certainty that doctors are liars and thieves, and that the only reliable health care is to be received from -- you name it -- naturopaths, chiropracters, homeopaths, and chi-ters. The less evidence, the better.

What impresses them beyond recall to reality is the production of "stones" in their feces after they drink the potion. With minor variations, the flushee takes a combination of oil and something acidic and, by golly, like cottage cheese, it produces little curds in the turds that the true believer is convinced are gallstones. I've had them brung to me, with smug certainty, in little cups, a wrong thing on many levels. Without recounting the simple physiology of the gallbladder and the only slightly more complicated chemistry of bile, not to mention the geometry of bile ducts and the physical nature of gallstones, I'll assert, and the reader will accept based on my decades of care for patients and my hundreds of posts which have never deviated from factual, that there simply is no way taking that brew or anything else by mouth will cause a gallbladder to disgorge itself of stones. Believing these potions can work is like thinking you can change your spark plugs by flushing the radiator.

But them cute little curds: what more proof does a believer need? (Suggestion: pick one up and rub it between your fingers.)

Which brings me back into this blog's bailiwick: why do humans need to believe stuff that's so obviously untrue, easily disproved, completely bogus? Whether it's Obama's birth, the age of the earth, a homeopath's worth, or evolutionary dearth, people can be persuaded of the damndest things. Why? In the human brain, how can such disparate things dwell as art, music, love, engineering, architecture, invention... and... belief in gallbladder flushes, Sarah Palin, and Glenn Beck? With so much in us that strives for perfection, for understanding our world, for discovery, we remain capable of -- in need of, evidently -- self-delusion of the most remarkable and refractory sort. My latest in the thrall of flushes was absolutely convinced, while derisively dismissive of factual input. Not unlike some commenters here. So deep is the need.

Philosophers can wrestle with it, theses can be written. But to me, if it's frustrating and depressing, it's also simple: our minds have not kept pace with our ability to create. We've made the world too complex and too dangerous for the limited capacity we have to understand what we've done or, from the beginning maybe, to handle uncertainty. It's a paradox of evolution. Capable of so much, our brains have significant and perverse lacunae. Faced with inescapable reality, like the kid who spills ink on the carpet, we turn to pretense. When we can't deal with the world we've made, we make stuff up that feels good, that's easy, magical. Water memory. Death panels. Creationism. Fair and balanced. For that matter, in terms of demonstrating failures of human cerebration, I find it hard to make much distinction between believing there's a red-skinned guy with horns and a tail living in the center of the earth, that martyrdom gets you a two-month supply of virgins, and this. All evidence that in apprehension of reality we're fatally flawed. (By "fatally," I mean "fatally." And by "we" I mean "they.")

If we're going to save ourselves from ourselves, we have a hell of a long way to go, which means we better find a way to pick up the pace of evolution in a big hurry. I wonder if lemon juice and olive oil would work...

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Watching my mother inexorably displaced by Alzheimer's disease, layer by layer of her essence peeled away, regressing, confusing, misunderstanding, becoming childlike and then less, is a shared painful slow death.

Once bright and intelligent, a lover of word play and shaggy dog stories, counsellor to my dad in his political career, writer of speeches, member of boards, she's become, now, mostly none of that. Rarely a flash of a joke appears, so randomly that it's hard to know if it was intended. As her short-term memory disappeared, for a time there was still most of the rest; I could ignore the fact that she never remembered our visits because while we were there, it was clear it gave her pleasure. "In the moment" took on its literal meaning. I could make her laugh, sometimes to tears, and we could enjoy recalling events and people of the past. She loved looking at pictures. If we ran out of things to talk about, we could just start over, and it was all new.

Now, though, it mostly confuses her. And although she still recognizes us -- and fawns child-like affection on my wife -- she fails to understand most of what we're saying, and that upsets her. Recently, it brought her to tears, and for the first time I thought our presence was not only not pleasurable, but harmful.

She has stuffed animals on the sill. If you pick them up and wiggle their limbs, she'll talk to them like a little child.

It's about a two-hundred-thirty mile drive, and we make it about once a month, staying for two or three days. The place in which she dwells (hard to call it living) is as good as it gets, I'd guess. Caring and cheerful staff, all seeming to know her well. If "knowing" and "her" and "well" have any meaning. I call her every weekend because we've hired a companion for those days, and she'll pick up the phone for her, and explain what to do. Of late, Mom's response is unpredictable. Sometimes she barely gets it, will stop talking, let the phone drift, and after calling "Mom... mom... can you hear me ... are you there..." I'll just hang up the phone. The companion, often, leaves the room once she'd gotten Mom talking, so there's nothing else to do.

When we do talk, it's about the weather, birds, the color of my lawn. And then, the weather, birds, the color of my lawn. If she forms more than a handful of words, they usually take her someplace where she can no longer follow. I'll search for a way back for her, but if I find one that makes any sense she's lost the path anyway, and we'll get back to the weather.

She had chest pain the other day, they tell me. Took three nitros before it went away, and they almost took her to the ER. Why?

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