Tuesday, May 31, 2011


When I make a mistake, I admit it. Turns out the photo I featured recently was photoshopped. Above is the orginal.

Graduation Speech

Here is a very meaty speech, given to the graduating class of Harvard Medical School by Atul Gawande who, like me, is a brilliant surgeon also known for his ability to write.... (yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. I know. Academic surgeons aren't all that brilliant in the OR.)

The article is worth reading in its entirety because it's a damn good distillation of the changes in medical care in the last couple of generations, of the difficulties in controlling costs, and of what Gawande thinks might help; and it echoes much of what I've been saying, too. Specifically, about effectiveness research. (Being much more politic than me, he doesn't raise the extent to which all things needed -- and not only in health care -- are despicably distorted and bastardly blocked by teabaggRs.)

...Medical performance tends to follow a bell curve, with a wide gap between the best and the worst results for a given condition, depending on where people go for care. The costs follow a bell curve, as well, varying for similar patients by thirty to fifty per cent. But the interesting thing is: the curves do not match. The places that get the best results are not the most expensive places. Indeed, many are among the least expensive. This means there is hope—for if the best results required the highest costs, then rationing care would be the only choice. Instead, however, we can look to the top performers—the positive deviants—to understand how to provide what society most needs: better care at lower cost. And the pattern seems to be that the places that function most like a system are most successful.

Sorry, Dr Gawande: there's actually no hope of getting there when an entire political party is dedicated to maintaining the status quo, and is doing so by crying "death panels!" and "killing grandma!" at the very mention of even considering what's so clearly needed.

Unstained by cynicism such as mine, he tells a story:

Not long ago, I had an experience at our local school that brought home the stakes. I’d gone for a meeting with my children’s teachers, and I ran into the superintendent of schools. I told him how worried I was to see my kids’ art classes cut and their class sizes rise to almost thirty children in some cases. What was he working on to improve matters? I asked.

“You know what I spend my time working on?” he said. “Health-care costs.” Teachers’ health-benefit expenses were up nine per cent, city tax revenues were flat, and school enrollment was up. A small percentage of teachers with serious illnesses accounted for the majority of the costs, and the only option he’d found was to cut their benefits.

... That’s when it struck me. I was part of the reason my children didn’t have enough teachers. We all are in medicine. Reports show that every dollar added to school budgets over the past decade for smaller class sizes and better teacher pay was diverted to covering rising health-care costs.

This is not inevitable. I do not believe society should be forced to choose between whether our children get a great education or their teachers get great medical care. But only we can create the local medical systems that make both possible. You who graduate today will join these systems as they are born, propel them, work on the policies that accelerate them, and create the innovations they need. Making systems work in health care—shifting from corralling cowboys to producing pit crews—is the great task of your and my generation of clinicians and scientists.

I'm glad there are guys like Gawande around, with the insights and the energy to pursue the near-impossible. Without such people, changing the system is unimaginable; during my time in practice, my personal solution was just to work as hard as I could to deliver the best care I could to the most people I could for as long as I could. I dropped off committees, resigned from boards, kept my head down and plodded through the oncoming tide until, certain there was no way to get anyone to listen, I couldn't do it any more.

So take my dim view as probably less important than that of Gawande, who's still in it, and seems to be influential. But unless the Republican party returns to its days of thoughtfulness and seriousness, which pretty much ended with the arrival on the scene of Ronald Reagan; until they put aside indulging their basest instincts and stoking ours, leaving Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann and Mitch McConnell and Glenn Beck and Fox "news" and the RWS™ and the rest of their shallow, hate-as-policy, recyclers of failed ideas in the ditch where they belong, he's just whistling in the dark.

The very, very dark.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

I watched 60 Minutes last night, a show honoring our troops. Featuring the young man who recently was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, it showed him to be humble, amazingly thoughtful and well-spoken (he joined the military at age 17). To me, his heroism is only slightly about what he did. The show can be watched here.

When I served in Vietnam, I was certain the guys around me were and would remain the best friends I ever had. Maybe, had I been in similar situations that Sgt Giunta experienced, it'd have been true. In my case, I'm lucky it wasn't. I experienced regular rocket attacks, after which I'd put on flack gear, dash to the clinic while Cobra helicopters fired into the jungle. But I never carried a rifle, never fired a shot, never looked an enemy in the eye. And I was able to move on.

We love war too much.

If the word "hero" has any meaning at all, it unquestionably applies to men and women like Sal Giunta, and everyone with whom he served. But there's an almost indescribable perversity at play here. We call upon people like Sal to fight in wars of questionable value, for reasons we may never know; we place them in situations that no young man or woman should ever face. And, forced to act heroically or die, they do. Often both. As admiring as we should be of them, we should be ashamed of ourselves, and what we did to them. And how we manage to turn it into something to feel good about.

The rest us us watch it on 60 Minutes, get all teary-eyed, slap another magnetic ribbon on our pickup, a couple of flags, and head off to a teabagger rally to rail against taxes to pay for their care. Our definition of patriotism is all about soldiers and war; it's easy, it's so damn easy; it's too damn easy. Rather than sacrifice ourselves, we pretend to through our soldiers. A couple of tears, a throb of the heart. A good day's patriotism. Pass me another Bud.

For our troops I have nothing but admiration. And sympathy. I understand those for whom their service was the high point of their life, and I know that for many multiples more it was the low point, the beginning of their slow and life-long destruction. Sergeant Sal Guinta deserves more respect than nearly anyone I can think of, other than every other soldier who ever served. While we learn of him and his comrades, while we satisfy ourselves by basking in their heroism and fool ourselves into thinking it has some larger meaning, we dishonor them and ourselves by ignoring their needs, electing people who'll make sure the only thing we'll ever have to do is shed a tear once in a while, rather than pony up; rather than being the kind of country that cares for its own (and I mean everyone, not just its soldiers); the country for which they think they served.

A couple of days ago, a few miles from here, a man died in a river. Seeing a dog struggling in the current, he dove in to save it. The dog made it to shore. The man didn't.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Mea Culpa

A writer -- one who carries more weight than I do -- writes:

What's the matter with an em dash or two, you ask?—or so I like to imagine. What's not to like about a sentence that explores in full all the punctuational options—sometimes a dash, sometimes an ellipsis, sometimes a nice semicolon at just the right moment—in order to seem more complex and syntactically interesting, to reach its full potential? Doesn't a dash—if done right—let the writer maintain an elegant, sinewy flow to her sentences?

Nope—or that's my take, anyway. Now, I'm the first to admit—before you Google and shame me with a thousand examples in the comments—that I'm no saint when it comes to the em dash. ...

The problem with the dash—as you may have noticed!—is that it discourages truly efficient writing. It also—and this might be its worst sin—disrupts the flow of a sentence. Don't you find it annoying—and you can tell me if you do, I won't be hurt—when a writer inserts a thought into the midst of another one that's not yet complete? ...

What I'd argue -- sort of the exception that proves the exception -- is that blogging is a special case. It is -- at least for those of us who feel the need to get stuff out there rapidly -- a continually unfinished product. When I wrote my book -- I'd encourage all humans to purchase it, by the way, and at full price -- I spent a great deal of time working and reworking a sentence -- so much so that eventually I knew the whole damn thing by heart, and my eyes began to run down pages -- I caught myself often -- without absorbing photons.

To some blog posts I devote a fair amount -- by which I mean I delay posting, re-read, edit -- of time and effort. Others -- this being one -- are sort of tossed out there like the pine cones I pick off my lawn and backhand over the bluff. This may not be an excuse -- although I'd hope it was -- but it's an explanation. Or is it the other way around? The main thing is -- and I've thought about it before -- is that me and em are a little too cozy sometimes -- and I admit it.

Friday, May 27, 2011


(Click image for larger view.)

Not that I understand all of the esoterica on this blog, but I think the point is clear enough. The chart above shows average Arctic sea ice thickness for a given month over the years, with projections forward following the trends.

More impressive to me than the data themselves, and the speed with which things are changing, and the science behind it all, is the power of denial in so many of my fellow humans, weak and needy as we all are. And -- at least in the US -- the fact that the denial is based on some combination of politics, of all things, and religion (I guess). That virtually all deniers of climate change are members of the same political party says something very powerful about that party and its relationship with reality, the value it places on factuality as a basis for its policies and opinions.

Scary. Very scary.

Undeniable, Yet Impossible

This opinion piece in the NYT makes a compelling case for the role of medical effectiveness research. To me, the need is obvious. Maybe, in fact, it's obvious to everyone on some level. But that's not the question.

Medicare spends a fortune each year on procedures that have no proven benefit and should not be covered. Examples abound:

• Medicare pays for routine screening colonoscopies in patients over 75 even though the United States Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of experts financed by the Department of Health and Human Services, advises against them ....


• Two recent randomized trials found that patients receiving two popular procedures for vertebral fractures, kyphoplasty and vertebroplasty, experienced no more relief than those receiving a sham procedure. .... Nevertheless, Medicare pays for 100,000 of these procedures a year, at a cost of around $1 billion.


• A recent study found that one-fifth of all implantable cardiac defibrillators were placed in patients who, according to clinical guidelines, will not benefit from them. But Medicare pays for them anyway, at a cost of $50,000 to $100,000 per device implantation. (note from your blogger: I wrote about this some time ago.)

The full extent of Medicare payments for procedures with no known benefit needs to be quantified. But the estimates are substantial. ... $75 billion to $150 billion could be cut without reducing needed services...

After discussing the factors at play (other examples of procedures were given, too) the author, a professor of cardiology, concludes:

Changing the system would be relatively easy administratively, but would require a firm commitment to determining whether tests and procedures truly benefit patients before performing them. Unfortunately, in a political environment in which doctors providing end-of-life counseling are called death panels, and in which powerful constituencies seek to preserve an ever-increasing array of procedures and device sales, this solution remains hidden in plain view. (My emphasis.)

Of course, doctors, with the consent of their patients, should be free to provide whatever care they agree is appropriate. But when the procedure arising from that judgment, however well intentioned, is not supported by evidence, the nation’s taxpayers should have no obligation to pay for it.

(Some time ago I proposed that if people insist on having procedures that have virtually no chance of helping, they should agree in advance to bear the full costs if it doesn't, as predicted, work. The payor (Medicare) would pick up the tab if odds were defied and there was benefit. I was being only partly facetious. Anyhow, I can't find the post at the moment. But it's my solution to the "no obligation to pay for it" issue.)

The question is not whether we need effectiveness information as we debate the costs of health care. It's the one raised at the end of the article: in the exceptional USA USA USA, the world's most exceptionally great exceptional democracy, can we find the political will, the political honesty; can we get past the ubiquitous rhetorical gamesmanship and unendingly divisive cowardice that has become our political norm, realistically to address something of such importance? In the halls of Congress as currently constituted, on the airwaves as currently polluted, can anyone imagine such a serious issue being addressed seriously, by serious people, without lies and distortions and demagoguery and political point-scoring, to try to find a serious solution?

I can't.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Beating Around The Bush

This morning I wrote: it was Republican ideas, Republican policies that got us where we are. As is the case with even my most partisan rants, I'm not just pulling ideas out of my... head. There are data.

I've been saying it, economists have been saying it, only RWS™ and a few lonely commenters here have steadfastly denied it: our current fiscal problems are mostly on George Bush. Not that there was any doubt (except, of course, among people who "think" like teabaggers):

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has updated and refined a widely cited chart, laying out the origins of the country's current fiscal trajectory. And as before, the lion's share of the problem comes from ongoing George W. Bush-era policies -- particularly deficit-financed tax cuts, which eliminated Clinton-era surpluses and left the Treasury poised for a huge hit when the financial crisis and economic downturn further eroded federal revenues.

Tea Leaves

The conventionally wise say the special election in New York, wherein a Democrat has just won in a strongly Republican congressional district, was a referendum on the Ryan budget, on to which every Congressional R originally signed (and from which many are backing away like a kid who just witnessed a parental primal scene). I don't know enough about the district in question to argue one way or the other, but since it's been in Republican hands for a long long time, it seems reasonable that it's true.

I hope so.

What's so interesting to me about Republicans after the 2010 mid-term elections is the freedom they've felt to unleash their darkest desires; their sudden abandonment of their carefully constructed pretense that they were other than who they really are. It's as if the ease with which they'd deceived the teabaggers, their confidence in the discomfort of enough Americans with a black leader, their certainty that the dishonest distortions and outright lies of Fox "news" and the rest of the RWS™ convinced them they had absolute license to unleash their full agenda, the one they'd hidden from view for all these years, at least since the heydays of Newt and the Bug Killer. They felt that, finally, like lizard visitors from outer space, they could shed their human skin, reveal their real intentions, and people would either fail to notice, or not care. In their insular world, they thought everyone was a teabagger.

Unfettered, Rs in state legislatures put abortion and gay marriage and creationism ahead of everything else. In the US Congress, they did the same, doubling down. In power for half a year, they've yet to come up with a legitimate jobs program. And now their budget has made it undeniable: it's not partisan political spin to say they value tax cuts for the wealthy and deregulation of their wealthy patrons over funding the most basic of human needs. Their plans for Medicare, on which the New York election evidently turned, was indefensible on any grounds: it was simply irresponsible, cold-hearted, a sop to insurers and a middle finger to everyone else.

So brilliant they've been, so successfully deceptive. Yet now, after years of careful misdirection and disingenuous manipulation of our worst instincts, painstakingly making the term "Machiavellian" seem naive, Republicans seem to have you know what. Seeing their sleight of hand work in the midterms like luring kids with candy, they assumed they'd achieved the critical mass of uncritical masses. And they went for it. No more need to waste time and money convincing people to vote against their interests. And why not? Teabaggers have proved to be a completely credulous substrate.

For years I've been agreeing with those who say we need to address budget deficits; but I've also pointed out the obvious: it was Republican ideas, Republican policies that got us where we are. Solutions will need to look more like the successes of Clinton than the failures of Reagan. If we're to retain the values that have made us great; if we are to retain our ability to educate, to innovate, to provide for the structural needs of our country and the physical needs of our people, budgetary sanity will need to include sensible adjustments in entitlements, cuts in military spending, AND returning tax rates toward where they were when we were flourishing and paying down debut under Clinton. Simple.

But not to the current crop of Republicans, who clearly aren't interested in functioning government. (And, yes, I realize I sound like a hyper-partisan frother at the mouth. But, looking at their budget and how it pays for tax cuts to the wealthy by cutting programs for everyone else, what else is there to conclude?) The only question is how they decided now was the time to drop the mask, and to do so with such abandon, such certainty that they'd bamboozled voters for so long that they'd have carte blanche.

I'm not naive enough to think the battle to retain America's soul is over. The ability of Democrats to pull defeat from the jaws of victory is impossible to overestimate. Likewise, the bottomless gullibility of teabaggers, the ease with which hates and fears can be stoked by the unscrupulous have been demonstrated by Rs more than amply. As there will always be a certain percentage of the populous that believe in alien abductions, faked moon landings, and that Obama is a terrorist, so there will remain many who'll stick with Rs no matter how obvious their disregard for them. (Need proof? Read this. Or this.)

But maybe -- maybe -- the congressional embrace of the Ryan budget with its bogus numbers, its undeniably unbalanced agenda, its siphoning of health care money out of the hands of consumers and into the hands of insurers, has unblinded enough people to make them look again at Democrats who, despite their disorganization and pandering and watering-down, are at least trying to find a way to address the needs of the many in the middle and on the bottom, and not just the few at the top. Maybe Republicans' undisguised focus on discrimination against gays, their disregard for women's health, their love for rewriting textbooks and imposing state religion has finally made enough people uncomfortable that some sense will return to the national dialogue.

One election in one district about which I know nothing other than it elected a Democrat for the first time in a very long time (ever?) does not a national trend make. But for a moment anyway, I'm letting myself think -- recognizing I'm probably delusional and will be disappointed yet again -- that it's still possible for our country to address its problems in ways that might actually lead to solutions; that at some point even the Murdochian efforts to feed what Ailes us, in collusion with the very powerful RWS™ and the wealthy underwriters of astroturf movements, might fail to maintain their sway. That the past and future failures of the fully revealed Republican agenda are finally too much to deny.

A guy can dream, can't he?

[Added: seems Gail Collins doesn't agree.]

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Lemonade Remedy

Some readers have -- admirably, I must add -- said they're tired of reading about Sarah Palin here, or anywhere. But this is too informative to pass up.

From a review of Blind Allegiance, a confessional memoir by former Sarah Palin aide Frank Bailey:

Bailey also helped smear a neighbor who complained about excessive tourist traffic around the governor’s mansion. After hearing of the gripe, Palin sent her daughter Piper out to sell lemonade and then derided her neighbor for protesting children at play. Soon, the neighbor was portrayed on conservative blogs as “sick,” “unhinged” and “drug-addicted.” “By the time we finished with our politics of destruction, he surely regretted ever mentioning the governor’s name,” Bailey writes. “He learned firsthand why so few people were willing to speak out against Sarah Palin.”

One of my more teflon-to-truth commenters says she still thinks the lady is wonderful.

Further Reflection On A Failed Event

I've read a few reactions to the fizzle of the rapture prediction (already revised). There are some who say mocking those who believed is cruel, and maybe it is; but it's not that simple. The point isn't merely that people were deceived out of their life savings, committed suicide, or attempted to murder their kids. The point, which those calling for charity (and many of those snickering) will neither accept nor, more importantly, admit to themselves, is that it's the perfect metaphor for what they themselves believe. Not metaphor, actually: revelation. To borrow a word.

For a moment there, a crack appeared in the wall so many construct between themselves and reality. It provided a brief peek at themselves, and, therefore, it was quickly plastered over. The saga of Mr Camping and his followers, like the retinal remnant of a flashbulb in the face, was a vision; and, of necessity, it vanished.

What, other than numbers, separates those who believed Mr Camping from those who believe Mr Smith? Or Mr Jones or Koresh? What separates them from those who believe Mr Robertson, or Mr Huckabee? Or anyone who proclaims the literal truth of (their favored translation of) the Bible? Or the Koran? Or the Talmud? The Tao? "When you understand why you reject my beliefs," says a man, "you'll understand why I reject yours." Other than numbers, the only thing that separates the unhappy Campers from the rest is that the disproof of their beliefs happened in real time, during consciousness. What they do have in common is the sincere certainty that they're right, and that everyone else, therefore, is wrong. And now, also like everyone else, they rationalize. Like it never happened.

I'm a charitable guy. I was just in church, believe it or not, as a mitzvah for my aunt, unable to attend the unveiling of her daughter's beautiful mural in the sanctuary. I even flew 2,500 miles (round trip) to be there. The service -- if a little more focused on the devil than I'd expected (in the selected songs, anyway) -- was touching. (When it was mentioned by the pastor that they were still there, the day after May 21, there were a few [self-conscious?] chuckles.) Along with everyone else, I belted out "Amazing Grace," because I love to sing, and I find many religious songs thrilling to sing, to harmonize. So, for the millionth time, it's not belief, per se, that I find disturbing. My aunt and her family are going through very tough times, and not just because she's dying. Their faith undoubtedly is helping them.

But they're not the sort who think their brand of faith is the only way; nor would they ever consider making it the law of our land. They're not offended by the idea of gay marriage; would never vote for laws outlawing it (another just made its way through a state legislature, home of the latest R presidential candidate.)

My hope -- I hope for a lot of things that will never ever happen -- would be that fanatical believers of all sorts, in this land and across the seas, would look at the recent non-apocalypse as a microcosm of themselves. I don't wish -- because most people can't handle it -- for them to lose their faith (although, because I'm a generous person, I'd like to invite them to enjoy the full pleasures of life, the wonders of it all, undulled, the lily ungilded by pyrite). I do wish that in some compartment of their brains -- and they're nothing if unable to compartmentalize -- they'd acknowledge that their latching to their faith is no different from the latchings of those they've chosen to reject; and, therefore, that they might open their minds and hearts to the possibility that they could be wrong: a reverse Pascal's wager. Or, at least, that they have no right to impose their choices from the faith cafeteria on other diners.

Seeing that the Camping ground was build on supersaturated sand, then, at the very least, they should be able gain some perspective, to let god's gay children be gay, and married; to allow those of us who believe in factuality to have it taught in public schools; to stop legislating their version of Sharia. For in what way do those who believed in Camping differ from themselves? In no way.

It couldn't be more obvious. Would that they could see it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Teabagging The Dictionary

Open mouth, drop in word. Suck. Wiggle tongue. Remove.


The wave of new Rs, dunked into power by teabaggers, have steeped themselves in glory, poured out their promise to end earmarks. Gotta give 'em credit: I thought they'd just end up like everyone else. But no. No more earmarks.

Now they're called "member requests."

The fact that they larded the defense spending bill with monies not requested by the Obama administration, business as usual, padding their own cages... well, just move on, folks. Nothing to see but us teabaggers, patriotizing.

Banana Peal

In a world drowning in disaster and desperation, I'm happy to report that there's something entirely trivial that bugs me. It came up again a few minutes ago. Time to get it out there...

I'm a pretty omnivorous sports fan; even played a few, back in the day. I like it when fans get into the games; there were some memorable Kingdome-shaking roars in the heydays of Ken Griffey, Jr and Edgar Martinez... in which on rare occasions I actually participated.

So it's both mystifying and deeply annoying when speakers in sports venues blare the word (the sound) "Dayo" and fans respond by chanting it. Usually it's played only once, and the response is anything but enthusiastic, like yeah, okay, okay, I'll say it, but why? It occurs in baseball stadia, basketball arenii, all around the country. Who knows where else and in what other sports? It has nothing -- NOTHING -- to do with any sports action, can hardly be seen as a rally cry like, for example, "here we go-oh" or "DEE-fence" or, as we chanted at Amherst, "Repel them, repel them, coerce them to relinquish the ball." Or even the cowbell noise, to which people clap.

But "DAAAY-oh? Once?? WTF??? Who came up with that, and what were they thinking? Why not "poh TAAY toe?" Or "PLAY-dough?" What's the point, what does it mean, why is it there?


It really pisses me off.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

By The Time You Read This...

Tonight's the night. I'll be heading to my neighbor's garage and taking his Escalade.

I'll keep blogging as long as I can, but the clientele will be less interesting. At least one semi-regular won't be with us. Or, maybe, there'll be wi-fi in heaven -- I'm sure a few evangelicals are geeks, can get e(and we'll know what the e stands for)mail up and running.

I guess I'll leave a note in the neighbor's garage in case he was just out for a walk. It's the Christian thing to do.

Oh, and this guy has some helpful advice. He may have given it more thought than I have:

Friday, May 20, 2011

Speech Therapy

To me, President Obama's speech on the Middle East was remarkable for how unremarkable it was. Nice ideas, nothing much new. Particularly his words on Israel/Palestine. But you'd not see it the same way, were you to listen to the edited version carried breathlessly, even by some of the falsely-labelled "liberal" media; and if you check out the usual RWS™ blogs (I don't recommend it if you want to retain any of your [like mine] waning view of humanity as respectable) you'd think he spoke wearing headgear and smoking a hookah. I'd be willing to bet nearly all the commenters at this place (really, I mean it: don't go there. Not a fact within a million pixels) took the word of the writer and never saw the speech. The writer who, among other things, said Obama killed the economy. And if they did see it, well, subtlety ain't exactly in their ouevre.

If un-earthshaking, what the president said was direct, even-handed, and clearly not favoring one party over the other.

I have little hope for pre-apocolyptic peace over there. I doubt Obama has any more ability to render it than all the previous presidents since the original UN charter, and I'd no more suggest any solution other than the obvious (sorta like he said, actually: two states, borders based on 1967. Based on. Not exactly like. BASED ON. With "mutually agreed upon land swaps") than I'd opine that teabaggers will eventually look inward. But his speech was yet another lesson in the blind and deaf and absolutely destructive hatred of Obama that permeates the right wing of our politics, to the doom of us all.

The entire narrative from the RWS™ ignores that what Obama said is pretty much the same as what at least the last two presidents have said. (Too bad, in my opinion.) They willfully ignore, editing falsely as usual, like they inhale and exhale, what he actually said, some of which, in fact, was decidedly pro-Israel.

Presumedly the front-runner from the right, now that The Donald and Huck have pulled out like adulterers when the door knocks, and Newt has self-destructed simply by being himself, the panderer to whomever he thinks is the pandee of the moment, changer of positions like the rest of us change toothbrushes, Mitt has jumped in, predictably, finger in the wind and up his own ass at the same time. (Not impossible, assuming a certain level of flatulence.)

Consider this important point from an article that agrees with the "banality" of the 1967 language, and states how conservatives, in undermining Obama and arguing for the status quo, are condemning Israel to ultimate failure:
The shamelessness and opportunism of conservatives in government and media would astound, if movement conservatism hadn't extinguished any sparks of credibility years ago. They say that they are defending Israel while trying to perpetuate a status quo that isolates Israel internationally, dooms it through demographics to a small handful of equally noxious choices, and undermines the moral legitimacy of both the state and the righteous purpose of providing a safe home for Jews in the world. (How many movement conservatives, if they were honest and actually consistent in the application of their religious beliefs, would be forced to say that all Israeli Jews are condemned to hell?)

Nor is the current Israeli Prime Minister doing anything to dissuade the screamers.

To be surprised that RWS™ responded with their usual fact-free vitriol and distortions is to be surprised sewers stink; but their universal reaction does serve, once again, to validate everything I've always said about them. It's dishonest, it's shameful, it's destructive.

But mostly, notwithstanding its predictability, it's really really really depressing.

I Just Don't Get It

As Congressional Rs, feeling flush with power and convinced there's nothing they could say or do that would turn teabaggers against them, reveal their real agenda without even pretending it's otherwise, I simply can't figure out how anyone other than crats from Pluto still supports them. Latest in the parade of outrages is Eric Cantor's address in Chicago:

Yesterday morning, House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) visited the Chicago headquarters of the CME Group, “the world’s largest owner and operator” of private exchanges for derivatives products. CME Group specializes in a number of markets, including trading futures contracts for various blends of crude oil and food commodities. Cantor met with executives, and at one point, gave brief remarks before CME Group employees and various commodity speculators.

Cantor told the audience of speculators that his Republican caucus would “do our part” to block the implementation of financial reforms passed last year as part of the sweeping Dodd-Frank law. He even called out the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the regulators in charge of overseeing derivatives and energy speculation, and promised to stop regulations from going online.

Which is not to disregard their filibuster of a bill to end the tax exemptions for oil companies. You know: voting against even allowing a vote on it.

I get that Rs are counting on, and most certainly will get, a flood of money from Wall Street; but isn't obvious by now that they don't care what happens to everyone else? Blatantly telling the purveyors of their main money stream that they'll see to it that they can do whatever they want; overtly indifferent to the Bushorepublican calamities the stench of which has yet to waft away; clearly preferring increasing the wealth of their donors and pals over securing the needs of common folk: how is it that they receive any support at all from regular folk? Even the Obama-as-terrorist crowd.

I'd be less mystified if the NRA came out against assault rifles, or if PETA began carrying ads for KFC. For anyone but a Wall Streeter or a corporate poobah to support these guys simply makes no sense.

In a world where people could turn off Fox "news" and think for themselves, that is.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Don't Take My Word For It

[I'm semi-computer-less for a bit. I wrote this one a while back (updated it slightly) and never got around to posting it. Not obsessively peering at a computer screen, reading all the bad stuff out there, makes for less blog-fodder, if also a certain sense of calm. Ignoring reality, it turns out, isn't all bad. Which explains several phenomena about which I've been prone to writing here.]

Read this post by conservative Andrew Sullivan, regarding Republicans going all in on the Ryan budget, of which the following is a part:

... They deserve political props for nailing this proposal to the door of the White House.

But the substantive criticism is still salient. It is that simply shifting Medicare to private insurance plans with subsidies that will mean progressively less and less healthcare for seniors does not really bring down healthcare costs - just shifts their responsibility away from the federal government. The likelihood that the insurance companies will actually want this new more vulnerable population without at some point, begging the government to provide more resources is ... well, slim. But since the GOP proposal is simply indifferent to whether people have healthcare or not (they effectively withdraw coverage for all those covered by the ACA), this is a feature, not a bug.

The much bigger problem with the GOP plan is its view of taxes. Even though we have historically low income tax rates for high-earning individuals, even though revenues have collapsed in the recession, even though we have empirically discovered that big tax cuts have not generated more economic growth, the GOP still insists on reforming taxes not to raise revenue but to reduce it. This is where the whole thing gets surreal. The very Laffer untruth that sank America into debt in the early 1990s s one still being peddled against all the relevant evidence to guide us through the next few decades...

Then tell me where he's wrong.

As did I recently, he also quotes Reagan's budget director, Bruce Bartlett.

It's simply madness. It's one thing to desire less government, to want to fix what's broken about it, to address ways to control costs of entitlements (but not, evidently, defense). It's quite another to do so with ideas that are unworkable on their face, that arrived stamped "disproved, time and again." And another still that it all passes as somehow serious in the minds of teabaggers. Sort of like the budget deal of a few weeks ago, forced by the supposedly fiscally-sound House Rs as the cost of renewing the Bush tax cuts (!) and yes, subsequently touted as historic by President Obama (why he submitted to the blackmail, I'll never understand): it raised spending this year by 3.2 billion.

If that's not proof that we're screwed, I don't know what is.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thoughts For Sunday

[Evidently the above video is a little unpredictable in its playing (although I think I might have fixed it)... For those who can't see it, it's Bill Maher saying that if you believe in torture and war, and rejoice at killing Osama, you can't call yourself a Christian, since the central teachings of Christ were about loving your enemy, not seeking revenge, turning the other cheek... It is visible here.]

The first 2:40 is not the point, and some might consider turning the sound down till then. But the part about Christians and torture and revenge and the rest? Well, I don't think you can disagree. Forgetting about the rightness or wrongness of policy, it seems inarguable to me that you can't claim to be Christian and ignore what Christ said.

One thing or the other, you have to let go.

Humans are, by nature, hypocrites, among many other disappointing things. (Hard to argue we're the product of some perfect and just creator, no?) So it's not that this behavior is unique to Christians. But, in this era, in the US, people who call themselves Christians are imposing their beliefs on the rest of us in very destructive ways, based, they claim, on their faith and the teachings of Jesus: bashing gays, ignoring science, wanting their beliefs to be taught in public schools. Seeing ghosts of Sharia under their beds.

If you're going to ignore the most central theme (right?) of Jesus' teachings, it sort of makes the rest of your claims nothing more than personal prejudices, picked and chosen, based not on what your god actually said but on what you want to hear.

He said what he said. Believe it, or don't. Follow it, or not. Not a problem; it's your choice. (Free will, yes?) But unless you follow it all, including the turning the cheek liberal sissy stuff that you rail against in your politics, then you're not really a believer, are you? You're an editor.

The bottom line, to me, is this: maybe with the exception of some monks in the Himalayas, I doubt there's anyone who follows all the teachings of his or her stated religion. Because -- shall we admit it? -- the purpose of religion is to quiet our personal demons, to salve the unique wounds of our particular mortality; so we go cafeteria-style. We (and by "we" I mean "not me") use religion like noise-canceling headphones: and we adjust the equalizer to our personal requirements. I wish we could rise above the need, but I accept it; in our frailty, it's what we humans do.

But: evangelicals and other self-described Christians who want to ban gay marriage, who love war, who choose life until birth, who claim the Bible is literally true, who'd impose their religious beliefs on the rest of us: take a minute (as Ben Bailey says) and think. If you find yourself able to rationalize away the main thing your savior says, fine. Do it. You're not alone. But realize the implication: your convictions are too flimsy to force on others. Believe what you need to make it to the other side of this world. Just keep it to yourselves, where it belongs. Stop with the marriage bans, the defunding of Planned Parenthood, the self-righteous claims of a higher morality than the rest of us. Keep your religion inside your heart, where it might do some good.

If you did that, I'd have nothing to write about. Religiously speaking.

[Acknowledging I'm no expert in Christian theology (but these guys, ostensibly, are), I'd be honored if someone would take the time to explain what I'm missing here. How is the apparently huge contradiction rationalized?]

Friday, May 13, 2011


I've heard separately it from two of my conservative friends. One sent me a link in embarrassment at the stupidity of some that share his end of the spectrum. The other implied he thought it might be true.

I refer to the meme that sucked up electrons on the right-wing blogs, even before bin Laden's body had equilibrated with ambient temperature: Leon Panetta overruled Obama and ordered the Abbotabad operation himself. Overruled! Of course!!

This concept is so stupid on its face that you'd think even those to whom the idea of a black guy in the white house has driven all reason from their heads would, on even a nanosecond's reflection, realize it makes no sense. None.

How would it have worked, exactly? Obama said no, then Leon took some general aside and said yes, whispering? And the general obeyed the CIA, not the CIC? Or might he have passed a note under the table? So in that famous picture in the Situation Room, President Obama is about to get the surprise of his life??!! Because the only way the word "overruled" makes sense is if Obama was in the dark. Otherwise it's, you know, decision-making.

I have no doubt that, leading up to the final decision, there were many points of view strongly expressed. I'd sure as hell hope so; wouldn't you? Unlike his predecessor, Barack Obama seems to want strong opinions and wants people around him who'll express them, especially those opposite from his own. You know, like a real leader would. How nice it would have been had such thought preceded the disastrous decision to invade Iraq and the lack of preparedness that went with it.

Might Panetta's opinion on the use of Seal Team 6 been the one that prevailed? Sure. Might the president even have been persuaded, having begun at a different place? Why the hell not? That's called evaluating, looking at the big picture, weighing pros and cons, considering consequences. (Speaking of which, how do the screamers reconcile their preferred vision with the fact that our president insisted the Seal team had the resources to fight its way out, as opposed to the smaller footprint proposed by DOD?)

The only way to explain this latest stupidity on the part of the believers is by concluding that, to those of RWS™ mentality, the concept of decision-making based on taking into account all points of views, on considering options, thinking it through, being willing to change one's mind based on evidence, is so foreign as to be literally impossible to reckon. And given their obvious rejection of the obvious, their hydrophobic resistance to the ignorance-quenching properties of facts (climate change, evolution, age of the earth, failed Reaganomics, etc ad boredum), that simply must be the explanation.

Sadly, these people are electing people who think (for lack of a more descriptive term) just like they do. Which is why the more I hear this stuff, the more certain I am that we're way beyond the turning point, heading for the end, slowly exsanguinating from self-inflicted wounds. This great country, overtaken and destroyed by idiocy. And, for its first couple of centuries, it had gotten off to such a good start.

Riding The Rap

[Couple degrees of Elmore Leonard to get the connection.]

The latest fake outrage manufactured by Fox "news," repeated and retweeted by the former half-term governor and the rest of the RWS™ is so stupid -- even for them! -- that I've mostly ignored it. Since the deed was done last night, and no cops were killed, I guess I'll waste the pixels to the extent of referring readers to this post, and the excellent video within, especially the ones by Jon Stewart.

By now it's clear there's no amount of showing the dishonesty and hypocrisy and blind hatred of Sean Hannity and the rest of the Foxobeckians that will convince their followers that they're being played. Watch the videos. It says it all. Those guys over there? They'll never accept that there's a black guy in the white house, and they'll say and do anything to attack him. Since they have little of substance on which to base their venom, it's crap like this up with which they cum.

Complete and utter assholes. I can't think of a nicer way to put it. I've tried.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Worth It?

It's impossible to answer, of course, absent the ability to see the world had other roads been taken. But to me -- and, I'd say, to most people who try to see the biggest of the big picture -- the answer is no. Our reaction to 9/11 was a massive over-reaction which has, as I've written here many times, done us more damage than the late Mr bin Laden could have ever hoped. Self-inflicted wounds, and deep. At the hands of President Cheney and the goat-reader, for reasons we'll never fully know but which, it seems obvious, were about much more than "keeping us safe," our country did exactly what bin Laden had in mind. He knew us better than we did, I guess. This article scratches beyond the surface:

It’s been a long, grueling and enormously expensive time for this country, a time of endless war and massive fortification, of borrowed money and of missed opportunities.

There’s the human toll. More than twice as many Americans -- over 6,000 -- have now died in the two wars that followed 9/11 than did in the original attacks, along withmore than 100,000 Iraqis and Afghans. Over three million Iraqis and 400,000 Afghans remain displaced. Several hundred thousand U.S. soldiers suffer from long-term war-related injuries and health problems, with more than 200,000 diagnosed with traumatic brain injury alone.

And there’s the extraordinary financial toll. Indeed, even as Washington officials panic about the growing deficit, much of the problem can be traced back to 9/11 -- not to the attack itself, but to the response, and particularly to the decision to go to war in Iraq.


Harvard scholar Linda Bilmes and Nobel-Prize winning Columbia University economist Joseph Stiglitz now estimate that the two post-9/11 wars will end up costing taxpayers somewhere between $4 trillion and $6 trillion. ...

"One of the main reasons that our national debt has increased so much over this past decade is because of the spending on the wars and the military buildup,” Bilmes told The Huffington Post. “All of that money has been borrowed.”

The post-9/11 era is defined by a series of choices, the biggest and most expensive of which was President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq. When it comes to the $4-6 trillion estimate, “I think between two thirds and three quarters of it is Iraq," Bilmes said.

"I ask myself, would the economy be so weak, would we still be bogged down in Afghanistan, would oil prices be where they are, would we have lost so much blood and treasure, would the national debt be as high as it is, if we had not made the decision to go into Iraq? “ Bilmes said. “I think the answer is 'no' to all those questions.”


Yet a 2002 Congressional Research Service report did anticipate the effects of post-9/11 spending with great accuracy: "Large amounts of resources are and will be committed to making production, distribution, finance, and communication more secure in the United States," the report said. "Resources that could have been used to enhance the productive capacity of the country will now be used for security. Since it will take more labor and capital to produce a largely unchanged amount of goods and services, this will result in a slower rate of growth in national productivity, a price that will be borne by every American in the form of a slower rate of growth of per capita real income."...

[Some may have seen this post, if briefly, before blogger crashed. It sucked into the ethers the rest of the post, and a couple of others I'd written but not posted. I wish I knew how to find "cached" pages. I'd written a couple more paragraphs here, but I'm not sure I can recreate them very closely. If anyone got it on an RSS feed and could copy and paste it to me, I'll add it in. Otherwise, I'll just end with the gist of what I'd written:]

I'm not saying -- no one is -- that we should have just cleaned up ground zero after 9/11 and moved on. At the time, I was quite okay with the Afghanistan operation, and I was impressed at how quickly the Taliban folded their tents. It resonated around that part of the Muslim world that had rejoiced in the attacks of 9/11, and who'd thought the US was shown to be powerless. Would that we'd not gone off the rails and invaded Iraq, giving Osama more than he could have imagined in his wildest and virgin-filled fantasies. The message might have lasted, and perhaps we'd not have been brought to the verge of economic and moral collapse.

The end of the guy who started it all, while not the end of the need for vigilance, seems an appropriate time to look back at the path we took and to wonder, had we spent but a fraction of the costs of our overreaction on those things that really truly make us great, and safe, what we have become. And what might have been.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Teabag Territory

Not the first time it's been said, I suppose; but that doesn't make it any less depressing:

Failing Grades on Civics Exam Called a ‘Crisis’

Fewer than half of American eighth graders knew the purpose of the Bill of Rights on the most recent national civics examination, and only one in 10 demonstrated acceptable knowledge of the checks and balances among the legislative, executive and judicial branches, according to test results released on Wednesday.

At the same time, three-quarters of high school seniors who took the test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, were unable to demonstrate skills like identifying the effect of United States foreign policy on other nations or naming a power granted to Congress by the Constitution.

“Today’s NAEP results confirm that we have a crisis on our hands when it comes to civics education,” said Sandra Day O’Connor, the former Supreme Court justice, who last year founded icivics.org, a nonprofit group that teaches students civics through Web-based games and other tools.

This is exactly the desired result of the long game enacted originally by such hatriots as Karl Rove and Tom Delay: you win by turning minds to mush. And you do that with a multi-faceted and entirely cynical approach, one that makes Machiavelli seem like the Mahatma: degrade or destroy public education, corner the market on credulity by roping in the religious, and discredit legitimate media while single-mindedly replacing it with an Orwellian propaganda empire (so there's no mistake about the Orwellian part, and as a little knee-slapper for those in on it, label it "Fair and Balanced.")

And maybe the most important part, the glue that holds it together, the prestidigitation that makes it nearly unnoticed: stoking fear and hate, non-stop, using whatever scapegoat is most handy in a given age. Homosexuals, immigrants, non-Christians, liberals, intellectuals. Scientists. Lately, teachers.

Things in the night that go bump in the polls.

In a positive feedback loop that makes one question the impossibility of perpetual motion, these pieces reinforce one another exponentially; there's now a perfect substrate of ill-informed people, anxious for their perceived aggrievement to be redressed, entirely lacking in the tools of critical thinking that might cause them to question what they're being told, and to where they're being led.

And if you think I've joined the left-wing version of RWS™ wackos and conspiracists, read this. It'll chill your bones (assuming you believe in America, that is). Among the many, many and very scary revelations:

Gary North explains why getting students out of public schools is key to the Christian dominionist camp. “So let us be blunt about it: we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.

And the Christian Right has been busy enacting this vision. One of the first goals of the Christian Coalition was to take control of 500 local public school boards, and it's a strategy the Religious Right has continued. ...

... In addition to getting Trojan horses on school boards, the Religious Right has played a significant role in disseminating anti-public school propaganda and forming alliances to support vouchers for private schools.

A nation of the deceived. By design. And working like a charm.

[Update: The most crazed among them aren't even trying to be subtle any more. A mere couple of hours after posting, I read this.]

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mothers' Day

Time passes, relentless. My first without a mom.

On the other hand, there's this:

Which is how it's supposed to be.

Happy Mothers' Day.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


The issue of Sarah Palin's truthfulness, or lack thereof, regarding mothership of the baby Trig has never concerned me much. That's why I'm posting this on a Saturday, mostly a time for throwaways.

There's no doubt she's a serial liar in many things (google "the odd lies of Sarah Palin." There are more links than words I have from which to hot link); and the details of her story of water-breaking in Texas, flying home to Alaska, taking her high-risk pregnancy past the hospital in Anchorage to expel her offspring in Wasilla have never made sense, even for a self-absorbed and reckless mother. But, honestly, even as one of my favorite bloggers seems to obsess over it, I've figured everyone is a little crazy about one thing or another, and never let it keep me from admiring him in other ways.

For some reason I happened to follow one of his latest links. It's an interesting analysis, by a professional digital expert, of a photo of the former half-term quitter taken after she'd announced she was seven months along. Even for a guy who doesn't care, other than the extent to which it reflects on her unrepentant lack of veracity, it's worth reading. The comments, too.

Just saying.

Friday, May 6, 2011

He Should Know

Two different commenters have implied they're buying the desperate attempts of our home-grown war criminals and their RWS™ apologists to claim that torture played a key role in the killing of Osama bin Laden. I'll repeat a couple of things I've said in commentoid response, and add this, from John McCain, who knows personally the real value of torture; namely, to force false confessions, like the one he made from the Hanoi Hilton. (I would have, too, I'm pretty sure; I know you would have):

'I stand on the side of the United States and by the Geneva conventions,' John McCain said.

Sen. John McCain denounced “advanced interrogation” methods like waterboarding Wednesday amid a growing debate over its effectiveness reopened by the killing of Osama bin Laden.

McCain told reporters leaving an intelligence briefing for senators by CIA director Leon Panetta that he has seen no information so far to indicate that techniques like waterboarding factored significantly in the information gathering that led to bin Laden’s death.

The two memes rising like stink from a cesspool, and as fast as Sarah Palin to a twitter feed, are that torture works, and that Obama deserves no particular credit for finding bid Laden.

No doubt there's nothing to be gained by joining the battle over credit due; but the matter of torture is something else entirely. Our future could be at stake. Whereas we may never know exactly what information was or was not pried loose by torture in this particular case, and whereas we'll also never know if the information gained from torture could have been obtained from legal methods (and maybe even faster, taking less than 185 sessions!), there are a few things people ought to be able to recognize, even if they'll never admit it here.

First and foremost, as already mentioned, historically torture has had only one use, and its effectiveness in its purpose is inarguable: it gets people to confess to crimes they didn't commit. Whether during the Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, in Hanoi or Cambodia, in Saddam's torture chambers or Ahmadinejad's, forced and false confessions have flowed like blood.

Second: from falsehood flows uncertainty. In the matter of revealing information, we know for sure people have produced erroneous data; in the case of "Curveball," it was used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Under torture, people lie. We know it. They may also tell truths. What we don't know at the time is which is which.

But here's the kicker, which, I'd think, would give the most pause to this guy I know and everyone who loves the idea of US presidents claiming legal authority to torture. Set aside that it can't be trusted, that in the "ticking time-bomb" scenario (at one time the main argument, now morphed into any time, any place, any body) getting untrustworthy information could be massively fatal. Just think about this: Given the effectiveness of torture at eliciting false confessions, how would the RWS™ advocacy group like the idea of, say, a secret Muslim terrorist president having the ability to torture, to wring a false confession from some patriotic white Christian Republican heterosexual native-born American and thence to use it to destroy him? Or her. I mean, sure: give Cheney a hose and a face-cloth, a pair of pliers -- who could see a problem there? But Obama? In a room with you???

After all, that's what governments have used torture for since its invention. That it's effective as hell is beyond conjecture. I simply can't reconcile the idea of torture-love with the same people who claim to distrust government. Like pretty much everything else from the mouths of RWS™ and teabaggers, it simply makes no sense.

Popular posts