Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sunday Column

My latest column, appearing today in our local newspaper:

I could be wrong. 
I think a lot about the paradox of the human brain, its inventive brilliance, its ability to create beautiful things, to communicate; along with its bewildering fallibility. If it’s true, for example, that memories are a part of who we are, and if our memories are so often wrong, what does that say about our identity? Or about what we believe. 
A couple of years ago we visited The Library of Congress, of which I had a clear recollection from my last visit there, when I was about eleven. What we found was as far from my memory of it as foam is from fuzz. Clearly, my brain had stitched together some generic libraries I’d visited who-knows-when. The LOC is spectacular, and it was startling: how much else of what I remember is simply wrong? We trust that our knowledge and perceptions of the world are true, and yet they can’t possibly be, all things, all the time; not even when it comes to our own past. Recognizing our fallibility and questioning the bases of our beliefs ought to happen more often than it does. 
Humans can look the same set of facts and come to wildly differing conclusions, and then fight to maintain those conclusions no matter what contradictory evidence follows. For many, evidently, certain kinds of discordance are unmanageable. The brain needs order, creating it when there is none, whether contemplating the ephemeral or the profound. 
I’ve been taken to task for claiming all Democrats are good and all Republicans are bad, something I’ve never said. I have pointed out, however, that in certain matters, like climate change, about which there is undeniable science and evidence right in front of our noses, there’s a dramatic difference between the two parties. One accepts the facts; the other, as policy, succumbs to a compelling need to ignore them. That’s what I’m talking about. It is, evidently, part of the human condition, coming from processes in our brains that, in today’s complex world, seem self-defeating and dangerous. 
There’ve been several studies about such matters, showing consistent differences between the brains of liberals and conservatives. The former, according to scans, show more grey matter in the part of the brain that deals with complexity; the latter have a bigger amygdala, where resides the fear response. Conclusion? I report, you decide. 
In another study, after being shown evidence that no WMD were found in Iraq, the number of liberals who maintained the incorrect belief stayed the same (which I found embarrassing); but the number of conservatives who believed, falsely, that WMD were found actually increased when presented contrary evidence (which I found boggling, if Foxily consistent!) Such is the strength of that mysterious need. 
I have some skepticism about behavioral research. Still, neurological responses have repeatedly been shown to differ between liberals and conservatives. Our brains aren’t the same. Do inborn differences (chicken) cause differing beliefs, or do acquired beliefs change the brain (egg)? I don’t think we know. As with other human traits, there is, no doubt, a spectrum. Many liberals are off their rockers, and many conservatives have a toehold on terrestrial attachment. But in study after study, consistent differences are demonstrated. 
We all believe in evolution here, right? How it is that these two different brain types came to be? Maybe it’s because, back when we were riding dinosaurs to the Creation Museum, we needed both planners and reactors. People who’d look at the big picture, find ways to work together, knit Birkenstocks from triceratops wool. And people who reacted quickly to threats, gut-thinkers, instinctive rock-hurlers. Maybe, in pre-human times, brains weren’t capable of handling both things at once, or maybe the two tracks developed separately by accident, each conferring selectable benefits. In primitive society, with limited and mostly predictable threats, it could have worked well enough: differing tribes possessing differing survival skills. But life is more complex and less binary now; and whereas our brains are bigger, and probably capable of handling both thinks at once, by a quirk of evolution that chimp has sailed. Is what I’m thinking. 
Which is unfortunate, because nowadays it seems impossible for the two groups to agree at all, even about what the facts are, much less how to address them. We’re rapidly regressing back to where it all started: cudgels and head-bashing, when what we desperately need, but seem anatomically incapable of, is commonality and cooperation.
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Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Big Night

So tonight's the night our son and his long-time girlfriend are getting married. We're pretty happy about it. They're great together, and she's already the perfect daughter-in-law.

What's a more optimistic statement than deciding to get married? In world ripe for pessimism, it's encouraging. My wife and I decided, nearly 42 years ago, to go ahead with plans even though I'd been drafted and was heading to Vietnam. The day after our wedding, off we drove to San Antonio and the great unknown. This about-to-happen marriage is the same thing: a commitment to the idea that with the right life-partner, things can work out. Knowing the two of them, seeing them together and getting great vicarious pleasure from it, for eight or nine years already, I know that, for them, it's true too.

You can still call me Sid, Lindsey. We love you both, and couldn't be happier!

Friday, March 29, 2013

That's Christian Of Them

Christian school fires teacher for engaging in premarital sex. Hires her co-fornicator.

... this latest story about Teri James suing her former employer San Diego Christian College for allegedly firing her upon discovering her pregnancy has a little extra special sauce added to it. No, not because Gloria Allred is the lawyer, meaning that everyone gets to enjoy a weepy press conference about it. It's because of who the school allegedly decided to offer the woman's job to after firing her: "After James lost her job, she claims the school offered a position to her now-husband, even though they were aware he'd had sex before getting married, too."

What "Fair And Balanced" Looks Like


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fox vs. Reality

I wonder if there's any point beyond which its viewers won't follow Fox "news". Given my previous post about teabaggers and their demands, I guess the answer is no; not, at least, regarding a desire for factual information and reputable reporting.

If all humans tend to want their beliefs reinforced, and to hang around with those of like mind, it's pretty striking that at least liberals -- as currently constituted and by contrast to today's Republicans, anyhow -- gravitate toward the factual. If MSNBC (which, because liberals also don't need that reinforcement as much as conservatives, has nothing close to Fox's viewership) doesn't just make shit up.

[Update: I just discovered that the original posting didn't include the above video, which was the whole point, ferchrissakes.]

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

More Lies, Please

This has to be one of the funniest and most revealing stories in a while. And, no, it's not from The Onion.

Teabaggers are mad at Fox "news" for not lying to them enough; for not giving them enough of their preferred propaganda. Seriously. They're calling for a boycott. I mean, it's one thing for me (and every other thinking person on the planet) constantly to point out the fact that Fox is the opposite of "fair and balanced," that it deliberately distorts and dissembles, that it's a 24/7 mouthpiece for the craziest of what's left of the Republican Party. It's quite another for their most demographically central audience to complain that they're not giving them enough of their putrid pablum.

“Particularly after the election, Fox keeps turning to the left,” said 70-year-old Stan Hjerlied to the Beast. After the network dropped its obsessive focus on the raid on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and Fox News CEO Roger Ailes gave an interview in which he said the Republican Party needs to retool its message on immigration, Hjerlied believes that “we are really losing our only conservative network.”

I particularly like this part -- not only do they want more lies, they lie about the effect of their demands:
The current boycott was in its third day Saturday, the second such action by the Tea Party this month. Organizers claim that by tuning out, they were able to cost the network 20 percent of its audience in the previous boycott, a claim the Daily Beast dismissed.
According to the Beast’s David Freedlander, “A Daily Beast analysis of the same data showed that the boycott had little effect.”

Poor teabaggers. They're so committed to the untruth, so in need of constant reinforcement of their perpendicular (with respect to reality) worldview, that even Fox "news", the least reliable and most dishonest news source there ever was, isn't crazy and deceitful enough for them. And they're not ashamed to admit it. Where are they to turn next? How can they find anything more to their liking than the people that literally created them?

If it weren't so damn depressing, it'd be hilarious.

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Let's Call Them Falsehoods, Not Lies

Here's a thought-provoking article, detailing the falsehoods of the Republicans' fiscal claims:

So let’s review. The GOP is advancing three crucial lies: that we have to balance the budget; that public investment at this point is irresponsible; and that if we do slash spending and balance the budget, jobs will come. It’s all nonsense. In fact every assertion is the exact opposite of the truth.
I find the arguments compelling, especially to the extent that they mesh with what I've been saying here. The author writes for "Democracy: A Journal of Ideas," which is well-regarded by liberals and conservatives alike. As one who admits to little economic expertise, I've tended to like the idea of a balanced budget. Among other things, the above article references this report by the Congressional Research Office, which makes the case that deficits are sustainable when below a certain percentage of the GNP. In that I'll defer to people more knowledgable than me.

But the rest of the article seems pretty uncontroversial: it says, as have I, that it's not a balanced budget that creates jobs; it's the other way around. Same with government spending and jobs. It seems pretty intuitive.

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Neuronal Firings

There follows my Sunday column in our local newspaper.

Here’s a collection of mini-thoughts, some generated by emails I get, or from reading letters to the editor, or just popping into my head… 
Guess the Washington Supreme Court read my column on initiatives, right? They agreed with me that you can’t change our constitution by the initiative process. Many letter writers simply don’t get it. For that matter, they don’t get the role of courts, either. 
A reader forwarded a diatribe making rounds among right-wingers, stating, as if meaningful, that Mitt Romney won more square miles and more states than Barack Obama did. Me, I sort of like the idea of elections being won based the number of people casting ballots, as opposed to the amount of dirt they walk on. Last time that wasn’t true in a presidential election, we got George Bush, two disastrous wars and a crashed economy. 
Lots of people don’t know the difference between “debt” and “deficit.” Nor do they show interest in addressing the priorities I raised in discussing proposed solutions. The topic is a major subject-changer. 
Lots of people don’t care much about science, either, whether the subject is climate change or “alternative” medicine. The need to believe certain things, even when facts show otherwise, is powerful and mysterious; but, evidently, very human. 
Speaking of medicine: a well-controlled ten-year study involving 1,800 patients was reported a while back, regarding the efficacy of praying for the sick. Patients recovering from coronary bypass surgery in a critical care unit were divided into three groups: one had no “intervention;” another consisted of people for whom congregations were asked to pray for recovery, but the fact was unknown to the patients; in the final group were those who received prayer, and who were informed of it. In terms of recovery, complications, time in the ICU, there were no differences between the first two groups. The third group fared more poorly. Make of it what you will. 
I’m certain my pre-election column had nothing to do with passage, but I sure enjoyed seeing the coverage of the first same-sex marriages at city hall. My forty-one year marriage still feels solid, and earthquakes have been mild. It remains true that for most people sexual preference is how they were born, meaning that God their creator must be okay with it, too. And now that his kid has come out, so is former marriage equality opponent Senator Rob Portman, R-Ohio. Funny how that works. Until it hits home, empathy is elusive for Congressional Rs, I guess. Wonder what they’d do if a child of theirs came out poor. Or female. 
For the life of me I can’t understand why responsible gun owners would be against background checks at gun shows, a small inconvenience for possibly keeping a gun out of the hands of the wrong guy. That too few of our state legislators had the guts to vote for it shrieks to the disproportionate power of intimidation wielded by the NRA. 
The budget proposed by Paul Ryan and endorsed enthusiastically by Congressional Rs is the same-old same-old, granting ginormous tax breaks to the already wealthy, paying for them by cutting virtually everything necessary to provide opportunity for those not already successful. Or – irony alert! -- those as yet unborn. Per usual, Ryan relies on smoky-mirror and impossible assumptions. And, contra pre-election denials, he’d voucherize Medicare, making it a handout to insurers and a shortfall for those who need it most. What is it with these guys? And what is it with those that elect them? Democrats continue to propose spending cuts. Republicans absolutely rule out revenue increase of any sort. It’s almost as if Rs don’t believe in elections. Or democracy. Or, given their continual and grandstanding blocking of critical, well-qualified appointees, governing. 
Nor do they seem to understand capitalism. House Republicans just unanimously – unanimously!! – voted against increasing minimum wage. Really? Not a single one thinks businesses do better when people have more money in their hands? Hard to be optimistic about the future they envision.Speaking of pessimism: unless people get real about where the costs are in health care, it’ll only get worse. And by “get real” I mean being willing to think about reconciling expectations with realities: economic and medical. That deserves a whole column, and might get it. 
Finally, to a frequent critic: absent supporting data, “I’m right and you’re wrong” isn’t a compelling argument.      
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Saturday, March 23, 2013


Check this out. (Click "next" in the link.)

I just spent a half day with a friend, shooting his deer rifles at a firing range. It was fun, and if I'm no Annie Oakley, I didn't embarrass myself. He knows as much about guns as I know about surgery. (Maybe.) I have no problem with that, and I'd be happy to do it again.

How is it, though, that we've become a shooting range on our streets, and in our homes? (Not to mention at gun safety classes.) Where did we go wrong? Or am I wrong in saying we went wrong?  Wayne LaPierre, for one, would rather have it continue that way, than to have any legislation whatsoever, aimed at lessening the carnage.

The horse is out of the barn, of course. Nothing -- not even background checks, the best we could hope for in legislation -- will significantly change it. But it's pretty amazing to contemplate: alone among "civilized" countries, our nation is home to nearly unimaginable horror due to guns, on a daily basis. There's nothing to be done about it. And it seems millions are fine with it.

Who are we?

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Dog Bites Dog

From the "gee, ya think?" files:
It’s one of the great untold stories of the 2012 presidential campaign, a tale of ego and intrigue that nearly upended the Republican primary contest and might even have produced a different nominee: As Mitt Romney struggled in the weeks leading up to the Michigan primary, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum nearly agreed to form a joint “Unity Ticket” to consolidate conservative support and topple Romney. “We were close,” former Representative Bob Walker, a Gingrich ally, says. “Everybody thought there was an opportunity.” “It would have sent shock waves through the establishment and the Romney campaign,” says John Brabender, Santorum’s chief strategist.
But the negotiations collapsed in acrimony because Gingrich and Santorum could not agree on who would get to be president. “In the end,” Gingrich says, “it was just too hard to negotiate.
Can you imagine the "negotiations"? "What, wait a minute. You mean you thought you were gonna be president?" "So, see, here's how it works: you drop out, and I pick you for veep. Because, right, you're not the one god chose, see?" "Clearly, I'm the one most qualified to be president. You see that, right?" "I'm the better candidate. Let's start from there..."

If ever we needed Nixonian taping of conversations, this was the time. Comedy platinum.

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Lesson Not Learned

Much as Americans, particularly of the teabagging variety, love to assume the mantle of our Founding Fathers, it would seem neither they nor our leaders give much credence to what they actually said. (And, when they do, as in Jefferson's "blood of patriots" aphorism, they misconstrue it.) A case in point: words of John Quincy Adams, a founder if ever there was:

And now, friends and countrymen, if the wise and learned philosophers of the elder world, the first observers of nutation and aberration, the discoverers of maddening ether and invisible planets, the inventors of Congreve rockets and Shrapnel shells, should find their hearts disposed to enquire what has America done for the benefit of mankind? Let our answer be this: America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. 
America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity. She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights. She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own. 
She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right. Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. 
But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. 
The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force.... She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.... 
[America's] glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.
It is, of course, the precise opposite of the Cheney/Bush doctrine, and exactly what I've written here (because it's so obvious that even one such as I can get it), many times. The aforementioned destructive duo, au contraire, and the neocons and all others of the "America fuck yeah" variety, think our greatest influence and security reside in being the tough guy first. In reality, our greatest security and effect on the rest of the world lies in living up to our standards at home. Protecting our own democracy. Treating our own citizens well. Making the example of effective democracy and generous capitalism known to the world. Yeah. Look at the priorities of the R budget just approved by House Rs, and it's clear as the pre-industrial skies that they don't have a clue about such things. The greater the disaster, be it the latest wars or the results of their budget as played out under George W. Bush, the more they want to do it all over again.

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Happy Anniversary

On the tenth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, a dying veteran of the war pens a letter to Messers Cheney and Bush. It's powerful stuff:

... I joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks. I joined the Army because our country had been attacked. I wanted to strike back at those who had killed some 3,000 of my fellow citizens. I did not join the Army to go to Iraq, a country that had no part in the September 2001 attacks and did not pose a threat to its neighbors, much less to the United States. I did not join the Army to “liberate” Iraqis or to shut down mythical weapons-of-mass-destruction facilities or to implant what you cynically called “democracy” in Baghdad and the Middle East. I did not join the Army to rebuild Iraq, which at the time you told us could be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues. Instead, this war has cost the United States over $3 trillion. I especially did not join the Army to carry out pre-emptive war. Pre-emptive war is illegal under international law. And as a soldier in Iraq I was, I now know, abetting your idiocy and your crimes. The Iraq War is the largest strategic blunder in U.S. history. It obliterated the balance of power in the Middle East. It installed a corrupt and brutal pro-Iranian government in Baghdad, one cemented in power through the use of torture, death squads and terror. And it has left Iran as the dominant force in the region. On every level—moral, strategic, military and economic—Iraq was a failure. And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war. It is you who should pay the consequences...
It was, I guess, a considered decision by the Obama administration not to put the country through the awfulness of holding people accountable for the debacle. It's a tough issue, not the least of which would have been the implication that so many died and were maimed for nothing; for lies, for a short-sighted and wrong-headed fantasy of America's power, for the inexcusably poor planning. For oil, despite the outraged backlash against anyone who suggested it at the time. (Read that link, if you think it wasn't.)

I had mixed feelings when Obama opted to move on, and still do. But there's something deeply wrong about those two, and their followers, getting off entirely, despite having knowingly lied, broken international law, and, to this day, gloating about it.

Meanwhile, 42% of people polled recently feel the war wasn't a mistake. (Fox "news" goes even further.)* How can that possibly be? On what criteria would such a judgment be based?

*In saying invading Iraq was "the smartest thing Bush ever did," the man could be slyly pointing out that the horrible debacle, being the smartest thing Bush did, makes Bush the worst president ever. Which he was. But I sorta doubt that's what the guy was getting at.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!

A hero no more.

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Doing What They Do Best

Once again, Republican cynicism trumps everything else. As they make a show of restoring White House tours cut by sequestration, they couldn't care less about the fact that real people are hurting. Like the thousand kids cut from Headstart in Indiana.

I wonder: is there any action Rs might take in order, as they see it, to embarrass the president that they might, in retrospect, realize it should embarrass them? Well, of course I don't wonder. I know the answer. There's simply no end to their destructive venality. To them, it's all a game, in which the prize is confusing enough people into going along with their self-centered and short-sighted agenda.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

More Minimum Wage Minimalism

It Goes Way Back

Suppressed at the rumor stage, there've been lingering inklings of the traitorous dealings of both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, both of whom were said to have done harm to the US in order to further their presidential aspirations. In the case of Nixon, it was sabotaging peace talks that would have ended the Vietnam War during Johnson's term. Saint Ronnie played a similar game when it came to negotiations to release the Iran hostages before the election. The coziness between Reagan and Khomeni continued, leading to the Iran Contra affair. Watergate, the story goes, was more about Nixon trying to retrieve incriminating documents that showed his "treason," as Johnson called it, regarding Vietnam.

Well, it turns out there's new evidence in both cases. It's detailed in a pretty stunning article, here.

Indeed, newly disclosed documents have put old evidence into a sharply different light and suggest that history has substantially miswritten the two scandals by failing to understand that they actually were sequels to earlier scandals that were far worse. Watergate and Iran-Contra were, in part at least, extensions of the original crimes, which involved dirty dealings to secure the immense power of the presidency.

The importance, among other things, is the implication that there's a default mode among Washington elite and "journalists" to maintain conventional thinking about these matters. Too many people staked out the wrong territory, and don't want to be disgraced. And so it goes: whether it's the falsehoods that led us to war with Iraq, or the failure to prosecute the promulgators of torture, the maintenance of power supercedes the truth. And it's all excused because revelations of political venality would be too "difficult" for the American people to handle. (Interestingly, the article describes the decision by LBJ to withhold the damning documentation of Nixon's interference with the peace process, possibly for that reason.)

Today's Republicans, with their ahistorical reverence of Reagan, will do what they always do with troublesome facts: ignore them. But the article is a fascinating read. We might also consider it in light of the Obama's decision not to pursue high-level war criminals, vis a vis torture.

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Monday, March 18, 2013


Good for this former R Minnesota state legislator. She didn't, of course, convince any R legislators, all of whom voted against the measure. But it passed the committee to whom she was speaking, on a strict party-line vote (Ds being human and Rs, nowadays, being less-than); it also passed the Senate committee, on the same basis. Pending, still, before the entire bodies.

Along these same lines, it seems that even at CPAC, the just-ended annual hate-fest for the hardest of the hard right, opposition to same-sex marriage has waned considerably. If Rs ever get back to intelligent, thoughtful, helpful, and non-theocratic policy making, we might have reason to be hopeful, mightn't we?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sunday Column

Based on something I wrote several years ago on my better blog, now heavily revised and, hopefully, improved (but minus illustrations and links), here's my latest Sunday column, appearing today in our local newspaper.
Forget politics today. Instead, come into the operating room with me, for a look at how spectacular you are. Well, okay, maybe for some it's “were.” Before you got a little thick in the middle, smoked, or just breathed city air for enough years, ate or drank too much, or did a few drugs, there was a time -- and maybe it's still true -- when you were knock-down, take-your-breath-away gorgeous. Sometimes while operating I've had to stop for a moment, just to admire it, called to the others in the room, "Come look at this amazing anatomy. Isn’t it beautiful?" Because it's true. Really, you should see yourself. 
Operating as intended, on sick people, more often than not things aren't so unspoiled inside. Diabetic, or old, or overweight, or with concomitant diseases affecting various organs, typical surgical patients rarely retain the born-in beauty and peach-fuzz perfection with which they came into this world. But sometimes bad things happen to the well kept or the young, and, in one of those paradoxical disconnects of the surgical mind, we are given a moment to find pleasure despite another's pain. Sometimes it's all just look-at-me laid out, undistorted, not hidden in adipose; the logic of it, the relationships, the purity so bright as to be stupefying. 
Singular among the other organs, all earth-toned, the gallbladder is robin’s-egg blue; adrenals – surprise! -- yellow as yolk! If unsullied by dietary excess, your liver is reddish-brown, firm as muscle, sensuous and slippery as an athletic beach-beauty’s oiled body. To know these things, experience them, is a privilege given to few. 
Through tissues showing age or abuse, we dissect, and probe, and burrow through fat to find what we need. Sometimes, though, breath-stopping, there’s a too-rare glimpse of the body’s flawless internal beauty. Not only is the operation made immeasurably easier, it allows a view of exquisite elegance as it was meant to be. 
A basic surgical technique is traction and counter-traction: tugging on tissues a little, applying tension in opposite directions to stretch things out, making dissection planes more visible. When you pick up a section of bowel to do that, most often there's work to do until you find the feeding vessels. But sometimes it's all right there, clean and orderly, displayed like an English garden. If you love doing surgery, it's impossible not to feel a little giddy. Like rounding a bend after a long climb and being able to see forever, you stop and savor it. The work becomes the art form it’s meant to be, a kind of music, teamwork coalescing with easy precision; there’s sublime pleasure in carrying it out, sadness when it’s over. 
Down the backside of the abdominal cavity runs all the plumbing: the aorta, bigger around than your thumb, carrying blood from the heart; the vena cava, bigger still, bulging and blue, bringing it back; the ureters, conveying urine from the kidneys to the bladder. Most likely they'll be hidden by fat. When you can see them -- the aorta, at least, and its branches -- they're often pocked and corroded, rocky and irregular. But just often enough to be a thrilling surprise, they’re perfect. Shiny with vitality, they ought to sizzle like high-tension wires. 
Those veins, like the ones from the legs as they join the vena cava, are both turgid and tender, scarily so. Their thinness signals danger. As with a powerful waterfall, your knees might feel weaker the nearer you get. The aorta, in the young and healthy, is life most literal. Thick-walled and strong, it intumesces with each heartbeat. Retaining its natural elasticity (before inevitably giving it up to cholesterol) it throbs and pushes against your fingers, both static and coursing with force and energy. There’s thrilling power in there, barely contained. Smaller branches, curlicued as they supply the bowel, lift and uncoil, stretching out and falling back, to the rhythm of the heart monitor. It can be mesmerizing. 
Not simply passive tubes, ureters produce silky muscular waves, subtler and less frequent, more pleasing than those of the gut. When unsure what you're looking at (a surgeon knows that looks can deceive), rather than wait for the next undulation you can pinch with a forceps or give a little flick with your finger: it'll respond with a lazy roll. On occasion, just for the pleasure of seeing it, I've done it more than once.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Star Power

Okay, against my better judgment I've embedded, above, one among a series of videos I did for a new website, awkwardly named "AskimoTV," which aims, I think, to produce a storehouse of short videos by "experts" of all stripes on all subjects known to humankind. I believe they stumbled upon my better blog, Surgeonsblog, and asked me to give it a shot.

I never like how I look, nor the sound of my voice; and, in this case, I'd say I was less than fluent. There's also a slightly annoying time delay. It was, you might gather, unscripted. Trying to look professional, I arranged my laptop in front of a shelf of my wife's cookbooks. (To some, that might call to mind a well-known episode of Twilight Zone.) There are about five more of me at the primary site.

There might be a few more to come, in which case I might dress differently and find a better background. My internet camera is just the one on my Macbook Pro; and the mic is the native one, too. So I guess production quality is built-in, and poor. But I could try to look more professional next time around (and I need to remember to look at the camera instead of the screen: makes me look pretty droopy). I think a white coat -- I actually have some -- and a stethoscope around the neck would be a little too twee, don't you?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Speaking Of Which...

Here's a smarter-than-me guy who sees the obvious, too. (Republicans just unanimously voted down a minimum wage hike.)

Wealth Redistribution As Business Plan

Watch the above, and say together: "Gee. Ya think?"

[Costco, for the record, started in this here liberal state. Walmart? Well, you know...]

It's amazing how igneous is the term "wealth redistribution." As I've said many times, any change in the tax codes is wealth redistribution; same with minimum wage laws, or fees, or just about everything politicians do. The point is whether the economy -- or a business -- does better when more people have the means to spend some money, or when money is sequestered in the hands of the rich and famous. (GE, we just learned, managed to avoid taxes by parking $108 billion overseas. Apple, whose stock is down considerably, is sitting on about the same amount in cash on hand. If it handed out some in dividends, I bet stockholders like me would go out and buy something.)

To argue that providing a living wage, or that raising taxes a little bit at the top end, is some sort of Marxist socialist Kenyan Muslim Nazi communist America-hating destruction of all that's holy is fundamentally to misunderstand what makes capitalism sing. Yes, capitalism. Which depends on lots more people than is currently the case having money to spend on the shit goods that American businesses produce. It's what makes the world go round.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Outreach Assholery

Here's new information on Obama's lack of attempts at outreach to Congressional R leaders:

WASHINGTON — For all the attention to President Obama’s new campaign of outreach to Republicans, it was four months ago — on the eve of bipartisan budget talks — that he secretly invited five of them to the White House for a movie screening with the stars of “Lincoln,” the film about that president’s courtship of Congress to pass a significant measure. 
None accepted.
It says something about the state of political animus around there, doesn't it, that he had to reach out "secretly." But there's no mystery in knowing who the real assholes are.

LIke It Never Happened

It's as if there wasn't an election. It was pretty clear what Rs had in mind before the election: despite obfuscations and unfilled-in blanks, voters knew what would happen if Romney won and if Rs had enough seats in the two chambers to activate their agenda. Instead, voters chose Barack Obama; and they chose to increase the number of D senators and representatives. (Ds couldn't overcome the gerrymandering to retake the House, but they did get 1.5 million more votes in total for that body.)

So it's pretty interesting that Rs, in the name of the holy ghost known as Paul Ryan, have just put forth a budget that does everything they threatened to do and more: it'd be a huge tax break for the wealthy, wipe out funding for all things important except the military, and provide tax increases for many at the lower end of the economic spectrum. Promoting his budget, Ryan explicitly stated that the voice of the people doesn't matter. Smoking mirrors, along with other mischaracterizations of the problem, and some basic misunderstanding of government, it also assumes the highly unlikely repealing  of Obamacare and, once again, promotes (the latest in the sine-wave of proposing and denying) voucherizing Medicare.

Golly. It's as if Ds were telling the truth!

Well, a right-wing economist, former McCain adviser, says it'd create jobs. Or, what he said was, a balanced budget would. He didn't really make specific claims about the Ryan slash/burn, nor compare it to other methods of balancing the budget.

Which is exactly the point: if it's desirable to balance the budget -- and I think it is, although there are many economists who suggest that as long as deficits are below a certain level relative to GDP it's okay (which I'm not smart enough to know whether to buy or not, but, long-term, it feels wrong) -- the question is how, and to what end? With what vision of the future in mind?

Rs, as usual, lay down their markers on the multiply-failed idea that if rich people are rich enough, richer even than now, and if corporations are allowed to run free, even freer than now, money will magically run down their legs like juice from a lemon, and find its way into the mouths of everyone else. They mark their territory in the thicket of less government spending on such frivolities as education and health care and the rest of the long list, called out again and again. They are wedded to that, intractably, despite the fact that voters rejected it; and despite the fact that it's failed, and failed again, to do what they claim it will. It's a vision, all right. A frightening one, to be sure, for anyone concerned about preservation of the country for the next generation; for the preservation of the so-called American dream, meaning opportunity. But a vision, nonetheless.

As radical as it is, it's no wonder that President Obama is saying there may be no way to find common ground. (Like the well-known definition of insanity, he's still trying.) There is no leadership among Rs that would allow any give whatsoever on the matter of taxes. To them, elections don't matter; nor does the central idea at the time of creation (of the country): compromise. So, where do we go from here? Nowhere, I'd guess, until the full impact of what Rs want is understood, even by those heretofore so unable to understand: the teabagging Foxified masses that send people like them to D.C.

Because otherwise, why even have elections?

[Image source]

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Eric Holder's candid remarks about bank bigness have, rightly, caused a stir:

In response to a question from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Holder admitted that, effectively, the Justice Department could not fully pursue cases against large and influential financial institutions, out of concern over the collateral damage charges could impose on the broader economy. 
“The size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy,” he said. “That is a function of the fact that some of these institutions have become too large."
It's been subject to opposing interpretations, of course: that the government is ceding to the banks the right to do anything without fear of prosecution; or a call for breaking them up. Since it would seem to require the cooling of Hell by several hundred degrees for today's Rs to agree to breaking up the banks, or to reinstate Glass-Steagal, whatever Holder meant boils down to mootness. The banks are too big, they have too much power over the economy, the regulators (and the government), they can do whatever they want, including re-wreaking the economy, and it ain't ever gonna change.

Not, at least, until voters stop electing idiots from the teabagging wing of the Republican party.

In other words: it ain't ever gonna change.

[Image source]

Monday, March 11, 2013

Tom Tomorrow

Full comic here.

Droning On

The Rand Paul filibuster is interesting on so many levels, it could be a symbol of everything going on in D.C., maybe since 9/11/01.

First of all, much as I think Rand Paul is, in most ways, an idiot (he invented his own board of ophthalmology so he wouldn't have to re-certify in his speciality like everyone else, among other things, and is wrong factually pretty much whenever he speaks), in this he was quasi-admirable; even if he headed to Fox "news" afterward, like a shard of iron to a magnet, and even if he tried to cash in with phony claims in an immediately-appeariing fundraising letter. Still, some credit is due: not only was the issue he raised overdue for discussion, he actually did a bona fide filibuster (for the first time since Bernie Sanders did one in protest of renewing the Bush tax cuts), stopping only because he hadn't considered a condom catheter. (Seems to me, in days of yore, there'd been others before him who'd asked for a screen behind which to empty their bladders, but I could be wrong.) If the concerns about which he was so exercised were a little beyond the fringe (Obama taking out Jane Fonda with a Hellfire, which would, of course, delight wingnuts everywhere), the general concept of drone policy has been given more of a pass than it ought.

There are other things the episode brought up: our over-reaction to the threat of terrorism, insofar as the Constitution is concerned; the money we've spent fighting the cynically-named "war on terror;" and, maybe most of all, the rampant hypocrisy on both sides of the aisle when it comes to political posturing nowadays.

Government overreach should concern everyone, from teabaggers to Alinskyites. And yet only one Democrat, Ron Wyden, from the state of my birth, took up Paul's cause. The Rs? Well, they loves them some terrorist killing, and who among them doesn't fantasize about Jane Fonda lying spread-eagle for one reason or another? Still, those who stood up were strangely silent when GWB got the ball rolling. And that war-loving dynamic duo, Johnsey McGraham, thumped pretty hard on poor ol' Randy for doing what he did.

And, of course, there's the filibuster itself. Harry Reid limply went along, only a few months back, with totally meaningless "reform" -- the only way any Rs would buy in. On the very day Rand Paul put in a surgeon-like effort, in terms of hours, Mitch McConnell kiboshed a well-qualified judicial nominee with the stroke of a pen, in mere seconds. There are more judicial vacancies currently than ever before, because of bullshit R easy-as-piebusters, and it's not only detrimental the the carrying out of the justice for which they claim higher love than any D, it's exactly the opposite of what Mitch himself demanded, back when he was majority leader and Bush was president: an "up or down vote" for all judicial nominees.

[By the way, and for the record. I'd have to say Holder was right in his responses (discussed in the link above): is it shocking that there are some circumstances in which a president might order lethal force against citizens within the US? A sniper taking out other citizens, elected officials maybe? An armed group of teabagging "patriots" holding hostages, or threatening to blow something up? Would it matter if the force was in the form of a drone-fired missile, as opposed to a group of commandos entering the building?]

[Image source]

Sunday, March 10, 2013


My latest weekly column in our local paper:

On “Face The Nation” recently, General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of forces in Afghanistan, was asked what he considers the greatest threat to America’s security. “In the near term,” he said, “it’s our economic challenges… In the long term,” he declared, “it’s education, because that’s our future.” Interesting, huh? Terrorism didn’t even make the list. 
In focusing single-mindlessly on cutting non-military spending to solve our budget problems, rejecting any meaningful increase in revenue, today’s Congressional Republicans are disregarding the future, while claiming fiscal responsibility. Even the general, presumably not a liberal, knows they have things upside down and backwards. It’s a con game, enriching themselves and their benefactors with one hand, distracting us from its impact with the other. 
In surgery training, one of my favorite teachers liked to tell us to “focus on the doughnut, not on the hole.” Whatever it meant, it sure sounded sensible; especially at three in the morning. With tunnel vision, today’s Congressional Republicans focus only on holes. 
One of which is pretending that terrorism is our biggest threat. It’s become, among other things, a justification for tossing the Constitution out the window. George Bush started it and, sadly, Barack Obama has continued much of it. Since there’ll never be an end to terrorism, calling our response a “war” excuses manifold permanent transgressions, not the least of which is continuing to rack up deficits, buying weapon systems not even the Pentagon wants. (It’s a federal jobs program Republicans can support!) Despite expending more on our military than the next thirteen countries combined, Republicans would spend even more, while demanding budgetary balance with no new revenue. Every credible analysis says the same thing: it’s impossible without critically reducing spending on everything else, starting with education, but far from ending there. Everything a functioning society needs, left behind like doughnut crumbs. 
I’m starting to think the destructive results of such budgetary shortsightedness aren’t accidental. Together with voter suppression laws and gerrymandering, Republicans have managed to maintain their hold on the House, despite receiving more than a million and a half fewer votes nationally than Democrats did. To keep voters from recognizing what they’re up to, could the degradation of education be part of their game? When your plans run counter to the needs of all but the most favored few, endumbing voters seems a good way to pull them off. 
Okay, it’s only a theory. Like evolution. 
How I wish old-school Republicans and real conservatives, who actually have in their hearts the best interests of our country, would retake their party from those whose narrow self-interest is their only interest. “We want our country back,” says the Tea Party. Good. Now maybe it’s time to rethink from whom it needs taking: those who consider education a priority, who believe the way to minimize future entitlement costs is to help the next generation escape poverty, who are willing to spend money now to save it in the future; or from those whose only purpose seems to be protection of those whose future is already secure, at the expense of the future of everyone else. For the vast majority of us, the choice seems pretty obvious. And yet, fully Foxified, people vote against themselves, convinced they’re doing the opposite. It’s puzzling. 
Unrecognized by most people, the deficit has been decreasing rapidly, and was projected to fall steadily for the next several years, even before sequestration happened. Which is not to say it’s solved. But in fixing it we simply can’t ignore our long-term needs: education, the environment, health care, infrastructure. Dismissive of such frivolities, today’s Congressional Republicans just say no. But surely there’s a rational way to tackle debt that doesn’t amount to slow suicide. Surely there are Republicans who understand the need to think outside their own doors. 
Having grown up with thoughtful Republicans in my family and among my family’s friends, my hope is that those who still exist (I take it on faith that they do) will speak up while there’s still time, helping their party to regain a toehold on terra firma. I know the worst Republican in Washington State is better than the best in, say, Texas or Georgia. Those states, it’s clear, will keep electing crazy and regressive troglodytes like Ted Cruz and Paul Broun, no matter what. All the more reason for sane conservatives to be heard, rather than drowned in overheated and under-steeped tea.
[Image source]

Saturday, March 9, 2013


The Huffington Post, when it's not focusing on side-boob, sometimes does real reporting. This is an excellent article on the state of the economy, and the non-joyousness of the non-record-high Dow that was just achieved: 

... So what does it say about the Dow that it can hit this dizzying new height -- impressive by any measure in any era, post-crash or otherwise -- at a time when the overall global economic outlook is so dismal, and the domestic recovery is barely felt by the citizens who sacrificed their capital to save the world from calamity? It says that we should be gravely concerned. It says that we have a two-tiered economy, one where profits flow and another where risks lurk. It says that a lot of people are being left behind. And if October 2007 is any guide, it says that this display of prosperity may simply be an illusion.
The distribution of the stock market's largesse has been perhaps the most un-egalitarian aspect of American economics for years. A full 50 percent of all capital gains go not to the richest 1 percent of Americans, but to the richest 0.1 percent, according to The Washington Post
But the stock market's persistent upward climb since the spring of 2009 has revealed another massive disparity: the multinational corporate machinery that generates stock gains has become unmoored from the economic reality in which the vast majority of Americans live and die...

Friday, March 8, 2013

Once Again, The Onion

Romney Blames Loss On Successfully Communicating His Message To Minorities

[Note that you can click off the ad after only a few seconds...]

It's true, right? In their whining tour of right-wing propaganda venues, Mitt and Ann blame everyone but their essential message for his loss. Fact is, the differences between Romney/Ryan's views and plans and those of Obama/Biden were crystal clear; and people made a choice.

Matter of fact, the choice people made was even clearer than results would suggest: because of gerrymandering, Rs were able to keep their House majority despite receiving 1.5 million fewer votes than D candidates across the nation. So do yourself and the rest of us a favor, Mitt and Ann. Go away. You're only embarrassing yourselves, and confirming the conclusions the majority of Americans made about you.

And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

The Tree Falls Far From The Acorn

Remember how the right-wing screamers destroyed ACORN, when it had, in fact, done nothing wrong? Remember the arguments Rs made for restrictive voter registration, that fraud (non-existent) was rampant? Well, guess what. Lately, there has been fraud. And guess who's responsible:

By every possible measure, the problems have been wildly and laughably exaggerated, but when evidence of fraud does appear, more often than not, it seems to involve Republican wrongdoing ... 
Two employees of a company once aligned with the Republican Party of Florida admitted to law-enforcement authorities that they forged voter registration forms. 
It's the first result in a far-reaching voter fraud investigation that was launched last fall -- and initiated at the urging of the party after election supervisors started flagging questionable applications. 
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported Tuesday that the two ex-employees were charged with a third degree felony. But prosecutors back in January decided to place both of them on probation because neither has a criminal history.

Remember, this isn't an isolated criminal matter. On the contrary, it's part of a much larger controversy.
In this case, the two Republicans accused of election fraud worked for Strategic Allied Consulting. Why does Strategic Allied Consulting sound familiar? It's the company owned by Nathan Sproul -- the Republican consultant with a lengthy record of scandals and accusations of fraud, who nevertheless won a lucrative contract to oversee the RNC's 2012 voter-registration efforts in swing states....
Yes, I know. It's like announcing that the planet is warming: Republicans crying about Ds doing something they're not doing to give themselves cover for doing it themselves. Who'd ever believe such a thing is possible?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Pervasively Screwed

It's not surprising that viewers of Fox "news" are clueless, when this sort of thing is their standard fare (read the linked article: it's perfect) and won't ever admit he's wrong. But Senators? People charged with representing, per person, around thirty million others? From the too little/too late dinner with Obama (he should have been doing this -- continued it, actually -- from the get-go):
Obama’s dinner gets positive reviews... As for Obama’s dinner last night, it went very well, according to various NBC conversations with the GOP participants. It was serious. It was respectful. And it was informative. (In fact, one senator told us that he learned,  for the first time, the actual cuts that the president has put on the table. Leadership hadn’t shared that list with them before) .... (depressing emphasis added)
How much boggling can one mind stand? The guy didn't know because leadership hadn't told him? Besides the obvious "lazy," what should one call that? And what does it say about where we are, politically, and our future prospects? See above.

[Image source]

Sequester Clarity

This is a reasonable-sounding article about the politics, on both sides, of the current state of affairs regarding the sequester. There's blame to go around, with both sides making things harder.

There are two main problems with sequestration. The first is that the $1.1 trillion in budget cuts happen in an idiotic, across-the-board fashion. Think farm subsidies are less valuable than medical research, and thus should take a bigger cut? Too bad. Sequestration is too dumb to tell the difference.
The second is that sequestration slams the economy while it’s weak.... 
... Republicans took a first step toward a solution last week, when Senators Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania proposed a bill giving President Barack Obama authority to implement sequestration with a scalpel rather than a meat cleaver. 
The Inhofe-Toomey proposal wouldn’t change the basic character of the cuts. ... For the most part, however, their plan would give the executive branch the ability to select cuts within those parameters.

It’s worth taking a moment to appreciate how weird this is: The Republican solution to sequestration is to give the White House -- this White House! -- more power to decide how the federal government spends your money. 
What happened next was, if anything, even weirder: The White House declined. 
The Obama administration thinks the Inhofe-Toomey bill makes both the politics and the policy worse. The politics are worse because the White House would own the budget cuts; after all, they’d be the ones making them. The policy is worse because using a scalpel would make the cuts easier to live with, which makes sequestration harder to replace with legislation more to the White House’s liking...

It's yet another example of politics trumping common sense. If the president declines because he doesn't want to "own" the cuts, even if making them less painful would be the result, then he's shirking an opportunity for leadership. This is a legitimate conversation to have. Instead, the heat is generated over who's a socialist/Marxist/Nazi/Muslim; makes you wonder what all that conspiracy and hate-fuelled stuff is really about.

When there are opportunities to raise questions about actual policy and political behavior, the idiots are silent. The writer of the above is a liberal.

[Image source]

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


It's hard to have a conversation about this without sounding like a communiss, I realize. Most people, including me, agree that hard work and success and talent and commitment ought to be rewarded. Economic incentive is a powerful thing. I like money, and I wish I had more of it. (Mostly so I could give more of it to people in my family who need it.) I think the profit motive and capitalism are good things. But can there be too much of a good thing? If national wealth is sort of finite (for purposes of discussion) does it become a bad thing when it's only available to a few?

The problem with the video is that it doesn't attempt to explain why the post-Reagan reality of income distribution in our country is so perverse, and how it works against economic success in terms of the whole society. Nor does it offer any suggestions about how changes, assuming it's desirable, might come about. There are, of course, other sources for that conversation.

As I've said before, any change in the tax code is a form of wealth redistribution. It's a loaded term, suggesting rounding up rich people, reaching into their pockets, extracting money, and handing it willy-nilly to poor people standing there with their hands out. There needs to be a better term. "Tax fairness" comes to mind. So does "minimum wage."

Again, you can't bring these things up without raising Republican hackles. But you'd think they'd get it: their beloved job creators and "makers" won't be able to push product absent people willing and able to buy. If you make a little less per widget because you're providing a living wage and a couple of benefits to your workers, you can, in theory, more than make that up in an environment where more people have the means to buy your widgets. It's basic math, and not very high-order economics.

Sadly, and mystifyingly, the people most adversely affected by the current reality are the most reluctant to countenance ideas that might change things. Well, not those most adversely affected; the teabagging ones, fully Foxified into thinking we need more, not less, inequality, are the ones happily carrying the water for those making off with the booty, taking the future with them. It seems pretty intuitive that there's something really wrong with the picture.

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