Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sunday Column

Here's my latest, in our local newspaper:

For fun, let’s examine the failure of our Congressional do-America-prouders to pass a farm bill. And before you turn to the comics (I go there first), let me reassure your receding interest that this isn’t about the farm bill: it’s about the dysfunction of our politicians and the system in which they “work.” The farmalogical failure just happens to shine a brighter light on the stupidity and cynicism of it all than anything we’ve seen lately. Well, except gun control. Or immigration. Or women’s rights. Or the budget. 
The timing is amusing. Congressional Republicans, averse as they are to compromise and the kind of bipartisanship that might reflect it, have lately been haggling amongst themselves about reanimating the so-called “Hastert rule,” which says that no legislation should be brought forth that doesn’t have majority support in the majority (i.e., Republican) party. The purpose is to prevent the minority (i.e., Democrats) from being able to bring legislation to a vote. It’s one of those things that you like if your party is in the majority. (Hastert was once a Republican Speaker of the House.) 
Comes the farm bill, always porcine and controversial; but because it has something for everyone – food stamps for the poor, subsidies for the rich – both sides, awash in bipartisan bonhomie, have traditionally jumped on it like a bull in a candy store. The Senate version passed easily. Not so the House of horrors. Quintupling the Senate cuts to food stamps, perhaps unaware of the employment crisis and that most people on food stamps need them because they can’t find jobs that pay enough, tea-partitioned Rs tossed in requirements that people must work to qualify for them; unconcerned (proud, more likely) that they’ll be causing around two million Americans to go hungry. Whatever the politics of “the welfare state,” such heartlessness and selfishness is shocking, even given the radical lack of concern for the non-wealthy of today’s Congressional Republicans. (They rejected cutting giveaways to big farmers. Naturally.) 
Predictably, most Democrats walked away because of that last-minute work requirement, and Republicans, enough to kill the bill, bailed because they wanted even more cuts. I have no comment on the wisdom of or need for farm subsides, or about why food stamps are tied to the farm bill at all. (Food stamps originated in another universe, with Republican Bob Dole and Democrat George McGovern, who didn’t agree on much, concurring that hunger in America blights us all.) Anyhow, here’s what happened next: Republican House leaders John “Wait up! I’m your leader” Boehner and Eric “Wait your turn, Paul Ryan” Cantor both voted for the bill, and were surprised when people in their party abandoned it. And whereas they’ve worn like a badge of honor their disdain for Democratic ideas and their disinterest in cooperation with them on anything, now they screamed like younger siblings when not enough Ds agreed to the drasticity of their cuts to the poor. At which point Nancy “That IS my smile” Pelosi blamed the whole debacle on a failure of Republican leadership. Specifically, she called it “amateur hour.” A generous characterization, I’d call it. 
If that’s not enough to invoke a nationwide face-palm, there’s this: making excuses for their failure to pass their own bill, some House Republicans said, well, we voted “no” because it was a lousy bill. While blaming its failure on Democrats. Get that? We didn’t like our own bill, and darn those Democrats for not voting for it. In the final act, as political soothsayers proclaimed a major embarrassment for Boehner, Harry “I slept through elocution class” Reid turned the political screws, announcing there’d be no face-saving temporary farm bailout while the House festers, suggesting they take up the Senate bill. House leaders, back on their game, said no way that’s gonna happen. 
This circus ought to convince us all of the fecklessness that’s overtaken Congress, especially the House of Representatives. You’ll be surprised that I assign the majority of blame to Republicans, hide-bound and ideologically averse as they are to compromise and bipartisanship, and, since Ronald Reagan, having no new ideas beyond cutting spending on the poor and lowering taxes on the wealthy. The Senate version had cuts in it that Ds weren’t happy with, yet forty of them agreed to it anyway. But the House teabag wing wanted even more, happy to embarrass their leaders in the process. At what point does their naked deference to the wealthy and contempt for the poor become too much, even for their own voters? 

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Friday, June 28, 2013

RIght Up There With "Teabagging"

Nope. It's not a joke. The Christianist response to the S. Court's decisions on gay marriage is that one. A guy. On his knees. Giving a... well, you know. And someone hollering, lubriciously, one assumes, "I'm in."

That God. What a sense of humor!


This kinda makes our spying seem like penny-ante stuff. Sort of a from-the-grave payback, as our help for the Mujahideen to stick it to the Soviets ended up giving al-Queda its start. Maybe the KGB made our meddling more likely to fail, even after the USSR was dead: 

EXCLUSIVE: New book reveals how KGB operation seeded Muslim countries with anti-American, anti-Jewish propaganda during the 1970s, laying the groundwork for Islamist terrorism against U.S. and Israel.
The article is pretty extensive. 

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Randy Paul

I believe it's called reaction formation. Rand Paul worries that with the DOMA decision, people will be line up to start marrying animals. I know I would. Posits the libertarian hero, scion of unhingery:

But it is difficult because if we have no laws on this people take it to one extension further. Does it have to be humans?...The stability of the marriage unit is enormous and we should not just say oh we're punting on it, marriage can be anything." 

In addition to ignoring the fact that over half of the marriage units destabilize, I'd just like to add this: you wish, Mr. Paul. You wish.

[Update: my bad. See, the thing is, when he asked why it had to be humans, he was actually talking about federal marriage laws, and doesn't think we're heading toward polygamy or bestiality. Because when he asked about going beyond human he wasn't asking about going beyond human. Where'd I get that idea? In English class?

What a bullshitter. How any liberals -- and there were some, after he condemned using drones -- can think this guy is a national-level intellect, is beyond me.]

Supreme Justice (Almost)

There's literally too much to say about the decisions that have come pouring out of the Supreme Court in the last couple of days. The very good, the good, and the really ugly. The overarching theme, to me, is that there's absolutely no such thing as judicial impartiality, as clever as it was when John Roberts, in his confirmation hearing, sweetly declared that his job would be to call the balls and strikes, not to change the rulebook. How is it, if there were indeed such a thing, that the votes of eight of the nine are virtually always predictable, and spilt 4x4 in opposite directions? What clearer evidence is there that judges have their biases, and seek for ways to justify them?

And so it is that, in the space of twenty-four hours, Antonin Scalia can rage against the court's DOMA decision, claiming it had no right to overturn the express and bipartisan will of Congress, after having, without a second thought, voted to disqualify the Voting Rights Act, which was reauthorized by Congress with massive majorities in both houses. For that matter, Scalia, in his comments on same sex marriage, abandoned the remaining vestiges of any claim he might have on judicial restraint. Bordering on hilarious, in the context of a sober originalist regent of the right, he just let loose in a pastiche of paranoia, defensiveness, and extra-legal ranting.

As I understand it, the DOMA ruling was pretty clear: it's discriminatory and unconstitutional. The Prop 8 verdict, while the right outcome for same sex couples in California, was rendered on a technicality, leaving intact the anti-same-sex marriage laws in other states. But, given the implications of the DOMA decision, it seems likely that the laws in those states will eventually be struck down.

To say, as the Court did, that there's no longer a need for the voting rights act is to ignore the machinations in several states in just the last few years. How long did it take, after the ruling, for those states to begin enforcing their anti-minority laws? Hours. It's also annoying the way in which the court pulled its fast one: not invalidating the central feature of the Act, namely the requirement that certain states need prior federal approval before changing their voting laws. Rather, the court said the map is out of date, and needs Congressional re-drawing. Clever. Who says the justices don't follow politics? Because if ever there were a certainty, it's that Congress will never do that; not, at least, until teabaggRs have gone the way of slavery. Which they won't: invalidating the law will see to it that the voters in those states who might vote for reasonable people will never get the chance.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Speaking Of Stupid

Texas. Enough said. Well, almost.

Turns out they're "debating" highly restrictive abortion legislation there, with Rs pretending it's about raising standards for abortion clinics, a claim which Texas Ob/Gyns have strongly disputed. But that's not the point here. The point is the level of stupidity, putting the most positive spin on it possible, of some people trying to justify it all.

"In the emergency room they have what’s called rape kits where a woman can get cleaned out." So says the main sponsor of the bill, explaining why there's no exception for rape. A woman. Which is not to say all women should be opposed to the bill: it's to show how uninformed even a woman can be about the nature and implications of rape. And rape kits. To readers of this blog, I know I needn't explain the countless layers of wrongness of the quote. It speaks for itself. And, as if to remove any doubt that anti-abortion legislation is purely religious-based, legislators had, as the linked article explains, biblical quotes on their desks as they voted.

I understand -- respect, in most cases -- people's objection to abortion. The unanswerable questions remain unanswerable: the beginning of "life;" legal differences between embryos and bouncing babies. As do the ironies: steadfast protection of life until birth... But until we start requiring the stoning to death of smart-mouth children, and the forced marriage of women to their rapists, I think imposing one's religious beliefs on another belongs in countries other than ours. Countries whose religiosity those same promulgators of religiosity here so abhor.

(The story gets even more interesting, as the bill was filibustered by a female legislator there. The rules for filibuster in Texas are highly restrictive, and she was ruled out or order by the [male] Lt. Governor fifteen minutes before the deadline to vote, after going on, single-handedly, not allowed to sit, lean on her desk, or take a bathroom break, without stop for nearly thirteen hours. But the audience picked up the slack, delaying the vote. Rs claimed they'd voted in time, but time-stamp showed they hadn't. Nice. But there seems to be no doubt that the bill will come up again, and, sooner or later, will become law there.)

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Where The Actual Bodies Are Buried

As Congressional teabaggers refuse to admit their so-called scandals are evaporating before their eyes, pursuing a president for his legal -- if sometimes politically misguided (although I'm not sure of that) --attempts at maintaining security, they (and their D counterparts, sadly) refuse to pursue the most damaging criminal activity a president has undertaken. War crimes, by all but his own definition. And, the toll it took on everyone remotely involved. From a recent suicide note, by a soldier, forced to participate in numerous torture sessions in Iraq:

... The simple truth is this: During my first deployment, I was made to participate in things, the enormity of which is hard to describe. War crimes, crimes against humanity. Though I did not participate willingly, and made what I thought was my best effort to stop these events, there are some things that a person simply can not come back from. I take some pride in that, actually, as to move on in life after being part of such a thing would be the mark of a sociopath in my mind. These things go far beyond what most are even aware of. 
To force me to do these things and then participate in the ensuing coverup is more than any government has the right to demand. Then, the same government has turned around and abandoned me. They offer no help, and actively block the pursuit of gaining outside help via their corrupt agents at the DEA. Any blame rests with them.

I understand, I think, Obama's decision not to go after his predecessors for their international crimes against humanity; either for reasons of national health, or to avoid risking his agenda (how'd that work out?), he chose to let it lie. In the long run, especially if he'd maintained the moral high ground he sought at the beginning, I think it might have been better for us all, here and abroad, had he brought the law to bear on them. But, of course, given the fracture that his mere presence has caused, the hateful, spiteful, and anti-American, undemocratic behavior of his Congressional adversaries based on virtually nothing but paranoia and cynical politics at its worst, I guess Rs would have sought, from now until doomsday (coming soon, they aver), to impeach every D president there'd ever be. For breathing.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Irony Alert

A while back I mentioned (gasped at, more like) the ridiculous claim by a teabagging R Congressman (and "fellow" physician) that 15-week-old male fetuses masturbate. (Okay, he said something more like "pleasure themselves," but isn't it the same thing, morally?

So it occurs to me that in all other contexts, according to the hyper-religious, self-pleasure is a sin of dastardly magnitude. Sends you straight to hell. Couple of whacks wipe out at least a month's-worth of good-doing. One must assume. Given the mathematics of it.

So, suddenly we're claiming that jerking off makes a kid holy? Or is it, as I suggested in the post, another example of valued life ending at birth?

Anyhow, it strikes me as amusing: a thing which sends one, if unrepentant, on the express train to Hades, is suddenly the basis for claiming humanity. Anyone else find that sort of hypocritical? Next thing you know, they'll be point to identical twins feeling each other up in utero, and saying it's gods' will, too.

Then what?

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Death Is A Long, Long Sleep*

I've said and thought about that a lot: when we die we return to what we were before we lived. It was a conclusion I reached on my own, far as I recall, many years ago; and it was an epiphany. For an infinite time before our birth, we didn't exist, and it seems to have been okay. Same with after it's over. An infinity of not-being, same as we've been through forever, and survived it. As it were.

Along those lines, I find this chart interesting:

I guess we've all learned to read polls with a certain amount of skepticism. And, to me, the biggest question that arises from this one is the chicken/egg: are those who fear death most the ones that are drawn to religion, or does religion make one think more about death? Plus "thinking about" isn't the same as "fearing." Either way, though, it seems to me that the most central reason for the existence of religion is cognizance and fear of death, and the need to believe that life exists beyond this one. Because for most, believing otherwise is intolerable.

I've said it a million times: to live a good life, an empathetic one, valuing honesty and treating others as one would have oneself treated, for its own sake, because it's right -- that is a much higher morality than doing so in expectation of reward, or for fear of punishment.
* The reference is to a song, based on a Joseph Hayden composition, sung as a rondo. When I travelled to the Soviet Union in college, there was a group of us who worked up some songs to sing in coffee shops there (brought down the house!) We learned that one, and liked singing it because of its complexities (five parts, actually); but we didn't perform it there. I mean, c'mon!

And, yes, I got the video and the graph, but not my thoughts, from a post on The Dish.

Monday, June 24, 2013


I guess we don't yet know (as of this writing) where Edward Snowden is headed. Nor have I read a lot of the reports about his personal background, which I find mostly irrelevant. Also, I have decidedly mixed feelings about the whole affair. I think it's good that we know more about what our government has been doing than we did before his revelations. It raises, among other things, a fundamental question: is "transparency" possible in an "open" society? Where do the needs for security cross the line between that and the right of privacy? On the other hand, there's no doubt the guy did harm, and broke the law. Motives? Unclear. (The latest news that he took his private-contractor job specifically to steal info raises even more doubt about his "heroic" status.) I don't think he's a latter-day Daniel Ellsberg.

But the thing I'm pondering at the moment is, what if he ends up in Cuba, or Russia, or Ecuador? It would inform my perception of his motives, for one thing. For another, and maybe most importantly, it would remove the claim that he's some sort of hero, doing what he believed to be right.

Because -- and I have no idea if I'd have the bravery, myself -- if he claims to be doing the right thing, in the name of patriotism or morality, then shouldn't he be willing to take the consequences? Stand trial, speak out, in a court of law, for what he believes? Rather than running to countries that are anything but allies?

Others have.

(And others see that question differently.)

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Science And Medicine

[From the estimable XKCD]

Coincidentally, after readying the above for publication, I read this. No intention to suggest it's b.s. In fact, it likely isn't. But it was amusing timing.

God Help Us All

shake head gif photo: head shake conan headshakeconan.gif

At some point, I suppose, all you can do is shake your head. Half the country is under the influence of deliberate liars. People who'll make up anything, take anything out of context, turn something good into something evil. And their audience, ever more anxious to believe than to understand, accepts it as from on high.

The latest example, among many to come from President Obama's recent foreign travel (a scandal and an outrage in itself, because what president has ever gone overseas and charged the taxpayers for it?) is this:

Drudge told his readers Obama made an "alarming call" for an "end to Catholic education." The conservative Washington Times ran an 800-word article on the "backlash" to Obama's comments. Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter cited the remarks as proof of the president "attacking America while he's abroad." David Limbaugh said it was "unbelievable" to see the president "attacking Catholic schools," adding, "How much evidence do people need to understand the breadth and depth of Obama's radicalism?"
And what were the shocking words spewing from the maw of hell, the proof, yet again, of our president's depravity? These, spoken to school kids in Ireland:

"Because issues like segregated schools and housing, lack of jobs and opportunity -- symbols of history that are a source of pride for some and pain for others -- these are not tangential to peace; they're essential to it. If towns remain divided -- if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs -- if we can't see ourselves in one another, if fear or resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division. It discourages cooperation.
"Ultimately, peace is just not about politics. It's about attitudes; about a sense of empathy; about breaking down the divisions that we create for ourselves in our own minds and our own hearts that don't exist in any objective reality, but that we carry with us generation after generation."
And that's not the half of it. I hear he's also said that the sun rises in the East. A more clear attack on Western values there never was.

I get tired of pointing it out: these are horrible, horrible people.

[Image source]

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sunday Column

Here's my latest in our local newspaper:

I’m no foreign policy expert, but I can read; and whereas I often don’t remember why I walked into a particular room, I haven’t yet forgotten what’s happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Egypt, Libya, or, for that matter, Vietnam. My opinion isn’t worth as much as Sarah Palin’s or Bill Clinton’s, but I still feel like expressing it on the matter of Syria. Summary version: I don’t like it, I think we’ll regret it, and I’m not buying the stated reasons. I’ve been wrong about many things over the years; I hope to heck this is another one. 
I’m referring to President Obama’s decision to send arms (overtly) to the rebels there. “Overtly” is parenthesized because I’d bet my leftover nutbar that we’ve already been aiding them in many ways, including seeing to it that arms find a way into their arms. What’s changed? Bashar al-Assad using gas on his people? The more one reads, the less convincing is the evidence. And even if it’s true, in what way does modus mortis matter? The claim is that around two hundred people have died from it. Compared to nearly a hundred thousand by “conventional” means. Which is the masser destruction, the deader death? 
But the essential question is this: on what basis shall we expect finally to succeed in changing the historical flow of a civil war? There’s only one instance in which intervention turned out in our favor; and that was after we flagrantly failed to accomplish a damn thing: Vietnam. In which I served. In which more soldiers died, by far, than in any subsequent intervention. A war we “lost,” only to see the enemy become a kinda-capitalist trading partner and a burgeoning tourist destination. Irony abounds. 
Mr. Assad is a bad guy. I don’t claim to understand the internecine convulsions of Syria, nor the implications and stakes of the involvement of its neighbors and allies in the conflict. I’m certain the complexities are so great that strong arguments have been made to our president from all sides. He had only bad choices; but, in the end, what presidents must do is choose. 
I confess that, not unlike the teabag wing of the Republican Party, who’ll disagree with Obama simply because it’s Obama, I have a reflexive tendency to think that if John “Which way is the camera?” McCain and Lindsey “It pains me to say this” Graham are for something, I’m against it. But unlike the Tea Party’s reaction to our president, mine to the die-namic duo isn’t paranoid fantasy. Shoulder to shoulder (and head to another body part) with Cheney and Bush, they were cosmically, surpassingly wrong in every claim they made before, during, and after the Iraq debacle. Same with Fox “news” drum-beaters, like Karl “Who, us?” Rove. 
I found it hugely telling when McCain made his showboating visit to Syrian rebels, and got himself photographed palling around with terrorists, according to several reports. It’ll be easy, he’d claimed, to determine which rebels we should arm and which we shouldn’t. After which he proceeded to step in it with both feet. Easy, huh? We just ask which ones haven’t cut out a soldier’s heart and eaten it lately. (You know that happened, right?) Weaponize only those who’ve forsworn meals of myocardium. 
Begun by Jimmy Carter to stick it to the Soviets in Afghanistan, then greatly expanded by Ronald Reagan, we gave all manner of armament to the Mujahideen there. Who eventually became Al-Qaeda. Oops. In Syria, and everywhere in that region, there are implacable tribal and religious divisions, with enemies of enemies joining with and separating from each other as the winds blow hot and hotter. If Assad is a loathsome despot, he also enjoys significant support among many of his people. What, then, are the rules for picking sides? Can we predict the outcome? We couldn’t in Vietnam, or Iryptistanya. The hardest decision is to take the longest view: that oppression eventually collapses under its own weight; and lasting results occur when it happens “naturally.” Think Russia, sort of. Or China, kinda. 
I abhor the mounting deaths in Syria, and, perpetually, all over our planet. It’s becoming what humans do best. Of course civilized people want the killing to stop. From what I’ve read, it had been President Obama’s instinct, though, to recognize the folly of limited engagement, and the undesirability of full-out war. In the end, he made a choice among impossibilities. Eventually, we’ll find out if it was the right one.

Friday, June 21, 2013


These days there's not a lot of heartening news for anyone of whatever political persuasion. This, on the other hand, is actually something good. Actually, really good:

Exodus International started in Anaheim 37 years ago as a small ministry to help those struggling to reconcile their homosexuality with the Bible's teachings. It grew into the leading practitioner of the controversial "gay cure" movement, with 260 ministries around North America. 
While Exodus claimed to have purged thousands of people of sexual urges that tormented them, its leaders recently began expressing doubts about the mission. Last year, its president, Alan Chambers, renounced the idea that homosexuality could be "cured. 
This week, the organization abruptly announced it was closing down. Chambers offered a dramatic, public mea culpa, refuting decades of Exodus' teaching and apologizing for the "shame" and "trauma" the group had inflicted.
Good for them. That apology was full-throated and honest. And I don't think the closing was just a business decision. It's because, contra the thinking of those at the core of today's Republican party, they realized, finally, that gay isn't a choice. That it's who they are. That, if you believe in a creator, it's how they were created and, therefore, that they're part of god's family.

So, yeah. I found it really, really good news. There are people out there, despite having been bathed in fear and prejudice and other forms of mumbo and jumbo who, given enough time and evidence, are still capable of rising above it, seeing the light, and doing what's right.

In an otherwise mostly hopeless world, it's a start; and a very welcome one, indeed.

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Courting Disaster

Sure, it's easy for some to pass Elizabeth Warren off as some sort of crazy liberal socialist whatever; and, yes, her perspective is indeed decidedly liberal. But why isn't the point she's making one that resonates with conservatives as well; or, at least, with those self-proclaimed conservatives who aren't wealthy corporations?

I guess part of the reason is part of the problem she addresses: the balance of power has shifted to those corporations and the guys who run them to such a degree that they can, without fear of any pushback, convince those non-wealthy members of "their" party that what's more important than the fact that they no longer have any power at all is that "their" party is against abortion.

Thus, the willing ignorance of the loss of democracy. It's not a priority. Gay marriage is. And birth control. And ending the first serious attempt to provide all Americans with access to health care. Because socialism. Because god.

Elizabeth Warren is unafraid to call it out. I suppose she'd get more traction were she to put it in more universal terms; because the last thing teabaggers are interested in is getting liberal judges on federal courts. But if they stopped and thought about it -- aye, there's the rub -- it ought to be obvious to everyone who's not among the Romnified and rarified that Congress and the courts no longer care about them. And it ought to bother them deeply, no matter who the messenger is. Elizabeth Warren, were people able actually to listen to and comprehend what she's saying, ought to be a hero to everyone but that not-so-fabled 1%.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Oh Baby, Oh Baby, Oh Baby

We've had to get used to hearing really stupid things from right-wing doctors elected to Congress. Whether it's Paul Braun claiming science comes from the pit of hell, Rand and Ron Paul being, well, Paulian, Tom Coburn denying climate change... The list is longer and more shameful. Speaking as a physician, it's embarrassing. But this has to be the stupidest thing I've ever heard from a teabagging elected M.D.:

"Watch a sonogram of a 15-week baby, and they have movements that are purposeful," said Burgess, a former obstetrician-gynecologist. "They stroke their face. If they're a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs. If they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to believe that they could feel pain?"

Now, granted, it's impossible to know for sure what goes on in a hemi-demi-formed 15-week-old brain. But it's not that hard to extrapolate based on actual demonstrable neural pathways, as scientists have done. Applying the word "purposeful" to what are surely, at that stage of development, random movements is pretty much of a stretch. Self-pleasure? Really? It's there at 15 weeks, and then disappears? I mean, has anyone seen a newborn boy deliberately play with himself? Get an erection, sure. It happens. But how long before any newborn can complete any purposeful reaching, let alone give himself a handjob? What unmitigated dumb.

The guy was an obstetrician, ferchrissakes.

These are not normal people. Seriously. I get that people are against abortion, and I see it as a religious position of consistency, and I'd never consider trying to argue against those religious beliefs. (Although it's always been of interest that so many of those who see the life of a blastocyst as equivalent to that of a child are able, somehow, to reconcile that with refusing to pay for food, health care, education, or anything else that suggests valuing life past the moment of birth. And, to be clear, I have most certainly argued that there's a difference between a cluster of cells and a fully-formed baby. But that's also a point of view, subject to religious-based differences of opinion. Still, the imposing of one's religious beliefs on another is just that: imposing.) But to make such patently ridiculous arguments, pretending that it's not a religious argument at all, that not only fly in the face of common sense and observable behavior of infants, but rejects what's known, scientifically (that thing from hell), about fetal neurodevelopment? Who are they trying to kid? Well, of course: these people. Ducks in a barrel.

Same, of course, with the contention that fetuses at that age are capable of feeling pain. Who knows for sure? But what's more likely, actual sensation of pain in a primitive brain, essentially comatose, lacking mature connections between it and the extremities; or the equivalent of spinal cord reflexes, jerking when touched? Like a rubber hammer on your patellar tendon. Has it ever hurt? And yet, did you jerk? C'mon.

My god. This is the best teabaggRs have to offer?


I'll miss him. And if you want to see Gandolfini at his surprising best, see "Where The Wild Things Are." But not this version.

Nuclear Option

Along with a strange and puzzling credulity about "alternative" medicine, the horror of vaccines, and the transcendent value of drum circles, reflexive opposition to nuclear power is one of the things that bug me about certain liberals.

Which is not to say that concerns are without merit. On the other hand, Chernobyl was an antiquated system and nearly impossible to reproduce with more modern plants. I gather that storage of waste is less of a problem now than it was when Hanford was built.

I worry about that stuff, too; but the sooner we get off fossil fuel, the obviously better. Leave it in the ground, where god intended it. All I'm saying is it shouldn't be a write-off out of hand. Liberals, as they generally do when it comes to science -- aforementioned lacunae damnably excepted -- should accept the possibility that nuclear power can be made as safe as other forms; and be open to embracing it as a cost-effective and efficient alternative to oil and coal and gas. The movie, which I haven't yet seen, attempts to make that case.

(Thanks, Dougie, for sending me the link.)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Pulline Dentition

Because, despite slowly if steadily increasing readership, they've become rare as, well, you know, I'm turning off comments for the umpteenth time. I promise to respond to emails and, even, to include them in posts on selected occasions. (Although I've blocked a few emails over the years, some may be surprised to learn that the list doesn't include a certain Frankie, with whom, in fact, I've been carrying on nearly daily conversations for a long time.)

Truth be told: much as I like getting comments, I dislike, even more, not getting them. So now, yet again, I have an excuse.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Times...

I probably should have just provided a link, but this is too good to think some people might miss it in its entirety. It is, of course, from the newspaper of record. It'll get bigger with a click, if it's hard to read.

Haters Gotta Hate

This has been covered pretty broadly in the thinking part of America. But for those who missed it, it says everything we need to know about today's so-called conservatives, and the party to which they cling. Teabaggers and their racist counterparts on right-wing blogs are outraged that this kid was allowed to sing The National Anthem. Read samplings of their comments if you have the stomach for it (and if it's empty.)

Then know this: he's native born American, son of a US Navy veteran. Sure, there'll always be horrible people. But these nasties are the heart and soul of today's teabagging Republican party. That's the difference: Left wing crazies are just that: outliers, and unrespected by their party. Right-wing crazies are the baseline, for whose votes their entire party prostrates itself.


Monday, June 17, 2013

Future Shock

To read Charles Blow's latest, about a recent study of today's high school graduates, is to be depressed. And angry.

... The report imagines a hypothetical class of 100 graduates. Of those, it estimates that:
■ 71 have experienced physical assault, 28 have been victimized sexually (10 report that they have been the victims of dating violence in the past year, and 10 report they have been raped), 32 have experienced some form of child maltreatment, 27 were in a physical fight, and 16 carried a weapon in the past year.
■ 64 have had sexual intercourse, 48 are sexually active, 27 used a condom and 12 were on birth control pills the last time they had sex; 21 percent had a sexually transmitted infection in the past year; three or four of the young women have been or are pregnant, and one has had an abortion.
■ 39 have been bullied, physically or emotionally — 16 in the past year; 29 felt “sad and hopeless” continually for at least two weeks during the past year; 14 thought seriously about attempting suicide, and six went through with the attempt.
■ 34 are overweight, and 22 are living in poverty (10 in deep poverty)...

Then he states the obvious:

... Our problems would be fixable if only we could agree that the protection and healthy development of this country’s children is not only a humanitarian and moral imperative, but also an economic and cultural one: today’s students are tomorrow’s workers.
However, many conservatives seem too selfish to take the altruistic view and too blind to take the self-interested one...

In no way is that last an overstatement (my bolding). For various reasons -- ideological, selfish, end-times thinking, ignorance, vindictiveness, or simply not caring -- there's no legislative interest among the teabagging wing of the Republican party to address the problem. They simply refuse to face it. It's too hard, and too expensive. Hard. Spending. Thinking about anyone but themselves. Not into it. So we're screwed. And by "we" I mean our future.

Those That Fail To Learn From History...

Juan Cole, considered one of the best-informed and most thoughtful commentators on matters involving the Middle East, has this to say, in part, about arming Syrian rebels:

Former president Bill Clinton criticized President Obama on Thursday for his inaction in regard to Syria. This step seems extraordinary and surely has something to do with positioning Hillary Clinton to run as a more hawkish New Democrat against anyone in the Obama circle in 2016. ... 
.... Nobody remembers Clinton’s paralysis in Algeria, contrary to what he is now predicting about Obama and Syria. This is because if you avoid a quagmire as president, no one holds that against you. 
... Russian support appears to have increased in kind and quality, and Iran is playing the Shiite card. If someone doesn’t intervene soon on the rebel side, Washington hawks realize, the war might soon be over and the pro-Iranian regime will survive (just as Algeria’s did). 
Obama seems to be attempting to find a face-saving way of getting a little involved but not too much, by sending light weaponry (which of course is not what the rebels need). 
Clinton compared what the US could do in Syria to Ronald Reagan’s effort against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. But that covert operation of giving billions of dollars and high-tech weaponry to Afghan jihadis was a huge catastrophe, contributing to the creation and rise of al-Qaeda and setting the background for the emergence of the Taliban. It surely would have been far preferable to let the Soviets try to build a socialist state in Afghanistan, as they tried in Uzbekistan. The whole thing would have fallen apart in 1991 anyway. (There is no truth to the notion that the Afghanistan war bled the Soviet Union or contributed to its collapse. Soviet military spending was flat in the 1980s). The Reagan jihad destabilized both Afghanistan and Pakistan and left us with a long term terrorism problem. We let the Soviets alone in Kazakhstan, and we never worry about today’s Kazakhstan.
You never, ever want to encourage the rise of private militias and flood a country with high- powered weaponry...
It's simply amazing to me that, after our experiences with Middle Eastern countries abroil with eons-old ethnic hatreds, and that of others, that anyone can think such intervention in a civil war there has a chance of working out well for us. Well, of course John McCain, Lindsey Graham, idiot publicity hounds with serious personal issues), and various unrepentant neocon warmongers, along with the whole coterie of right-wing screamers do. But Barack Obama? Sensible resistance notwithstanding. And Clinton?

Experience says there's little chance of this ending as we'd like it to. I hope events prove me wrong; but, despite taunts and jeers and name-calling from the right (and some from the left), I think Obama was right when his instincts (and facts) told him to stay out. He could have stood up and said so. But he didn't.

(This guy has a point, too.)

[Image source]

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sunday Column

Here's my latest Sunday column in our local newspaper:

I had my doubts when they dubbed it “The Patriot Act.” Like Bush’s “Clear Skies Act,” which gutted environmental regulations, the title shouted loudly Orwellian. Or Luntzian. I found it disquieting, and not a little sinister. 
So now we’re facing what we’ve preferred to ignore since Congress retroactively legitimized GWB’s extra-legal data mining after 9/11: the government is reading our emails, tracking our internet wanderings and credit card usage, noting whom we call. Are we surprised? For that matter, is it clearly wrong? Depends, I guess, on who’s doing the snooping. Nothing could have been more “patriotic” when it was George Bush, right? But Barack Obama? Horreur noir! Or vice versa. Look who’s discovered his outrage in Congress: a guy who helped write the “Patriot” act. Not: several Congressional liberals. Non-congressional screamer, shocked like Louis Renault: Bill O’Reilly, startled awake to the possibility, twelve years after the fact, that a president might abuse power. 
To those firing off letters of just-found fury, I’d float a reminder that the rules were written in 2001, got bipartisan (remember that word?) support, and were carried out (to the extent that we know) as vigorously by our previous president as by our current one. Ask yourselves: what’s different now? 
After the trauma of 9/11 we acquiesced, as color-coded terror alerts flashed aplenty, to giving up a swath of privacy in exchange for perceived safety. But was there ever thoughtful, dispassionate debate over what amount, and for what measure of protection? Like complete freedom, perfect safety is an illusion. Did we cede too much, for an impossibility? When it comes to covert surveillance, do “checks and balances” even have meaning? Now, finally, ought the questions be asked? Surely so; but where will we find the answers? 
Much as I distrusted the name given to the Act, because, reminiscent of Politburo double-speak, “Patriot” has been a Foxopalinesque bludgeon since the attacks, I understand that in these times, to carry out its mandate of safeguarding us, our government needs new and wide-ranging tools. It’s the quintessential quandary of free society: whether looking for leaks by reading emails of reporters, or dissecting data using triggers designed to find bad guys, where’s the balance point between protection and oppression? If it moves left or right along that spectrum depending on the political persuasions of the speaker and who’s doing the gathering, I’d guess we all agree there’s a line out there somewhere; and that it lies, questionably discoverable, in that murky place between wild-west free-for-all and government control of everything. And whereas the legalities are fuzzy, awaiting clarification even now, and the court that approves clandestine data gathering does so in secrecy, there is at least a nod to bridling executive power by keeping it within the law (written, albeit, amidst a panic attack). We can only assume it works as intended, because, by legislative design, we really have no idea. 
I publish a couple of blogs. With a click or two, I can tell which articles visitors read, whence they came and where they went next. I know their IP address, can even see a satellite map of their general location. So easily obtained are those data, I bet government agencies, with their superspy machinery, can tell who had what for lunch and when they last changed their underwear. Anyhow, it’s happened several times that I’ve noticed Homeland Security dropping in. I can’t tell if it’s because of a word or phrase I used, or because, like you, they just enjoy my writing and learning new things to tell their friends. My reaction is surprisingly subdued. For one thing, there’ve been no knocks on my door, nor strange sounds on my phone, nothing to suggest I’ve caused liberty bells to ring off the hook. On some level, it’s amusing. They’re not even hiding it, after all. That black SUV over there? Probably a meter reader. 
You can’t give power to a president from one party and go all high dudgeon when another uses it, too. The question isn’t whether President Obama is following the law; it’s whether the law, written in the wreckage of the towers, is appropriately placed between prevention and intrusion. No matter where the line is drawn, we’ll  be giving up something. Maybe it’s time to reconsider what we disregarded then, when being fed fear, incessantly, from without and from within; and fully to learn what’s being done in our name. If it’s necessary, shouldn’t we be able to handle it?

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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Down Under They DFA

In this country, we blame it on hormones, or on the women. In Australia, evidently, they demand personal responsibility. Remind me: who's exceptional again?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Here We Go Again...

So we're going to be arming the Syrian rebels. Good call: what could possibly go wrong?

I do, however, have the perfect plan. Give the guns to John McCain, send him over there, and let him hand them out. He's the one, after all, who said there's no problem telling the good rebels from the bad. Plus, it'll get him off the Sunday shows for a few weeks. Two stones; one old bird.

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Bad News For Teabaggers

Uh oh. Looks like our poor Republican brethren and cistern are gonna have to dig even deeper into their bag of tricks. When your party is undisguisedly and single-mindedly about white rich guys, what do you do with information like this?
Deaths exceeded births among non-Hispanic white Americans for the first time in at least a century, according to new census data, a benchmark that heralds profound demographic change. 
Over all, the number of non-Hispanic white Americans is expected to begin declining by the end of this decade. “These new census estimates are an early signal alerting us to the impending decline in the white population that will characterize most of the 21st century,” said William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution. 
The transition will mean that “today’s racial and ethnic minorities will no longer be dependent on older whites for their economic well-being,” Dr. Frey said. In fact, the situation may be reversed. “It makes more vivid than ever the fact that we will be reliant on younger minorities and immigrants for our future demographic and economic growth,” he said. 
The viability of programs like Social Security and Medicare, Dr. Frey said, “will be reliant on the success of waves of young Hispanics, Asians and blacks who will become the bulwark of our labor force.” The issues of minorities, he added, “will hold greater sway than ever before.”

I guess you grin and say, heh heh we were just kidding. We liked you all along, see? Just pranking, you know, all in good fun. Now, will you like us back? Huh? Please?

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Death By Skittle

It's been obvious from its inception that Fox "news" is anything but. By its own admission, and as a matter of public record, it's no more or less than a 24/7 propaganda wing of the Republican party. So, okay, we know all that.

But then this comes along, and we must wonder if there's even a word, or a phrase, or any form of human communication at all that can describe what it has become. A haven for lunatics; a place where reason goes to die; where those with no shame, no sense of embarrassment, no control over their neuroelectronics, gather to reinforce among themselves their belief that nothing they say is wrong; that by its very utterance, it proves their superiority to all other life-forms. It's a place of unrestrained idiocy, bathed in hate for all things not-them:

Martin, of course, did not have a gun. He was found with only Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea can.
“I know everybody keeps sarcastically saying about the Skittles,” Burns said. “You could probably kill somebody with Skittles.”
Fox host Jamie Colby replied, “But he didn’t take that iced tea and bang Zimmerman over the head with the bottle.”
“The thing is, yeah, you’re spinning a lot of hypotheticals,” Burns said. “And you could break a bottle of iced tea, right, with the jagged edge, and you could kill somebody with it.”
And thus is the killing justified. The kid was armed and dangerous.

"Back away from your bubblegum, or you'll get what you deserve." Yep. That's how Fox "news" sees it. (That sound you just heard was the last ray of hope, dying like, well, like a kid with Skittles and Iced Tea.)

[Added: as if that's not enough, they double down. What horrible people.]

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We Can Handle It

Yet again, Charles P. Pierce nails it:

... Tell me what is being done in my name and I can decide on the level of my own complicity. 
Tell me what is being done in my name and I can decide that I don't want to be complicit at all. 
Tell me what is being done in my name and I can be a citizen, in full, of a self-governing political commonwealth. That's your job. That's what those three words, and that great comma, [he means "We, the people"] are about. Don't tell me it's for my own good. I'm not 12. I know what is for my own good. Don't tell me to trust you. That ship sailed long ago. Goddammit, tell me. 
Tell me what is being done in my name. 
And I'll decide if it should continue or not.  
Tell me what is being done in my name. 
And I'll tell you if you should keep doing it or not. 
I will govern and not be governed. 
Tell me. 
Just tell me. 
Before someone else does, with a leak, or a bomb, or an airplane into a building. 
Tell me what is being done in my name. 
So I can be ready, when the time comes.

Read the whole thing, at the above link. It's the essential demand, and dilemma, of a free society. (Assuming there is such a thing.)

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Recognizing Ronnie

I'd have left out the Dole diaper joke; but I entirely agree with the history-unrewriting remarks about Saint Ronald, who started his reign of destruction when he was gov/ca and never stopped. Even if we give him "winning the cold war" (which he didn't: he just had the good fortune to be in office when the inevitable happened to a crumbling empire, expedited by the emergence of Mikhail Gorbachev on the scene), he's entirely and personally responsible for the persisting insanity and destructive disrespect for the non-wealthy, non-white, non-male, non-straight, non-native-born that consumes the party that reveres him.

Not to mention the fantasy-based economic policies that have failed from the get-go but which, exactly because they're based on feel-good fantasy and easy answers, his party continues to espouse to this day and beyond. So, yeah. What Bill said.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Kick In?

The guy playing the dad is a friend, a member of my little columnist cell (like me, he has weekly column around here, and, with another colummie, we have coffee now and then); the man behind it all is a grad of one of our local high schools. So is the pretty girl you saw. The lady who plays the mom is a professional actor, who's been in big films (including "Pacific Rim," about to be released) and TV shows. They have an actual Hollywood producer who's more or less donating his time. So, for that matter, are they all (other than certain union folk, who can't.) It speaks of commitment based on belief in its quality and importance. I share that belief.

I haven't seen the script, but I trust my friend Chuck when he says it's brilliant, and moving, and potentially great. Saturday night my wife and I went to a little kickstarter shindig for the project, and the people behind the scenes are impressive, too. If it gets made, no matter how far it goes, it'll be of professional quality; of that I have no doubt. I wanna see it.

So I just kicked in a chunk to help them reach their measly goal of $30K. I really hope they make it. Maybe someone who reads this will chip in, too. Then keep an eye on Sundance... No kidding.

If Not Then, How About Now?

DFW asked exactly the right questions when we all should have, too, but didn't.

... Assume for a moment that some of these measures really have helped make our persons and property safer—are they worth it? Where and when was the public debate on whether they’re worth it? Was there no such debate because we’re not capable of having or demanding one? Why not? Have we actually become so selfish and scared that we don’t even want to consider whether some things trump safety? What kind of future does that augur?

Maybe now's the time to try again. But where should the discussion be held? In Congress would surely be a waste of time. The subject is too serious and important to be left to a collection of self-promoting idiots and water-carrying hacks.

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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sunday Column

Shying away, temporarily, from the political rant (I've got plenty of 'em lined up), here's this week's Sunday newspaper column, on smoking:

My dad was a four-pack-a-day smoker for forty years, until he up and quit one day, cold turkey. He didn’t get lung cancer like my uncle, who smoked about as much; but he spent his last few year driving around with an oxygen generator on his scooter. My fabulous aunt’s heart gave out slowly, but she never gave up her Tareytons. She was found sitting upright at her kitchen table with an ashtray full of spent smokes sucked down to the filter; her last one burned out along with her, somehow without burning down the house. 
Well, of course I smoked. Began stealing from may dad’s coat pocket when I was in grade school, hanging with friends in the swamps behind Reed College, doing the French inhale, learning to light up in a high wind, cupping my hands like a movie cowboy, cool as an under-perfused leg. 
Playing sports, I didn’t smoke in high school, but did in college, a little. (Rugby!) I’m embarrassed to say I smoked in med school, too, and through my surgical internship. On the day I got married, I stopped, but started again when I took off for Vietnam three months later. Over there, cigarettes were so cheap a person really couldn’t afford not to. My last one ever I extinguished on command of the pilot who brought me home safe from the war a year later and forty-some years ago. Now, I hate being anywhere near the smell. 
When you’re born, your lungs are bubble-gum pink, sensuously soft, puffy and fluffy like whipped cream clouds. Possibly the most beautiful internal body part, lungs are visual and tactile joy, the color and texture of a fairy tale, a pillow of warm strawberry comfy cotton candy. If I had the skills, I’d tell you what it feels like to handle a nicely-kept lung; how gently but firmly it resists the hand, giving way like rising dough under the hand in finger-shaped furrows which purple down, then pink up on the next inhalation. There’s joy in seeing it. 
It doesn’t last long, not even in non-smokers: the sooty air we breathe darkens the lungs even of the most bodily pure. But smokers? Well, the devastation is shocking, and gruesome. How can something so pink and welcoming, something you’d like to curl up with and dream on, become another thing entirely, relentlessly, inexorably ugly, grey and black, pocked and pitted? Easily. Cigarettes. They destroy like an evil spell. 
When I operated on smokers, no matter the procedure, I expected trouble, and it was evident on first meeting: the sandpaper voice, insubstantial skin looking years older than its owner. The brown-stained fingers, the breath. Smokers thrash and buck against an inserted breathing tube, and produce green-black lung crud that the anesthesia person has to keep suctioning out. They wake up coughing, sometimes hard enough that, worried about my sutures holding, I’d press down hard on the incision, counter-forcing. When I was in training, before I’d learned that trick, and, maybe, when my suturing left a little to be desired, one patient came open, pop-pop-pop, like a busted zipper, coughing hard as a person could cough without bringing up a lung. 
Smokers heal more slowly, with more risk of infection than others. I’ve seen patients hold cigarettes to the hole in their neck where their cancerous larynx used to be, or in stubs that once were fingers, choked off by nicotinized arterioles. It’s a hard addiction to kick. 
It’s almost a given that patients who need arterial reconstruction are or have been smokers. Often it’s pretty desperate surgery: trying to bypass or clear the clogs that have built up, to stave off eventual amputation, sewing to smaller and smaller vessels, against the laws of physics and plumbing; or stretching them open with balloons and stents, temporizing. 
They say smoking is increasing among the young. Why? What makes them willing to grow old and sick and wrinkled and rank before their time? I guess at that age you can’t see it coming. I didn’t, not then. 
I know my writing is unlikely to change a political mind; and based on some of the emails I get, I should probably stop trying. But maybe if one person reads this and quits smoking, or never starts, I could, even if I’ll never know, legitimately claim usefulness. Don’t smoke. It’s one of the worst things you can do to yourself. A surgeon knows that much, if nothing else. 

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Friday, June 7, 2013

A Sign From God

If we've learned anything from Pat Robertson and other evangelicals over the years, it's that god uses hurricanes like pitchers use the high and tight one: as a message pitch. So when Mitt Romney blames his loss on Hurricane Sandy, I think we need to consider it in that light.

Before that, though, I'd say we need to know where Mitt stands (and, sure, I understand that that's about as stable a concept as ol' Galloping Gertie up there) on the matter of our maker manifesting meaning via meteorological manipulations. And, given that Mitt has long since proved he'd say anything at any time to anyone, maybe someone should ask Pat Robertson himself to comment on the assertion.  Because that's something I'd really like to see.

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