Thursday, October 31, 2013

Trends In Research

Brain Trust


A nice lady sent me the above. I find it sobering, because although the US is clearly still a world leader in research, the priorities are being skewed toward military applications, and the total amount spent on research -- especially in areas of civilian import, compared to less wealthy nations -- seems far too little. And, if the projections are accurate, we'll be falling further behind China in the near future.

This, to me, is teabaggerism at its most short sighted; although, by definition, teabaggerism and shortsightedness are one and the same. Having been given excuses for selfishness, scapegoats to blame, and nonstop propagandists to reinforce their self-defeating and misplaced priorities, teabaggers, convinced by their behind-the-curtain wealthy patrons to act against their own self-interest, happily support the redirecting our resources away from the future of their own kids. Those proclaimers of American "exceptionalism" are putting us on the path to mediocrity. At best.

[Direct link to source]

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

They Think You're Stupid

Congressional Rs sure are a funny bunch of people. And they sure think their voters are idiots:

Of course, since their voters voted for them, they are idiots. So there's one thing teabaggRs got right. I assume they think they're being clever as hell. Having it both ways. Doing our founders proud. That it looks ridiculous must not even occur to them. Such is the bubble in which they live. Hard to believe there's still oxygen in it.

[Added: Charles P. Pierce weighs in and, as usual, it's much better said than mine:

... But, still, there has to be a limit to the extent to which these people will grovel to their own fears, real and otherwise. There has to be a moment of, simply, enough. At some point, you have to get tired of constructing alibis for having done the right thing. At some point, you have to decide that the people yelling on the radio don't matter as much as the country does. At some point, you have to stop apologizing to people who never will accept that apology. At some point. We are not there yet, and they are bringing the country down, and that is not symbolic. That is what is actually happening.]

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Same Old, Same Old

Teabagging Republicans are nothing if not predictable: they'll do everything they can to obstruct progress, and when they're successful they point to the lack of progress and rail louder than if someone had dipped their scroti in hot tea. But one, and only the latest, example:

The Obama administration originally had asked for more than half a billion dollars to spend on public relations and outreach for the law. House Republicans had returned with an offer of nothing.That's right: zero dollars. Without necessary funds, the Department of Health and Human Services worried it would not have the necessary money to pay for navigators to help people enroll in health care, for the technology needed to implement the exchanges and for the public relations campaign that was required to inform citizens about what the law actually did. 
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made the controversial move of asking insurance companies and nonprofit organizations to donate money and help. Republicans were outraged. She asked for more money. She was refused...
... Republicans refused to appropriate money needed to implement Obamacare. When Sebelius tried to shift money from other areas to help do what needed to be done,she was attacked by Senate Republicans. At every step, Republicans fought measures to get money to put towards implementation. 
Is it really a surprise then that implementation hasn't gone smoothly?
I don't excuse the problems with the healthcare website. Someone screwed up, for sure, and it's at minimum a huge embarrassment. But Rs not only refused adequate funding upfront, they're conveniently forgetting how screwed up Bushcare was at first, and how long it took to fix. With the help (the link is worth a click!), unlike today, of the opposition party.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Spears Chuckers

I've written several times about my horror at the US's use of torture. But, as in all things, there are gray zones (as far as I can tell, this is not satire): 

The only thing Somali pirates hate more than not kidnapping people is “Oops I Did It Again” by Britney Spears–at least according to merchant navy officer Rachel Owens. 
In a bid to deter the pirates ... ships have begun blasting the poppy oeuvre of Spears... 
“Her songs were chosen by the security team because they thought the pirates would hate them most,” Owens said. ... 
Of course, there are other artists the ships could use, but they’re trying to deter pirates, not torture them. 
Said Steven Jones, of the Security Association for the Maritime Industry: “I’d imagine using Justin Bieber would be against the Geneva Convention.
I saw "Captain Phillips" the other day. I think this method would be at least as effective as fire hoses.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Relaxation Technique

Got this from a valued reader, and commenter back in the day, presumably in response to the sour mood of this morning's post:

In case you are having a rough day, here's a surefire stress management technique.
 The funny thing is that it really does work and will make you smile.
1. Picture yourself lying on your belly on a warm rock that hangs out over a crystal clear stream.
2. Picture yourself with both your hands dangling in the cool running water.
 3. Birds are sweetly singing in the cool mountain air.
 4. No one knows your secret place.
 5. You are in total seclusion from that hectic place called the world.
6. The soothing sound of a gentle waterfall fills the air with a cascade of serenity.
7. The water is so clear that you can make out the face of the Republican Congressman you are holding underwater.
 See it worked. You're smiling. You're feel better already.

And it did. Until I realized there was no rock, no water, and no Congressman.

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Status Report

I'm trying not to give so much of a shit, and it seems to be working, a little. Or maybe it's less about no longer caring; just feeling less like writing about it. Sort of whatever it was that led me to quit my weekly newspaper column: a sense of futility. And of living in a world populated by people I simply can't understand.

A group of people I know, medical types, mostly, who don't have to worry about money, were participating in a thread on Facebook recently (I couldn't put in my two cents because the thread was started by someone who's not a FB "friend.") All except one were expressing outrage -- pretty much dredging up Mitt Romney's 47% complaints -- at how many people in the US are on what they see as the dole. You know, like Social Security, disability, food stamps. Those things that are destroying America. The possibility that it's the other way around doesn't occur to them.

One of them, and only one, tried to point out the obvious: central to all this is the ever-increasing income and wealth disparity in this country. Teabagging Republicans have done everything they can to prevent the government from creating jobs beyond the stimulus, for which none of them voted, and which was too full of tax breaks and not enough job creation. To get R votes. They loves them some tax structure that makes the disparity even worse, and wants them even more of it. So when the inevitable happens -- the rich getting way, way richer, and the not-rich getting nowhere -- they look at those who, as a result of their policies, can't find jobs, who need public assistance of one sort or another, and scream "what is this country coming to?" Horrible, is what they think it is. All of those people curb-thrown by their revenue-refusing, job-preventing Congressional nay-saying; why, it's, it's... it's almost as if Reaganomics was a load of crap!! But how could that be? It's been so good to us, they think.

Railing their outrage, not a one of them, save good-hearted Jim, cares to address this central failing, this rotting at the core caused by the policies they so love. None wants to consider how such massive wealth and income inequality is unsustainable. For the very capitalism they so love, and for the democracy they don't, really.

What's their solution? More of the same, only worse: cut food stamps, reduce Medicaid, defund Affordable Care, gut Social Security. Cut taxes even more on the wealthy. Make it, in all ways, headed even faster to failure. The obvious eludes them, rejected out of hand: a tax structure that allows for programs to end the dependency they find so offensive. Jobs. Education. Research. Rebuilding our failing infrastructure. Facilitating innovation. Raising wages.

What these people -- these already made-it, teabagging people -- want is even more of exactly that which has led us to where we are and which will block all avenues out of it. In this "recovery," we've created more billionaires, banks are rolling in (non-lended) dough, executive pay is beyond the sky, greater and greater wealth is concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer. That, more than anything else, explains the situation those people find so disturbing. What else would one expect, when virtually all capital is in the hands of a small percentage; and when the last thing they're interested in is sharing any of it? To argue that it's wrong is not to be a socialist, or an anti-capitalist. Quite, and entirely, the opposite. Because its effect is to make our consumer-based, consumption-based (for better or worse) capitalist economy fail. Which it's doing, right before their blindered eyes.

Those who actually believe in capitalism, in a consumer-based economy, in the ethic of production producing success, ought to be those most alarmed at the trend, born when Saint Ronald planted his trickle-down brain worm in those of others, living on despite its obvious failure, because Ronnie gave everyone an excuse for being selfishly short-sighted. Instead, they point at the results and harumph, and vote Republican. Instead, they want more of the same. It doesn't work. It never has. Our system depends on enough money in the hands of enough people to make it hum. Republican policies, which my friends seem to love, is the root cause of the very failures that fill them with such outrage. And they're as blind to it as they can be.

I'd have broken into the thread and said all of this there, if I could have; and it would have done not a damn bit of good. Thoughts passing in the night. Non-overlapping realities, and, to me, only one of them supports the definition. It's like living in a world where gravity is stronger on half the population; where half its inhabitants have rods in the place of cones, swim in air, and breathe seawater for sustenance. We'll never understand each other.

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

If Only...

Not a "real" ad by anyone planning to run it. But, if thinking things over were a characteristic of those to whom it's aimed, it could be effective. But it's not, so it won't.

A Rational Texan

The meat of it begins around 1 minute. Who knew judges were elected on party affiliation in Texas? In any case, it'll be interesting to see how it turns out.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Truth To Power

No one's listening, of course. Not even (especially not) in the White House.

He's Talking To You, American Theocrats

This new Pope is someone I could have a beer with. If all believers were like him, we'd be cool. His latest:

“The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology,” he said, according to Radio Vatican. “And ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. 
“And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.” 
“The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people,” Francis added. “But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh?”
He said Christian ideology was the result of a lack of true prayer.
Couldn't have said it better. It addresses those heartless and rigidly hide-bound politicians of the right who think (or, at least, figure they can convince their voters) they're doing god's work while, instead, blinded by their prejudices and hatreds, use what passes for religion in their shallow minds as a bludgeon to beat those with whom they disagree.

Of course, the last guy they'd listen to, those holier than holies, is a Pope.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Circular Firing Squabble

Full cartoon here.

Watch, And Be Impressed

Watching this, I found myself wondering how it'd all have been had Hillary won in 2008. But then I thought what really made her was her term as Secretary of State, and that wouldn't have happened had Barack Obama not won. So the only question is whether her age will be a factor in 2016. Because, otherwise, she'd be perfect!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Mea Wronga

Looks like I might have been wrong when I wrote about the budget deal giving the IRS even more power. Turns out, according to this article anyway, that the deal was virtually meaningless regarding income verification:

... But that demand didn't make it into the agreement signed by the president Wednesday night. Instead, the deal basically requires two submitted reports in the course of the next year. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is due to submit the first report by Jan. 1, which must detail "the procedures employed by American Health Benefit Exchanges to verify eligibility for credits and cost-sharing reductions described in subsection."...
So teabaggRs got even more of nothing than I'd thought. They shut down the government, cost it billions of dollars, added to the deficits, and got nothing for it.

As well they should have.

Well, they did get that thing Ds had asked for about 21 times and Rs had refused: a special committee of congressfolk to address the budget going forward. Naturally, though, those same teabaggRs who've been whining that President Obama wouldn't negotiate as long as they held a gun to the country have stated, repeatedly, that tax increases are off the table. Those martyred and solitary holders of the flame of liberty that lights America, who said Obama doesn't negotiate in good faith, have said, in effect, that the only measures that deserve consideration are the only ones they're for: cuts. If that's good faith, if that's "negotiation," grits ain't groceries and Mona Lisa was a man.

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The lady knows her stuff and speaks the truth.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Whom Would Jesus Starve?

Turns out, we got Jesus all wrong:
Last month, the Family Research Council’s Kenneth Blackwell hailed House Republicans for passing a massive cut in food aid for low-income families, arguing that there is “nothing more Christian” than kicking millions off the food stamp program. 
FRC head Tony Perkins had a similar take during an interview yesterday with Janet Mefferd, who askin him about Jonathan Merritt’s recent article: Government Shutdown May Drive More Young Christians from GOP. Perkins told Mefferd that while Christians should be active in political affairs because government reflects the values of society, they should leave issues like helping the less fortunate out of it.
Nice guys. Can't wait for their theocracy. Might not have to much longer.

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Friday, October 18, 2013

It's All Been About ED

So it turns out this whole thing, this laying off hundreds of thousands of people, costing the US hundreds of billions of present dollars and even more in future borrowing costs because the threat of default has raised interests rates, damaging food programs, research... all that has been to maintain a Boehner.

All Boehner was after, in the end (so to speak), was to keep his cred as a tough guy with the crazies in his party. Take us to the brink like a tough guy, blame the failure not on the insane and anti-democratic destructiveness of their attempts at extortion, but on the weakness of those unwilling to cause irreparable ruin over established law. After all this, John Boehner, the Speaker under whom virtually no legislation has passed, who asked to be judged by how much legislation they repeal (none! which seems a little damning unless the plan was to repeal nothing), is safe in his job because he fought a meaningless and doomed fight to corrupt our most basic legislative processes.

If that isn't the most awful sort of cynicism, the lust for power trumping the good of the country, I don't know what is.

(My friend Glenn sends along this link, which provides some insight.)

... Rather than revisit their strategy of supporting Republicans after this week’s near-disaster, influential organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are standing behind Boehner. More important, Boehner’s friends in the business community are getting ready to take sides in a few Republican primary races against tea party candidates in Michigan, Idaho and Alabama who could cause the House speaker more trouble...

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What he said is exactly correct; it's how it's always worked, and how it was designed to work. What Rs have done, and have been doing since the election(s) is to turn it all upside down and try to rule by extortion and hostage taking, because they're unable to win enough elections based on their "message." That there are still millions out there who can't/won't/will never understand it, is all the evidence we need of how badly off course we've gone. And how little those "patriotic" American-exceptionalism claimers understand or, more correctly, like about our form of government.

This is simply first-grade civics (except in religionist charter schools and in Texas). It's basic. And yet, to about half our country and to 100% of teabaggers, it's not. It's as foreign as their ancestors were when they arrived in this country. 

Of course since you-know-who the you-know-what said it, they'll never listen in the first place, let alone think about it. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Still Wondering?

Anyone still wondering who was for the shutdown and breaching the debt limit, and who was against it?

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A reader forwarded this open letter to the Republican Party. It says everything I've been saying, and what should be obvious to any nonfoxified observer. Which means it'll either not be seen by those who could use a little reality-testing, or, if they happen to, it'll be rejected like a mismatched kidney. (I will say, though, that it's more of a screed than a thoughtful dissection. Not that I haven't done the same. And everything it says is demonstrably true):

...Thanks to you, Tea baggers – and many others among the GOP ranks – the GOP has placed itself in the position of having to try to appease a wide variety of unreasonable, unjust, unconstitutional, immoral, greedy and mutually exclusive demands – from a variety of radical, fascist, bigoted, misogynistic, extremist, ultra-wealthy, corporate, private military, special interest and Christian theocratic organizations and ideologues. 
These interests have now quite literally bought and paid for the GOP and Tea Party – and many of these “personally interested parties” hold positions of power among your ranks. The ongoing sabotage of your party comes from within and from without. 
You have successfully created a public media bubble and political echo chamber which have allowed you to create and propagate a “convincing” alternate reality that’s caused and allowed you to morph into your current delusional, harmful and self-destructive form – but that bubble is beginning to pop, and the echo chamber is cracking...
One hopes the last part is true, too. Time will tell. Even if it is, the only way it'd matter is if people around the country decide to unelect teabagger-facilitating Republican representatives. It won't happen in any of the gerrymandered districts. So it'd be up to the elusive "reasonable" conservatives. Are there enough of them to make a difference? In districts where their votes would have meaning? Would they go so far as to vote D? If not, would electing "moderate" Rs mean they'd stand up for true (and truly dying) conservatism? Seems too many bridges, too much far.

On the other hand, after the vote to re-open the government, etc, there's this, from Andy Borowitz:

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Residents of the District of Columbia were roused from their sleep by a massive fireworks display over the White House just after midnight, as President Obama declared what he called “a national day of gloating.”
In addition to a ticker-tape parade, the day’s events will include a screening on the Mall of a clip reel of Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s marathon Senate speech, punctuated by sad trombone sounds.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

So It Has Come To This

Remember when Rs were screaming about the IRS being "in charge" of the ACA? That it's an unacceptable intrusion, and we just need to get rid of the IRS along with the ACA? (And evolution.) Well, after all the sturm und drang, the posturing, the finger pointing, the manipulative use of gullible old vets at memorials, it's come to this: ending the threat of default turns on agreeing to give the IRS more power, more of a role in the ACA. Per demand of Congressional Rs. Rather than random checking of financial status the way the IRS does for tax returns, Rs have mandated that the dreaded IRS step up its intrusions and check every single applicant for subsidized health insurance.

Fact is, I can't object to the idea. But it's funny, isn't it? It'll make the IRS larger and cost taxpayers more money. It'll, of necessity one assumes, give the IRS more wherewithal to intrude in the very ways that teabaggRs equate with Nazi Kenyans. (Of course, it'll only be on poor people, so who cares, right?)

And, oh yeah: they've also demanded that, unlike the private corporations they so love, who pay for part of their employees' health insurance because free market, the US no longer contributes to the health insurance costs of their own Congressional staff people.

The deal, of course, at best just pushes the next crisis to January. So the idiots will have yet another chance to ruin us all. And, no doubt, another, and another...

Hypocrisy? Stupidity? Selfish and short sighted destruction of everything that's made America great -- exceptional, you might say? Yep. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you today's Congressional Republicans, beholden to the most radical and terminally dumb members of their party, with no enlightenment in sight.

I'd laugh, but I know it'd devolve into sobs so great I might never be able to stop. Plus I'm writing this @ 9:30 am. Who knows what'll happen next?

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To Shoot Oneself In One's Foot And Call It Governance

It's perhaps the greatest irony among many seething in the cesspool of congressional dysfunction and teabaggery currently masquerading as governance: as the shutdown lingers on and default looms, American "exceptionalism," that oft-used and misunderstood (probably, in part, because it has no meaning) phrase, will be the ultimate victim of Cruzian catastrophizing.

In fact, no matter what the outcome of the hostage-taking and extortion, it's pretty clear the rest of the world is beginning to realize we can be counted on no more.
In Britain, Jon Cunliffe, who will become deputy governor of the Bank of England next month, told members of Parliament that banks should be developing contingency plans to deal with an American default if one happens. 
And Chinese leaders called on a “befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanized world.” In a commentary on Sunday, the state-run Chinese news agency Xinhua blamed “cyclical stagnation in Washington” for leaving the dollar-based assets of many nations in jeopardy. It said the “international community is highly agonized.”

Besides which, beyond mere perceptions, there's the truth of it as well: we're affected too much by people who regard science as evil and education as some sort of fey silliness that liberals do, a thing to be laughed at. To the extent that the world might remain "Americanized," if teabaggRs have their way, it'll only be in military might. Which is useful, I suppose, as long as we keep on invading someplace once in a while. But in terms of invention, leadership in education, innovation, and, even, to the extent that it might have been true, moral leadership; not so much. Not anymore.

No one, not even a Cruzopalinesque teabagger, could deny that if relative powers were reversed and if Ds demanded gun control, for example, when they couldn't achieve legislatively, as ransom for keeping the military running, Rs would be pissing in their teapots and the folks over at Fox would be doing a Jonesian face-melt.

I have email conversations with people who call themselves conservatives and who are happy as this over the R tactics. I've posited the opposite-party situation to them and, surprisingly, have never heard back. Legislation by extortion. It's come to this: complete abandonment of democratic principles, and self-described conservatives can't think past first base about it.

I'm certain I'd be as appalled if Ds were doing this as I am as Rs do it; on the other hand, it's easy to say, because I'd be willing to bet what remains of my soul that I'll never see it happen.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Rule-Makers

For those who still cling to the belief, reinforced daily by teabaggRs and their paid propagandists, that the shutdown is Ds fault, or that Rs -- poor little maligned dears that they are -- are shocked, shocked that it happened, the above video, despite the arcane rules being discussed, makes it clear what happened.

Specifically, and right before Ds were to bring up a resolution requesting a vote on the Senate bill to prevent the government shutdown (which was passed, of course, by the Ds in the Senate), House Rs changed long-standing rules, giving that power only to the majority leader; thus guaranteeing that the shutdown would happen. How many things can you think of that are wrong with that?

God Bless America, land of the free and home of the brave. Whose form of governance is now in ruins thanks to those who carry copies of Constitution under their powdered wigs, and spend their time using veterans to pretend they're innocent as the baby Jesus in the bullrushes at Valley Forge.


Monday, October 14, 2013


Once again, Charles P Pierce's words are far more effective than mine. But it's been the height of hypocrisy for the teabagging wing of what's left among the smoking ruins of the formerly credible Republican party to whip out faux outrage at the WWII memorial, over the shutdown they brought to us all:

... It is not merely unseemly, but positively obscene for people like Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee, and the unspeakable Princess Dumbass of the Northwoods to use surviving World War II veterans to advance a political agenda that would make the lives of those veterans immeasurably worse. It is obscene for them to use old, brave men as camouflage for bigotry and nonsense. It is obscene for them to borrow courage that never would find in themselves and to gussy it up in Confederate flags and trot it out as an an audience for crackpots like Larry Klayman. It is obscene for them to claim for themselves the dead of Normandy, and the Bulge, and Okinawa, and Saipan. It is obscene for them to try to purify their own vandalism in worthier blood than flows in their veins... 
... How dare these idiots? Tailgunner Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee, the constitooshunal skolar from Utah, and Ms. Palin. How dare they traffick in this manner of grave-robbing? They would all throw these veterans off Medicare, close the VA hospitals, bury the brave old men and women in substandard nursing homes rather than give an inch away of their indomitable ideology of entitled selfishness. Ted Cruz doesn't think the government has a role in making the lives of these veterans easier. Mike Lee thinks the Founders wanted vets to starve. Sarah Palin doesn't think, period, and is proud of it.

Yet again are we reminded of the futility of speaking truth. The influence of such people as these is simply too great; their views too easily swallowed by those too willing to believe in their own martyred righteousness. Truth, understood, requires one too many (i.e. any number >1) cognitive steps for those to whom Cruzopalinesque deceptions are so accurately aimed. The evidence is everywhere.

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Simple Question

I've had several conversations, and have been reading comments online, from people who either say the shutdown is all Obama's and the Ds fault; or that each side is equally to blame; or that they just find it too hard to figure out who's behind it.

Well, here's the single question the answer to which ought to clarify: who is it that's trying to get a vote on reopening the government with a clean CR, and who is it that refuses to bring it to vote, or filibusters the resolution?

Makes it pretty clear, doesn't it?

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sunday Column

After pushing the timeline back a little, I've finally published the last one, a non-controversial smooth glide out:

My first wonderment in med school might have been the nephron, the basic functional unit of the kidney. Its biochemistry and physiology are perfect examples of the body’s complexity, the precision of its inner workings. (Don't ask me to recount it in detail; that part of my brain has long since been emptied and refilled with concerns about adequate fiber intake.) Looking at it one way, the essence of medical school is the building of a sense of wonder at the elegance of the human body, and the essence of becoming a surgeon is realizing how ephemeral it all is.

What a marvel, that nephron: microtubules coming and going, the physics of glomerular filtration. And then the brain, electric with traveling ions! Muscles and mitochondria, teeming with practical alchemy; and, yes, DNA and RNA really are as marvelous as you think. Or, wow: that manufacturing powerhouse, the liver. It's simply astonishing. Whereas the torrent of new information raining down during those years is more than enough to swamp even the most absorbent skull, it's impossible not to be thrilled by the privileged glimpses you get of the wondrous workings of the human body. That it’s so complex just reinforces the magnificence of it all. Trauma, with its power to destroy, is the last thing on your mind. Constantly dazzled by unending revelations, you’re anxious to see them in the context of actual people, albeit sick ones.

Impossibly, time passes. Now you're in an operating room, staring deep into a stellate smash of livid liver, a polluted palette of discolored destruction: fragments of hepatic mush coddled among clots and rivers of blood, stained with bile and mixed with enteric contents. Its exquisite enzyme pathways are invisible, chemistry irrelevant, micro-worlds of organelles within cells of no concern. Steel clamps, strong sutures, and a gentle touch, not classroom recitations, are what’s needed. Weak is the capsule holding it all in, split apart like broiled bratwurst. How little it takes!

Grey bits of brain on a stretcher hardly reflect the crackling within its synapses, sodium and potassium flashing along axons, or the effects of countless interconnected neurons as they influence each other’s electric potentials, making a mind. A hand, with its pulleys and cables, its capabilities that set us apart, when rent apart looks frail and helpless and pathetically flimsy. That most singular marker of humanity, when wounded, always made me a little queasy on the first viewing. Strangely, none of the rest of it bothered me much; not physically, anyway. And I confess that repairing a hand, using microscopes or loupes, the finest of hair-fine sutures, the most delicate of needle-drivers and forceps to reconnect sliced nerves and tendons, was a joy to a still-budding surgeon in training, a laboratory of eye-hand precision, exposing that almost embarrassing, unspoken, paradoxical pleasure surgeons can feel at the moment of another’s pain. The only operation my wife ever saw me do was one such, when I sneaked her into the county hospital in the days when the nurses were okay with it, and before rules made it impossible.

There are times, when driving, or walking, when wielding a knife in or out of the operating room -- or just breathing! -- when an unintended recollection will appear, from experience, of how tenuous, how easily broken is this dazzling work of nature inside of which we locate ourselves. It's gelatin, it's a wet paper bag, it’s more breakable than antique glass. I know the thought isn’t unique to surgeons, or health-folk in general. But we get a uniquely intimate view, and there are times when it haunts me. I see dead people. After operating on an injured child, I couldn’t wait to get home to hug my own, fighting the desire to lock him in his room, encase him in soft blankets until he grew up.

So cinch your seatbelt, and keep your eyes on the road. Put down that cellphone, and, for God’s sake, take a pass if you’ve drunk too much. Don’t tailgate. Wear a helmet when cycling, don’t ignore stop signs. Look both ways when you cross the street, take a deep breath. You’re fragile as a flower.
And that’s that. Thanks for reading, and for the great emails. Thanks to The Herald. For those who’ve suggested otherwise, the decision is entirely mine, and the only criticism that’s stung is my own, of myself. If you miss me, search “Sid Schwab blog” for politics. If you like my doctor stuff, track down “Surgeonsblog.”
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Friday, October 11, 2013

They're Winning

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Voice In The Wilderness

And this is from a conservative, of which, evidently a rational few still remain: 

... Why are Republicans inflicting real, immediate, and tangible harm on the economy in order to accomplish the impossible (delay or defund Obamacare) address an abstract future threat (debt) or merely to save face? Why isn’t the majority of the House majority isolating its rightmost faction and ending this pointlessly asinine pissing match?
Contra the conventional wisdom, I maintain that no one in leadership will lose his job. The very nature of Tea Party opposition, whether it issues from the likes ofBazooka Ted and His Gang in the Senate or the unappeasable Jacobins in the House, is to throw weight without consequence. They evince no interest in actually wielding power from the inside, which would require restraint, conciliation, and moderation. They are hysterics on the brink of utter demoralization. The danger they pose to democratic norms, institutional comity, and political functionality is precisely why they can’t be bargained with; they must be marginalized.
It’s time, Republicans: it’s time to throw the One Ring into Mount Doom.
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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Listen Up

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The Party Of Lincoln

Because of its location, this article won't get the attention it deserves. It's among the most compelling analyses of the strategies, goals, and failings of today's Republican party I've ever seen. Because of the information bubble in which they live, as I've written, the people who'd benefit from pondering it will never see it; and if they were to stumble upon it, they'd reject it out of hand, without making the effort to consider its points and to refute them, if it were possible, directly.

"Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us.You will rule or ruin in all events."
Abraham Lincoln, addressing the Southern people in his Cooper Union Address, February 27, 1860.

The Republican Party still likes to fancy itself "the Party of Lincoln", so Lincoln's words in his Cooper Union Address are a particularly apt rebuke, especially since they've been talking about shutting down the government since before the 2010 mid-term elections...

... budgets passed both houses of Congress months ago, but Republicans repeatedly refused to appoint conference committee members so that a compromise could be struck, which is the way that budgets are normally passed in the US. ...

We should note that both houses have agreed to the same discretionary spending level - $986bn annually. This gives House Republicans 90 percent of what they want, and severly hampers the pace of economic recovery. No one's even arguing over that. Obama's 2014 budget called for spending $1.15tn, compared to $966bn in the GOP House budget.

Blame game
He's aleady given away the store, yet Republicans continue to falsely accuse the president of refusing to compromise because he won't also agree to destroy - or at least undermine - his signature piece of legislation, Obamacare, just as it was about to go public. ...

There's much more in the article, including this statement of the obvious except to the oblivious:

...  the failure of American conservative thought, which is perennially engaged in defending the power of privileged classes and individuals, and demonising designated outgroups - women, minorities and immigrants ...

As long as the designated outgroups are isolated and powerless enough, this may seem like a successful political strategy, but as the outgroups grow larger and larger, its political viability has crumbled. Which is, why, for example, Republicans lost the national popular vote in the House of Representatives by almost two million votes, even though extreme gerrymandering kept them in power - but unable to govern...

And this calorie-rich food for thought:

... American conservatives may not know it, but the first modern welfare state was a conservative creation - by Otto von Bismarck  in Germany in the 1880s. Bismarck was responding to the electoral challenge of socialists, but he gained the support of industrialists who realised that universal health-care, disability insurance and old-age pensions would combine to provide the most productive workforce they could hope for...

I highly recommend reading the whole thing. You'll be among the few, I guess, who will.

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013


It's clear that the Koch brothers and the politicians they've bought are willing to do anything to stop the Affordable Care Act from implementation. They've been planning the shutdown since day one of Obama's reelection. What's not clear at all, to me anyway, is why? Why do multi-billionaires find it such a threat? Surely, it's not, per se, that people who've been heretofore left out of the system will finally have a way in. There's nothing about poor people getting access to health care, in and of itself, that threatens their empire. Is there?

The only thing that makes sense, if that's the word, to me, is that they're deathly afraid that the ACA will work as hoped, and that once people have access to decent care, and once they figure out they've been lied to by the right-wing scream machine, they'll be grateful Democratic voters for a long time. Even then, why should that be such a big deal that the the KBs are willing to cause worldwide chaos to prevent it?

Greed. That's the only thing I can think of. In particular, their billions aren't enough for them: they want free reign to do whatever they want, to workers, to the land, to our future, in order to make more and more money. And when Democrats are in control, such things as regulations -- concern for the environment, worker safety, that sort of silly thing, which are anathema to pure corporate greed -- are on the table. Which, if your only goal is personal profit, is to be avoided at all costs, including the hundreds of millions they're spending to fight the ACA.

Why else would it be so critical to them? And, assuming I'm right (happy to hear better explanations: my email address is onsite), isn't that a special kind of greed? A kind that's so all-consuming there's no amount of success and wealth that's enough, no point at which one can stop thinking about personal aggrandizement and begin to consider the larger implications? I mean, I think I'd be ready to call it quits after my first billion or two.

So, even if the explanation is as I said, it's still beyond understanding in even the most basic human terms. I'll give them this: in today's Republican party they've found the perfect forum. In the Tea Party, the perfect substrate of gullibility. And, of course, along with other billionaires like R. Murdoch, the perfect platform of propagandistic persuasion in right-wing media.

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Worth A Read

There are several political writers that make me look like a kid with a crayon. Charles P. Pierce is one. Timothy Egan is another. His latest is most definitely worth a read. It begins thus, and gets more on point in its molten outrage as it carries on:

Sarah Palin finally got her death panels — a direct blow from the Republican House. In shutting down the government, leaving 800,000 people without a paycheck and draining the economy of $300 million a day, the Party of Madness also took away last-chance cancer trials for children at the National Institutes of Health. 
And now that the pain that was dismissed as a trifle on Monday, a “slimdown” according to the chuckleheads at Fox News, is revealed as tragic by mid-week, the very radicals who caused the havoc are trying to say it’s not their fault.
It’s too late. They flunked hostage-taking. About 30 or so Republicans in the House, bunkered in gerrymandered districts while breathing the oxygen of delusion, are now part of a cast of miscreants who have stood firmly on the wrong side of history.
The headline, today and 50 years from now, will be the same: Republicans closed the government to keep millions of their fellow Americans from getting affordable health care...
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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Cowards, Forever

The latest Democratic pipe dream is that the current insanity of Congressional Republicans could regain for them the House in 2014. Because, see, "powerful business interests" like the Chamber of Commerce, growing tired of economics by crisis, will scare up primary opponents to the Gohmerts of the world. Yeah. Right. Then what happens? Can you say "massive money pouring in from the Koch Brothers and nonstop smears from the RWS™?" Charles P. Pierce throws righteous water on the whole idea, ending with this truth:

The Reign Of The Morons is many things, but one of its most obvious causes is a complete failure of political courage within the Republican party. It isn't simply a matter of the party's having created a monster that it can no longer control -- although that's undeniable part of it -- it also is the fact that the party lacks a substantial center of power that even is willing to risk trying. Say what you will about Victor Frankenstein. He chased his creation to the ends of the earth. Where are the Republicans who are willing to ride the ice floe?

The sad and unavoidable fact is that we're past the point of no return with these guys. They're locked in, and doing god's work. (Question for M. Bachmann, referenced in that link: if Obama is bringing on end times, isn't he the one doing god's work?)

The most exceptionally exceptional country that ever was, most exceptionally. Going down in suicidal flames.

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Frighteningly True

When our Constitution was written, born of the sort of compromise now seen as ideological heresy by that part of the Republican party now wagging all dogs, it's clear none of the writers foresaw the emergence of such nihilism as we now see in teabaggRs. Turns out, our Constitutional government with its separate powers is an illusion, exposed when there emerged people willing to exploit its weakness with no regard for, much less understanding of, the consequences. It ran on a presumption of good will and a sense of common purpose, even in the face of disagreement. As when the Constitution was written. Now, it's meaningless. Turns out, people who carry copies of it in their pockets and wave them around like a flasher at a city park, couldn't actually care less about it. Claiming the opposite, and too power-hungry to recognize the difference, they're burning it down like the mere piece of parchment it always was.

For a really chilling explication of all this, one that requires only minimal reflection to see its truth, read this commentary by Jonathan Chait:

.... The debt ceiling turns out to be unexploded ordnance lying around the American form of government. Only custom or moral compunction stops the opposition party from using it to nullify the president’s powers, or, for that matter, the president from using it to nullify Congress’s. (Obama could, theoretically, threaten to veto a debt ceiling hike unless Congress attaches it to the creation of single-payer health insurance.) To weaponize the debt ceiling, you must be willing to inflict harm on millions of innocent people. It is a shockingly powerful self-destruct button built into our very system of government, but only useful for the most ideologically hardened or borderline sociopathic. But it turns out to be the perfect tool for the contemporary GOP: a party large enough to control a chamber of Congress yet too small to win the presidency, and infused with a dangerous, millenarian combination of overheated Randian paranoia and fully justified fear of adverse demographic trends. ... Boehner himself is thus the one weak link in the House Republicans’ ability to carry out a kind of rolling coup against the Obama administration. Unfortunately, Boehner’s control of his chamber is tenuous enough that, like the ailing monarch of a crumbling regime, it’s impossible to strike an agreement with him in full security it will be carried out... 
... How to settle this dispute? Here is where Linz’s analysis rings chillingly true: “There is no democratic principle on the basis of which it can be resolved, and the mechanisms the Constitution might provide are likely to prove too complicated and aridly legalistic to be of much force in the eyes of the electorate.” This is a fight with no rules. The power struggle will be resolved as a pure contest of willpower.  
In our Founders’ defense, it’s hard to design any political system strong enough to withstand a party as ideologically radical and epistemically closed as the contemporary GOP. (Its proximate casus belli—forestalling the onset of universal health insurance—is alien to every other major conservative party in the industrialized world.) The tea-party insurgents turn out to be right that the Obama era has seen a fundamental challenge to the constitutional order of American government. They were wrong about who was waging it.

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Monday, October 7, 2013


Yet again, someone has sent me the following poem, eyes brimming with patriotic pride no doubt, as confirmed by the ending exhortation:


He was getting old and paunchy
And his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the Legion,
Telling stories of the past.

Of a war that he once fought in
And the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies;
They were heroes, every one.

And 'tho sometimes to his neighbors
His tales became a joke,
All his buddies listened quietly
For they knew where of he spoke.

But we'll hear his tales no longer,
For ol' Joe has passed away,
And the world's a little poorer
For a Veteran died today.

He won't be mourned by many,
Just his children and his wife.
For he lived an ordinary,
Very quiet sort of life.

He held a job and raised a family,
Going quietly on his way;
And the world won't note his passing,
'Tho a Veteran died today.

When politicians leave this earth,
Their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing,
And proclaim that they were great.

Papers tell of their life stories
From the time that they were young,
But the passing of a Veteran
Goes unnoticed, and unsung.

 Is the greatest contribution
To the welfare of our land,
Some jerk who breaks his promise
And cons his fellow man?

Or the ordinary fellow
Who in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his country
And offers up his life?

The politician's stipend
And the style in which he lives,
Are often disproportionate,
To the service that he gives.

While the ordinary Veteran,
Who offered up his all,
Is paid off with a medal
And perhaps a pension, small.

It is not the politicians
With their compromise and ploys,
Who won for us the freedom
That our country now enjoys.

Should you find yourself in danger,
With your enemies at hand,
Would you really want some cop-out,
With his ever-waffling stand?

Or would you want a Veteran
His home, his country, his kin,
Just a common Veteran,
Who would fight until the end.

He was just a common Veteran,
And his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us
We may need his likes again.

For when countries are in conflict,
We find the Veteran's part,
Is to clean up all the troubles
That the politicians start.

If we cannot do him honor
While he's here to hear the praise,
Then at least let's give him homage
At the ending of his days.

Perhaps just a simple headline
In the paper that might say:

PLEASE pass On The Patriotism! YOU can make a difference.
If you are proud of our Vets, then send this to them. You'll be glad you did.

This time it was sent to fellow college classmates in a chat-room sort of deal, and I responded that such sentiments have always bothered me, and I'm a veteran of the Vietnam War. Not because it's pretty crappy greeting-card poetry, but because of the perverse way so many in our country equate war with patriotism. See heroism in no other activity. I have nothing but respect for those who've served, drafted or voluntary; they're due a lot more than poetry. For some, though, clicking "send" is all they get.

I added that the term "patriotism" has become perverted, and generally used as a political bludgeon against those who consider war a last resort; or those who'd dare criticize their country, that it might become better.

Another classmate responded too, providing the following poem, along with the info at the end. I like it a lot better:


Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, 
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, 
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs 
And towards our distant rest began to trudge. 
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots 
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; 
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots  
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling, 
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; 
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling, 
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . . 
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, 
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. 
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, 
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. 
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace 
Behind the wagon that we flung him in, 
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, 
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin; 
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood 
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, 
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud  
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, 
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest  
To children ardent for some desperate glory, 
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est 
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen died in WW1 about 8 months after completing this poem, and 7 days before the armistice.

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