Thursday, April 28, 2016

No, The Other One

Brilliant. Could Ted "Anointed-by-God" Cruz have picked a more perfect running mate than Carly Fiorina? Since Trump wasn't available, he found the only other presidential candidate who lies with the fluidity and disregard that he does; and if likeability were oxygen, when the two of them entered a room together, everyone in it would turn blue and decerebrate.

Carly Fiorina. She of the non-existent video that she refuses to admit she never saw. Like Cruz, it's immaterial to her when someone points out her lies, and not just that one. She just plows ahead, either oblivious or, more likely, cynical to an unseen degree, even among today's Republicans. This isn't politics as usual. It's pathology. The two of them together ought to cause something cataclysmic, a physical force previously unknown, a mini-black hole, the appearance of dark matter that swallows them up. If only.

That poor Marco Rubio wasn't up to the job became evident early on. Cruz's panicky missteps are a more recent phenomenon (although God knows he was a scary and indecent person from the get-go.) Colluding with Kasich. Clumsy pandering, embarrassing even, in Indiana. And now this. Carly Fking Fiorina. It's as if he's being face-melted by the Ark.

Hearing Ted Cruz speak is mind-numbing, as he repeats falsehoods like whistles in the dark; but actually watching him as he utters his despicable deceptions, is painful. His clumsy facial expressions, painted on by the numbers, looking as if he's entirely unfamiliar with how Earthlings behave; you can almost hear him reminding himself, "Appear human, Ted. Smile at appropriate times... now... and make it look natural. By turning the corners of your mouth upward. You can do it. You practiced it in the mirror..."

Which, come to think of it, explains a lot: he probably can't see his reflection in mirrors.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Carry On

Here's my latest newspaper column:
In 2015, roughly one person per week was shot by a toddler with a gun, and over a hundred children died in accidental shootings. About thirteen thousand people of all ages died with guns involved, by accident, homicide, or murder/suicide. From 2005 to 2015, seventy-one Americans died from terrorist attacks on US soil, while about 302,000 died from other forms of gun violence. 
Not long ago, a worshiper shot himself in the foot in church. Around here a guy worried about attacks in movie theaters legally carried a pistol to a movie, dropped it, and shot another moviegoer. A Georgia mom killed her 8-year-old daughter when she dropped her gun. Same thing, same age, in Dallas. Dropped guns have gone off in Wal-Mart, Cracker Barrel, Chipotle, an Alabama supermarket, a “Muslim-free” gun shop in Oklahoma. Two patrons killed a gun-shop owner and his son over a $25 handling fee for a failed repair. A lady fired wildly at escaping shoplifters in a crowded Home Depot parking lot. Another good guy busted up a carjacking by shooting the car owner, aiming for the perpetrators. An owner shot his dog accidently, saying he was aiming for his girlfriend. 
A Florida man killed himself while demonstrating the proper way to clean a gun. A Florida woman, who’d posted on Facebook “My right to protect my son with my gun trumps your fear of my gun” was shot in the back by that (four-year-old) son after leaving her pistol loose in her truck. Another Florida man who bought a gun to protect his family shot his four-year-old daughter while cleaning it. A gun in a mom’s purse in a hospital went off and shot her two-year-old daughter in the face. 
People called police about that Colorado random mass-murderer as he was open-carrying down a street, before he open-fired. Police did nothing because he’d broken no laws. And there’s the problem. With everyone packing, how do you know who’s doing so with mayhem in mind? Doesn’t it, in fact, make it easier for a bad guy to walk into a public place and start firing? But, you say, he’d be shot by a patriotically packing patron. Before killing how many? How many such people would be deterred, since many seem intent on dying in their act of violence? And, given the incidents of stupidity above, how likely is the good guy or gal to hit the target instead of someone else? 
Yes, there have been a handful of of good guys with guns stopping bad guys, including a recent (and suspicious) nearby one; far fewer, though, than the other type. And let’s not forget road rage. No, the idea of omnipresent guns in the hands of average citizens doesn’t make me feel safe at all. Meanwhile, training requirements and permits are being legislated away in several states.
In a rare nod to reality, Republicans won’t have guns at their upcoming convention; logically in line with legislators who’re fine with guns in schools, churches, bars, and everywhere else YOU hang out; just not where they do. Could it be because they know, deep in that place in their chests where other people have hearts, that arming all citizens makes us less safe? Does the money they take from the gun lobby speak to them in their dreams, whisper in the voices of the dead that they’ve sold us out? Not likely. 
This exceptionally American mess is predicated on the insanely paranoid idea that citizens need arms to protect themselves from our government; that unless they stockpile AR-15s and enough ammo to fill a silo, Obama’s minions will storm their homes and turn them into gay Muslim Kenyans. That armed with long guns they’ll beat back drones, tanks, and Apache helicopters. That any attempt, no matter how exiguous, to keep guns out of the hands of criminals or, maybe, to require minimal competence, is tantamount to arguing for repeal of the Second Amendment. And so it goes: last weekend bled with mass and individual murders 
I don’t deny that we’re too far gone ever to come back to rationality. All I’m saying is that when an armed patriot heads into a place I’m in, I’m heading out.    
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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Fighting For Dollars

Dick "dick" Cheney's company (Halliburton and its subsidiary KBR) took in about 40 billion dollars off the Iraq war. Stealing money from taxpayers, as the video (brief excerpt from the longer version) shows. There's big money to be made in our wars. Think that has anything to do with why we fight them? And why Republicans, who love both wars and the corporations that supply them, refused to have this film shown to Congress? This is sickening, quite literally. And yet, thanks mostly to one political party, on it goes.

Nor is any of their presidential candidates going to do a thing to change it, because war is where the money is, and equating it with patriotism is where the votes are, and getting the votes is what allows them to get the money, and war is where the money is...

Monday, April 18, 2016

Geeks Gone Wild

This is an interesting read. It's impressive on its own, and also (in a world where reality would be considered important, which for half of the country it isn't) as a response to those who think because President Obama isn't sending in tens of thousands of troops he's doing nothing to fight ISIS.
...President Obama confirmed for the first time last week that the U.S. is conducting “cyber operations” against ISIS, in order to disrupt the group’s “command-and-control and communications.” 
But the American military’s campaign of cyber attacks against ISIS is far more serious than what the president laid out in his bland description. Three U.S. officials told The Daily Beast that those operations have moved beyond mere disruption and are entering a new, more aggressive phase that is targeted at individuals and is gleaning intelligence that could help capture and kill more ISIS fighters. 
As the U.S. ratchets up its online offensive against the terror group, U.S. military hackers are now breaking into the computers of individual ISIS fighters. Once inside the machines, these hackers are implanting viruses and malicious software that allow them to mine their devices for intelligence, such as names of members and their contacts, as well as insights into the group’s plans...
I'm sure ISIS has smart guys in its networks; but for some reason I believe the more computer literate geeks are on our side, and I like the idea of them doing their thing.

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Thursday, April 14, 2016


Oh, the irony. As this article reminds us, the Republican plan to make Obama fail in order to win their elections by claiming Obama has failed (see: the common definition of chutzpah) has, rather than giving them a knight in shining armour to march them to the White House, given them Trump. Or, worse, Cruz.

... Take, for example, the administration’s 2011 proposal of a $447 billion package of measures including payroll tax cuts and the creation of an infrastructure bank that would have led to the creation of thousands of construction jobs, as well as other substantial economic benefits.
... Designed to be bipartisan and fully paid for by higher taxes on rich Americans and some corporations, the American Jobs Act was nonetheless dead virtually upon its arrival on Capitol Hill.
That’s not all. During his administration, Mr. Obama put forth proposals for larger tax credits for child care; community college investments; expansion of the earned-income tax credit; changing retirement plans to be portable across employers and available to part-time workers; and tax credits for manufacturing communities.
All these — and many more — were ignored by Congress...
Brilliant strategy, they considered it. Prevent anything that'd improve the lives of working people, make those same people (especially the white, male, minimally educated ones) angry over their plight, sauce it up with constant propagandizing about persecution of whites, make a policy of blaming "others," and they'd waltz to the presidency. Except it seems to have backfired.

Turns out (who knew?) that if you foment nameless rage in a bunch of people whom you've deliberately made uninformed, it can lead to nameless rage in uninformed people. And when the politicians who run the game play it for power and not for the good of average people, it can lead to a little more specific naming of that rage: them.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

From The Mind Of A Surgeon

 Here's my latest newspaper column, ripped from the past, i.e., from my Surgeonsblog days:

Tiring of nonstop politics, I plan occasionally to insert essays from my “Surgeonsblog” days, when I wrote about the life of a surgeon. Warning: this one is graphic in parts. 
There's something irresistibly horrifying about doing an amputation. In a way, it's a microcosm of the perversity and beauty of surgery; of the screaming contradiction that one must somehow accept to be a surgeon. Removing a limb is so many things: failure, tragedy, cataclysm, lifesaver, life-ruiner. Gratifying. 
Stark and sudden, an above-knee amputation done in the "guillotine" fashion for infection is shocking. But, if you're a surgeon, you can -- maybe you must -- find pleasure in it; and I don't mean some poetic sense of helping one's fellow man. I mean in the actual act of doing it. Which is why I say it's a microcosm. Some things we do are terrifying. And yet, within walled-off portions of the mind, divorced from the suffering of the patient, there's a place to go wherein satisfaction comes from the work itself: the physicality, the artistry, even the transgressive brutality. 
After draping, the leg is all you can see of the patient. With the knee bent, you place the covered foot on the table, and it holds itself in place. Holding in your hand the rough handle of a huge amputation knife, like a skinnier and longer chef’s knife, you reach as far as you can under the thigh and bend your arm back over the top toward yourself, curling the knife blade around the thigh as much as possible. You're going to uncurl your hand and arm, drawing the knife, as deeply as you can, completely around the thigh; slashing -- if boldly enough -- in a single circular motion all the way down to and around the femur. If there were normal circulation, you probably wouldn't be doing this. 
Maybe you've placed a tourniquet of some sort above; or maybe you have a big-gripped assistant who's squeezing the leg between both hands. In any case, once the bone is visible around its entire circumference, and after controlling bleeding, you reach for the old-fashion gigly saw, a gnarly wire with handles at each end. As someone steadies the leg, you place the wire under the femur, grab the handles and stretch the saw nearly straight. Draw it back and forth, fast, making the barbed snake rise through the bone, which it does with surprising ease. It's a whirring sound, more than grinding -- high-pitched, err err err err. White until you get to the marrow, the fragments coming off are like gruel. And then the wire springs up with a bit of a splatter as it rises through the top. Start to finish, it's been only a couple of minutes. (History asserts the fastest such amputation, done in a few seconds, included the removing of a couple of the assistant's fingers.) 
It's awkward lifting the leg off the table and handing it away. The balance point is hard to find. There's awareness of mutual discomfort in this act -- in the giving and the receiving. (A gallbladder plops into a pan, free of emotion. Handing one person the leg of another: that's an exchange for which there are no words.) It's a relief to return gaze to the stump: concentric and clean. White bone, red muscle, Betadined brown skin. The anatomy, on end is, yes, beautiful: hamstrings, quadriceps, neurovascular bundles; a sight allowed only to a few. 
Before the operation, there's been pain -- physical and emotional. There've been sad talks, bargaining. Nothing to feel good about, for anyone. After, there's the stark realization, the encouraging words that ring hollow. The relief -- mine -- of turning much of it over to rehab specialists, prosthetists. But there, for that few moments in the operating room, there's a separate, private, and possibly unspeakable pleasure. (And I must say the same can be said about other amputations I did throughout my career, hundreds and hundreds of times, as a breast cancer surgeon.) The dissociative and dramatic doing. The fact that, for a while, I can remove from my consciousness the horror and find enjoyment in my craft, can find beauty in ugliness -- that's something almost too terrible to admit, even now.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

We'll Always Have Science (unless, well, you know...)

Above are two (unrelated) images of a couple of humankind's most amazing accomplishments. The picture is of a space shuttle launch as it punches through clouds. (On first look, I thought it was an asparagus spear.)

The video is of yesterday's landing of the SpaceX booster rocket after it sent its payload off to the International Space Station.

PFC, where "C" stands for "cool."

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Truth Shall Set You Unfree

Not that there's been any doubt; nor is this guy the first to rip open the bag to let the cat out. But it's useful for the fully Foxified to hear the truth once in a while.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Power To The Creeple

A vote for any Republican nowadays empowers people like this:

Item: Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, lower than whose previous record you didn't think he could get, just signed a bill banning the banning of plastic bags. Because Republicans like decentralized government until cities do stuff they don't like. Like being sensitive to the environment and, in the smallest way, insenstitive to the petroleum people who make the bags. All of which is sorta like the N.C. governor signing away the rights of cities to dignifiy their fellow humans in the LGBT community.

Item: Texas Congressman Louis Gohmert, currently leading the competition for the dumbest person in Congress, says this equality stuff is bullshit: nowhere in the Bible does it say women should be taught science and stuff. Their place is in the home, having and raising babies.

Item: A Colorado woman running for the U.S. Senate says only God can cause earthquakes, so let's keep fracking and let's end the EPA.

Item: After years of saying President Obama's foreign policies are horrible, Lindsey Graham, trying to reassure reporters in Egypt about the possibility of a Trump presidency, says, "Don't let the politics of the moment make you believe that America has fundamentally changed in terms of the way we view the world; it hasn't." Hypocrisy much?

Not exactly, in the above context, an item: I've been thinking for some time that the guy (Donald Trump) who left a message for (embarrassing tool) Tucker Carlson bragging how much "pussy" he gets must have encouraged/paid for/forced a few women to have abortions in his life. Maureen Dowd (not usually my idea of an admirable columnist) sort of asked. His answer: "Next question." Were it not for his recent flop/flip/flop/flip on the subject, it might have been out of bounds. Unless one of Donald's conquests voids her (presumed) air-tight and lucrative nondisclosure agreement, we'll never know. But no one says we can't, as Robert Frost said*, suppose.

The point: if there are reasonable Republican politicians out there (statistically you'd think it'd be so), it doesn't matter, because it's the ones like those itemized above (there are plenty more of them) who are calling the shots nowadays. Which means anyone in that party less crazy than these people can not, in good (or even neutral) conscience cast a vote for a candidate in today's version of their formerly useful political party. Seriously. For the sake of their party. And us.
* Had to write a college English essay on it: "We dance round a ring and suppose, But the secret sits in the middle and knows."

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