"The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it." Orwell
"“The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” Plato
"The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant" Robespierre
Friday, January 27, 2017
Wait A Minute! You're Saying...
This conclusion isn't original with me, but it bears spreading around: Trump claims that Democrats, or Hillary, or some dastardly force successfully orchestrated the illegal voting of millions of people; managed to get poll watchers, Secretaries of State, election officials in countless counties to allow those votes to happen. And they limited their efforts, complicated as they must have been, to states Hillary was already sure to win.
Three to five million votes; and yet they didn't think to finagle the 70,000 total votes needed in three states that went for Trump to have swung the election to Hillary.
Thursday, January 26, 2017
Liar In Chief
Here's my next newspaper column, to be published Saturday:
In the age of Trump, having only a weekly column makes it challenging to prioritize. By the time this is published, who knows how many more significant issues will have come up? On the other hand, what’s more important than truth? So, displacing about a dozen other topics for now, let’s talk about Sean Spicer, Trump’s official press mouthpiece, and his remarkable appearance one day after inauguration.
In case anyone is unaware, he devoted his first news conference to upbraiding the press for, he claimed, lying about the size of the crowd at the inauguration. Photos taken at the same time, from the same angle, make it clear that the crowd for Trump was enormously less enormous than for President Obama eight years earlier, as do Metro ridership data; but Sean Spicer was having none of it. It was the largest crowd ever, for any inauguration. Period. Yes, he said “Period.” And left without taking questions.
Is this weightier than issuing gag orders on scientists across all government agencies? Does it deserve more attention than his impossible claim he’ll end crime and remove radical Islamic terrorism from the face of the earth? Offending the CIA by using their Memorial Wall as a backdrop for vainglorious self-promotion and having brought stooges there to cheer and clap? Well, if we have a president who’s untethered from reality, yes. If blatant lies are to be modus operandi from this administration, it deserves unwavering attention, because this level of shameless mendacity is unprecedented.
Although many Trumpites seem okay with being lied to, I believe among them are decent people, thoughtful ones, who prefer truthfulness and reality-testing in a president. People whose patriotism and bravery run deeper than partisanship. Very soon, we’ll all depend on that.
If Sean Spicer believes what he claimed, he’s delusional. If not, if he’s just following orders, we must wonder what demand, if any, he’d consider beyond justifying. Are Trump’s people already afraid to tell him the truth? More pertinent, though, is why Trump ordered him to say what he did. During the campaign we learned to expect lies. But this? Crowd size? When there’s photographic evidence? What does it mean that our president is compelled to such obvious fabrication? There aren’t many explanations, and they’re all alarming.
If Trump sees only what he wants to see, ignoring irrefutable evidence to the contrary, we’re in grave, non-partisan danger. (He’s repeating his discredited claim that millions voted illegally for Hillary; even confabulated about rain and sun during his inauguration. This is disturbingly abnormal.) If he lies intentionally, thinking so little of the people to whom he promised to return the government, we should be both frightened and insulted. Which is the greater threat: a president who’s pathologically unmoored from reality, or one capable of lying whenever he speaks? That’s the no-winners situation we face.
Which brings us to Kellyanne Conway. While many of Trump’s appointees are some combination of inexperience, incompetence, and ethical deficiency, Ms. Conway is a brilliant choice. Never have we seen a more facile propagandist or producer of disinformation, not even on Fox “news.” Asked why Trump sent Spicer out there to lie, her glib response was chilling: he was presenting “alternative facts.” We’ve just learned the motto for the new administration: Alternative Facts.
Accepting the health risks, I check in on right-wing websites. They defended it all, claiming the pictures weren’t from comparable times (they were), blaming the press, seeing conspiracy, exactly as Trump would have them do. But even Chris Wallace, one of Fox “news’” two sometimes fair and occasionally balanced reporters, creating a Sophie’s choice for Trumpists, stated he was there and saw the empty space. Is Trump plumbing the depths of gullibility of his voters, prepping them for even bigger lies, testing what he can get away with? Is that a less disturbing explanation than literal insanity? Joseph Goebbels vs. George III?
How much duplicity can Trump’s supporters rationalize? It’s in their hands, especially those in Congress, to take a stand if he becomes even more unhinged. If they don’t, they will have failed themselves and their county. And, having the temperament, history, and, now, the means to punish “enemies,” what will Trump do if they do?[Image source]
Monday, January 23, 2017
The Brave And The Bullshit
The brave ones are the women marching, faces uncovered, banners held high. Peaceful, enthusiastic, determined, saying "Look at me, look at us, here we are. Listen." Telling their employers, employees, patients, clients, families, everyone, they're willing to, want to, be seen. Have something important and valuable to say.
The cowardly and stupid ones are dressed in black, faces covered, lighting fires, running up to windows and smashing them and going off to hide in the crowd, like kids who put burning bags of dog shit on a porch, ring the doorbell, and run away.
I don't know who they are, what they think they're accomplishing, what message they're sending. For that matter I don't know whose side they're on, if any. But I hate them for making it easier for Trumpists to ignore the meaning of the rallies, to pretend that what they did is the message, not the voices of the marchers in protest. Perhaps that was, in fact, exactly their intention. Happily, they stayed away from the Women's March. Afraid their mothers would see them, maybe.
But they're there, somewhere. Burning garbage cans, looting, breaking windows, hiding. Wherever there are good people, committed, brave people (braver, still, in these times), so are there these self-described but delusional anarchists, who are, at best, nothing more than idiots, pretending to be something they most decidedly are not, afraid to take an actual stand, and be seen.
In this era of fake news as subterfuge and distraction, following false stories of "liberal" protesters being paid to disrupt, who can say these destructive assholes aren't, in fact, organized by Trump supporters, to discredit the waves of protest around the country? I find it entirely possible, with worse to come. On the other hand, such people as these have always been around, as they were here in Seattle during the WTO protests which turned into riots. Deliberate or not, on the "right" side or not, the only thing they achieve is damage.
Whoever they were in D.C. during the inauguration, they're the equivalent of a Trump tweet: superficial, simple, nasty, accomplishing nothing positive.
Sunday, January 22, 2017
Scream, Or Your Head Will Explode
Swear to God: if anyone can watch the video of Kellyanne Conway, this planet's most gifted and unrepentant bullshitter, in this link and not scream or throw something or, at least, feel disgust, horror, and fear for the future, they don't deserve to live. Or vote, anyway.
Saturday, January 21, 2017
Friday, January 20, 2017
My latest newspaper column, to be published Saturday. Since it has to be sent in before the inauguration, I didn't want to rant about something that might be contradicted by events yet unknown.
Here’s another heavily modified piece from my surgery blog. Entering the Trump era, I need time to let it sink in.When I picked up my laundry I’d have a little small talk with the proprietor. She always called me "Doctor.” This time, though, she was notably distant, which I didn't understand till I got home and hung up my jacket. On the inside she'd pinned an envelope, into which she'd put a photo taken months before, forgotten in one of my pockets.
What it showed was a young female torso bearing sixteen stab wounds and the handle of an 8-inch butcher's knife in-stuck to the hilt, a couple of inches below her left breast, ticking, when the picture was taken, with every heartbeat. She’d tried to make herself the second person she killed that day. A cop had accompanied us to the OR.
Worried that I could cause a catastrophe if I did it blindly, I hadn't removed the knife in the emergency room; the officer needed to maintain "chain of custody." I opened her belly first: with stab wounds to the lower chest, it’s likely there are injuries within the abdomen. Indeed, the knife had skewered her stomach, barely missed her colon, stopping with its sharp edge whispering to her spleen. Holding the spleen out of the way, I withdrew the knife, handed it off to the cop, cool as Steve McQueen: calmly cutting the lady open in front of the officer, handing him the weapon like I did it every day. He tagged it and bagged it, like he did it every day.
As I attended to the abdominal injuries, the anesthesiologist announced blood pressure zeroing out, cardiogram widening into a functionless sine wave. In the ER, I’d treated her punctured lung with a drainage tube. Now I guessed she’d nicked her heart as well. With no time for tidy entry, I made a fast and ugly, trauma-center-trained, trap-door opening through her ribs. Expecting a blood-filled pericardium, the sac around the heart, I opened that, too, carefully, despite the urgency, to avoid paralyzing the nerve to her diaphragm, which runs along its surface.
A cut lung can allow air into the pulmonary veins, through which it returns to the left ventricle of the heart, wherefrom it gets pumped out to the body. Departing first from the aorta are the coronary arteries; an air bubble there acts no differently from a blood clot, potentially causing a heart attack. The next exits lead right to the brain.
While requesting (or screaming, I don’t recall) that the anesthesiologist tilt the table head down so bubbles would rise away from our patient’s head, I clamped the aorta downstream from the vessels going there, called for drugs to raise her blood pressure as high as safely possible, and to run 100% oxygen (in addition to protecting tissues, it speeds up absorption of air). Raising blood pressure might force the bubbles through her heart before doing permanent damage. Clamping the aorta raises blood pressure as well. It's a dangerous combination of maneuvers, but as they say about desperate times...
Indeed, bubbles were moving through her coronary arteries, lined up like ticket-holders to the Stygian boatman, as frightening a thing as I’ve seen, operating. But, as hoped, they marched on through, and I began, incrementally, to release the clamp; now she was able to maintain her pressure, as she hadn't before. Without obvious signs of brain injury, she awoke later in the ICU, her cardiogram returning rapidly to normal. Sixteen stab wounds, a near-fatal cardiac emergency: not a single after-effect.
Being young, before experience ground such misconceptions away like centuries of sea on stone, I figured, having rummaged around in her entrails and having held her heart in my hand, squeezing it alive, I of all people should be able to get through to this lady, humbly receiving her gratitude while clearing the demons in her mind. Well, of course, no. Neither could the psych consultant.
[Image source]I’d taken that graphic and ill-forgotten picture thinking I might use it in a lecture or an academic paper on penetrating chest injuries, but never did. I kept taking my laundry to the same place, never mentioned the envelope, and our conversations soon found their way back to normal.
Thursday, January 12, 2017
Showering Us With Lies
My latest newspaper column, scheduled for Saturday:
Only hardcore Trumpophiles deny Donald Trump lies, regularly, about matters large and small. Recently he claimed album sales of the young singer scheduled for his inauguration have soared since the announcement. The opposite is true. Simultaneously he announced that inaugural after-parties are such a hot ticket that you can’t find a single fancy gown in all of D.C. Calls from reporters showed the claim to be false, by the thousands. Simple observation confirms he WAS mocking that disabled reporter. Like all pathological liars, he doesn’t care, and won’t stop.
The record of Trump’s pronouncements proves truth is not his default setting. About Jackie Evancho and ball gowns, who cares? About mocking the disabled, financial ties to Russia and cahoots with Vladimir Putin, we all should.
In publishing the alleged report on alleged travesties in Russia, Buzzfeed gifted Mr. Trump. So much is salacious, all of it, the public version at least, unsubstantiated, that he could dismiss it and its implications as “fake news.” (Might the barrage of fake news distributed pre-election by Trumpites, including Russia, have been designed not only to tilt the outcome but as future cover for discrediting actual news?) Until proven otherwise, the “report” reminds me of those fake Obama birth certificates touted by rightwing media: unconvincing. That this specific document stinks, though, doesn’t prove there’s no dead rat nearby. But it gave our next president a platform for, yet again, trying to pre-discredit the press and the intelligence community over future revelations.
In college, having studied the Russian language for several years, I traveled in the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. From sad personal experience (involving a Soviet citizen, not me) I can confirm that our rooms were bugged. Surely they still are, especially for high-profile visitors like the vulgar, narcissistic, flattery-craving owner of the Miss Universe pageant, a perfect target for gathering compromising data. I don’t much care if the Donald arranged for the defiling of the bed used by the Obamas, per se; I do care if he said or did anything while there that could be used to blackmail him, and so should we all. I do care if he has financial entanglements with and is indebted to powerful forces in Russia, and so should we all. Given his well-established penchant for lying (and his refusal to release tax returns), the last thing we should do is to take his denials at face value.
If it was effective strategy before the election constantly to flood the public with so many lies that it became meaningless to track them all down, for a sitting president it’s kind of a drawback. Or would be, if his voters hadn’t been taught not to care, and if his party’s representatives in Congress weren’t so euphoric over having an ill-informed, incurious occupier of the White House, likely to sign whatever he’s sent, that they’re already looking the other way on a number of outrages.
Eight years ago, as the minority leader, Mitch McConnell sent to the majority leader a list of quite reasonable vetting requirements before holding hearings on President Obama’s nominees. Now, to the surprise of exactly zero sentient beings, he says such scrutiny is not only unnecessary; the very act of suggesting them is childish. Democrats, he said, need to “grow up.” Tax returns? Vetting by the Government Ethics Office? Conflicts of interest? That was then!
Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s mouthpiece, an undeniable genius at obfuscating the outrageous, recently chided the media for focusing on what Trump says. “You always want to go by what's come out of his mouth rather than look at what's in his heart," were her exact, bizarre, and anatomically impossible words. I’ve listened to countless hearts stethoscopically, held a few, beating, in my hands. But I don’t know how to discover what’s in non-patients’ hearts other than by what they say. Daily, we’ve learned that Donald Trump’s heart accommodates a plentitude of lies. How can we know when he’s being truthful, about Russia, bribes, or anything else; and isn’t it imperative, despite his threats, to keep trying?
Media professionals have to resist Trump’s intimidations; his supporters must become willing to consider the obvious. Sustaining our democracy depends on it.[Image source]
Here It Comes
During his hearing, Attorney-General-to-be Jeff Sessions, a God-botherer of the first order, was asked about the possibility of impending theocracy. Oh, he said, people of different (i.e., wrong) views will be given a fair shake. Asked specifically if he thought secular (i.e., non-Christian) lawyers have the ability to discern truth, he responded, "Well, I'm not so sure."
That is all you need to know.
Saturday, January 7, 2017
So our next president informs us that anyone who doesn't want better relations with Russia is stupid. Well, sure, who doesn't agree we should all just get along, right?
Of course, it depends a little on the intentions of those with whom we're told to get along, and in what way we choose to do it. Or so it'd seem to me. I could be stupid, though.
Anyhow, until we know a little more about why Russia was so anxious to see Trump become president, and why Trump and his basket of horribles are so intent on convincing us it's no big deal, I'm gonna look at his position as the Kent Brockman approach to possible threats.
Thursday, January 5, 2017
Looking For Reasons To Be Optimistic
Looking ahead to the new year, I’m trying to be optimistic.
We might survive turning public education into religious school, although there’d likely be a half-generation of kids who’d be lost before educators regain influence on education policy. Maybe humanity can even outlast more war in the Middle East or a new one in Asia, to which, based on Trump’s appointments and his personal lack of rigor, not to mention his half-cocked tweets, we look to be headed. And, having seen various rivers and lakes recover from deadly pollution in the past, perhaps it could happen again, if the offing of the land that appears to be in the offing is recognized by enough people to elect better stewards next time around, people who think the environment is worth protecting. Assuming we’ll still be having elections.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that even Donald Trump disapproved of the latest shameless digital frickative shown to America by Republican congressfolk when they decided, just in time for his ascent to office, to nuke their own ethics committee. Too bad he didn’t show the same concern when North Carolina legislators told their voters to shove off after they booted their Republican governor; or when his campaign co-chair from New York made vile comments about the Obamas.
Having never met an ethical boundary beyond which he wouldn’t go, Trump’s disapproval of the ethical edict was less about the action than the timing thereof. Still, the episode afforded a glimmer of hope. Enough people retched at the wretchedness that the lawmakers temporarily skulked away. A guidebook, one hopes, for the future, and a reminder to pay attention.
It all may be moot though, because that from which we’ll not be able to recover is the empowerment of climate change denial and inaction. Scientists (the people Republicans, almost to a woman and man, tell us are to be distrusted and disregarded) have been warning of the point of no return, as we approach a positive feedback loop that makes it self-sustaining no matter what we do or do not. Melting glaciers mean less sun reflection and more heat absorption by exposed land. Warming oceans and tundra release more trapped methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, causing more trapped heat and more melting, more warming...
Every month, every year, a new record for highest global temperature is set despite dishonest claims of a “pause." How much more obvious must it become before Donald Trump, his appointees, supporters, and practically everyone in his party acknowledge it? When did it become such an irreconcilably partisan issue? Why is ours the one developed nation that refuses to accept it; and where did the fossil fuel industry, the only people who stand to benefit from continued denial, get the power to control the argument?
The answer to that, at least, is obvious: they have the money, about which the elected of today’s Republican Party care more than they do about the lives of the population they’ve convinced to elect them and sworn to serve. Even less do they care about the planet on which many of us live. The current EPA refused Trump’s ominous demand for the names of its climate-change researchers. The next one, about to be run by a climate change denier, won’t. Because it’s not enough to deny truths that threaten the self-enrichment agenda; they must be hunted down and destroyed.
Having no time for security briefings, Trump has plenty to tweet about a bad restaurant review, and more than enough to tour the country holding the same self-congratulatory rallies he did before the election, wallowing in cheers, mocking those on the losing side, insulting the press that exposed his lies. Disinterested in healing, our president-elect, since November eighth, has been a neenering fourth-grader. (No offense intended to fourth graders.) Surrounded by rich sycophants on New Year’s Eve, he promised to cut their taxes, rid them of regulations, and end Obamacare, which none of them need. Climate change didn’t come up. Average people weren’t invited.
The long view is hard. Comprehensive policy is hard. Since winning, our president-elect shares thoughts one-hundred-forty characters at a time, as deep as he goes.
Optimism? What was I thinking?[Image source]
Wednesday, January 4, 2017
It wasn't a mystery, only a matter of time. Seeing themselves fully in charge, Congressional Republicans decided their first order of business was to nuke their own Ethics Committee. Who could have seen that coming, amirite?
Even Donald Trump, who wouldn't know an ethical boundary if it wrapped itself around his neck and honked on his nose, suggested their timing was off. (He didn't criticize the action, per se, as his team made clear; just that it shouldn't have been the first thing out of the gate.)
But then, amazingly, they backed off, after outrage and mockery poured in. (One member felt the need to make it clear that their decision wasn't prompted by Trump's tweet, as if to assure us that he'll have no influence over them, and to remind him that his job is to stop tweeting long enough, between congratulatory rallies, to sign the damn legislation they send him.)
The point, though, is that it seems even those self-centered and mendacious legislators of the hardest right can be moved by enough input. So there's a lesson: in this era of total Republican control, figureheaded by a narcissistic, shallow moron, it behooves us -- even thoughtful conservatives, now in hiding -- to remain vigilant and to speak up as the outrages mount up.
Because, who knows? It's not inconceivable they'd listen to voters if they decide the money from wealthy donors and corporations doesn't do much good if they're voted out of office. Of course, if they've already stashed enough of it away, they needn't give any more of a shit than they already do.
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