Friday, March 30, 2018

End Times

My next newspaper column:
That reactions from Ammo-Americans to the March for Our Lives would be fast and furious was predictable. Less so was how dumb, distasteful, and desperate they were. 
The guerdon for dumbness goes to Rick “Don’t google me surname, bro” Santorum, who, after sneering that the kids were asking “others” to solve their problems (it’d take more than one column to unpack that lunacy), suggested learning CPR would be a better use of their time. As an experienced trauma surgeon, let me point out that CPR is for cardiac arrest. If your heart stops after being shot, it’s because you’ve bled out or because your brain died. Attempting to revive an empty heart or a dead brain with chest compression is useless. (Somewhere in there is a metaphor for our times.) It’d have been more fitting had he suggested embalming.  
An NRA spokesdunce dismissed the children by pointing out that no one would even know their names if their classmates hadn’t died. Right. And a firefighter who rescued a family from a burning building wouldn’t be considered a hero if it hadn’t been on fire. 
Aptly dubbed a stupid person’s idea of what a smart person sounds like, Newt Gingrich declared the most salient takeaway from the march is to learn who paid for it. The left can’t govern, he said, but they sure can organize marches. (The simpering “can’t govern” would need a five-column response.) He chose not to mention that the Tea Party movement was birthed on Wall Street, disguised as grass roots, and underwritten by anti-tax billionaires. Of course people gave money to the marchers and to their cause! In what way is that inconsistent with democracy? How does it devalue the message, which, in contrast to the Tea Party, began at the bottom and worked its way up?  
As expected, there were those who called the students Nazis. Or Communists (C’mon, people, read some political science. Make a decision.) Blameless pundits denounced “politicization.” Well, yes, demanding legislative action is “political.” So is demanding no action. 
Stop badmouthing the NRA, they were warned. Then, because it’s become the preferred method of discourse by a certain stratum of Trumpists, there were death threats. And we heard condescending assertions that the students need to read the Constitution. But, in fact, it seems they have. Which brings us to the heart of it. 
First, some facts:  
Barely over twenty-percent of Americans own guns. Nearly half are in the hands of only three percent of us. The vast majority of Americans (including NRA members) favor the regulations advocated by the March for Our Lives students. There’s approximately unanimous approval for stronger background checks, with almost as much support for preventing dangerous people from acquiring guns, and for raising the age of purchase. By electoral standards, it’s even a landslide for banning military-style weapons. 
Here’s another fact, one that our friends of Foxotrumpian persuasion have come strenuously to renounce: we live in a democracy. Those poll numbers speak loudly of a failed one. Ignoring the incontestable will of the people it represents, Congress kowtows to the payola provided by the NRA and gun manufacturers, and to their gerrymandered, rabid, minority base. 
It’s worth recalling that until recently it was settled law that the Second Amendment didn’t confer absolute rights of gun ownership to private citizens. Ignored by Cammo-Americans and NRA spokeshorribles is that Scalia’s ruling allowed for regulation, including concealed carry, safe-zones, and military-style weapons. What’s being demanded is already constitutional.   
The kids understand our Constitution. They know it’s within our power to restore truly representative democracy by electing a new, responsive Congress. Behind the heated, dishonest, dangerous rhetoric of right-wing derogation of the marchers is the same realization, and they’re desperately resisting. But demographics don’t care. They ain’t going back.  
End times are approaching for Regressive, White, Male, Theocratic, political dominion. Among right-wing shibboleths destined for eventual rejection is the fetishizing of guns; understanding the Constitution means recognizing the possibility of repealing or revising the Second Amendment. The marchers do. RWMT politicians do, too. If they’re unable to legislate away fair elections before change arrives, they, like Saddam burning his oil fields when he knew he’d lost, seem intent on trashing the place on their way out. 
Which also explains their eagerness to boost pollution, reduce healthcare access, and crush the dreams of the poor. 
[Image source]

Friday, March 23, 2018

Time To Stop Fiddling While It Burns

My upcoming newspaper column:
“It’s a great day for democracy,” proclaimed Donald Trump after pressuring Jeff Sessions to fire Deputy FBI Director McCabe (who, coincidentally, had authorized an FBI investigation into Sessions’ possible perjury). Autocracy, yes. Authoritarianism, sure. But democracy died a little more that day, its agonal moan inaudible only to people sharing Trump’s disdain for constitutional governance and the institutions that protect it. 
Knowing of his lying, cheating, business failures, threats, lawsuits, vulgarity, and aggressive ignorance, millions voted for him anyway. That millions of those see his current behavior and still rationalize support is incomprehensible. Surely the remarkable last two weeks have been dispositive even for the most calcified of the Foxified. Right?  
In time, we’ll see the DOJ report, and perhaps we’ll be able to judge its significance. For now, I’m with McCabe. (He is, after all, like Comey, Mueller, and Rosenstein, a Republican.) Either way, Trump’s vainglorious, lie-filled gloating afterward confirms the firing wasn’t about the report, but about discrediting the investigations.  
And what of “the best people” Trump promised? We’ve just learned Ben “Gifted Hands” Carson, whose home features a portrait of himself with Jesus, lied about his expensive office furniture. Plenty of Trump’s other cabinet officers have been lying and/or misusing our tax dollars, too; but Ben drips with smug self-righteousness. Also disclosed: his information officer, along with another HUD liar, appears to have a side-business scamming Christians
Then there was the coincident Betsy Devos interview, in which she confirmed her qualification for being Secretary of Education consists of having donated $200 million to Republicans.  
Within the same span, Trump’s trusted “body man” was escorted out of the White House so fast he could take nothing with him, on charges of “serious financial crimes.” Before the taint was dry, Trump hired him as senior reelection campaign adviser. From criminal expulsion to inner Trumpworld. Thoughts, “values” voters?  
After announcing plans to meet with North Korea’s Kim, Trump bragged about lying to Canada’s Trudeau. Flat made stuff up, he preened. Presented with truth, he proudly pronounced it pabulum, which explains his devotion from Trumpists. But what must Kim think of negotiating nukes with a man who boasts of lying to national leaders, and of not knowing what he’s talking about? Spider. Fly.  
Speaking of which, we were shown Trump State TV’s reactions to his plans, juxtaposed with their fair and balanced reactions when Obama said he’d do the same. Hypocrisy? Business model. If Trump manages meaningful, verifiable agreements with NoKo, I’ll praise him. Until then, though, count me among those who, seeing with whom he surrounds himself, find it unlikely. But he’s sending Ivanka, so... 
Meanwhile, it’s just been revealed her husband, trusted adviser Jared, repeatedly falsified paperwork with NYC housing authority when he bought buildings, greasing millions in profit. America’s freshest face.  
In the same timespan came the firing of Tillerson, after he agreed Russia was behind the London poisoning. After that, Russian state TV announced “Trump is still ours.” And after that, Trump obsequiously congratulated their murderous dictator for winning a fake election. Lap, meet dog.  
Within the past two weeks, we also learned what a sham the oxymoronic “House Intelligence” Committee investigation was: if you don’t look, you don’t find. Another: if you deny a relationship with a porn star but threaten suing for $20 million for breaking an agreement not to talk about it, does a bear? More: the RNC spent north of $120K at Trump properties in February alone. And: rule-of-law-loving Pennsylvania Republicans moved to impeach judges who rejected unconstitutional redistricting.  
Topping it off, if you’re aware of Cambridge Analytica and aren’t concerned, you’re their victim whether you recognize it or not. 
It’s been a boggling, enlightening two weeks. Those who insist it’s fake news are beyond salvation; but despite representing a minority of voters, people just like them are in charge. Not knowing what else to do, I give money, near and far. All liberals who can, and all self-respecting conservatives ought to, also. Kim Schrier. Randy Bryce. Conor Lamb. Beto O’Rourke. Find others. Trumpism threatens our democracy, demanding that truly patriotic Republicans stand up to him by crossing party lines. 
Preserving democracy requires advocating for those who value it, and acting against those who don’t. Unsurprisingly, the latter are largely Trumpists. Choose America over party, conservatives, in this critical, defining time. You won’t be alone.
[Image source]

Friday, March 16, 2018

Nooger. A Word.

My next newspaper column:

Like coal ash, Trumpic horrors keep fouling the waters; but here’s a note from my surgery days anyway:
It’s said medical students learn over twelve thousand new words. Some I enjoyed just for the saying: Inspissated. Radiculopathy. Tachyarrhythmia. Intussusception. Pancreaticoduodenectomy. Bezoar.
Bee-zore. For fun, say it like "air-ball" at a basketball game. (Digression: It's been shown that the chant is always in the same pitch, the same notes on the scale. F - D, matter of fact.) 
There’s also a more esoteric lexicon: words or terms that bubbled into the vernacular unofficially but have become universally understood within various medical sub-cultures: gomer, Q-sign, lipstick sign, chandelier sign (definitions on request). One of my favorites has it all: nice sound, excellent meaning, and, in my case, a connection to a beloved mentor. The word is “nooger.” 
In “Cutting Remarks,” my book about surgical training, I described learning to dissect through distorted, inflamed tissues, calling the method "delicate brutality." (Too late, I realized that would have been a better title for the book.) Central to the technique is the ability to nooger; namely, judiciously insinuating a finger into a scary space, wiggling, pinching, until you find a way through without poking a hole into something important. 
Noogering can be done with other blunt instruments: a sucker, closed scissors, a blunt clamp, often along with the finger. Indeed, it requires a combination of delicacy and brutality, plus some sort of either learned or innate sense of touch; of tissue turgor (there's another good word: turgor) and confidence of anatomy. If you can't tell where a thing is, you need to be fairly confident in where it isn't.  
Not all surgeons need to nooger. Orthopods and neurosurgeons don't. Bone isn't noogerable, and brain, well... But a general surgeon incapable of noogering is bound for trouble. In a situation demanding it -- precarious as it usually is -- I'd rather do it myself than try to tell someone else how. Bad noogering can lead to death, or something a lot like it. 
Among my favorite characters from training was the chief cardiac surgery resident, a gangly, good-humored, soft-spoken, slow-walking but fast-thinking southern boy, Joe (full name: Joe) Utley. In stark contrast to the other men populating that department -- who were volatile, egomaniacal, crazy, nasty, or pretty much any combination of those characteristics -- Joe was laid-back, engaging, and highly talented. He told dumb jokes, quoted lines from movies, played the flugelhorn while wearing a sombrero, and treated me -- his over-worked intern -- with respect and caring; although, it could be argued, having an intern and his girlfriend (now wife) over and subjecting them to the horn and the hat was anything but respectful. 
I loved the guy. (Joe died not long ago. I sent a copy of my book, in which he played a prominent role, to his wife; she wrote back that she knew he'd have loved it, and she could imagine him laughing out loud while reading it. That made me feel good.) 
In connecting a person to a heart-lung machine, it's necessary to control blood returning to the heart via the venae cavae. That requires (did then, anyway) slinging the veins in a sort of noose around the tubes inside. That necessitates dissecting within the pericardium, behind those delicate structures, completely encircling them. Joe had a favorite instrument for the job, a very large clamp with a curved and bluntly-rounded tip. This he referred to as a "Giant Noogerer." 
Open heart surgery has a certain drama, and, in those relatively early days on the time-line, tension compounded by lengthiness. But as an intern on the service, because there was always lots to do, stretching into sleeplessness, time in the cardiac room was -- depending on who was in charge -- often unpleasant. With no opportunity to do anything but stand there and answer gotcha-questions from the chief of service, the hours dragged the day's work further into the night.  
Except with Joe. I found myself looking forward each time, as the moment approached, to hearing him ask for the tool. "Giant noogerer," he'd say, hand out, and it always arrived with no need for clarification. With his Carolina accent, it sounded like "jahnt nurgrer." In his hands, it was a delicate instrument; on his lips, though, it sounded like something you’d find deep in the Everglades, at night. 
[Image source]

Friday, March 9, 2018

Trying To Catch Up

My next newspaper column:

Allocated only around 700 words once a week, I’m always playing catch-up. So here’s a time- and space-limited selection of mentionables from an endlessly accruing heap of Trumpworld items that should concern all Americans. Confirmatory links provided on request.

1.  In the White House, Jared Kushner negotiated around $500 million in personal loans from American banks. Shortly after Qatar denied a similar request, Kushner enabled a Saudi Arabia/UAE blockade against that anti-ISIS partner. 
2.  An indispensable article by Jane Mayer, providing revelatory, non-Foxolimjonesified background on Chris Steele and his “dossier,” and what the FBI did and didn’t do, almost parenthetically includes a claim that Russia vetoed Mitt Romney as Secretary of State, preferring someone more likely to end Obama’s sanctions. (Okay, hereIf Trump isn’t fully in Putin’s pocket, he’s half-asset. 
3. Of $120 million budgeted to fight Russian election interference, our State Department has spent none. Of the assigned analysts, none speaks Russian. 
4. Whatever one thinks about tariffs, it’s consumers who pay for a trade war. Reports say Trump’s half-baked plan followed a fit of (stable genius) rage.
5. Shortly before Trump’s announcement, his pal, billionaire Carl Icahn, unloaded $30 million of stock in steel-dependent companies. 
6. Trump took, and, from the Foxified, received credit for the economy since inauguration day. Now, having added $1.5 trillion to this year’s deficit and more trillions to future debt, he’s earned it. His simple-minded tariff misconceptions will cost jobs in addition to money. Even cowardly Paul Ryan was appalled by Trump’s impulsive plans. Chief economic adviser Gary “Tax-cuts-for-the-rich” Cohn resigned over them. Trump’s support of Nazis didn’t do it for him. This did.
7.  Devin Nunes, who pushed a pile of prevarication in his “memo,” evidently leaked classified information to Fox “news.” Then he called Stephen Colbert a danger to America.
8. First-Amendment-loving, small-government-pushing, free-market Republicans in Georgia would use public law to punish Delta Airlines, a private corporation, for charging NRA members what they charge everyone else.
9. Reversing Obama rules on coal ash, Trump has greenlighted pollution of America’s drinking water.
10. Ben Carson, after approving massive cuts in HUD’s budget and saying public housing shouldn’t be “too cozy,” got caught buying a $31K table for his office, and giving no-bid contracts to family members. Ryan Zinke’s and Scott Pruitt’s personal use of tax money makes Carson look cheap, though. So does Pruitt’s graft. Nearly the whole cabinet’s, in fact. Only the best people.
11. Contrary to Zinke’s lies, emails show shrinking Bear’s Ears Monument was about oil and coal.
12. Speaking of falsehoods, after promising the opposite, Trump cut Medicare and Medicaid significantly. Social Security looks to be next. And elephants. People actually believed his lies. Mysteriously, many still do. 
13. Trump joked Fox “news” is the “fourth branch of government.” Later, praised China’s Xi for becoming leader for life. Said he might try it. It was a joke, too. They were, right? Jokes?
14. There are laws against appointing relatives to positions of power by federal government officials. Same with using one’s position for self-enrichment. Now we know why. What we don’t know is why Congress no longer cares.
15. People still apoplectic over Hillary Clinton’s carelessness with emails are silent about Trump’s with security clearances for his White House enablers. (Irony: I needed top-secret clearance for some of what I did in Vietnam. It was delayed because I’d studied Russian and traveled the USSR in college.) 
16. Putin displays an animation of Russia’s “unstoppable” new missiles hitting Florida. Trump’s response: silence. Maybe he expects a Mar-a-Lago tax write-off. He did attack Alec Baldwin right after, though, so there’s that. 
17. Benefitting his admired dictators, Trump is undoing Ronald Reagan’s “Infrastructure of Democracy” around the world.
18. NRA made a deeply disgusting ad against critics.
19. Red states don’t like liberals voting.
20. Drip, drop, tick, tock.

For these things, concern ought to be universal. Mistaking cri de coeur for partisanship, people email me criticizing my tone, claiming they’re “reasonable” NRA members, or “thoughtful” conservatives, so I should be nicer. Time for those good folks to act on their professed moderation. Relieved as I am to learn of their unhappiness with Trump and/or NRA leadership, when I ask if they’ve sent complaints their way, too, none have. Maybe they’re planning to show their displeasure by their votes.

A guy can dream.

(Not in the column, but to be emailed to anyone who requests them, here's the list of links promised above, which I'm too tired to have hot-linked for the blog. Impressive work on my part, though, eh?) 

Friday, March 2, 2018

Nasty. Mean. Brutish.

David Brooks, conservative pundit for the New York Times, whose singular brilliance came to his own attention with his support of the Iraq invasion, has unholstered more wisdom: “… if you want to stop school shootings it’s necessary to let people from Red America lead the way, and to show respect to gun owners at all points…” And then Wayne LaPierre and Dana Loesch spewed poisonous slander at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). And after Baghdad fell and all hell broke loose, Donald Rumsfeld said “Stuff happens.” 
Brooks wasn’t talking about my NRA friends, with whom I’ve gone target-shooting and hunting. He was referring to those cheering Dana and Wayne. So, no. I’ll respect them when they speak out against the kind of vile, paranoid, fear-mongering and hate-fostering speech of their association’s spokesprimates. And when they don’t leap to their feet cheering and making threatening gestures to members of the press. 
When responsible members of the NRA demand better of their organization, I’ll be happy to let them lead the way. It’s way past time for them to do so. If it once was an advocate for its members and for safety, it’s become little more than a shill for gun manufacturers. Even without the 1,688,442,000 rubles they laundered for Russia to help Trump, NRA gets all the money it needs from big gunnery.
[Item: The NRA, CPAC, and RNC ban guns at their events.]  
The latest mass murder at an American school highlighted the best and the worst of us. It remains to be seen which preponderates, but right-wing fabulists immediately began spreading fake news that those impressive, committed, eloquent high school kids, now receiving death threats, are hired actors; that Jewy George is behind it; that the attack was a “false flag” organized by Democrats. There’s nothing new about any of that, except for the impression those teenagers have been making. 
[Item: Most homegrown fake news comes from Fox and other rightwing sources. Also, surprising as darkness before dawn, studies show Russian fakery on social media was swallowed and shared by “conservatives” thirty-one times more often than by liberals.] 
There’s a flicker of hope that those high-schoolers have started an awakening which could lead to legislation more sensible than arming teachers and calling it a day. The dumbness of that idea is self-evident to all but NRA ammosexuals. Imagine: An overweight, orange-haired draft-dodger who bragged he’d do so, lumbers into a school where there’s an active shooter, bone spurs a-jingle-jangle-jingling. Newly-armed, an “adept” teacher, trained over the weekend, suddenly responsible for split-second life-saving decisions, sees a weirdly-coiffed stranger moving toward her…  
Close as those students are to voting age, maybe historically weak-kneed legislators will consider listening. On the other hand, the usual insane malevolence from the “coming for our guns” and “defend yourself from Obama” crowd has been cranked up to eleven, so who knows? Money, the ultimate instrument of power, will be piled high against the kids.  
Until Antonin Scalia originalisted his way into the debate, federal courts had all but laughed at the idea that the Second Amendment intended unregulated access to all manner of arms by all citizens. It was, in fact, a Constitution-sweetener for slave states worried if there were only a federal army they’d be unable to put down slave rebellions. “Militias. People. State. Well-regulated. Not infringed.” Our founders were brilliant, but could they have been more obscure or internally contradictory? 
So how about this: everyone keeps and bears a non-infringed, bolt-action, single-shot .22 rifle. Excepted, hunting armaments are stored at police stations. Everything else gets beaten into plowshares and pruning hooks. Nothing in the Second says all weapons to all people. 
CPAC couldn’t have come at a better time for contrasting today’s Republicans with those fired-up students. A couple of actual conservatives tried to talk sense and were shouted down, literally escorted out of the room. Otherwise it was the usual Fox-speak, bashing of otherness, paranoid claims, and Trumpic lies. With its purulent intolerance, conspiracies, theocracy, NRA talking points, and persecution complexes, CPAC is no fringe group. Trump, Pence, Ryan, Cruz, et ilk, all showed up. Preachers, too. 
If they once did, today’s Republicans no longer recognize the unique benefits of America, rejecting the very idea of society and its obligations. Social contract? They prefer a return to man’s “natural state.” But armed.    
[Image source]

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