Friday, August 31, 2018


Something different, upcoming-column-wise:

Respite from The Great Unraveling, written long ago, updated: 
A focused pre-med in college, I was mostly disinterested in the arts. I handled the required English and history courses, a philosophy course, but the finer arts held little attraction. For the easy credit, I took a creative art class, made a sort of cubist construction, tower-like, that I was a little proud of. When the prof asked what I liked about it, I said, “It looks like it should tip over, but it doesn’t.” Incisive art critic, I. (Recently, a nearly identical structure, a tilting stack of red boxes, has appeared in downtown Everett. Mine was white.) In med school, I entered a creation into a juried art show, and was accepted. “Like smoke,” they described it. Sold for fifty bucks. 
Then I spent a summer involved in medical research in Yugoslavia. Enroute to Belgrade, Rome was my first-ever landing in Europe. As it happened, a family friend, Father Paul Waldschmidt, president of the University of Portland, was there at the same time, and gave me a private tour of the Vatican. Wow.  
Though I’ll claim a measure of spirituality, it’s years since I felt religious. To the extent I ever was, it was for having been raised in a Jewish family. After attending religious camp, where I learned more about girls than Torah, I figured on becoming a rabbi, sharing my uniquely brilliant adolescent insights with a grateful world. Whatever soaked in rinsed out by the time I was in college. 
And there I stood, in St Peter’s Basilica, all but embraced by Michelangelo’s Pieta.   
Of course I’d heard of the artist, the name somewhere in the disused part of my brain where resided random names: Rembrandt, Churchill, Botticelli, Marx, no difference among them. In that moment it all changed. I was awestruck if ever the word meant anything. That such life could have been freed from inanimate stone, hot as a heartbeat, cool as skin, speaking in silence, beyond the moment, was outside my experience and imagination. Till then.  
I don’t remember how long I stood there, captivated by an apotheosis of exquisiteness about which I’d never bothered to know. It changed everything. Later, Father Waldschmidt showed me the Sistine Chapel, and, yes, it’s impressive. I’m sure I couldn’t lie on my back that long, and I couldn’t draw a pleasingly curved line if someone put a paintbrush to my head and threatened to pull the trigger. But that marble, become flesh, given breath as surely as it took away my own: that was as different from a painted ceiling as a Northwest sunset is from a cloudless sky.  
It wasn’t enough. I bought books, read all I could about Michelangelo (boy, was he abused by the Church!), took the train to Florence just to see his David. If he’d managed only one of his many creations, I thought, it’d have been a full life of artistry. I’d seen Roman statuary, and Greek, and they were impressive testaments to what man will do to win favor from his gods; but they seemed incomplete, air-brushed, anatomically uninformed. David’s hand alone, or Mary’s clothing, any of it spoke more persuasively of perfection than a roomful of the ancients. As did the unfinished giants hunkering nearby David, hoping for Michelangelo’s help as they struggled out of the rock to share the space.  
It was like seeing the breadth of the world for the first time, an awakening to what I’d slept through for so many years. It felt as if my own mind opened itself to me, allowing entry into parts of itself I’d never bothered to look for.  
Laszlo Toth. The name might mean nothing to you, but I’ll never forget it. Not long after I’d been there, he took a hammer to the Pieta, like attempted murder, who knows why? Now Michelangelo’s restored masterwork sits behind protective glass, the magic undoubtedly filtered, maybe less available, physically and emotionally. 
Not for me, though. It remains as fully accessible in my mind as the day I saw it, a moment in which I began to see the larger world, was led in new directions, and, without a doubt, made a better person. A better doctor, too. The memory even makes it easier to recognize and reject the profane venality of Donald Trump. (Sorry. Had to. It’s Saturday.)

Friday, August 24, 2018

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

My next newspaper column:
Evening skies, the color of smokers’ teeth. The shrouded sun, smearing cirrhotic orange across our region. As asthmatics crowd hospitals and schools keep children inside, it feels right to try, again, to convince Republicans of the catastrophe that is man-made climate change. How did addressing it become a “party” thing? Oil money? Surely, they’re not that deplorable.  
Ryan Zinke, ravager of public lands, assures us that wildfires torching North America are unrelated to climate change. Because common sense tells us trees desiccated from heat and drought are no more flammable than ones growing in Okefenokee. In another swamp, the one Trumpists say he drained (“come for the emoluments, stay for the felonies”), truth has died of suffocation.  
With evidence all but choking them, deniers must be deaf, blind, and dumb. This applies especially to the squatter behind the Resolute Desk. At best, it’s deliberate ignorance, motivated by undisguised corporate greed. At worst, like Trump, it’s a pathological need to hurt people; specifically, President Barack Obama and progressives, regardless of the planetary damage it causes. There’s no word for it but sick. Evil. Deranged. Criminal. Sociopathic. Contemptible. 
To Trump, climate change is a hoax birthed in China. To others, it’s a conspiracy of the Trilateral Commission (or some other code words for Jews) intended to destroy America. Still others claim that suggesting humans can affect climate is an affront to whomever they pray to. (Yes, climate has been changing since the beginning. But, no, never close to the speed we’re witnessing, and never paralleling such rapidly rising greenhouse gas levels.) 
It’s the confluence of conspiracy, scientific illiteracy, and illogic, confirming recently published research into the relationship between science denial (specifically creationism, but it applies equally to climate change), conspiracy theories, and a shared particular cognitive flaw. 
The investigators assessed the commonality of teleological thinking amongst conspiracists and science-deniers. Defined in the study as “the attribution of purpose and a final cause to natural events and entities,” teleology is considered scientifically invalid. Common in children, maybe it’s a necessary first step toward making sense of the world. If it enhances the expansion of young minds, that’s good; in adults, though, it’s detrimental, a poor substitute for rationality. 
A positive correlation was found. Their conclusion: “… the ‘everything happens for a reason’ or ‘it was meant to be’ intuition at the heart of teleological thinking … could also be a more general gateway to the acceptance of anti-scientific views and conspiracy theories.” Rationality vs. irrationality. Progressivism vs. Trumpism. This, or something like it, must explain Trump’s and his psychological ilk’s information-averse rejection of the obvious. 
Though not the study’s intention, it underscores the brilliance of Republican leaders a few decades ago, when they decided to rope in the “religious right” as receptive fodder for their one-sidedly lucrative, long-term destructive, reality-dismissing agenda.  
Here are some current, uncontestable, ominous facts, denying which threatens everyone, including the deniers:  
The Arctic’s densest layer of sea ice has broken up for the first time in recorded history. 
Oman, Jordan, just had the hottest overnight low ever recorded (107°). Around the world, nighttime temperatures are rising, bringing significant health implications, even more than daytime. Increased susceptibility to heat stroke among them.  
Ignored by Trump and his Congressophants is the impending world-wide water crisis, including the US, if not yet the PNW. In southern (i.e., Trumpophilic) states, aquifers are drying up, as is the Rio Grande; it’s another massive climate-related disaster about which the aforementioned malefactors don’t care, or are making worse; Trump’s self-aggrandizing wall among the ways.   
While Trump and his best-people, swamp-born henchfolk are actively increasing America’s output (insanely, he just allowed more deadly coal-fired emissions), China, to whom Trump has ceded renewable energy research, has achieved its carbon-reduction goals twelve years early. As it steadily switches to non-polluting power sources, Trump holds near-daily “Make America Gullible Again” rallies to demean the foundations of our republic. His latest rodomontade on coal was breathtakingly incoherent, demonstrating a level of ignorance astounding even for him. He doesn’t care. What’s his enablers’ excuse?  
Teleology or handcrafted misinformation: whatever the explanation, those who still deny the danger of human-caused climate change need to repudiate their false idol, un-wash their brains, seek to become better informed. Recognize the need to consider their progeny, if not all humankind. Engage adult thinking, put away childish things. 
[Image source]

Friday, August 17, 2018

Stuff Driving Me Nuts

The next newspaper column:
Semi-random thoughts:  
Having learned from a boss famous for doing it himself, people who work for Trump seem to feel the need to record their conversations, with him and with his people. This tells us much about the whole bunch. One imagines a dozen or so lawyers approaching a jury box, laying recorders on the rail, pushing “play” and returning to their seats while the recorders chatter away until there’s a verdict. If the jurors were AI robots, no human would have to sit through it.  
It’s pretty laughable when a lying, self-promoting, untrustworthy, obnoxious, slimy former “reality” star wants to tell us what goes on in the White House. The same applies to Omarosa. 
When the cheering dies down, Trump’s flummoxed flock should consider the ramifications of him (through his functionaries) firing Peter Strzok. A storied, dedicated agent, responsible for taking down more Russian spies than any preceding him, his “crime” was privately sharing thoughts about a “president” he, who should know, considers dangerous. So, was his firing because he let his opinions be known, or because he was getting in the way of Trump’s Russian pals? Asking for a country.  
Should we be rejoicing in the loss of a counter-terrorism expert by pressure from above, solely because of presidential pique over his private communications? Thought experiment for Trumpists: switch a name or two, and ask yourself again. 
Trump just revoked John Brennan’s security clearance, to more exultations among the implication-analyzing-incapable.  
My dislike for third party candidates is increasing. What have they ever accomplished other than causing other candidates to lose? Too, (h/t L.S.) I find those who insist on voting for them self-righteous and delusional. How many of their candidates, knowingly or not, are financed by people wanting to harm serious opponents to their paid-for office-seekers? Is it coincidence that in New Mexico, for example, where polls show the Democratic contender for senator handily beating the Republican, Libertarian Gary Johnson has suddenly in-ringed his hat, having previously announced he was done with politics? 
Which is not to say I think our two major parties are covering themselves in glory. It’s just that, realistically, on a national scale, third parties are mainly splinter groups (Greens from Democrats, Libertarians from Republicans) who’ve achieved nothing but disruption, appealing only to the kind of purists unable to see or care about the bigger picture. I saw a car with a Jill Stein sticker the other day, and wondered, considering the saprogenic menace of Trumpism, has the owner had any second thoughts? Probably not, else it’d have been torn off by now.  
Serious Oedipal stuff going on in a couple of Republican families. Retiring (none too soon) Republican Representative and head kangaroo for the Strzok “hearing,” Bob Goodlatte sure has some issues with his son, and/or vice versa. The offspring is actively supporting the Democrat running for daddy’s vacancy, and apologizing to Strzok for how he was treated by his pop. Sometimes the apple falls far from the acorn. 
And if it’s not classically Oedipal, far as we know, Steven Miller’s uncle, speaking for many Holocaust survivors in that family, has nothing good to say about his nephew’s efforts against immigrants. What American would, if by “American” we mean people who understand, believe in, and support what America stands for? Or used to.  
Another letter appeared in this opinion section recently, spouting the Foxojonestrumpian climate change inaction excuse: that it has always changed and, therefore, humankind has nothing to do with it. If I thought such people would spend the time, I’d provide links to article after article, videos, online courses, refuting their nonsense and making understandable what the science is. But it’s obvious they won’t inform themselves: by that argument, they’ve announced preference for disinformation. Assuming humanity survives, history will consider them traitors to the planet and their progeny. Or something unkind.  
Denying anthropogenic climate change is akin to denying that Trump lies. How can recognition of reality, scientific and otherwise, have come to predict of which political party a person is a member? It’s baffling. It’s like seeing your house on fire and saying, well, these things happen. My kids are in there? What’s for dinner?  
Or, “Maybe it’s real, but it costs too much to fix.” Like “My daughter has cancer, but I won’t spend the money to treat her.” Inexcusably selfish, inexplicably evil.    
[Image source]

Friday, August 10, 2018

Thy Will Be Done

Saturday's newspaper column to be:
It’s a given among a certain conglutination of Trump supporters. Adulatory artwork celebrates it on “social” media. So I’ve been pondering what God had in mind when He granted the presidency to Donald Trump. Because if it’s true, it follows that He also chose Barack Obama to precede him; and, for that matter, every president beginning with General Washington. In for a penny, in for a pound. 
Likewise, Mitch McConnell, Joe McCarthy, Daniel Webster. Otherwise, they slipped His notice, which is unbiblical. If He intervenes to place someone in office, then not doing so is no less of a choice. Not that surgeons consider themselves like unto God or anything, but when evaluating a critically ill patient, I’m equally responsible for the outcome whether I decide to operate or not. Having the power, inaction is action. If Trump, then the whole lot.  
In limited space, let’s focus on God’s most recent presidential picks, for there couldn’t be two people more different than President Barack Obama and Trump. The former acted to reduce and repair the damage we humans are doing to Earth, God’s signature creation. The latter is not only reviving those damaging ways, but intentionally making them worse. Our former president helped provide health insurance and other compassionate succor for millions in need; the current occupier is abolishing them. 
We can be sure God sees that white supremacists, and American Nazis, whose heroes killed millions of His chosen people, have chosen Trump. Junior Don comparing Democrats to Nazis might fool Trumpists, but God? Not possible.
President Barack Obama spoke of our common humanity. Trump, who holds rallies to spew and encourage hatred of concocted enemies, inspires attendees to denounce opponents and threaten the press. His supporters have been convinced to praise Vladimir Putin, the dictatorial murderer Trump loves. Those same people found President Barack Obama to have been unforgivably divisive, while gratefully hearing Trump speaking only to them. Specifically and especially them; not those “others.” 
If President Barack Obama failed to reach everyone, he tried. Unconcerned about the consequences, Trump uses animus and fear to rend us apart, for personal glorification. Plainly, a loving, just God would disapprove, both of Trump’s malicious demagoguery and those who howl their approval. 
When hecklers interrupted President Barack Obama’s speeches, he said, “Let them speak.” When protesters appeared at Trump’s, he urged, “Beat the crap out of them.” President Barack Obama remains with his only wife and is devoted to his children. Trump, well, his marital faithfulness is like his veracity, and he ignores two of his five children. He’s made pretty creepy remarks about some of the others. It’s said God keeps account of such matters.  
For people in pain, President Barack Obama sang “Amazing Grace.” Trump golfed, mostly.  
Given such differences, bright as a burning bush, one assumes that, having put them sequentially in office, God was sending a message. And if it’s true God cares about us and our world, the message must be, “I’ve shown you protectors and destroyers, giving you a choice. Do you love My creation and all My children, or only yourselves? Will you heed the words of My Son, or a pretender to righteousness?” Paraphrasing. 
We know what God does when humans tick Him off. Floods, locusts. Boils, frogs. And now, Trump. Except to those who’ve thrown in with a “president” who lies about everything, it’s obvious. Only if you believe Trump’s torrent of lies can you claim God chose him for any purpose except a warning.  
Maybe Trumpists excuse Trump’s impious desecrations, figuring he’ll trigger the Rapture. But supporting such a man might well bring a Judgment that hasn’t occurred to them. It seems risky.  
Given these paradoxes, the best explanation is that it wasn't God who thumbed the scales. Let’s go with that.  
Enough theology. We finish with the labyrinthine path truth has recently taken, regarding Russia: They didn’t attack us; they did, but there was no collusion. The meeting was about orphans; it was about dirt on Hillary. Trump didn’t know; he knew, but it’s not collusion. Trump didn’t dictate Junior’s lying explanation; he did. Collusion isn’t a crime; everyone seeks dirt on opponents; happens all the time. Ergo, hiring Mr. Steele was normal, and Trump’s claims about it are just more lies. See how easy that was?  
Moral: Don’t believe anything Trump says about anything.
[Image source]

Friday, August 3, 2018

Selling Out

Comes now another newspaper column:
Economic news is pretty darn good, and Trump deserves credit for maintaining the Obama recovery. By some measures, it’s gotten faster. To investors, this is pleasing. Inexplicable except as unbridled greed and indifference to average Americans, Trump’s reportedly looking into making high-income investors even richer. Super. Except for those from whose flesh another hundred-billion in tax cuts will be sliced. 
Despite such recklessness, the economy is humming, and that’s a good thing. So why can’t Trump ride the wave without lying about it? What in his hagridden brain drives him to make claims so easily debunked? To wit: He claimed he “turned the economy around.” Had he done so, to a robust economy growing steadily when he took over, he’d have tanked it, which, thankfully, he didn’t. 
So what’s the point of saying something like that? And then, because lie father, lie son, Don Jr. said there was never a quarter with such high GDP growth under Obama. There were several. Nor, as junior claimed, is it true that Obama never saw growth higher than two-percent. 
As with the difference between debt and deficit, many people misunderstand how quarterly growth rates differ from annual ones. But people at high levels of government surely know, so what they claimed aren’t mistakes, they’re lies. It’s what they do. Because it’s what their diehards want, I guess. I don’t get it, but the evidence is everywhere.  
One wonders who exactly is benefitting from the growth spurt. Can those who regularly inform me of their displeasure with my writing point to something specific that’s better for them? For sure, the very wealthy can. But regular folks? Continuing an eight-year trend, many have gotten jobs, more than have lost them because of tariffs and the increased pace of outsourcing. The poor, though, especially the working poor, are undeniably worse off, caught as they are in the backwash of money flowing upward at the expense of programs that were helping them. Likewise, people with pre-existing medical conditions and those on Medicaid. And auto workers.   
While still enjoying the record profits begun under Obama, affected businesses are passing the costs of Trump’s tariffs to consumers. Other than a couple of highly-touted but isolated, brief, and minimalist boni showily handed to employees, wages are stagnant as Trump’s upside-down tax breaks are being used for enormous CEO payouts, stock buy-backs, and investor profits.  
Yet this selective economic goodness is seen, by those whose lives aren’t and won’t be improved, as justifying their glorification of Trump. It’s like his lies: in the long run they harm everyone, but are loved by Trumpists for their own dark reasons. It’s a safe assumption that when the economy tanks, as economies are wont to do, especially under pressure from massive deficits, the cultists will love him even more. Call it the Shockhome Syndrome. 
Here’s another safe bet: after months of being assured there was “no collusion” with Russia, Trumpists will be unbothered by the sudden, hoofbeat-hearing switch to “It’s not a crime.” Or, “There was no meeting before the meeting, and the ‘president’ didn’t attend it.” Or, as we’ve already seen, tapes proving the “fake news” that Trump agreed to pay off yet another playmate wasn’t fake at all. For loyalists, brazen lying has become a non-issue.  
At some point, you’d think it’d sink in that what Trump calls “fake news” is true unless proven otherwise. Nope, not for the cultists, to whom the obvious dangers of a constantly lying “president” will never occur. For everyone else -- people, that is, who see the forest and the trees -- the inability to trust a leader on critical issues because he lies about everything, is a serious matter.  
No collusion. No interference. Fake news.  
We know Russians gained entry to some voting machines, and we’ve just witnessed how easy it is to obtain complete control. Seventy-seven-thousand votes out of 135 million, changed, deleted, or influenced by trolls, is all it would have taken. 
Sounding panicky, Trump just demanded Sessions immediately end Mueller’s “rigged” investigation, while, ironically, declaring Democrats would get rid of law enforcement. His latest rally, ominously including deranged Q-Anon believers, was the ugliest yet toward journalists. 
Too many people refuse to acknowledge the peril of Trump’s perfidious, hate-mongering demagoguery. Does good economic news justify ignoring it? Decide. We’re at a crossroads.  
[Image source]

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