Saturday, February 21, 2015

Bill O'Reilly: Look Ma! I'm a War Hero!

War Hero 

"Most notably, he has more than once said that during his short stint as a CBS correspondent in the 1980s, he was in the "war zone" during the Falklands war between the United Kingdom and Argentina in 1982. He even once told the story of heroically rescuing his cameraman in this "war zone" while being chased by army soldiers. Yet according to O'Reilly's former CBS colleagues in Argentina and other journalists there during the war, no American journalist reached the war zone in the Falkland Islands and other territories in the southern Atlantic Ocean during this conflict. O'Reilly and his colleagues covered the war from Buenos Aires, which was 1200 miles from the fighting."
--Mother Jones

"On Thursday night, O'Reilly suggested in interviews with Politico and The Washington Post that covering the violent protests in Buenos Aires qualified as 'combat.'"
-Huffington Post

In 1968, after Martin Luther King was assassinated, Washington, D.C. erupted. Riots ensued. Blocks were burned down, and the National Guard was called in to restore order.
Washington, DC, 1968

Watching all this on TV, and listening to accounts on radio, a friend of mine, who owned a nifty open Triumph sports car, said, "Hey. This is all happening just 10 miles from us. Why don't we go take a look? This may be our only chance to see anything like this in our whole lives!"

And, being a sober young man about to enter his final year of college, having not been sent to Vietnam, and having been living a monastic college life, feeling life was passing me by, I replied without hesitation: "What a great idea!"

That's how smart I was.

So we hopped in his open car and zoomed off to downtown. 
Our Car Was in Better Shape

It was remarkably easy for two young white guys,( one a blonde dead ringer for the Knight in the "Seventh Seal" and the other, me) to drive right down Massachusetts Avenue, slide over to Pennsylvania Avenue, and on toward the White House and beyond --just two white kids in a convertible riding merrily along the burning streets of Washington. 
This is Washington, not Dresden

What we saw has never left me:  City blocks I knew well were burning, smoldering, bombed out, but even more striking was the sight of soldiers with rifles on every corner.  You knew this was not just Spring weekend gone wild. This was some serious stuff.  Seeing soldiers on American street corners felt deeply wrong. After about 10 blocks of this sobering sight, my friend looked at me and said, "Had enough?"

Nobody shot at us. 
A few soldiers, holding their rifles followed us with their eyes. These were kids in uniform, about my age. The only authority they had they were holding in their hands:M-14's.
We Forgot Our Masks 

I nodded to my friend. We had seen enough and we looped back along the Whitehurst Freeway, along the Potomac, down to the parkway,  and we followed the river upstream.  We arrived back home in nice, safe, suburban, white Bethesda in 12 minutes. 

Little did I know then or really, until now, that ride had qualified me for my combat medal.   But Bill O'Reilly, who has, apparently, long claimed to have been in combat during the Falkland war, it turns out never got any closer to the Falklands than the riots in Buenos  Aires  and, he says, covering the riots there was the equivalent of combat. 

O'Reilly gets the Brian Williams award for bravery in combat.

So, if Bill gets his combat  medal for Buenos Aires,  then I guess I'll claim mine for Washington, D.C.

And to think, all these years I never thought I had any combat experience. 

Who knew?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Agents of Change

Professor Lessig
In these times, the hardest task for social or political activists is to find a way to get people to wonder again about what we all believe is true. The challenge is to sow doubt.
--Lawrence Lessig

The Democratic Party is intellectually adrift and reluctant to take principled stands that might find disapproval, especially among the moneyed elites... Intellectual innovation rarely comes from front-running, establishment candidates. They have too much to lose. Why rock a boat which you already command?
--Gary Hart

Just when you think crusading professors who try to change the world have gone extinct with the death of Howard Zinn, CNN sweeps in and puts Lawrence Lessig on the air. 

The professor wants to get money out of politics.

Exactly what form this sweeping of money out of politics would take is not clear. I did not see much dissent among the members of his audience about the desirability of eliminating "corruption" from government. Judging from the audience members who rose to emote vociferously,  the professor had been preaching to the choir.

The problem has always been: what is one man's corruption is another man's free speech and his freedom to exercise of  the  power of his purse.

Professor Lessig wants to teach the lumpen proletariat , wants them to wake up and smell the rotten fish.

Professor Lessig has a job which pays him to develop his ideas and to promulgate them. The rest of us have to get the kids out of bed, to get to work, to get the car repaired and (now in New Hampshire)  get the driveway cleared of snow and the roof raked. For the professor, the thing which motivates him to get out of bed in the morning may be fighting government "corruption;" for the work-a-day man or woman, what gets them out of bed is a strong desire to pay the bills and raise their kids. 

Years ago, my father returned from a trip to Franco's Spain very discouraged.  He had gone there, expecting to see Spaniards, living under the yoke of dictatorship, looking grim, unhappy and oppressed; instead he saw happy people, enjoying life at outdoor cafes. How could people  look so happy living where they are not "free"?  

Professor Lessig ought to ask himself that question.

The Movie, "Nashville" (one of my favorites) ends with a character, who has, for the entire length of the film, who has been muzzled, finally bursting into song for everyone to hear: "You may say/That I ain't free/But it don't bother me." Robert Altman at his best.

Professor Lessig. has traveled north, to New Hampshire to encourage the New Hampshire Rebellion, to get corruption out of politics, presumably because he can drive from Cambridge to New Hampshire in no time flat, but also because New Hampshire is, well, New Hampshire.  You know, we have politically engaged, hardy Yankee souls up here, ears and minds open to receive wisdom from a man who can talk sense to aroused citizens. And here in New Hampshire, we are nothing, if not aroused (politically speaking--don't get me wrong.)

Congressmen and Senators, it is obvious, are not representatives of a free people, but simply corporate employees who represent the people who pay them.

No professor, no New Hampshire Rebellion is going to change enough minds to matter.

After the killing of four students at Kent State, there was an image which likely did change a significant number of minds.
This Image Changed More Minds Than Any Protest March

What got us out of Vietnam was not determined teach-ins by academics or even the peace marches by ordinary Americans. What got us out of Vietnam was  the North Vietnamese army and the Viet Cong. 
Oh, If Gestures Could Stop Bombs

Will  the New Hampshire Rebellion really accomplish anything?

Well, it's attracted one energetic motivational speaker: Professor Lessig.

Were it not for him, we might all be living in vans down by the river.

If we cannot depend on the professional reformers to change the political landscape in this country, what mechanism of reform, what kind of reformer might actually be  effective? 

During the last election, in 2014,   a small coven of radical Hampton, NH Democrats  tried to get a message out, about the cravenness of Scott Brown and  Kelly Ayotte and their backers. They used  puppets and song, hoping to create an image to counter the slick fantasy created by Republican marketers and by the likes of Rush Limbaugh.  They failed. The internet is a vast galaxy and their star flamed out without much notice. 
You tube: Scott Brown The Prettiest Candidate 

That's the big problem in this new world of social media--so many voices, so little time, so little space. How do you get seen in a galaxy of competing, twinkling lights?

But they may have taken a first step down the right road.  Theirs, at least, was an authentic voice of derision and outrage, coming from an unadulterated place. Democratic candidates are timid, afraid to say anything which might offend anybody. These citizens had nothing to lose, and so they had everything to gain.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Who Should We Bomb Next? Oh, So Many Choices.

Ryan Zinke 
Ordinarily, I don't watch the Sunday morning talk shows, but this morning, procrastinating about roof raking the snow, I hopped on the treadmill and CNN treated me to an interview with Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke and someone else who was not Lindsey Graham, but could have been for all the difference they have in opinion, a man who captured my attention because he had tied his regimental striped tie so perfectly, with the dimple just so, and he was nodding in agreement with Congressman Zinke and adding we need to have "boots on the ground" in all those places which could serve as a safe haven for terrorists. 
Look at that tie! He must know what he's talking about

So we are talking about Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Iran and don't forget Egypt, these two stalwarts reminded us, they are close to the edge--ISIS could show up there any day.

Now, if we are going to go to war against terrorism, we got to go in to win, you see. What President Obama said in his recent speech about asking for war powers was all about what he would not do, but Mr. Zinke, a former Navy Seal, is here to tell you what we need to do is go in to win. That's what we did in the big one (WWII) and that's what we got to do now. You see, we went in to win and we won it. I am sure I heard Archie Bunker say that once. 

And ringing in my ears was that lovely exchange between Kima and Carter on (you guessed it) The Wire.
Kima: I love you guys, winning the war on drugs, one brutality case at a time.
Carter: Girl, you can't even call this a war.
Kima: Why not?
Carter: Wars end.

But not for Mr. Zinke and the guy with the pretty tie. No, this is endless war against...What or whom, exactly? Whack a mole? You whack Sadam and up pops ISIS.  And, it's not bad enough we got some meat head shooting Muslims in Chapel Head, now we got some Islamic extremist shooting people in COPENHAGEN!

I didn't even know Copenhagen had Muslims, not to mention extremists, or synagogues or Jews.  I was just reading last night in the New Yorker about a book by Michael Booth, The Almost Nearly Perfect People, about the Scandinavians. I was led to believe they do not have problems in Scandinavia, so Copenhagen comes as a great disappointment. Oh, I know about the Girl with the DragonTatoo, but that was Stockholm and that was fiction. Scandinavians are supposed to be melancholy, because of the weather and the dim light, but not because they've got problems with endless war and terror. 

Last time I was in Norway, I thought: these people are not Italians, but they know how to live. They just live in a place where it's still light at midnight during the summer,  and during the winter there is no sunlight at all. So they know how to live, they just haven't figured out where to live. My one night in Reykjavik, Iceland left me with the same feeling. The Icelanders live on a volcano, with no more sun than the Danes, but they have way better sweaters. It would almost be worth living in Reykjavik, just to have an excuse to wear those sweaters all the time.

But I digress.

Nobody is talking about dropping bombs on Reykjavik--although maybe ISIS is because we have a big US Navy base there, for some reason. I mean, I can see the reason the US would want a base there, but why do the Icelanders want to allow us to have a base there?  Seems to me it would just invite some maniac to shoot up a coffee shop because, well, we are the infidels and the Icelanders welcome us. And all those Scandinavians were big into the crusades--Just watch "The Seventh Seal" if you doubt me. I love that movie.  No Islamic extremists, just Death himself, sitting on the beach with a chess board and a black hoodie. 

Where was I? Oh, yes. The endless war. Congressman/former Navy Seal Zinke wants us to have bombers fly in all these places, guided by special forces soldiers on the ground who would need to be evacuated by helicopters if they get wounded or are in danger of being captured, because you know what ISIS does to soldiers or pilots they capture--they burn them at the stake. Well, not at the stake, but in a cage. Because, ISIS fighters are bestial. 

Did I ever mention in France, I stood on the spot where they burned Joan of Arc? I was never quite clear what she had done wrong--somebody heard God's voice telling them what to do--but I am reasonably sure she had no helicopter to evacuate her. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sweet Home Alabama: What is Marriage?

The Voice of God etched in Stone 

Judge Roy hears the Voice of God

This morning, on CNN, they interviewed an Alabama state legislator about the ruling by Judge Roy Moore, nullifying the Supreme Court ruling which would require Alabama to issue marriage licenses to gay couples who wish to marry in that state.

The state representative, a Mr. Barry Moore (no relation to the judge) said a number of incomprehensible things, at first saying that the government, both legislature and judiciary should represent the will of "the people" but then it was not clear whether he thought the judge or the Supreme Court represented the will of the people. He was so incoherent Mad Dog found himself thinking of the remark Maud once made about a New Hampshire state representative: "The man needs a translator."

But Mr. Barry Moore did say something which caught Mad Dog's attention: "We ought to get the state out of the marriage business."

Now this is a sentiment Mad Dog has long endorsed. It has always rankled to hear the priest say, at the wedding, "And now, by the powers invested in me by the state of..."
This strikes Mad Dog as a violation of the church/state divide. Here you are in the middle of a wedding mass and priest is now an official of the state. Whew. 

Calling it a "marriage license" has always been a dodge. You are actually signing a marriage contract when you sign on to get married, and you are legally responsible for a whole volume of responsibilities when you do sign that document, but most people are not aware of this. When you go do your will with your spouse, now that is a sobering experience, and couples should likely go through something similar when they go sign their marriage contract, but that would, you know, sort of ruin the moment. Everyone, really, should realize they are signing a pre nuptial agreement.

But, it should be said, Mad Dog has changed his mind, or as George Carlin would say, "I was Irish Catholic once. Now, I'm an American. You know, you grow."

Part of what has changed his mind is experience and part is the realization that marriage is a very different thing among different couples, but also for the same couple, over time. 

When you first get married, and you have no kids, no real estate, maybe all you have is two separate jobs or careers. Then you have kids, and that changes your relationship; you become partners in their care. Then you buy real estate and the marriage changes again. Then the kids move out and the marriage changes. Then you get older, 50 something and you buy a summer home and the kids come visit and things change again. Then one or both of you retire and you buy a winter home and things change again.

And all of these metamorphoses occur under and are governed by this thing called "marriage." The laws which allow you to claim half of the property, half of the pensions, half of the wealth of this relationship apply whether or not you are married--just ask Lee Marvin. Those laws are all governed by that marriage contract, or by "common law" marriage laws. And it is entirely just for a woman who has had to set aside her career to claim half of everything, because she raised the kids, made adjustments to her career, took the hit on her own upward mobility in career.

So Mad Dog is down with all those privileges--you should be able to visit the sick spouse in the hospital, make the decision to pull the plug (unless power of attorney has been assigned to someone else) and the fact you are the legal spouse means, by default, you get the power assigned to you and you get the money assigned to you and the property, in the absence of other declarations. 

The law gets complicated and marriage status simplifies things. If we didn't have marriage as we currently have it, we could certainly fashion a package of laws assigning all the rights of marriage to a couple who signed a marriage contract at city hall. This is what they have in some parts of Europe. In fact, in some parts of Europe, the license is more like a progressive driver's license--as you progress from one stage to the next, you sign a new document, like "renewing your vows."  (Whoever came up with that? Renewing your vows. What a Hallmark notion. And tomorrow is St. Valentine's day. How appropriate: Let's make love a profit center.)

And, it is likely true, many couples stay together, physically at least, because it is just, financially, too complicated to split. And that may not be a bad thing, in their fifth decade with kids out of the house. Nobody has to suffer from a modestly incompatible couple at war. They can live their cold war state without making kids miserable and without destroying each other. They can stick together in some ways and part ways  in other ways. Of course, many couples become even more compatible, as their finances smooth out and the strains of being young with children to support ebb away.

And then there is the recognition of what it means to be "married" to some people. It's like Catholicism:  It may seem like a burden to some, but it is a source of enrichment to others. Every February Mad Dog and his wife go off on a ski vacation with good friends who are  a married gay couple.  They  are very happy to be married because it means they will not face embarrassing events at the Vermont Inn and they can put their kids through college and visit as parents on parents' weekend and life is generally less of a hassle to have that status assigned by the state. 

Some gay couples believe having the state office sign on is a formal acceptance of them as being as worthy of respect and privilege as anyone--it is a long sought delivery of social acceptance to people who were once so scorned they had to hide their feelings. Mad Dog is not so sure it really is all that. There is still a part of American society who will never accept them. But then again, there is a part of American society who burn with racial hatred--said to be about 20%. Some people you just can write off.

And what is the judge in Alabama really saying? He's saying he hears God's voice saying homosexuality is BAD. Homosexual love is an affront to GOD. He hears that voice saying that. That voice may be emanating from  the monument to the 10 commandments he has right outside his door. Of course, he denies he is saying God tells him homosexuality is a personal sin and societal ill. He knows better than to actually say that. He says he simply does not want the definition of a word changed by federal decree, but he lies, plain and simple. He hates homosexuals.

What he is really hearing is his own reaction that homosexual love is repellent, but who am I to say that voice is not God? (Thank you, Pope Francis for that lovely phrase: "Who am I to say?")

And, for now at least, the government is saying to him: You can hear voices, but you cannot force others to hear that voice. 

For others, if not for you, all love is equal.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Oh Captain, My Captain! Jon Stewart is Gone! Fox News Declares Victory!

Jon Stewart is 52 years old. He has been the Daily Show for 16 years. He's packing it in, quitting, leaving, out of here, gone.

What will we do now?

Well, if you are Fox News: Celebrate! 

Mad Dog has solicited reactions from his favorite news analysts they were gracious enough to supply the following reactions:

Rush Limbaugh: This is a great day for all right thinking Americans. The Wicked Witch is Dead! All Hail the Deliverance from the seductive, slick sensation at Comedy Central who masqueraded as a latter day pundit!

Bill O'Reilly:  I never thought I would live to see this day! We have been delivered from evil.  The Antichrist has gone down.  I may invite him to do spots on my program, if he has not gone entirely Hollywood. 

The Bimbo Group:  We are so glad to report the passing of a dark scourge from the evening news landscape. A force of disrespect, loathing and obfuscation has finally been driven from the alter of truth which is television news.  

So, the axis of evil: Stewart, Colbert and Oliver have finally been defeated and we can all feel safer in our homes and beds and cars and yachts. 

The Left is in disarray, silenced. 

Al Franken has been said to be considering resigning from the Senate to try for Stewart's seat, but, truth be told Al Franken is no Jon Stewart. He isn't even Barney Frank. 

Now, there's a thought: Barney Frank. He must be getting bored by now.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia

Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you
--Bob Dylan

Tangled Up in Blues
Blood on the Tracks

Gore Vidal led a gaudy life. Watching the documentary, "Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia" is great fun. But it is more. Vidal was wonderfully inventive and daring. I was, regrettably, mostly oblivious to him during his heyday in the 1960's--there were too many other voices, too much noise in America. Now, I wish I had paid more attention.

But all is not lost, this documentary helps enormously.

He says things which I thought were original within my own mind, but which, apparently, he had already thought and said and I may have simply absorbed them from the revolutionary air. 

"We should stop going around babbling about how we're the greatest democracy on earth, when we're not even a democracy. We are a sort of militarized republic."

How many times have I said words to that effect, and thought myself very clever and original?  But now, Gore Vidal said it all before. 
Or maybe, great minds think alike. But, whatever the case, it is not exactly that his words written in my soul, like burning coals, but there are a number of remarks which do resonate.

Here's a sampling.

On Our National Capacity for Obtuseness:

"The United states was founded by the brightest people in the country--and we haven't seen them since."

"Big oil, big steel, big agriculture avoid the open marketplace. Big corporations fix prices among themselves and thus drive out of business the small entrepreneur. Also, in their conglomerate form, the huge corporations have begun to challenge the very legitimacy of the state."

On Justice:
"The genius of our ruling class is that it has kept a majority of the people from ever questioning the inequity of a system where most people drudge along."

"Well, the Constitution has not yet been pregnant."

On Leaders: 
"For reasons that I leave to a higher psychiatry, Jr. wanted a war in Iraq. ...Jr. is really pretty vague, you know. He just wanted to go 'Bang! Bang! Bang!' We gotta stand tall, ya know? We can't cut and run...' We've had bad presidents in the past, but we've never had a G--D--d fool."

"You know, I've been around the ruling class all my life, and I've been quite aware of their total contempt for the people of the country."

He is tough on Kennedy, who, he says, was one of the most intelligent people he ever met but a "disastrous"  President.  "He spoke intelligently on every important subject of his time. Brilliantly. Then nothing would happen."  
(Personally, I'm not sure I agree with Vidal on this one.  Kennedy, far as I can see,  was hemmed in by the shifting political and social tectonic plates of American history. But what do I know?)

On the sexual revolution:
"Never pass up a chance to have sex or to appear on television."

"I can understand companionship. I can understand bought sex in the afternoon, but I cannot understand the love affair."

"As one gets older, litigation replaces sex."

"Certainly I am devoted to promiscuity and always have been. I believe the more you do the better it is for you. I am a great health nut. I don't like the word "love." It's like "patriotism." It's like a flag. It's the last refuge of scoundrels. When people start talking about what warm deep emotions they have and they are loving people, I watch out. Somebody is going to steal something."

On human nature:
"A narcissist is someone better looking than you are."

"Envy is the central fact of American life."

His debates with the officious William F. Buckley, Jr. are alone worth the price of admission.

I liked Burr and Lincoln . Never got into his stuff on sex and society, like Myra Breckenridge. But, as a person to watch, to listen to, he is in a class with Truman Capote and David Sedaris. 

Watching him is a peculiar experience:  You know he is coming from a place you cannot come from--the gay, libertine who rejects the notion this nation is or ever was a center of virtue, a force for good. But he nibbles away--you know he's correct about some things, why not about others?  He points out we have never been nor really wanted to be a democracy--when the Constitution was signed, out of 3 million Americans only 700,000 got the vote--white propertied men. And patriotism--well that's just an excuse for empire. He never heard a soldier or sailor say anything which smacked of patriotism the two years he spent on board his ship in the Pacific during the war. War, soldiering is not about patriotism, wasn't then, isn't now. And once you begin to see what is behind the mask, whether it's a pedophile priest or a hypocritical politician, you begin to think, well maybe some of the other outrageous things he says are not so outrageous. 

It's a worthwhile two hours, watching Vidal.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Vaccines and Politicians: Public Health vs Private Ambition

Child with Diptheria
“There’s a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate. She said her daughter was given that vaccine.  She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result. There are very dangerous consequences.”
--Michele Bachmann

"I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after [hepatitis B and measles] vaccines...I don't think there's anything extraordinary about resorting to freedom."
--Rand Paul, MD, United States Senator, R-Ky
Measles Killed 450,000 in 2014

No discussion about vaccines and public health should turn on, or even begin with anecdotes about a single case. Vaccines and the public health are about numbers, statistics, risks and benefits.

But they are also about the evils of the diseases we vaccinate against. The simple truth is, because we have not seen much of measles, diphtheria, polio, and influenza in this country, we have forgotten how nasty these illnesses once were, and could be again.

In a sense, we are the victims of our own scientific success: People no longer remember the terror of a polio outbreak in a community, not to mention more remote scourges like diphtheria or tetanus or measles or influenza. Influenza killed more people during the war years of World War I than all the battles of that war did.

Having just said anecdotes are unscientific, let me tell an anecdote about one of my patients who I bullied into having an influenza vaccine. She got Guillain Barre syndrome, a sort of short-lived polio like state, following the vaccine, a rare but well known risk of the influenza vaccine. She wound up in a wheel chair for four months. But that did not stop me from bullying my sons and friends and patients to get influenza vaccines. I get one every year, even this year when it wasn't as effective.

Why? Another anecdote: When I was in training at the New York Hospital, I admitted a  lovely 21 year old woman with influenza from the Emergency Room. She was blue as a frozen foot and she died five hours later. Influenza, nothing we could do. A young life, snuffed out. 

Why would a man who went to medical school inveigh against vaccinations? Because he is playing to an audience which values individual freedom above all other values--the libertarians, who do not want the good of the group to determine what any individual might want to do or think.

So Rand Paul and, it must be noted, Chris Christie, pander to this group, making the question of "choice" of vaccine into a struggle between freedom and governmental oppression rather than a choice to protect the many from the irrational few.

The fact is, we are talking about public health. If we were talking about the family living off the grid in the wilds of Wyoming or Montana, people who never came into contact with anyone else, outside members of their own family, then we would not be concerned so much about their choices and the impacts on public health.

But, when you have people living among other people, that is, people who live in suburbs, towns or cities, who send their kids to public schools, who shop at public shopping malls, who use public bathrooms, who eat in public restaurants, who swim at community swimming pools, who attend church and Christmas parties with other members of their community, then you have to think about more than individual's freedom. What that individual does affects the health, life and freedom of all those members of the group he might infect.

We do not allow people to defecate or urinate on their own lawns, or in the street, for fear of contagion. That, too, is public health.

That's the thing about the diseases we vaccinate against: They are infectious, which is to say, they pass from person to person, or from person to public water supply or from child to child. The nature of public health is a concern about the public and the "right" of the individual to start an epidemic is overwhelmed by the concern for the welfare of the many. 

It is understandable when an uneducated ignoramus, say Chris Christie, says vaccination should be a matter of "choice" for parents.  That you can write off as an honest lapse into idiocy. 

But when a man who went to medical school, who has to know better, like Rand Paul,  decides to frame the world of contagion and pestilence through the lens of the rights of the individual, you know you are looking at some deeply bizarre and cynical political calculation.

Does some public health officer have the right to tell some parent--who is worried about a vaccine turning her walking, talking, healthy beautiful child into some autistic monster--does the government have the right to insist that her child must be vaccinated against measles? Well, DUH! Of course! The public health service, a governmental agency which is supposed to protect the public. The agency of the government should be concerned about the many, and that agency not only can but should stomp ruthlessly all over anyone who would put his neighbors at risk. 

Would you have Rand Paul saying the same thing in the middle of an Ebola outbreak, if we had an effective vaccine against Ebola? 

Very doubtful. And why? Because the emotional argument--the visual images of what dying Ebola patients look like--would overwhelm any discussion about individual freedom of choice. The same should be true for measles, diphtheria,  polio, tetanus and influenza. The fact is, while Mr. Paul tries to pretend he is being thoughtful and open minded about the rights of those frightened parents, he is accepting the proposition their emotion, their irrationality should trump the cold, statistics based rationality in favor of mass vaccination programs. 

A very canny propagandist once remarked it is easier to sell the big lie than the small one. Your adversaries are so dumbstruck by the stupidity of what you are saying, they do not even know where to begin. That is where we are now, in a sense, with Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Michele Bachmann and all those freedom loving, God fearing, Tea Party  upright citizens who sail with them. Their frame of reference is so far out, we do not even have a common language--only Barney Frank ever seemed to have a Democratic response to these irrationalists: Looking one in the eye at a press conference, he asked, "Excuse me, m'am, but on what planet do you spend the majority of your time?"

I have told this story before, and will likely tell it again, because I think it is the most elegant argument in favor of vaccinations I have ever heard--forgive me for repeating myself. When Dave Garroway stepped up to the podium to introduce Jonas Salk, Garroway told his audience he had been at home, in his bedroom, pulling on his tuxedo, adjusting his bow tie and  thinking about what he should say by way of an introduction, when his seven year old son appeared beside him and seeing the tuxedo and bow tie,  asked his father what the big occasion was.
Garroway told him, "Well, I'm going to introduce the man who conquered polio, the man who made the first successful polio vaccine." 
And his son asked, 'What's polio, Dad?'"

 Then Garroway smiled and  looked at his audience: "Can you imagine any seven year old of our generation, who would not have known what polio was?"

Jonas Salk said that was the best introduction he had ever had. 

{NB: If advertising appears on this web page, please know Mad Dog has tried to prevent it. Some new way Google can monetize, apparently}

Monday, February 2, 2015

Brave New World: How Change Happens

Dr. Carl Djerassi

"Recreational sex is an integral part of society. According to the World State, sex is a social activity, rather than a means of reproduction and, as part of the conditioning process, is encouraged from early childhood. The few women who can reproduce are conditioned to use birth control, even wearing a "Malthusian belt," a cartridge belt holding "the regulation supply of contraceptives" worn as a fashion accessory. The maxim "everyone belongs to everyone else" is repeated often, and the idea of a "family" is considered pornographic. Sexual competition and emotional, romantic relationships are rendered obsolete because they are no longer needed. Marriage, natural birth, parenthood, and pregnancy are considered too obscene to be mentioned in casual conversation."
Wikepedia description of "Brave New World"

Sunday's New York Times carried several different articles which struck me as being related, although I doubt the editors would have grouped them

One was an obituary of, Carl Djerassi,  the biochemist who first devised an economical way of making progesterone, which was the breakthrough required to manufacture oral contraceptives. He was called, "the father of the birth control pill," although, as he correctly noted, many scientists contributed and he was simply a convenient icon.  

The second article was a meditation on how change happens, using abolition of slavery as the template.  The historian who wrote the piece noted that Abolitionists, those pure of soul folks who worked diligently to abolish slavery were widely reviled, and, ultimately, ineffective. Their righteousness is now indisputable, but their effectiveness minimal, and without the war, and the desertion by the Southern senators and congressmen from the government in Washington, and the craftiness of Lincoln, the 13th amendment would never have been passed and slavery might have survived into the 20th century. 

The final piece was Ross Douthat's piece on how people of the liberal persuasion have turned to protest and social issues, now they find the path toward economic justice blocked by the Republican majorities in Congress and on the Supreme Court.
He correctly notes that Occupy Wall Street has gone the way of the Yippies, just one more example of a group of well meaning, righteous and in some ways admirable people who simply fumbled the ball because they had not actually thought through what they wanted and how to get there. 

Douthat goes on, "Finally, the late-Obama left is shaped by the success of the same-sex marriage movement, a rare example of a progressive cause that seems to be carrying all before it. To activists, its progress offers a model for winning even when electoral obstacles loom large. It shows that the left can gain ground at the elite level and then watch the results trickle down."

I will have to go back and re read Brave New World, but I can well recall how powerfully it affected me as an adolescent. It was supposed to be a dystopia, but I was so taken with the idea of such complete sexual and social freedom, of the then fantasy of what it would be like to live in a world where all the repression surrounding sex and man/woman relationships could be jettisoned, that, for me, it was a secret utopia. 

And, lo and behold, much of Huxley's dream came true.  So much of science fiction in the first half of the 20th century had to do with fantasies about transportation and firepower--obvious concerns for those times--but I cannot recall much about a future ruled by changes in information technology or biological manipulation. Brave New World was all about the social forces which could be unleashed by advances in biology.

I had forgotten the parts about test tube production of new human life, but even that has come to pass. Of course, in the American wrinkle, it has been co-opted by money.  "Infertility" doctors are ruthless in their pursuit of dollars as they guide their customers through IVF and other procedures designed to achieve parenthood. That is the dark side of progress.

But, on the bright side, there are grateful parents who never would have received that gift of parenthood. Even the most bizarre and cruel murderer, "The Fall" 's Paul Spector, is entirely convincing when he takes his young daughter in his arms and tells her, "Whatever happens, remember: The best thing in my life has been watching you grow up."

When I was growing up, sex was for procreation, to be had for the first time on the wedding night and only within marriage. In the (relatively) short time of one life, it has become, as Huxley described, "recreational" and if not encouraged, at least accepted to begin as early as possible, or as early as the child/adolescent if ready for it. 

And, truth be told, the sex part is really not the essential part. In Huxley's world, separating breeding from human contact was important because it allowed for the continuation of a social order, in which people remained in their own classes, happy there and not rattling cages. Biology had progressed to the point where you could choose to produce people with various levels of intelligence and physical capabilities, almost as you might breed cattle or dogs, to fill certain niches and occupy certain occupations.

And what do we have now in America?  Do people move from the upper 1% down to lower classes with any regularity?  Do people born in the lower 15% of the SES group move, with any regularity up to the upper 20%?  Do we not have a remarkably static society now, in which people get born into their station in live and stay there--the rich get richer (and stay richer) and the poor get...well, we used to say, and the poor get children, but now at least, happily, we do not have to say that.