Sunday, May 31, 2015

Scott Walker's Really Cool Sonogram Idea

Not a Real Cowboy
Gail Collins alerts us to a remark by the governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, who is running for President, in defense of his support for a law which requires a woman who is scheduled for an abortion to undergo a sonogram, so she can see what it is inside her she is "killing."
Of course, the intent of this law is confront the woman with something that looks alive, looks human, looks like a miniature baby, so she will decide against the abortion.
Not An Actual Calf
But Scott Walker denies he is trying to shame or guilt anyone, and he points out that sonograms of pregnant uteri are done all the time and parents carry them on their smart phones and post copies on their refrigerators, which is a really cool part of pregnancy. The parents start bonding at six or eight weeks with their unborn children.

The problem is:   sonograms are not babies. 

They may, with some imagination, look like babies, but they do not actually even look a lot like what is inside that uterus, which is about the size of a lima bean and very red and undifferentiated looking. 

Clouds may look like babies, or cowboys or calves but they are none of these things. An image is not the object it looks like. It is just an image. 

Not An 8 Week Fetus

Sonograms magnify and schematize the objects they penetrate.

6 weeks

Not to mention, they are black and white, except for the Doppler flow parts, which are orange and blue.  They require a mental reconstruction to make anyone bond with them. 

8 weeks

As the fetus gets older, the sonogram may look more like a baby, but what they are actually imaging would surprise most people, if they actually saw the real thing imaged--at 6 weeks the conceptus looks more like a red lawn grub, fairly difficult to imbue it with much humanity, on a visual basis.
7 weeks 

And the photos here do not even really convey how much like a clot of blood much of this material actually looks like. 
Having said all this, I'll never forget seeing a 21 week fetus delivered in what was then called a "salting out" procedure when I was a medical student. That  looked like a baby to me. The procedure which was done in those days was called an "abortion" but it looked more like infanticide to me. The fetus could not have survived outside his mother's body in those days, but the reason it was outside his mother's body was because they had pumped in a concentrated salt solution into the uterus.  I found that profoundly disturbing. They whisked the thing away from the operating room so the mother did not see it. I could see why. I stood in an adjoining room with it and half expected it to take a breath. Of course, if it had been anencephalic (without a brain) I would have hoped it would never take a breath. Some deformities are so horrific, you just think it a blessing if that breath is never taken or is it's last.  
8 weeks

So, I am not in favor of everything which is called an abortion. As my favorite ethics professor once asked me, "If you meet a fetus on the way down the birth canal with a scalpel, is that an abortion?"

His point was the difference between an abortion and infanticide is all about drawing lines. 

One way of doing that is to try to assess how much potential the conceptus has actually realized and how much it is just a mass of tissue with a lot of potential, mostly unrealized. 

But showing untutored women ultrasound images is an exercise in deception. You can instruct her however you want but they haven't really been educated until they've seen the real tissue. 

The reason parents are shown all those ultrasounds in their private obstetricians' offices?  Commerce, not medicine. There is demand for those ultrasounds, but most often, no good medical reason for doing them--unless you are looking for substantial abnormalities, which might prompt a decision for...abortion.

There are no easy answers, when it comes to abortion. The only real answer is we are poorly served whenever we have simple, mindless answers. Those are almost always wrong.

One of the great virtues of absolutism is clarity and elimination of ambiguity:  If you believe life begins at the two cell conceptus, that makes everything an abortion after conception. It's simple, clear and, at least to my mind, incorrect.

Likely 40% of conceptions are lost early, before more than a thousand cell divisions, before the mother is even aware she is pregnant. Is this a natural process wasteful of life? And, if you're Catholic, what about all those souls who have not been given last rites (because nobody knew they existed in the first place)?

Abortion is not one of those topics which affords a lot of middle ground. Never has. For centuries, defining when life begins has vexed theologians. Scientists do not define when life begins. They simply describe what they see. But sometimes, what they see is not what you think you see. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Fig Leaf Comes to Hampton

 Let's talk about breasts. The best discussion I've ever heard about breasts was not in medical school, but from Lewis Black, who observed, in his best exasperated style, that most breasts are pretty, whether large or small, and he was perplexed about why women would undergo augmentation procedures.

Friends who are not doctors, male friends, occasionally ask me how I can resist getting turned on by my female patients, especially when I examine their breasts. Women, of course, never have to ask that question.  There is nothing arousing about a woman who is worried she might have breast cancer, and when you are focused on finding something nasty, and examining a breast and probing for lymph nodes in an arm pit, it is nothing close to an erotic experience. Frightened women are not a turn on. 

"Let me ask you, " I  usually reply, "Would a breast laid out on a stainless steel tray arouse erotic thoughts in you?"  The fact is, there is a woman attached to a breast when it becomes arousing and it is her attitude which is arousing, not the physical object, the breast.

Which brings us to a piece of folk art, a sand sculpture,  which appeared recently, on Rte 27 just before The Old Salt,  on a private lot.

The sculpture, a  mermaid, was a bit of whimsy and kitsch, and I liked it. She may have looked sensual, with her hand behind her head, and her face uplifted, but it was the pose, not the bare breasts which conveyed any sort of erotic or sensual content.  That mermaid looked happy to be in Hampton, in the water, soaking up the sun, enjoying the pleasures of our clean water, our clear, invigorating air, the sparkling, rocky beaches which we love. 

Today, however, the mermaid has acquired a bikini top or bra or fig leaf or whatever it is, and one wonders how that happened. Well, we know how what happened--there was a guy out with a trowel, apparently, but the question is: Why?

We ought to write letters to the editor, organize a protest.  Picket. Bring it up with the town elders.  Children pass by that sculpture on their school buses on the way to Marston, Hampton Academy, Winnacunet High. They have seen art defaced! This is what ISIS is doing in Syria, destroying art, defacing sculptures. 

Today, it's a mermaid in a bra; tomorrow it could be veils and head coverings for all females!  Then covered ankles and pretty soon all we'll see of women in Hampton are their eyes. 

And what of Madame Liberty?

I have an old silver dollar, (not the one shown, but like it) I've been saving, at home. Will the Hampton Police come for me in their black helicopters?  
My coin is from 1986. No so valuable

First it's breasts, then they'll come for our guns!

How quickly things get out of hand. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Gail Collins and Andrew Jackson and the $20 Bill

Gail Collins continues to hammer away at the $20 bill:  She argues Harriet Tubman ought to replace Andrew Jackson.

On a recent visit to Nashville, where Andrew Jackson's statue is prominently displayed, or more accurately, where many different Jackson statues are displayed, Mad Dog inquired with locals about their feelings: Aude alterum partum (hear the other side), that's Mad Dog's motto. Mad Dog was surprised to hear Mr. Jackson has his detractors, even in Nashville, which, it must be admitted is a blue island in a sea of Tennessee red. Fact is, Mr. Jackson killed enough of his fellow citizens in duels to engender much resentment among many of Nashville's local families. Nothing like shooting a great grandfather in the head to leave a bad impression.

Beyond that, General Jackson was the first and most effective American advocate of ethnic cleansing, moving Indians out of their Eastern habitat along "The Trail of Tears" which made the Bataan Death March look like a Sunday school picnic. Four thousand Indians died along the way, by somebody's count.  Suffice it to say, portraits of President Jackson do not adorn the lodges and casinos of native Americans.

Mad Dog is proud to report New Hampshire's own Jeanne Shaheen has recommended the convening of a commission to recommend a replacement for President Jackson on the $20 bill and Gail Collins likes Harriet Tubman for the spot.  Ms. Tubman risked life, limb and liberty by returning to the slave South and guiding many slaves along the underground rail way to freedom. (Presumably, Fred Rice would have paved that rail way to reduce air pollution, but that's another story.)

For Mad Dog's money, it would be Jane Addams, but this is mostly because Maud loves her so: Hull House, a place of kindness and compassion amidst unfeeling and hostile environs, and she earned J. Edgar Hoover's designation as "the most dangerous woman in America." Anyone who made J. Edgar froth and foam at the mouth has got Mad Dog's vote.

Whoever replaces President Jackson, she can hardly be worse than a slave owning, genocidal killer.

While we're at it, the commission might consider replacing Washington and Hamilton, one a slave owner and the other a banker. We could do better. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Clara Barton should not be forgotten. 

Personally, I'd put in a vote for Emily Dickinson, although I cannot spell her name reliably, or Gloria Steinem, another spelling problem, but a worthy woman.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Let's Get Tough on Crime: It Always Works

I don't know who your favorite police chief is, but mine is Joe Arpaio, the toughest sheriff in America, by his own description.  

Well, actually, my favorite police is Howard Colvin, the Baltimore police captain who established a zone in Baltimore where drugs could be freely bought and sold, but, as I have to keep reminding myself, Colvin is not a real police, just a character on the Wire. He should be a real police, but that's another story.

So, by default, among actual, real police, Sheriff Arpaio has to take the prize. He is so tough he has a tank of his own, which he uses, I'm sure, effectively, to crack down on the drug trade, prostitution, burglary, muggings and murders.  

He doesn't just jail miscreants, he humiliates them. Those arrested, awaiting trial, are apt to find themselves marching down Arizona streets wearing nothing more than pink underwear. If, at trial, they are acquitted, presumably, they can keep the underwear, which is said to be of high quality.

This is not, for reasons known only to Sheriff Arpaio and the Supreme Court, not cruel and unusual punishment, prior to conviction. It's better than strip searching, but actually, it is used after the strip search.

I recently spoke with the mayor of a Southern city about the reasons for declines in the murder rate in his and other cities. This mayor was a former defense attorney, and he believes the "broken windows" tact of policing accounts for some of the decline.  This doctrine is a variation of the "take care of the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves."  If you arrest people for looking funny at the police, or for walking while Black, then you will decrease major crime acts. 

My own father always insisted the reason for falling crime was the aging population. Most violent crime is committed by stupid (i.e. young) people.  The authors of Freakonomics had a version of this: They claimed the fall in crime could be traced to the legalization of abortion, which meant a lot of kids who were never wanted were never born and were not roaming the streets killing people.  Either way, it had to do with simply making the population which tends to be violent shrink in size. 

Of course, we all know the real reason for the falling violent crime rate: Tanks and Humvees. Give the police the means to do shock and awe in our towns and cities and those violent criminals take to their heels and get out of Dodge. Where they go, we can only imagine, but it must be very violent there.

President Obama, of course, as usual is clueless about all this, which is why he is denying local police departments the tanks and aircraft carriers they so urgently need. 

If there is a spike in violent crime, we'll know who to blame and he lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and his name rhymes, significantly, with "Osama."

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Somalian Women

Not Good Husband Material 
Some of us recall the stories our grandparents told about why they left wherever they came from, be it Ireland or Russia  or wherever, when we hear stories about new immigrants in the United States or when we see stories about boats packed with Africans going down in the Mediterranean.  For us, there is a sort of built in sympathy, or a bias in favor of those trying to move from a bad place to someplace better or simply to anywhere else. 

Apart from African slaves brought against their will to America, some Canadians, and the "Native Americans" who may have trekked across the the Bering Straight following herds, almost all the rest of our ancestors crossed the oceans or the rivers because they were running from something bad. 

We now have refugees from Somalia in Manchester, New Hampshire.  As war or chaos grips a country, those who can will go from an area of badness to one of less badness, just as water will cross an osmotic membrane from an area of dilution to an area of concentration. It's a law of nature.  Some people in possession of deranged brains, Congressman Louie Gohmert comes to mind, but there are many like him, will tell you the appearance of these unfortunates among us is something alarming and threatening, a plague, an upsetting of a vital balance.  But these are minds which live in a constant state of alarm.  Any change is a pestilence, for them.

More generous souls will listen to the newcomers and often be moved to try to help, to the extent they can.

One of my neighbors has been traveling from her home in Hampton to Manchester to teach a Somalian woman to write and how to sign her name. The Somalian has recently learned to read and that opened up a new world to her and my neighbor was stunned to think what that must be like, to learn to read as an adult, how life would never be the same. This Somalian, being a woman in a Muslim country, was never allowed to go to school. But now, in the United States, she has learned to read. 

Of course, it was a serious crime in the antebellum South to teach a slave to read. Slave society knew, instinctively, reading was a genuine emancipation, and much as slave society told itself (and everyone else, ) these slaves were sub human, dim witted, child like, the slavers knew reading would be more dangerous than almost anything than a gun in the possession of slaves.

A urologist gave a presentation at a conference about her work in Africa--may have been Somalia--concerning urinary incontinence in women.  In this African culture, girls are married at age 9  impregnated as soon as they reach puberty, at age 11 to 12, when their pelvises were not wide enough to deliver a baby and the delivery so traumatizes their urethra's, they are left incontinent forevermore. This meant they have a constant stream of urine running down their legs to their feet, causing infections of their feet, not to mention an odor which led to ostracism.  The urologist perfected a simple operation to repair the damage and give a life back to some of the lucky few she could reach and treat. 

Of course, the urologist was not treating the basic pathology--a culture in which 9 year old girls are married off, used for sex  and impregnated as soon as they start ovulating.

My New Hampshire friend cannot fix the basic pathology, which is fomented across the sea,  which, in some ways, still afflicts her Somalian friend, but this Granite Stater is doing what she can, and that's where a better world begins. 

It is left to the rest of us to take the bigger steps in behalf of those refugees who reach us. We cannot solve the problems where they start--in Africa, but we can stanch the wounds of those who reach our tent.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Crazy Factor

Don't Forget to Pack Your Gun
Gail Collins recently offered a salient insight into American politics: There has always been and likely always will be a significant crazy factor among the men and women who offer themselves and their beliefs for "public service." So every Congress, every state legislature has some really certifiable members, but the rest of the group simply ignores and tolerates them. The problem becomes when the critical mass of crazy gets big enough to actually change the direction of the legislative process.

She was commenting on the current kerfuffle in Texas about the plans of the United States Army for war games in Texas, Utah and other arid states where there is desert which might resemble places the Army may find itself fighting soon.   But the Republican lunatic fringe (now more than a fringe) saw more nefarious things afoot--like the North Koreans, who always see war games as a prelude to actual war, they saw these "exercises" as transparent ruses for an actual invasion by Obamamen aimed at stripping Texans of their guns, liberty and maybe even part of the plan to unleash those Hispanic Muslims who have been dying to charge across the Rio Grande and rape white Christian women, who Texas has plenty of, and which we all know have been tempting those H.M.'s for some time now. 

Says Obama is Hitler Redux 
Sees Hispanic Muslim Rapists Massing on the Southern Border

If Democracy is designed to represent "The People" then it will represent the crazy members of society as well as the sane. 

But this has also meant Adolph Hitler was elected with a majority vote, not because people did not know what he thought--he had written Mein Kampf and made no secret of his beliefs.  Somehow though, when a politician says something really, really crazy many of the people who vote for him may say, "Well, that's just hyperbole. He's just making a point." 

The other issue is who has the time and the inclination to seek political power: For many Congressmen a seat in the House of Representatives with the nearly $200,000 pay package is the best paying job by several orders of magnitude they can ever hope to get. This is not true for the state of New Hampshire, which virtually does not pay its state legislators, so one might ask, who would sign up for that job?
Really? Just Look at the Man

Retired, unemployable or simply crazy people with a lot of time on their hands perhaps. 

We have a Hampton rep who claims that building a motorway along the abandoned railroad path from Hamton to Portsmouth,  rather than a bicycle path, would be a greener option;he argues  a roadway would improve air quality more than a bicycle path. That would be Fred Rice. 
Clean Air/Build Roads

We have Warren Groen, who looks at grade school kids trying to get the Red Tail Hawk named a state bird and he links that to killing babies at Planned Parenthood clinics.  
Vicious Birds Remind Him of Abortions

We have a group, or maybe it qualifies as a movement, called the Free Staters who want to move enough lunatics to New Hampshire to establish a libertarian utopia where every child will carry a gun and no government will exert its will to restrain the energies of The People. 

My current favorite is Kyle Tasker, who once dropped one of his two guns on the floor during a hearing. He was not disturbed, because he had the other gun secured, in case anyone was thinking of acting on the opportunity.  He also opposed his own bill about mental health on the grounds that "crazy people ought to know they face consequences."  Mr. Tasker, far as I can tell does not actually fit into the "Crazy" box. He just sounds like it. He fits snugly in the "stupid" box.  Who actually voted for this yo-yo?

Mr. Tasker Doing the People's Work

Over time, the crazies just seem to wash up in one place and collect, and fertilize each other and eventually who knows what will grow in that miasma?

In Concord, we are approaching the time when the lunatics will be running the asylum.

Friday, May 8, 2015

What Renny Saw

If ever there was a voice in the wilderness, it has to be Renny Cushing. The only Democratic representative among many Seacoast towns, he spoke recently at a meeting of local Democrats, detailing the prevarications, depredations and other slimy moves by New Hamsphire Republican state representatives as they raid stable parts of the state budget and systematically eviscerate the workings of good government. 

Funding for higher education, lower education, any program which might benefit the dispossessed or disadvantaged has been gutted. Basically, everything of any importance to running the state, providing services for its citizens has been stricken. Only the cigarette tax survives unscathed--no raising that because it is thought to attract Massachusetts smokers across the border. New Hampshire aims to export lung cancer to its neighbors.

It has finally dawned on Renny the primary motivating idea of the Republicans in Concord is that government is bad, and if they defund the government, it will stop the government from working and when that happens people will say, "Government is bad. Government is dysfunctional. Let's get rid of government."

The Republicans have a solid point: When Republicans are in charge of government, government is BAD.

It is the old story of the person who murders both his parents and then asks the judge for leniency on the grounds he is now an orphan.

I'm not sure I can spell it, but I can recognized it when I see it: "Chutzpah." 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Elizabeth Warren: The Real Deal

 I will vote for the Democratic nominee for President in 2016. If that is Hillary Clinton, I will go into that voting booth and place a black mark in the space next to her name and I will carry that ballot to the man behind the scanner machine and I will have done my patriotic duty to try to save the country from whomever the Republicans are running--knowing that candidate could be the Messiah himself, but if he's a Republican he will bring with him an army of frothing self styled Patriots who believe government is the problem and the Constitution means a gun in every home and waistband. 
 But if the Democratic nominee is Elizabeth Warren I will feel the way I once did about casting a vote for Barack Obama--I will be smiling.

Despite all the candidates' books and the TV interviews and New Yorker profiles (see the New Yorker piece on Ms. Warren 5/4/15) and opinions from pundits, the plain fact is we can never really know these people who live in the public eye.  They all keep significant parts of themselves private and they must.

 But we can know something of their history, that history they will each try to control and shape for us. 

And Elizabeth Warren, whatever else may be true, had a tough road through life, where Hillary had a privileged road. Hillary had to work very hard and she had to fight, but those battles were like the sweaty and bruising battles of the high school wrestler--intense but controlled. Nobody dies in those battles. Nobody goes broke. For Ms. Warren, there was always the threat of a real abyss, bankruptcy, divorce, indigence. 

She has been accused of being a bit of a drama queen. But I have to say, a  little feel for drama is not a bad thing in a woman. Oh, yes, I'm being sexist. Why is it okay to have a little drama in a woman, but not in a man?

Because women are trained to restrain expressions of emotion, especially in the setting of work and career, but when that becomes a governing principle of behavior, it does more than simply eviscerate their public presentation of self, it does something to their internal mechanisms.  I would offer Hillary Clinton as an example of what this sort of emphasis on control does. 

I cannot claim to know Ms. Clinton personally, but the few "inside" stories I know from people who knew her at Yale Law School and from people who had to deal with her at various events, consistently portray a woman whose main emotional drive is toward opprobrium  and control as opposed to sympathy and real passion.

Ms. Warren opposed Timothy Geithner and other candidates for posts in Mr. Obama's government because they were creatures of Wall Street, beholden and in love with the Wall Street power brokers to whom they knew they would one day return. Ms. Clinton simply made deals with Wall Street types because she represented Wall Street as a US Senator and she knew she needed to trade favors with the powerful.
I cannot know, but I would guess the stridency which Warren Buffett sees in Ms. Warren comes from the anger for someone who has seen the bad stuff which rolls downhill to all the under privileged in this country and that's what fuels her resentment and willingness to do battle. 

It is hard to imagine there was a time in the not distant past when most people and pundits believed bankruptcy happened to people who deserved it, who went bankrupt through profligacy and heedlessness. But Ms. Warren had an inkling this was not true: She thought people might get into trouble because of illness and loss of health insurance and loss of jobs owing to illness. Ms. Warren did the grunt work to show this  true and the prevailing notion that people who go bankrupt are feckless and deserve it is commonly wrong.Ms. Warren did her years of research, did the academic thing. The questions she asked came from somewhere, from her own experience, clawing her way toward financial security. 

Ms. Clinton fought her battles in safer arenas. She learned to clamp down on her inner feelings, I am guessing, to the point those feelings got snuffed out before they could take fire. 

Here's a really dumb tidbit full of possibly spurious imagery, likely signifying nothing, but I can't get past it: Friends who live in her neighborhood in Cambridge see Ms. Warren walking her dog there.  She still walks her own dog, her own self. I cannot somehow imagine Hillary does that. In my imagining of Hillary, she would have some intern doing that. Hillary would pose for publicity photos with the dog, not walk the dog. I know that is unfair. How politicians treat dogs should not become a test of character.  Hitler loved his dog. (Of course, his dog was a German Shepard who had worked chasing down inmates at concentration camps.)  But, any way, the dog walking thing brings to mind the image of one woman connected to the ordinary pleasures in life and another who is planning her next move. 

Ms. Warren still knows how to feel things. Call her a drama queen. I can respond to that.