Saturday, December 31, 2016

Of Experts and IQ

Reading Andrew Hacker's books about the follies of American educational theory and practice reminded me of an episode at one the annual Endocrine Society meetings some years ago.

The annual Endocrine Society meeting brings together four thousand endocrinologists from all over the world and it's where you have a chance to ask the "experts," the authors of the articles you've read in the "New England Journal of Medicine" or the "Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism" all those questions you've been storing up all year.

Every week I see newly pregnant women in my practice who have just learned they are hypothyroid, and these women have gone on line and read their babies will suffer a big hit to their IQ scores unless the mothers are treated yesterday. They arrive at my office, understandably, in a panic. Their incubating babies have been deprived of thyroid hormone from week 8 to 12 of their gestation and now they will never be smart enough to get into Harvard.

The source of this bad news about baby's IQ was a study done in Milan, Italy some years ago where mothers with low blood levels of thyroid hormone were divided into two groups, and one was treated with thyroid hormone to bring their levels to normal and the other was not.  The babies were tested at three years of age and those whose mothers were not treated with supplemental thyroid hormone scored three to four  IQ points lower than those whose mother got the extra thyroid hormone.

We discussed this study in our weekly endocrine conference and I was alone in voicing substantial doubts about the study, but, of course, like my colleagues, I figured, what the hell? Why not treat women with thyroid hormone?  The only real question was how often they needed their blood tests monitored and what to tell them about the harm done before they were treated.
Many of these women had experienced some delay before they were tested or treated and some were ready to sue their obstetricians for the blow dealt to their babies's brains and academic futures.

This simply made no sense to me for a variety of reasons:
1.  The developing fetal brain, it is well known, does not need thyroid hormone at various stages in development, which is the reason you can check babies at birth for the babies' blood level of thyroid hormone and you have a several weeks to treat them with thyroid hormone. This is the reason every American baby gets tested at birth for hypothyroidism (a test called TSH) and public health nurses track down those who are low and treat them. Since this practice was instituted the incidence of cretinism (the mental retardation caused by infantile hypothyroidism) in the United States has fallen to nearly zero, being seen only in babies born in places where mothers deliver off the grid. 
2. It's been long taught that thyroid hormone does not cross the placental barrier from mother to child, so why would treating the mother help?  Since this study, people have been back pedaling on this teaching and it has made me wonder how we knew this "fact" in the first place, and I have not yet discovered the answer. Another "truth" that "experts" taught, which may not be true.
3. The kids' IQ's were tested at age three. How do you test a 3 year old for IQ? And if you could reliably test for something called intelligence, at age three, what would you find at age 18 in these same kids?  This was the question I asked the panel at the meeting. I pointed out the neurosurgeons have been telling us for decades about how plastic the brains of kids are compared to adults, which permits all sorts of brain surgery, from which kids seem to recover and become perfectly functional. So why should we believe these kids whose mother did not get thyroid would not, at age 17,  get into Harvard because thyroid hormone therapy was delayed a few weeks when they were in utero?

4. During the discussion at the Society meeting someone mentioned that women in Italy do not get tested for thyroid until the 2nd trimester, sometime around week 14-16, so even the treated group got treated a lot later in pregnancy than American women, who are typically tested around week 8.  The organs are all "formed" by week 12, but this is one of those things which make you think that there might be more to an organ than its structure as seen by an ultrasound--there might be more going on in a brain or a liver in terms of "formation" and maturation. Lungs, of course, have long been known to look like lungs far before they can function outside the womb as lungs. 

The members of the panel on stage started squirming. One or two suppressed smiles, others could not, but some were clearly angry. No clear answer was forthcoming other than the usual, "We need more studies."

In the hallway, afterward a woman who introduced herself as a professor of pediatrics caught my arm and informed me that actually three year olds can be test for IQ and these IQ tests are very "durable" and predictive of adult IQ's, and a 3 to 4 point difference is "very significant."

I thanked her for her input and told her I did not believe a word she said. 

I'm a long way from being a pediatrician, but I've had two kids and I had the opportunity of observing them daily and closely and watching my wife, a nurse, put each one through their little Piaget tests at every age and I can tell you, I had no clue whether these kids would be academically talented, intelligent enough to tie their own shoes or even find their way from their rooms to the kitchen.  

For the longest time, our dog seemed several steps ahead of our kids. (He was a very bright dog, admittedly.)
an early fondness for blades

And one of these kids, was charming but I would not have bet on his getting out of middle school on time.  Doing his math homework with him, helping him write his essays, I thought, well, maybe he can work with his hands when he grows up, but he may not want to go to college.

Of course, I missed a few key clues about him. For one thing, when he was in 6th grade, he wrote an "epic" poem, based on a mix of fantasy books he loved, and the "Iliad" and his teacher put it in the literary magazine.  For another, while he seemed incapable of staying in his chair for more than thirty seconds, when he got home from wrestling team practice, beaten to a pulp and exhausted, he would read a 1,500 page fantasy novel with two dozen plot lines and as many characters and he would not budge until he finished. 

I was right about one thing: He did wind up making his living with his hands, as a surgeon. 
Working with his hands

His middle school teachers, his counselors, all the experts told us not to expect much from him, and looked at us as typical pushy parents who wanted their kid to go to Harvard when he really belonged in the construction trades.
His patients are human, but he makes an exception for gorillas

Expert opinion, right there. 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Anger: Andrew Hacker Illuminates

Sitting with the head of the board of trustees of the Sidwell Friends School, decades ago, I listened as the parent of one of the students, opined about what makes a school truly elite. "The worst thing Boston Latin ever did was to abandon the requirement that every student master calculus. The place was never the same." This parent was a well known lawyer in Washington, D.C.
Andrew Hacker

Speaking with a Dean at Vanderbilt University about my son, who was struggling to get past calculus as a freshman, I mentioned the last time I ever used calculus, which was required in my day to get into medical school, was on the final exam. "Oh," the Dean said, "But math is the language of science. You need calculus."  I asked him what his academic training was. He had a PhD in Anthropology. (That particular student managed to squeak by calculus and got into Columbia P&S, a pretty elite medical school, and he went on to be a vascular surgeon without ever mastering polynomials or any math higher than arithmetic and the few bits of algebra which allow you to calculate doses of drugs per/ml, something the calculators and computers now do for you.)

Listening to an electrician's apprentice in Haverhill,  I learned he had worked with his electrician sponsor for six years but could not get licensed in the state of Massachusetts because he could not pass the math portions of the electricians' licensing exam.
"What sort of math do you need to know to be an electrician?" I asked him.
"Damned if I know," he said. "Whatever it is, I don't know it."
"But," I asked. "When you are doing your work every day, do you use math?
"Nothing like what's on the exam."
Andrew Hacker

There are many malign sources of injustice in life. 
Looking at depictions of the 20th century, where injustices occurred in Army life where privates slept in the mud and officers slept indoors, and there were nasty injustices where Nazis seized property and sent Jews off to concentration camps, where Sophie had to make her choice.
One gets a sense of big, horrible injustice versus smaller, but still important injustices, like who gets to travel the road toward greater financial security and a more comfortable place in the higher strata of society.

Howard Zinn wrote of injustice in the South as it occurred in a society in which White males kept Negroes from voting, from getting good jobs, from getting a good education. Those were very serious injustices.
Howard Zinn

And he wrote about the bosses, people like Carnegie and Mellon hiring thugs to break the heads of union leaders trying to organize labor. Those were nasty, brutal forms of injustice.

But an injustice doesn't have to be racist or thuggish to be serious or to engender anger and hatred.  It can simply be mindless, institutional and narrow minded self interest thwarting rewards to deserving people.

Re reading Andrew Hacker's "The Math Myth" brought to mind all sorts of institutionalized injustices I experienced wending my way through school, going higher and higher, from college to medical school,  and being lucky enough to dodge and elude the math Mandarins. 

Some of the arguments for the Common Core, for advanced algebra for calculus derive from a commendable desire for rigor.  Learning and academic advancement should not be pleasant, enjoyable or fulfilling, the argument goes. You should have to take some courses which prove how much you want it. How much discomfort and drudgery you are willing to suffer.

Rule Makers

I've certainly seen the problems generated when people who are not inclined to dedicate themselves get into jobs which at least once upon a time required a certain amount of self denial and sacrifice, like being a doctor in a hospital, or in an emergency room.  
Watching young doctors walk away from a patient in crisis because their shifts are done, seeing doctors who do not bother to pick up the phone to call another doctor to explain why a patient is being sent for a referral, who really have no inclination to sacrifice anything for a patient's welfare--all this brings home how important the right "character" is for certain jobs. The trouble is, there is no assurance the student who will sacrifice to get his own glittering prize will then be likely to sacrifice his own comfort for a patient or a client.

I once admitted a patient whose blood smear in my office looked like acute myelocytic leukemia and I told  the patient to meet me at the hospital. I phoned the hematology oncology fellow who would have to do the bone marrow and I expected the fellow would, as was customary.  People who are told they might have leukemia are thrust into a special circle of Hell, awaiting the most dreaded news, and the waiting is in some ways as bad as what follows.
 But the fellow did not see the patient. He went to lunch, did some other chores and went home early to have dinner with his wife and he still hadn't got by to see the patient by dinner the next night and I was apoplectic and when I finally tracked him down, I let that  fellow know just how deplorable I thought he was. 
He reacted with indignation that I would get angry. Anger was unacceptable.  The fellow had done well in calculus and got good grades at an elite medical school who was I to judge him when so many had certified him as top drawer?
I thought I had better reason to judge him  a pretty miserable excuse for a doctor, despite his talent for solving polynomial equations.

All this bubbled up as I read Andrew Hacker outlining how we have fallen so far in America with respect to our idea of meritocracy, how thoroughly perverted we've allowed our system of awarding glittering prizes to become.

He tells the story of Jeb Bush visiting a high school in Florida where a girl student asked him if he knew the angles in a  3/4/5 triangle .  Bush had no idea.
"Then you could not graduate from my high school," the student said.
In fact 90% of Florida adults could not pass the tests required of high school students.
The fact is, you can throw up hurdles for students to jump; you can demand real rigor in courses in high school and college, which would separate those who are willing to sacrifice and work hard from the slackers,  without resorting to the use of arbitrary and meaningless hurdles such as solving polynomial equations.

It is any wonder there is anger in the heartland?  Can you blame people for voting against Hillary Clinton, who they see as someone who embraces all that is wrong with how one class, the Mandarins,  who are the professors of mathematics at elite institutions,  keep other classes of people down?

Math and the way math courses are used in America is really just the prologue for Hacker.  What he's really talking about is social injustice. It's about the process, now ubiquitous in America, of telling people who want to be veterinarians'' assistants, electricians, welders, paralegals, physicians, surgeons they don't have the "right stuff" when, in fact, the basis for making this judgment is fraudulent, and the fraud is obvious to anyone who has ever faced a 3/4/5 triangle question.

The tests used are obviously arbitrary and irrelevant to the jobs sought.   

Like Zinn, Hacker looks through the status quo and past the hoary visages of the eminent professors to the truth. 

Truth is actually a rare commodity in America today and Hacker uncovers a mother lode in "The Math Myth."

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Learning to Love Rogue Politicians: Buddy Cianci as a Prequel to the Donald

Buddy Cianci started his career as an assistant prosecutor in Providence, Rhode Island,   with  the murder trial of Raymond Patriarca, the mob kingpin of Providence. 
It had all the elements of a Francis Ford Copolla production.
The key witness for the prosecution testified he was ordered by Mr. Patriarca to murder two rival gansters. Open and shut case.
Then the defense produced a Catholic priest, who testified he was visiting the cemetery with Mr. Patriarca at the time the mob boss was supposed to be giving the order.
Mr. Patriarca

As Cianci later said, it was up to the jury of twelve Catholics whether to believe the priest or the hit man.  Under cross examination, the priest admitted he might have been mistaken about the date, when the priest was shown to have been out of town on the date in question. The jury acquitted Mr. Patriarca anyway.

"He's a nice guy," the jury members of Mr. Patriarca. The mob boss sent turkeys to needy families at Christmas and walked the streets handing out cash and favors to local folks.

Later, when Mr. Cianci ran for mayor, Mr. Patriarca supported him, which meant he had his mob get out the vote for Cianci, who won and who kept his word to the boss to appoint his wise guys to city jobs which gave them control over a variety of key departments.  Patriarca gave away $15 turkeys personally, but he stole $1500 per person through the taxes which had to be raised to support payouts through city government to the mobsters in the garbage collection department, among others.

"That's the way business is done in this town," Cianci later observed.

He went from the anti corruption mayor running against the powers that be to the mob's mayor. 
Providence, Rhode Island

In between stints in "a federally funded gated community" as Cianci described  federal prison, Buddy did a talk show which the citizens of Providence loved, a sort of early version of "The Celebrity Apprentice."

The interesting thing about all this is the people who voted for him didn't take him literally. They shrugged a lot. 
Buddy did for them what they wanted from a mayor. He kept the snow plowed; he showed up at every parade; unroofed the Providence River so the water was again visible and it became a huge tourist attraction when they added gas flames along the river front and brought in entertainers for "River fire fest" during the summer. Business flourished and buildings got built. "Sure you have to pay bribes to get anything done here," one citizen noted, "But the fact is, things do get done. Buddy's been a great mayor."
Hizhonor the mayor

The doyens on College Hill, the east side of Providence may have been scandalized by this mayor who hung out with gangsters, who beat a man he thought was having an affair with his wife with a fire place poker, and Buddy had affairs aplenty of his own; he did not object to extra martial sex--only extramarital sex on the part of his wife.

But the proletariat was more worldly, some would say more cynical. They didn't care whether Buddy was an angel. Every one knew he was no angel. He was a good mayor.
He ran for re election after his original conviction at the hands of the feds, and he won again.
Buddy on the air

Maybe we ought to learn from the Providence experience.
Voters don't care about affairs with interns, don't care about unsavory mob connections. They care about what affects them--does the snow get plowed and the garbage get picked up?


Opening the river downtown

Monday, December 26, 2016

Is the Presidency About Personality?

After eight years with a man in the Presidency so many of us liked, have we come to conflate the idea a good President with a good man?

I think that's likely, at least for many of my friends. 
But if my time in Washington taught me anything, it is how little we actually know about the person behind the public image, "The West Wing" notwithstanding.
John F. Kennedy has got to be the most stark and recent example.

Let us consider things many find deplorable, even detestable about Donald J. Trump:
1. He is characterized as a misogynist: 
based on the stolen comments about his glee in fondling women, and his oogling contestants in beauty pageants.  I really don't know the guy. But, I suspect, you wouldn't hear anything from him you wouldn't hear three blocks away from my home, down at the local bars, when men are drinking beer together.

2. He is a coward, 
who used his money to avoid the draft and serving in Vietnam.
 I cannot hold avoiding Vietnam against any man, even one who wants to be President.

3. He does not give to charity, which means he's selfish. 
 He accumulates money, but unlike Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg or Warren Buffet, he does not "give back."  One might infer this impulse toward philanthropy among many of the rich derives from a sense of gratitude and a sense wanting to use wealth for good works, but it may just as well derive from a sense of guilt at having so much when others are wanting. Mr. Trump, one suspects, has a sense of entitlement to his wealth, like royalty of the past, who thought themselves deserving because God willed them to be wealthy, or, in Trump's case because he "earned" his wealth.

4. He has avoided paying his share by avoiding income taxes for twenty years
But all rich people avoid paying taxes, use loopholes.  Some, who live in New York City, keep careful logs to document they have spent fewer than 180 days in the city to avoid paying city income tax, on the claim they do not actually "live" in the city.
Mr. Trump's harrumph that he avoided paying income taxes because the government would have only "squandered" his hard earned money is, of course, subversive and would lead one to say if the head of the government tells you to evade income taxes,  then you are right to do so.  The contradiction in the head of state advising citizens to avoid paying the taxes his own government levies is something new. 
On the other hand, it's exactly the sentiment and the rationalization of every garage owner, every shop owner, and many doctors I know. They consider income tax a theft. Mr. Trump says he already pays plenty of taxes--corporate taxes, gasoline taxes, sales taxes on his yachts, real estate taxes--why should he worry about income taxes?  This makes sense, emotionally, to his voters, even if it's bad public policy.

5. He's a xenophobe:
He threatened to ban all Muslims from entering the country and he promised to round up and deport illegal immigrants and he promised to build a wall. Of course, all of this is dismissed by his supporters as not to be taken literally.  He was just saying what many people have said privately, that we are, in fact, horrified by radical Islam, its bestiality, its rabid aggressiveness, its intolerance, and being told our fear is not politically correct, is not rational is only infuriating.  
As for the Mexican "wet backs," this is puzzling, because outside a few border counties in Arizona and Texas, most people I know do not fear or loathe Mexican immigrants, legal or illegal. Quite the opposite.  Here, he really does sound like some later day Hitler, looking for a scapegoat to hate, hoping to find someone to blame for the loss of jobs.

Considering personal characteristics--what HRC called "temperament"-- there are some things to reject about the man:
1. He's a psychopathic liar: 
He has not accepted the idea of "evidence based" argument. So he doesn't have to cite evidence that Muslims were dancing on the roof tops in New Jersey on September 11, 2001. He does not have to cite evidence that Hillary Clinton ever committed a specific crime--she is simply "crooked." (Of course, the head of the FBI showed no more care about evidence than Mr. Trump, but that's another topic.)
Of course, when it comes to his accusation of criminality, he was just kidding, or, really, lying. But, it's not lying if you really don't mean it. 

2. He's thoughtless and impulsive
He, to all appearances, does not think much about what he says before he says it: So he's for the war in Iraq before he's not; he's okay with punishing women for having abortions, until he's not. 3. He's okay with transgender using whichever bathrooms they desire, until he's not. 

3. He's untrustworthy:
Rumor has it, although I do not know the details, he has few scruples about entering into contracts with people with no intention of actually keeping his end of the deal. This, he considers good business. Promise to pay the electrician or the plumber, but then pay half of what you promised.  You can choose not to believe this about the man, or you can choose to believe. 
You can cite his multiple bankruptcies, which he simply dismisses as good business.  Here we may have evidence, but as is true of most evidence based arguments, he will also cite evidence for his argument what he did was not stiffing workers but simply protecting his investors. 
But I choose to believe he hurt the little guys, the contractors, the construction workers, while enriching himself.  Is he worse in this than others in the top 1% of the top 1%? I don't know.  
Does this disqualify him from my vote? Yes, but I can understand how the boys at bar shrug this off.
 He is as good as his word:  But nobody ever said he was "good." He's a bad boy. And they love him for it. 

So, now we have examined Mr. Trump's personality, such as we can see it for ourselves on TV.
My point is none of this is "real." It is all open to interpretation, contrary assertion, spin.  You will say he's despicable; his friends say he's adorable.

The big things which  ought to be the focus of our resistance to President Trump and, as importantly, to the Reactionary Right, now in power, will be policy issues. 

Let's stop talking about Trump's personal failings. Hasn't yet and will never work. 

1. Medicare
If people are policy, then Mr. Price, at HHS, will try to turn this into Vouchercare, aka Coupon care.  And Paul Ryan and the Republican majorities in Congress will aid and abet him.
Oh, save Flipper! He's drowning!

2. Obamacare: 
Like democracy, the worst possible solution,  other than all the other solutions which have yet been tried--at least in this country.  There is another option, the "government option," or Medicare for all,  but even the Democrats did not have the guts or the votes for this last time. Had we elected Bernie Sanders, we still would not have got this, because "we" elected a Republican House and Senate and Supreme Court. 

3. Social Security
Mr. Trump promised to keep it intact, but Mr. Ryan wants to privatize it. Attempts  to privatize Social Security are attempts to destroy Social Security.  If the power to tax is the power to destroy, then the power to privatize is the power to destroy Social Security.

4. Creating jobs
or rather resuscitating jobs in the Rust Belt by renegotiating trade deals; protecting the homeland by rejecting globalization.  
Mr. Trump has been canny enough to understand his voters in the Rust Belt don't want just any job, they want their old jobs back. They want to coal mining jobs, the assembly line jobs in the big factories.
If Paul Krugman and others are correct, the jobs lost in the coal mines are gone because of fracking and the emergence of cheaper, better fuels. If Krugman is right, robots, not the Chinese have reduced factory jobs in Indiana and Wisconsin and Ohio and Pennsylvania.  
Mr. Trump has the option of giving them jobs, not on the assembly line but on bridges, on the roads, on the power lines. The question is whether there are enough infrastructure jobs out there waiting to be created, and how easily private enterprise can be induced to create them. Maybe privatizing our interstate highway system can work. Maybe not.
If Mr. Trump knows something Mr. Krugman does not, and if he is able to bring the sorts of jobs back to those who voted for him, that may be all that matters. 
We can call him a misogynist, a xenophobe, a liar, a cheat, a con man. The boys down at the bar don't care.  
They can get goodness when they go to church on Sunday.
What they want the rest of the week are their jobs and their sense of self respect. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas to Us, One and All

If it is true, as Mephistopheles says in "Dr. Faustus" : "The greatest Hell is remembering happier times," then at least some of our countrymen may well yet learn the truth of this observation over the next four years. 

For now, however, we have an economy which works for most of us, but indisputably, the best in the world; we have a health care system which, while very flawed, structurally flawed (because it's based on a private enterprise, profit motive rather than on a public health model), is still 22 million times better than it was just 8 years ago; while we still are caught in the brier patch of eternal war in Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires, we have fewer American boys and girls on the front lines; and while we have  festering lesions of malicious discontent scattered over our backsides and shoulders, we still  have a functioning brain and central nervous system and some functioning brawny muscles, as a nation. Not to say those abscesses cannot seed the blood stream and ultimate infect the central nervous system, but for now, we seem to have a functioning immune system.

One thing we might all do is to read about what the world was like before the 21st century, in ancient times, in the 18th and 19th centuries, and even back in the middle of the 20th century, that time so many Americans in the exurbs and rural parts of the country dream of returning to, when being White meant you had advantages, but for most White families, not enough to matter all that much, because you were still poor and desperate.

My father was a man who often surprised me  with his answers. I loved reading about the Civil War and the Second World War and about all sorts of glorious past epochs, when great forces swept continents and when war was a force which gave lives meaning, and when railroads were being built across the continent linking the nation, and when waves of immigrants flooded into our great cities and into our heartland, spawning the most diverse, energetic and vibrant nation on earth. And, still holding a Bruce Catton volume in my hand, I asked my father, if he had a time machine and could go back to live in any time, what would he choose? King Arthur's time, when he could be a knight?  Franklin's Philadelphia, when the Constitution was being written?  

And he replied, with an atypically benign smile, "The present."  Then he added. "This is the best time on the planet to be a human being."

God Bless Us, one and all.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Weakness of the Left

Listening to NPR on the way to work, it dawned on me that as much as I love NPR, there is something every bit as aggravating about the assumptions of liberals as the assumptions of the Right.

The story about the Tunisian guy who demolished a crowd with a big truck in Berlin revealed this man had come on the flotilla across the Mediterranean, got stuck in an Italian refugee camp, where he was jailed for burning down part of the camp, was released because the effort to deport him back to Tunisia floundered when Tunisia, a dysfunctional state, did not provide papers to do this. So he hung out among the large Tunisian community in Northern Italy, where many are known to be radical Islamists, then hopped a train to Germany, crossing borders as easily as we travel from New Hampshire to Massachusetts, and then mowed down some Christmas shoppers in Berlin.  Last Christmas in Munich, Turkish and Syrian men fondled blonde German women in a square because, well, it was okay to do that sort of thing where they came from, sort of like Tahrir Square in Cairo.

When Donald Trump looks at that, he responds viscerally and says, "Send them all back!" and "Bar them from entry."

And the response from liberals, who value offering sanctuary to the oppressed, who want to welcome the tired, the poor, the wretched refuse of the teeming shore is what, exactly?

When a trans sexual, who has testicles and a penis, refuses to use a locker room specially set aside for him (or her, as he wants to be called) because he/she wants to use the girl's locker room to strip down and change and does not want the stigma of being made to feel different, what is the liberal response? (As if we have made him/her feel different!)

click to enlarge

When the man who cannot afford his insulin because his health insurance will not cover that cost learns his neighbor gets it for free through Mass Health, the state run program for low income people, how does the liberal explain why this unemployed man seems to get a better deal than the working man who pays the taxes to support Mass Health gets, how does the liberal explain that?

When a Muslim transit worker in New York City is accosted by someone who screams she should go home to her own country and a group forms which teaches concerned citizens how to intervene in behalf of this unfortunate Muslim and the teaching is to approach the Muslim and ask how this assault has made her feel, has the liberal, tolerant approach been of much use?

What this country needs is an effective liberal radio show, a sort of liberal Rush Limbaugh, who is better than Radio Free America was, which is more muscular than Rachel Madow or any of those well meaning nerds on MSNBC, which is more present than Trevor Noah or even Jon Oliver, which takes up several hours every day, predictably, right across the time slot from Rush and which can fight fire and lava flow with fire. 

We sure don't have it now. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016


In the dark days of the Civil War, when the outcome was in doubt, Grant was pushing South with his armies and his generals, facing Robert E. Lee, a general commanding an army which seemed to never blink, never lose, despite all odds against them.

Attack. Do not worry about what your opponent will do.

As is true today, people on the right side of history expressed fear and dismay, and these were commanders fighting armies of slavery, racism, dedicated to inequality and aristocratic rule. And yet these righteous warriors expressed fear of failure; they were daunted by the victories of their opponent.

Grant told them:
"Oh, I am heartily tired of hearing about what Lee is going to do. Some of you always seem to think he is suddenly going to turn a double somersault, and land in our rear and on both of our flanks at the same time. Go back to your command, and try to think what we are going to do ourselves, instead of what Lee is going to do."

And this is what I feel like roaring, every time I read an article in the New York Times or on Huff Post about what Donald Trump has done, or will do, how he's appointed a destroyer to each Department he seeks to undo, at  Health and Human Services, HUD, Energy and the EPA.

Let us now dedicate ourselves and highly resolve to stop worrying about what Trump is going to do to us, but let us think about what we are going to do to him and to all those who sail with him.

 For starters,  let us simply speak the truth to our neighbors, in letters at every opportunity, to say, "You know, Dr. Ben Carson is clearly in the early stages of Alzheimer's and Trump has appointed him to wreck HUD by simple incompetence. And if he does this,and if  public housing in New York City collapses and 700,000 people in Public Housing find themselves homeless, then it is Trump voters who have done this. This is a population the size of Boston. Is this what you voted for?"
I will make the people of Georgia howl.

Let us not worry about documenting, building a case, fact checking. Let us simply set aside the things we learned in school about argument and as we face new challenges, so we must think anew about how to respond. 

Simply state the truth as we see it:  Mr. Price wants to kill Medicare and Social Security. Trump promised not to do this but he has spoken with this decision to put Price in charge with a clarity nobody can doubt. The Republicans  tried to murder Medicare in its cradle and now they are trying stiil.
With our backs against the wall: Our finest hour.

If fighting this new administration requires lawyers, then let us lawyer up. If it requires demonstrations, then let us demonstrate. If it requires making movies or TV dramas or puppet shows or youtube videos, let us do that.  If it requires protest songs, let us write, disseminate and sing those.
We may not win immediately. It may take time to prevail, but let us take the first steps.

But let us not quake and quail. Let us fight them on the beaches. Let us fight them in the fields, but while there is a single one of us left, the righteous and the true left,  never surrender.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Trump and Meaning

"I feel like I don't belong to any world which even fucking matters."
--Jimmy McNulty, Police detective, Baltimore, MD, "The Wire"

After his dinner with the woman who is a political consultant, Jimmy McNulty goes back to riding around Baltimore in his raggedy unmarked car, watching hoppers and corner boys call in orders for drugs and watching drugs sold and he is trying to work up the chain of command to the ultimate drug kingpins.  The feds refuse to divert even the most minimal resources to the drug wars; their new focus is on terrorism.

The feds will not tolerate localities legalizing drugs, but they will devote absolutely no resources to help local cops chase the drug dealers.

Local people are being told, in one way or another, whether they are cops or the dealers the cops are chasing, that their world is unimportant.

As one police sergeant tells a detective who is working on a murder in West Baltimore, "Well, the thing is, he died in a zip code that don't matter." And the sergeant pulls the detective off that case and assigns him another. Nobody cares whether people in that zip code live or die, not even the police.

Then you have a billionaire flying in on his own 747 with his name on it, a new, American king, telling his subjects he cares about them, whether they live in Peoria or rural Pennsylvania.

The life of the citizen in Hatfield, Pennsylvania or West Kingston, Rhode Island, or Buford, Texas is often one of rejection, disappointment and hopelessness. Heroin or Fentanyl may offer some escape, but where politics are concerned, a woman who got chosen for fancy private schools, who married a guy who became President, who played the meritocracy game and won is someone these losers are going to hate, a priori.

Part of the problem may be the experience of so many who feel the very idea of meritocracy is corrupt, a rigged game.  Part of the reason for this is examined by people like Andrew Hacker, in "The Math Myth" in which he examines the way math has been used in perverted ways to deny people from getting qualified from a wide range of jobs as veterinary assistances to electricians, and these experiences engender life long bitterness.

There is nothing more alienating than being told you will have a fair shot, then being given a test which is anything but fair or relevant and being told you failed. Multiply that experience by millions and you have a recipe for discontent, restiveness and outrage.

There were many streams which fed into the raging current which became Trump, but surely alienation from a rigged system of awarding the prizes in this economy has got to be an important stream.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The War Against Government: Who Needs the Feds?

If there was ever a war against Christmas, it was nothing compared to the war against the federal government of the United States Donald Trump is waging. He promised to drain the swamp and he is going at the federal government by appointing men to head departments and agencies who have as their singular, distinctive and qualifying qualification a stated intention to destroy the departments they have been appointed to head.

This is what the voters voted for.
It may not be what they wanted.
It may not be what they will want six months from now, but it is definitely the change Donald Trump promised and then some.
Personally, I'm looking forward to it.
After years of Republican bombast about the evil of the federal government, I'd like to see just how correct they have been.
I really do not know exactly how bad things would be without the federal government. I can't bring to mind all the things it does. It's one of those things which may be so big you can't even really imagine life without it.

Margaret Bourke White

For example, I listened to the guy who runs the public housing for New York City who noted these housing units house 700,000 people, a population the size of Boston, within NYC, which is largely dependent on federal government funding. So if public housing in New York City collapses, how many of those 700,000 will go on the streets? How many will simply leave the city and cause no problem for the city? Can New York do without public housing? And that's just one thing Ben Carson can find out by destroying HUD.

How about Mr. Price at HHS, when he kills Obamacare and Medicare and Social Security?   If he does a good enough job, one can only imagine the effect on families when their sick parents have to move in with them. They voted for it. Hey, enjoy it. It is always possible, none of that will happen and we'll live happily without health insurance, or social security. Maybe the Republicans are correct. Maybe we'd be better off without these government programs. Let's find out.

And who needs an EPA or a department of Energy?

And really, if the State Department shuts down, what's the loss? No more visas for Muslims trying to get into the country. That great Trojan horse kept outside the city. We might all feel safer.

Really, this could be salutary. We may find without our enabler, the federal government, we have to be strong, to stand on our own. That's what the Republicans have always told us.

Lets find out!