Archive for the ‘Republican follies’ category

What Doesn’t Make You Stronger Can Kill You

December 3, 2017

Bit of self promotion here:  I’ve got a piece in today’s Boston Globe, on one of the hidden consequences of failing to deal with the antibiotic crisis.  In it, I focus on the use of antibiotics as prophylactics in surgery. Nowadays, it’s standard procedure for a wide range of operations to dose the patient with antibiotics shortly before she or he goes under the knife; doing so has been shown to signficantly reduce the risk of post-surgical infections.

I took off from a study that modeled the consequences of increased microbial resistance for ten common procedures, mostly surgeries, along with chemotherapy for a particular set of cancers.

The results of that study were predictable:  more resistance leads to more post-op infections and to more deaths.  If the situation gets really dire, if common causes of infection associated with surgery become increasingly untreatable then the calculation behind all kinds of medical interventions will change:

That’s what scares Dr. James Maguire, an infectious disease specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “I think some of the worst feelings we have are when we have a problem with a patient and there’s nothing we can do.” Infections following joint replacements are bad enough. They are, Maguire says, “catastrophic in terms of what happens to the patient.” Were the risk of infection to go up enough, he adds, “having seen what an infected joint replacement is all about I would think twice.”

That’s a response to an operation that may be vitally needed to reduce pain and increase mobility — but, as Maguire went on…

…while someone contemplating a joint replacement can choose to forgo the risk, if they need a new heart valve or a ventricular assist device, “that’s potentially life and death.” In such circumstances, “if your life depending on having the device, even with great risk you’d do it. But more would die.”

Behind such specific possible horror stories, this is for me a deeply cautionary tale about the way choices our society — our politics — makes have much deeper effects than our usual debate admits.  Antibiotics are not just responses to disease; their use penetrates medical practice, to the point that basic expectations we may have about what how we can move through the stages of our life can be dashed, without our ever really grasping why.

That is:  joint replacements are part of our medical and mental landscape now.  There are over 330,000 hip replacements performed each year in the US.  We know (some of us, venerable as we are, more than others) that our knees, elbows, shoulders and so on won’t always work as well as they do today.  We know, most of us I’m sure, folks who’ve had the op and are now playing tennis again or whatever, and we have in the back of our minds (those of us fortunate enough to believe we’ll still have adequate health care available over time) that if and when that bit falls apart in our own bodies, we can look for the same outcome.

Except, of course, if the risks of surgery shift significantly in the meantime.

The last point I make in the piece, somewhat more gently than here, is that should the way we age, the way we give birth and so on deteriorates because of unchecked microbial resistance, that will be a more-or-less hidden consequence of political failure.

That’s because dealing with the antibiotic crisis boils down to doing two things:  regulating economic activity and funding research.  The GOP doesn’t want to do either.  And, as usual, people will die as a result.

So, on that note of cheer, a link, again, to the piece.

Oh…and open thread too.

Image: Follower of Jan Sanders van Hemessen, An Operation for a Stone in the Head, date unknown (to me).

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Grifters All The Way Down

September 3, 2017

Here’s what I don’t get.  Trump’s Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, is a rich guy. Seriously rich: on the order of a half a billion in net worth, w. a cool $70 million in 2016 earnings.  If he wants to check out a cool event — a total eclipse, say, a desire I wholly understnd — he can afford to do so at any level of comfort he chooses, and never miss the lucre.

Instead, he scams:

Last week, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin took Mitch McConnell, some other Republican lawmakers, and his wife, Louise Linton, to Kentucky, ostensibly to touch large piles of gold at Fort Knox. Coincidentally, Kentucky also happened to be one of the best places to watch the total solar eclipse, which happened to occur on the day of their trip.

This trip had already attracted a bit of unwanted attention (back in those halcyon days before Melania’s stiletto adventures) after Linton instagramed the following:

“Great #daytrip to #Kentucky! #nicest #people #countryside,” Linton wrote, according to a screenshot of the now-private post, before tagging the labels she was wearing “#rolandmouret pants, #tomford sunnies, #hermesscarf #valentinorockstudheels #valentino #usa.”

Nothing says populist like that kind of fashion profile, eh?

Now, however, it turns out that drawing eyes to the family outing might have been more than a mere PR flub:

The U.S. Treasury’s Office of Inspector General is reviewing the flight taken by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his wife, Louise Linton, last week to Louisville and Fort Knox, Ky., following criticism of their use of a government plane on a trip that involved viewing the solar eclipse.

“We are reviewing the circumstances of the Secretary’s August 21 flight . . . to determine whether all applicable travel, ethics, and appropriation laws and policies were observed,” counsel Rich Delmar wrote in a statement to The Washington Post late Thursday.

“When our review is complete, we will advise the appropriate officials, in accordance with the Inspector General Act and established procedures,” Delmar added.

Yo! Mnuchin! Pay attention here.  The Air Force is not your personal air taxi service. You want to take a day off? Fine. You’re the boss. You can play hooky to join millions jazzing on the sun’s waltz with the moon.  And you can pay for it your own damn self, just like I did, my brothers, and everyone I know.

More seriously:  someone who actually takes public service as service knows not to give even the appearance of putting one’s hand in the cookie jar.  And it’s not as if this puts Mnuchin through any hardship.  As noted above, he is far and away rich enough to pay for all his pleasures; there’s no meaningful gain to him to sleaze a little grift off the top.  But apparently, he can’t help himself.

These guys: scum floats — but how can you tell when it’s scum all the way down?

Image: Elihu Vedder, Corrupt Legislation (detail), mural in the Library of Congress, 1896.

You Know You Have A Problem…

September 2, 2017

…When you say sh*t like this:

“As he puts on plastic gloves to serve food at NRG Stadium…President Trump turns to press and says: “My hands are too big!”

Dude.  Special pleading like this only makes it harder to ignore the obvious inference. Seriously, Donald. Can we talk? I don’t care about your sense of adequacy, or its absence. Just let it lie, you know. This whole subject.

In other quotes from the nation’s Disaster Tourist in Chief, we find this gem:

Leaving the shelter, Trump told the survivors and gathered reporters to “have a good time.”

Ummm.

I’m sure everyone there felt the love.

Lastly, here’s the sober sitrep from a guy who, we were told by The New York Times, is all over the long-term impact of water on structures:

When asked about the devastating flooding still covering much of the region, he replied: “The flooding? Oh, yeah, yeah, there’s a lot of water, but it’s leaving pretty quickly. But there’s a lot of water, a lot of water, but it’s moving out.”

I’m not even going to get into Melania’s Stiletto-gate, Take Two (AKA Spikes of Compassion). Who cares? She has her job to do, which seems mostly to involve distracting the Ferret-Heedit Cheeto-Faced Shit-gibbon from obsessing over his hand size.

I’m thinking that all those stories about how Harvey would give Trump the platform he needed to become, at last, a president are aging well. Don’t you?

Image: Rembrandt van Rijn, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, 1632.

John Locke, A Thermometer, A Bullet, And What Gets Lost When Feral Children Break Things

May 7, 2017

I’ve got a piece in today’s Boston Globe that takes a kind of odd look at why Trump’s dalliance with destroying NATO was so pernicious.

Basically, I look at what goes into making an alliance or any complex collaboration function.  Spoiler alert: it’s not the armchair strategist focus on troop numbers or budget levels.  It is, rather, the infrastructure, in its material and especially social forms that determine whether joint action can succeed.

To get there I leap from the story of something as basic as agreeing on one common cartridge to be used across the alliance to an anecdote from the early days of the scientific revolution, when John Locke (yup, that Locke) left his borrowed rooms in a house in Essex to check the readings from the little weather station he’d set up at the suggestion of Robert Hooke.

A sample:

While this first step toward the standardization of the tools of science was a milestone, it took the development of a common process — shared habits, ways of working — to truly transform the eager curiosity of the 17th and 18th centuries into a revolutionary new approach to knowledge, the one we now call science. In 1705, the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society published an article by the philosopher John Locke. It was a modest work, just a weather diary: a series of daily observations of temperature, barometric pressure, precipitation, cloud cover. He was a careful observer, working with the best available instruments, a set built by Tompion himself. On Sunday, Dec. 13, 1691, for example, Locke left his rooms just before 9 a.m. The temperature was 3.4 on Tompion’s scale — a little chilly, but not a hard frost. Atmospheric pressure had dropped slightly compared to the day before, 30 inches of mercury compared to 30.04. There was a mild east wind, 1 on Locke’s improvised scale, enough to “just move the leaves.” The cloud cover was thick and unbroken — which is to say it was an entirely unsurprising December day in the east of England: dull, damp, and raw.

The reasoning does, I think, more or less come together — and you might enjoy reading such a convoluted bit of historical argument.

In any event, posting this here lets me thank Adam Silverman, who talked through some of the ideas with me and gave me other valuable help. Any errors you might find within the piece are all mine.

Image: Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, Nagamaya Yaichi Ducking Bullets1878.

All You Need To Know About Paul Ryan

October 11, 2016

This:

…the speaker is torn between his personal feelings about the tape showing Donald Trump discussing grabbing women by the genitals and his desire to preserve the historic GOP majority in the House of Representatives.

My reaction:

A) Profile in Courage.

edouard_manet_-_the_rabbit_1866

B) Put his picture in the dictionary next to “Party Before Country”

I have many dreams about this election. One that is very unlikely — but less so than a week ago — is that the GOP loses the House, and Ryan loses his seat.

A boy can dream, can’t he?

Image:Éduoard Manet, The Rabbit 1866.

Two Things That Happened And One That Didn’t

October 5, 2016

I’m going to keep this short (you’ve heard that before from me) because my disdain for punditry extends to my own attempts.

Still, it seems to me that there is one real measure of success or failure (“winning” or “losing”) for any political event: did what just occurred move votes to one side or the other.  Everything else is just noise, or, as our elite bloviators perform it, theater criticism.

william_turner_-_shade_and_darkness_-_the_evening_of_the_deluge

By that criterion there were only two moments that mattered last night, and both did real damage to Team Trump.

The first was obvious from the moment the words left Mike Pence’s mouth: “You whipped out that Mexican thing again.”

I’m sure I’m not alone in my instant reaction:  “He just said WHHHAAAATTTTT!” Latino Twitter was unamused, certainly — and this is key.  There are some constituencies in which Trump cannot fall any further.  The number of Black Trump supporters is hovering around the margin of error — he’s polling between two and six percent nationally.

But there are still Latino votes to lose.  A Univision battleground state poll found Hillary lagging about eight points behind Obama’s numbers in each state, with Florida’s 24 percent gap between the two the narrowest of the lot.  Did Mike Pence help Trump with those voters last night?

The question answers itself.

The other meaningful moment was equally apparent as it happened.  That would be this exchange:

Governor, why don’t you trust women to make this choice for themselves? We can encourage people to support life. Of course we can. But why don’t you trust women? Why doesn’t Donald Trump trust women to make this choice for themselves?

That’s what we ought to be doing in public life. Living our lives of faith or motivation with enthusiasm and excitement, convincing other, dialoguing with each other about important moral issues of the day…

PENCE: Because there are…

KAINE: … but on fundamental issues of morality, we should let women make their own decisions.

PENCE: Because there is — a society can be judged by how it deals with its most vulnerable, the aged, the infirm, the disabled, and the unborn. I believe it with all my heart. And I couldn’t be more proud to be standing with a pro-life candidate in Donald Trump.

One man said that American women are the agents of their own lives.  The other said that they cannot be, that his personal religious commitment pre-empts any decision a woman might choose to make.  All the squid-ink of piety Pence spewed did not obscure the painfully clear: Mike Pence would use the force of law to ensure no woman had more authority over their bodies than the state would.

While abortion remains an issue on which the American electorate is divided, and there are certainly plenty of women who are committed to the anti-abortion cause — and plan to vote accordingly — plenty more voters recoil at the idea of the Trump-Pence punitive approach.  Given the significance (we are told) of the suburban woman and millenials in this year’s swing states, there’s no joy for the Trump crowd here either; shoring up the base that’s already enthusiastically committed to you is less important than giving those who might be persuadable to pull the lever for your side.

To me, everything else that occurred in the debate takes second place to those two brief passages.  Kaine did well, I think, to get Pence on record denying his savior thrice before cock-crow — that helps drive the second day narrative, which is certainly useful.  But in terms of actually grabbing votes?

Further alienating the Latino/a vote and making it ever harder for women to cast a GOP ballot — and not just women, but any man who sees women as actual people —  ain’t exactly a royal road to victory.

And as for the moment that never happened?

We’ve had 180 minutes of debates so far.  180 minutest to go.

As I write this, after the hottest half year on record; after devastating drought; after horrific fires; after record floods; with a Category 4/3 hurricane bearing down on Florida, having already wrecked Haiti — with all this, there have been exactly zero questions on climate change.  Tim Kaine managed to slip in a mention in a national security answer, praising Clinton for forging “strong alliances to battle terrorism and climate change.” Clinton did get Trump to deny saying climate change was a Chinese hoax — as he did.  But that’s it.

This is simply disgraceful.  One more piece of evidence that our elite political media if f**king hopeless.

That is all. [Flips Pundit-Mode to “off”]

Image:  J. M. W. Turner, Shade and Darkness — The Evening of the Deluge, 1843.

Thrice Before Cock Crow

July 31, 2016

Donald Trump, back when life was just tyrants and skittles:

“I do have a relationship, and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today,” Trump told Roberts, when asked about his relationship with Putin. “He’s probably very interested in what you and I are saying today and I’m sure he’s going to be seeing it in some form. But I do have a relationship with him and I think it’s very interesting to see what’s happened…

…I mean look, he’s done a very brilliant job in terms of what he represents and what he’s representing,” Trump said. “If you look at what he’s done with Syria, if you look at so many of the different things, he has really eaten our president’s lunch, let’s not kid ourselves.”

Donald Trump this morning:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s talk about Russia. You made a lotta headlines with Russia this week. What exactly is your relationship with Vladimir Putin?

TRUMP: I have no relationship with Putin. I have no relationship with Putin.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But if you have no relationship with Putin, then why did you say, in 2013, “I do have a relationship,” in 2014, “I spoke–”

TRUMP: Because he has said nice things about me over the years. I remember years ago, he said something, many years ago, he said something very nice about me. I said something good about him when Larry King was on. This was a long time ago. And I said, “He is a tough cookie,” or something to that effect. He said something nice about me. This has been going on. We did 60 Minutes together, by the way, not together together…

To his credit, The Clinton Guy Shocked By Blowjobs (™ Charles Pierce, but too damn good not to steal) pressed the Incompressible Jizztrumpet* just a wee bit on that bit of revisionist Trumpismo:

STEPHANOPOULOS: But– I– I just wanna clear this up. Because you did say, on three different occasions, you had a relationship with him. Now you say there’s none.

TRUMP: Well, I don’t know what it means by having a relationship…

Stephanopoulos asked Trump three times in all to square that circle, and by interview’s end, the mangled apricot hellbeast seemed to realize he had a bit of a problem, leading to this weak finish to the line begun above with “Well, I don’t know…”

I didn’t meet him. I haven’t spent time with him. I didn’t have dinner with him. I didn’t– go hiking with him. I don’t know– I– I wouldn’t know him from Adam except I see his picture, and I would know what he looks like.

rembrandt peter christ

Beyond looking on in awe at the sheer speed and volume of Trump’s lies (a strength to date, but, I’m coming to think, a growing liability in the general election phase), there’s the meat of the interview, and his attempt to have it both ways on the Ukraine and Crimea:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Then why did you soften the GOP platform on Ukraine?

TRUMP: I wasn’t involved in that. Honestly, I was not involved.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your people were.

TRUMP: Yes. I was not involved in that. I’d like to — I’d have to take a look at it. But I was not involved in that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you know what they did?

TRUMP: They softened it, I heard, but I was not involved.

STEPHANOPOULOS: They took away the part of the platform calling for the provision of lethal weapons to Ukraine to defend themselves.

Why is that a good idea?

TRUMP: Well, look, you know, I have my own ideas. He’s not going into Ukraine, OK?

Just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right?

You can mark it down and you can put it down, you can take it anywhere you want.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?

TRUMP: OK, well, he’s there in a certain way, but I’m not there yet. You have Obama there. And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama, with all the strength that you’re talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this, in the meantime, he’s going where — he takes — takes Crimea, he’s sort of — I mean…

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you said you might recognize that.

TRUMP: I’m going to take a look at it. But, you know, the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that, also.

Now, that was under — just so you understand, that was done under Obama’s administration. And as far as the Ukraine is concerned, it’s a mess. And that’s under the Obama’s administration, with his strong ties to NATO.

So with all of these strong ties to NATO, Ukraine is a mess. Crimea has been taken. Don’t blame Donald Trump for that.

The key soundbite, of course, is “The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.”

There’s more:  Stephanopoulos’s failure to press Trump on taxes (the Weasel-headed Fucknugget trotted out the audit excuse again, and Stephanopoulus let it pass); Trump’s claim he has no business ties to Russia, no debt, the claim “I’m so liquid, I don’t need debt,” and the truly bold lie, “If I need debt, if I want debt, I can get it from banks in New York City very easily.”  Err, not so much. Note also that Trump’s sole remaining big-bank lender isn’t exactly robust.)

All of which is to say that while Capt. Khan’s parents make the overarching argument against Trump the person as president, this Russia stuff, and the question of who owns Donald Trump is the drip, drip, drip tale that reminds us that Trump the policy-maker poses a clear and present danger to American and global security.

In IOW, my friends, this interview is the sound of a story with legs.

*I find as I check the source that I misquoted yesterday’s invective.  It was Cheeto-faced, ferret wearing shitgibbon, not as I had it:  “Cheetos-faced, ferret-topped shitgibbon.  The singular cheeto is clearly better, but I think ferret-topped scans better, so there.

Image: Rembrandt van Rijn, St Peter’s Denial, 1660.  It will reward you to click on the link and look at a full rez version of this painting.  Jesus being led away in chains on the right whilst Peter goes “No, no, no….” in glorious chiaroscuro.