Posts Tagged ‘General writing’

I REALLY SHOULD HAVE STAYED HOME

December 8, 2017

I really should have stayed home that Tuesday evening and not gone to the German Stammtisch at Track Town Pizza.  I go there most Tuesdays to practice my German, to listen, speak, and to talk to people there.  It’s good to get out.  I only stay an hour, because the place has low ceilings, serves alcohol, and gets noisy fast, so that I have difficulty enough understanding English, let alone German.

Last Tuesday, I got into a political argument, first one in a long time.  It was my own fault.  Oh, I can blame the other individual, but I shouldn’t have taken the bait.  Unfortunately, however, a lot of things that have stewed inside me for some time came to the surface.

Normally, I try to steer clear of these arguments, with the exception of climate change, where I immediately put out my four rules: no pejorative attacks, required p-value, confidence intervals or margin of error, what happens if one side is wrong, and verifiable predictions locally, nationally, and globally.  That has always ended the discussion.  I need that approach for politics, although I admit difficulty these days in avoiding pejorative attacks, since my default mode when I get angry is a severe case of sarcasm.  It’s one of my huge flaws.

Anyway, the initial trigger was discussion about an upcoming lecture being given by a German official about immigration.  The individual with whom I was talking—an immigrant himself, I think—was saying how the speaker from Germany was lying.  I had no facts, so I let it go. I’m a grandson of an Irish immigrant, and I believe are that if more countries were problem solvers, rather than problem causers, there would be fewer immigrants. But the fundamental cause of immigration woes is overpopulation,  and unless we control population, immigration, with its attendant problems, will increase.  There are two major realities: one, we can’t grow indefinitely and two, we must control our numbers.  Unfortunately, population control is not on the agenda of The Other Side—or for much of my side, either for that matter.  A lady recently profiled in Sierra, the Sierra Club magazine, had three children.  I almost wrote a letter about it then thought better.

We then got into a discussion of weapons, after the individual mentioned a recently deceased friend of his who had several machine guns and a half million rounds of ammunition in his home.  I was shaming myself silently for being secretly glad his friend—63, massively overweight—died suddenly at home. Half a million rounds of ammo and at least one machine gun.  Wow.  Another listening to our conversation asked why the dead man—or anybody else—needed a machine gun.  We got the usual Second Amendment response, and that is where I started getting angry.  I wasn’t going to argue the wording, but I wagged my finger at him—something I inherited from my father—and said “I hope some day you feel the same kind of pain those who have lost people to gun violence feel.”

I’m not a Christian, and while I don’t have to be a jerk, I don’t have to be nice, either.

I’m not honestly sure what else was discussed, but the individual blamed Obama for the drug trade in this country. I was a bit stunned, saying that we have had a war on drugs that began when Mr. Obama was a child, and that he hardly was the person responsible.  I mentioned the Bush years, which seem to have vanished into the murky morass of 21st century history so far, the two wars and one recession have been blamed mostly on his successor, but while the man said he didn’t like Bush, he had absolutely no use for the Democrats.  Social programs, he said.  That was the reason.  So I asked him what sorts of social programs were a problem.  Unlike Mr. Obama, who is a centrist, or Ms. Clinton, who is center-right, I’m a liberal, but I can find wrong with some social programs.  I couldn’t get an answer, and as angrier I became, the quieter my voice was. I kept asking which social programs he was against.  I could have said that Social Security should have means testing.  I certainly would limit the tax deduction for children, in a somewhat feeble attempt to try to decrease population, and limit the mortgage deduction to $500,000.  This man couldn’t come up with anything, despite my quietly asking him “Which social programs?” five times.  All he could come up with was disability: “I see people getting disability who are better off than I am.”  OK.  That’s an issue, but it is hardly budget busting, and are we going to end disability payments because some cheat? The answer to some is yes. The Other Side wants to restrict voting because some cheat, which I believe was fewer than 10 in the last election, the first one’s documented being a Republican.  I am ignoring the almost certainty of one party’s involving the Russians and the definitive asking by the nominee for the Russians to publish every email they had.  That’s illegal and treason.

I didn’t mention my relief that a person with a half million rounds of ammunition was dead. When the individual stated with some outrage that the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) was in the house and planned to destroy the weapons, not give them to the dead man’s heirs, I didn’t know the law, so I kept quiet.  Destroying them sounded like a good idea, like beating swords into plowshares, but I’m no expert on Isaiah.

I remember that during a break in the arguing, the other man said that he wished the conversation hadn’t gone on because “I don’t want you to think badly of me.”

“I already do,” I replied.  And I suddenly got up and left, walking out, not turning back to look.  I cared not a whit for what he thought about me.

Several days later, it’s difficult for me to remember what it really was that pissed me off so much, and I’m ashamed I spent so much anger accomplishing almost nothing.

I should have quietly exited the conversation, rather than getting into a pissing contest with a skunk.  It’s difficult these days to read the news, see the direction of the country, and not be worried, lose sleep at night (unless this is age), and feel powerless to do much about it.  I’m frankly weary of dozens of emails clamoring for money for some candidate, promises to impeach (which doesn’t solve the problem; conviction is then necessary, and I also know who the second, third, and fourth in line people are), and the continuous surprise that things turned out the way they did. I find it stressful that I wish for bad things to happen climatically so I can say “I told you so,” and I hope those who voted for this government get hurt.  That’s petty, considering these people won’t vote Democratic even if their candidate is a pedophile or groped women.  We already know that.

I walked outside into the pouring rain.  Wonderful. I love the rain.

OH WOW, I CAN’T BELIEVE I DID THAT. THANKS.

November 24, 2017

I’ve probably written about this before; if so, I apologize.  I happened to think about the incident when I awoke this morning.  I slept well, which is a blessing as I approach the last year of my sixties.  Most of us my age and older don’t sleep as well as we’d like: through the night without awakening, and awakening refreshed.  It’s a good night if I’m up once, fall back asleep, and awaken on my own, without one of the cats standing on me, yowling (that was this morning, at 4:47), or barfing up a hair ball.

Anyway, for some reason, a dream maybe, I awoke thinking of one day when I volunteered  in the calculus class at Sabino High School in Tucson.  I occasionally helped out there, if for some reason the college algebra or geometry classes where I usually worked didn’t require my presence.  I liked Dave, who taught calculus; indeed, years ago, when email was new, Dave was the only faculty member with one, which is how I contacted him and began to help.

Anyway, that particular day he began by discussing the behavior of the function y=x^2, a parabola, near where x=1 and y=1.  Specifically, he was looking at the rate of change or the slope of the function as it approached the point.

IMG_9104

What we learn by the slope is how fast the curve is changing at that point.  People get this concept wrong all the time.  If we hear the rate of growth of population is slowing, some people think the actual number is going down.  It isn’t.  It is still rising, not just as fast.  This is extremely important to know, and worth repeating: If the rate of increase is slowing, the actual number is still increasing, not falling.

Dave started by showing the slope where x=0.99 and y=0.99*0.99, or 0.9801.  The slope then was (1-0.9801)/(1-0.99), 1.99/0.01, or 1.99.  No problem. Then he let x=0.999 and, with a calculator, squared it, 0.999^2, which was 0.998001. The slope was now 0.001999/0.001, or 1.999.  He continued, saying that as x got closer and closer to 1, y would get closer and closer to 2, and the limit; that is, if we could take take x as 0.99999999— to an infinite number of 9s—and here he paused….

IMG_9106.JPG

Notice the pattern for y—first is .81 then .9801, then .998001,then .99980001.

“You’d need a big calculator to calculate y, but the slope would be 2 at the limit.”  he stated.

I sort of blurted out without thinking, “You don’t need a calculator to get y.”  The words just appeared, I swear.  Everyone in the class turned towards me.

Dave looked at me, held the marker out in one hand, and said, “come up and write it down.”   He wasn’t at all angry.  We had known each other for several years at this point. As I walked up to the board, I asked, “How many 9s are there in your number?” I have bad astigmatism.

“Eight.”  So, I am multiplying 0.99999999 by 0.99999999.

Without a calculator.

“It is one less 9, followed by an 8, followed by the same number of 0s as you have nines, followed by 1.”  That would be 0.9999999800000001.  Take that, Texas Instruments.

I then turned to the class.  “Last year, I was here when this problem was discussed. You”—-I pointed to Dave—-“said that there was probably a pattern, and you were absolutely right.  I found it in a few minutes. The pattern is one fewer nine, an 8, the same number of 0s, and a one,” repeating myself.

Dave is good: he knows what he has taught, what a student should know, makes the student think and find answers to his questions, because they have all the information available.

I could have added that Dave, as a good teacher, didn’t take my coming to the board as showing him up; indeed, he knew that I was modeling exactly the behavior he wanted in his students.

I’ve been down that road before.  A dozen years earlier, I was in grad school getting my Masters in Statistics.  I had several professors.  One was absolutely brilliant, able to teach an entire difficult upper level graduate course in linear models without consulting notes.  There may have been one time where she made an error that another student caught, but that was it.  She was brilliant.  I’m sure I mentioned that in my post-course evaluation.

What I didn’t mention, because there were only 7 of us in the class, and I knew I would be identified, is that had she more patience with those students like me (it was the only B I got in grad school, and I worked hard to get it) who were not as brilliant, she would have been a life-changing teacher, the top of the heap.  The best teachers have patience with those who don’t have their skills.  Occasionally, I approach that.  Dave was there. So was my advisor.

My advisor didn’t need notes when he taught, either.  But he had patience with me, and that mattered a lot.  He got me out of New Mexico in 2 years, which I deeply appreciated. I haven’t seen him in about 15 years, but when I emailed him asking if he could help a friend of a friend–a free favor– he replied immediately.   He knew—damn it, I was pissed so many times when he did it, but he was dead right to do so—when I had exactly enough information to find the answer of a problem I asked him about.  He either knew the answer outright, or knew how to get it, but he was not going to tell me, but rather would give me what I needed to know—and not one hint more— to solve it.  I would then struggle for hours in some instances before having an epiphany among the papers strewn on my desk, on the floor, some crumpled and near a wall where I had thrown them in anger.

By doing that, my advisor forced me to use the new tools I had learned, to make mistakes, to figure everything out, and learn that way.  It was painful, but it was learning.  It was education, and it worked.

I’ve never gotten to my advisor’s or Dave’s level: substitutes don’t have a close relationship in one meeting, and in my brief for-profit so-called university teaching experience, students wanted everything handed to them.  But when I tutor today in the advanced math room at the community college, I occasionally encounter material far beyond what I know.  Sometimes, I try to help anyway.  And as I go through the problem with the student, asking him or her at each step how they got there, there is often a pause.  The student suddenly says, “Oh, I see what I did wrong. Oh wow, I can’t believe I did that.  Thanks.”  And walks away.  I’m still wondering what the answer was.

It just dawned on me that maybe my advisor sometimes didn’t know the answer, either, at least when I asked the question.  But he knew me well enough to know that I was capable of finding it.

Oh wow.  I can’t believe I did that. Thanks.

PROFILE IN COURAGE MOMENTS

November 13, 2017

I was medical director at a hospital back when medical directors/physicians in management were relatively new.  There were two Catholic hospitals in town, each with a medical director, and at the time there was a loose arrangement of the two hospitals with one overall medical director, my boss.

I went to a meeting one day at the other hospital about the roll out of an integrated medical delivery system, which I assumed wouldn’t involve me too much, but would start integrating practitioners in both hospitals and add a third hospital in a rural city to the network.

That night, I failed to show a major Profile in Courage moment: to stand up for what is right when one has absolutely nothing to gain and a great deal to lose.  My boss, whom I respected and liked, was passed over for the job of medical director, for which she was perfectly qualified, in favor of a family practitioner who was an EEG tech when I was a resident. I didn’t speak up against this outrage.  I can still remember hearing the name of the new network medical director. No, I didn’t stand up to the elderly nun, an institution in the hospital and community, to say, “Sister, this is wrong. Unless you reconsider, I am resigning.”

Yeah, I was making good money, but my wife and I could have swung it had I quit. Maybe I was so stunned that the doctor chosen didn’t have the qualifications. Maybe I was afraid.  But I certainly failed to speak up, that is quite clear, and I should have.  I might not have changed the decision, and I might have been fired had I not resigned, but the chance to do the first and risk the second was a risk I should have taken.  My boss resigned, the family practitioner had a very uncomfortable first meeting with me and was gone from his job within a year.

I subsequently worked under a new senior medical director, part of the executive team (I was never allowed into that sphere) before I had enough and finally left for graduate school, two years later.

My failure to speak up remains a big regret, and I can date it, because there was a total lunar eclipse that night, and I still remember standing outside looking at it and wondering why I hadn’t said something.

Profile in Courage moments may be more minor, but they are clearly speaking out against injustice when staying silent is easier and safer.  At one medical conference, the organizer commented on work that had been done on lymphapheresis for multiple sclerosis.  He quoted a study I happened to know quite well.  Not sure what I was doing, I suddenly found myself standing up.

“I disagree with you, sir.”  That turned everybody’s gaze on the 31 year-old nobody well back in the room.  “I was one of the physicians involved in the study, and while as an academic I want publications on my resume, I asked to be removed from this one, because I thought the study was poorly designed, biased, the data incorrect, and the conclusions unwarranted.”  Shaking, as I do when I speak passionately in public, I sat down amid a lot of murmuring.  The organizer mumbled a few words, and I simply shook my head no.

I can think of another time when I suddenly stood up, which I knew enhanced my words, the shaking, and the passionate comments.  The chief of staff at the hospital had lambasted me in front of the Medical Executive Committee, saying that I was examining patients, and I had no business doing so.

“I was called by the nursing staff because the patient was admitted to cardiology, and no doctor the nurses called wanted to accept the patient.” (Yes, those sorts of things happened.)  “I examined the patient, wrote some covering orders, then called an internist I knew who took over the patient’s care.”  At this point, I was winding up, so I let go with one more.

“I have also taken over the care of a Parkinson’s patient whose family fired the doctor, so he just quit, which is unethical behavior.  It is incumbent upon the physician to transfer the care, and this one just walked away.”

If I remember correctly, I walked out of the room down the hall and outside and cried for a few minutes.  One of the better things I learned—too late in life but better late than not at all—was how to cry.

Like perfect squelches, words one says that are absolutely perfect in time, place, and content, Profiles in Courage are one—two—three—five in a lifetime events. I can date every one of the four perfect squelches in my life. I blew my big Profile in Courage moment.

We need more Profile in Courage moments in Washington.  We need elected representatives to speak out against a president who doesn’t belong in office.  Many are apparently saying this in private.  Mr. Flake did a decent job, but he limited his Profile in Courage moment.  He could have done what few politicians are willing to do: quit his party and caucus with the other, stay in office, and let the voters decide whether he was adequately representing them. Mr. Flake would have rocked the country in doing so. While he would have taken a huge amount of heat, maybe a recall election, he would have earned the respect of millions, including me.

We need someone in the halls of power to speak up and say the emperor has no clothes (the visualization of which is abhorrent), that Congress is co-equal and will act accordingly, with both sides of the aisle having a say in legislation, even if one side is outvoted.  We need someone to say that much as they like the chance to put through a conservative agenda, that to do so without addressing the dysfunction in the Executive Branch is wrong, and Congress can and must do something about it.

The irony to me is that before #metoo many Profile in Courage moments I’ve seen have come from Iranian women who don white every Wednesday to protest the forced hijab.  For years, many have removed the cover altogether and shown videos of themselves walking without it.  These women are very courageous.  Many are insulted. Some have acid thrown in their faces.  Others are beaten, arrested, even killed.  They are putting their lives on the line for something they believe in, and if the running of the United States of America is less important than whether an Iranian woman should cover her hair, then we would do well to open immigration to those women, should any actually want to come here, in hopes they might light a fire under our lawmakers.

We now have American women speaking out against sexual abuse, which has involved my own alma mater, which really hurts.  Many of these women never spoke up, but when the time came, they took their Profile in Courage moment and ran with it. Some won elected office.

In these days of Roy Moore, Michelle Bachmann, clean air is unhealthy, more guns makes us safer, $1000 savings in taxes allows one to buy a car, adding $1.5 trillion to the debt is a good thing, grabbing them by the pussy does not disqualify one from becoming President, taking off the clothes of a 14 year-old girl doesn’t disqualify one for the US Senate, each of us needs to be on the lookout for a Profile in Courage moment.

It’s fine to shake, to sweat, to speak passionately.  Don’t be afraid to pause.  Mr. Obama often paused when he spoke.  He did it for effect, but he also did it to think about what he was going to say next.  We need a lot of thinking these days.

THE ONES YOU DON’T HEAR ABOUT 

November 2, 2017

“Westerners don’t fear these restrictions (on fishing), even when their right to bear fishing poles isn’t secured for eternity in the Constitution.  But when it comes to the right to bear arms, the reasonable limitations of fishing are swept downstream with sanity.”  

Marty Jones, Writers on the Range, hcn.org/wotr

Every time there is a mass shooting or some other a significant deadly event, I look at the number “critically wounded,” for many of them will not survive.  It won’t make the news when some family member has to give permission to pull the plug to some doctor who doesn’t like pulling it, but needs to do it, in order to allow someone with irreversible brain injury to die, maybe after some organs are taken for transplant, maybe not.

“Saves” out in the field that get much news coverage may not be saves. If the rescue were too late, the individual would be irreversibly brain damaged, and some guy like me eventually would tell the family the person would end up in a persistent vegetative state. At best, the family would agree on removing life support, because “(the victim) wouldn’t want to be like this.”  At worst, the family would be divided, shattered, occasionally because well-meaning people in or out of the medical field would offer up platitudes like “you never know,”(we do), “hearing is the last thing to go,”(proof?) or “someone once woke up after 5 years,” (and was quadriplegic with limited cognition).  I did get news coverage once, in 1983, after recommending discontinuing life support on a woman who failed to wake up after cardiac surgery. The husband agreed, but the sister did not.  It went to court, and my name was in the public eye for a couple of days.  I guess I said some good words, because people didn’t lambaste me (that was before anonymity of online comments), the judge agreed with me, and the woman was allowed to quietly, with dignity, die.

Two years after Roseburg, there was a brief article about a young woman who received a major brain injury and could not speak.  She survived, but the hell she and the family went through, as well as the costs, born by them, those who cared for them, and society in general, were not publicized.  They can’t be.  There are too many—73,000 gunshot wounds a year— and I’m not even discussing auto accidents, falls, and other often preventable tragedies.

I’m not convinced the death toll from Las Vegas will remain at 58; we may not hear about the others. In the New York Times, there was an article about a woman 15 years younger than I who is now quadriplegic.  When I heard “500 wounded,” I wondered how many were going to be like her.  I still don’t know.

The woman probably has a C5-6 injury, got her elbow flexors partially back, but won’t get her hands or her legs back.  Not at this stage.  She ran a company once.  Now she runs a wheelchair courtesy of Go Fund Me.  I’d rather national health insurance pay for national medical costs.  Then, we could see  where our tax dollars are going, and ask why we aren’t trying to control firearms.  I don’t know the size of her medical bills in Nevada or now in California, where she is getting rehab not far from where the San Bernardino mass shooting took place.  These days, it’s not difficult to be close to a past mass shooting.  I am within 10 miles of the Springfield, Oregon high school, where four died 20 years ago, an hour from Roseburg, and two hours from Portland.  I lived 4 miles from where Gabby Giffords was shot, and six people died.  I came within a whisker of being at that Safeway that morning.

It’s ugly.  If the pain, suffering, and destroyed lives doesn’t bother The Other Side, they as taxpayers ought to be outraged as I am at paying for preventable medical and disability costs. Eight died in New York City on Halloween, and that day the president wanted to end the diversity lottery program. Fifty-eight died in Las Vegas a month ago, and he offered no suggestions.  The next night, three died in Thornton, Colorado by a shooter who walked into Wal-Mart, fired, and walked out.  One tragedy gets a snap judgment, and the other is ignored: Americans have a right to as many guns as they want with absolutely no restriction. It is time right now to discuss control of terrorists in our cities. NYPD had already contacted 147 businesses who rented trucks to be on the look out for potential misuse.  It’s also time to discuss some form of gun control, like repealing the second amendment, which would not prevent sane people from owning a firearm. It won’t happen, of course.

The statement that we don’t remember what happened to those who were injured is not new.  Many in World War II had shell shock and were never the same.  After Korea and Vietnam, we changed the name to TBI or PTSD.  After Iraq and Afghanistan we started seeing people with no limbs and more PTSD that couldn’t be treated well, because we don’t have a good treatment for it.  That alone should be enough to think long and hard about going to war, because in war not only do people die but at least ten times as many get PTSD.  We should have more diplomats and fewer tweets, instead of the opposite.

War is so bad that people repress it. My brother never spoke about Vietnam other than a vague memory about being on a helicopter going somewhere.   I hike with a Vietnam combat vet who once made the comment, “after I was blown up….”  which is the most he ever said about his service other than the single word, “Hué,” which told me enough.  When we go to war, we ought to realize that the cost in lives will be far more than we anticipate. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go to war.  Not at all.  But we ought to ask why we are fighting, what we want to achieve, and at what point it’s time to leave—totally leave.   Like PTSD or vegetative states, there are political states that just can’t be fixed, and trying to fix them is like trying to fix a vegetative state by physical therapy.  It accomplishes nothing and costs a lot of heartache and money.

I end with another form of PTSD and abuse, eloquently put in a letter in The New Yorker. The writer was raped, weekly, for four years, beginning at age 10, by one of the elders in her church.  She actually complained and was told she was crazy.  Who, after all, believes a ten year-old? She repressed her feelings for years, because nobody would take the word of a girl over a good Christian man who was a pedophile (something else not treatable, other than mandatory avoidance of children).  The fact that the woman’s own daughter is now ten brought back unpleasant memories.  What stuck with me were her comments, “Others had to have known, but they didn’t think he’d do it to one so young.”

Those who have managed to make a decent life for themselves in spite of horrors they have suffered speaks volumes about the human spirit and to those individuals themselves. It also speaks to the need for each us who is able to try to prevent such harm from occurring in the first place.  While it is reassuring to know that many obstacles may be overcome, it would be a lot better not to have such obstacles at all.

THIN VENEER

October 11, 2017

In 1992, I spent six months as a volunteer wilderness ranger for the US Forest Service in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). For the next eight summers, I spent a week n the BWCA with the late Mike Manlove, a remarkably wise woodsman, father, husband, and friend.  One raw, late summer day, Mike and I were on large, oval-shaped Alice Lake, with only a few small islands at the northeast corner.  As we were checking out all 11 campsites on the lake, we pulled up on one sandy site, lovely, I suppose, if it were a hot summer day,  but then wet, cold, and with a lot of recently abandoned gear.  Mike shook his head as we cleaned the site, knowing we would have to haul a lot of trash out. “These people got out of their comfort zone,” Mike said, folding a wet shirt and picking up some wet food containers. “Once that happens, all the good thoughts about Leave No Trace get left behind. All people want is to get out of here.” The idea of treating the wilderness properly is a thin veneer of behavior, which under adverse circumstances may melt away like ice off a boreal lake in spring, leaving one hell-bent for whatever leather they have on their boots to leave the woods.

I’ve been out of my comfort zone, and I know what Mike was referring to.  One doesn’t want to consider Leave No Trace if facing head winds, rain, cold, 3 days’ travel from town and 15 miles to travel that day.  The best defense against such conditions is to be adequately equipped to travel in inclement weather. There was a time when we had only our eyes, ears, and nose to make weather forecasts, and every night in the North Woods one put things under cover, because it might rain, even if the evening were clear.

Today, technology allows us in the wilderness to get accurate weather forecasts and radar.  We can move further than planned on sunny days if we know the next day is likely to be wet.  Before a recent trip with a friend, he was almost obsessed with the weather forecasts, at one point texting me “Rain+Cold= Misery”.  I’ve canoed in a lot of rain and cold; it’s challenging, but it need not be miserable. I’ve paddled 15 miles in heavy rain more than once, put up a tent, changed my clothes, found dry wood, and started a fire. Yes, I was wet, but once I changed my clothes and sat by the fire, I was warm. I gave my friend a chance to not go; while he didn’t take me up on it, I think he might have been happier had he stayed.

On the first part of the trip, my friend was far more neat than I, his tent meticulously placed and his cook gear, food, and gear neatly stacked near the fireplace. I was impressed and in fact a little jealous.

The penultimate night, we had a strong thunderstorm move through.  Fortunately, it was at night, and yes, I had the camp saw in the tent with me, in order to saw any tree that fell on my tent, assuming I survived the impact.  I stayed safe and dry, but my friend’s tent was pitched in a small depression so that his sleeping bag and some gear got wet.

We needed to move a few miles the next day so that we would be close enough to the take out point to exit the woods on time.  The next morning, after the rain stopped, I started packing and taking my gear down to the canoe.  My friend was not only concerned about his sleeping bag’s being wet but his tent.  To me, packing a wet tent is not enjoyable, but something I’ve done many times. It usually dries shortly after I pitch it the next day, and if not, I have a plastic sheet that lines the floor.  My friend was clearly uncomfortable with his wet gear, folding the tent so quickly it barely fit into the sack.  The tent fly, which is normally folded with the tent, wasn’t, and we ended up carrying it and the tent separately over the portages.  I realized that he was out of his comfort zone. When we reached the lake where we were staying, I found a west-facing campsite where the late afternoon sun could dry everything. It did.

Being outside of one’s comfort zone is of course part of war.  Part VII of Ken Burns’s recent Vietnam documentary was “The Veneer of Civilization,” how some young American men, decent people in civilian life, became the ugliest side of mankind during war.  Burns’s documentary took the wraps off, hearing from brave men, taken out of their comfort zone, who were forever changed.  War strips the veneer “civil” from civilization. We saw how Germany, so strong in the sciences that my father-in-law, a physician, had to learn German in the 1930s, because the best medical research was written in German.  These same people murdered people in places called Auschwitz or Thereseinstadt; I saw the signs in Mauthausen referring to parachutists without parachutes, where one had a choice to jump down on to granite 50 feet below or be shot.  Many committed suicide by trying to escape over electrified fences, to avoid places called “Gaskammer” or slowly starving to death.

The veneer has been badly scraped here in America since 20 January, and it was completely removed in Charlottesville and Las Vegas.  Congress used to be civil; the civility has been stretched and broken.  The veneer has disappeared in the halls of power, when one party has pushed legislation that was written in secret, not taken through the committee process, and brought for a vote within a few days of its having been written.  There isn’t even the pretense that there is respect.  Instead, it is push it through, even if the rules have to be changed.

There was a time when letters to the editor were the only way most of us could express an opinion. Editors filtered the letters, and there was a decent layer of veneer in public media. The Internet has spawned anonymity in which people spew vitriol without consequences. Much of what appears is poorly written, not factual, illogical, difficult to understand, hateful, adding nothing to public discourse.  There is seldom a simple “I disagree” without an ad hominem attack.  Covey’s Fifth Law: “Seek first to Understand then to be Understood,” one of the most powerful rules I used in management, is absent. I can’t write a letter to the editor or a blog post without letting it sit at least 24 hours, often longer, so that I have time to see if my original thoughts still seem right.  Often, they have significantly moderated.  On social media, much of what I write I delete before posting.

Just as astronauts can see the thin veneer of an atmosphere that allows us to breathe; just as a thin veneer of topsoil allows us to grow things; just as a thin veneer of pollinators allows flowering plants to produce food, so is there a thin veneer of civilized behavior that keeps us from descending into a hell that will destroy us.  In the woods, my veneer is experience and proper gear. In society, it is politeness, respect, listening, measured speech, and filtering one’s thoughts before expression.

We need every last bit of veneer today.

A PLACE EVEN BETTER

September 26, 2017

I really wanted that isthmus site on Basswood Lake, an international treasure where the Canada-US border runs for 14 miles through the middle of it.  Basswood was part of the main fur trade route two hundred fifty years ago.  Spanning the border from Prairie Portage to Basswood River, its 45 square miles and 14 named bays makes it “big water” in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  The lake is so special that when the BWCA became one of the first wilderness designates after the Wilderness Act of 1964, there was a compromise made on the American side, allowing 25 hp motors on a large portion of it as part of the deal.

Basswood has over 150 designated campsites on both sides of the border.  When my wife and I were looking for base camps for our annual trip, we spent two autumn trips in the motorized zone, finally taking a long day trip outside the zone to find a beautiful isthmus site, a narrow strip of land between two quiet bays.  We planned to stay there in 2013, but severe illness prevented my wife from canoeing that year, so I went solo with her blessing and stayed on the site, enjoying 5 days of sunrises, sunsets and profound quiet.  When I returned with my wife in 2014, we paddled out of the motor zone, turned the corner around a wooded, rocky point, and the isthmus looked open, at least with binoculars, from a half mile.

As we got closer, however, we saw a tarp flapping in the wind, and our dreams of camping there were dashed.  Somebody else was on the site.  We turned around, went back to a site that we had just passed, and pulled in.  We had also scouted this particular site two years earlier. Neither of us thought too much of it, but we decided to take another look.

We were glad we did.

I now have the site labelled on my GPS as “Hidden Gem.”  During our five night stay in 2014, we were treated to incredibly dark skies, northern lights, wonderful sunrises, a moose, beaver swimming off the campsite every night, and wolves howling.  We would have missed almost all of that from the isthmus site.  We returned to the same site the following two years, no longer caring whether the isthmus site was open.  The beaver were no longer there, and no moose came, but the views were those that I still think of when I need to go deep into myself to get away from the world.

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View to the north and Canada from the site.

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Moose, from the “Hidden Gem” site, 2014

This past year, when I took a friend of mine into the area, I hoped again for the isthmus site.  It had a small beach, and he liked to swim.  We left the motor zone, turned the corner, paddled by “Hidden Gem,” where I would not stay at without my wife’s being along, and the isthmus site looked open.  I was pleased, as we paddled right up to the landing and got out, walking up from the beach a few feet to the site.  I turned and looked to my right, at the kitchen area.

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The isthmus site from “Hidden Gem”

Hidden in the trees was a tent.

Oh well, I thought, we wouldn’t stay there, but there was another site down in a bay about a half mile away.  I didn’t remember the site as being too nice, with a lot of blowdown trees and not much room, but that had been three years ago.  Besides, I reasoned, I once thought “Hidden Gem” wasn’t all that great the first time I saw it, either.  We paddled along the shore of a quiet, moderate sized bay with a high cliff on the west side and two nearly bare, small islands out in the middle, rocky but interesting.  The whole place was quiet, except for a couple of nearby ravens.

We landed and walked uphill on the rocky path.  The site wasn’t large but it did have enough space for two tents.  The views were great to the north where we could see Canada. Nobody was on the lake, and I doubted we would see anyone, for we were well off the travel routes.  Most importantly, my companion said he liked it.  I did, too.  We had room, quiet, and we later explored the two islands, climbed the cliff, and in the evening had a visit from migrating geese, which landed by the islands, staying the night.  In all my years in the Boundary Waters, I had seen a lot of geese flying overhead; I never had camped with them nearby.

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“Hidden Bay” campsite as viewed from the cliff

We didn’t have wildlife, other than a couple of chipmunks, which were more interested in the plants than in us, but we had clear skies one night, with some of the best dark skies in the Lower 49.  We paddled the next morning to the outlet of Basswood, where the rapids began, the international border’s being in the middle of the rushing water.  We walked on the portage a short distance to places where one could be near the roaring rapids that continued for several miles to the west, ending at Crooked Lake. Other than a pair of eagles, we had the place to ourselves.

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Beginning of Upper Basswood Falls; Canada across the water

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Eagle pair

I no longer go to the Boundary Waters to cover miles and quench my desire to see new country.  I have done it, enjoyed it, happy that I was so fortunate to do so. These days, a base camp in a nice place is enough.  I can get in there in a few hours, if the weather is cooperative, I have a quiet place to stay, hardly see anybody,  and I can get back out easily.  Hidden Gem is still there, should my wife be able to travel with me again.  So is the isthmus.  It’s a nice place.

I’m lucky.  I can pick among several beautiful campsites on a lake whereI have spent more than fifty-five nights on twenty-three different campsites.  I didn’t look all of these numbers up on a map; I have them all in my memory, the year I was on them, and in some instances the actual date.

I sometimes think how interesting it might be to have spent a night on every one of the 107 campsites on the US side, and the half again as many on the Canadian side.  Realistically, however, I would never do that.  Getting to know a place well means more to me these days, second only to having the ability to get there.

Isthmus, Hidden Gem, and now Hidden Bay.  Nice places.

Basswood Lake: an international treasure.

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Closeup of isthmus site at sunset

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Sunrise from “Hidden Gem”

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Fall colors, September 2014.

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Beaver, 2014

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NATURAL WEB OF LIFE

July 18, 2017

I went to the Oregon Coast recently on a backpacking trip with six other club members.  The coast is pleasant in summer with cool nights and days, an evening campfire welcome, and one sleeps comfortably, without the bugs at the higher elevations, where there might not be any wind and may be a good deal hotter.

The youngest on the trip was 50, the oldest 72.  We share a love of the woods and backpacking, but we had very different personalities.  One disappeared for most of the trip, hiking early and alone.  We saw him the second day out, hiking back from a place where we were going to.  That afternoon he disappeared into the woods reading, and he was gone the next morning when I got up.  I am a morning person, but other than that one individual, the rest were not, so I did some early morning solo walking on the beach, but I stayed in camp when the others were there, and during a lot of the campfire time, listened.

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My tracks on the beach north of Blacklock Point.

It’s good to listen long and hard to others.  I ought to do more of it.  I forget people’s names, or how to pronounce some of them, so if I listen long enough, I often avoid the embarrassment of asking someone’s name, which I should have learned but didn’t, or how they say it.  If I am especially lucky, I learn how to pronounce some of the natural landmarks from long time residents, so I don’t mangle the pronunciation myself.  While others are talking, I learn about ages, past jobs, families, marriages, divorces, kids, philosophy, and a whole host of things I would never ask, because I generally don’t like to ask people about personal matters.  Listening is great: people like someone with whom they can talk, and I get a lot of free information.  I just have to keep my own mouth shut, and that often isn’t easy.

I also learn how organized people are by how they deal with campfires.  Some like to have every piece of wood in the right place, and are constantly in motion making sure such happens.  Others just let the fire burn where it burns and don’t involve themselves in it at all.  I’m in the middle, tossing an occasional pine cone in, trying to get it to one exact spot.  I need a lot of pine cones.

The woods itself teaches me much every time I go into it.  Too many in the club think all I do is hike as fast as I can without seeing anything.  I don’t try to convince them otherwise; I won’t. I’m too old to make the effort, and I’ve long known that the only person I can likely change is myself, and that hasn’t been easy. Lately, I have been interested in wildflowers, and I get to see some that I can take a picture of and look them up back home.  I watch the Moon in daytime, when it is visible.  I look at its angle with the horizon, the phase, and notice how dim it gets near the horizon, eastern horizon if it is rising before full, western if it is setting after full.

What surprised me the most this particular trip were the spider webs.  Yes, spider webs.  It was quite by accident I even noticed them.  I was making a simple breakfast and happened to look up to the east, where the morning sun sent its beams through a the forest of red pines and Sitka spruce.  That was worthy of a picture, but instead of pulling out the camera, I kept looking. What really struck me were the number of webs, complete ones,  ones with just one strand, a strand 25 feet up in the air, several at near ground level.  I realized how many I destroy when I walk through the woods.  I understand how dangerous these webs are for small flying insects.  Mind you, there have always been spider webs in the woods, and I have long noted the beautiful ones with dew on them, but I never had fully appreciated the sheer number of spiders in the woods.  At 68, that is shameful.  On the other hand, at least it wasn’t when I was 69, 79, or never.  Kind of makes me wonder briefly what else I am missing.  I’m sure someone in the club will tell me.

On the other hand, I bet they don’t know what the phase of the Moon is and why it is angled the way it is to the horizon, either.  Maybe some night I will explain it to them, by a campfire.

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“Ross Light”, the special light, at sunset. It is the name Sig Olson, the great 20th century wilderness writer, gave to that time when photography was the best.

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Looking south from Blacklock Point, Oregon Coast. At the far right center is the Cape Blanco Lighthouse.

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Wildflowers, Blacklock Point, Oregon Coast.

MURDERS SHOULDN’T COUNT AS DEATHS

June 2, 2017

Jonah Goldberg, conservative columnist, wrote yesterday how government intervention into American medicine would be no panacea.  He cited that while Australia had 3 years’ longevity on average more than Americans, Denmark had only a year and a half.  Then he took issue with the average.  At my age, an extra three years looks good.

Goldberg compared Summit County, CO with Pine Ridge, SD, showing about a 20 year difference in life expectancy, commenting that lifestyles have a lot more to do with the discrepancy than having insurance.  Of course, lifestyles affect longevity.  Native Americans have a high rate of unemployment, diabetes, and alcohol/other drug abuse, but their medical care is not as good as mainstream America.  Yes, they have the Indian Health Service, which I have been a part of, not Mr. Goldberg, and I can attest on reservations the IHS is not staffed nearly as well as it is in, say, Anchorage or Phoenix.  The anecdote fit Mr. Goldberg’s case, however, so it stayed.

He then went on to say a study by a member of the Hoover Institution (on War, Revolution, and Peace, the full name of which he did not mention, and I think is relevant) said while America was ranked 19th of 29 in life expectancy, if we “removed fatal car crashes and murders” we would rank first.

Wow.  If we didn’t count cancer, we’d blow away the field.  This reminded me of a cardiac surgeon I once spoke to, back when my hospital had one of the highest cardiac surgery death rates in the country, ostensibly because we did sicker patients.  Why we operated on them when others didn’t was never explained.  Anyway, one day a surgeon told me most of his fatal outcomes were “non coronary.”  I was speechless, because to me, as a neurologist, the patient had an operation and the patient died.  Period. Very end. Don’t dress up a pig.  Given that the Republican leadership has steadfastly refused to fund studies by the CDC to help us learn from and deal with firearm violence, I hardly think murders should be removed from the count, especially since we rank 99th in the world by rate per million, a third more than Uzbekistan, and four times that of Australia, which did do something about firearms, and eleven times that of Japan.  Imagine, Uzbekistan has a lower murder rate than the US.

Then Mr. Goldberg trod where he had no business treading.  He quoted the Medicaid study in Oregon, where several years ago, extra money allowed more people access to Medicaid via a lottery, which made an ideal study group (comparison of like groups with only presence or absence of insurance as a variable).  Mr. Goldberg stated that with the exception of depression, having health insurance produced no significant improvement in health.  Many of the outcome variables tracked, such as treatment of hypertension, diabetes, PAP smears, colonoscopies, and smoking cessation treatment will require years to determine whether access to affordable medical care will in fact make a difference in longevity.  Mr. Goldberg would do well to show some patience; health care doesn’t file quarterly earnings statements. People who haven’t been able to afford a doctor aren’t going to suddenly feel great when they finally can.  Still, increased health related quality of life and happiness was measurable, and that increased significantly along with a decrease in depression scores.  People sleep better at night when they know they can see a doctor without becoming bankrupt should they fall ill.

Depression is not a minor disease.  A major depressive disorder afflicts up to 25% of all women during their lifetime and 10-15% of men.  I treated thousands of people with depression during my medical career.  The disorder has protean manifestations; it is not a matter of someone’s  being down in the dumps.  Depression is a cause of appetite disorders and subsequent obesity or severe weight loss.  It affects energy level and productivity.  It may present as chronic pain.  Sleep disturbances are present in most depressed people; lack of good sleep is a major health problem today. The immune system is affected. Depression is a major cause of significant memory disorder, often masquerading as dementia; indeed, my father’s depression looked like dementia, and my mother’s dementia presented as depression. Moods are affected, and depression is a significant cause of sexual dysfunction.  These six: S-A-E-Me-Mo-Sex were written on my medical records in the upper right hand corner as soon as I saw a person with many somatic complaints that didn’t fit neatly into a neurological container.  In the ‘80s, I risked patient anger when I diagnosed depression.  People assumed I thought they were crazy, rather than having a chemical disturbance in their brain that was potentially treatable.  Today, we know better, but suicide by firearm is more common than murder by firearm, and depression remains a major cause of the former.

Goldberg concluded by stating that while the Affordable Care Act was correlated with the decline in America’s life expectancy in 2016, he said that some people were helped, quickly adding that there was no evidence that government run medical care did any good.  Mind you, Goldberg wasn’t blaming the ACA, although he didn’t refer to it by that term, which I find annoying.

Mr. Goldberg didn’t mention that the number of bankruptcies fell in half from 1.5 million to under 780,000 from 2010 to 2016, long after the bankruptcy law was tightened.  Some wrote: “bankruptcies disappeared ‘overnight’ with the advent of the ACA.”

I think it is entirely fair to have a reasonable debate on the role of government in medical care.  Let us, however, have a debate based on all the facts, not cherry picked ones. I resent Goldberg’s using his anecdotes then claiming the ACA was anecdotally helpful.  That is galling.  The ACA probably prevented 4 million bankruptcies so far, bringing peace of mind to millions.  Market based care, “choice,” the word used when it doesn’t involve a woman, and lifestyle changes are not the answer.  People need to be able to access basic medical care without financial hardship.  We need to catch illnesses early, and we need to screen for medical conditions, like cancer and yes, depression.

It’s time for the Congressional Budget Office to put a price tag on peace of mind, not declaring bankruptcy, and the long range value of early screening for disease.  Until then, I state that a good night’s sleep without worry about medical care is worth $100/night.  I’m open to negotiation, but it must have a dollar value.  We’re in America.

UNDERSTANDING THE UNTIED STATES

May 27, 2017

Now, I am beginning to understand, thanks to budget director Mick Mulvaney.  When asked by Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan why money for water protection in the Great Lakes was zeroed out in the budget, he said we had to look at this through the eyes of a taxpayer in Arkansas: “Should I really take some of his tax dollars to do something in Michigan?”

Stabenow commented, “that’s called having a country, with all due respect.”  She went on to say that 20% of the world’s fresh water bordered 8 states. I wonder how many Americans can name all the Great Lakes.  I wonder if Mulvaney could even name the states; he’s from the South.

I would have gone right back at Mulvaney asking why I, here in Oregon, should give a damn about a trailer park in Arkansas that gets leveled by a tornado, something that happens virtually every year.  Or some chicken farmer, when I’m vegetarian.  Why should I care if some cattle rancher’s herd dies in a winter blizzard?  That doesn’t affect me.  Why should I pay to truck sand into some North Carolina beach, so it will get eroded away the next storm?  Or to fight grass fires in Texas, build levees in Louisiana, where the ground is sinking and the Atchafalaya River needs to flow naturally again, which means taking over from the Mississippi.  Why should I care about floods in South Carolina?  That’s Mulvaney’s home.  Let him pay for it.  I’m not going there again.  If there is an EF-5 in Oklahoma, why should I care?  It’s a red state, most of the people there wish somebody like me would drop dead, and they certainly wouldn’t want my money.  Why then?

Because we are the UNITED States, not the UNTIED States.  We fix things in the country that matter.  We help people who need help.  We protect the environment for the next generation, and if I, a guy who neither desired nor wanted nor had children, thinks that helping those who lives have yet to begin is important, why can’t the president’s budget address this fact?

How local to we go, Mr. Mulvaney?  Do we go so local that we only pay for medical bills that affect us?  That our taxes shouldn’t go to medical research because I may see no benefit, to building trauma centers I may never use, to research that tries to cure other childhood cancers, like we cured acute lymphoblastic leukemia (it wasn’t prayer that did that, you know) even though I will never in my life have a child who could have it?  Mr. Mulvaney, it should be noted, failed to pay payroll taxes incurred by a nanny for his triplets from 2000-2004, arguing she was a babysitter.

Why should I pay for somebody who has head trauma and wasn’t wearing a helmet?  Or somebody with a gunshot wound when I think the NRA ought to pay for it? They use firearms, I don’t.

Are we becoming a nation of crowd source funders, passing the digital hat, without a clue what a country is about?  Is this the rugged individualism approach that sounds good when you hear Sheriff Richard Mack, of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, the same Mr. Mack who hated Mr. Obama and his ACA?  Sheriff Mack, to remind some and to educate others, had a heart attack and his wife became ill as well.  They went to GoFundMe to try to get their medical bills paid for, since they didn’t have insurance. Crowd sourcing isn’t the answer, because medical bills are far more than most realize, and Sheriff Mack, your bill and many others with similar conditions can’t be anticipated, so that’s why we have a thing called insurance.  Now insurance isn’t all that great when it restricts what you can use it for, so it was changed.  Personally, I would have the government cover all medical care to a certain extent, but I am open to honest, fair debate as to what that extent should be.

For example, I think medical care for heart conditions, cancer, aneurysms, blown out knees, fractured clavicles, broken necks, concussions, childbirth, strep throats, ought to be available so that people—even right wing, red state folks who hate me and everything I stand for—get it when they fall ill, rather than dying and as Charles Dickens would have said, “decreased the surplus population.”  I think a 30 year-old, uninsured, in a coma, should be given medical treatment to try to save his life, not “let him die,” which is what the audience yelled at a Ron Paul rally in 2011. Paul himself said, “let people assume responsibility for themselves.”  Really?  People in a coma can assume responsibility?  Old people can shop for the best value medical care?  Should those who were too stupid not to wear a helmet be left at the side of the road to die?  Granted, I didn’t like coming in at 2 a.m. to care for them, but these people needed medical care, unless or until there was a time when in the my judgment where care would no longer help. I wasn’t, of course, trained as an OBG like Paul, just a neurologist, and I was a few years behind him in medical school, so I didn’t hear the part about having the churches take care of these people.  That’s been tried in this country, and it doesn’t work, although if some of the megachurches put their dollars towards actual hands on care, we could probably make a moderate dent in the scope of the problem.

By the way, Paul’s 2008 campaign manager died at 49 from pneumonia, leaving behind a $400,000 medical bill, because while he could raise money for Paul, he couldn’t afford a few hundred a month for COBRA coverage.  Paul managed to extol the man’s skills and tried to raise money for his medical bills.  Is this the America he envisioned?

Are we united or untied?  Will my America be money for defense, tax cuts for the rich, where the money will not trickle down, but we will continue to hear that it is true? Will my America be where the president’s family uses the office to generate money and virtually nobody will try to stop it?  Where Mr. Putin’s approaches to journalism and money are copied here?  Is it here where we make a budget based on unrealistic growth expectations?  What happens when a Cat 5 hurricane levels Miami, storm surge again wipes out New Orleans, or a cluster of EF-4 tornadoes takes out Birmingham?  Are those people expected to take care of themselves?  What happens if the San Andreas or Cascadia Fault slips, and Los Angeles, San Francisco, Eugene, Salem, Portland or Seattle is leveled?  Or we have an oil spill from a pipeline that a lot of us didn’t want, and the Ogallala Aquifer or Lake Superior are polluted beyond repair?  You’ve heard, I assume, Mr. Mulvaney, of the Enbridge 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac.  What happens if this 65 year-old pipeline, whose supports have failed, leaks? Who fixes Lake Superior?

This is what I finally understand.  I know now where we are going: we are to become a nation of take care of yourself, because nobody else will.  That’s the case in many places in the world today.  I’ve seen those places and those people, in Manila, La Paz, Caracas, Lima, Djakarta, New Delhi, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Lusaka, Nairobi, Cairo, and Tripoli.  Of course, we have them here, too. And we will have a lot more.  You see, the AHCA will remove insurance from 64,000 in Oregon Congressman Greg Walden’s district, and he helped craft the bill.

You know what?  He will be re-elected in 2018.

PREMATURE CHICKEN COUNTING

May 24, 2017

Social and other media have been abuzz the past few weeks about impeachment of the president, a display of both magical thinking and forgetfulness of with whom we are dealing.  In the same vein, the “resistance” is taking credit for things that perhaps are not worth crediting.  In short, while I support all steps that fight the current administration and run down the clock, I want to inject a harsh dose of reality into our lives, too.

I wouldn’t bet against the current president.  He survived insulting of McCain, the Pope and Ted Cruz’s wife, dissing a Gold Star family, giving away Graham’s phone number, and took apart not only the entire Republican field, but the Democrats as well.  He was shrewd enough to bring several of his rivals into his cabinet. He has gotten away with all of it, and other than a few brave judges slowing down some executive orders, is quietly moving to dismantle health care, give a big tax break to the wealthy, remove food stamps, Medicaid, Social Security, and Medicare, and all environmental restrictions.  Maybe this can be stopped, but I am not betting on it right now.

The rules have changed.  While the media is finally stepping forward with investigations into his ties and his campaign’s ties to Russia, already there are those who may find a way to weaken the investigation.  I’ve heard countless times of the dysfunction in the White House and how this can’t continue.  And yet it continues.  He can fire the current special counsel should he choose, like Nixon, more than 40 years ago, and there would be a huge outcry…but nothing to show for it, were I betting.

Despite all the transgressions the current president has made, his approval rating stubbornly remains in the mid to high 30s, back to 40% when we had our $90 million raid on Syria.  Oh, I read that the firing of Comey had a 29% approval rating, but the disapproval rating is today barely over 50%.  The president would get at least 40% of the vote were the election held today, and until or unless I see polling numbers in the 20s, I will not be impressed much has significantly changed.  It doesn’t matter that Mr. Obama ran a scandal-free administration, stymied every step of the way, had unproven conspiracy theories abound, and would have been impeached in a New York minute had he secret conversations with the Russians.  This president has the backing of the Republican Party, who sees more what they can get from him than what is right or wrong in the country. I heard before the election all the Republicans who weren’t going to vote for him. And they all did anyway.  I’m not sure what—if anything—will take this man down.  I suspect if something does, it may be a minor sleeper that takes everybody by surprise.

Currently, I am trying to unsubscribe from the voluminous number of emails I get from so many different groups.  Today was the Democratic Governor’s Association.  I fought the battle 10 years ago, back when Napolitano and Sebelius were still red state governors, until Mr. Obama’s ill-timed use of them in his cabinet.   If the Democrats were too stupid to realize what they needed to do, it isn’t up to me to be their money tree.  I’m retired.  It’s time for somebody else to step forward. I’m tired of losing, of candidates not wanting the national organization to come to their district, because national is out of touch, running candidates with high disapproval ratings who worry more about raising money than going to the heartland in all 50 states and just discussing matters like health care, defense, taxes, and trade.  I’ve had it with voters who demand perfection in race, gender, sexual orientation, medical plans, fighting terrorism, or they will stay home.  These same voters are getting creamed by this administration, and frankly a tax cut would be economically beneficial to me.  If they are too stupid to realize that only the Democrat can beat the president, not a Libertarian or a Green, and that down ballot measures like Congress and School Boards matter, then they deserve what they get.

Resist, yes.  But don’t think for a moment that the resistance killed the AHCA.  It didn’t kill it the first time, the Freedom Caucus did.  And whether the town halls will make a difference at the voting booth, I’m not optimistic right now.  People have short memories.  People are stupid, when they think “Obamacare” was different from the ACA.  I’d predict that if the AHCA became law today, the House wouldn’t change much in 2018. Nobody is protesting the lack of enforcement of the ACA, which is causing more insurers to pull out, the Blues now from the KC area.  Enforcement of the law is a presidential duty.  At least it was for a Democratic president.

Worse, it may be too late.  An estimated 300,000 in Wisconsin alone were disenfranchised because of harsh rules to vote.  It is more difficult to vote now, the districts were gerrymandered, the voting rights act was gutted, and now we are going to have a commission to look into voter fraud, most of the single digit cases of fraud being by Republicans.  In 2020, the census will be politicized, and minorities will be undercounted, underrepresented, and districts drawn by Republicans, because most of the states are run by Republicans now.  The Democrats in power were too busy doing—well, I don’t know what—while the Republicans took 1000 offices nationwide.

It’s not up to me.  If it were, I’d have mandatory national service, military out of South Asia, single payer health care, and a tax plan I’ve discussed here many times.

People would do well to cool it a little bit.  Nobody is going to impeach the president in a Republican run Congress.  Even if that happened, conviction would require two-thirds of the Senate, and other than an occasional feel good bill, there aren’t two thirds the votes for even free enemas in this country.  Maybe the guy will resign.  Or just quit.  Or die or get Alzheimer’s, assuming he doesn’t have that right now.  Then we get Pence, whom I would bet money that very few people in this country realized what those implications might be, because the media was so focused back then on the presidency.  Pence may be investigated too, but to count on that is counting a second generation chicken.

The media is helping uncover a lot of bad stuff now, true.  I’m glad that they are doing their job.  I can be forgiven for not being a fan of theirs when they gave untold amounts of free advertising to this president, who is a candidate still, with packed rallies and a lot of strong support, people who will vote.

I am remaining hopeful that something will end the darkness that has ensnared this country, but I do not underestimate the resiliency of this president, the desire of his party to keep him in office, and the damage he can do.  If one wants to have a feel good moment, that’s fine.  From time to time, we need one.  But it is important to be realistic, look at appropriate sources of news, fact check information, and stay realistic, focused on results, and keep reminding people why elections matter.