Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Front lines

The corona virus pandemic which is making its way around the world has come to the little spot here in Wisconsin we call home. It's affected our employment, to the extent that my wife is completely working from the bedroom, and while I still have some patients available to me, most of them are in nursing facilities that have locked down, a few to the point where they won't allow our RNs inside. I go out almost daily, often to homes but sometimes to a facility or the grocery store. I have taken to occasionally wearing a medical mask, because I see so many patients.

But that's not what I want to talk about. The phrase "on the front lines" annoys me.

It's not just the use of military terminology, although that's a poor choice when it comes to healing. It leaves me at least with a feeling like being so categorized I should be up to my gaiters in mud and blood, bullets and shells whizzing past. The sense behind this phrase is we in healthcare, by dint of our continuing to practice, sometimes among people we know are infected, more often (since this is a novel virus as it's been called, and we're finding out just how it moves through a population with new permutations almost daily) among those who are susceptible, we are at the cutting edge of both the science and the danger.

I don't mind in my little way being at the cutting edge of technology. But I am not in danger. Or at least not more so than most people, and probably less than some.

Think of it. I'm given protection in the way of masks and sometimes gloves and gowns but more effectively in information. I'm updated daily on risks to others and to me, and when a new potential for risk is identified I'm warned of it. If anything, I'm in the rear, sort of a member of the DUO, helping to keep others calm and protected, serving donuts and pouring coffee.

But the misapprehension that bothers me most is that there is anything brave in what I do. What there is is care and training in my profession. I'm not brave. I'm not particularly cowardly--I'll own up to being what a recent New York Times essay referred to as the healthcare workers who aren't running from coronavirus but confronting it--but I have a good sense of my limits. And I know that, rather than running toward the choppers in the opening moments of M*A*S*H,  I'm likelier to amble along to visits like Jimmy Stewart walking Donna Reed home from the dance. (Yes, sometimes holding my pants up.)

Still. I walk into hospitals and facilities and homes where I'm unsure of what I'll meet because that is what I do. I comfort. I hold hands. I talk gently or I don't speak but listen or I sit while someone sleeps.

It's not brave. It's just what I and a lot of other people do. Thank us and pat us on the back (metaphorically, of course), but don't call us the front line. We aren't dodging bullets, even metaphorically. We're showing up to do what we know. In the worst instances we are reminding the suffering they aren't alone or forgotten. At the best we're comforting them. It's no more or less than you would do for your loved ones if you knew how.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Jeremiad in a gentle voice

I've written in the past of the probability that future churches will need new, more secular hymns, and while this is too specific to be one of them, it is a very good one. It's a Jeremiad in a gentle voice, a reminder to our opponents that we love them and they believe better than they practice.

Evangelical Singer Calls Out Trump's Christian Supporters In Scathing New Song
Ed Mazza HuffPost
January 29, 2020

An evangelical Christian musician is calling out his fellow members of the faith for their widespread support of President Donald Trump in a new song titled: “Hymn For The 81%.”

“This song might ruffle some feathers, but maybe some feathers need to be ruffled,” Daniel Deitrich told Religion News Service, adding: 

Maybe some tables need to be turned over. Hear me on this, though: It is because I was taught to take the words of Jesus and the prophets seriously that I cannot stay silent.

The song’s title refers to the 81% of evangelicals who voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Since then, they’ve remained one of his most consistent group of supporters despite the chasm between core biblical tenets and the president’s behavior and policies.

“Even after enacting deliberately cruel policies to rip families apart and put children in cages at the southern border, evangelical support is as fervent as ever,” Deitrich, who is listed as the pastor for arts and worship at South Bend City Church in Indiana, wrote on YouTube.

Deitrich also noted that he was raised on Christian values.

“I learned to take the words of Jesus seriously ― love God, love your neighbor, feed the hungry, fight for justice for the oppressed. I thought that things like love, kindness, gentleness, and self-control MATTERED,” he wrote. “I have been so confused and deeply saddened by the unflinching loyalty to a man who so clearly embodies the opposite of these values.”

Deitrich told RNS that while the song was a rebuke, it “comes from a deep well of love.”

Indeed, one line of the song is: “You said to love the lost, so I’m loving you now.” But the next line puts evangelical Christians who support Trump on notice:

You said speak the truth
I’m calling you out
Why don’t you live the words
That you put in my mouth

Deitrich said the song’s bridge originally was “an angry middle finger to the listener” that he found cathartic, but he toned it down in the final version.

“I remember gearing up for that angry bridge but being hit with a wave of sadness instead,” he told RNS. ”‘Come home, you taught me better than this’ came out. That’s the take in the finished recordin

Sunday, February 9, 2020


As a teacher in the early 21st century, when things started getting hot politically, I often argued with my students that the law demanded things be done certain ways. That, although republican operatives subverted the protections of the legal system by disrupting the Bush-Gore count, the Supreme Court ultimately held sway. And while I didn't agree with its decision, it had the final say, and adhering to its findings is what separates the US from, say, the Sudan.

But I didn't expect, and I doubt few did, that fealty to the law could ultimately be used as a cudgel. When he began his campaign, most of us were aware trump paid only lip service to the law and assumed that would undo him. When he assumed office, most of us were aware he could not hold to the strictures of what the law about what he could and couldn't do, and assumed that would undo him.

What we didn't expect, and what Dahlia Lithwick in this excellent commentary only hints at, is the number of people not only willing to look the other way when trump insists others abide by the laws he ignores, but who actively enable his flouting of those laws, who accept his unspoken credo that the law is for suckers. This period of our republic will ultimately be used as an example of how desperate things become when the system operates as if the rules are only used on the public, not for them.

The Law Is for Suckers
Donald Trump’s impeachment acquittal proves that they let you do it.

FEB 05, 20206:21 PM

“The law is for suckers.” That has been the credo of Donald Trump throughout his personal and business life. James Zirin, in his superb book, Plaintiff in Chief, chronicles the 3,500 lawsuits to which Trump has been a party, a pattern of scorched-earth attacks that include deliberate “delay, counterattack, obstruction, deflection, confusion, threats of ruin, and blanket assertion of attorney/client privilege to avoid accountability.” These were tricks he learned from the notorious Roy Cohn, and they were largely successful in helping him evade legal accountability throughout his business career.

They were, it turns out, the same tricks Trump brought to the campaign trail and later to the White House. It was all, writes Zirin, a dangerous new approach for a president:
Trump is very different. His instinctive litigiousness; his abuse of the legal process to obtain leverage, not justice; his mean-spirited statements and conduct; his overblown damage claims; his many lies, exaggerations and prevarications; his willingness to sue, trash, or discard even those who did him a good turn along the way are abnormal by any standard.
It is a paradox that the most litigious country in the world—a country whose founding documents were largely drafted by lawyers, and whose constitutional true north has long been the constraints afforded by the law—elected a man who has spent the bulk of his life creating a two-tiered system, in which some men are bound by law and others float away from it. We knew long before he was elected that Donald Trump would not be bound by the rule of law, or by the norms of a system dependent on checks and balances. He told us as much. During the campaign he floated the prospect of torturing the families of enemies, and rewriting libel laws, and banning travelers to the United States based on their religion. Sure, it maybe sounded like hyperbole, and it maybe sounded like campaign-speak, and even as some of those efforts were effectuated, including the Muslim ban and family separations, and even as the norms about nepotism and self-dealing and disclosure were brushed away, it still seemed as if a country founded on law would locate some guardrails.

It hasn’t. Just as Zirin promised us, Trump has deployed all of his Roy Cohn strategies to show us that the law is for suckers, and that for great men it serves as a nuisance at most, something to be gotten out of with a squadron of well-paid lawyers, by terrorizing opposing parties and witnesses, by lying fluently and repeatedly, and by declaring victory even when you lost. It should not surprise a soul that he would have brought those tactics to bear as a candidate, as president, and as the subject of an impeachment inquiry. The legal arguments he has deployed throughout this process—that he should have “absolute immunity” from investigation; that he could not be removed from office for crimes; and that he could only be impeached for literal crimes, not high crimes and misdemeanors as the Framers intended—were vintage Roy Cohn. As was the argument, as proffered by Alan Dershowitz, that if the president believed his election interference was in the best interest of the republic, it was both not illegal and also not an impeachable offense. The fact that the Senate and the Justice Department helped him evade accountability, or that White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Dershowitz and Ken Starr served as Roy Cohn mini-me’s, should surprise nobody. Nor should the fact that the “trial” was not a trial and the jurors were not jurors or that a nontrivial number of the jurors voted to acquit him while still acknowledging that what he did was the thing he continues to deny having done.

Nobody should be surprised that in the wake of 3,500 lawsuits, Trump will conclude that he is indeed above the law, that the legal regime exists only for suckers, and also that he can repurpose the machinery of law to investigate, harass, and punish the whistleblowers and the witnesses and those who sought to constrain him. At which point the law won’t just be the thing that applies only to losers and suckers, but also the thing that can be used to put down those who sought justice in the first place. And nobody should be surprised that having invited foreign election interference and having been acquitted for doing so, this president will use the formidable power of his Justice Department to manipulate the 2020 election, and to call into question the results of that election in the courts.

We can debate the wisdom of Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi and the ticktock of the impeachment investigation and trial—whether it should have been broader, or gone longer, or relied upon court rulings that never came. But we can hopefully agree that what they attempted to do was use both legal processes and legal arguments to show that when a president abuses the power of his office and denies accountability, it should matter. They were trying to prove that the law isn’t just there to punish asylum-seekers trapped in Mexico or black men in prisons, but that it should apply to everyone, even the wealthy, and even the people who believe it doesn’t apply to them because it never has in the past. Donald Trump staked a decadeslong business career on the bet that if you’re rich, famous, brazen, and unrepentant, the law will let you do it. He staked his presidency on the same. Republicans who deplore the death of “unity” today should remember that this was once a nation unified around at least the hope that the law was for everyone, and that going forward, it will be divided around the certainty that some people don’t answer to the courts or the Constitution. Their president will answer to nobody. All of us now answer to him.

Friday, February 7, 2020


We continue to pretend as if climate change is something happening to us rather than a result of what we do to ourselves, as if we're passively receiving the actions of an angry, unforgiving God. But most of us are aware, even if we refuse to say it out loud, that we are reaping the benefits and the issues of our practices.

This is an excellent essay, too complicated to cut and paste here, that explains if we nurture the right trees and in large enough numbers, we may be able to stave off the disaster we threaten ourselves with. While I'm comfortable with the idea that the civilized world might end, I know not everyone is, and some might even act to counter the destruction. If you consider yourself one these latter, you can do worse than explore this idea.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Death of an(other) environmentalist

While we fretted over our inability to hold the trump administration to account, and that was indeed a problem, small murders like this were happening elsewhere. And while it is unlikely trump had a hand in it, it smacked too neatly of the rationale behind many of his offenses: Do it because you can get away with it.

FEBRUARY 1, 2020 / 7:48 PM / 2 DAYS AGO
At famed Mexican butterfly reserve, second worker found dead
Alan Ortega

URUAPAN, Mexico (Reuters) - Mexican authorities said on Saturday they are investigating the possible murder of a tour guide working at a famous butterfly reserve in the western state of Michoacan, just two days after its former environmental activist was buried.

Raul Hernandez’s body was found in the area in the early hours of Saturday, with different parts beaten, and a head injury possibly caused by a sharp object, the state attorney general said.

Earlier this week, Mexicans in El Rosario mourned the death of activist Homero Gomez, who had fought for a decade to protect the monarch butterflies until his mysterious death. It is unclear whether the two cases are connected.

The sudden disappearance of such a high-profile campaigner had sparked an outcry in Mexico, an increasingly violent country where activists are routinely threatened, harmed or even killed as a result of their work.

Millions of the orange and black insects make a 2,000-mile (3,220-km) journey each year from Canada to winter in central Mexico’s warmer weather. However, they are facing new challenges linked to extreme weather and changing habitat.

Michoacan state is not only home to the country’s largest monarch butterfly reserve, a World Heritage Site, but also rival drug gangs who battle to control smuggling routes through often-arid terrain to the Pacific and the interior of the country.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

My new project

For years, I've wanted to be a flaneur, that is, someone who wanders the city taking a temperature of how people feel and the way they're expressing it. My models have been Adam Gopnick, Tom Wolfe, Lytton Strachey, Max Beerbohm, Luc Sante, Nick Tosches. (There are flaneuses, I know, but I have not read many of them.)

While my fantasy might take the form of my being an epicurean, more robust version of Alexander Dumas, and while the truth is I am not as good or dedicated a writer, what the reality of my intent comes to is that I would sit quietly sipping a cafe au lait and making notes in public places, later to put them into understandable form explaining the minutiae of what is happening during this period of American history. For the past year, I have indulged a version of this fantasy by wanting to go to the southern border to witness the immoral division of refugee families. I've found a couple opportunities I thought could afford me getting down there with other people, which is an important element to me, but mostly those opportunities passed by and I came nowhere near taking advantage of them.

The desire to be a witness is strong, too strong I've realized to be limited by a time (say, a two week vacation) and a region (Arizona or New Mexico). We're living in interesting times when a lot of observable evils are not only out in the open but relatively reported on. Because of that, the tack of the people committing these evils is to pretend they're not only necessary, they're the norm.

They are neither. They remain cruel and unnecessary. It's my intention to draw attention to them for people who might not otherwise be aware of them.

I've proved, I think, my bona fides in the anti-trump arena, so I'm deciding to comment as little on these actions and ideas as possible, letting their own sin sink them. This may work or it may prove too heavy or heartbreaking to point to without providing context or alternative. We'll see. As this is Groundhog's Day, my avatar will be one peeping out on the world, maybe looking for sun, maybe just wondering what the noise is.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

It's the end of the world as we know it

I saw this Australian movie from the late 70s sometime in the early 80s. It was on one of those weekend late-night TV shows that specialized in playing odd movies from around the world. I happened to come across it at the beginning.

It was called The Last Wave, starred Richard Chamberlain, was directed by Peter Weir, and it was very, very strange. Chamberlain is a lawyer defending aborigines from a murder charge who discovers what is really going on involves the end of the world. Or more specifically, the end of this contemporary world and the beginning of the next. As a result, at the end of the film, you feel positive, even good, about the end of the world. You know this has happened countless times before and will happen countless times again.

This has become my view of what is an almost certain end to contemporary civilization. I'm not a believer that the planet itself will somehow be destroyed. Pretty unlikely. I think what's likelier is how humans live and even their ability to live will end.

I'm all right with that.

The direction climate change is going will destroy much of the Third World in the near future, and while most Americans, if they think about it at all, and most of us don't, think it will have minimal effect on them, it's not a question of if it will but when it will. It may take some time, maybe years, a few decades, but it will have tremendous effects on us. At first it will be economic, but it will encroach on our lives more. It will be burdensome and painful, and we'll be uncomfortable and some of us will determine "It's them or us," and that might work for a while. Eventually, either because we develop a greater moral sense or we simply run out of people to exploit, Americans and other elites whose lives depend on other people doing most of the work for them, will be forced to do things we don't understand or haven't taken the time to adapt, and we will peter out as a species.

Today is The Day of Remembrance, a day one acknowledges death, including the death of the fantasy one can continue pretending not to know about what is being done in one's name or at one's side. We should acknowledge that we've reached beyond the point of holding off whatever form our species' death is coming in for more than a handful of years, and most of us don't care.

I do care. I feel fine.