Homeland Security?


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“I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated,” Trump told reporters, with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Vice-President Mike Pence standing by his side. “I think anybody with a heart would feel strongly about it. We don’t like to see families separated.”

It’s not that he doesn’t like the fact of the child abductions he has ordered, mind you.  It’s that he doesn’t like “the sight or the feel” of it.  He doesn’t like seeing it on TV. 

Sometimes the language Trump uses, inadvertently or not, shows a flickering glimpse into that dark vacuum where his soul should be.

His use here of the passive voice, and the conditional perfect form of the verb ‘to feel’, is interesting.  It allows him to invoke the warm and fuzzy feelings associated with people with hearts and caring about children, without actually committing himself to either one.  Then there’s his use of the Imperial We…

Consider this sentence instead: “I don’t like separating families.” It is a strong sentence, clear and declarative, but it has two major problems for Trump.  With its active voice and simple present tense, it takes ownership of the worst aspect of the policy, and it renders the lie transparent–his glee with the chaos he produces shines through his habitual melancholy bluster.  He would prefer us to admire the strength of his border policies, once again conflating cruelty with strength at the expense of empathy.  That is the core of the Trump political brand.

Secretary Nielsen displays a similar lack commitment to empathy in her remarks:

“… the children in D.H.S. and H.H.S. custody are being well taken care of.”  she insisted.  “The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement provides meals, medical care and educational services to these children. They are provided temporary shelter, and H.H.S. works hard to find a parent, relative or foster home to care for these children.”

She clearly has a better command of the organizational chart of the Executive Branch than of the urgent needs of a traumatized child, or even how to comfort a crying baby.  She knows who the boss is.  She can be lawyerly, but can she be motherly?

Apparently the Secretary believes that providing pizza and indoor cages with Mylar blankets, along with medical care for physical problems (which probably doesn’t even satisfy the Geneva Convention for adult prisoners of war) constitutes good care for child political prisoners.  Does she seriously think that children, after a strenuous trek through tropical jungles, arid deserts, and hostile countryside, witnessing violence and death, and then, with the goal in sight, being snatched from their parents in a strange land whose language and customs they do not understand, and held like animals in locked cages, are ready for packaged “educational services’, or won’t act out their anger when they are placed, all alone, in the homes of strangers who speak a language foreign to them?

The last months have provided even the youngest of them with an education beyond what their keepers can even comprehend, bilingual or not. 

Still, taken out of contest, it all sounds so humane

POTUS hates immigrants whenever they come;
They are dirty and violent, worthless and dumb.
He hates South Americans most for their treasons.
Now please don’t ask why. He won't give us his reasons.
It could be his head isn’t screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes are too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May just be that his heart is two sizes too small.

(Forgive me, Dr, Seuss!  I got carried away.
And I still don’t feel  better, I’m sorry to say.)

** *** **


The photo underlying this was taken by Gerald L. Nino (irony, anyone?) of the US Border Patrol.  It shows Mexicans awaiting deportation.  DHS released it in 2011, when Barak Obama was president.  Donald Trump did not invent this problem, but he seems to be perfecting it.

A Great Fall


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All the King’s horses and all the King’s men could not put Humpty together again. 

Humpty Dumpty has been used to demonstrate the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The law describes a property of things known as entropy, which is a measure of the number of specific ways in which a system may be arranged. Entropy represents the energy in a thermodynamic system which is not available to do work. It is often taken to be a measure of  randomness or disorder:  the higher the entropy, the more chaotic is the system, and the less useful energy it contains. 

After his fall and subsequent shattering, Humpty becomes a high entropy (disordered) system. The inability to put him together again illustrates the Second Law, as it would be extremely difficult (though not impossible) to return him to his earlier state of lower entropy (higher orderliness) without enormous effort. The entropy of an isolated system never decreases on its own. (A deck of cards cannot become a house of cards without inputs of energy.)

 Unlike that better known systems property, mass/energy, which cannot be created or destroyed, new entropy is constantly created. Perhaps to accommodate its growing chaos, the universe is eternally expanding.



Doctor in Brooklyn: Why are you depressed, Alvy?

Alvy’s Mom: Tell Dr. Flickr. [turns to doctor]…its something he read.

Doctor in Brooklyn: Something he read, huh?

Alvy at 9: The universe is expanding.

Doctor in Brooklyn: The universe is expanding?

Alvy at 9: Well, the universe is everything, and if it’s expanding, someday it will break apart and that would be the end of everything!

Alvy’s Mom: Why is that your business? [turns to doctor] He stopped doing his homework!

Alvy at 9: What’s the point?

Alvy’s Mom: What has the universe got to do with it? You’re here in Brooklyn! Brooklyn is not expanding!

Doctor in Brooklyn: It won’t be expanding for billions of years yet, Alvy. And we’ve gotta try to enjoy ourselves while we’re here! 

–Woody Allen, Annie Hall



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Michaelangelo: detail of Judgement Day panel, Sistine Chapel



In the short cold days each year

There is  a dark forbidding room

Where shades in darkness whisper fear

And only my discerning ear

Perceives the wail of coming doom


Wraiths about me natter on

About the lengthening of days

And all the myriad of ways

To knuckle down and battle on

Until the warmth of summer stays


Far away I hear birds singing

In the distance there is light

Time they say is surely bringing

White doves with a new beginning

That will end this bitter night


I cannot get from here to there

All that is too far away

Where I am there is just despair

I am no longer welcome where

The things I’ve loved have gone to stay


A true companion and old friend

Deeper in the darkness lies

Who’ll use the dark itself to send

A surer pathway the end

My final consolation prize


Slender Man: alternative realities


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enchanted forest 72dpi

By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes!

The enchanted world of Donald Trump. Unless you are a billionaire, you are paying dearly for it, no matter where in the world you live. Given his postures on science and war, the final cost may be our shared world itself, now that he is the boss.  Our children have the most to fear.

All that glitters is not gold. All movement is not forward. All change is not progress. In our world of relentless hyperpartisanship, manipulated social media, and aggressive commercial and financial exploitation of those not already obscenely wealthy, common sense grows increasingly rare.

“This is not okay,” says Jim Comey; here, at least, he is correct. If we let it become normal, we will have lost.

Whidah Maker

The Legend of Goody Hallett

goody hallett2

Mary (or Maria, or Mariah) Hallet lived in Eastham in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s. She went by the given name “Goody”. Records from 17th century America are sparse, so little is known about Goody Hallett from a historical perspective. The legend is emphatic on one point, though: young Mary was a very attractive blond.

She was just 15 or 16 when she met the pirate “Black Sam” Bellamy, who plundered the ships plying Cape Cod waters. Mary fell in love with Sam. For a time, it seemed like a classic story of forbidden love, the village beauty and the dashing privateer.

But Sam, the blackguard, sailed away, promising the maiden he would return to wed once his fortune had been made. Years passed. Bellamy, a brilliant naval tactician and charismatic leader of men, became the most successful of the Caribbean buccaners, but Black Sam never returned alive to Goody, or Cape Cod.

Sam had left Mary with child. She hid her pregnancy, and when the baby came, she smothered it.. When the villagers of Eastham learned of her foul deed, they shunned her. She was exiled to neighboring Wellfleet.

Mary Hallet became a recluse. She lived alone in a small shack in Wellfleet, hidden among the dunes in an area which is still known as Goody Hallet Meadow. Some say it was there that she sold her soul to the Devil.

The villagers believed she was a witch. God-fearing Puritans were forbidden to speak to her. She grew wan and haggard. Some say she was pining away for Sam Bellamy, while some say she was just biding her time, scheming her revenge.

In April 1717 Black Sam Bellamy returned to Eastham with his newly stolen ship, the Whydah, a swift and heavily armored galley designed as a slaver. When he arrived at the Cape a great nor’easter arose without warning. The Whidah foundered off the coast of Wellfleet. The entire crew was lost, including Black Sam.

The night of the storm the villagers saw Mary Hallet standing on the bluffs, waving her hands, casting curses into the angry sky. Apparently she had summoned the storm to kill Sam.

Sam’s body was never recovered from the wreck. Some say he and Goody escaped the tempest, and lived together in anonymity, rich and happy, passing Black Sam’s mantle to his protogé, Edward “Blackbeard” Teach. Others say that Mary recovered Sam’s treasure from the wreck of the Whydah, and buried it somewhere in Wellfleet, where it remains undiscovered to this day.

The villagers were so horrified by what they had seen Mary doing in the storm that they chased her into White Cedar Swamp, where i they presumed she died. Perhaps she did.

Mary Hallet’s ghost is said still to wander the dunes overlooking Nantucket Sound, in areas known today by many dark names, like Lucifer’s Land and Devil’s Pasture.

When a nor’easter blows in today, listeners on the bluff can hear the plaintive and angry wails of Goody Hallett as the wind grows cold before the storm.

*** ** ***


The wreck of the Whidah was discovered in 1984 by adventurer Barry Clifford, and artifacts from her, as well as from other pirates and the Caribbean slave trade, can be seen at the Whidah Pirate Museum in South Yarmouth, MA.

Nearby Clifford believes he has found the Whidah’s fabled treasure trove, concealed for centuries beneath shifting underwater sands.

Most extraordinary of all, from a concretion within the sunken galley Clifford’s team has extracted a human femur which may be the remains of Black Sam Bellamy himself. Descendants of Black Sam have been located in the UK, and DNA tests are pending.  Stay tuned.

Of Goody Hallett naught remains but the haunting legend, and the eerie, cold wail of the freshening northeasterly breeze that heralds stormy weather on Cape Cod.

Link to ColdBrook e-Gallery

The Yellow Mile


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The Green Mile, Stephen King has taught us, is the last hallway the condemned must walk, from Death Row to the electric chair.  For some, it is a place of despair, of anger, of desperate bargaining, and of failing hope. For some it is an opportunity for quiet reflection.  For a very few, it is the anteroom of reprieve.

This is the Yellow Mile.  It connects the Cancer Center, where doctors and patients huddle and scrum, with the Infusion Room, where toxic fluids are administered to the hopeful and the hopeless alike, while they wait for their pardons to come through.  The end is dark with doubt, and green with promise.  Though surrounded by family and friends, down this hallway patients walk alone.

The artwork, donated by well-meaning artists and meant to brighten it, is mercifully awful.  It provides no distraction to slow one’s passage, is seldom noticed, and it will not be missed.  Yet those who walk here must traverse the bustle of the lobby, pass the gift shop filled with colorful plush toys and shiny Mylar balloons, and skirt the lusty, fragrant florist. At the little bistro where lattes are served with sweet pastries, loved ones and caretakers lean in across glass tables, sharing ironies and intimacies too terrible to contemplate.  Along with the pools of warm sunshine that punctuate this dark hallway, these islands of vitality are cruel reminders to the stricken of what they may soon leave behind.

When I began my medical journey in the ‘70s, most who trod such hallways did not survive for long.  We often told them, trying to keep hope alive, that though our treatments were imperfect then, if they could just stay alive, much better ones would follow soon from research hospitals around the world.  Sometimes they believed us.  Sometimes they saw through our subterfuge, but were grateful that we offered them our faith in science as a source of hope.  Some railed at our solicitude, and died in a paroxysm of spiritual agony.  A few found inner peace.  In any case, fewer than 15% survived for long.

Today, so much has changed. That promise that once rang hollow is coming true.  Almost three quarters of those diagnosed with invasive cancers today continue their fruitful lives, their cancers subdued or vanquished. There are few of us whom cancer has not touched in one way or another.  The cancer survivor is no longer a rarity.

A better understanding of our bodies’ own tumor defenses have given rise to immunotherapies, like the checkpoint blockade techniques, that have brought many back from the brink.  Vaccines are under development that will enable the immune system to recognize proteins occurring only in the tumor, allowing it to attack the cancer preferentially, while leaving healthy cells alone. 

The rapid advances in genetic chemistry, from gene knockout techniques to CRISPR, have opened the possibilities of treatments that attack specific tumor cells directly, minimizing collateral damage to healthy cells.  Some of these, like the remarkable CAR-T techniques, may leave clones of immune cells behind that seek out and destroy recurrent tumor for years, even a lifetime.

Each year now brings surprising revelations, just as we hoped it would.  Discoveries break faster than the ways of traditional medicine can accommodate them.  Who can guess what the future will bring?

The gloom at the end of the Yellow Mile is beginning to dissipate.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.



DONALD: who played with a dangerous toy, and suffered a catastrophe of considerable dimensions

(with my apologies, profuse and profound, to Hilaire Belloc, whose immortal words are used here in a context he never intended for them.)

dangerous toy

When Donald's Chief of Staff was told
That Don had been as good as gold,
He promised in the afternoon
To buy him an Immense BALLOON,
And so he did; but when he got it
Immediately he quite forgot it.
It drifted till a T-man shot it,
When, being of the dangerous sort,
It thundered such a loud report

That lights went out and windows broke.
The Oval Office filled with smoke!
The West Wing swelled with frightened yells
That mingled with electric bells,
and falling masonry, and whines,
and crunching (as if sycophants had spines), 
and dreadful shrieks, when, worst of all,
The White House then began to fall.
It shook, as older houses do,
Before it met its Waterloo
In Pennsylvania Avenue.

When help arrived among the dead
Were fair Ivanka and Jared,
The T-men (both of them), the fools
Who guard the money laundry tools, 
Poor Stormy, the new "upstairs maid",
And I am dreadfully afraid
That Signore Boy-ar-Dee, the chef
Has lost his cousin, Little Chef.
Melania has come up lame,
And Don, who won't accept the blame,
Receives, as everybody knows,
Kudos everywhere he goes.

The moral is that little boys
Should not be given dangerous toys.

The Wonk and the Wild Man


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sell the sizzleStudents of marketing have known this for years: you sell the sizzle, not the steak.  At the point of sale, though, you had better be able to deliver the beef.

When you make the decision to buy something, there are many facts to consider.  Is it a quality product?  Will it last?  Will its maker be there to fix problems if they arise?  Will I like it after I have bought it, or regret the purchase?  If we each had a personal research staff, we could keep it busy for a week before we bought a cup of coffee.

brand 1That is where branding comes in.  Consider that cup of coffee: it might be yesterday’s leftover thin, oily swill, or it may be the rich, creamy latte we hoped it would be.  If we buy it from an unfamiliar corner kiosk, we take our chances.  If we buy it from Starbuck’s, we know what to expect.  We trust in the effort that has gone into making that coffee for us.  We know that Starbuck’s has taken the time and expense to resolve all those quality questions for us before we buy from them.  Without thinking about all that, we will pay extra for the Starbuck’s brand, and feel good about it.

Feeling good is what branding is all about.  We don’t have to worry about the facts that lie behind our coffee—the violence in Colombia, the tariffs on coffee imports, the wages paid our barista—because Starbucks has taken care of all this behind the scenes.  We see that green and white logo, and feel good about the coffee.  That good feeling, not the facts, sells us on the coffee.

pavlovNear the turn of the 20th century, Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov was studying the digestive process in dogs.  He diverted the flow of saliva to an external pouch so that he could measure its volume.  He noticed that the volume of saliva produced by the dogs in his lab increased when the technician who usually fed them came into the room.  To see whether this was a psychological phenomenon, Pavlov chose a more neutral stimulus (the sound of a metronome) to precede the dog’s feedings before the technician entered the room.  Soon the steady tick if the metronome was sufficient to make the dogs’ mouths water in anticipation of food.

conditioned responsePavlov (and Edwin Twitmyer, working independently at the University of Pennsylvania using the knee-jerk reflex) had discovered the conditioned reflex.  We have added much hard science since their pioneering work.  Classical conditioning applies a stimulus before the desired reflex, in order to provoke it.  Operant conditioning, researched by American psychologist B.F.Skinner, applies a stimulus, either pleasant or noxious, after a behavior has occurred in order to create an association that will reward, modify, or extinguish it.  In humans, simply imagining the conditioned stimulus can evoke the response.  Just thinking about the sizzle can make you want the steak.  That principle lies at the heart of the branding phenomenon.

Increasingly, emotional conditioning lies at the heart of American electoral politics, especially at the national level.  In today’s politics, the term “dog whistles” reverberates with echoes of Pavlov’s lab.

Sound bites” on television news were goals before the ascendance of social media.  Simple phrases such as “I like Ike” and “We Shall Overcome” carried practically no cognitive information, but evoked huge affective responses.  One could like Ike without going to the trouble of learning his positions.  Overcoming adversity just sounds good, no matter what it is you are overcoming.  Attaching positive operant stimuli to your candidate’s name wins votes.

lbj ad

not a crookNegative operant stimuli work at least as well.  LBJ’s powerful campaign video, of an innocent little girl counting daisy petals, juxtaposed  with a mushroom cloud, tanked Barry Goldwater’s campaign, though hardly anyone could articulate his positions on childcare or nuclear war.  When a haggard Richard Nixon cried “I am not a crook!” on national TV from the White House, the very perception of crookedness became the quicksand that sank his presidency; the more he wriggled, the faster he went down.  As candidates realized this, negative campaigning became the underpinning of American politics.  It remains so today.

twitter button 2Great as the sound bite is, the tweet is greater.  Its limited length precludes filling it with cognitive content, but its immediacy makes it a powerful emotional platform.  A Congressional budget proposal may run to thousands of pages of arcane detail that no tweet thread could hope to contain, and few would ever read, but tweets (“Dems rap GOP budget as Welfare for the Rich!” or “GOP budget is the last hope for the middle class!”) do the job efficiently, are cheap, reach a wide audience, and are read in their entirety. 

facebook buttonFacebook posts allow for more cognitive content and less often read to the end, but they can contain pictures that can be absorbed at a glance.  Pictures can be a more visceral stimulus that text, and Instagram is nearly all images.  Taken as a whole, the social media comprise a powerful political platform whose influence is primarily in the affective, rather than the cognitive, domain.

The social media have a feature that broadcast media did not have before the advent of mass computation: they are curated.  Sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Google record and analyze your online preferences, and send you only the content that is likely to please you, and increase the chances that you will return and eyeball their ads again.  .  If your browsing history tends towards civil rights and economic opportunity, the material you see will be quite different from if you favored gun rights and Christian values.  Your profile is then sold to advertisers who want to sell to someone who thinks ad you do, or to politicians who advocate for your causes.  

 You only hear from people and groups who already agree with you.   This tends to reinforce your pre-existing reflex conditioning (yes, we all have it), amplifying the polarization that is shattering American society today.

Now consider the 2016 presidential campaign: the wonk and the wild man.

clinton announcesHillary Clinton began her candidacy in a flurry of emails and a video, projecting herself as a high achieving policy wonk with a common touch, and with a grand political history.  She presented what she considered to be the most positive facts from that history: her achievements as a Senator from New York and as Obama’s Secretary of State, her knowledge with the process of government in Washington and the officials who run it, and a very detailed set of policy proposals that gradually developed on her campaign website during the run-up to the election.  She suppressed the facts she considered unflattering: her closeness with the New York investment banks that filled her war chest, her remoteness from the working class that propelled her rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and the dynastic appearance of a former First Lady (and the wife of an impeached president, to boot) running for President.

trump de-escalatesDonald Trump launched his campaign as a blonde deity, in the world he had created (Trump Tower), descending a golden escalator accompanied by his impossibly beautiful wife, into the roar of an adoring crowd.  It was very long on show, without facts or analytical thinking to get in the way of our feelings of awe.  In the campaign that followed, he promised us policies that would be beautiful, unprecedented, the best ever.  He offered an economic plan, but when actual economists weighed in against it, he stopped touting it.  He never sullied his rhetoric with actual details after that.  He sold himself as a champion of the working man, too rich to be corrupted, but he refused to offer details of his wealth.  He piggybacked on the ideas of others—the NRA, the Christian right, Breitbart—for the passions they aroused rather than the ideas themselves, which he appeared to only dimly understand.  He openly defied ‘political correctness’ without defining what it was, and courted those who did not require ideas or facts.  “I love the poorly educated!” he crowed.

When dealing with a wonk, fact-checking is pre-eminent; statistics, facts, data are what drive him.  When dealing with a demagogue it is a waste of time.  Facts concern him only for the feelings they invoke, and can be spun to suit his pre-determined purpose.  “Fake News!” merely makes you cleave tighter to his cause, regardless of the truth of it.  Fistfights in the aisle only added to the

The sound of a Hillary rally was the drone of ennui, punctuated occasionally by a shrill hiss like escaping steam, the last gasp of an outmoded, pre-millennial form of feminism.  The sound of a Trump rally was the thunder of a demagogue, and the pulse of the crowd shouting back “Lock her Up!” without offering any reason why.

Operant conditioning works both ways, though.  It can extinguish behavior as well as incite it.  As the crown responds positively to an affective reward, so can it respond adversely to negative reinforcement.  A child burnt by a hot stove will not touch it again.  A cat punished for soiling the floor will learn to use the litter box.  A dog conditioned to salivate at the sound of a bell in anticipation of food will soon stop doing so if the reward regularly fails to appear.  The branding effect may be a mile wide, but it is only inches deep.

This is especially true in politics.  If you promise specifics—universal health care, say, or affordable prescription drugs—at the end of your term the voter can look around and see if you have delivered on your promise; if you haven’t, your office is in jeopardy.  When the voter actually feels worse rather than better, look out!

If you have been promised only emotional goals—pride in America, reinforcement of your own racial, ethnic, gender or consumer identity—when the time comes to vote again the voter who was swayed by an appeal to emotion must  look within to see if he has been rewarded or disappointed.

This is actually a fairly complicated proposition, since external facts do not apply.  If you were promised economic prosperity and then you lost your job, you might feel abandoned and vote no:  Oh, no, I’m not going there again!  If your vote grew from anger at the political establishment, and now find yourself angrier still, you might vote yes.  Hell yes!  If you find yourself both economically diminished and politically betrayed, who knows what roiled emotions you will carry into the voting booth, or where they will lead you.  A third party seems increasingly possible

The best campaigns, of course, balance the affective with the cognitive.  No one did this better than the Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan, who was both a savvy showman and seasoned politician.  Consider this opening narration from a TV commercial  that ran during 1984 campaign:

“It’s morning again in America. Today more men and women will go to work than ever before in our country’s history. With interest rates at about half the record highs of 1980, nearly 2,000 families today will buy new homes, more than at any time in the past four years. This afternoon 6,500 young men and women will be married, and with inflation at less than half of what it was just four years ago, they can look forward with confidence to the future. It’s morning again in America, and under the leadership of President Reagan, our country is prouder and stronger and better. Why would we ever want to return to where we were less than four short years ago?

There is an easy to assimilate, uplifting tag line: Morning in America.  Dull statistics are made buoyant by an exhortation to feel-good optimism.  Why should we care about interest rates, employment statistics or inflation?  Because it’s Morning Again in America!  Because we are Stronger! and Prouder! and Better!   Who is tending to those dull, wonky things that are making us feel so good?  Ronald Reagan, that’s who!

morning in america

What followed were popular and Electoral College landslides, of historic proportions.  (Actually historic, not Trumpian histrionic.)  Sixty percent of votes cast nationwide were for Reagan.  In the Electoral College he lost only a single state, Minnesota, which was the home state of his Democratic opponent, Walter Mondale.

The take home it this: a demagogue usually beats a wonk, and a demagogue who is also a wonk trumps everybody.

2020, Here we come!








little black dress3 lo resA few days after her 35th birthday, Brittany learned she had stage 1B2 cervical cancer. She remains positive and is looking at treatment options.  Brittany is tough and she will beat this.

 Sadly, the best treatment options will leave her unable to get pregnant or carry children, a heartbreaking blow to say the least; Brittany has always dreamed of the family she would raise.

There are some options to freeze eggs for in vitro fertilization (IVF) later, but these are extremely pricey and time sensitive. She has health insurance, which will help with cancer treatment, but it does not cover all expenses or any of the IVF options.

bthere2We who love Brittany have created a Go Fund Me campaign in the hopes of raising as much as we can towards her cancer care, and especially to preserve the possibility of her having children of her own someday.  Always a self-starter and a hard worker, Brittany is not able to work much now.   She has considerable back pain from the tumor as she juggles medical appointments and struggles with the many challenges of fighting cancer.

Any donation will be greatly appreciated.  Just sharing this campaign online will help. Knowing that IVF is possible for her will free Brittany to concentrate on her fight with cervical cancer.

Thank you in advance for giving Brittany the hope that, she after she beats her tumor, she can start a family of her own.



The Pee Wee Gambit


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pee wee

pee wee playhouse

Link to FLICKR

“I know you are but what am I?”  “I’m rubber, you are glue.  Names bounce off me and stick to you!” 

When Pee Wee Herman says such things, we recognize at once how puerile they are.  When Pee Wee says them, though, they are alloyed with childhood innocence, which gives them a pleasant, if a little edgy, nostalgic glow.  They are child-like, not childish.

When the President of the United States plays the Pee Wee gambit, it seems childish and churlish.  It insults our intelligence.  It is also dangerous.

trump looms2

Remember the debates?  Looming over Hillary from behind, playing the cameras like the seasoned TV performer he is, while using his height and sheer bulk to intimidate, like the sexual predator he is?

She said, referring to his relationship with the post-Soviet oligarchy:  “You’re a puppet.”

Without elaborating, out of turn, as a practiced casual aside (though he surely knew the camera was on him), he said :

“Puppet?  I’m not a puppet.  You’re the puppet!”

Clinton was, clearly and unequivocally, accusing him of being an agent of a specific foreign power, Russia.  He might have been implying that she was too beholden to unnamed gigantic donors on Wall Street and in Hollywood, but he never actually specified who was pulling the strings.  He wanted to establish a sense of equivalency where none actually existed.  His target was affective, not cognitive.  Specificity does not suit his purpose.  He wants you angry, not informed.

Such false equivalency is an important weapon in the Trump arsenal, the heart and soul of the Pee Wee Gambit. 

This is nowhere more evident than in the speech he gave outside Trump Tower a few days after a ragtag mob of Ku Klux Klansmen, Neo-Nazis,  white nationalists, gun rights advocates and simple thugs had gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia under the rubric ‘alt-right’, ostensibly to protect a statue of a man who led an armed uprising that attacked America in a desparate attempt to preserve black slavery when the tide of history was turning against it.  In the melee nineteen protesters were injured and Heather Heyer, a principled young woman who had come to protest the violence and hatred, was murdered when an avowed white supremacist rammed his car onto a crowd of peaceful counter-protesters that was boxed into a narrow, crowded street.

charlotesville crash

Shortly afterwards Trump read from a teleprompter a lackluster statement that denounced hatred and violence without naming any of the violent haters.  Later, though, Trump spoke off-the-cuff to a boisterous gaggle of reporters in front of Trump Tower.  He clearly viewed the crowd as hostile to him.   He was flanked by members of his cabinet–an Asian woman and two Jews–who visibly squirmed in their discomfort at his remarks.  His Chief of Staff stood apart, arms clasped tensely in front of him, glowering down at his own wing-tips.  The event sounded more like an argument than a press conference as Trump responded to the questions hurled at him:

QUESTION: Mr. President, are you putting what you’re calling the alt-left and white supremacists on the same moral plane?

TRUMP: I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane. What I’m saying is this. You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs and it was viscous and it was horrible. And it was a horrible thing to watch. But there is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left. You’ve just called them the left — that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.

(unintelligible Crosstalk)

TRUMP: Well, I do think there’s blame — yes, I think there’s blame on both sides. You look at — you look at both sides. I think there’s blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it either.

With the idea (or more accurately, the affective impression) of equivalency thus planted, Mr. Trump uncharacteristically got much more specific:

TRUMP: Excuse me, excuse me. (inaudiblie) themselves (inaudible) and you have some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides. You had people in that group — excuse me, excuse me — I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.


QUESTION: George Washington and Robert E. Lee are not the same (inaudible)…


TRUMP: George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So, will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down — excuse me — are we going to take down — are we going to


TRUMP: OK. Good. Are we going to take down the statue? Because he was a major slave owner. Now, are we going to take down his statue? So you know what? It’s fine. You’re changing history. You’re changing culture. And you had people, and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. OK? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly. Now, in the other group also, you had some fine people, but you also had troublemakers and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats. You’ve got — you had a lot of bad — you had a lot of bad people in the other group… take down statues to George Washington?


TRUMP: How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him?


QUESTION: … treated unfairly (inaudible) you were saying. You were saying the press has treated white nationalists unfairly? (inaudible) understand what you’re saying.

TRUMP: No, no. There were people in that rally, and I looked the night before. If you look, they were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. I’m sure in that group there were some bad ones. The following day, it looked like they had some rough, bad people — neo-Nazis, white nationalists, whatever you want to call them. But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest, because you know — I don’t know if you know, they had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit. So, I only tell you this, there are two sides to a story. I thought what took place was a horrible moment for our country, a horrible moment. But there are two sides to the country (sic).

The equivalency is reinforced in affect even as the facts are obscured in a blizzard of inaccuracy and irrelevance. The obscurity is amplified by POTUS’ peculiar patterns of speech; his meaning is clouded more by his fractured syntax than the depth of his thought, closer to E.E. Cummings than T.S. Eliot.  Though he went to an Ivy League school, he does not seem to have learned the value of a complete sentence.  He does use simple ones, though, in his familiar, snarky asides: You know what mean.  You get it.  Am I right?  You’re the puppet! (See Spot run?)

 Washington and Jefferson vs Robert E. Lee?  These men were of different eras.  The former were slaveholders in the eighteenth century, true enough, but beside the point.  Both were even then growing leery of the morality behind an institution on which their economy still depended, and neither led an armed rebellion against the Union they created.  Lee resorted to a treasonous war in an attempt to extend the chattel servitude of blacks into the last half of a nineteenth century, fifty years after Washington and Jefferson thought they were witnessing the twilight of slavery in America.  The founding fathers’ ownership of slaves was not the equivalent of Lee’s, nor is it relevant to what happened at Charlottesville.

The self proclaimed alt-right had a permit to assemble, while the counter-protestors did not?  Even if this were true, the permits only applied to designated parts of Robert E Lee/Emancipation Park, and not to Market Street, where the melee with Antifa took place, or to Fourth Street, where Heather Heyer was mowed down by an angry white supremacist. No one had a permit to battle in the streets with helmets, shields and clubs.  No one had a license to kill.

Violence occurred streets throughout the city,  involving small bands of armed, angry people holding diverse political views.  While the marching, and later the street fighting, was going on, the status of permits was not relevant, not even very interesting.  No one gets the moral high ground because of the status permits.

Trump pivots from the issue of ‘moral equivalence’, and makes the point that many people “on both sides” came with the aim of peacefully protesting the removal of Lee’s statue.  This is true as far as it goes, but it obscures the fact that the rally, called “Unite the Right”, was meant to cement various organizations on the far right—The KKK, the Aryan Nations, the NRA, and the Westboro Baptist Church, for example—into a coherent political movement.  They marched through the streets at night, some girded for war and many carrying tiki torches, chanting things like “The Jews will not replace us!” 

On the left there was no such uniting principle.  There was a grass-roots yearning to not let hate speech go unopposed, but was there premeditated violence among among participants with progressive political views?  Yes, there was, as evidenced by those who brought shields and clubs, but their stated motive was to resist the spread Neo-Facismism and white supremacy.  Is hating Nazis equivalent to hating blacks?  Is resisting hate mongering the equivalent of the hate mongering itself?

Having inured us to false equivalencies and the Pee Wee Gambit, Trump is now free to take it where he will.  This week he has soared to new heights with the assertion that not only are the allegations of his campaign’s collusion with the Russians to fix the 2016 elections a nefarious false narrative, invented by the Democrats to excuse their ‘historic’ drubbing at the polls. Instead, says POTUS, the Democrats themselves are guilty of collusion, but have escaped investigative scrutiny for their heinous crimes because of their controlling interest in the permanent, unelected shadow government that has dogged Trump since he first descended the golden elevator to announce the start of his campaign to Make America Great Again.

The facts of this uranium deal are much more complex.  Here is how Wikipedia summarizes the deal:

(Warning–Rough seas ahead: Like much in politics it can be a difficult slog to understand who the players were, and how the game unfolded.)

On July 5, 2005, Southern Cross Resources Inc. and Aflease Gold and Uranium Resources Ltd announced that they would be merging under the name SXR Uranium One Inc.[3]

In 2007 Uranium One acquired a controlling interest in UrAsia Energy,[4] a Canadian firm with headquarters in Vancouver, from Frank Giustra.[5] UrAsia Energy has interests in rich uranium operations in Kazakhstan.[6] UrAsia Energy’s acquisition of its Kazakhstan uranium interests from Kazatomprom followed a trip to Almaty in 2005 by Giustra and former U.S. President Bill Clinton where they met with Nursultan Nazarbayev, the leader of Kazakhstan. Substantial contributions to the Clinton Foundation by Giustra followed,[5][7] with Clinton, Giustra, and Mexican telecommunications billionaire Carlos Slim in 2007 establishing the Clinton Foundation’s Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative to combat poverty in the developing world.[8] In addition to his initial contribution of $100 million Giustra pledged to contribute half of his future earnings from mining to the initiative.[8]

In June 2009, the Russian uranium mining company ARMZ Uranium Holding Co. (ARMZ), a part of Rosatom, acquired 16.6% of shares in Uranium One in exchange for a 50% interest in the Karatau uranium mining project, a joint venture with Kazatomprom.[9] In June 2010, Uranium One acquired 50% and 49% respective interests in southern Kazakhstan-based Akbastau and Zarechnoye uranium mines from ARMZ. In exchange, ARMZ increased its stake in Uranium One to 51%. The acquisition resulted in a 60% annual production increase at Uranium One, from approximately 10 million to 16 million lb.[10][11] The deal was subject to anti-trust and other conditions and was not finalized until the companies received Kazakh regulatory approvals, approval under Canadian investment law, clearance by the US Committee on Foreign Investments, and approvals from both the Toronto and Johannesburg stock exchanges. The deal was finalized by the end of 2010.[11] Uranium One paid its minority shareholders a significant dividend of 1.06 US Dollars per share at the end of 2010.

ARMZ took complete control of Uranium One in January 2013[2] in a transaction which was reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.[7] In December 2013 an internal reorganization of Rosatom extinguished the interest of ARMZ making Uranium One a direct subsidiary of Rosatom.[3]

(Congratulations! You have made it through the perilous shoals of links and footnotes.  Do you have a firm grasp now on how this relates to the Steele Dossier–almost as complex an issue in its own right– and the purloined Hillary/DNC emails?  Trump insists they are are the same issue, smoking-gun proof of a conspiracy against him.)

Was Guistra’s contribution to the Clinton Foundation the payback for Hillary’s cooperation in a deal that enriched the Canadian by allowing him to sell his interest in American uranium to the Russians?  That is the snake oil that Trump is trying to sell.

Look through the complexity, though, and that notion does not hold up. The ‘American’ uranium interests were Guistra’s holding in UrAsia, whose ores came mainly from not the within the US, but the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan.  The deal was not done in back rooms, but had to be signed off by financial regulators in Kazakhstan, South Africa, Canada, and the US.  Hillary’s involvement came via her role of Secretary of State, at a time when there was a functioning State Department with professionals to oversee the diplomatic, political, and financial aspect of the deal, and a functioning ethics infrastructure to monitor its honesty.

uranium deal

Post hoc ergo propter hoc? Both events happened, but were not cause and effect.  The implication that the uranium deal was at Hillary’s sole discretion is patently false.

Hillary’s influence was hardly the deciding factor.  As Secretary of State her input on the deal was as a member of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which also includes the Secretaries of Treasury, Defense, Labor, Commerce, and Homeland Security, the Attorney General, the US Trade Representative, The Director of the Office of Science and Technology, the National Security Advisor, and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.  CIFIUS’ primary concern is that technology or funds from American enterprise do not violate sanctions or fall into enemy hands.  It reviewed the UrAsia deal, and found no fault.  President Obama, who had the final say,  signed off on the deal.  The idea that Hillary personally overstepped her authority to sell American uranium stocks to Russia for her private gain is easy to comprehend, but simply not true.

Nor is the false equivalency of this evidence of collusion with Russia with Trump’s own possible relationship with Putin valid. 

dem russian collusion

If UraniumOne was a conspiracy, it had to be much bigger than this.

If the accusations against Clinton were true, they would have resulted in a multi-billion dollar initiative to eradicate poverty on the developing world.  It the accusations against Trump are true, they have resulted in a subversion of American democracy that may have put him in a position to plunder the country’s economy, and put his twitchy finger on the nuclear button.  Moral equivalence?  You be the judge.

“Never seen such Republican ANGER & UNITY as I have concerning the lack of investigation on Clinton made Fake Dossier (now $12,000,000?), the Uranium to Russia deal, the 33,000 plus deleted Emails, the Comey fix and so much more, Trump said in a pair of tweets on Sunday.

im rubber 2

It would be sad, too, if it weren’t so terrifying.