Friday, January 05, 2018

Fast and Furious

The furor over the forthcoming--and later today, officially published book--Fire and Fury is still raging, so it's fruitless to even summarize what's happened so far. Republicans are roiling, not only from the open war declared by the anti-president and his enablers on Bannon, the revelations on Russia, White House dysfunction and the anti-president's incompetence, but what this book adds to the ongoing concerns on his peculiar mental state, and of course what this all means politically.

But for the rest of the country and the world it is the increasing worry over his grasp of reality, and impulse control.  His tweet on his bigger nuclear button is part of this context.  In this regard, Eric Levitz writes that the signs are there for everyone to see.  He disputes the idea that the anti-president has to be examined by a psychologist or whatever before a diagnosis is made:

"That argument has always struck me as nuts.There is no diagnostic blood test or brain scan for narcissistic personality disorder; there’s just a list of observable traits. A mental-health professional simply studies a patient’s modes of reasoning and patterns of behavior, and assesses whether they fit the checklist of symptoms for NPD. It’s absurd to believe that a psychiatrist who has spent a couple of hours talking to a patient in an office is qualified to make this diagnosis — but one with access to hundreds of hours of a patient’s interviews and improvisatory remarks, along with a small library’s worth of biographical information and testimonials from his closest confidants — is not. To insist otherwise is to mystify psychiatric practice; it’s to pretend that there is some shamanistic knowledge that mental-health professionals can only access once you provide them with a co-pay."

At least some psychologists who have studied the public record are deeply concerned, and as Levitz reports, one of them has briefed members of Congress.  That's enough to be convincing, but whether it's enough to pass a legal or constitutional test is another question.  It would seem that an actual examination is the minimum for that.

Yet The Fire and Fury excerpts widely published by Thursday only add to the evidence of mental instability or worse.  It's not just the individual statements and incidents, it's the weight of them.  One of the most troubling is this:

"At Mar-a-Lago, just before the new year, a heavily made-up Trump failed to recognize a succession of old friends."

To the usual personality disorders suggested, Levitz adds the possibility of dementia (or senility.)  At least some of this may be actual brain damage or dysfunction.  I was surprised when he slurred his words and had to use two hands to grip a glass that no one in the media I saw mentioned the possibility of a mini-stroke, which is the first thing I thought of.  It's transitory but it can be damaging.

If something like that has happened and it shows up in a real physical (as has been promised for this month), then invoking the 25th amendment becomes easier.

 Republicans invoking it is also made easier because the sacred tax cut is law, and that's likely to be all the Rs will get out of this Congress.  They keep circling the wagons until they don't.  They need to be convinced this guy has no future, and with him neither do they.  Or sufficiently scared out of their own minds by that finger on the nuclear button.

The other red flag in this regard reported in this book is that the anti-president made the decision to fire Comey alone.  Although aides had weighed in on the pros and cons, he made and announced the decision without telling anyone first.  That does not bode well when it's also being reported that he's becoming obsessed with North Korea and war.

In any case I forewarned a fateful year, and it's off to a fast and furious start.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 Quote of the Year

"The invisible hand never picks up the check."
Kim Stanley Robinson

Inside Out

Tom Petty was the third member of the Traveling Wilburys to leave the scene, after Roy Orbison (who was gone by the time this video was made) and George Harrison.  He's in this video, which is also notable for Bob Dylan's performance.  I've seen lots of Dylan videos but the only ones I've noticed that he looks like he's having a good time (at least occasionally) are with the Traveling Wilburys.  Happy New Years Eve.

R.I.P. 2017: Legacy and Endurance

We can match memories to many names of the music makers who died in 2017, like Della Reese and Keely Smith, Tom Petty and Walter Becker, Fats Domino and Chuck Berry, Greg Allman and Glen Campbell, Rosalie Sorrels, Al Jarreau, J. Geils...

We can match memories to faces even if we don't always recall the names: Harry Dean Stanton, Martin Landau, John Hurt, Glenne Headley, Bill Dana, John Heard, Dina Merrill, Barbara Hale, Powers Booth, Robert Hardy, Richard Hatch, Bill Paxton, Robert Guillaume and many more, as well as iconic names and faces: Jerry Lewis, Mary Tyler Moore, Jeanne Moreau.

I'll remember Adam West as Batman, and also as the genial guy with great stories who stopped by my office in Pittsburgh, because the wife of the promoter who brought him to a convention in the city worked there.

Jeanne Moreau was the queen of the New Wave and French films generally in the 1960s and 70s, which is when I was avidly watching them.  She is best remembered for the film I remember her best: Jules and Jim.  Her magic on film is mysterious.

Director Jonathan Demme was most famous for Silence of the Lambs but I remember him for Stop Making Sense, the Talking Heads movie, after which he made a Bruce Springsteen film and at least three with Neil Young, as well as Melvin and Howard (one of Jason Robards' last great films) and Spalding Gray's Swimming to Cambodia.  A director with range, documentaries, live action (concerts) as well as features, like Michael Apted or Martin Scorcese.

Though George Romero was a Pittsburgh director, I first saw Night of the Living Dead in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with a highly educated and film savvy audience.  It was the first time I'd been in an audience of adults and heard screaming.  The Pittsburgh locations, accents and characters (come one, Chilly Billy as a newscaster?) took me out of the story from time to time but mostly I was gripped like everybody else.

Later when I was back in Pittsburgh the alternative newspaper I wrote for had second floor offices in a relatively isolated building on the South Side.  There were film editing suites on the third floor.  Friends working late in the newspaper office reported hearing chilling screams coming from the third floor, but soon learned this meant that the Romero editors were working up there.

Though these are famous people, people who worked in mass media, whose work reached millions over many years, in the end their legacy is personal, and different for each person they touched.

2017 saw the death of several iconic figures of the Civil Rights movement: organizers Roger Wilkins and Roy Innis, and "comedian"/conscience of the movement Dick Gregory, as well as American Indian activist Dennis Banks.  They fought for dignity, opportunity and equality, and their influence is reflected in individual lives--in kids who went to college who otherwise probably would not have had that ambition or opportunity, and so on.  Legacy in a lot of individual stories.

And so it is for the rest of us.  Legacy for ordinary people or less well known and less widely influential people resides most directly in children whose lives are nourished, guided or simply touched or inspired in some way. But legacy can move laterally through friends or even single encounters, and eventually touch complete strangers. In the end we have no idea whose lives we touch, and how that might play out through a generation or two, and therefore what our accumulated legacy might turn out to be.  "The only thing you can do for other people is inspire them," Bob Dylan once said.  An impression, a phrase, an example, who knows what endures in someone's memory, or someone's life?

I have a laptop I don't use very much, except when I'm traveling or my desktop is out of action.  So when I opened this laptop during our Christmas trip, I came upon an email I'd forgotten about, which I received last Christmas. (That is, I'd forgotten where it was.)  It was from Bill Thompson, my friend who died in 2017.   So it was as if I was receiving another, a last, holiday message from him.

Last Christmas Bill was happy, and eager to share his good tidings.  Both his daughter and her husband had serious surgeries.  She emerged from hers cancer-free, and her husband who came within a hair's breadth of dying from heart failure, had three stents installed, and passed his stress test with flying colors.

"Granddaughter Vivia demonstrates daily that life and learning are a joy," Bill added.  "My Christmas is merry.  I want to share my joy with you."

He knew the weight of the 2016 election and all it portended was on me, and he wanted to be encouraging.  He wrote:

There is talk of resistance and I support it. My life has taught me that resistance starts with endurance.
The world need poets and articulate visionaries. We need you. Endure.

I want to share my joy but the joy transfer app is not in the app store. We need one.
So endure my friend.
Tidings of Comfort and Joy


I remember that I emailed him back, noting that I'd had good news as well: after some concern from her doctor about complications, my niece Megan's pregnancy was now predicted to end in a normal delivery in about a month.  Just weeks before, another niece (her sister Sarah) had given birth to a healthy baby boy.

The doctor turned out to be wrong in one respect--Megan's baby boy was born two weeks early but quite healthy.  A year later, both boys and both mothers are thriving.

So we endure.