Monday, October 23, 2017

October 23, 2017--Audiological Tale: Previous Life (Part 1 of 4)

An agitated-sounding John Allan was on the phone, "We need to talk."

"Sure. What's up?"

"I got this strange email from Gary."


"Gary Schwartzberg. My, our audiologist."

"Of course. There's only one Gary. You caught me by surprise."

Now whispering, John said, "He never sends me notes so when I saw his name pop up on my email page, I knew something was wrong. Did he get to you too? You've been working with him longer than I and I know he has on occasion confided in you about, how shall I put this, other aspects of his life."

"True. But this time I've heard nothing from him. He doesn't need to use me to say whatever he wants to say to you. We should have separate relationships with him. Both audiologically and with regard to anything else. But, yes, it appears he hasn't always been the straight-laced professional we know. You remember the Cuba business?"

"Do I ever," John said. "That was pretty wild."

"Yeah. That somehow he was mixed up in figuring out the nature of the sonic attacks Cuba launched against our embassy workers in Havana. How about two dozen have severe disabilities from what the Cubans did to deafen or otherwise injure them."

"I do recall that," John said, "Gary implied he was acting covertly. He hinted that he had some expertise with this sort of thing. That he had been a consultant to one of our security agencies regarding our own capacity to wage sonic warfare. Therefore, we speculated from what he said, including how some of his patients--retired CIA types who live in the area--knowing this about his past life thought he might be helpful with the Cuban situation."

"You're remembering correctly," I said. "He claimed he was trying to lead a normal life and they began hassling him. I told you, I think, how about a month ago he called me and sounding frantic asked if I could come by to talk and how we met at a Dunkin Donuts where he felt we were under surveillance by an undercover operative. I thought he was making this stuff up to add a little drama to his life."

"And then there was the incident of the loaner hearing aids he gave you while yours were being repaired and how through them you heard the voice of the dead woman whose they were. And how it seemed she and her husband too were implicated in some of these spying operations."

"Don't forget how Gary convinced me to allow him to reprogram my hearing aids' prompts so they would sound as if hey were coming from someone who was speaking Czech. And in addition to the prompts, after I attempted to translate what she was saying I thought she was desperately asking me to help her."

"All totally strange," John said.

"So, now what? You mentioned you have an email from him. More weirdness?"

"Decide for yourself. Let me read it to you."

"I can't wait to hear this one."

"He wrote--'I have to tell you my imaginary other life is way more exciting than my present one. I confessed to you and Barbara when you were here for an adjustment that there was a brief moment in which I wondered if there was a possibility that I had been brain-washed by the government to forget my previous life for security reasons; thinking this may be possible as my entire life between 40 and 50 years of age seemed to be like one day.'

"Then he added, which has me worried--'Uh oh, I just might be losing it.'" 

"Incredible," I said, "Do you think there's something to worry about?"

"You would know better than I," John said.

"Is there anything we should do?" I asked.

"I thought you would have ideas," he said, "You're really the one who he has confided in."

"Not confided, more hinted," I corrected John, "But then again why would he send the note just to you? Why not to the two of us?"

John said, "I don't think that's too big of an issue. It's more important I, feel, to see if we can figure out how to respond, maybe help him--I'm pretty sure he'd be OK knowing I shared this with you."

"Why don't you call him to see if he wants to talk. Maybe we'd drive up there and meet him for a drink or something. I'm free later today or any time tomorrow."

"I'll do it," John said, "I'll call his assistant, Angie ,to see if he'd like to get together. I'll call back to let you know what he says."

Before I could get a glass of water John rang back.

"Angie asked Gary and he said he was eager to meet at 2:00 today for a cup of coffee. He told her to reschedule his afternoon appointments. Though two o'clock is just an hour and a half from now I said we'll be there. It's clear he is eager to talk. He doesn't casually reschedule appointments on such short notice."

On the ride up we didn't talk much. It was as if we each in our own way needed silence to prepare ourselves for what would likely turn out to be a very complicated conversation.

To be continued . . . 

Dr. Gary Schwartzburg

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Friday, October 20, 2017

October 20, 2017--Sarah Is Pissed With Me

"You've finally gone too far." It was Sarah calling. I know her for more than 35 years.

"I'm listening."

"That blog you wrote about ISIS and Donald Trump."

"From a few days ago. It was the piece about the end of ISIS as an organized fighting force."

"That part of it I was OK with."

"So what has you so agitated?"

"That you assigned credit to that turd Trump for having defeated them on the battlefield. Something your New York Times was skeptical about in two articles published a few days after your blog."

"I beg to differ with your interpretation of the differences between their pieces and mine. Not that my stuff is of the quality of the New York Times. Not even close, but some times I feel I get to a story before they do. So at those times I'm ahead of the Times." 

I thought that was pretty snappy.

"You can make light of this all you want but this finally made me crazy."

"How's that?"

"For at least two years in your pieces you've been an apologist for him. By your taking him seriously you've helped normalize him. To give him the credibility of a regular politician and not the skunk he is. An unqualified and dangerous skunk." I could hear her breathing hard.

"Let's try to calm this down and unpack it. First, about ISIS. I said Trump accepted the strategy Obama set in motion and doubled down on it. In one of the Times pieces they compared how many attacks and how many bombs were dropped on ISIS during Obama's time and Trump's. They concluded Trump authorized more and unleashed our troops more than Obama did and that contributed to ISIS's defeat. That was a part of what I wrote and was also a part of what the Times reported."

"He's a lunatic, a monster, a danger to the world who has his hands on the nuclear codes and you take him seriously? I've had it up to here with you," she shouted.

"Of course I take him seriously. He's the president for ill or good. I know the ill part and try to find a few things that are good. Like maybe listening to his generals when it came to ISIS. I wrote about that too."

"That's the part that torqued me off the most," Sarah spat, "How you could find anything good to say about him."

"Now we're getting to a bigger problem."

"Now, I'm listening," she said.

"I know you'll be offended by this but I'll still take the risk of raising it with you." I waited for permission to put our relationship on the line. It didn't come, but her silence and the fact that she didn't hang up encouraged me to continue.

"Here's one of my big problems with Democrats and liberals when it comes to opposing Trump. It's almost as if they--and honestly, though I love you, I mean you too and, I have to add, me--it's almost as if we so much hate the idea that he might do something or stumble onto something good--like fighting ISIS effectively--that you'd prefer him to do everything wrong. Some call this 'confirmation bias,' where you look for things to support your already-established point of view. In Trump's case, this means that you despise him so much that the only things you pay attention to are the horrendous things he does. And of course, in my view too, almost everything he does qualifies."

Sarah was groaning. "This may sound crazy, but when it comes to a really dangerous situation like North Korea it would confirm your worst fears if he got us into a major war with them. Maybe even using atomic weapons. That would prove once and for all, including the historical assessment of his presidency, that he was, is the worst president we've ever had. If this is at all true, think about it--that his starting a nuclear war would confirm for all time that he is truly crazy and he ultimately led to many millions being killed during his years as president. You'd prefer that than think or hope he can somehow solve our problems with the North Koreans. I know this is unlikely, but it's possible and shouldn't we therefore work to make the possibility more probable? Rather than hope he'll fail with this too?"

"What you're saying is crazy," Sarah said, "He's the one who's a danger to life on earth and still you keep looking around to find good things to say about him? Again, like what you wrote about him and ISIS. How maybe since he listened to reason about how to deal with them he'll do it again when it comes to a bigger crisis like with North Korea."

"We're never going to agree about this," I said. "But one final thing. I've also written pretty extensively about how most of the liberals and Democrats I know did very little to actively defeat Trump and elect Hillary. At most, most of the people I know sent checks to support her campaign or Bernie's. I won't ask what you did though I know you didn't go to any rallies or work the phones. And you live in a purple state. So, and we're speaking frankly with each other, as you accused me, you helped by not being active in the campaign to elect the person you most hate."

"What I did is my own business. You're changing the subject. Turning it on me."

"True, I am changing it. And since I am I have one more question for you--what are you doing about Alabama?"


"In the senate race there? To replace Jeff Sessions? There's a lunatic on the Republican side. Judge Roy Moore who tried to get the 10 Commandments displayed at the statehouse. And then there's the Democrat, Doug Jones. He has a chance. In fact, a Fox poll this week has the contest as a toss up. So, if you're so riled up, what are you doing to help elect Jones?" I waited. "Your silence tells me more than I hoped to know. Bottom line--we all have to check ourselves out. Few of us are not implicated. We all contributed to this mess."

Sarah said, "Let's take a time out. I mean in our relationship. I hear you but still disagree. I mean about the role you've played in this. I'm still furious with you. You write this stuff and send it out. You have a lot of followers. Therefore, you have an additional responsibility to be careful with what you say."

"And, love, so do you. Including what you do."
Judge Roy Moore--10 Commandments

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Thursday, October 19, 2017

October 19, 2017--"Big Gods"

I've been reading a fascinating book from 2013 with this title by Ara Norenzayan. In less than 200 pages he surveys the evidence that human's propensity to create religions is both genetic and cultural. Also, that it is globally pervasive and dynamic. More religions are literally being created every day. 

In spite of the title, this is not pop social biology nor about the so-called "God Gene." It is chock full of findings from the latest and most sophisticated research. But readable. So, I recommend it highly since our planet is roiled in large part by religious strife. In spite of the Enlightenment that in the 18th century emphasized scientific evidence as opposed assertions based on belief, in only a few countries in Western Europe, religions continue to play a powerful and, in many cases, dominant role in shaping behavior.

Here is a brief sample about the number of believers--
There are today nearly 2 billion self-proclaimed Christians. Islam, with 1.3 billion people is thriving too, and fundamentalist strains are making fresh inroads into all three Abrahamic faiths. Christian fundamentalism in particular is spreading like wildfire in places like China and Southeast Asia and most of all, in sub-Saharan Africa. 
The United States--the world's most economically powerful society and a scientifically advanced one--is also, anomalously, one of the most religious. Over 90 percent of Americans believe in God, 93 and 85 percent believe in heaven and hell, respectively, and close to one in two Americans believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis.  
These facts and figures . . . about human evolution [that] despite many predictions of religion's demise in the last 200 years, most people in most societies in the world are, and always have been, deeply religious. . . . 
Religions have always been multiplying, growing  and mutating at a brisk pace. In one estimate [World Christian Encyclopedia], new religions sprout at an average rate of two to three per day. [My italics]  
"Many are called, but few are chosen," says the Gospel according to Matthew (22:14). This "Matthew Effect" might as well refer to the iron law of religious evolution, which dictates that while legions of new religious elements are created, most of them die out, save a potent few that endure and flourish. 
By one estimate (ibid), there are 10,000 religions in the world today. Yet the vast majority of humanity adheres to a disproportionate few of them.
Eye of Horus--Egypt--Late 6th to 4th Centuries BCE

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

October 18, 2017--Back Thursday

I'll be back Thursday with some astonishing data about the proliferation worldwide of religious practice.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

October 17, 2017--Jack's Reading

Jack has returned to the diner. But he is careful to avoid coming when Betty is working.

"You've got me reading," he said, clearly feeling proud of himself. I decided to just listen.

"You mentioned it in one of your thingies," that's how he refers to my blog, "The book about Nixon and Kissinger. I forget the exact title." I restrained myself from supplying it.

"I'm sure you're not surprised that I'm a big Nixon fan. Not that I liked Watergate or some of his other capers. He's lucky they didn't put him in jail. But nobody's perfect." He chuckled.

"Look what he did with China and Russia and Vietnam. He got us out of that one." I resisted saying that Nixon escalated the war in Vietnam, kept it going for at least three too many years and during that time 22,000 American soldiers were killed not to mention hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese. Or, off course, that we lost.

"Until I read that book of yours I thought he did all this pretty much by himself. I totally forgot about Kissinger. Henry Kissinger, who was his Secretary of State." Again, I restrained myself from correcting him--during Nixon's first term Kissiner was National Security Advisor. It wasn't until Nixon's second term that he also became Secretary of State. Nixon and Kissinger hated Nixon's first Secretary of State, William Rogers. They managed to keep him out of the loop, not telling him what they were up to in Vietnam or for that matter China and the Soviet Union.

"From the book it seems they were close partners. They were crazy, I'll admit that, but they were brilliant and quite a team. Both were insecure, needy, a little paranoid [A little?], and very competitive with each other. Both wanted sole credit for all they accomplished. Kissinger sucked up to a whole lot of newspaper columnists and would leak to them what they were up to. Claiming that he was the lead partner. The brains of the operation. Turns out not to be true." 

Jack did get that right. "From the tapes of their conversations and from documents the author [Robert Dallek] turned up it's pretty clear that Nixon was the boss. At least until near the end when the world was collapsing on Nixon and he was drunk and raving most of the time."

He paused, trying to draw me in. I was still into just listening.

"I admit the book [Nixon and Kissinger: Partners In Power] made me thing about my boy Trump." I couldn't wait to hear this. "It looks to me he could use a secretary like Kissinger. This Tilletson guy [Tillerson] is no Kissinger. In fact, I want to check his claim that he was the CEO of Exxon. He feels like a zero. How did he ever get that job? Assuming he's not lying about it. I know, he really was with Exxon. There's no way he could lie about that. But, boy, what a moron. I know, that's funny since he called Trump a moron, actually, a 'friggin moron.' I love the idea that Trump wanted to compare IQs. I'll give you that Trump isn't a Mensa candidate, but Tilletson's the moron, if you ask me. And I know," he smiled, "that you didn't. I mean ask me."

I had no idea where Jack was going with this monologue. I would have thought that since he's so enamored with Trump that he believes he can do anything on his own, including relating to the rest of the world. Or intentionally not relating to it. I would have thought Jack would hope that Trump would be his own Secretary of State. As Nixon was.

"Reading about what was possible to do about Vietnam, forget Russia and China for the moment, I realized that the situation was much more complicated than either bombing them back to the Stone Age or cutting and running. There were a lot more moving pieces, including that China and Russia separately--since even though they were both communists were rivals--were supporting and arming the Viet Cong. Nixon had to figure all that out. If he wanted to make a deal with China he had to figure out a way to either ignore the Chinese helping the North Koreans or make part of the deal that they would be sort of OK with what we were doing there. He knew it was all about self-interest and that the Chinese were probably all right with letting Nixon do his thing in Vietnam so not to screw up the possibility of a deal between us and them. Whew."

I continued to look at him, impressed that he had the outline right about what was going on. The complicated juggling that was required.

"And," Jack continued, "Nixon needed Kissinger to bounce ideas off and needed his hands-on help, including flying back and forth to have secret meetings with the Chinese and also the Russians since they had to be OK with us cozying up to Red China."

He took a deep breath, "And so my point after all this rambling is that even Trump, who is not as smart or knowledgeable as Nixon, I'll admit that, also needs someone other than Steve Bannon, who I assume he still talks with, and his daughter, whatever happened to her--as you said she and the son-in-law have pretty much disappeared--to try ideas out on. Tilletson's clearly not the one. So, to tell you truth [with him telling the truth can be a rarity], I'm a little worried. I don't want to get in a shit fight with Kim-whatever-his-name-is without thinking out all the options and complications."

I smiled. "I did notice," Jack said," that the other day Trump had Kissinger in to the White House to I assume talk some of this over. Kissinger scrunched in a chair in the Oval Office looked like he's 115 years old and has shrunk to four-feet tall. But I assume his big brain is still working. Maybe Trump got some good ideas from him."

If only that were true, I thought.

"One more thing and then I have to run. I wrote it down from the book. It scared me I admit. It comes from one of Nixon's Oval Office tapes. Students were protesting the war and Nixon was trying to coopt them by occasionally meeting with some of the leaders."

Jack pulled a paper out of his fleece pocket. "It's about one of these meetings."

Jack cleared his throat and read--"The meeting left him with a sense of hopelessness about changing minds. 'It's just crap, you know,' he told [his chief of staff] H.R. Haldeman. 'We have to sit and talk to these little jackasses . . . Why don't I just . . . scratch all this crap, really bullshit, all these meetings, this therapy meeting with the little assholes . . . and recognize that we have a crisis in the country in terms of understanding, recognizing that nobody can solve it.'"

"Incredible," I finally said. "I remember reading that and was shocked that . . ."

"That a president could talk this way in the Oval Office? And think this way? Again, he was brilliant, but as I said, also crazy. This is all very scary." He paused.


"Yeah because who knows how they're talking these days in the White House." This was hard for Jack. "Probably the same way. And how they're thinking," He sighed. "Also probably the same."

Nixon and Haldeman

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Monday, October 16, 2017

October 16, 2017--Whatever Happened to ISIS?

It wasn't very long ago that ISIS or ISIL or the Islamic State caused widespread fear in the Middle East and the West. Very much including in the United States.

Almost daily, for many months, ISIS would release a video of the hideous torture and beheading of captured Americans, Europeans, and Muslims. The map of the area showed ISIS's metastasis occurring as more and more territory fell before its brutal, seemingly unstoppable anschluss.

As recently as 2014, ISIS declared itself a caliphate. Which meant that they claimed religious, political, and military authority over all Muslims. All Muslins worldwide. In the region (beginning in expanding parts of Iraq and Syria) with visions of taking over all of the Middle East and ultimately at least as much of Africa and Europe as the previous caliphate of the 7th through 15th centuries occupied.

This terrifying aspiration did not seem far fetched. 

The Iraqis, torn by internal strife between the Shia majority and the Sunnis (who joined ISIS in large numbers), the Iraqi government and military felt powerless to resist. Syria was torn by a hopeless civil war and resisted becoming involved; and no one in the West, including the United States during the last years of the Obama administration, had a response that felt credible. 

And then there were the Russians who saw this divisiveness and chaos as an opportunity to exert influence and even dominance.

But then toward the end of the Obama years and continued and expanded during the early months of the Trump administration--yes, that administration--the U.S. military did two things that appear to have been decisive--somehow after more than a decade of frustration, we were able to train elements of the Iraqi army to actually fight effectively and supplied close-in tactical air support as they took on the previously unvanquished ISIS fighters. 

Slowly the map of the area controlled viciously by ISIS began to contract. As recently as last week the last of their caliphate strongholds, Hawija, fell to the Iraqis. Thousands while retreating were killed and then, rather than dying a martyrs' death, other thousands surrendered, mainly to Kurdish forces who have been in the mix as critical fighters.

A few things--

First--ISIS will continue to inspire and take credit for individual acts of terrorism. As hideous as this it, it's not a caliphate.

Then--though Donald Trump has a checklist of Obama initiatives and achievements that he has made his agenda--to obliterate Obama's political and historical existence is what more than anything else guides Trump. But in spite of this, in regard to ISIS, his military people saw an effective strategy and Trump doubled-down on it. Soon he will be all over Twitter and the media taking credit for "defeating" ISIS. What he boasted during the election campaign.

He is entitled to some of that credit. This is culminating on his, forgive me, watch. Maybe, doubtful, but maybe he will learn something from this--about the big things (war and peace) he might act more moderately than what many are fearing. North Korea a case in point?

Last--seemingly hopeless situations can at times resolve themselves. 


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Friday, October 13, 2017

October 13, 2017--Harvey Weinstein--"That's What Woman Are Asking For."

I've been wanting to write about Harvey Weinstein but pretty much everything I have to say has been said. 

And he is so disgusting, what he did was so disgusting, the world he trolls is so disgusting, the politics of this is so disgusting, that I am inclined to take a pass. 

I don't want to have anything to do with him, even if it's only to write something. I feel that I will be slimed by any involvement.

But when I read what fashion designer Donna Karan said, I couldn't ignore this and leave it to others to rant. 

Self-proclaimed feminist Karan offered the traditional sexist rape defense:

"You look at everything all over the world today and how women are dressing and what they asking by just presenting themselves the way they do. What are they asking for?" 

She answered her own question--"Trouble."

And she is not alone in making excuses for him. Almost everyone in the Hollywood and show business community (I include fashion in that) has for decades been making excuses for him. Even his wife. How could she not have known what a disgrace he is? While his behavior was "secret" she remained with him. When it became public, she took off. More to protect the reputation of her own fashion line than because of her outrage.

One could say pretty much the same thing for most of the B- and A-List stars who were either groped by him or knew about his pathological behavior. They didn't want to spoil the party or their ability to be cast in his movies and make millions a picture.

And what about the politicians? All, by the way, Democrats. They liked to hang with him too and couldn't resist. It took Hillary Clinton six days, six, to express her outrage. And she knows more than anyone else about this kind of alpha-male behavior.

Saturday Night Live ignored this though they have been quick to mock Donald Trump when his grabbing pussy comments went viral or when any GOP congressman got caught fooling around in the men's room.

But Harvey to these bi-coastal elites was too powerful, too much fun to turn away from.

Look, for decades everyone knew what he was up to. As a close friend who is a prominent feature film maker said to me, "What he is has been known for years. It's the industry's dirty little secret. Pretty much all the guys who came to Hollywood to make movies did so to get laid."

I might add, or ran for Congress or the White House. Think Franklin Roosevelt, think Lyndon Johnson, think Bill Clinton, and especially think John Kennedy.

It is just this sort of thing, this hypocrisy that helped elect Donald Trump and will doom Democrats going forward. If there is a going forward. This hits especially hard on liberals because we're supposed to know better. Well, we don't.

This is what the Trump people hate about the rich and famous and powerful--that they're only in it for their own good times. And the cash.

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