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Dear Republicans, Science is Real

I had double cataract surgery last week. Needless to say, I was scared going into the procedure. People crawling around my eyeballs, scraping and cutting! Wow.  

But the procedure was miraculous. No pain during or afterwards. And now, for the first time in my life since I was seven, I have long distance vision that’s near perfect. I can look out my window and see the flowers on trees half a block away, people’s faces on the sidewalk, the kind of sneakers they’re wearing, even the shoelaces in those sneakers. That was unthinkable last week; it all would have been a blur.  

In cataract surgery they remove the old eye lens, which has become occluded with a film that makes everything gauzy, and replace it with a new lens that comes in a fancy box that looks like it could be sold at Wal-Mart. They not only get rid of the gauzy cataract, they replace the old, near-sighted lens with a brand-new one. Although I can now see perfectly at distance, I still need reading glasses, but what an improvement over the old situation.

What a miracle modern science is! Throughout human history people with cataracts had to go blind. No longer! Then there was the time, in the 1990s, when I had intense pain in the side of my left knee, the result no doubt of heavy-duty downhill running in San Francisco. Again, throughout history, people would have had to deal with the pain, and their mobility would have been limited. But because of the modern miracle of arthroscopic surgery, the Kaiser doctors were able to operate on me, and within weeks, I was back to full running capacity. In fact, I took up the study of karate, developed a lethal kick, and got my black belt.  

I respect modern science. It saves lives and restores to people their abilities. That is so wonderful. And yet, here we are in 2020, and there is a segment of the American people—mostly Christian Republican Trump supporters—who hate science. They question it all the time, whether it’s concerning global warming, the truth of evolution, or the coronavirus pandemic, which they insist is a Democrat hoax.

Why do Republicans hate science so much? It’s because so many Republicans are evangelical Christians. Now, you have to realize that these peoples’ main source of information is not science, but their Bible. And the Bible, which was first compiled by multiple authors between 3,000 and 1,500 years ago but was subsequently rewritten, translated, retranslated and rewritten again multiple times, is completely illiterate about science. The Bible is, in fact, the quintessential definition of superstition, defined as excessively credulous belief in and reverence for supernatural beings.  

What does “excessively credulous” mean? Children believe in superstitions like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Adults know that these “beings” do not exist. Similarly, Bible believers believe in superstitions like a personal God in the sky (usually an old white guy with a long white beard), while “adults” know that no such being exists. Or—if they’re unwilling to go so far as non-belief—then at least they know that God may exist, but there’s no proof she does; and, at any rate, science—the explanation for the realities of the world—does not depend on the existence of God to justify itself, but is the ongoing effort to understand the physical realities that governs existence.  

Individual scientists, obviously, may or may not believe in God. Isaac Newton, the father of modern physics, was a Christian. Even Albert Einstein believed in Der Alte, “The Old One,” although he never defined just what he meant. But all scientists, regardless of their personal beliefs, believe in a science that seeks to describe the underlying physical properties of the world through comprehensible, provable physical mechanisms—not the personal actions of “supernatural beings.”  

This is where Christian Republicans get so confused. They want to believe in their Bible; indeed, the ultimate motive force of their lives is the Bible; to disbelieve it, or any part of it, would be tantamount to having their mental foundation stone completely undone. But that Bible is entirely inconsistent with science. If humans only adhered to the Bible as the fount of all knowledge, there would be no cataract surgery, no arthroscopic surgery on damaged knees. There would be no automobiles, no anesthesia, no plumbing—well, just about everything that has lifted humankind above the level of the apes would never have been discovered or invented. Of course, when Christian Republicans get cataracts or tear the meniscus in their knee, they never hesitate to run to their doctors to get surgery. They turn, in other words, to science, to heal what is broken. On the other hand, when those same scientists, in different areas of science such as climatology, tell Republicans that the climate is radically changing due to man-made fossil fuel emissions, those Republicans profess horror and disbelief. “God promised mankind he would never again destroy the Earth!” they cry, citing Genesis 9:13-16.  

That Christian Republicans do not see the hypocrisy and absurdity of their conflicted beliefs is obvious. Fortunately, most of us do, which is why we view Christian Republicans with such skepticism. We do not want superstitious, ignorant people—the kind of people who first denied the existence of coronavirus and, now, deny its epidemiological destructiveness—running our world. Sadly, in America, they do, for a simple reason: more of them showed up to vote in 2016 than the rest of us, by a very slender majority, but just enough to turn Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan red. That was a tragedy for America, but it also was a stain on rationality in America, which the people who voted for Trump, or who didn’t vote at all, will never live down.  

This post started out as a message for Republicans who don’t believe in science, but nothing I can say will change their minds. They’re stuck in their atavistic ignorance; they neither desire a truthful conversation nor are they capable of being convinced by fact. All we can do—the rest of us who do not have an “excessively credulous belief in and reverence for supernatural beings”– is to vote this November. That’s exactly what President Obama tweeted last week, that single, one-word admonition: Vote.          

Trump: J’accuse!


The economic and mortality consequences of COVID-19 are entirely Trump’s fault.

He didn’t create the virus. But we now know he was repeatedly warned throughout January and February that it was coming and would take a devastating toll on America. Yet he did nothing. Not only that, he actually downplayed the seriousness of the situation by promising us that the case load would soon “fall to zero.”

That was in February, when the U.S. case load was in the hundreds. Today, it has topped 1.3 million, and continues to climb. Had Trump taken action sooner, much of this would have been avoided. We know that by the example of California, and particularly the six Bay Area counties that issued shelter-in-place orders before anyone else in the country. California, by far the nation’s most populous state, has experienced far fewer cases—only 60,000–than even much smaller states, like Massachusetts (74,000 cases). Meanwhile, the Bay Area, with a population about the same as New York City, has had a death rate less than 3% that of the Big Apple (Bay Area fewer than 400, NYC more than 14,000).

This is stark proof that shelter-in-place and face masks work: The Bay Area beat New York for quarantine by a week or so—plenty of time for the virus to spread exponentially. Had Trump listened to his healthcare officials and actually led the nation in response, the pandemic’s American profile would look more like California’s, instead of being the worst in the world.

Trump will, of course, try to wriggle out of this. His usual method, when confronted with his own failures, is, first, to deny the facts and accuse his critics of lying and spreading fake news. When that doesn’t work, he finds someone else to blame. In the case of COVID-19, it has been the Obama administration, or the Chinese government, or U.S. Governors who are Democrats, or local healthcare officials or, by implication, the victims themselves. But the American public isn’t getting fooled. People are swamped with news, but one thing they’ll remember, going into Election Day, is that Trump denied the problem of coronavirus and did his best to undermine efforts to combat it. He is literally guilty of the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans. That will not only cost him re-election, but will ensure his place at the top of the list of the Worst Presidents Ever. Quite a shameful legacy for his descendants to deal with.

Reading through shelter-in-place


I can’t remember a time when I didn’t long to write. At the age of four, I’d sit at my mother’s vanity table with some good books from her library—leather-bound works of Balzac or Shakespeare—and ruin their flyleafs with a pencil, making repeated curlicuing loops, as I pretended to write cursively. I must have known in my mind what the words were, although at this point, that memory is gone. But my mother certainly gave me a role model for reading. Night after night, when dinner was done and the dishes washed and dried, she’d retire to the living room, to “her” chair, a green velvet overstuffed monstrosity of the kind even then called Haut Bronx, and read the rest of the night away.

Her books were fictional mysteries and romances, so unlike my own preference for history, science and memoir. My sister, who hated my mother, criticized Gertrude’s reading habits as escapism: from an unhappy marriage, from a limited life cooped up in a drab apartment, from the resentment of her children. (I did not resent her, but my sister did, and often projected her own mental state onto others.) Maybe that is why Gertrude read, but then, books are “portable magic,” in Stephen King’s words, and Gertrude was not the first to transport herself to other places through a good book.

I myself learned to read at a very early age, and once my teachers taught me how to write, I was off to the races: poetry, mainly. By eight I’d been exposed to Amy Dickinson, Whitman, e.e. cummings and the obligatory Poe. None of my work survives from that ancient time, but I do remember a ditty composed to a goldfish that swam, limitedly, in a bowl on our kitchen counter. The fish clearly did not realize it was confined to a prison. Yet so was I (as are we all), and that was the poem’s point. It was a nice juvenile effort to place myself in the consciousness of another being, the sine qua non of good writing.

I generally read three books at a time, one in my bedroom, one in the john and one at table. My bedroom book now is Gore Vidal’s memoir, Palimpsest, a little—well, a lot name-droppy (Tennessee Williams and Harry Truman on page 2, Jack Kennedy and Susan Sarandon on page 3). But few other books make me burst out laughing. The bathroom book is William D. Hassett’s (he was a sort of personal aide to the second Roosevelt) Off the Record with F.D.R., 1942-1945, a fascinating, gossipy if discrete account of Roosevelt’s private wartime hours, chiefly at Hyde Park. Almost all of his visitors, to hear Hassett tell it, were deposed or exiled European royalty, especially Crown Princess Martha of Norway. In Palimpsest Vidal implies a romantic relationship between Martha and F.D.R., although to be fair, Vidal loved that kind of insinuating tattle, and Hassett’s repeated description of Martha as always arriving with her children and royal entourage, with Eleanor fussing over them, would suggest no extra-marital intimacy. But who knows? In those days, aristocracy had its arrangements, and while reporters were just as snoopy as they are today, they were reliably reticent to write about the private lives of politicians. Besides, wartime censorship laws, of a kind that would be deemed unconstitutional today, prohibited journalists from publishing what F.D.R. aides like Hassett told them not to; and Hassett, if he knew his boss was fooling around with Martha (and if F.D.R. was, Hassett knew), certainly would have quashed it.

My dining table book is Emile Peynaud’s the Taste of Wine. All three are re-reads. Any book worth reading once is worth reading again. But also, in my dotage I find myself liking the comfortably familiar, which is why I still like, say, Magical Mystery Tour (so underrated a Beatles album). Incidentally, the American release of MMT does not contain two of the greatest Beatles songs ever, Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane, while the British release does. I remain dumbfounded how impactful The Beatles remain after all these decades. Beethoven, Bach…and The Beatles? I wouldn’t be surprised if musicologists of the future mention them non-ironically in the same breath, although I’d be surprised if I were still here to read it.

My book collection is not large, maybe a thousand volumes. I’ve slowly been getting rid of the ones I no longer care about. We have, in my neighborhood, a metal box, about 2’ x 2’, in which people drop off reading materials for their neighbors, a sort of lending library co-op. But with shelter-in-place, it hasn’t seen much activity lately, as people are rightfully concerned with riffling through stuff that strangers have touched. I wish there were some way to ensure that my best books—the wine collection and my World War II volumes—remain intact after my demise, and end up with people who will love them as much as I have. But then, I have to remind myself that once I’m gone, all my worldly cares will disappear. Will it really matter who gets my first edition of Notes on a Cellar-Book?

Current fear: my eyes are going. Yes, the ophthalmologist at Kaiser tells me I have cataracts, a fellow traveler to old age’s other insults. The right eye cannot read anymore; the left isn’t far behind. This is alarming for someone who loves reading and whose reading, under shelter-in-place, decidedly is more escapist these days, when there’s little else to do. The problem is that Kaiser has ended all elective surgery, and so the ophthalmologist tells me I might not be able to be treated until late summer, by which time my reading vision will be gone. I have complained mightily to Kaiser’s customer service people or, as they call themselves in bureaucratese newspeak, “Expedited Review Operations.” Cataract surgery may be elective to Kaiser, but blindness is not elective to me. The squeaky wheel might be working; now they tell me they may be able to arrange something. We’ll see, but I read an article that the surge in coronavirus cases that necessitated a halt to routine surgery will likely result in a second surge of elective surgeries this summer, which will come just in time for an expected third surge, of COVID-19 cases, this Fall. Surge gridlock! As Roseann Rosannadanna said, it’s always something.

At any rate, my heart goes out to my Governor, Gavin Newsom, who is caught between the proverbial devil and the deep blue sea, or is it a rock and a hard place? Does he wait to re-open until the epidemiologists say it’s safe, or does he kowtow to growing public pressure to get back to normal? He’s a politician, after all, and wants to be re-elected; the last thing he needs is for growing numbers of voters, especially younger ones, to turn on him for preventing them from playing volleyball at Laguna Beach and drinking mimosas or whatever young people drink these days at the local pub. The tension is palpable, the issue authentically complicated. I want California to re-open as much as anyone. But I wish the re-open demonstrators would stick to that one issue, instead of parading around in MAGA hats and Trump2020 shirts. If they’re for him, then I’m against them.

Who is the woman accusing Biden of sexual assault?


Is it a coincidence that the woman, Phyllis Dipshuck, who is accusing Joe Biden of sexual assault is a neo-nazi, a good friend of Steve Bannon and a founder of the Tea Party? Surely, her radical rightwing ideology makes her claims suspicious. Just a day after multiple polls show Biden trouncing Trump in the election, Dipshuck changes the narrative with her spurious claim—after being spotted having lunch with Sean Hannity.

We need to get to the bottom of this. Why did she meet last week (i.e. days before her claim went public) with Kellyanne Conway? What about an email (intercepted by the FBI) from Stephen Miller to Dipshuck, in which Miller, a senior aide to Trump, tells Dipshuck, “If your memory isn’t clear from that period, then ask yourself what Biden probably did. Because he probably did.” And why was Alex Jones promoting the “Biden as sexual predator” lie two weeks ago—after Dipshuck had phoned in to his talk show praising Trump’s “Liberate Michigan” tweet?

If it walks like a conspiracy and talks like a conspiracy, then it is a conspiracy. Period. Look, Trump and his white supremacist thugs are terrified that he’s going to lose the election. Not only that: polls strongly suggest Republicans will lose the Senate, and Democrats will maintain their lead in the House, and possibly increase it. Nothing could be more threatening to Republicans. They’re watching the meltdown of their fantasy of a rightwing Christian theocracy in the U.S., replacing our Constitutional democracy with a dictatorship run by psychopaths like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr., in which women’s rights would be abrogated, gay people interned for forced “re-education,” and science decried as a liberal myth.

Dipshuck herself is a most suspicious character. To begin with, there’s no evidence she ever worked anywhere close to Biden. She also had formerly filed seven sexual assault charges against other men, all Democrats, in the previous six years. None of these charges was ever corroborated. In throwing one suit out, a District Court judge told Dipchuck she was “the least credible plaintiff I’ve heard in more than 30 years on the bench.” Another judge, from a Federal appeals court who also dismissed a Dipshuck lawsuit, told her, “Your claims are ludicrous. I ought to throw you in jail for contempt.” Dipshuck’s own former husband, Donald Dipshuck, who divorced her in 2012, told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, “Phyllis has serious mental problems. She once accused our paperboy of being a Muslim terrorist. In fact, he was the 12-year old son of our priest.”

According to records revealed under a Freedom of Information Act request, Dipshuck has a lengthy arrest record. In 2004, she was charged by Cincinatti police for indecent exposure within 100 feet of a public school. In 2006, she was convicted of felony check-forgery charges and sentenced to ten months in prison, but was paroled after serving only 30 days. A 2008 arrest charge against Dipshuck accused her of making threats against then-Presidential candidate Barack Obama; Dipshuck emailed him to “Go back to Kenya and put a bone in your nose, or we’ll drag your [expletive deleted] ass back for you.” After Obama was elected, Dipshuck called for his arrest “for murder” and demanded to see the results of blood tests to prove that Sasha and Malia Obama were his biological children. “I’ve heard from credible sources that those girls were really fathered by Jeremiah Wright, which would explain why they’re so anti-American.”

Dipshuck again found herself in legal trouble in 2017, when she was arrested at the violent “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, NC. Armed with a stun gun, Dipshuck attacked a Black police officer. The case was dropped by the District Attorney after Dipshuck claimed the officer had “tried to rape” her, although no witnesses confirmed her account and the officer himself denied it. A friend of Dipshuck’s, who spoke off the record, told the Charlottesville Observer that Dipshuck “always reverts to this fake ‘he tried to rape me’ crap whenever her back’s against the wall.”

Dipshuck has never denied her ties to rightwing extremists. Last year, the New York Post reported she was having a sexual affair with Geraldo Rivera, the failed talk show host who has become a staple of Fox “News” conspiracy theories. Rivera, who has repeatedly claimed that allegations of sexual assault against Trump by dozens of women were “fake smears confabulated by the Democrat Party to take down our great President Trump,” now claims that this one allegation by a tainted woman is enough to discredit Biden from the presidency.

Americans, so far, aren’t buying what Dipshuck is peddling. A recent Rasmussen-CBS poll, taken after Dipshuck’s accusation was widely spread on Fox and on Breitbart, shows that 72% of respondents think Dipshuck is “definitely” or “probably” lying, while only 19% believe her and the remainder say they don’t know. Dipshuck is scheduled to take questions from the media at a “Re-Open America!” rally she’s starring in tonight in Detroit, where the guest speaker is Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, one of the few men Dipshuck has not accused of sexual assault.

The Anti-Jesus


Gore Vidal, in his 1995 memoir, Palimpsest, recounts the infamous 1925 Scopes “Monkey” trial, in which the forces of redneck Protestantism beat those of scientific Darwinism in a Tennessee courtroom dominated—then, as now—by Bible-thumping Christians. Looking pessimistically towards the year 2000, Vidal mused, “We should be able to do marvelously well in the second millennium.”

Acid-tongued was Gore Vidal: and accurate. Here we are in that second millennium, nearly a century removed from the Scopes trial. How well are we doing? In many respects the people of Tennessee, and of the other Bible Belt states and red counties of America, have moved, not forward but backwards in their relentless pursuit of myth and superstition. The War on Science continues in the modern Republican Party: One-third of Americans, nearly all of them Christian Republicans, do not believe in human evolution.

Why are these people so terrified of knowledge? We can perhaps glean some of their thinking by considering William Jennings Bryan, the attorney who successfully prosecuted poor John Thomas Scopes for daring to teach the theories of Charles Darwin to high school children. Bryan was no yahoo, in the way that, say, Mike Huckabee and Michael Pence are. Bryan came from Illinois stock that had been Democrats since the time of Andrew Jackson. He was the Democratic Party candidate for President three times (1896, 1900, 1908), losing each time, of course, but later serving as Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State. He earned the sobriquet “The Great Commoner” and in many ways was the forerunner of modern-day Democratic concepts, from staunch anti-imperialism to championing a progressive income tax.

Yet for all his forward thinking, Bryan was a Christian who viewed the Bible as the linchpin of Western civilization. I have been so satisfied with the Christian religion,” he said during the trial, “that I have spent no time trying to find arguments against it…I believe everything in the Bible should be accepted as it is given there.”

How does one reconcile rationality with Biblical literalism? It can’t be done, in an abstract sense; but humans aren’t abstractions, they’re real, complicated beings: “I am large, I contain multitudes,” sang Walt Whitman who, conceding his contradictions, replied, “Very well, then I contradict myself.” We all of us carry contradictions within ourselves: and we rationalize those contradictions in ways that leave us unperturbed.

Yet not all human self-contradiction is the same. One of Whitman’s inconsistencies was that while he preached the universal brotherhood of man he lusted after certain burly workingmen. This is hardly the most objectionable human contradiction. Whitman caused no one harm. Contrast that with Bryan’s contradiction: a college-educated lawyer, aware of the scientific Western tradition, who revered the nation’s foundation of enlightened rationalism—and yet a Bible-believer who apparently believed that the Jewish-Christian God created the universe and everything in it in six days. By the time Bryan argued Scopes, the teachings of Charles Darwin obviously were well-known; so too was the science of geology, which proved the ancientness of the earth; so too the science of paleontology, which demonstrated the extinction of species over vast periods of time. Bryan knew of these things, probably was interested in them, and yet “I believe everything in the Bible should be accepted as it is given there.”

And now we come to today’s Republican-evangelical ideology. Their most alarming contradiction is, clearly, their adoration of a man who is a serial adulterer, a sexual abuser of women and procurer of porn stars, a pathological liar, a swindler and con man, a smearer of reputations, and, lately, a peddler of dangerous and potentially deadly medical lies. These people—the evangelicals—profess to follow a man, Jesus, who preached the brotherhood of man, who said the rich would not enter heaven, who served “the least among us” and urged his followers to love everyone. This Jesus also said to render unto government that which is government’s and render unto man that which is man’s—the ultimate renunciation of politics.

If there is an anti-Jesus on Earth, it is Donald J. Trump. This gaping contradiction should be enough to entirely repudiate evangelicals, whose “religion” has become a political ideology of clerical-fascism. And yet some huge percentage of the American public happily self-identifies with evangelicalism. Is this simply their version of “I am large, I contain multitudes”?

No. Because whereas the contradictions of a Whitman, or modern liberals who seek to expand civil rights, harm no one, those of the evangelicals seek to take away the rights of tens of millions of Americans: people of color, immigrants, scientists, liberals, women, non-Christians. It dumbfounds me that Republicans, who detest science because it proves that their Bible is a work of fiction, would utilize science by taking medications prescribed by doctors. At least Christian Scientists, who refuse medication, are consistent; not so evangelicals and other “Biblical literalists.”

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