Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Dick Cheney and Phineas Gage

What d'ya know? It turns out that Dick Cheney, the anti-charismatic, misshapen puppet master behind Junior Bush, actually has a heart.

The punditry was all abuzz yesterday with news about Cheney's unexpected, urgent visit to George Washington University Hospital, where he received an electrical shock to restore his heartbeat to a normal rhythm. Apparently, the condition is not life-threatening in immediate terms, but can cause blood clots over an extended period, which clots can then lodge themselves in the brain, causing stroke.

Cheney has a long history of heart problems, having suffered four heart attacks in his lifetime. He had a pacemaker installed in 2001 to correct an irregular heartbeat and, from then until now, has seemed in good health (publicly, at least).

But Cheney has displayed some very --er-- strange behavior over the last few years, ce n'est pas?

While it is certainly not a perfect parallel, consider the case of one Phineas Gage. Gage was a railroad worker in the 19th century, who suffered a traumatic injury to his brain. An explosion caused a railroad spike to be driven through his skull. According to reports from the time, before his injury, Gage was a hard-working, responsible fellow. But after the injury, his personality was radically altered. He became impulsive, irreverent, and "impatient of restraint or advice" when it conflicted with his desires. The speculation was that the iron spike destroyed some part of Gage's brain that kept in check his impulses and outrageous behavior.

Well, Dick Cheney hasn't had an iron spike driven through his skull. At least, of which I am aware. But, could it be that, perhaps, one of his heart attacks denied blood to some part of his brain, and killed his capacity for empathy? There is little doubt in my mind that the man lacks some fundamental ability that most of us have, wherein we are able to imagine the suffering of others. But it wasn't always that way with him.

A few quotations from Cheney's associates lend credence to my suggestion:
  • "I consider Cheney a good friend. I've known him for 30 years. But Dick Cheney I don't know anymore." Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor for President George H. W. Bush

  • "...I did see him as secretary of defense and now as vice president. I can tell you that 9/11 made him a paranoid, to the extent where I'm not sure his exercise of power carries with it reason." Lawrence Wilkerson, retired Army colonel, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell
Well, the human brain remains largely a mystery, even with today's breakthroughs in understanding human anatomy. The only way to really understand a creature like Dick Cheney is to view the world from his perspective. Personally, I doubt my capacity to survive such a horrifying and twisted experience. (This, from a former acid head!) But I am convinced that the man is mad; a twisted monster warped by his own physical frailty and his sense of entitlement. Can such a creature experience joy, I wonder? Or even some modicum of tranquility?

Perhaps secretly, Cheney resents that modern medicine allows him to continue. Perhaps he secretly hopes for an end to his tormented existence.

Whatever, Dick! I can't bring myself to hope for your death; I don't need that kind of bad karma. But, by the same token, I can't work up much sympathy for you as you plod along your gloomy path to the grave.

Harsh? Maybe. But it's from the heart, Dick. I can assure you of that.

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