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McCain’s Brain – Unfit For Command, Or Merely Incontinent?

john_mccain.thumbnail.jpgJust about every day brings another MSM newsbite about Senator McCain’s latest bizarre and idiosyncratic departure from reality. Sadly for the Senator – and more sadly for America – the presumptive GOP nominee for Commander-in-Chief suffers from brain impairment so severe that his military peers publicly warn us he is unfit for command.

When so many struggle with basic literacy, much less biomedical literacy, I’ve give up expecting our incurious, superficial MSM to see the pattern, much less report on it. The pattern’s quite obvious – as Howie Klein pointed out yesterday: in the UK’s Financial Times, Professor Anatol Lieven was quite clear in describing McCain’s obvious impairment:

Mr McCain’s policies would not be so worrying were it not for his notorious quickness to fury in the face of perceived insults to himself or his country. Even Thad Cochran, a fellow Republican senator, has said: "I certainly know no other president since I’ve been here who’s had a temperament like that."

OK – so what does some ivory tower type like Cambridge Professor Lieven know? He must be a pacifist peace-nik, right? Uh – not so much. He was "editor of Strategic Comments, published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London. There he also specialized in the former Soviet Union and in aspects of contemporary warfare." Hmm. Not exactly a job for flower children.

When Mark Benjamin researched his piece on McCain’s temperament earlier this month, he wasn’t asking flower children, either.

In interviews with Salon this week, several experienced military officers said McCain draws mixed reviews among military leaders, and they expressed serious doubts about whether McCain has the right temperament to be the next president and commander in chief. Some expressed more confidence in Obama, citing his temperament as an asset.

It is not difficult in Washington to find high-level military officials who have had close encounters with John McCain’s temper, and who find it worrisome …..the concern is that McCain has, at times, come across as out of control. It is difficult to find current or former officers willing to describe those encounters in detail on the record. That’s because, by and large, those officers admire McCain. But that doesn’t mean they want his finger on the proverbial button, and they are supporting Clinton or Obama instead.

I’ve never served, so how can I know what constitutes fitness for Commander-in-Chief? But these senior officers sure think they know – and they know McCain’s Brain is not fit to serve:

"I like McCain. I respect McCain. But I am a little worried by his knee-jerk response factor," said retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who was in charge of training the Iraqi military from 2003 to 2004 and is now campaigning for Clinton. "I think it is a little scary. I think this guy’s first reactions are not necessarily the best reactions. I believe that he acts on impulse."

Well, if McCain’s Brain is "a little scary" for a Major General, what level of terror ought it provoke in those whose jobs don’t include "people trying to kill me with guns and bombs and missiles"?

Hey, how does McCain’s Brain look to senior officers from the service in charge of blowing up the world – the Air Force?

"I studied leadership for a long time during 32 years in the military," said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, a one-time Republican who is supporting Obama. "It is all about character. Who can motivate willing followers? Who has the vision? Who can inspire people?" Gration asked. "I have tremendous respect for John McCain, but I would not follow him."

Well, at least McCain’s Brain doesn’t scare him – but he also finds McCain lacking in capacity to command. Not so good in a prospective C-in-C.

Maybe Professor Lieven and I have it all wrong – what we see as instability is just the Right Stuff to be a fighter pilot. Sadly, no:

"One of the things the senior military would like to see when they go visit the president is a kind of consistency, a kind of reliability," explained retired Gen. Merrill McPeak, a former Republican, former chief of staff of the Air Force and former fighter pilot who flew 285 combat missions. McPeak said his perception is that Obama is "not that up when he is up and not that down when he is down. He is kind of a steady Eddie. This is a very important feature," McPeak said. On the other hand, he said, "McCain has got a reputation for being a little volatile." McPeak is campaigning for Obama.

Hey – maybe we civvies and the flyboys just don’t understand Naval culture. Maybe what seems like brain dysfunction to me is part of the fierce independence prized in command level officer in the Navy.

Uh, no:

Retired Rear Adm. John Hutson, who has been a Republican his entire adult life, but who now supports Obama, put it this way about facing a national security crisis: "When everybody else goes nuts, the president of the United States needs to get cooler and cooler."

Remember, these are just the senior officers who spoke on the record.

Why bother to look at this? Am I just taking an elderly man who served his country for decades and dragging his reputation through the mud? Don’t we all know men who – as they have aged – have grown more irascible over time? Who would want to hear their father’s – or their grandfather’s – temperament and brain function dissected before the nation?

Unless Jenna and not-Jenna have dropped some kids they’re hiding, no American has a grandfather who can launch nuclear weapons. Senator McCain doesn’t deserve criticism for his advanced age or his brain dysfunction. Anyone with brain dysfunction so severe as to compromise their behavior deserves our pity. Yet Senator McCain has fought his way before us for an election, which is merely an elaborate job interview – he doesn’t deserve the job just because he wants it. The power of the Office of the President includes the power to lay waste to our planet in a matter of minutes – and Senator McCain’s military peers think he’s unfit for command.

As every parent knows, none of us are born with the complement of neurons we need for self control. Over the first two decades of life, we slowly develop the neuronal systems that allow us to decide whether we will – or won’t – take action when we’re enraged or frustrated. This built-in emotional dampening allows us to pause and consciously decide what actions to take.

The fancy psychiatric term for the symptom of "emotions swinging out of control" is "labile". The underlying cause of "labile" is an impairment of CNS function (insufficient inhibitory activity in the CNS). Insufficient CNS inhibitory function is normative in females until sometime in adolescence, and males up until their mid 20’s (ever wonder why medieval history is so entertaining?). However, even military fighter pilots find McCain is too dysinhibited for prime time.

After we hit our mid 20’s we start a slow downhill slide in neuronal function. Like other hills, the farther up the neuron slope we start, the farther we have to coast. Alcohol, head injury (even one), severe stress (including PTSD), toxins (including some forms of chemo) and ionizing radiation (like that used for some cancer radiotherapies) accelerate the trip. If we’re lucky, we cross the finish line of the slide – death – with sufficient neuronal function to keep us and those around us happy and safe, and to be able to know that.

Sadly for him, Senator McCain has a documented history of conditions known to cause CNS injury (repeated blows to the head in boxing/ heavy alcohol use/ torture /severe stress from imprisonment) as well as possible exposure to chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Loss of neuronal function affects not only self-control, but also comprehension.

Impaired CNS inhibitory function greatly diminishes comprehension of even mildly complex situations. Thinking about complex stuff requires not only sustained attention (compromised in diminished inhibitory function), but also the capacity to tolerate the frustration inherent in confronting discordant possibilities (also compromised in diminished inhibitory function).

For these reasons, McCain’s repeated bizarre mangling of basic information – together with his documented history of severely impaired impulse control – suggest that McCain’s neuronal function impairs his capacity to comprehend complex realities. With advanced age, cognitive dysfunction as severe as Senator McCain evinces tends to grow worse with each passing year – as does the severity of the emotional lability which so troubles senior military officers.

Sadly for Senator John McCain, he’s exhibited labile mood for decades – and advancing age tends to accelerate neuronal death, further compromise inhibitory cerebral function, and hence lead to more severe emotional dysfunction.

In the Oval Office, progressively worsening intellectual comprehension and emotional dysfunction would not merely be sad – but catastrophic.

A planet’s a terrible thing to waste – especially when we only have one.

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Kirk Murphy

Kirk Murphy

terrestrial obligate aerobe with endoskeleton (bony) and bilateral symmetry.

chordate, bipedal, warm-blooded, mammalian, placental (origin), opposable thumbs.

not (yet) extinct.

indigenous habitat: California Live Oak.

current habitat: Central California Coast (most northerly aspect).... 'northwest of the new world, east of the sea'

potential habitats: all potential habitats critically endangered (due to global climate change).

ailurophilic - hence allergic rhinitic.