Mon, Jul

Biden Faces Health Speculations Post-Debate as Concerns Rise Over Potential Neurological Issues


GELFAND'S WORLD - We are now into the second week following the presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. A few days ago, Biden sat down with George Stephanopoulos and spent 22 minutes dodging one question which was repeated endlessly. It asked, in essence, whether Biden realizes he is in trouble and would consider leaving the race if he could be convinced. Biden answered the question that he was staying, that he can beat Trump, and he has goals to meet in the next term. 

The Biden of the June 28 debate and the Biden of the July 5 interview were like two different people. Some Biden supporters want to think that this is a good thing, as it signifies the process of recovering from "one bad night." I tend to differ, and I would like to remind you that I have been a strong Biden supporter from early in his presidency. He brought legitimacy and stability not only to the previously raucous presidential performance, but also to our international policy, something which badly needed fixing. 

I therefore ask the following question more in concern than in anger but depending on what the answer will ultimately turn out to be, with a bit of anger. 

Does Joe Biden suffer from Parkinson's disease? 

I ask because a number of licensed physicians who watched Biden in the debate and have seen him move on television in recent weeks weren't just asking the question, they were pointing out that he is showing numerous symptoms. I had wondered much the same thing myself, not because I have neurological training (I don't) but because the evidence that something is going on has become obvious. The walk and the facial expression are enough to raise questions. 

If this is true, it would not be the first time that presidential families and assistants have covered up a disability. The history of Woodrow Wilson's disability -- due to strokes -- and the fact that his wife and assistants basically ran the government over the last months of his presidency are by now well known to historians. 

Ronald Reagan was developing his Alzheimer's disease and starting to show signs in his second term. It wasn't all that camouflaged to those who were close enough to look and eventually it became obvious to outsiders. A late friend who was a physician said, at the time, "We have a president who's pissing on his own shoes." 

Ike Eisenhower had heart problems and had obviously had a stroke sometime in his second term, as one medically trained member of my family pointed out at the time. 

The difference between these previous presidencies and the current scenario is that Eisenhower and Reagan were termed out and Wilson was dying. None of them could or did run for another term. 

The remainder of the presidents I remember in my lifetime either left office through resignation or murder (Nixon and Kennedy), were defeated after one term (George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter), or left peacefully after two terms. 

I think Trump is a special case because he left after one term, but not peacefully, and there is a great deal of conjecture about his mental stability and -- obviously -- his lack of character. Early in his presidency, there was a modest industry in diagnosing Trump and the estimates kept coming up as some sort of narcissistic personality disorder. 

Biden never had those sorts of problems, but there would now appear to be something going on in his body and his mind. and he doesn't want to talk about it. Let's consider what Biden said in his Friday interview with Stephanopoulos. When asked about whether he has been looked at by a doctor, he said that there is always a doctor traveling with him, and that if there were anything wrong, one of the doctors would have brought it to his attention. 

I tend to be skeptical. If random doctors notice flagrant symptoms just from watching television, then there has to have been some discussion between Biden, his doctors, and his family. Just look at the way the guy walks and tell me nobody has been noticing. 

Of course this does not mean that White House doctors are committing malpractice or that Joe is being evil with us. It could be a little more measured. Let me give a best-case scenario. Everybody who ages is going to notice something -- no matter how small -- that isn't the same as it was before. It's not uncommon for people of advanced age to start showing some symptoms of Parkinson's disease, complete with some tremor, some loss of facial expression, and some change in vocal sounds. Some people, used to robust health, will chalk these things up to the normal course of getting on in years, recognize that a shaky hand does not affect their ability to think clearly, and find in addition that they can maintain leadership positions well into the course of such ailments. Not everybody with a little Parkinsonism is ready to be put out to pasture. 

It is the course of the disease that is paramount. In another famous case involving something called ALS, Lou Gehrig is famous for continuing to play professional baseball against the best pitchers in the game until he was obviously too affected to play. But it took a while. Eisenhower managed to finish his term. Both LBJ and Bill Clinton were developing coronary artery disease at an accelerated pace, but managed to complete their terms. 

Joe Biden has added one additional element to these commonplace stories of presidents shaking off disease and possible death. Biden is running for reelection. 

So the following is strictly speculative, but is based on what little public data we have. If Biden has Parkinson's or some neurological disorder of similar symptomatology, then he knows it and he lied through his teeth in the Stephanopoulos interview. 

And this is too bad. Biden could have waited until a few days after his disastrous debate and revealed that what was sometimes just a modest condition of aging and nothing to be too concerned about -- that this something had rather suddenly increased in severity, and he has now had to make the difficult decision to turn operation of the government over to his worthy successor. 

It would have been an honorable way to claim credit for much good that was done in his presidential term, and equally a way to fend off the Trump menace. 

With Biden's bravado in speaking to Stephanopoulos, it is going to be that much harder to convince people that Biden's family and his entire White House staff have not been in on a conspiracy to cover up the presidential symptoms. 

If it is to be a Kamala Harris presidential run, let it start with a Biden resignation from the presidency no later than this week. 

Of course I could be entirely wrong about all of this, but it's kind of the old line about whether to believe my lying eyes. 

A Change of Topic 

In 2008 and 2014, the Port of Los Angeles hosted tall ship festivals. That term "tall ship" is meant to refer to ships that might have come from a previous century -- ships that carry tall masts that hold sails. Square riggers. With wood hulls and ropes made of the original hemp, they are the sorts of ships that Melville would have understood. 

Over the past few days, the Italian Navy ship Amerigo Vespucci has been in Los Angeles Harbor. Those of us in the San Pedro area were able to see some sort of tower that lit up in the colors of the Italian flag: white, red, green. 

Up close, that tower blends into a Villaggio Italiano (Italian village) which was packed with Angelenos who lined up in the warmth (you get a little coastal breeze in these parts) so they could tour the ship and the village. Let me tell you a little about the village. There were multiple pavilions which transmitted pictures in high definition. The seasoned traveler could recognize Milan and Florence and Cinque Terra. One pavilion showed mainly some classics of Italian design, ranging from modernistic sculpture to a Vespa to the sort of coffee maker you can buy at REI. 

And one pavilion was titled as the "Immersive" one, and collected the longest lines to get in. I don't know what I was expecting, but when I got in, I found myself facing a semicircular wall which was a sort of gigantic television or movie screen. If you walked into the middle of this hall, you were immersed in the view. It was colorful and high definition and perhaps just the wee bit surprising in its chosen topics. We got to see a wall full of pictures -- enlarged from the microscopic -- of what is to be found in wines. We saw a colorful reproduction of (I'm guessing here) the sort of colorful swatch of images that you get when you look at thin slices in a polarization microscope. 

And then, miracle of miracles, a massive collection of Italian foodstuffs, everything from colorful cans to giant cheeses. I felt hungry and immediately needful of returning to Italy. There were other things to see in this immersive environment, but the cheeses won the day for me. Others might  remark on the landscapes and big city ancient architecture. 

There is a curious asymmetry between the Amerigo Vespucci and other tall ships we have seen in recent shows. Most tall ships we see locally were built in recent years. Not so for the Vespucci, which was conceived of in the 1920s and completed by 1931. Those of a historical bent will notice that this is a ship that was part of Italian Fascism at a time that it was making its mark on the rest of the world and on the people of Italy. It was one of two training ships built at the time, and only Amerigo Vespucci remains in Italian hands since the end of WWII. 

In its current incarnation, the ship and its support staff (some flown directly from Rome to Los Angeles to staff the pavilions of the Italian Village) serve the interests of peace, prosperity, and the craft we have come to associate with Italian artisans. 

Oh yeah, there was also an Italian restaurant and bar with various expensive items, but you could get gelato or a glass of Prosecco for a mere $10. I playfully suggested to one of my fellow tourists that we just fly to Italy, do our shopping, and save on the deal. But the restaurants and bars did a good business no matter what I may think about their pricing, and nobody looked disappointed. Of course being disappointed with Prosecco would be unthinkable. 

It's important to point out that the large number of young people brought here from Rome to staff the pavilions were extra polite and patient in answering my questions. So Thanks to all of you. 

One thing the Villaggio represented was the technological linkage between the Hollywood of our place and time vs the masterful designers that Italy continues to produce. The immersive stage was one. When I walked out, I said to the young lady, "You realize that you have reinvented Cinerama?" She seemed to recognize the mention of Cinerama, which was the world's second major attempt at showing movies on a wide-wide screen that curved around to represent the entire visual field. Of course Cinerama -- a Hollywood invention of its time, which was about 1952, was itself a recreation of a system invented by Frenchman Abel Gance in 1927. The older versions used 3 projectors and complicated screens. The Italians have  done something remarkable -- their images are clear and precise and absolutely without seams the way the older technologies had to live with. I know that others experiment with other technologies in a similar way, but I would like to see more of this practice. Perhaps combining the virtual reality of Apple and Silicon Valley with Italian art and technique will lead to a new kind of experience.

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].)