Reality vs. Angering Spin

You can argue, as authoritarians like Ron DeSantis do, that teaching current events in light of the actual past stigmatizes innocent young white children with the sins of their grandfathers, but that is only a transactional argument in the service of increasing your side’s power.

It is harder to argue persuasively about a simple fact like this:

Which is why wealthy fascists will always focus on the terrible burden to the “job creators” a living wage for unskilled workers would impose on the wealthy. They focus on why we must pity the poor super wealthy, who grace us all with their generosity and create a beautiful and just society for us all.

Believe that, you know, the myth of the generous, selfless billionaire philanthropist — or stay focused on the so-called grotesque injustice of one person having more than 10 million others, while children starve in the wealthiest country in human history.

And, of course, people like me completely ignore the fact that people who inherit a mountain of money deserve every penny of it, free of DEATH TAX, while poor people, even if willing to work very hard, only deserve a minimum beyond the bare legal minimum. Period.

Life’s unfair

Whenever I complained about anything being unfair, my parents’ actions or anything else, my father had a stock answer.  

“President Kennedy said ‘life’s unfair’,” my father would say.

I have no doubt that John Kennedy said that, just as I have no doubt he was shot in the head one morning in Dallas, proving his point.   

Life is unfair, it is also immensely complicated.   Sometimes it’s hard to navigate.   I react badly, unfairly, and I hurt you.  You react with hurt.  I think you are reacting with way too much hurt.  Fuck, I didn’t hurt you that badly!  Now who’s the victim of unfairness?

“Wait, you just admitted you hurt me.  Isn’t it unfair to tell me exactly how much I’m entitled to be hurt?   Do you know what I’m going through at this moment, what makes me more vulnerable than usual to suffering from unfair treatment by someone I trust?  Did I ever treat you that way?”

Now the back goes up, which happens automatically as the body is poised for fight or flight.

“You want fair, asshole?”  and the game is on.

If you are philosophical it may seem possible to arrive at a reasonable  understanding of virtually anything.  Once you have some data and a framework to understand something you have the way to make otherwise incomprehensible things comprehensible to yourself.   Of course, life being unfair, having a coherent framework to talk about something does not always lead to a mutually helpful conversation.

I can try to look at the conflict through the lens of your pain, understanding, for example, why it is so hard for you to compromise or make amends, but that view may cut a little too close to your nerve endings for your comfort.  You’ll feel judged, moreso if the view comes close to a painful truth.  Much easier to continue fighting over who has the right to feel more hurt by the other.  On a bad day you will hear things like “you have to understand that I’m too upset by what you did to listen to why you’re upset.”

Life’s unfair, and part of its unfairness is rooted in its often incoherent nature.  In spite of all the theories, and of science, and the role of the marvelous human mind in fathoming things that are difficult, a good part of life simply defies sense, logic, discussion.  Unfair, if you ask me.

The anodyne versus the difficult

It is tempting to live in an anodyne world, where everything is seen in the most painless possible light.  An angry conflict that continues for months, for years, poisoning the lives of both parties?   Two people who actually love each other deeply who just can’t find the way back to love, yet.  A cluster of bad events and painful symptoms that feels catastrophic in your life?  Not really that bad, when you compare them to a hundred much, much worse catastrophes.  You see?   There is a better way to think of bad things, a healthier way to feel about them.  Anodyne means sparing pain, or killing it.

In an anodyne worldview, warring parties can easily come to the table and work out peace terms, if only their better angels emerge and lead, which they easily can.  

True, but a big fucking “if”, if you know what I’m saying.   We don’t, of course, live in a world that always spares us the worst, but … what is the alternative?

Real courage, it seems to me, is looking at difficult things and seeing them for what they are.  Seeing things clearly is the first step towards progress.   As  for the painless view, your truly terrible medical situation does not make my ordinary, if challenging, medical situation any better.  For one thing, they are two different things.  For another, nothing about your awful situation provides any relief of mine.  It is hard to look at a scary thing carefully, a nasty thing, an unthinkable thing.   There are terrors out there, watching with unblinking eyes.  Death is not a ticket to a perfect world, unless I’m sadly mistaken, but it is surely a ticket from this miraculous one.  

We can truly wish that all conflicts could be worked out peacefully, that with enough patience, kindness and intelligence we can work loose the stubborn knots that strangle and keep the war raging.   We can believe this, faithfully, in the face of seamless opposition.  If only I can be more patient, kinder, smarter, if only I can find the words, the metaphor, the story to make clear that I’m not the enemy… except, that when you are the enemy, that’s what you are.

You know what you do with an enemy?  You dig your fortifications and fight like hell.  

While you are fighting you can think “I am fighting for love, I’m fighting for peace, I’m fighting for my belief in lifelong friendship.”   Your enemy is thinking the same thing, and they are convinced that you don’t know jack shit about love, peace or friendship and for that reason your fortifications must be bombarded, stormed and your army vanquished.

Blessed are the peacemakers, as someone in the days of Jesus said.  Then they took one, a man of peace said to perform miracles, and, after a quick trial by mob, nailed him to a cross, along with dozens of others that day.  For centuries people who worshipped this Lamb killed each other over the proper way to follow in his path of peace and gentleness.  Put their fellow believers to the sword, because they had different customs about the best way to show love to the earthly messenger of God’s love.   Anodyne that for me, somebody.

Gentlemen’s agreement — no lies

My father hated liars.  Lying was a line he wouldn’t cross himself (partly because he didn’t need to, as I will explain in a moment) and something he didn’t forgive in others.  I saw very early on that if you made up a false, childish story to hide something from him, he’d see through the lie and label you a lying piece of shit forever. 

I understand that a lie can make a lasting impression of lack of character, or sometimes no impression (if the lie is minor and doesn’t really affect you).  The trouble is, before you lie you never know which way it will go.

The obvious problem with a lie is that the person you are lying to  can be holding the proof of your lie in his hand.  “Did you ever write a letter denouncing me to Child Protective Services as a ‘vicious monster unfit to raise children’?” my father could ask.  If you said it never happened, and he was able to pull out your childishly pencilled letter to Child Protective Services, point to the verbatim quote right there on the lined paper, that would be it, for the rest of your life, the verdict: fucking liar.

I actually did lie to him once, about having taken mescaline as a teenager.  “Did you ever take mescaline?” he asked the sixteen year-old version of me pointedly.   I denied it, weakly, and he pulled out a letter I’d written to a girlfriend, written in mercurochrome, which might as well have been blood.  The bloody looking scrawling, with plenty of ghoulish drips and glops, was a raving love letter to psychedelics and included a vow to take a lot more of it in the coming days.   

“Shit,” I thought, when he disgustedly pulled out the letter “I never mailed that letter to Barbara, must have fallen behind my parents’ bed when I was sleeping in there for the AC when they were out of town…”   My lie was a one-off, my father recognized, and no big referendum on my character resulted from it.

Not so for other people we knew who lied to my father, even once.  My sister, when she was maybe seven, hatched a caper with her seven year-old accomplice, Jefferey Seigel, to break into my little cash register-shaped piggy bank and use the illicit proceeds to buy candy.  The plan went perfectly, until I came home and found the little cash register pried open and empty of its perhaps 80 cents in coins (this would have been 1965 money, probably $5 or $10 in today’s candy buying coin, shit, maybe more — a Milky Way cost maybe a dime in those days, I think) and the list of culprits was quickly narrowed down to my little sister.  She rolled on her henchman, after a series of the seven year old’s best attempts at lies was brushed aside by my prosecutor father. 

He never let her forget this childish act of piracy on the high seas, made a hundred times worse by the lies about not being a childish brigand.  Anytime he got angry at her, the first salvo would be about how she lacked character, stole from her own brother to buy candy, AND LIED ABOUT IT.  A little thief, AND a liar.

A lie can be maddening, it’s true, and I’ll never know the roots of my father’s hatred of lying, but the reason people lie is also usually understandable.  People don’t often lie without a reason.   The reason is most of the time to avoid feeling bad, to avoid having to take responsibility for a mistake, to avoid punishment. 

This makes the whole exercise kind of ironic: you lie to avoid telling the truth, to make yourself feel less vulnerable, and this places you in the category of ordinary, very vulnerable, fucking liars.  If the lie can be shown to be a lie, you’re a proven liar, and often, in the eyes of many, mostly honest, people, a weak and contemptible person.

My father was an angry brute whenever he felt he needed to be, in the privacy of his own home.  He’d never confront people in the street, or at work, but around the dinner table, with just the four of us there, he was fearless and fierce in protecting his turf and asserting his dominance and superiority.   In this way he was like many other narcissistic people with terribly painful wounds doing his best to feel like a whole person, in the face of unbearable early life humiliation.   I don’t even hold it against him any more.   The thing I’m thinking about now is his basic honesty, the way I almost never knew him to lie.  As I said, he didn’t need to.  Check this out:

If you can control the conversation at every stage, you can change the subject to whatever you want to talk about, before there is any reason to lie.  A lie is told when the liar finds himself in a corner, nowhere to go.  The truth leads to an electric shock, a lie might get you off without the voltage going through you.  The trapped rat chooses option two, sometimes avoids the sting of electricity.  My father mastered the art of never finding himself in a corner.  No corner trap, no real urgency to lie.  He was very good at reframing every argument to quickly turn it back on the person he was trying to cow.

You can say, big man, reframing and gaslighting his own kids!, and sure, when my sister was seven and I was nine, it looked pitiful enough to see this brilliant adult using sophisticated tools to argue his children into submission.  He did the same when we were twenty, thirty and forty.   I eventually went to law school, in a misguided attempt to do something to please the unpleasable old man, and only after graduating and passing the bar did I fairly easily beat him into silence during our last argument, about two years before he died.

But, check this out, if you lack the adroit mind of my father, and find yourself in a heated no-holds-barred argument with someone in command of the facts, with a clear memory of events, who cuts through your rationales quickly and decisively, you will likely feel cornered.   The first line of defense might be just reflexive defensiveness:  no, you say I hurt you, but you hurt me, that’s why I did it, because you hurt me, you merciless fuck!    A second line, change the subject, to anything.  Why are you still talking about this when I’m now talking about that?   See, you won’t talk about what I want to talk about, what I need.   HOW ABOUT WHAT I need?!!!!  You selfish fuck.

If the relentless argument continues, and the attempts at reframing, misdirection, gaslighting and everything else are not working, you find yourself in a corner and there is only one card left: lying.  What you said I said I never said and even if I had said it it was only because of what you said, but you are lying, I never said that!   In fact, I remember exactly why I said it and I was completely right to say it, even though I never said it!

In the end, one party can shake its head sadly, regarding the liar with a shaming expression on its face.  “Dude, at least I never fucking lied to you…”

The person who lied, if humiliated enough to lie and then be caught in the lie, and, the ultimate shame, being name-called a liar?   They’re not going to be arguing with you ever again.   Neither are they going to do you any more favors, or laugh at your jokes, or invite you to dinner or take any chance of a repeat of the horrific shit that just happened, even though you were completely wrong and they never lied, and, even if they did, it was your fault for backing them into that corner of the cage and putting the electrodes on them, and what trapped rat wouldn’t lie under those merciless conditions, you sick fuck?

My father never found himself in this position, never had to bend the truth at all, because he was a master at his craft.  He never found himself cornered.   To him, lying during a conflict was contemptible, it showed you had no fucking game. 

So, during our long, senseless war, I accepted his perverse gentlemen’s agreement:  we fight to the death, and that’s the way it has to be, but we will not consciously lie to each other during our fight to the death.   I shook on that deal, for better or worse.

Conflict as zero sum

It is the hallmark of a certain kind of person to see all conflict as zero sum, win/lose, an existential fight to the death. Most people, who experience conflict as just part of life, know that with sufficient goodwill conlict can almost always be resolved. Unless you see all conflict as a deadly threat to yourself.

If you know somebody who has no skill at resolving conflict, you can avoid tension with them as much as possible by remaining mild, but understand that one day, if conflict arises between you, there will be no solution outside of the end of the relationship.

This limited view of the world, seeing any kind of conflict, no matter how minor, as a deadly threat and compromise as fatal, pathetic, weakness, cannot be overcome by your understanding, your patience, your love, your friendship, your own willingness to compromise. This type sees compromise as surrender, cowardly capitulation, abject submission, humiliation.

When they do apologize to you (to end the conflict immediately, without further discussion) it will be with restrictions, caveats, qualifications and the need to make you understand that they are only apologizing because you are weak, not because they did anything that hurt you, something that would have hurt them .

Once you see an inability to resolve conflict or compromise, know the score. You are dealing with somebody who has no idea how to work out conflicts with others. It may feel like your fault because you can’t fix something that should otherwise be relatively simple to work out, but after you’ve done everything possible to make amends, and the implacability remains, time to walk away.

That walk will be the best thing you can do for yourself, unbearably sad as it also feels when you take those first steps away from someone you have long cared about.

Instantly age 25 years!

I have been moving toward surgery to replace my ailing left knee joint.  It has been a slow lurch, after years of increasing physical limitation, and the next step is to meet with a surgeon and set up the surgery.  Meanwhile, I am doing PT and trying to choose a surgeon, basically blind.  The two who were highly recommended do not seem to accept Medicare’s discounted payment.  

Last night, after a leisurely walk of about a mile, during which I spent most of that time resting on benches along my little circular route, I went out for a last bit of air.  Called Sekhnet and one minute into the call found myself suddenly falling, my right knee, the one that has been bearing most of the weight for a long time, suddenly deciding to send me an urgent message.  The knee said “fuck you, I’ve been doing most of the fucking heavy lifting and weight bearing here for a long time, and the burden on me gets heavier and heavier as you fret about your ‘bad’ knee and its thousand dollar brace.  How’s this for a bad knee, you merciless, heedless fuck?”   With that the knee simply folded as I extended it to shift my weight onto it, without so much as a “watch out, fucker!”

I fell so suddenly that my head hit the pavement, just above the left eye, with a bounce on the side of my nose.  I saw the stars you see in a cartoon when somebody gets cracked in the skull, bright white stars with exclamation points.   Luckily I didn’t break my head, or even my nose. My left hand, the guitar fretting hand, took the brunt of the impact, as did my left knee and several ribs on the left side.  Fucking hell.   Managed to make it to a nearby stoop where I sat and took stock of my injuries.  Luckily, nothing seemed to be broken.  The limp back to my place was painful as hell, the right leg weak, wobbly and inflamed with every step, the skinned left knee cap making its distres known.  Up two flights of stairs, which took a bit longer than usual, but not awful.

Bag of frozen peas on my barked left knee cap, with my left hand on top, swaddled in ice.  Took two extra strength tylenols,  sat back in my easy chair.  The pain mercifully yielded as I spoke to Sekhnet, reassured her that I was OK, and took a call from an old friend who gave his two cents about concussion protocol.  The idea of a seven hour wait Saturday night at my local Emergency Room didn’t appeal to me, I wasn’t dizzy, hadn’t been knocked out, my vision was fine, my speech wasn’t slurred.  In yer proverbial abundance of caution Sekhnet came by and picked me up, took me to the farm to observe me and take me to a hospital if I suddenly took an ominous turn.

Slept OK, much to my surprise.  Woke up today feeling twenty-five years older than I did when I woke up yesterday.  Fucking hell.   Will be wearing my knee brace and walking with the cane until I can get the knee operation worked out.  You betcha.

Bill Barr on the Mueller investigation

17 seconds of Donald Trump’s former gunsel, Bagpiper Bill Barr, describing “one of the greatest travesties in American history” as he appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the oringes of Trump’s confident insistence that he never fucking did anything wrong in his life, in spite of all the sick, dangerous haters who blame him for everything.

Barr is the same corrupt pile of shit who insisted that mail-in voting obviously was an invitation to massive election fraud (during the lead up to the 2020 election). He testified that there was good reason to believe that Obama had spied on Trump during his campaign. He told a law enforcement crowd that Black Americans had better start respecting the police if they expected the protection of the completely non-racist American police force.

So not only a corruptly lying sack of shit, but a racist corruptly lying sack of shit.

A short summary of Barr’s career as the MAGA Attorney General.

Durham and Barr — totally unweaponized

The New York Times, as it sometimes does, broke an important investigative report detailing a stunning bit of MAGA ethics under Attorney General Bill Barr, who appointed, and worked closely with, a Special Counsel to investigate the investigators who had found 140 incidents of coordination between the Trump campaign and Putin, as well as ample evidence of Trump’s actions to obstruct that investigation.

Barr set out to prove that the oringes of Mueller’s investigation were corrupt, a “deep state” conspiracy of career DOJ employees hatched out of the fever dreams of contemptible libtard cucks. He used the full weight of Trump’s DOJ to create an ongoing propaganda coup that could be amplified nightly on Fox News, OANN, Newsmax, Breitbart, Facebook, Twitter, Der Stürmer, etc, in the lead up to the 2020 election.

Remember the first order of business in the MAGA House of Representatives after their recent Red Wave mandate, a nine vote majority in a 435 member body — cut funding to the Office of Congressional Ethics. Then a quick rules change to get a couple of the Democratic members off the bipartisan committee and make it harder to have a quorum to conduct any business in the office of ethics. So far so good.

Then leave it to the Communist, Marxist, Socialist, fascist New York Times to uncover how Bill Barr and his fellow deeply conservative, Catholic, 72 year-old culture warrior, John Durham, worked closely to leave no stone unturned in trying to vindicate Donald Trump’s total victimhood in the baseless, partisan Mueller probe.

How Barr’s Quest to Find Flaws in the Russia Inquiry Unraveled

WASHINGTON — It became a regular litany of grievances from President Donald J. Trump and his supporters: The investigation into his 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia was a witch hunt, they maintained, that had been opened without any solid basis, went on too long and found no proof of collusion.

Egged on by Mr. Trump, Attorney General William P. Barr set out in 2019 to dig into their shared theory that the Russia investigation likely stemmed from a conspiracy by intelligence or law enforcement agencies. To lead the inquiry, Mr. Barr turned to a hard-nosed prosecutor named John H. Durham, and later granted him special counsel status to carry on after Mr. Trump left office.

But after almost four years — far longer than the Russia investigation itself — Mr. Durham’s work is coming to an end without uncovering anything like the deep state plot alleged by Mr. Trump and suspected by Mr. Barr.

Moreover, a monthslong review by The New York Times found that the main thrust of the Durham inquiry was marked by some of the very same flaws — including a strained justification for opening it and its role in fueling partisan conspiracy theories that would never be charged in court — that Trump allies claim characterized the Russia investigation.


The Age of Narcissism

I read a fascinating book, at my sister’s recommendation, Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven.  It is an exploration of the Mormon faith, framed by a grisly murder two devout, fringe Mormons committed after one of them got a revelation from God that the two victims (his wife and daughter) had to be “removed.”   The book explores the hazy boundary between true religious inspiration and justicially cognizable insanity. 

At one point the lawyers for the murderer are making an argument to keep him from the death penalty.  The lawyer tells the court that someone who has suffered severe early life injury to their self-esteem sometimes compensates by becoming grandiose.  When this happens the person has an overriding need to believe that they are superior, special, perfect, beautiful — on pain of feeling humiliatingly inferior, worthless, fatally flawed and ugly —  and constructs a black and white world view accordingly.  The condition the lawyer claimed had disabled his client is called Narcissism.

It was an illuminating insight to me, since I’d long struggled against my father’s black and white worldview (a severely limiting view he lamented greatly as he was dying) but never made the connection to what I knew about narcissism.  In order to feel superior, you must subordinate others, blame them for your incapacities. 

A person who has not suffered enough shame to become a narcissist can admit a mistake, take blame for a thoughtless and hurtful thing they’ve done, sincerely apologize.  For a narcissist, these things are almost impossible, since it makes them feel terrifyingly worthless, vulnerable and deserving of not being loved.

What I realized recently, having had an otherwise exemplary father (another recent realization that surprised me, how much valuable parenting my father also did, how much better he did than was done to him) who was narcissistic, is that many of my oldest friends were also narcissists.

I knew I’d been attracted to very smart, sardonic, darkly funny, damaged people (as I myself am), knew that they resembled my father in key ways, knew I was trying to work out problems with him through surrogates.

Having the frame “narcissist” suddenly made a lifetime of conflicts with this same type understandable to me.  The end of each of these friendships was inevitable once conflict began to escalate, I see now. 

The connection I had with my father was far deeper than with anyone I met and became longtime friends with, a final split with Irv was always unthinkable to me, and in the end, my painful work in therapy paid off in us being able to have an important, candid chat, finally, hours before he died.   The mutually blessed talk that last night of his life came about because I understood the awful hand he’d been dealt and realized he’d truly done the best he could, as I kept reassuring him as he whipped himself over having been “a horse’s ass” for his whole life. 

We’re living in the Age of Narcissism, it seems to me.  A zero-sum game composed of only absolute winners and contemptible losers, where one side plays for keeps and the moral qualms of the other side are easily weaponized for use against them.   My new personal stake in it, how it shaped my life now that I see my father was largely this way (though, of course, with a capacity for self-reflection and self-criticism missing from most narcissists, plus a great sense of humor) and being vilified by people who profess to love me, has made me grapple with the larger issue of autocracy/democracy on a visceral level.   

It’s easy to recognize in someone like Donald Trump the malignant narcissist, someone so obviously and deeply damaged that their only survival mechanism is belief in an absurdly comical superiority.  When this claimed superiority is treated as the grotesque comedy it truly is, these folks, seeing the world as zero-sum and kill or be killed, have no hesitation to do whatever they feel they need to do to prove they are not worthless, weak, pathetic victims. 

They all want to be “strongmen.”  A psychiatrist who worked with violent felons in prison wrote “every act of violence is an attempt to replace humiliation with self-esteem.”  We all know what these types are capable of, and will do if given the chance (look at Putin, destroying the archive that commemorated WWII war crimes on all sides and unleashing legions of raping mercenaries to execute civilians).

Anyway, not to go down the dark, apocalyptic fascism-on-the-global rise rabbit hole.  Just to say that I feel my personal learnings, coming sharply into focus during this last hellish year with my old friends, help shine a light for me on the larger forces, the narcissistic, arrogant, mediocre, insanely influential sons and grandsons of wealthy sociopaths:  D. Trump, C. Koch, E. Musk, J. Kushner et al.