Echoes of Disturbing Issues from Childhood

My father, pursued to his deathbed by what he referred to as his demons, suffered unimaginable abuse as an infant that he was never able to heal from. He told me as much as he was dying. “My life was pretty much over by the time I was two,” he said, by way of opening our last conversation, on the last night of his life.

At that point I knew exactly what the man whose fluids were draining into a bag on the side of his hospital bed was talking about, but only because I’d spent literally decades puzzling out the painful secret he guarded to his death. His mother had been a violent, enraged, religious fanatic who literally whipped him in the face from the time he could stand. A light suddenly went on in a dark room when I learned this.

I can hear his voice now, saying what he couldn’t when he was alive and frantic to stay just ahead of the demons that drove him to act in ways he’d regret while dying. “You don’t recover from that kind of betrayal, Elie. How do you come back from a mother who treats you as a despicable enemy from your earliest memory, from before you could even talk to her?” I’m not sure I know the answer to that question, though it is worth pondering.

Whenever I raise my voice to Sekhnet, or otherwise show frustration (something I am sadly prone to), she immediately reacts with pain. She feels unfairly under attack like she did as a girl, and I understand this.

My nastiness immediately triggers painful childhood feelings from a childhood that was harsh in certain ways. All I can do is try to always be aware of this trigger and not react in a way that hits it, a great challenge in a matter of reflex. Making matters harder, my facial expression alone will pull the trigger, even if I manage to keep my mouth mostly shut. I can only apologize when I provoke this pain in her and try better to not do it the next time. My apologies, no matter how instant or sincere, only offer so much consolation, I have learned.

I don’t mean to sound like a sniveler, but disturbing issues from childhood remain for many of us, most of us, I suspect, to the end of our lives. We do our best to be aware of and overcome them for the sake of those we love, it’s the best we can do.

The subject of childhood pain is either tedious or fascinating, to be avoided or delved into, depending on your tolerance for a certain kind of discomfort and your need for a certain kind of clarity. It is tricky, emotionally fraught terrain dotted with patches of quicksand.

There is a term for constant self-punishing brooding on painful feelings from the past, rumination. There is even a psychological disorder for those addicted to this form of self-flagellation, Obsessive Rumination Disorder:

Rumination is focused on past events. It is a preoccupation with perceived mistakes, losses, slights, actions taken or not taken, opportunities forever lost. The feelings associated with obsessive rumination are guilt, regret, anger and envy.

(two second google search: what is obsessive rumination disorder?)

Here’s a short piece on the dangers of rumination and tips on how to overcome the worst of it, and lift ourselves out of it, by a guy with the incomparable name of Guy Winch.

The harm of repeatedly chewing over and reliving past hurt, churning pain you can do nothing about, is not hard to see. The difference between torturing oneself with guilt, regret, anger and envy and thinking about and learning from past pain, moving toward healthier reactions, not remaining stuck in negative cycles for reasons you can’t see or grasp, becoming a more self-aware and kind person, is not as easy to see sometimes.

Our past experience, of course, is the lens through which we view everything. More crucially, it is the filter through which we feel everything. I see this paragraph from today’s news and am struck (by the part I’ve put in bold) by an immediate painful feeling straight out of my own childhood, beyond my adult horror at the larger meaning of this news item:

Judge Amy Coney Barrett would be Trump’s third appointee to the Supreme Court and the sixth conservative justice on the bench. During her Senate hearing, she refused to state her position on abortion rights, gay marriage, the Affordable Care Act, voting rights, climate change, family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border and presidential powers in relation to the elections.


Not answering specific, troubling questions by authoritatively turning the conversation away from reasonable, concerns, was a specific technique my adversarial father deployed frequently. I found myself on the short end of this technique over and over during my childhood and well into my adult life.

This move is the complete negation of the rights of the other, a calm, unappealable pronouncement that the thing you are so concerned about is of no legitimate concern whatsoever. It dismisses your concern as the unreasonable product of your own shortcomings.

It seems clear that a Supreme Court nominee should be able to state, without hesitation, that armed people at the polls intimidating voters is against the law, is, in fact, a felony in many, if not most, states. There is no political point of view expressed in stating the black letter law in answer to a direct legal question — this behavior, though endorsed by the incumbent president, violates rights guaranteed by the Constitution, as well as federal statute. It is a crime to interfere with a fellow citizen’s right to vote, by intimidating them or in any other way (not authorized by a superseding state law.)

This carefully vetted zealot nominee, about to become a sixth unappealable vote in the 6-3 majority to suppress anti-Trump votes (with or without legal justification [1]), refused to state her position even on this simple, important matter of voter intimidation on behalf of a president who exhorts violent resistance to “Democrat tyrrany” and vows to protect his followers from legal consequences. Instead of a straightforward answer to an uncomplicated legal question, Coney Barrett reserves all judicial options by standing on the absurd claim that she’d need, in a fact-specific situation, to consult with her interns and fellow legal scholars before deciding how to answer. She adds, in the politest possible tone, that the people asking such questions are simply partisans intent on “borking” her perfectly legal and proper nomination.

There are many reasons to be disturbed by the powerlessness many of us, a large majority of Americans, feel at the brazen and unstoppable bit of cynicism of appointing another extremist justice to cement a 6-3 right wing majority just days before an election she’ll have a vote on deciding, on behalf of democracy-averse corporations and reactionary billionaires. Add to this disturbance, in my case, a painful personal reminder of an ongoing childhood torment.

Here is the important distinction between what I always try to do and being stuck in the self-harming cycle of reliving pain from the past that psychologists call rumination. I recognize that there is a painful, personal echo in this news item for me. I can put my finger on it. I understand its harmfulness precisely. It does not send me into a spiral of negative thoughts from the past.

There is plenty negative and abusive about McConnell and company’s ugly, unprincipled move (several prominent votes in the 51-49 majority to rush Coney Barrett on to the bench took a “principled” stand, in 2016, against the very thing they are rushing to do now), days before a highly contested election, without this particular feature that strikes me so hard.

This refusal to address important concerns is one particularly personal component of this outrage for me, one I feel in my body and I understand why it strikes me that way. It’s as they say: the personal is political. It reminds me again how crucial it is for me not to do this hateful thing to people I care about.

It’s all we have when the going gets tough — the understanding of what hurts us the most, the desire not to inflict it on others and the knowledge that our concerns will not be brushed aside by the people closest to us.

We are living through historically tough times now, with the active message delivered over and over by our own government that hundreds of thousands of unnecessary American deaths, and untold deprivation, fear, hunger and other suffering, is the appropriate price of liberty, for certain powerful, unaccountable forces in our nation.

You can only look at the calculated ugliness of this and countless related daily outrages for so long, before you begin to lose hope, feeling, desire to even fight it. That is part of the deliberate design of overwhelming government-sponsored brutality like this– to emotionally dominate its victims beyond their power to resist. Resist we must, of course.

It is understandable that few, if any of us, are at our best in this disorienting moment of multi-faced crisis. It is plain that there are different styles of coping with the present horrors as they continue to unfold with such mind-numbing monotony. We all find our own ways to remain sane and hopeful, to balance the need for information and the need for relief from the assault of deliberate misinformation.

Tolerance for our differences is more important than ever. Only by hearing and understanding each other’s concerns is there any chance of emerging from this awful moment with our full humanity intact. Patience for the foibles of others is much harder under these worst of circumstances, when we are on each others’ nerves, locked up in small, isolated groups during these fearful days, granted. For that reason patience is even more needed. The reward for patience and fortitude is proportionately greater in scary, disorienting times like these.


The emergency ruling Kavanaugh authored in April, overturning two lower courts to prevent the expansion of voting in Wisconsin during the pandemic (with Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s short, sparkling, crystal clear dissent), was one of many recent un-argued eleventh emergency rulings by the Supreme Court. Unsurprisingly:

The Trump administration has been a major contributor to the trend, Professor Vladeck wrote, having filed 36 emergency applications in its first three and a half years. By contrast, the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama filed just eight such applications over 16 years.


A Note from 1968

In 1968, while the “bully Barrs,” teenaged William Barr, his older brother and his two younger brothers, were pugnacious young conservatives in liberal New York City, sneering at and tangling with anti-war protesters (while, of course, not themselves serving in the war they supported [1]), a landmark government study of systemic American racism came out. This is from a recent op-ed in the New York Times entitled What the Tumultuous Year 1968 Can Teach Us About Today:

In late February 1968, the REPORT OF THE NATIONAL ADVISORY COMMISSION ON CIVIL DISORDERS indicted structural racism as the underlying cause of the terrible riots that had stretched from Watts in 1965 to Newark in 1967. “What white Americans have never fully understood — but what the Negro can never forget — is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto,” the commission, led by the Illinois governor Otto Kerner and the New York City mayor John V. Lindsay, said. “White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it and white society condones it.”


“What white Americans have never fully understood — but what the Negro can never forget — is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto.”

This 1968 conclusion seems pretty self-evident, still sickeningly true more than fifty years later, in spite of the relentless “culture war” being fought by reactionaries who insist history is not what it may appear to be, that America’s real problem is irrationally angry protesters who need to be controlled by a strong police anti-riot response.

This society, like others around the world, was at a turning point as in 1968. Several strategic assassinations did their part to silence powerful voices and hobble the movement for needed social change. Power yields nothing without a struggle, as Frederick Douglass observed during the fight to abolish slavery here. Martin Luther King, Jr. put forth the argument (fatal for him) that racism, poverty and militarism are inextricably intertwined, three faces of the same monster.

As the Barrs were confronting and menacing hippie-types, the Kerner Commission found basically the same institutional forces that King had described. The far-right push against integration and full rights of citizenship for every American was already well underway by 1968, and the forces that would become more and more dominant over the years of Reagan, Clinton, Bush, etc.– and have become ascendant in the Republican party of today — was a tireless multigenerational push. Barr among the determined underdogs pushing hard for his point of view, from his earliest years, apparently.

Donald Trump is a racist and he doesn’t care to hide it, even as he brags (in the manner of the best racists everywhere) that he’s the “least racist person” anybody’s ever met. I don’t know if William Pelham Barr is a racist. It doesn’t really matter. Barr insists there’s no institutional racism in the United States, that very few unarmed blacks are killed by police, that blacks should show respect for the police if they expect protection, that militant anti-fascists are the real threat in America, not the armed gangs of white supremacists the FBI confirms have killed numerous Americans, as well as plotting organized terroristic violence against elected officials.

For a quick peek at Barr’s continual role in the “Culture War”, here’s a snapshot of Barr at work, from 1992. During his first stint as Attorney General he authored a widely criticized report called:

The Case for More Incarceration

In 1992, Barr authored a report, The Case for More Incarceration,[42] which argued for an increase in the United States incarceration rate, the creation of a national program to construct more prisons, and the abolition of parole release.[4] Barr argued that incarceration reduced crime, pointing to crime and incarceration rates in 1960, 1970, 1980 and 1990.

A 1999 criminology study criticized Barr’s analysis, saying “so complex an issue as the relationship between crime and punishment cannot be addressed through so simplistic an analysis as a negative correlation between the two very aggregated time series of crime rates and incarceration rates.”[43] 

University of Minnesota criminologist Michael Tonry said the data in Barr’s report was deceptively presented; if Barr had chosen five-year intervals, then the data would not have supported Barr’s argument, and if Barr had chosen to look at violent crime specifically (as opposed to all crimes as a category), then the data would not have supported his argument.[44]

Barr said in the report, “The benefits of increased incarceration would be enjoyed disproportionately by black Americans”.[44] In the report, Barr approvingly quoted New Mexico Attorney General Hal Stratton, “I don’t know anyone [who] goes to prison on their first crime. By the time you go to prison, you are a pretty bad guy.”[45] Barr’s report influenced the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which aimed to increase the incarceration rate.[4]


I can picture the smug satisfaction on his big, provocative, culture warrior face as he typed “the benefits of increased incarceration would be enjoyed disproportionately by black Americans.” Enjoyed, you understand, in the always fresh sense of extreme right-wing humor, illustrated by the Arbeit Macht Frei (“Work Liberates”) sign over the gates of a death camp where slave laborers were worked to death by corporations who signed on for the great labor deal.

Here is a brief summary of some of Barr’s early work for Mr. Trump (from October 2019). It includes Barr’s official attempt to squash the “urgent and credible” whistleblower complaint that would eventually lead to his client’s impeachment.

Barr essentially dismissed the findings of the two-year-long Mueller investigation. Barr has supported measures that could lead to the indefinite detention of asylum seekers. He has apparently approved administration officials’ refusal to comply with congressional subpoenas. And lately, according to the Washington Post, Barr has been meeting with espionage officials from foreign governments, “seeking their help in a Justice Department inquiry that President Trump hopes will discredit U.S. intelligence agencies’ examination” of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential contest—a sign that Trump and Barr may be using “executive branch powers to augment investigations aimed primarily at the president’s adversaries.”

Amid this convulsion, Barr made headlines in September when it turned out that his Justice Department had downgraded a whistle-blower’s report, initially keeping it out of the loop that would have allowed Congress to review it. The complaint accused the president of potentially impeachable offenses, including a possible threat to withhold military aid to Ukraine unless the country’s leader began an investigation that might dig up dirt on Trump’s political opponent, Joe Biden. The whistle-blower’s account, which was deemed “urgent” and “credible” by the intelligence community’s Trump-appointed inspector general, alleged that the president had urged his Ukrainian counterpart to coordinate an internal Biden probe with Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and Attorney General William Barr.


The lines in New York City for early voting are hours long. Sekhnet got to her polling place almost two hours before the polls opened today, and waited twenty minutes to get in. The line was many blocks longer when she left the polling place the wait hours longer. Bring a book, some things to listen to, a folding chair, water. Waiting to vote is a one time inconvenience.

These motherfuckers have to go. It is long past time.


I don’t know for certain that no other bully Barr served in Vietnam, though I highly doubt any did. For his part, William Pelham Barr told senators, during his confirmation hearing to become Trump’s replacement Attorney General, that he hadn’t registered for the draft in 1968, the year he turned 18. He later wrote to the ranking members of the committee, to correct the record, explaining, with his trademark candor and reasonableness, that he “initially told lawmakers he had not registered because he is now too old for compulsory military service.” You know, and also, there hasn’t been a draft, or compulsory military service here in the USA, in many years.


A little history for young people, and a bit of consolation in a worst case scenario (attempt to outright steal the election)

To anyone who came of political age during the last four years, kids in High School, young adults — it was not always like this in our country. There were once two political parties, flawed and unresponsive to the needs of millions of citizens, that were forced to work together and compromise to solve major problems. Today there is only sickening partisan warfare between the parties. This ugly situation has a long and winding history, it is not of Mr. Trump’s making, though he exploits it every day and is the present provocative face of it.

In a post-Trump America, there will be a lot of work to be done, and millions of us will have to be willing to do it, but the division in our nation was not this grim or menacing (not since the eve of the Civil War) and it will be better going forward. It has to. The pendulum of history swings, with agonizing slowness sometimes, but it does swing, based on what millions organize to no longer tolerate.

At the risk of sounding like the didactic old bastard I am, a few examples, a little perspective for those too young to remember anything other than what you see on your phone every day.

Then at least one concrete reason to be optimistic, even in a worst case scenario (for concerned citizens of all ages).

A little history:

In the past there would be no controversy, spread by the president himself, and amplified by loyal spokespeople, about proven safety precautions during a deadly pandemic or the need to marshal the federal government to provide guidance and protective equipment.

Only a party that had shut down the government three times in less than four years would refuse to pass a law to help millions of citizens from falling into poverty after jobs disappear, to prevent an epidemic of homelessness during a raging pandemic that has already killed almost a quarter of a million Americans. At one time a government shutdown was only employed by reckless political bomb-throwers. Now it is a regular annual tactic of the ruling minority-supported party, used to twist arms during budget talks by making the populace suffer.

In a more reasonable age there would be no controversy about the driving force behind the sharp annual increase in killer storms, the looming (and visible) climate catastrophe that only fanatics and fools can ignore. The president and his administration would not normally withdraw from a worldwide agreement to slow the warming of the earth while it denounced the other leaders and the world’s top climate scientists as bunch of job-killing, freedom-hating liberal stooges (and worse). No previous president would mock young climate activists as “terrorists” and crybabies.

Americans never woke up every day to see the headline “the president attacked (insert name here).” American presidents, even the most divisive ones, rarely attacked anyone. No American president would ever call the government infectious disease specialist who’d been heading his pandemic task force “a disaster” for not backing him in his absurd claims that nobody could have done a better job controlling the outbreak than the leader of the nation with the worst infection and death numbers in the world.

Few elected officials would fail to condemn racism or remain coy about an influential “theory” that holds that Democrats and Hollywood elites are satanist, child-raping, blood-drinking cannibals. “I know they feel very strongly against pedophilia,” is something no past president would ever have said by way of his complete response to a question about an insane and widespread conspiracy theory.

You would not see a case in the Supreme Court to abolish a health insurance program that protects tens of millions of Americans from death due to inability to pay for medical care, particularly not during a pandemic. A program the right continually tried to repeal (and missed by one Senate vote when John McCain gave the president a famous thumbs down) since it became law almost a decade ago. The president is currently in court trying to end his predecessor’s government supervised insurance expansion program that he and his party have no plan to replace. During a deadly pandemic. They simply, and sincerely, don’t give a rat’s ass about average Americans dying.

A Supreme Court nominee, being rushed through on a 51-49 party-line vote, literally the week before the election, would not refuse to answer a simple question of law like “is voter intimidation illegal?” She would not gracefully but forcefully demur on the question of whether she’d recuse herself from deciding a 2020 presidential election case, based on an outright hoax (massive voter fraud). The appearance of impropriety — the standard for recusal– is certainly strong, as she’d be a likely vote to in favor of the demagogue who is rushing through her confirmation so she can rule on that exact question and keep him in office, (regardless of the will of the electorate).

None of this shit is normal, boys and girls, though it is the NEW NORMAL, for the moment. Part of how we got here is that an extremely wealthy minority, employing some brilliant and unprincipled operatives, organized, and funded with a shit ton of money, a vast network of often secret influence machines, to achieve policy goals the majority of Americans oppose. The extreme right has fought a highly successful fight against what they see as Majoritarian Tyranny in which government itself is the enemy. Bill Moyers interviews investigative journalist Anne Nelson who lays a good deal of this operation out in discussing her book Shadow Network [1].

Here is a great discussion on the far right’s long, winning battle for control of the federal judiciary and the Supreme Court. Here’s a bit of the background about how ideologically committed Supreme Court nominees have learned to refuse to commit to any judicial, legal or philosophical position whatsoever.

You may have heard of a federal judge named Robert Bork, a haughtily opinionated, very conservative man, nominated by Ronald Reagan, who got “borked” and was not confirmed for a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court. “Borking” is making a potential lifetime appointee to the unappealable Supreme Court unequivocably answer specific questions about his or her judicial record and political philosophy. After hearing those answers from a contentious nominee (think of Antonin Scalia, but openly ill-tempered and without the wit or personality of the original “Originalist”), most Democrats and six Republicans voted against his confirmation. The rejection of Bork, his “borking”, was bipartisan. Reagan’s next nominee, a much less objectionable candidate named Anthony Kennedy, was confirmed unanimously. Those plain facts were not allowed to stand in the way of the handy radical right-wing foundational grievance myth that Bork was unfairly “borked” by Democratic partisans who viciously challenged him left and right.

Here’s a snapshot of our nation today in two titles from the Op Ed section.

Here are three winning “Democratic” ideas (I can’t read David Brooks, so I picked just three obvious ones).

In democracy, every eligible voter must be allowed to vote. The candidate who gets more votes wins.

The federal government must protect all citizens in case of disaster.

When there is demonstrated foreign interference in an American election, electoral vulnerabilities must be quickly and aggressively fixed.

In democracy, rule by the People, the will of the citizens is expressed by voting for representatives who act on our behalf. An open debate on policy ideas followed by widespread voting are hallmarks of a healthy democracy. Democrats support this idea, the president’s party rejects it, sponsoring laws that make voting more difficult in every state they control, bringing court cases to restrict voting in “swing states” they do not outright control, challenging every rule that allows freer access to voting. The conservative Supreme Court, 5-4, recently cut the heart out of the Voting Rights Act– and most Red states immediately enacted legislation to make it harder for certain classes of citizens to vote.

The federal government represents all of the people of the nation, it goes without saying. The federal government is the guarantor of all of the rights of citizenship enumerated in the Constitution. When a natural disaster strikes, the federal government moves in quickly to help. It does not dispense aid according to which party the majority of an area voted for. It doesn’t force zero-sum competition between the states for urgently needed supplies. It doesn’t punish jurisdictions run by one party or the other. It doesn’t have an idiot spokesman, like the manifestly unqualified Jared Kushner, nonsensically piping up that the federal stockpiles of supplies needed to halt the spread of a pandemic are “ours” and not for the states.

One last big Democratic idea, then a word about Ayn Rand.

The Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee released a five volume report that confirmed what Robert Mueller’s investigation, and a House investigation, found, and what every intelligence agency concluded — Russia sweepingly and systematically interfered in the 2016 election to get Donald Trump elected.

Idea: pass legislation and implement policies to prevent a repeat in 2020. Biden missed a great opportunity at the last debate to mention that Mitch McConnell has blocked even debate on all such measures. McConnell did this as nonchalantly as he vowed to work with Trump’s defense team during the impeachment, to allow neither a witness nor evidence to be presented at the “trial”.

From McConnell’s power-first point of view, why should he? Russia interfered to help his candidate, his party. He’s got a 51-49 majority, why would he do anything to interfere with what promises to be much more sophisticated Russian interference on behalf of his president’s reelection? That would just be stupid.

Ayn Rand was a politically radical novelist, an emigre from the Soviet Union. Her novels were written in service to her feverishly anti-Communist worldview. The individual, she believed, was far more important than any notion of the collective — and the protagonists of her massive novels were living examples (so to speak) of this essential concept. Socialism, she preached in her passionate, metaphorical works of fiction, was the enemy of personal greatness. She fled from a totalitarian state, so her point of view is understandable. But not as a coherent political philosophy.

In the real world Ayn Rand’s “philosophy” is Social Darwinism, the perverse notion that it is the absolute natural right of someone with the might to take from the weak whatever they want. Reading Ayn Rand’s gigantic books qualified former Republican House leader Paul Ryan as a Republican intellectual. Her novels were treated by the right as expressions of inviolable universal truth, in the same way religious people venerate their holy books. Put into practice, you get a very ugly society where the weak can go fuck off and die.

A reason for hope, in one of the worst case scenarios for a contested election:

Even if Trump loses the election by a wide margin, and manages to get his many legal challenges, based on widespread election fraud he cannot prove (since evidence of such fraud has never been produced) up to the Supreme Court, and the 6-3 ruling ties up the Electoral College vote and throws the matter into the House of Representatives to decide on a one vote per state basis (a scenario he brought up the other day) — check this out.

Trump correctly stated that, under the current composition of the majority Democratic House of Representative, rendered one vote per state (as the twelfth amendment of the Constitution requires for resolving unresolved presidential elections) Republicans have a 26- 22 majority and so he’d still be president. Robert Reich points out in a neat little video that the House that would vote on this issue would not be the current House but the one in session after the 2020 election. Members of the new Congress would be sworn in on January 3, 2021 and would vote to decide the presidential election on January 6.

There was a big Democratic swing in 2018 when that party recaptured the House and that was before Mr. Trump’s botched pandemic response and an erratic campaign that will not win him many undecided voters. His attempt to stay in power after he loses the popular vote, and ties up the Electoral College with a 6-3 Supreme Court decision, with a favorable narrow House majority will hinge on Alaska and Montana (one representative, one vote each) remaining in his column, along with currently tied Pennsylvania (no vote) and virtually tied Florida (where three Republicans are retiring), and Michigan (Republican by one seat). If those states change column, majority rule in the USA will live to fight another day.

And fight we must, boys and girls.

[1] from the intro to the Moyers podcast:

What is the shadow network behind the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court? Who selected and groomed her for this moment? Who’s financing the campaign to get her confirmed? Who’s counting on her to side with President Trump if he’s losing the election and wants the Supreme Court to declare him the winner? For the answers, Bill Moyers talks to journalist and investigator Anne Nelson about her book: SHADOW NETWORK: MEDIA, MONEY, AND THE SECRET HUB OF THE RADICAL RIGHT.


The Challenge of Staying Human

Listening to a recent episode of the excellent Behind The Bastards podcast by Robert Evans, How Nice, Normal People Made the Holocaust Possible, I was struck again by how many regular, decent people merely go along to get along, try to keep their heads down, not make waves, get what they can from an unfair world. Yes, we reason, it’s bad to (insert the worst thing you can think of here) and we don’t support that, of course, but on the other hand (insert other hand here). Take rapper and actor “Fitty Cent”, he doesn’t condone the overt racism and divisiveness of President Trump, but he got a very generous tax break from the man, got to keep a bundle of his own money, so how can he say the man is all bad?

Nobody likes to admit that the party they support, the community they feel part of, does terrible things. We all consider ourselves good people who want the best for ourselves and our loved ones, the best for everyone. We are masters at justifying our actions, even hard to defend things we may do are done for the greater good. Robert Evans, a man fascinated by the lives of powerful bastards, gleefully mocks their justifications for being a piece of shit in every episode. The one I heard the other day focuses on the “little Nazis” who made Hiterlism possible, the millions of small, humble citizens, with no particular strong beliefs or philosophy, who supported the Nazi movement because, even if Mr. H’s rhetoric about the need to cleanse the world of Jews, Communists, Roma, etc. was a bit over the top, he was undeniably making Germany great again.

I woke up full of regret today, with the news of extremist Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination being voted out of committee in preparation for putting her in Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s recently vacated seat in time to rule on the legitimacy of the 2020 election, that I didn’t dedicate my life to investigative journalism, human rights advocacy, environmental activism, that I didn’t find a meaningful way to join with others of like mind, to step meaningfully into the fight against the destructive forces I hate. Fighting bullies in my own life, and working to become less angry and violent, were small, all-consuming battles that distracted me from the larger war going around all around me. I won’t dwell on any of that now, just put this out there today.

I heard someone recently cite the murder conviction and sentence of Lieutenant William Calley, for the killing of twenty-two Vietnamese civilians (among hundreds he and his men murdered that day), as an instance of American justice. For his war crime, the slaughter of an entire village of unarmed men, women and children, the American justice system sentenced him to life in prison [1]. With Nixon’s help, Calley was free after three years of house arrest.

When I was teaching elementary school a lifetime ago, I heard an inspirational educator tell this story at a teachers’ conference:

A young boy is walking down the beach at low tide. There are thousands of starfish washed up on the beach, slowly drying out, as far as the eye can see. The boy is picking up starfish and flinging them back into the ocean. A man shakes his head and says “you think you can save all these starfish? What difference does it make if you throw a few back?” The boy picks up another starfish, says “it makes a big difference to this guy” and tosses it back into the ocean.

This was a moral lesson to teachers, depressed about the impossibility of helping most of the students in their overcrowded, underfunded classrooms, reminding us that our efforts were not wasted. The Talmud states that saving one life is like saving the entire world, we can only do what we can do, our responsibility is to do the best we can for those we encounter. Our duty is to fight for good no matter how terrible the odds for success may be.

The Lieutenant Calley morality tale is kind of the starfish story in reverse. The rare case of temporary justice for a mass killer in uniform who orders his men to kill women and children and being put away for life — followed by the typical injustice of a politician freeing him to score political points with that good, decent Silent Majority who don’t think the murder of some anonymous gooks in some far off godforsaken hellhole means that a decent American boy’s life has to be destroyed [2].

We see, daily, that the president we have now is prepared to do far more dastardly things than even Mr. Nixon, to stay in power. To pluck one example by a starfish leg, he pardoned a Navy officer whose men turned him in for, among other things, torturing and killing a captive Iraqi teenager then posing for a photo with the corpse.

The massacre at My Lai, a war crime by any definition of the term, was at first covered up by the military. It only came to light because a helicopter pilot named Hugh Thompson and his crew, gunner Lawrence Colburn, and crew chief Glenn Andreotta, (who landed to stop the killings, risking their own lives) and a few dogged soldiers who could not unsee the horror they’d witnessed that day, including Army photographer Ronald Haeberle pushed ahead. Their cause was assisted by journalists, including Seymour Hirsch, who pressed to make the story public The scope and brutality of the atrocity was undeniable, it had been documented in real time in the photographs of GI war photographer Ronald Haeberle.

Vietnam veterans report that the massacre was one of many, perhaps hundreds, that took place during that misguided, un-winnable, depraved war. The slaughter at My Lai would have to stand in for all of them. In the fog of war, all kinds of nightmares play out all the time, that’s why they say “war is hell”. In more recent times, we’ve had a military whistle-blower tried as a spy and sentenced to a long prison term for disobeying orders to keep secret video of an American helicopter crew receiving permission to massacre civilians in Iraq. NOTHING TO SEE HERE.

Just two Ronald Haeberle photos [4], then, and another weak-ass reminder to get out to vote.

As my father, overwhelmed by his young son being so upset to learn about the murder of his own family back in Eastern Europe not many years earlier (in a manner quite similar to the slaughter in My Lai, actually), angrily said: THOSE PEOPLE WERE ABSTRACTIONS, NOBODY KNEW THEM, WE DON’T EVEN KNOW ANY OF THEIR NAMES!

A group of abstractions in My Lai, March 16, 1968, waiting to be killed:

A few moments later:


William Laws Calley Jr. is an American war criminal and a former United States Army officer convicted by court-martial for the premeditated killings of 22 unarmed South Vietnamese civilians in the Mỹ Lai massacre on March 16, 1968, during the Vietnam War. Wikipedia

[2] the reporter who got to know Calley during the trial writes:

There was nothing about Rusty Calley, as he was called, that would make you say that he was an explosion waiting to happen. He didn’t have killer instincts. He didn’t love guns. None of that was the case. He was a young guy from South Florida who loved being around people and going to parties. He was fun to be around. He was not the kind of guy who should be commanding other men in warfare, in my view. But he was probably not the only one out there like that, either.


[3] These photos, by soldier/war photographer Ron Haeberle, and the following, are from an article published in Time Magazine on the fiftieth anniversary of this notorious American war crime:

It was 50 years ago — on March 16, 1968 — that a group of American troops killed hundreds of civilians at the hamlet of My Lai, in what would become one of the most infamous atrocities of the Vietnam War. Months passed before the news of that event began to spread, and it would be years before anyone involved would face possible punishment. Though several of the men involved faced courts-martial, only one—1st Lieut. William Laws Calley Jr.—was ever convicted. He was found guilty in 1971 of murder and sentenced to life. (President Nixon changed Calley’s sentence to house arrest, and he served about three years. He apologized in 2009.)


Only 41 years between the mass murder and the apology, but he DID apologize! Here’s the motherfucker’s actual apology:

“There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai,” Calley told members of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Columbus on Wednesday. His voice started to break when he added, “I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry.”


Note the killer’s repeated use of the passive voice to distance himself from his own deliberate, atrocious actions “what happened that day in My Lai” and “Vietnamese who were killed” and “the American soldiers involved”. He did the best he could to express how sorry he was, as shown by his voice starting to break, but, seriously– fuck him.

Then have done to him what happened that day in My Lai, have him tortured him a bit, scalped, shot, once or twice in each hand and foot, a couple of times in each leg, and left in a ditch, with a sobbing infant clinging to him as he bleeds out.

This should go viral

pass it on, fits on a phone screen

from Democracy Now! ( which comes with this notice:

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

and another good one:

Little Rehearsals for Our Own Deaths

At a time when so many are dying around the world, and around our nation, from the pandemic, from hunger, by suicide, thoughts of death are closer than usual.

Death may be the beginning of the dead person’s embrace of eternity, I suppose, but it’s a high price to pay for that union. What’s left behind is the painful absence, forever, of that loved one. In a way, our mourning for those we love and lose contains an element of rehearsal for our own death. This secret, internal rehearsal is very hard for us to do, in a society dedicated, to an impressive extent, to the eternal denial of aging, death and dying.

I thought about these little rehearsals for our own deaths recently when I reluctantly took my leave of a friend I’d known since Junior High School. Losing this old friend felt like a kind of death, partly my own. A lifetime of shared experiences, personal references, little inside jokes, good will, great favors done for each other, erased as by death. Erased, rather, by an unwillingness, or inability, to do what needed to be done to continue a mutually beneficial friendship.

I’ll take my share of blame for the final death, and though my friend angrily concluded I’d been the unreasonable, cold-hearted aggressor, I did my best to avoid the silence that eventually had to come in the absence of empathy and understanding. I spent months taking him up on his offer to grapple with how to fix what had gone wrong in our friendship. When I laid out my side for him as clearly as I could, with as much patience and lack of blame as I could muster, he was hurt and angry about it. Your choice at that point becomes stark: eternal grievance and unresolvable fight or quiet. There’s enough angry noise in this mad world without it hissing from an always virtuous person who insists he can’t be hurtful because he’s your true friend — my former good friend surely agrees with that.

When someone we love dies, the pain we feel is universal. It’s hard to imagine a person who does not share this terrible clutching in the chest, or wherever one feels it, when someone he was close to is no more. Hard to picture a human being unmoved by a selected death, unless we dehumanize them, that is. Once the despised party is no longer seen as fully human, it’s much easier to imagine the worst. That’s what rabid partisanship is all about. If you’re the malicious type, the death of someone you despise can leave you feeling “good for them… only tragedy is that it didn’t happen sooner

I am about as far to the left on the political spectrum as I can imagine anyone being. It feels to me like the pull of liberalism, progressivism, socialism, whatever you want to call it, is toward mercy and inclusion. It aims to foster recognition of our common humanity, our unalienable equality and value as humans, the right of poor people to live with dignity. The magnetic pull of conservatism, autocracy, militarism is toward exclusion, protecting the privileges of the few, employing a punitive order that enforces divisions according to class, race, religion, nationality or, usually, a combination of those things. The right sees these divisions among people as natural and inevitable and the friction they cause as something best controlled by a well-armed police force and prison system.

Of course, someone on the political right will characterize the philosophical difference in reverse. Conservatives want to preserve freedom, decency, the value of hard work, free competition, justice, moral righteousness and so on. Liberals want to impose a kind of politically correct tyranny, giving away hard-earned money to reward lazy, corrupt people who refuse to compete on a level playing field. Liberals also don’t want to punish criminals, they want to “understand” them. And so on.

An animating belief of humanism is that our shared humanity can rise above any artificial divisions, given empathetic understanding. A very liberal writer, Jeanne Safer, gave a beautiful illustration of this in a book about seeing beyond partisan animus [1]. Her very religious, right-wing neighbor, a person with whom she shared almost no beliefs and few opinions, took her to chemotherapy every time she went, sat with her, brought her home, made sure she was comfortable, did her shopping. Her gratitude for this woman’s selfless kindness in her time of need made her appreciate the deep humanity of this undoubtedly good woman. She may vote for Trump, march in Right to Life rallies, believe homosexuals will burn in hell, but she has an undeniably generous heart on a personal level. Safer learned to cherish this wonderful heart, even as she disagreed with virtually everything else this neighbor was passionate about.

This, my friends, is a subtle fucking point well worth pondering in our troubled times.

It is a very difficult point to get a hold of during this nakedly partisan cold civil war we’re all living through. The stress acting on us daily is almost disablingly heavy, but the point is worth considering. People on the other side of every great question, people we write off as mindless partisan fucks, love their kids, take care of aged parents, would jump in front of a moving car to save a stranger’s toddler, watch videos of animals doing adorable things, to take their minds off the horrors we are all swimming in daily.

Part of the intent of keeping us all constantly at war with each other is to destroy this larger truth of our innate human connection to every other human. How many humans can kill a baby? Not many, I’d wager. Tribalism is one thing, and often a destructive one, but our common humanity, in the end, is the only thing that can save us and the planet we live on. Not easy, of course, not often seen, but urgently needed, going forward.

Looking at any history book it’s not hard to see the interests of the wealthiest (and generally most conservative) behind every war fought between average people. Poor people, young ones, from each combatant nation are indoctrinated against an enemy and sent to kill each other with the ultimate aim of making an elite group of rich, older ones, richer and more secure in their wealth. To understand war, follow the money, as they say.

And the horrible reality is that when the war sweeps through, there is no survival for the meek, no possible appeal to our higher nature. All bets are off when they come for you with machetes, guns, planes, flame throwers, mobile killing units. This is the nightmare scenario our species has lived, and perpetrated, over and over since before there was a system for recording these slaughters. In the world right now there are tens of millions displaced, people who ran from a meat-grinder that hacked up the unluckier, meeker members of their families, their community. Those who hid, cowered (not unreasonably!) and were caught are not shown mercy, not by bombs, not by men crazed with the wild adrenaline of life and death battle. They shoot first, at people who may well want to kill them, ask themselves questions later.

Extreme partisans are ready to die for their beliefs, to kill for them. This willingness to die is sometimes seen as the ultimate expression of having the “courage of your convictions” though it is just as often the “enduring brutality of your mistake”. In this country, according to the FBI, violent, deadly partisans are mostly on the far right. Far right groups have killed many Americans in the last twenty years, as part of their general operations, far left groups have killed few, if any, over that same span.

A willingness to use violence is the hallmark of terrorism — in fact, the use of violence to achieve an aim IS terrorism. We terrify you into doing what we say, because we’ve killed some innocent people, as you’ve seen, and we’ll fucking kill you. too. The threat of violent death is our calling card. Our side will beat down your side and stick those protest signs up your asses!

You wonder what has to happen to a human heart to conclude, during difficult times, that it is better to take up arms and take as many of the bastards with you as you can before they kill you than to look for a way out of war. Something the equivalent of Nazis coming to your area, rounding up local leaders and publicly executing them. If you have the ability, that moment is definitely your last chance to organize and take up weapons for self-defense against a deadly enemy.

The specter of a nation finally struggling to come to terms with a long history of racism, de jure and de facto, seems to present this endgame scenario to those ready to believe that equality among people inevitably leads to tyranny. Got to arm and kill as many of those fucks as possible before they can force us to live as slaves in a world like that! We never did anything to them, why are they coming to persecute us?! They are the violent tyrants, not us!

As I think about these little rehearsals for our own deaths, I wonder how ready I’d be, if forced into that terrible position, to die for my beliefs. Even to be beaten up, or even menaced, by armed thugs outside my polling place. Fanatics are famous for their willingness to go down in a hail of bullets, guitarists and calligraphers, not so much.

When things are put into black and white, life and death frames — if socialists are elected to Congress it will be the violent end of freedom as we know it — evil, righteous men with the money to influence mass events will eventually put death squads into motion. You can take that to the bank, the smart money will bet on it. As we all do our little, trembling, mostly unconscious, rehearsals for our own unthinkable deaths.


I Love You, but I Hate Your Politics: How to Protect Your Intimate Relationships in a Poisonous Partisan World, 2019, All Points Books ISBN 9781250200396

Bravo, Fortunate Son

Bravo, again, John Fogerty. Amy Goodman reports, after a taste of the Creedence 1969 anti-war rocker:

AMY GOODMAN: “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. The song was written by member John Fogerty, who just issued an official cease-and-desist order Friday to President Trump for using it as part of his campaign’s soundtrack. The song came out in 1969 during the Vietnam War.

Fogerty said, quote:

“I wrote this song because, as a veteran, I was disgusted that some people were allowed to be excluded from serving our country because they had access to political and financial privilege. I also wrote about wealthy people not paying their fair share of taxes. Mr. Trump is a prime example of both of these issues. The fact that Mr. Trump also fans the flames of hatred, racism, and fear while rewriting recent history is even more reason to be troubled by his use of my song,”

said John Fogerty.

original post:

AMY GOODMAN: “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. The song was written by member John Fogerty, who just issued an official cease-and-desist order Friday to President Trump for using it as part of his campaign’s soundtrack. The song came out in 1969 during the Vietnam War. Fogerty said, quote, “I wrote this song because, as a veteran, I was disgusted that some people were allowed to be excluded from serving our country because they had access to political and financial privilege. I also wrote about wealthy people not paying their fair share of taxes. Mr. Trump is a prime example of both of these issues. The fact that Mr. Trump also fans the flames of hatred, racism, and fear while rewriting recent history is even more reason to be troubled by his use of my song,” said John Fogerty.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

A Lesson in Death

A friend who knew a lot about cats told us it was a shame the wild little beauty who was sitting at our feet, just out of reach, had been untouched by humans for the first months of her life. Once they are feral you can’t really get too close to them, she told us. This kitten came to trust us and eventually love being petted by us (when she felt like it, of course). She became our outdoor pet.

One day, in the first spring of her life, before she was even six months old, she marched her first litter of tiny lookalikes out of the bushes, to show Sekhnet to them. She will feed you when I’m done, she told them, and it came to pass.

Sekhnet was horrified when Mama Kitten chased her first kittens out of the garden. They’d been weaned, and learned to get food from humans (and to hunt a bit as well) and suddenly Mama was driving them away, quite savagely. What a bitch! said Sekhnet. We started to learn about cats in nature, nature which is as cruel as it is kind.

Mama Kitten was tough. She had to be to survive out there. She gave birth to her next litter shortly after banishing her first.

Over the next three years she gave birth to many more, producing more than twenty beautiful little kittens in her first four years of life. Few survived very long — five that we know of.

We hesitated to give them names, because it would create more attachment and make their deaths more personal, somehow. Sekhnet began giving descriptive names only, so we had a way of referring to them as they had their adventures in the garden.

Of Mama’s second to last litter of four, two daughters, Little Girl and White Back, survived. They occupy the garden to this day. The girls stood together, refusing to be intimidated by their mother, the first to do that, and both survive.

Here is the dominant one, Little Girl (left), with her two brothers, Turtleback and Whitefoot, fine little cats who had very short lives.

In the end, with the heandlp of an almost insanely dedicated cat rescuer, we were able to trap Mama Kitten and the others and have them spayed, and the father (we assume) neutered as well. For a year and a half we’ve had a stable little colony in the garden. It was disrupted briefly a couple of months ago by five adorable little ferals whose mother abandoned them by the best cat buffet in the neighborhood. We managed to catch, domesticate and find homes for all five.

One day, not long ago, Little Girl, who always stayed close to her mother (they were known as the Driveway Bitches for their ruthless shakedowns for treats) and had always deferred to her mother in all things, snatched some food from her. I instantly intervened, and Mama finished what she was eating, but the writing was on the wall.

A day or two later a friend noticed one of Mama’s eyes looked a little funny. A few days later she lost interest in food, even the favorites Sekhnet brought to her. She took to one of the houses we made, staying warm. Then, one rainy, miserable night a couple of days ago she disappeared. Little Girl was now sleeping in her house.

We figured Mama Kitten had crawled off to die somewhere, probably in the nearby strip of wooded area across the service road. She was not yet six years old, but feral cats live much shorter lives than pampered indoor cats.

I had intended to write about her death yesterday, but somehow I didn’t get to it. Last night, after we moved the car for the firs time in a few days, to do some shopping, we found out what happened to Mama Kitten. She’d made it as far as the narrow space behind the car, before breathing her last. I put her in a box, closed the flaps carefully, and carried her a short distance to a wooded area where Sekhnet covered her coffin with branches full of dry leaves.

We spent the next few hours looking for photos of this beautiful cat. Here is the hero shot:

I thought at first that the lesson of Mama Kitten’s death was the simple reminder that we all must die, that it is part of nature and that a creature who showed no signs of being sick (she could jump up on to her petting table until the end) knew when to accept the approach of Death and when to go gracefully with it.

During these fearful days when the possibility of our own deaths is closer than usual, I’ve been thinking about death a lot. Mama Kitten’s death was a reminder of the pain for those left behind. I feel it clutching at my chest as I try to conclude this post with some thoughtful words. The pain is great for this stray cat we cared for, who crawled off to die, and didn’t make it to the woods.

How much more immense is our pain for a human we have known, who has touched our lives, made us laugh, held us when we were afraid?

This long-dead poet says it best, as I recalled with tears when I found it among my emails last night, searching for pictures of Mama Kitten, in her prime.


Unbelievably great deal, a three foot by five foot flag, only $2.99.

Also from the GOP shop (this magnet proudly made in USA) same great price as the flag above — also available in a ten pack for only $19.99: