Rage farming?

When I read this headline yesterday in the Washington Post:

I immediately pictured the in-your-face, proudly ignorant, provocatively opinionated, unvaccinated, infectious former running mate of maverick John McCain smugly saying to the world, and NYC in particular, “here’s your fucking honor system, assholes.” It was enough to piss me off, the thought of that provocateur giving the finger to the honor system, like everyone else in her slavishly authoritarian party.

I felt a flash of anger. I thought of Tich Nhat Hanh’s good advice.

Here is Sarah Lazarus’s wry version of the Palin story:

Sarah Palin dined out at multiple New York City restaurants after testing positive for COVID, but in her defense, she’s had a lot of time to fill since her libel trial got delayed because she tested positive for COVID

The New York Times had their usual judiciously worded headline today:

A few hours after I saw the Washington Post headline I went back and took a look at the Washington Post article.

https://wapo.st/3G1f7RO

It turns out Sarah Palin ate outdoors, which is apparently fine in New York City if you are unvaccinated, whether tested or untested (covid positive could be a deal breaker there, it is an honor system). The article states that, according to someone, she went back to the restaurant to apologize for the ruckus she’d caused a few days earlier, which may be true. The article also noted that it has not been disclosed when Palin tested positive for covid-19, meaning the five day isolation period the CDC recommends could theoretically have passed. All unlikely, perhaps, but possibly true.

So is the attention grabbing headline really fair? Sarah Palin is in NYC to testify in her federal lawsuit against the New York Times, she claims a 2017 editorial libeled her. She’s waiting for a negative covid test so the trial can get started. By dining outdoors, it seems she had not actually flouted the letter of New York City’s pandemic regulations, assuming she wasn’t lying about her infectious status. She surely also enjoyed the attention she got for making the radical left covid-haters mad, you betcha.

She is an ignorant asshole, and a sassy symbol for millions more, standing on the right to infect whoever they want with a potentially deadly disease, in the name of performing rabid partisan politics and “owning”, if not also killing, political enemies. She is an aggravating pustule on the eyelid of American democracy, the wet dream of cynical fucks who pictured someone exactly like Trump as the president one day. But is the provocative, click bait headline fair in announcing that she deliberately flouted New York city’s covid rules when the article under the bold headline makes a something of a case that she may not have? Just asking.

Everybody wants to be treated fairly, you could even say we all deserve it. Fairness is another word for justice, after all. Even a provocative piece of shit is entitled to make the case that she’s being treated unfairly, as Ms. Palin is about to do in federal court in this anarchist jurisdiction.

t’s Be slow to anger, quick to seek better understanding. Breathing is much better than holding your breath til your face turns blue. Trust me on that one.

Not succumbing to anger is very, very hard to do, I know, particularly when provoked, even moreso when constant provocation is part of a deliberate plan to keep everyone enraged, to increase “engagement” on “social media” and bring about long planned American fascism, a privatized corporate state with unlimited wealth for a few and a hearty fuck you to everyone else.

It is best, for yourself and for all of us, to practice being slower to anger, quick to seek better understanding. Breathing, and letting ourselves calm, not immediately reacting to each provocation, is much better than holding your breath til your face turns blue. Trust me on that one.

And, yeah, calmly, and with love, fuck Sarah Palin.

R.I.P. Rom

Rom Rosenblum was my dear friend Howie Katz’s best friend. Howie, a man with an irrepressible sense of humor, was never known to have said a bad word about anyone. Howie died the gentle, early death of a person beloved of God, he was stopped at a red light, his foot on the brake, and his life winked out like a candle flame extinguished by a whisper, his passenger unaware until the light changed and he said “Howie, Howie…”

Rom went to the airport to pick up Howie’s daughter for the funeral. “I’m the adult,” he told me, “her father’s best friend, who held her as a baby, I’m like her uncle, I’m supposed to be comforting her, but as soon as I saw her I just started crying, and she’s trying to comfort me. I couldn’t stop crying.” They both no doubt bawled together on that ride back to the city.

Rom was a beautiful soul, kind, funny, a great musician. I used the past tense because I got a text, out of the blue, that Rom died of pancreatitis a few days ago. I wish I’d known he was sick, I certainly would have called him. We might even have had a laugh. No matter how dark the situation, I think Rom could find a way to laugh about it.

Rom was about five years older than me. We met when I was seven or eight. Rather, he performed for my little sister and me when I was that age. It’s a story I can now never confirm with anyone, my father, who knew Rom well, was an appreciator of Rom’s quick, irreverent wit, and who Rom thought highly of, is gone. Now Rom is gone too. My first encounter with him was at a weekend convention of teenagers my father was supervising, held at a big hotel in Hampton Bays, Long Island, either November 1963, starting the day JFK was murdered, or perhaps the following fall. My father, a high school social studies teacher, had a second job as the director of the Nassau-Suffolk region of a Zionist youth movement for teenagers called Young Judaea. If my math is right, Rom was probably about the youngest of the high school-aged Young Judaeans at that convention.

He was walking with a cane, having injured himself, I always assumed, playing ice hockey, a game he loved. To my sister and me he looked a bit like a young John Lennon, which puts this convention the year after the JFK assassination, since no American kids our age had ever yet heard of John, let alone knew what looked like in November 1963. I recall the tall, skinny kid with the glasses and the attitude, slouching on a couch outside the dining room, where everybody else was still occupied. When he saw my younger sister (she was five or six) and me he went into a performance, pretending he was drunk (or maybe not pretending? he kept slurring the ad line “sure didn’t taste like tomato juice…”) and using the cane as a hockey stick to reenact the action on the ice, as he called out the exciting play by play of a sport I never understood “Giacomin with the save, wait, slap shot, SCORE!” and so forth. Eddie Giacomin, I confirmed years later, was a goaltender for the NY Rangers, the only NYC hockey team at the time.

My sister and I found the young Rom delightful, entertaining, as clever and hilarious as Peter Sellers, who he also slightly resembled. Here’s what he looked like in more recent years:

Our paths crossed over the years, as my father continued his involvement with the youth group and eventually became director of their summer camp in Barryville, NY. It was at this camp. in the summer of 1969, that I ran into Bruce Rosenblum, the guy who’d entertained my younger sister and me with his madcap improvisations years earlier. By then he was going by the name of Peanuts — on his way to Rom. His was riding in the back of a small, open, flatbed truck with a large group of other high school seniors at the camp, the overloaded truck negotiating a twisting road, when the truck flipped over, flinging its occupants, causing numerous injuries. Peanuts spent some time in the hosptial, I recall and came back from the hospital on crutches. He was no less stylish and cool, clomping around the camp on crutches than he had been with his cane.

A few years later he was in Israel, a new immigrant, serving time in the Israeli army with his buddy Howie Katz. Howie was part of a tank crew that wound up in a firefight in the Sinai desert during the Yom Kippur War. I believe Rom was in the same crew. So was Don Tocker, the guy who’d go on to be the first director of the new kibbutz they were all founding members of. Suddenly, seeing something, Don yelled “jump!” and they all leapt off the tank. The tank blew up after a direct hit from an Egyptian artillery shell. The entire crew miraculously escaped unharmed. I met Howie shortly afterwards on that brand new kibbutz in the Aravah desert, in the valley across from the mountains of Jordan. Howie was my kibbutz father, and nobody ever had a better father than Howie. We became lifelong friends.

Howie eventually became disillusioned with life on the kibbutz, a small town where people gave him a hard time, among other things, for walking around everywhere naked. I don’t know much about Rom’s reasons, but after a year, or maybe more, he too left the kibbutz, and eventually returned to the US. They both settled in the Bay Area, Howie in San Francisco (where he and his wife raised two children in the heart of the Castro, the gay district of SF, during the AIDS epidemic, a time of great human rights battles over the “right to be gay”) and Rom settled across the bay, in East Bay, near Berkeley.

Over the years I maintained some contact with Rom. Any time I was in California I made a point of getting together with him. We played music together a few times, the first being at a Halloween party where, as part of an impromptu band, all in costume, Rom (a brilliant keyboard player) played an excellent harmonica and sang, and I played a borrowed electric guitar behind him. I can’t overstate what a great musician he was. He was also a recording engineer. I visited him in East Bay once, we played a bit, and then Howie came by in his truck to take me back to San Francisco. Howie requested “All Along the Watchtower” and Rom, in about a minute, put together a great loop of that simple vamp. We played variations on the theme for a couple of minutes, Howie beaming at us the whole time.

After Howie died suddenly, Rom, who was in agony, comforted me on the phone when I called to express anguish about inadverently alerting a difficult former friend of Howie’s who’d angrily written Howie off, who was now heading to Howie’s funeral and might upset Howie’s widow. I asked Rom for his help. “Don’t worry about it, it won’t be a problem. It’s not your fault you that talked to his mother, it will be fine,” said Rom, “There’s nothing you did, or can do, nothing I need to do, everything will be fine. Don’t worry, we’re all adults, it will be fine.” And it was.

A couple of years later Howie’s daughter asked a friend and me to do the music for her wedding. We were honored, it was a thrill, and very hard work leading up to the wedding, particularly for me, the entire rhythm section, in real-time, on one guitar. The guy I played with was very nervous, unsure if I was up to the task he’d set of me holding down the entire accompaniment for him. I had to arrange and learn each tune perfectly, the bass, embellishments, each chord, perfectly in time and at the right place. Otherwise we’d be embarrassed as his melodies crashed over an unsteady one man backing band.

I was not worried, but I knew I had to keep working my ass off to get ready. A few days before the wedding I spoke to Rom, who was officiating at the wedding with his wife Debby, both of them duly empowered by the State of California. As always, Rom urged me not to worry. He’d bring his keyboard and back us up, he would need no rehearsal could easily play off the cuff whatever we’d taken days to learn. It was a great relief that he’d round out the band, it instantly took a lot of weight off my shoulders. The plan was quickly nixed, it was deemed improper for the rabbi to be in the band. Taking Rom’s lead, I did not protest. I played 8-10 hours a day in the days before the wedding and mastered playing all the parts. The music came off without a hitch.

Rom and Debby performed a beautiful wedding ceremony. There was something otherwordly, and at the same time so fundamentally sane and perfect, in two great humanists, a married couple, ushering a young couple into marriage. Very joyous. Rom’s face, as he lovingly hugged everybody at the wedding, stays in my memory. It was the second to last time I ever saw him.

In this troubled world, people who seem slightly above it, more sensitive, more aware, gentler, more generous, more understanding and amused, readier to amuse, than most people, give the rest of us hope. The human is capable of this, and we have examples living among us. They inspire us to be better. Rom was one of the best of us.

How Not to Be Depressed

Fuck if I know.

The only insight I have, and this took me years to really take in, is not to make depression more bitter by blaming yourself for feeling hopeless. This is the trap of depression — you feel depressed because you believe you don’t have what it takes, you lack the qualities that everyone else has, you are a loser, too weak to do what everyone else manages to do. That is the fucking depression talking, trust me. If you feel depressed, it is burden enough without adding unforgiveness toward yourself. It is also useful to remember that depression almost always passes, nuance, taste and color return.

As for good reasons for depression, there are currently many. At the top of the list is the accelerating pandemic, a wildly proliferating virus much cannier and more adaptable than the puny earthlings fighting over how to fight it, as the planet plummets toward ecosystem apocalypse. From the demented, “transactional” former president’s point of view, and millions in his cult, the more Americans who die of Covid-19 under Biden the better. It will prove that Biden is a loser, working with the Chinese Communist Party and Burisma Energy to kill as many white Christian Americans as possible and let George Soros replace them with brown fake Americans dumb enough to vote for elite pedophile cannibals. Luckily for Trump, he’s got a 6-3 Supreme Court majority poised to make it much harder for the Biden administration to fight this relentlessly morphing, deadly worldwide disease. US Covid death numbers are climbing every day, as a burned out health care force, on the front lines now for more than two years, in a war with no seeming end, starts to call in sick and quit. Talk about fucking depressing.

Any chance of justice after a president who lost reelection by a large margin repeatedly lies about a stolen “landslide victory” then unsuccessfully twists the arms of election officials to change results, then tries to get the DOJ to announce fake fraud investigations while his henchmen in Congress do the rest, then executes the elaborate, extra-constitutional “Green Bay Sweep” to sweep aside certified, recounted election results, based on what Ted Cruz yelled were “unprecedented allegations of massive electoral fraud,” before he unleashes a whipped up crowd, and everything else the defeated never-say-die motherfucker does daily? The Attorney General announced finally that the DOJ is very seriously considering doing something to restore faith in American justice, as long as the DOJ can convince people that it has no political agenda, in a society where even basic safety precautions during an unprecedented modern pandemic are weaponized for partisan advantage (by only one party, boys and girls).

Even Mike Pence, a Trump loyalist who embarrassed actual obsequious miniature poodles with his stone-faced ass-licking of his master, realized the game was over prior to the “Green Bay Sweep” on January 6. He consulted far-right former federal judge/Republican operative J. Michael Luttig about John Eastman’s absurd interpretation of the Twelfth Amendment which supposedly gives the sitting Vice President the right to overturn the results of any election that does not keep him in office. Even Luttig, a man who defended as proper Bill Barr’s meddling to get insane Trump fanatic Michael Flynn’s guilty pleas for perjury thrown out, told Pence not to do it. So did former VP Dan Quayle, in no uncertain terms.

Here’s the kicker: after Pence broke the bad news to Trump, that he could not hold up the certification of Biden electors, based on a lie — no matter how big — and a crackpot legal theory, Trump was furious. To Pence’s reported horror and anger, on the evening of January 5th Trump released a press statement announcing that Pence was fully on board with the plan to force another fraud investigation before Biden could be certified as the duly elected president.

Think about just the Pence angle of this hundred ring shit show MAGA seditious conspiracy circus. A crass yet obsequious far-right Christian crusader who had taxpayers fund Gay Conversion Therapy in Indiana (fuck the teen suicides, Jesus said to cure ’em!), an unlikable, charisma-free smudge of Santorum put in office by the connivance and funding of Charles Koch and company (like equally disgusting, suddenly invisible Mike Pompeo, who started as the Kochs’ personal Congressman from Topeka), Pence deserves whatever fate karma might have in store for his type. Still, when he decided to do the right thing, to follow the law, Trump set him up as a traitor by publishing a lie that made him seem like a suddenly vacillating liar too weak to do what he’d promised. That’s why the mob wanted to hang him as a cowardly traitor, because he’d chickened out at the last second, because he didn’t save America from the illegitimate brown and yellow hoards. When Trump sent a motorcade to evacuate Pence from the besieged Capitol, Pence declined to get in, fearing, not unreasonably, that his boss had taken out a hit on him. What the fuck?

We learn that the Fulton County DA spoke to Trump’s lawyers last month, and Trump reacted in fury that was then hard to understand, since nobody knew about the meeting with Trump lawyers, outside of the DA, the lawyers and Trump. The only sticking point in prosecuting Trump for that well-known attempt to cajole, persuade, threaten and otherwise get Georgia officials to “find 11,780 Trump votes”, we are cautioned, is the question of Trump’s intent.

What if Trump actually believed he’d really been cheated? What if he sincerely didn’t believe Barr, Chris Krebs and everybody else he appointed, and who were soon out of his government shortly after telling Trump there’d been virtually no voter fraud in 2020? I went to law school and practiced law, and I still don’t understand this lack of intent business, unless it goes to an insanity defense for the former president.

So, yeah, there are countless reasons to feel as depressed as I did opening my eyes this morning. Unless your depression is so severe that you feel life is not worth living (in which case, exert yourself to seek help) my best suggestion is get out of bed, use the bathroom, brush your teeth, take a shower, get yourself walking. Much of soldiering through depressing times is just getting yourself walking, and connecting with others, however you can, no matter how how horrific the prospect of being in contact with others may seem. It is very easy to feel alone in this, and very important to stay connected, as best you can. My two copeks on how to endure any perfectly reasonable depression you are feeling right now in these exceptionally depressing times.

The supremacy of a story

As illustrated by the NY Times framing of the rash of Omicron in Puerto Rico (see previous two posts) the way you tell a story makes all the difference in what the people who hear your story believe and what they take away from it.

One frame on the spike in covid cases in PR might focus on the poverty and lack of humane and efficient health care for millions of American citizens, including, conspicuously, natives of Puerto Rico. One frame might, as my doctor friend does, stress that Omicron is rarely a serious health threat to vaccinated people and that breakthrough infections are to be expected with a strain so infectious. There are multiple ways to tell the same story. Which version of the story you believe will determine how you feel about the things described by the storyteller.

Nothing humans do is done without a convincing story behind it. We have a strong need to believe in our good intentions, pure motives, righteousness, that we are doing things for a good and sometimes even noble reason. Only a sociopath acts without the need to justify himself. For the rest of us, a story we believe in is necessary for any action or inaction we take. Some stories speak to our best impulses, others to our worst, but any story we truly believe can motivate us, for better or worse.

People who storm the Capitol, battle the police, chant about hanging the Vice President, shooting the Speaker of the House in the head, defecate in the halls of Congress, do it because they truly believe the intolerable story that they’ve had their legitimate presidential choice stolen from them. The supremely infuriating story of a stolen election, a rigged system in state after state riddled with widespread systemic fraud, massively fraudulent results — a stolen landslide victory — hidden even by corrupt, smelly, traitorous RINOs, is told to them over and over by everyone they trust.

It is not even a matter for them of suspending disbelief, or asking how so many Republicans won in 2020 on the same ballots Joe Biden and his co-conspirators rigged to steal only the presidency from the rightful winner. They will never ask why Republican state officials and federal officials appointed by Trump confirmed that the election with the largest turnout in American history was also one of the most secure, that the incidence of voter fraud was, as always, infinitesimal.

The story you believe as you gather with fellow faithful patriots, watching a blood curdling betrayal video on a giant screen and getting fired up to storm the Capitol and Stop the Steal, covers all of that. The lack of actual evidence for your point of view, or that it may appear illogical in light of the facts, is only the final proof of how cunning and vicious the evil, inhuman, traitorous enemy is!!!

We humans are simply this way, and we are probably the only creatures who act based on a story that tells us how to see things and what our duties are. Few other species march off in long columns to kill and die based on a fervent belief in the story that Jesus died on the cross to cleanse the world of sin and violence.

I’m reading a fascinating book, The Drama of the Gifted Child, by a psychiatrist of mysterious origins who wrote as Alice Miller. It is in part about the stories told to justify all sorts of harmful things done to children, often by generally well-meaning parents. Depending on who’s point of view you look at things from, you will emerge with very different stories about a family dynamic. This framing inevitably reminds me of my father’s story about me. Here’s a snapshot, told to me from my father’s pre-deathbed point of view:

You are a very angry person with an explosive fucking temper and a mouth like a fucking toilet bowl. You’ve always been troubled and challenging and had an irrational hatred of authority. From the time you came home from the hospital as a newborn you stared at me with those big, unblinking, black, accusing eyes, you judged me harshly from the very beginning. Nothing I ever did was right, no sacrifice I made was ever appreciated, you always just angrily attacked me. You were “born with a hard-on against the world”, and since people can’t change their essential nature, no matter how much they delude themselves that they can, it was preordained that you and I should have been lifelong adversaries engaged in an existential war that could never end.

A hard story to swallow for me. It always was and always will be. It leaves out many important parts of my character and personality, any progress I’ve made in my life, any valuable lesson I’ve ever learned, reduces me to one intolerable trait justifying an angry reaction in turn. More ridiculous still is the self-prophecy aspect of this story, the more forcefully the story is told the more it comes true. Anger is predictable for a child insistently told that even as a newborn baby he was simply an angry, challenging little bastard and will always be treated as such.

Telling me variations on this story over and over did nothing to help my father, outside of making him always feel justified in fighting me on everything. The simplistic story did nothing to help me. It only hurt us both, and it hurt my mother and my sister. But there it was, preferable, by a million miles, to the awful story my father finally told me as he was dying:

My life was basically over by the time I was two. I never experienced love as a child, only brutal punishment for things I didn’t do and fear. I grew up in terror, hungry all the time, for food and for things I didn’t even know what they were. I finally exceeded the low expectations placed on me as a stupid boy and started a family of my own. The anger I expressed toward you, you have to understand, it was really nothing personal. I’d have done the same to any child of mine. Nothing you could have done would have changed the story I believed, and I am so sorry to have put that burden on you and your sister, the burden of having an immature, angry horse’s ass as a father.

Imagine how painful and threatening that would have been for any father to feel and try to work through prior to having a few final days to consider his life as he was dying.

On the other hand, and contradicting my father’s undisturbed fifty year story about me, I was a peaceful and supportive listener as my father was speaking his last few hours of thoughts. As he catalogued his regrets I told him that he should have no regrets, that he’d done the best he could, that if he could have done better he would have.

My calmness was possible only because I’d gone through a course of sometimes excruciating psychoanalysis that left me at times feeling like all my skin had been peeled off and I was only nerve endings. The only memorable benefit of this painful process was that, at a certain point, only months before my father discovered his death was less than a week away, I was able to concretely grasp that my father’s unyielding story about me had been told because he needed to tell it. He told it for his benefit, needed to believe it in order to live, that he could not change it and that if he was capable of doing any better he surely would have. This understanding allowed me to take a step away from my anger at my father, since I finally understood he couldn’t figure out how to do any better, pitiful as that also is, and that my understandable anger toward him was most painful to myself. I was able to let some of it go, and not a moment too soon.

I sometimes think of this calm ending of the long war with my father as a kind of mutual blessing. I thought so more at the time than I do now, fifteen years later. His admission, hours before he died, that he felt me reaching out many times over the years to try to make peace (I had), but that his emotional immaturity had prevented him from taking a step toward me, gave me valuable validation that I had not been the belligerent cartoon he always insisted I was. He saw his inability to ever compromise or admit fault as the mark of an unforgivable asshole, but he hoped for forgiveness anyway. Easing his suffering however I could, short of lying, helping make his death as gentle as possible, was my main thought as I listened, so it was easy to make him feel forgiven, for whatever help that might have been to him at the end.

Knowing all this about myself, and having lived how an insane story can be pressed quite rationally and reasonably, stated as fact and embraced by others with cult-like fealty, I accept my own strong, uncomfortable feelings when someone unfairly blames me entirely for something that is only, in small part, my fault.

Here’s my story now: I take the burden of things I do wrong and do my best to make amends, but I don’t carry the burden of a story that paints me as the entire problem, to make someone else feel better about their story. That shit, you understand, is for the birds. I simply can’t do it. Neither should anyone else.

We are all crazy with anxiety now

I don’t say this judgmentally, we’d have to be crazy not to be feeling a bit crazy right now. We don’t talk about it much, but we are all stretched to the breaking point from two years (and counting) of a politically weaponized (talk about insanity…) highly infectious pandemic that began toward the end of the angrily divisive reign of a malignant narcissist troll, who came to power in the final act of a well-organized, almost complete, decades-in-the-making radical right wing coup that now defends white mob violence, justified by bold, insane lies. The shit storm blows not only here, but there and everywhere. We puny earthlings are facing scary uncertainties related to interlocking global crises, as the great state of Texas sets new records for Christmas temperature (a balmy 82 degrees F) and rolling back constitutional rights.

The newspapers and TV don’t dwell on the cascading crisis of mental health, an unaddressed epidemic of anxiety, depression, loneliness, grief, loss, fear, moodiness, hopelessness, anger and aggression as deadly as any of the other crises facing all of us these days.

Every so often an article is published laying out the scope of our observable epidemic of mental health troubles. The New York Times found, after surveying more than a thousand therapists, that therapists are starting to burn out (though the survey didn’t ask that), like Covid overwhelmed doctors, nurses and hospital staff, and are very concerned about their freaked out patients (and, presumably, the masses of freaked out mental health deniers). Read the Grey Lady’s article to find out Why 1,320 Therapists Are Worried About Mental Health in America Right Now. The survey respondents reported that demand for therapy has surged, waiting lists are long, medication needs have increased, children’s mental health issues are intensifying, couples are struggling, the outlook for 2022 remains bleak. Here’s a slice:

While there were moments of optimism about telemedicine and reduced stigma around therapy, the responses painted a mostly grim picture of a growing crisis, which several therapists described as a “second pandemic” of mental health problems.

“There is so much grief and loss,” said Anne Compagna-Doll, a clinical psychologist in Burbank, Calif. “One of my clients, who is usually patient, is experiencing road rage. Another client, who is a mom of two teens, is fearful and doesn’t want them to leave the house. My highly work-motivated client is considering leaving her career. There is an overwhelming sense of malaise and fatigue.”

The Washington Post recently chimed in with an article called The pandemic has caused nearly two years of collective trauma. Many people are near a breaking point. The article begins:

An airplane passenger is accused of attacking a flight attendant and breaking bones in her face. Three New York City tourists assaulted a restaurant host who asked them for proof of vaccination against the coronavirus, prosecutors say. Eleven people were charged with misdemeanors after they allegedly chanted “No more masks!” and some moved to the front of the room during a Utah school board meeting.

Across the United States, an alarming number of people are lashing out in aggressive and often cruel ways in response to policies or behavior they dislike.

“I think people just feel this need to feel powerful, in charge and connected to someone again,” said Jennifer Jenkins, a school board member in Brevard County, Fla., who said she has faced harassment.

Most people I know are near the breaking point, not that my circle is given to busting up tyrannical restaurants, assaulting flight attendants or giving Nazi salutes at school board meetings. I’m closer to the breaking point than I like to be. Are you as calm and dispassionate, and filled with gratefulness and occasional joy, as you like to be? If so, my hat’s off to you, though I’m also leaving the door open in case you suddenly pick up a weapon.

Then, as we know, since fear and uncertainty are such terrible emotions to sit with, many turn to anger and the certainty of righteousness a good, boiling rage always brings. Check out this Washington Post headline (and the article is a gift to you from the ever generous Jeff Bezos) Anger at Covid drives GOP lawmakers in Red States, which has since been re-titled: Anger over mask mandates, other covid rules, spurs states to curb power of public health officials (tendentious subtitle: Republican lawmakers pass laws to restrict the power of health authorities to require masks, promote vaccinations and take other steps to protect the public health.)

And really, who among us does not have the right to be fucking furious at a persistent disease that keeps morphing and spreading, with deadly effect, among people who find it as enraging as being told what to do? And, also, you know, as bad as the disease itself, and as infuriating — fuck those fucking so-called public health official Nazi fucks and their goddamned liberty-infringing “mitigation strategies.”

It is good to keep in mind, as we walk through this shattered landscape we are all living in today, that we are all at a breaking point and every one of us needs to treat each other with an exceptional amount of mercy. Few of us are at our best during prolonged, draining periods of terror and uncertainty.

Yes, crisis is supposedly viewable as opportunity (I think that Chinese ideogram meme has been debunked) but it is also a high wire act we’re forced to perform, without a net, over broken glass and everything that ever caused a nightmare. Remember very few of us were ever taught how to deal with fear, with anger, with terror. We learned by example: pretend to be fearless, deny anger (and attack the fucking accuser) and as for terror, the word speaks for itself.

This horror show too will eventually pass. Most likely. Denying the scope of our mutual suffering helps nobody. Of course, the mainstream right-wing/corporate bloc in the Senate will block debate on any proposed government efforts to fund mental health care, or any kind of health care, for that matter ($100,000,000 in this year’s military budget for bands to play John Philips Sousa marches is one thing — your fucking personal problems are another).

Being aware of the fearful situation we are all in, as we try to understand the suddenly intensified insanity of everyone around us, can only help. It certainly can’t hurt. And every little act of mercy, and everything else that doesn’t hurt, tends to help.

Reminds me of what a kindly old drug dealer told me, many years ago on a Greyhound bus in Boston, after I declined his offer of a selection of drugs. Seeing my crutches on the seat next to me, and my bandaged foot, he asked if my foot hurt. I told him it did. He handed me a single percoset, on the house, which I thanked him for. “Enjoy it, baby. Like I said, if I can’t help, I don’t hurt” and he smiled, heading up the aisle to his seat.

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas

On the eve of the birth of Jesus, believed by many millions worldwide to be the Messiah, Son of God, Prince of Peace, I’d like to wish the baby a very happy life. His story is an awesome, terrible story. He was born into a world stubbornly impervious to his wisdom, angry about his preaching on love, treating his best ideas for a moral life as revolutionary heresy and nailing him to a cross for a slow, cruelly painful death. It is hard to feel anything but great empathy for a baby born to live this life. To all who celebrate, a very merry Christmas, a happy, healthy Christmas to you, as my grandmother would say. Now a few words on how the teachings of Jesus have been wielded for evil purposes by cynics whose love of Jesus is highly suspect.

There is regular ignorance, which is simply not knowing anything about something. If the conversation suddenly turns to ballet, I will be mostly listening, since I’m basically ignorant about the subject. I know nothing about ballet, aside from the names of a few superstar dancers from many decades ago. There was a photo of one of them, Edward Villella, in LIFE magazine, that impressed me when I was a skinny adolescent, and caused me to increase my number of daily pushups. The guy was captured at the height of his leap, suspended in air, high above the ground, torso a knot of muscles, legs strung with what looked like steel cables. Here you go:

Edward Villella - Founding Artistic Director of Miami City ...

So there is ordinary ignorance, which is nothing to worry about, really, since you can always ask questions, learn about something and cease being ignorant, if you ever feel the need. Then there is a much more destructive kind of ignorance, pugnacious ignorance. It is ignorance with an attitude, provocative fighting ignorance that wants to make you mad enough to say or do something stupid so they can beat the snot out of you or kill you.

Pugnacious ignorance is supremely useful for guys like Charles Koch, or Donald J. Trump, who use crowds of excitable, pugnaciously ignorant people like I use kleenex when I have a head cold. Koch, it turns out, just like he did with the “spontaneous” “grassroots” radical right Tea Party-Freedom Caucus that arose to angrily oppose the last Democratic president, funded anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine and anti-mask rallies all over the country, to galvanize resistance to government “tyranny” and get traffic flowing on the highways again, burning oceans of lucrative gasoline [1]. Most of the thousands of Americans currently dying of Covid every week embrace this freedom to resist “tyranny.” In every “anarchist jurisdiction” where a damned Democrat radical had the final say, the pugnaciously ignorant story is that these freedom-hating, anti-religious Commies were forcing tyrannical so-called health mandates on people that were really all about depriving them of their God-given liberty to do whatever they feel like doing. Bring God and Jesus into it, you know, and you can really seal the deal, as our top psychopaths have learned.

Jesus, of course, it is widely believed, was God’s son, is God’s son and the world celebrates his birthday tomorrow. In the New Testament Jesus is a gentle friend of the poor and the meek and protector of the helpless. Not a very useful Jesus for obscenely wealthy autocrats to weaponize for their own ends, not at all! So now tens of millions of Americans faithfully believe that Jesus loves freedom, the right to carry assault weapons, the right to defy health precautions, a strong military, militarized police and paid firemen. The rest of the government, for the most part, Jesus believes, according to wealthy American preachers, is a bunch of anti-freedom haters who won’t even let you say “Merry Christmas” to each other any more because, and this is a key point, they hate Jesus Christ. Just like the Jews hated Jesus, just like the Muslims, who took up swords against good Christian defenders of the faith who went on crusades to Muslim lands to put infidels to the sword.

I’m not here to pick a fight with anyone on the eve of the birth of the Prince of Peace. I am a big fan of Jesus, the man of peace who, as he was being arrested, to be crucified, told his followers to put down their swords. This was right after one of the Romans who came to arrest him had his ear slashed off by one of Jesus’s followers. Jesus picked up the ear and miraculously reattached it to the Roman’s head. On this detail all of the Gospels agree (even though they vary widely in most other details). Hard not to love that Jesus, I’d say. Talk about practicing what you preach and loving thine enemies.

The problem with any religion is not the highest ideals of the religion, which can be mobilized among the faithful to do wonderful things, but the lowest impulses that can be called forth in the name of defending the holy. It’s not a religion, of course (though in a way it is) but corporatism, embraced by many of our wealthiest, most influential Americans, believes corporations have the same rights as all other persons. They have immortal souls, you understand.

Corporatism is another massively influential belief system that encourages humanity’s lowest impulses. A corporate “person,” though brilliant and strategic, has no conscience, therefore is capable of anything in pursuit of profits. Think of the difference between an armed human sentry and a deadly robot sentry who instantly directs deadly force at any movement. Dead workers, a ravaged ecosystem, child cancer clusters downstream from a factory? Externalities. This is the unfortunate downside of corporatism, some must die that others may live very, very, very well. You must factor these externalities into your budget, since sometimes they will cost the corporation a pile of copeks. Otherwise, like Jesus always said, wealth is the only true blessing of God. Health? Not as much. Wealth is the real test of a blessed life. Hallelujah.

As a teenager wrestling with the question of the existence of God in a world of massive brutality and injustice, a world that ends in death for each of us, and wondering whether God is merely “a concept by which we measure our pain,” I thought of an image that resonates with me still. If we defend God’s goodness in the face of evil, and evil there is in this world, aplenty (why else crucify a teacher instructing people to love each other as they love themselves?) then here is an explanation as likely as it is not.

God gave us all Free Will [2], defenders of God’s mercy in the face of murderous greed, genocides and hate crimes teach, and if we use it for evil ends, the fault is our’s, not God’s. Still, why doesn’t an all-powerful, loving God simply stop shit like the regular slaughter of innocents?

God is now very, very old, and He has watched for millennia as the most evil humans persecute everyone else out of their own lust for unlimited profit and power. At seventeen I concluded that humanity had finally broken God’s heart, that He was now in heaven weeping, unable to even look at what has become of His loving creation.

What does God do on Christmas Eve? He weeps, with Jesus, no longer a baby, but a full-grown man who was killed in the most vicious way imaginable. For the unpardonable crime of teaching love, you understand.

Merry Christmas.

[1]

A new report titled “How The Koch Network Hijacked The War On COVID” reveals how a right-wing network linked to billionaire Charles Koch has played a key role in fighting public health measures during the pandemic, including mask and vaccine mandates, contact tracing and lockdowns. The groups include the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), Donors Trust, the Hoover Institution and Hillsdale College. We speak about the contents of the report with co-author Walker Bragman, who says the right-wing network’s attack on public health is designed to “maintain corporate profit at the expense of human life.”

source

[2]

I can’t help but think of Free Will as the same sort of term as Free Market. In each case, we possess as much freedom as the accident of our birth allows for.

Fear vs. Anger

It’s an obvious point that fear makes us feel vulnerable and weak and anger makes us feel righteous and strong. When you are afraid you are at your most helpless, an extremely hard feeling to sit with. Anger, on the other hand, makes you feel mobilized against an intolerable threat. Frustrated by feeling helpless in the face of terror, or shame, it is common to lash out in anger. The nice thing about anger is that it makes you feel justified, and it is much easier to feel than fear. The object of anger is not as important as the certainty that you’re right to be mad, a safe target of anger is often selected, even if that person has little to do with why you’re angry, or afraid.

Neuroscientists have done research into how anger works on a biological level. There is a center of the brain, the insula, that is engaged whenever you have a strong emotion. The insula is what makes you unable to find fault in the person you are infatuated with. It glows when you have a creative idea or are doing something you love to do. It is a very important part of the brain. It lights up when you’re angry. So they attach electrodes, get people angry, and watch their ability to analyze reality become disabled. All the angry person can see, while the insula is engaged, is their anger. It is literally impossible, while angry, to see another person’s point of view, to take in an explanation, to see any gradations in human experience. You are certain of only one thing– that you are completely right to be mad as hell.

The most widespread form of human genius is our ability to rationalize anything we feel strongly about. A glance at politics shows us this in an instant. If you supported a candidate who lost, that loss had to have been because of massive fraud and you have every right to be mad as hell and do whatever it takes to restore justice. Anything can be weaponized, it turns out — science’s best precautions against a new, highly infectious, deadly disease can be turned into infuriating provocations, designed by evil people solely to tyrannize and having nothing to do with public safety. When anger rules fear seems to disappear and the world becomes black and white, simple, good vs. evil. The thing you are afraid of does not go anywhere, but your fear is masked by the energetic righteousness of anger.

Demagogues have always known this and used it to get and keep power. I think of the nobility of eastern Europe, born booted and spurred to mercilessly ride the peasants, the serfs, the poor and the powerless. Whenever the mood of the masses was turning ugly the lords and barons set the mobs on the Jews, who were said to be to blame for all evil in the world. A nice drunken pogrom makes the mob feel much better, stronger, more powerful. It allows them to blow off steam by beating, raping, burning, killing and looting. It does nothing to give them any measure of control over their own miserable lives, but for a while it is apparently intoxicating to join others to do violence to people you hate. Think of mobs in this country, doing the exact same thing to a succession of immigrant groups (and indigenous ones), most commonly and consistently to Blacks. Think of the myth of White Supremacy, the massive pogrom in Tulsa, Oklahoma a hundred years ago, the popular rage of local powerless whites incensed that a prosperous Black middle class had emerged in that oil boom town.

Think of someone you love, who is seized by fear. Fear of death is a big one at the moment, and it is entirely rational to fear death right now, during a deadly pandemic that is the perfect accompaniment to the worldwide rise of angry autocrats who lead violent mass movements. Was Berlin in 1932 a fearful place? Our moment in history is not that different, but let’s focus on the personal. Take any fear, the fear of not being loved. It hurts like hell to feel it, and it feels unfair, like a betrayal, when someone close to you withdraws empathy. What did we do to deserve having sympathy and consideration taken from us? Painful as hell. The predictable response to fear and loss is anger. There is a theory, that sounds reasonable to me, that depression is anger turned against the self. Anger and depression is a cocktail as potent as a deadly pandemic amid a worldwide march toward fascism. Don’t drink it, though, it will fucking kill you.

In a more perfect union — imagining Rittenhouse public service/truth & reconciliation

Like everything else today, the acquittal of a white teenager who brought an assault rifle to a tense, racially-charged confrontation and wound up killing two people, and dismembering another, while arguably in fear for his life, is a fiercely tribal moment seen through reflexively tribal lenses. Though the injustice on trial in this particular case appears to many obscene, we would all benefit from taking a breath about this particular flashpoint of the long building war between the tribes, before logging it as merely another example of the other tribe’s intractability.

It is undeniably sickening that a white kid who goes to an understandably tense racial justice protest (Kenosha cop would face no charges for shooting an unarmed citizen seven times, four times in the back) with an AR-15, a weapon designed for mass killing in a war zone, (a gun perfectly legal to openly carry under Wisconsin law, if he’d been a year older) and winds up killing two people and destroying the arm of a third, is not accountable to the law in any way, tried in a state that also has a George Zimmerman law. It is an outrage that people like him are free, in many states, to do exactly what Rittenhouse did, fund raise off it and avoid legal consequences. Had he been Black, he would likely have been dead at the scene, a victim of “law and order”. Undeniable. That an unhinged president immediately hailed Rittenhouse as a hero, and the little working class killer’s $2,000,000 bond was quickly raised and paid, and he had an OJ-like team of lawyers who rehearsed and war-gamed his defense with consultants and jury experts, who put him through his paces before putting him on the stand — this white high school kid enjoyed privileges usually reserved for only the wealthiest criminal defendantsan outrageous pouring of salt in the wounds. Compare the outcome to someone who’d done exactly what Rittenhouse did, who hadn’t been able to post bail, had spent a year and a half locked up in prison and was represented by an overworked public defender. There’d be a plea deal and a sentence of years in prison, there is virtually never a trial in the case of someone unable to post bond and hire the best legal team a mountain of money can buy.

There is much to be legitimately outraged about, but there is also a point that has been mostly sliding by — under Wisconsin law, and based on the evidence the jury saw during the trial, their verdict was what the (unjust, racially biased) law provided for.

If we put the tribal lens aside for a moment, (which is a mighty task today, see, for example, the rest of this sentence) we can see that this case is a reflection of the larger injustice in courts bound by laws written by the NRA. These laws are an outrage and a reason to fight to change these gun-crazed laws, but in this particular case there was one killer on trial, not the systemically unjust legal system. The problem with talking about a public trial is that most of us know few of the legal details and the case stands as easy code for everything else. I will attempt to break some of this into smaller parts and look at the verdict beyond the tribal POV.

The kid’s crying on the stand was either the perfectly understandable reaction of a young criminal defendant, under tremendous stress, on international television, facing decades in prison, possibly traumatized by what he’d done (not every kid who supports Trump is automatically a cold blooded killer), the clever act of a well-coached murderer, or some combination of those things.

Multiple things may be true at the same time. Our justice system is the opposite of colorblind — again, a Black AR-15 wielding shooter at that same time and place would likely have been killed by police on the spot, and the shooting justified, forget about any kind of trial by his peers, or anyone else. This pleasant faced white kid, a big fan of cops, was not molested by police after he shot three people and was allowed to leave the scene of the killings with the weapon that did the killing. That by itself is pretty fucking maddening.

The other day I reflexively referred to the biased judge in the case as a Ku Klux Klansman, based on a few seemingly racist comments and decisions he made during the trial, which was not fair of me. I have no way of knowing if Judge Schroeder is a bigot or not. Another way of seeing the clearly biased jurist, with the eyes of the world suddenly fixed on his every word, is as a sympathetic older man, suddenly far beyond his depth, who felt compassion for a kid, already villainized by half the country, facing the full force of the justice system as punishment for America’s original, never addressed sin of slavery and the racism that justified it.

As a frame, systemic racism, as reflected in countless legal proceedings, is impossible to ignore in this case, unless you pretend, as the right does, that systemic racism, like Critical Race Theory (illuminated brightly by the polarizing Rittenhouse case, where a white killer was extended privileges usually reserved for the wealthy and given a fair trial) is bullshit and that making laws banning “CRT will make it — and all claims of racism — go away.

Think of the close to 1,000 enraged white rioters, including armed white nationalist militia members, allowed, by the too-late deployed National Guard, to peacefully go home the evening of January 6th after the sacking of the Capitol, another in-your-face moment for peaceful racial justice protesters locked up immediately, wrapped in a police net five minutes after curfew (in New York City, mind you), or gassed, charged by officers on horseback and shot with rubber bullets on instruction of Bill Barr so the president could be photographed awkwardly brandishing a bible in front of a famous church.

There is another issue in this case, though, a much more straightforward strictly legal issue, which is hard to see in the glare of this moment. It is a much less satisfying way of looking at the case, but no less important.

In light of the evidence presented to the jury did the prosecution overcome Rittenhouse’s self-defense argument?

That is separate from everything else, and really the only relevant consideration in evaluating the justness of the actual verdict.

I heard an analysis of the trial by Glenn Greenwald yesterday, a guy who sometimes annoys me with what seems like a trollishly contrarian view, who made several excellent points, including the one immediately above. The slightly left-leaning side of corporate mass media has framed this trial as a trial of White Supremacy vs. the rest of us who can see the dangers these fearful haters pose — the kid had crossed state lines with an illegally-possessed assault rifle to provocatively confront protesters and rioters because he’s a racist, like many of Trump’s most vocal supporters. Right-wing mass media framed it as spineless liberal puppet prosecutors using an innocent kid who went to protect property in a town near where he lived, shops threatened by BLM violence, to prove a point about their politically correct “wokeness”.

Everyone had a strong opinion when Rittenhouse was acquitted. Few of us had followed the trial in detail, viewing it instead through the glimpses provided by opinionated pundits, in newspaper articles and on “social media”. Greenwald said he watched the whole trial, saw everything that was presented to the jury. Like most other Americans, and citizens all over the world, I saw only selected excerpts, always framed by the presenters. Who is in a better position to evaluate the fairness of the verdict?

The judge, Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder, suddenly thrust into the national spotlight, may well have behaved like an asshole, I certainly saw several instances of him leaning over backwards to rule for the defense. In one instance he admitted he knew nothing about technology, but told the prosecutor it was his burden to prove the arguably self-evident proposition that enlarging things on a video screen is essentially the same as using a magnifying glass. The only person disputing that was the defense attorney trying to block introduction of the evidence, who also admitted he didn’t understand the technology or its “logarithms”. It was an asshole position for any judge to take — the two of us are uniquely ignorant about the issue so that is your problem, counselor.

But back to the facts and the law. To prove murder the prosecution must overcome a self-defense defense if it is raised. When you see the defense’s video that the jurors saw, the kid’s fear was understandable when you see that he was chased by at least one of the people he killed, a probably mentally ill man who clearly (and, to many, not unreasonably) wanted to stomp the shit out of Rittenhouse, if not kill him with his own assault rifle. You can say, as I would, that Rittenhouse had no business being there, provoked them by showing up with an AR-15, loaded and ready (and the lack of meaningful gun laws here is appalling), but what the prosecution had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt is that when he killed those men he was not actually in reasonable fear for his life.

The gun charge was dismissed because under a Wisconsin law, probably drafted by the NRA and passed with the help of ALEC (the Stand Your Ground folks), an AR-15 loaded with 30 rounds does not fit the strict and restrictive legal definition of a gun that a 17 year-old can be prosecuted for bringing to a volatile street confrontation. Bruce Shroeder may well be an asshole, even a klansman, but the law is the law and in this case there is no avenue to appeal, based on the law, the judge’s dismissal of the gun charges against the kid who came to a scene of violence armed to take on thirty people. The same goes for most of the rest of the judge’s asshole rulings. The problems are with the law itself, annoying as Shroeder’s thumb on the scale for the defense was.

Predictably, Greenwald has been attacked from the left for his conclusion that the jury’s verdict, based on the evidence presented, in light of Wisconsin law, was correct. It is hard, in our angry, moronic times, to make that kind of distinction when half the country treats the kid as a hero and the other half thinks life in prison is fair punishment for what the smug little Trumper did.

I was reading comments under Greenwald’s video, most of them praising him for his honesty and integrity. This comment caught my eye, and for the first time ever, I responded to a Youtube comment:

I wrote asking the guy if he had a source for this. It changes the narrative drmtically, if true. But the comment above, and my reply, are buried in a haystack of thousands of comments and I have been unable to find a reply anywhere. I was hoping for an email notice, but so far, nada. This guy’s comment, a narrative game changer if true, is the perfect illustration of the problem with relying on unsourced (and thus unverifiable) “facts” gleaned from the internet.

As I was walking last night, taking what used to be called a “constitutional”, I had a thought about how productive it would be if we could all take a step back from the reflexive tribal reactions, isolate some of the larger problems and discuss them on a deeper level of understanding. In spite of the seeming impossibility of doing this in a culture of monetized misinformation, it is the best shot we have as a society on the brink of another bloody civil war. I pictured us all living in a more perfect union, a place of actual discussions focused on the real problems and solving them, instead of the zero-sum, adversarial, strictly profit-driven gotcha society we live in.

I thought of the many lessons members of a more advanced society could take from something like the Rittenhouse trial. I imagined an opportunity for real cross-tribal insights. I pictured people like him, instead of being simply judged a murderer or a victim/hero, required to perform public service after his trial, maybe on a panel with Jacob Blake, the man in a wheelchair for life after taking seven police-justified bullets from a Kenosha policeman and Rittenhouse’s surviving victim.

It would be much more instructive than what we have now, this kid as a vicious murderer who went free or a totally vindicated celebrity of MAGA-world, already publicly courted by several of the most angry, provocative and extremist members of Congress, who have already offered Rittenouse jobs he is as unqualified for as they are for their own jobs.

Imagine an alternative reality where the young man is required to spend a certain number of hours communicating to the public what he learned from his experience. His public service would start with help from skilled mediators who could ensure he listened to victims of vigilante violence, and understood the point of view of those at the protest where he wound up shooting three people. He could reflect on what he may have learned from the whole ordeal, how it feels to actually end the lives of random strangers (suppose he really does have regular nightmares about it, instead of the expressed desire to shoot BLM protesters and the smug posing he did right after– would that be a step in the right direction in talking about fucking guns?). Think of the discussion this kid’s court-mandated public speaking could open, in a more perfect union, where everything is not immediately weaponized to threaten and kill the other side with.

This messianic daydream scenario would only work, of course, in a society where honest reflection was encouraged, where truth and reconciliation are valued, where people are seen as capable of learning, evolving and becoming wiser, instead of a ruthlessly profit-obsessed casino where the only move for the people forced to gamble there is doubling down until you’re out of chips.