The Pursuit of Happiness

In these dark, threatening times we should, more than ever, be reaching out to others, sharing hope and joy; pursuing happiness. Instead, the chilling shadow of constantly predicted doom, sprayed over us by high pressure firehose, can easily darken our waking hours.

We are living through a vast war on so many fronts it’s hard to remember, through the lens of this endless multimedia blitzkrieg, how beautiful the ocean is, the sky, trees, the natural curiosity and playfulness of kids and other young animals, the faces of people we love. Happiness, it often seems now, will have to wait on a few major world factors changing for the better.

Meaning that to pursue happiness, we need to become part of the change we want to see in the world. It is on each of us now to figure out how to do our part carrying a mercilessly heavy burden to get us all to a better day. And figuring out how to remain as happy and decently human as possible while we do it.

As I was reading NY Times headlines on my phone late last night (while Sekhnet battled a little insomnia) I saw a reference to “doom scrolling”– an excellent description of exactly what I was doing, reading the newspaper at this perilous moment in human history.

It’s very scary not only here in the United States, life everywhere on the planet is imperiled, at war, trying to make sense of massive global chaos, violence and destruction — in the face of vigorous, constant, brazen propaganda, much of it insisting there’s no problem at all — except for irrationally enraged cranks intent on deception and violence. The whole problem, everyone seems to agree, is inchoately angry, vicious assholes on the other side of every damned issue!

I then, to my chagrin (since I was by then aware I was “doom scrolling”), clicked on an Op Ed that was one of the worst evocations of possible doom here in America that I’ve ever seen. Entitled Whose America is It? it makes the point that in these radically polarized times both sides see the opposing party as not only 100% wrong and despicably deluded, not only as enemies but as less than human.

We have learned over and over that dehumanization is the precondition for mass violence, you have to see an enemy as a disgusting piece of garbage before you can kick him in the face and then shoot him. It’s much harder to brutalize and kill a fellow human being, it seems.

I’ve been urged by my few good friends to disconnect from this soul-crushing cycle of violence that is the news, get out into nature, immerse myself in the preciousness of our world, refresh my spirit. I understand their point– unless I can figure out how to join with others to take effective action I am just marinating in a horror movie and spouting random opinions to nobody in particular. I vow to take a day off, enjoy the beautiful weather we’re having in NYC lately, be thankful that the air here is not toxic like on the west coast, that the pandemic is not ripping through here at the moment, that constant ambulance sirens are not shrieking by all night as they were a few months back.

I decide to start the day doing something I love. I will go downstairs to play the guitar, finish learning a musically ingenious song I’ve been working on, a beauty Louis Armstrong made popular a few years back. But, first, I’ll quickly catch up on the headlines, just for a second. In that second I see, no surprise, that this evil blowhard is pursuing his own perverse notion of happiness, making sure the world is ruled by his master’s irrefutable will, presumably a reflection of the divine will of this guy’s fervently beloved deity. Stops me in my tracks, it does.

No details really needed, here’s a picture of this dogged pursuer of happiness, from today’s news.

Presumably animated by his deep faith in the compassion and wisdom of the Christ he venerates, he gives a speech urging federal prosecution of protesters arguably exercising their First Amendment rights. He wants federal prosecutions of angry protesters under a draconian federal sedition law that allows imprisonment for twenty years for “sedition” which is, in common parlance, a synonym of “treason” [1].

Rings a bell. Weren’t the unconstitutional Alien and Sedition Acts, designed to muzzle political opponents, the downfall of the John Adams administration? [2]

Damn this mind of mine, and its endless interest in the idiocies of our most powerful humans that are recorded as history!

As soon as I finish editing this (won’t take long) I’m going to force myself to make that unpleasant call to try to resolve a large, surprise tax bill, make an appointment to have my clogged ears cleaned, and go finish mastering “Do You Know What It Means (To Miss New Orleans)” on the piano as well as guitar. Playing it in time on the piano (mainly that Bbm7-9 Eb7-9 Eb7 Ab7 sequence) is a musical challenge so far that feels very much like the pursuit of happiness.

Happiness, happiness, and justice shall you pursue.

[1]

While seditious conspiracy is generally defined as conduct or language inciting rebellion against the authority of a state, treason is the more-serious offense of actively levying war against the United States or giving aid to its enemies.
Sedition – FindLaw

Sedition is defined as words or speech that incite people to rebel against the government or governing authority. Words that inspire a revolution that overthrows the government are an example of sedition.
Sedition dictionary definition | sedition defined – YourDictionary

[2]

The Alien and Sedition Acts were a series of four laws passed by the U.S. Congress in 1798 amid widespread fear that war with France was imminent. The four laws –which remain controversial to this day– restricted the activities of foreign residents in the country and limited freedom of speech and of the press. Mar 5, 2020
Alien and Sedition Acts – Definition, Significance & Purpose …

Follow the link above and we see that these partisan, free speech limiting laws were brought to you by our original Federalist party (talk about yer small world!) — under the headline:

Dueling Political Parties 

The Federalist Party, which supported a strong central government, had largely dominated politics in the new nation before 1796, when John Adams won election as the second U.S. president.

In opposition to the Federalists stood the Democratic-Republican Party, commonly known as Republicans or Jeffersonians for their ideological leader, Thomas Jefferson. Republicans wanted to reserve more power to state governments and accused the Federalists of leaning more towards a monarchical style of government.

Thinking About Thinking

I’ve noticed a mysterious little flurry of viewers to a post I wrote two years ago about Hannah Arendt and her view of thinking and creativity. It is lack of imagination, Arendt asserted, and the dumb obedience this crabbed view of the world produces, that leads men, seeking to escape loneliness (among other things) to join movements in which they may be required to function as monsters, carry out unthinkably inhuman orders. They simply accept the rationale they are given, join a movement and execute the wishes of a Leader who may or may not be wise, capable or decent. A leader who may, in fact, be Adolf Hitler.

Adolf Eichmann, portrayed to this day as one of history’s most infamous monsters, was, as observed by Arendt during his sensational, important trial in Jerusalem, an unremarkable man of modest intellectual gifts who insisted it had been his duty to obey the laws of the new order in Germany. He spoke in cliches, often repeated stock Nazi phrases and was incapable of imagining that a regime that made mass murder ordinary, normal and lawful could have anything wrong with it. The several psychiatrists who examined him prior to his criminal trial in Jerusalem concluded he was not a “man obsessed with a dangerous and insatiable urge to kill” or a “perverted, sadistic personality” (as the prosecutor later wrote of Eichmann — and as the ad for the current Netflix offering about him suggests).

Half a dozen psychiatrists had certified him as “normal” — “More normal than I am after having examined him,” one of them was said to have exclaimed, while another had found that his whole psychological outlook, his attitude toward his wife and children, mother and father, brothers, sisters, and friends, was “not only normal but most desirable”– and finally the minister who had paid regular visits to him in prison after the Supreme Court had finished hearing his appeal reassured everybody by declaring Eichmann to be “a man with very positive ideas.”

(Eichmann in Jerusalem, pp. 25-26)

It was Eichmann’s utter lack of imagination, his willingness to believe what his superiors told him, his ambition to succeed and advance in his career, that made Eichmann the hardworking cog in the Nazi killing machine that he became. He was not troubled by conscience because what he was doing he had been legally ordered to do, he had only been doing his job. He literally could not imagine refusing to do his legal duty. A refusal to do it would have resulted in his own demotion, imprisonment, probably death — all unimaginably harsh and self-destructive outcomes. End of inquiry. Arendt was internationally vilified for “humanizing” this monster in her 1963 masterpiece. I’m with Hannah, she gives us a crucial understanding in her deep portrait of an otherwise ordinary enabler of evil.

In law school students are drilled in thinking through and articulating both sides of an argument, imagining as many avenues of legal attack to the client’s position as possible in order to defend against them. Rigorous thinking means sometimes considering ideas you might find repellant, overcoming the reflex to simply cast them out with a grunt of disgust. A mark of the agile mind, someone said (F. Scott Fitzgerald?) is being able to keep two contradictory thoughts in mind at the same time. We live in the instant information age, so here you go:

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” [1]

We are not trained to be nimble, creative thinkers — we are trained to be earners and consumers, as well as reflexive moralists who do not dwell on crazy-making nuance. From birth, here in the United States, we are exposed to hour upon hour of commercial advertisements, teaching us what to buy. By the time we are in kindergarten we can recite countless commercial tag lines and sing (at least when I was a kid and every product had a catchy little tune attached) dozens of jingles. I often lament that I can easily sing the entire “Veep” (a lemon lime soft drink, circa 1961) jingle perfectly but can’t recite a single line of Shakespeare or the Bible accurately.

In a sense it’s not anyone’s fault that we are a largely superficial, stubbornly opinionated culture, we’ve become this way by design, for the massive profit of the beneficiaries of this commercialized state of affairs. Imagining a fundamentally different way of life is almost impossible, given the pervasiveness of the one being sold to us 24/7 and now, literally so: carried on smart devices in our pockets, with little notification sounds to remind us to look at them. We tend to latch on to whatever suits our views, gravitating to items that support our confirmation bias.

Every moral and political issue is reduced to an oversimplified false duality — yes or no. If you critique an extractive, highly polluting consumer society that may well be destroying the earth for short-term profit it is easy to see what you are: a Communist, a soul-dead enemy of freedom and liberty. There is no other frame to think about such things here, though a desperately needed one is evolving with things like The Green New Deal.

Thinking about crowds carrying torches, united in some cause, often a violent one, we can set them in virtually any epoch in history. The rationale of the march is always similar — we are in pain, we are afraid, we’re angry, we are the victims, we are going to kill the people who are victimizing us! It’s true that once we have murdered the evil bastards our miserable life remains pretty much the same, the anger, pain and fair have not vanished — but that just means we haven’t killed enough of them. It is the triumph of action without thought, without imagination, without Reason, that leads to every mass catastrophe (not caused by “Acts of God”) that humans have ever fallen into.

It’s tempting, of course, to make comparisons between a guy like Eichmann and some of the political actors of our time. What “belief system” must one accept to justify the caging of children forcefully ripped from their mothers’ arms? It’s tempting to compare the thousands in perfect solidarity at a Nuremberg rally to the crowds today at certain political rallies, the fascist goon squads of 1930s Germany to a gang of men who take up arms to protest the tyranny of mandated mask wearing to slow the spread of a deadly pandemic. These types can imagine only one version of the world, as they believe it is, with powerful, evil cannibal child molesters trying to gain the upper hand, doing whatever they can to destroy our cherished way of life.

These crowds live, as we all do today, in echo chambers that magnify whatever bias they had last night, the one they wake up with today. A few guys are getting incredibly rich running these massive echo chambers while the rest of us face ever greater peril from endlessly magnified real problems that require deep thought, serious discussion and ingenious solutions, problems that are reduced to idiotic black or white, red or blue, yay or nay.

Thinkers are easily killed by violent men of action, men with guns, ropes, bombs. Violent, unthinking emotion, time after time, prevails over reflection, understanding, mercy, wisdom. That doesn’t make the attempt to understand, to be merciful, foolish. Understanding, and imagining a better future, is the only chance we have against the hoards who increasingly believe that politically powerful cannibal child rapists are coming to get all of the little white, Christian children in America and that only one man, an admittedly flawed vessel– but one secretly filled with Christ’s love — can save them. Decency prevails, when indecency becomes impossible not to see. The unimaginable stink of the thing can finally wake dozing souls to say: enough, goddamn it.

But we have to think. We actually have to think.

[1] F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1936, yo. A year one would have done well to keep this test in mind.

De-escalation is for Losers, according to Winners

If he wasn’t so destructive it would be tempting to feel sorry for him. That can be said for many angry, tyrannical, violent people, and it applies to our president, of course. Raised in a home where his ruthless and lawless father taught him that only “winning” matters, he never really had a chance not to be warped the way he was. Still, I’m not tempted to feel sorry for him. Not every abuse victim grows up to double down on abuse as an adult. Those who insist on their right to abuse others deserve our scorn.

This type sees every conflict as a zero-sum game to be won or shamefully lost. My father, an infant victim of vicious abuse, came to see the world this way, but deeply regretted the life-crimping idiocy of that view as he was dying.

Only in sports, where a neutral party keeps score, enforces rules of fair play and the team with the higher score beats the other team, does winning and losing in the strict sense actually come into play. The team that loses is not regarded by the victors as “losers” unless the winning team is composed of immature jerks. The rest of the uses of “winner” and “loser” are metaphorical and used to justify exploitative behavior by zero-sum thinkers, people too stunted to see the world otherwise.

At the same time, of course, there are winners and losers in every negotiation, victims and beneficiaries of every law. Every time the super-wealthy get another tax break, they win, the public’s ability to pay for programs and maintain infrastructure loses. Every time a court rules that private parties can be as homophobic as they like in conducting their business — a win for homophobes, a bitter day for homosexuals and their friends. Whenever an unarmed person is killed by police and an investigation determines the killing was justifiable– somebody wins and the family of the dead person (and society at large) loses again– and has their noses rubbed in their “loss”. There are countless examples of this kind of shit, which some call injustice, but that doesn’t mean the world, or nature, actually works in this smash ’em in the fucking face and WIN! way. It is a construction favored by authoritarian types.

Every sustainable system requires some give and take, cooperation and compromise always leads to better results than zero-sum warfare. Cooperative systems do not view things in absolute terms — that one party wins everything, the other must lose everything. Seeing things as win-win is for LOSERS, according to those who believe the world is composed of winners and losers. Like I wrote at the top, you could feel sorry for this type if they weren’t such ruthless, destructive fuckers.

Their approach to conflict is to dominate. You dominate people who work for you, dominate the news cycle, you dominate protests in the street, dominate the news about the protests in the street. You escalate conflict constantly, to prove your strength (which you always doubt and so must continue to prove). You provoke confrontations to demonstrate that you are capable of using more violence than the other side.

I recognize this idiocy from my senseless childhood battles with an adult who waited almost fifty years to realize he was wrong for framing everything as a war. When we’re upset we need somebody to de-escalate the situation, not enflame things by framing it as another instance of a war we are going to lose. Even as a very young boy, I understood this, was dismayed that my hurt was always quickly recast as irrational anger. If I wasn’t angry before, I was once I was angrily accused of being angry. And so it goes.

It’s now common to call the recasting of legitimate feelings as crazy delusions “gaslighting,” though I always still think of it as reframing. As the Kenosha sheriff said the other day about the people murdered by a 17 year-old from out of state who came to “police” the protest over the Jacob Blake shooting, a kid in illegal possession of a deadly long gun; if they had obeyed the curfew, they wouldn’t have been killed.

See what he did? Now we’re talking about lawbreakers, and maybe they shouldn’t have been killed, but clearly, they shouldn’t have been on the street after dark, openly violating the curfew. Not saying it was their fault, but if they’d obeyed the law they’d still be alive.

When people with a legitimate grievance, protesting legally, are met by a display of unyielding state violence — the outcome is not hard to predict. Maybe instead of “defund the police” the call should be more explicit:

De-escalate!

recruit police who are prone to de-escalate, mediate, problem solve, change the culture, send police out to emergencies with people trained in these things. Make violence a last, not first, resort.

When police show up where somebody is upset, acting crazy, if they have no training in how to de-escalate the situation, they will use the only tools they have and it is likely that someone will get hurt. A person who doesn’t need to die will often lose their life in this situation [1].

It’s a very weak definition of “Law and Order” to insist that a naked man acting irrationally is justifiably killed by police who inform him to lay face down on the ground. He disobeyed a direct order: subdue him, choke him, shoot him if necessary.

The police are not trained to de-escalate these situations. They should be. There is nothing weak about someone with the power to kill you instead calming you down, protecting you.

[1]

These killings of citizens by police are so common (contrary to Bill Barr’s lying assertion that “only seven” unarmed blacks died at the hands of police last year) that most of them don’t even make the news:

In Arizona, body-camera and surveillance footage released Tuesday show Phoenix police officers held a man on the hot asphalt for nearly six minutes before he died in the back of a police car earlier this month. Twenty-eight-year-old Ramon Timothy Lopez was apprehended on August 4, chased and tackled to the ground by one of the officers. Two others later arrived on the scene. After pressing him into the scorching hot pavement for six minutes, Lopez was lifted and placed in the back of a police car, where he was later found unresponsive. Photographs revealed his skin was covered in burns.

source

When I mentioned this story to a friend she asked me what the guy had done. I have no idea, but I whatever was doing — how does it justify what they did to him — killing him without a trial by burning him and suffocating him on the hot pavement? Depraved indifference to human life, at best.

A Few More Thoughts About Time

When I got the call from my sister, during a festive meal at the home of old friends, that my father had been admitted to the hospital after being brought to the emergency room, time changed.   

“When I saw the doctor’s face I knew this was it,” my sister told me, “he looked like the malach ha mavet (Angel of Death).”  The specialists my father had been seeing regularly — cardiologist, endocrinologist, hematologist — collectively had no clue that their patient was in the last stage of liver cancer, days from death.    The ER doctor, assessing my father’s jaundiced color, difficulty moving and tapping his stomach, distended with ascites (liver-related fluid build up in the abdomen) [1] knew at once that this man was in the last days of liver cancer.

Two doctors were at the dinner table when I got the news.  When I mentioned the ascites they both told me not to worry, that ascites can be from many things [2], that I should wait and talk to the doctors at the hospital.  I consider their reassuring lies to have been a kindness, under the circumstances, and always think of their unspoken, united determination to shield me from extra worry with great fondness.

“If you have any family who want to see him before he goes, you should call them right away,” the ER doctor told my sister.

A couple of days later I arrived in Florida.   My father was attached to a bag hanging off the side of the hospital bed.  The bag was filling with the most unhealthy looking liquid I’ve ever seen.   It was the color of cancer.  It dripped away, along with what was left of his life, for the three or four days I was in Florida before my father breathed his last breath.

My father was eager to see his little brother, a man he had always bullied and dismissed.   Once, late in his life, when my father was returning from a short visit to his brother I asked him how my uncle was doing.   My father paused for a few seconds to reflect then uttered this great line:  “let’s just say, he remains unchanged.”   At the end my father was anxious for his brother to be there and his brother rushed to Florida.

I went to pick my uncle up at Ft. Lauderdale airport.   When we got to the hospital he immediately stopped the doctor, who’d met us in the hall to update us about the patient’s condition, to ask if there was any chance of a liver transplant for his dying 80 year-old brother.   I had to take my uncle by the arm to let the uncomfortable doctor get away.  The way the two brothers clung to each other at the end was poignant to see.

My uncle was a bossy man and he instructed us all, at around nine pm, that it was time to let the dying man rest.   For some reason we all left the hospital.  I even attempted to get to sleep, hours before my natural bedtime, which is around four a.m.    Suddenly I sat up, thinking “what the fuck?,” got in the car and headed back to the hospital.   

My father, who’d told me earlier in the day that he wanted to talk to me, that he was still assembling his thoughts, was wide awake when I arrived around one a.m.   He appeared to be expecting me.  I’d always had an adversarial relationship with my father, one I’d tried many times to improve, but my father was so deeply, fundamentally wounded that meaningful peace with him was pretty much out of the question.   

I’m a fairly creative person, with an active imagination, and, once I left my parents’ house, I’d tried everything I could imagine over the years to make peace with my old man.  In the end, when he angrily told me that if he ever told me what he really felt about me it would do “irreparable harm” to our relationship, I saw that his desperation was too great for him to overcome.   He would “win” by destroying what was left of our ability to discuss things beyond the weather, baseball, history and politics.   I stopped banging my head against the locked door at that point.

I am writing about time.   Two years passed from that final slamming of the vault on any hope for real dialogue with my father.  Nobody knows from one minute to the next how long the rest of their life will be.  I can measure it now:  two years elapsed from the time I became certain that no true peace with my father was possible.   

During those years I was in psychotherapy, and I finally reached a point where I was able to understand that my father was incapable of doing any better; that he was actually, sad as it was, doing the best he could.  Knowing this allowed me to let go of a lot of the anger I had toward him.   

Luckily, I had this revelation a few months before I got that call from my sister than our father was not long for this world.  I was ready, in a sense, in a way I couldn’t have been holding on to the pain and anger my father’s righteous prosecutorial rage inspired in me.

Now, on April 29, 2005,  it is after one a.m. on what would turn out to be the last night of my father’s life.   The first question he asked is if I’d brought the digital recorder I’d bought for him earlier in the day.   I’d left it with the nurse, got it, turned it on, propped it on his chest.   

The next thing he said was that his life was basically over by the time he was two.   He didn’t mention why, it was something I already knew (though not from him) — his angry, religious mother had whipped him in the face from the time he could stand.   Add to that “grinding poverty” and turning five as The Depression began, being the poorest of the poor in a small town as everyone in your family back in Europe is being rounded up and killed, you begin to get the picture.   Betrayal by a mother, shame and humiliation are not easily overcome.   I can’t imagine the struggle my father had, to appear strong, infallible, while making only glancing references to the “demons” we all must deal with.

Because I was no longer that angry, because my father was dying, I knew my purpose in that room was to make his death as easy as it could be.   I was not there to challenge him, I was there to comfort him.  I understood without needing to think about it that these moments were not about me, they were about him.

When he apologized for putting obstacles in front of my sister and me, making our lives harder instead of helping us in times of need as a loving father should, I told him he’d done the best he could.   

When he told me he’d felt me reaching out many times over the years, I nodded, thankful to hear him finally acknowledge it.   He lamented that he’d been too fucked up and defensive for us to have this kind of conversation fifteen years ago.   

At the time the number seemed off to me — thirty years of war, fifteen of peace?   Later I realized that fifteen days, or even fifteen hours, of this kind of honesty would have been an amazing blessing.

We spoke quietly for several hours, the door to my father’s hospital room open, everyone else on the floor asleep.   The nurse, an angel in human form, sat outside the room.    The look of love she gave me when I left I will never forget.

Early next evening, as the sun was beginning to set, my father told my sister, my uncle and my mother that since I’d arrived it was a good time for them to take a break, go to the cafeteria and get something to eat. 

As soon as they were gone my father said to me “I don’t know how to do this.”   I assured him that nobody did, that it would be fine.   The nurse helped take down the bar on one side of the bed so I could sit closer to my father.  I don’t remember if I had my hand on him, or arm around him, or anything like that, but I sat close by.   

His breathing got shallower and shallower, death from liver cancer is supposed to be one of the gentler ways to go.   After the liver goes, the kidneys shut down and you go to sleep, only forever.   

A friend later told me the Talmud poetically compares the moment of death to removing a hair from a glass of milk.  It is an excellent description in the case of death from liver cancer.

Within twenty minutes or so my father took his last breath.   I reached over and closed his dead eyes with the fingers of one hand, like I’d done it a thousand times.

[1] A 0.66 second search reveals: 

Ascites is when over 25 milliliters of fluid fills the space between the abdominal lining and the organs. It’s usually caused by cirrhosis.

[2]  It turns out they were misleading me, not lying:

But the most dangerous problem associated with ascites is infection, which can be life-threatening. Ascites may go away with a low salt diet, and with diuretics (water pills) ordered by your provider.

Worthwhile investigations take time

I heard two award winning investigative reporters say that time is the single most important aspect of doing a full investigation into anything.   If you have the time to follow every lead, and go where that lead takes you, you will discover things that are impossible to learn if you’re working under a deadline.   To perfect any difficult thing, there is no substitute for time.   Robert Caro, the great biographer and historian, famously sometimes takes a year or longer to dig for the truth about a single disputed fact that troubles him.

Let’s take a moment to consider the gift of time itself, the single greatest gift we have, until we don’t have it any more.  Brother David Steindl-Rast gives a beautiful meditation on gratefulness for the gift of time and our ability to appreciate the wonders our senses provide us, if we take a few moments every day to pay attention.   He speaks midway through this beautifully illustrated TED talk by visionary nature photographer Louie Schwartzberg.   Well worth ten minutes to watch in its entirety, the monk’s inspirational short speech is cued up HERE (if you’re in a hurry).

 

 

Back to investigations, my own leisurely dive into my father’s life is a perfect example of the benefit of spending as much time as needed to gather something worthwhile.  Without any time limit, I carefully wrote out everything I know or could imagine about my father’s life.  I constructed this tricky puzzle, with many key pieces missing, in a darkened room, free from any thought that I had to rush.  In the end, after more than two years of doing this daily, I am finally able to truly understand my father’s motivations — in a way that was impossible for me to grasp as I was working toward it.   I don’t agree with every position he took, but I feel like I completely understand why he took each one.  That empathetic view was unimaginable to me as I was working over the sketchy puzzle in the dimness.

A long, thoughtful investigation will always be more fruitful than one done in a hurry.   We tend to miss details when we rush.  Sometimes these details can be very important.   The gift of time can cut both ways, as when it is extended or contracted for an unscrupulous purpose.

If, for example, A.G. Bill Barr empowers a federal prosecutor to launch a limitless, global exploration into the detailed investigation into Mr. Trump and associates that he calls “a travesty” based on the “flimsiest” of evidence, embarked on after illegal “spying” — after enough time and resources are invested something will likely be turned up about some irregularity or impropriety.    Something concrete to support Barr’s politically handy theory of partisan “presidential harassment” and baseless “spying” on a president who (in spite of massive proof to the contrary) took no help from Russia or anyone else.

As it turned out, in the case of “Russiagate,” there was incorrect information on two of the four original FISA warrants that began the surveillance and investigation into the Trump campaign’s coordination with Russian state actors who were later shown to have meddled directly in all fifty US states on behalf of Mr. Trump.  False information, perhaps a dozen instances of it, in at least two applications for the FISA warrants to wiretap Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page [1]. 

After enough digging by a team of prosecutors and investigators, a malefactor was found, an FBI lawyer who left out that Page had been an informant for the CIA at one time.    A smoking gun!    As announced a few days ago, this now unmasked traitor (who claims the mistake was inadvertent, not part of a Deep State coup d’etat against a duly elected American president) is going to plead guilty for this deliberate misstatement on an application for the original FISA warrant that got operation Crossfire Hurricane up and running.   

I’d always thought the standard of proof for a FISA warrant to be approved was fairly low.  I’d understood that something like 99% of them were approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.  Though 99% of them are granted, based on probable cause to reasonably suspect a national security threat, the standard of proof to submit a warrant is higher than I supposed.   Here is an article extensively quoting an FBI insider’s description of how high the bar for a FISA warrant actually is.

That said, the DOJ’s own Inspector General, like the DOJ’s Special Counsel Mueller before him, and the Republican majority Senate Intel Committee since [2], determined that there was adequate legal predicate for the investigation of what is now known to be widespread, high level cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russia, an investigation that resulted in numerous prosecutions and guilty pleas.   The DOJ’s IG pointed out the errors and omissions in the paperwork to get the FISA warrant and concluded that ambiguities in FBI and DOJ policy need to be tightened up.   He also made a referral for prosecution, which was not publicized much at the time.

It turns out the FBI lawyer was referred for prosecution by DOJ Inspector General Horowitz, not by the Barr/Durham criminal investigation [3].   But that is not for lack of effort by Barr/Durham who are determined to have some dramatic criminal indictments for an October Surprise to help their candidate.

With enough time and effort, a dogged team of investigators can usually turn up some kind of wrongdoing, about something.  If not Whitewater, for example, incriminating, irrefutable DNA on a blue dress.   Contrast this kind of thorough long-game investigation with one conducted under a tight deadline.

The tight negotiated deadline in the FBI’s five-day investigation into the sexual impropriety charge against Brett Kavanaugh is an example of a  investigation starved for time to investigate.   Even within that tight time frame, if the intent had been to verify or dismiss the allegation against the judge, the FBI could easily have learned if there was a house among that small circle of people at the gathering nobody specifically recalled (except for the girl who was traumatized) that fit the description the witness gave.   You walk up the stairs, bathroom on the left, bedroom directly across.   Who owned the home during the summer in question?   Did the parents work late every day?   Were they in town during the month the event nobody remembered took place? 

The answers to those relatively straight-forward questions make it more likely than not that one or the other was telling the truth, based on a now verified (or not) recollection of place.  Confirm the place, confirm the time frame, re-interview everyone there with this new information, other leads emerge, in time.

Of course, some investigations are merely for show, to demonstrate a willingness to investigate the truth or falsity of the statements of those involved, even if, as in the case of the Kavanaugh/Blasey Ford controversy, the FBI spoke to neither Kavanaugh nor Blasey Ford, nor Kavanaugh’s high school best friend, who was allegedly also in the room, also drunk, laughing uproariously and finally throwing himself on top of the two teenagers struggling on the bed, allowing one to escape.

Time, the only gift any of us cannot do without.

 

[1]  Wikipedia

Carter William Page (born June 3, 1971) is an American petroleum industry consultant and a former foreign-policy adviser to Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential election campaign.[1] Page is the founder and managing partner of Global Energy Capital, a one-man investment fund and consulting firm specializing in the Russian and Central Asian oil and gas business.[2][3][4]

[2]  Wikipedia:

The Republican-controlled Committee released its final report on 2016 Russian election interference in August 2020, finding that despite problems with the FISA warrant requests used to surveil him, the FBI was justified in its counterintelligence concerns about Page. The Committee found Page evasive and his “responses to basic questions were meandering, avoidant and involved several long diversions.” The Committee found that although Page’s role in the campaign was insignificant, Russia may have thought he was more important than he actually was.[101]

[3] Wikipedia 

Horowitz did fault the FBI for overreaching and mistakes during the investigation. These included failing to disclose when applying for a FISA warrant to surveil Page in October 2016 that he had provided the Central Intelligence Agency details of his prior contacts with Russian officials, including the incident the FBI indicated made Page’s conduct most suspicious.[84] In addition, Horowitz found that Kevin Clinesmith, an attorney in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Office of General Counsel (OGC), intentionally altered an interagency email to exclude from the FISA warrant application that Page was a CIA source from 2008 to 2013.[84][92] According to the Horowitz Report, if the FISA court judges had been informed of Page’s CIA relationship, his conduct might have seemed less suspicious, although the Report did not speculate on “whether the correction of any particular misstatement or omission, or some combination thereof, would have resulted in a different outcome.”[84][93] Horowitz referred Clinesmith to prosecutors for potential criminal charges.[94] On August 14, 2020, Clinesmith pleaded guilty to a felony for making a false statement by altering the email.[95][96]

Horowitz attributed the warrant problems to “gross incompetence and negligence” rather than intentional malfeasance or political bias.[97] In a December 10, 2019, interview on Hannity, Page indicated that he had retained attorneys to review the Horowitz Report and determine whether he has grounds to sue.[98]

In December 2019, the Justice Department secretly notified the FISA court that in at least two of the 2017 warrant renewal requests “there was insufficient predication to establish probable cause” to believe Page was acting as a Russian agent.[99]

In a subsequent analysis of 29 unrelated FISA warrant requests, Horowitz found numerous typographical errors but just two material errors, which were determined not to impact the justifications for the resulting surveillance.[100]

Best Case Scenario

Only four years accelerating the doomsday clock,
melting all the arctic ice,
giving the greediest ever more,
a few strong new laws needed to prevent a repeat

no violent second Civil War to save the Leader

fought by the same passionate men who waged —

— and never lost —

the first bloody uprising against

the tyranny of angry,
lawless
slaves.

Things Are Looking Good for the Feral Five

Sad as we felt the last few days, knowing we’d have to part with these beautiful, trusting, affectionate little souls, that sorrow is fading as we know they’re in good hands.    We brought them to a great cat shelter in Freeport yesterday, spent a sad night missing them, but today was much better.

A reminder that doing the right thing might sometimes hurt for a while, but it passes, the thing was worth doing and what remains is having done a good thing.  This case was the literal living out of the old saying  — if you love somebody set them free.  

The sudden withdrawal from that unlimited tender playfulness on demand that these little cats gave us whenever we spent time with them (when they weren’t napping) was painful, true, but our plan all along was to give them long lives of affection and safety we couldn’t provide them, much as we may have wanted to.

They are all being well cared for at an excellent shelter (where they’re all currently sleeping together and being treated for roundworm — they’ll be roaming the rooms with the others in a few days).   They will shortly become pets, sharing tenderness with humans who will fall for them quickly.

As they deserve.

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The heartbreak of trying to save a tiny life

Yesterday I chased a rogue male cat who’d been aggressive toward the little feral colony we feed.  This cat, who we call Grey Guy, is usually quick to leave the garden when threatened, but yesterday, though I sprayed him with the garden hose, he hardly moved.   He didn’t move away very far, got a bit wet, looked back at me, reproachfully.   When Sekhnet encountered him a few minutes later, he was determined to make contact with her, though she at first sprayed him too.   

“He’s dying,” she told me afterwards, with tears, “he figured he had nothing to lose.”   She brought him a meal, and as she led him to it I saw for the first time how sick he looked, skinny, mangey, sad, with a distended stomach hanging to one side.  His eyes were barely open, he moved with difficulty.  He seemed clearly close to death.  He ate a bit of his last meal, before an opportunistic intruder named Giovanni made off with the last of it.   He was too weak to fight off the much younger challenger and Sekhnet was not guarding him at the moment.  We’ve taken to pegging the aggressive Giovanni with small stones when he hops the fence looking for food.

The cats we feed are Mama Kitten (so named because she gave birth to at least 20 kittens over the course of about three years, from a very young age) her three surviving daughters, Paint Job, White Back and Little Girl, and their probable father, Spot.   We watched almost every one of Mama Kitten’s offspring die or disappear.   We learned not to get too attached to the kittens, who tended to have very short lives in the wild.  Recently we trapped Mama, Spot and the three surviving daughters (who were old enough to get pregnant) and took them to a vet to be “fixed.”   Here is Mama with her first litter, back in September 2015.

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That big kitten toward her back legs we named Grey Guy.  He also disappeared after a few months, we assumed a hawk got him.  Hawks circle overhead here during kitten season.  They are circling today.

This stable little group protects their turf from intruders and we help them enforce their claim whenever we see another cat trying to get in on their action.  Giovanni (likely another of Spot’s offspring) has been a particularly insistent interloping pain in the ass, he bullies White Back and Paint Job and I’ve changed my attitude toward him.  It’s true he’s only trying to survive, but still, chasing our cats across the speeding traffic in the service road is a one way ticket to somewhere else.

About a year ago a haggard looking grey cat stood watching me on a street a couple of blocks from the house.   He didn’t run, or even back away, when I approached him.  He seemed to know me, and he was clearly hungry.   He appeared to be the grey kitten from Mama’s first litter, Grey Guy, a cat we assumed had died along with the others who all disappeared within a few months.   I called Sekhnet, and Grey Guy stood by, waiting with me until she brought a can of food and he ate it from a spoon, like he did as a wee pup.

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It was, in fact, Grey Guy.   He’d been living a rough life on his own and the years had not been kind.   After feeding him a couple of times we saw he was often savage with the other cats and we eventually drove him away.   He apparently came back the other day for one last visit before he died.

His presence reminded us how hard life is for a feral cat living on the street.  “He came as a harbinger,” Sekhnet said.  His poignant farewell came as we are completing the process of domesticating five feral kittens another mother cat dropped off in the garden, introducing them to big-hearted Sekhnet and the greatest cat buffet in the area.  Grey Guy’s appearance was a reminder of the short, brutal lives these affectionate little animals face in the wild. At five years-old he was ancient.  A house cat typically lives two or three times that long.

We became determined to find homes for these kittens, to give them full lives as beloved pets.   The boldest of them (and the runt of the litter) we named Alpha Mouse.  He was ready to be a pet right away.   His brother Beta was not far behind.  Both liked being petted from the start.  The other three were wary, as stray cats tend to be.   Here’s two shots of Alpha, then Beta:

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We found a shelter twenty miles from here that would take them, we caught them and brought them inside, into a large cage Sekhnet bought online.  We couldn’t bring them to the shelter for adoption until they are calm and happy being handled by humans.  A volunteer at the shelter gave us some good tips, the rest was just time spent with them, petting them in the cage, feeding them by hand, gaining their trust.

The patience and tenderness you need to show to get a feral kitten to trust you is repaid with a tender affection that can’t be explained.  The little creature who was afraid to be touched now solicits your caress, cranes her neck to be stroked just right, pushes her little face into the palm of your hand, purring in contentment.   They all sit on our laps now, after only a few days of adjustment.   

We are doing the right thing trying to find them homes, as hawks continue to circle outside looking for their little tidbits of delicious prey, as all of the hardships that oppose any animal’s existence rage out there at a moment when we humans are also hunted during this pandemic.   The right thing, the kind thing, turns out to not be easy sometimes.

I’m waiting for a call back from the small shelter that they have room at the inn for these five (they do).  A friend is on hold to do us a tremendous favor, renting a cargo van so we can drive them out to the shelter in their cage tomorrow, rather than stuffing them into the single cat carrier we have for a fairly long trip, their first in a car.

Meanwhile, Alpha sometimes cries and is only consoled by being petted a bit.  Sekhnet and I are crying all the time.   They are so affectionate with each other, it makes Sekhnet cry every time she thinks of them being separated.   

Every moment with them is a reminder of the relentless inevitability of separation, the pain of eternal leave-taking.    Having this constant reminder is hard work, particularly during this depressing pandemic, I can tell you for sure.  Operation Poignant, I told my friend’s voicemail yesterday, my voice cracking.

Here’s one of the last feral hold-outs, Devilhead, who now likes nothing more than the feeling of human fingers brushing lightly along the underside of her jaws.

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Evil needs darkness to thrive

Evil plans generally require a careful hiding of true motives, calculated lying about the reasons something is done, aggressive justification at every step. These things become much easier to do when inconvenient information, so-called “facts”, are simply hidden. Evil hates any sort of transparency, particularly regarding compromising information of any kind, for reasons that are easy to understand.

Trying “leakers” (sometimes called “whistle-blowers”) under a draconian 1917 Espionage law (made to squash all dissent and anti-war sentiment as the US entered The World War) that does not allow the intent of the leaker to be part of their defense, is a dramatic example of a law designed to ensure a lack of transparency for the public, on pain of death. Literally.

Mary Trump’s book about her divisive uncle Donald apparently begins with an epigraph from Victor Hugo. The truth of it is worth pondering, in civic life and personal life, both:

“If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness.”

As Amy Goodman added, in her long talk with Mary Trump today, “the epigraph is clearly a reference to what Fred Trump, your grandfather, you say, did to Donald Trump”

I think of terrible secrets in my own small family and the destructive effect they had on many lives. I think of the gnawing regrets my father expressed the last night of his life, wishing he’d had the courage to face some of them, the ability to see beyond his understandable shame.

I am sometimes forced to live in the menacing shadows of this family darkness, and it is not a comfortable place to be, I can tell you from my own soul. In that darkness is the root of all depression, desperation and hopelessness.