Tucking Melz in (Two)

An illustration of the inherent feebleness of even a well-reputed memory (such as my own).  

I noticed that yesterday somebody had clicked on an old post called “Tucking Melz In” and I told Sekhnet the story.   Later I read the piece and was amazed to find a significantly different anecdote, bearing little resemblance to what I’d just told Sekhnet, which was, minus the first paragraph (which she already knew) which was:

Five and a half years ago an old friend, Melz, succumbed to a rare and deadly form of soft tissue cancer.   When I say succumbed, I mean he died.   The funeral was conducted by his long-time bosom buddy, trained as a rabbi and with a great talent for humanistic public speaking.   He conducted a beautiful funeral.   It’s hard to say how he held himself together the way he did.

Afterwards, at the golf course-like cemetery (no head stones) as we gave our shovels to others who were taking turns burying Melz, according to our tradition, Alan and his wife Terri came up to me.  Alan said (referring to the wonderful funeral oration we’d just witnessed) “you realize, if we die before Sokoll, we’re fucked.  Who’s going to do our funeral?  Think about it!”

I did.  As I was thinking, Sokoll walked by and we told him our concern.  The good rebbe told us not to worry.  “I’ll bury all of you fuckers,” he said, without breaking stride.   Oddly reassuring words.    

After a moment Terri said “let’s go tuck Melz in,” and we walked over and took over the shoveling for a while.

(compare with the original, written a day or two after the funeral)

 

The Poison is Always the Same

There are certain people, tormented by painful needs they have no insight into, who lash out at others as a way of trying to feel better about their own gnawing sense of inadequacy.  This terrible sense of worthlessness was instilled in them when they were children by equally damaged people.   It is possible to largely recover from this kind of mistreatment, but it takes a lot of work.  The only time many damaged souls feel equal to a world they believe is otherwise crushing them is when they are fighting to dominate others.   Injecting poison into others is as close as they come to mastering situations they feel are beyond their control, confrontations they feel at a fatal disadvantage in.

The poison is always the same.   The need to deliver the toxic bite always comes from the righteous feeling of being a victim.   Only defending themselves, you dig, from stronger, more vicious predators.  They have no choice, you understand, because they believe they’re always under attack, and at an unfair disadvantage, and are only doing what is right, what anyone in their position would do.

This toxic cycle is sadly common in human affairs.   The toxic type has only one response to everything: injecting more poison.   We’ve become familiar recently with the term “doubling down” in our partisan politics.   It is a gambling term with wide application in human affairs — it means, according to the first google hit,  “to strengthen one’s commitment to a particular strategy or course of action, typically one that is potentially risky.”   If you seem to be wrong, if anyone questions you, double down — come at them twice as hard.  A strong, angry denial is a much better plan of attack than allowing the possibility that you might have made a mistake, done something wrong, share some blame for the ugly situation you find yourself in.

People with very low self-esteem often feel called upon to fight, to never relent or admit the possibility of even partial fault, to never see another person’s point of view, to constantly double down on the poison.  We can intellectually understand the factors that may have made them this way, a scalding feeling of inferiority, self-hatred, being unloved, but that understanding is little protection against the pain of their bite.   The poison is always the same.

My best advice, whenever possible, avoid this type like you’d shun a whiff of anthrax or the AIDS virus smeared on an open cut.   The poison is always the same. There is really no antidote other than expelling the noxious shit.   It takes time and work to get it all out of your system, I can tell you from experience.   Given the choice, once you recognize this type at work, move away as expeditiously as possible.   These poor motherfuckers simply cannot help themselves.

If one of them, God forbid, becomes the most powerful person in the world, be resolute and strong in removing them from power.

Three comments from a reader

I rarely get comments on this sparsely read blahg.  Yesterday I got two.  I had an email for each, asking if I approved the comment for “publication”.  The comments were from the same person.  I read the first, and then the second.   The second email had this red warning banner at the top:

Screen shot 2019-06-02 at 3.13.02 PM.png

I see now that I have a third comment from Boxerpaws.   So I’ll answer them all here, to err on the side of safety.  I hope you read these replies, my friend, and thank you for your comments.

The comment on  this post

the IRS would have busted Pres Trump if they had found any wrongdoing. What Fred Trump did or didn’t do is irrelevant.

The IRS has a special unit that deals with the tax returns of very wealthy citizens.   Over the years they collected a tiny amount of money from Fred for his under-reporting income, undervaluing assets and other tax mistakes or violations.  Young Donald and his siblings were lifetime beneficiaries of Fred’s tax avoidance schemes and certainly knew, as adults, that he was fraudulently funneling money to them using fake corporations they were officers of, and his other tax dodges.   Did you read the massive NY Times investigative piece?  The Failing NYT was never sued by the president’s many lawyers, in spite of the threat printed in the article itself. 

President Trump will not produce any financial documents … because?   There is every appearance that the president is lying about the longest tax audit in American history.  His appeal of a judge’s decision in the Deutsche Bank case is another example of him being “the most transparent president in history”.  He has been known, on occasion, to lie.  This is something you have to admit, I think.

Also Fred, in old age, had lawyers summon Donald and the other siblings to make sure now President Trump’s plan to become sole executor of Fred’s wealth never happened.   Don’t forget how many times Fred had thrown in tens of millions ($400,000,000 in today’s dollars) to insulate his reckless (or audacious, if you prefer) son from multiple business disasters.

Your comments on this post

“Barr did what Mueller asked, but he waited a few weeks before releasing anything from Mueller.”  Barr had no requirement to release it at all. He released it both for public consumption and Congress.

OK.  But as the sentences that follow the quote point out, during those weeks Barr waited, with Mueller’s fully redacted executive summary and a letter from Mueller disputing Barr’s conclusion of “no collusion, no obstruction, exoneration” in his hands as of March 27, Americans were deliberately misled by Barr.   The narrative that Americans absorbed in the course of almost a month of redacting, in the absence of the details of numerous incidents of obstruction of justice that were laid out in the report (and in the executive summary) was false.  

Have you read the Mueller summary outlining the ten or more examples of obstruction ?  It’s a ten minute read, all Americans should read it.

Mueller told Barr in the presence of witnesses that the DOJ ruling that a sitting Pres cannot be indicted had no bearing on his decision. So which time did Mueller lie? The first time to Barr et al or the 2nd time at his ‘presser’. 2. there is no LAW stating that a sitting Pres can’t be indicted. It amounts to a DOJ guideline. Nothing more,nothing less. IF a sitting Pres couldn’t be indicted for a crime he could rob a bank/murder his wife and get away with it as long as he was in office. Use your head.

Let’s assume that Barr was telling the truth, and witnesses can verify that Mueller lied to him over and over at a meeting when he said under no circumstances could he have indicted President Trump using the evidence compiled in his report.   How does that change anything dozens of witnesses said, under penalty of perjury, in Mueller’s report?   Also note that Trump and Barr are the only two people we know of ever to accuse Republican Eagle Scout Mueller of dishonesty. 

Do we assume, if Mueller lied to Barr about that policy decision, and even falsely claimed that a certain regulation required him to abide by the OLC guideline about indicting a sitting president, that he’s lying about everything in his report, including all of the sworn testimony of many witnesses?  

If so, doesn’t the same assumption apply to President Trump, who sometimes lies?

The standard for impeachment is not the same as for a criminal trial — they do not have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the president committed crimes.   To remove an impeached public official from office they only have to show, to the satisfaction of the American people and 65 Senators, how he abused his power to undermine our constitutional system.

As candidate Trump himself observed, he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and not lose any supporters.  This seems to be the case, if you ignore all the findings in the Mueller Report and focus only on whether Mueller lied to Barr about one key point during a closed door meeting.  

Let us turn to President Trump’s strong refutation of the Mueller report. Here is the president’s strong case that Mueller is a vicious enemy of his, with a giant “conflict of interest”.  

How am I not using my head?

Thanks again for these comments.

 

A few thoughts on thinking

The most satisfying and memorable kind of conversation is like a great catch.  The thought you throw to the other person is held for a moment and tossed back, with an interesting additional idea, and it comes directly into your hand, for a moment of consideration, before you toss it back.  There is a rhythm to this kind of chat, and no rush to talk.

What you just said reminds me of something eerily similar that happened to me years ago.  I mention it.  You raise your eyebrows, nod, yes, it’s very similar, but there is one big difference.  You elaborate.  I hadn’t thought about that, but, sure, that’s a very big difference, all the difference in the world, really.  

You can learn something important when a distinction is illuminated like that.  This kind of conversation is a way of thinking back and forth, of collaboratively considering things and shedding light on some of the mysteries of this mysterious life.    

Most talks between us are not so much this way, they are quick, many unrelated things come and go, threads pop up and disappear, shorthand is substituted for consideration, we move on, time is fleeting, we gossip, we vent, we don’t linger to converse in the more thoughtful mode every day.

We can all remember specific conversations that were on a deeper level, that moved us, changed us even.   I recall one, during a bike ride with an old friend, when she told me something obvious and profound that I’d never thought of.  She put it succinctly, in a phrase, and it changed the way I saw things.  I had one, and only one, wonderfully deep, personal conversation with my otherwise fussy, distracted Aunt Barbara.  In the living room of my parents house, after everyone else had gone to sleep, the moments with her I value the most.

The desire for this kind of conversation is a big reason people love to read.   We have a dialogue, of a sort, with another mind, a mind who was driven to set things on paper, after combing them into the readable form we have in front of us.   I am reading a book like that now, a novel.   Full of what Zora Neale Hurston called “that oldest human longing”, the desire to reveal ourselves to another, to speak our deepest personal truths and be seen and heard as we really are.   Speaking is great, writing is a more refined version of speech.

This dialogue with the author is a big reason we read.  I knew nothing about Shoshana Zuboff except that she recently gave a few very interesting interviews about her mind-blowing book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.   I didn’t pick up the book because I wanted a dialogue with her specifically, the subject she wrote about was compelling to me.  It turns out she is not only a very perceptive and extremely well-read woman, she’s fucking brilliant, creative and extremely engaging.  

She reminded me of Hannah Arendt in the way her book was loaded with thought-provoking insights seemingly peripheral to her central idea. Of course, no insight is peripheral to anything, in the hands of a creative thinker and skilled writer.

Take this seemingly random peripheral insight from her book.   We in the West have long valued the idea of our own autonomy.   The principle that we alone, as individual moral actors, have the final say in what we think and do.   This idea, Shoshana Zuboff points out, is under great pressure now, in an age when systematically modifying our behavior, our choices, how we think and interact, is increasingly monetized by people who become billionaires by tracking our every impulse, particularly things like the desire to be accepted by others,  and directing these impulses toward personally targeted commerce.  

The ideal consumer is one who is not autonomous, driven by deeply held beliefs and a strong internal need to feel independent, but heteronomous.

Heteronomous?   What the fuck?

Shoshana Zuboff provides this great term as the opposite of autonomous.   Heteronomy is the external force, based on an overarching concept, that drives mass conformity.   This indispensable word is apparently a coinage of Immanuel Kant’s [1].  

Note: the digital technology that allows us to instantly search for and pull up information, opinion and historical (and ahistorical) details is a sharp double-edged sword, of course.  We are all very smart, in our information age, and capable, if we wish, of effortlessly fact-checking and quoting very accurately, when we have instant access to the world’s collected information.  We are not nearly as impressive when we have no cell reception and only memory and wit to rely on.   In this age anyone can tap in a quick search and come up with:

Heteronomy refers to action that is influenced by a force outside the individual, in other words the state or condition of being ruled, governed, or under the sway of another, as in a military occupation.

Immanuel Kant, drawing on Jean-Jacques Rousseau,[1] considered such an action nonmoral.[2][3]

It is the counter/opposite of autonomy.

Philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis contrasted heteronomy with autonomy by noting that while all societies create their own institutions (laws, traditions and behaviors), autonomous societies are those in which their members are aware of this fact, and explicitly self-institute (αυτο-νομούνται). In contrast, the members of heteronomous societies (hetero = others) attribute their imaginaries to some extra-social authority (e.g., God, the state, ancestors, historical necessity, etc.).[4]

source

 

The actions of a heteronomous person are driven not by an internal imperative to act based on a personal, individualized belief system, but by an external force.  The masters of the force that moves masses can make themselves all-powerful and wealthy beyond the dreams of the most wanton slaveholder who ever enjoyed the involuntary company of an endless parade of beautiful servant girls.

You get a notification and look into your cellphone screen to read a come on that a third party has sent to you.  Your smartphone, of course, has a camera with a sharp lens and you have, by clicking “accept” when downloading the app, already given permission for the app and any associated third parties to have access to that camera.   As you look at the come on, the camera captures your reactions.   A few revealing micro-expressions are taken and filtered through algorithms that tell the third party exactly what you are receptive to receiving as a follow-up.  Disgusted by the ad?   We are too!    We’ll send you the antidote!

In our surveillance age, privacy is sacrificed to “security” and convenience.   The genius of the world’s smartest man, Jeff Bezos, was implementing a system to exploit his keen understanding that by monetizing the laziness and poor impulse control of the average American consumer he could become the richest individual in human history.  

Shop, in the privacy of your home, in your underwear, for the specific things that will make you elegant, popular, the envy of your friends and enemies alike.  Pay an annual fee and become a preferred customer, you can receive this great stuff almost instantly.   They’re working on a way to have robots and drones get this stuff to you in virtual real time.   What a world!

As we enjoy the convenience of this cyber world we give up certain crucial thing.   Human interaction has been changed by the always-on social media machine that converts the world into a data-driven high school popularity contest. The need for face-to-face play, improvisation just for fun, one of the great joys of human life, has been largely replaced by virtual human contact. Virtual human contact that allows third parties to monetize and profit from our need to connect.

Just as the female calf on the industrial diary farm never experiences the play that all young mammals have always enjoy as they master a host of social skills, including the flirting that will lead to reproduction (these industrially raised young cows don’t need to learn anything, they’ll be artificially inseminated and give more milk than any naturally raised cow) [2] today’s teenagers are growing up in a less playful, far more precarious, world few of us could have imagined.   Except perhaps on our worst day in junior high school.

A world where everyone has a camera on them at all times, for better or worse.  Where, on a dare, or being flirtatious, at an age when people are searching for the acceptance of their peers, racy nude photos are taken, exchanged, live forever on servers in virtual clouds.   At the worst possible time in the life of a fifteen year-old girl a formerly trusted best friend reveals a vicious side, posts that photo of you with the dick against your dumbly grinning face.   Of all the things that goad adolescent suicide, a good public humiliation is high up there.  Another person’s shame can now be uploaded, instantly, on to the internet everybody carries in their pocket.  This is a new, devastating weapon everyone is aware of.

Shoshana Zuboff discusses the wariness that must be imparted to children in this world of eternal invasive, largely commercial, surveillance.  Be paranoid, they are collecting every private insight that can be gleaned, in order to “serve you more efficiently”.  They are modifying your behavior in real time, and the reach of their prying apps, in continually more refined ways.  You are a sucker if you trust anyone.  Do not make eye contact, hit “like” and LOL.

I saw an ad for what seems to be a wonderful project.  A search engine that spends its profits planting trees, they’ve already planted millions of trees in formerly denuded, lifeless landscapes. We can read all the devilish details of what amoral motherfuckers Google’s executives are. They also built the greatest internet mousetrap in history, you have to give them credit.  The proof of Google’s value, as they say, is in the pudding, they are richer than fuck, among the most successful companies in history.   That’s really all you need to know.  Hate success?  You hate freedom!  (talk about heteronomous logic)

The alternative search engine I saw the ad for, Ecosia, has a series of wonderful ads.  They plant trees to restore destroyed rain forests, reclaim arid new deserts, provide habitat to preserve some of the thousand of species that are becoming extinct every day.   You can download their free app.   Sounds like a total win-win.  Fuck google.  Let me support a company that is doing something proactive to save our planet from the rapacious extractionists who are, to put it crudely, raping our biosphere to death.  

Then I think:  this is exactly what they want, isn’t it?  Talk about building the ultimate mousetrap.

Download the free app, along with every other idealist in the radius of Ecosia’s advertising,  and they are on your computer, on your phone, in your home, in your head.   They now have your name, and your every preference, on a worldwide list of everybody who fancies herself an idealist, everyone who wants a better world.  Who do they have to wipe out first, if they are to finally have everything just before the earth breathes its last?   Me and you, baby, the people who are determined to fight the grim, determined, heteronomous armies of death.  

Another bracing thing Shoshana Zuboff details is how this justified paranoia has decreased human to human trust among Americans.   We also have less and less trust for institutions, norms, the fairness of justice.  We are right to be paranoid, as we are screwed left and right, in the name of abstract principles that serve only the monetizers at the top of the societal food chain.   Distrust has become a kind of default setting as we learn more and more about the details of how we are being systematically fucked and lied to about the nature of this nonconsensual arrangement.

One final thought about thinking.  We tend to think in words (feelings come in many tastes, smells, sounds, colors, etc.)  and so a word like anodyne, or heteronomy, is essential in forming certain thoughts.  Without the word neatly expressing and encompassing the larger concept, we’d have nothing to chew on, at least not in a way we can express.  Something to masticate.

 

 

[1] Kant, a world-changing philosopher, is reputed never to have traveled more that a short distance from where he was born.  Forty miles is the distance I recall hearing from a chatty professor in a philosophy class at City College around 40 years ago.   I did a search for what that distance actually was, using the newfangled internet.  That he never travelled more than 16 km. (9.9 miles) from his birthplace is apparently a crock:  

A common myth is that Kant never traveled more than 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) from Königsberg his whole life.[45] In fact, between 1750 and 1754 he worked as a tutor (Hauslehrer) in Judtschen[46] (now Veselovka, Russia, approximately 20 km) and in Groß-Arnsdorf[47] (now Jarnołtowo near Morąg (German: Mohrungen), Poland, approximately 145 km).   source

Ninety miles, bitches.  Don’t believe the hype.

 [2]  Thank you, Yuval Noah Harari, for the description of this animal right to play and socialize, unsentimentally sacrificed without a second thought by the industry that brings Americans their dairy and meat.

Fiction Writing Workshop

Fortunately for Hal, who’d had a novel published to good reviews when he was fresh out of college, he came of age in an era when such things could be parlayed into a comfortable life.  Hal was a tenured professor of fiction writing by the age of thirty-two and never had to worry about making a living after that.   

When Hal’s father died, Hal got drunk.   He got the news from his sister, who’d been at the hospital when their angry, hopeless father breathed his last.  The old man was pissed off that Hal couldn’t make it back to the hospital to say goodbye one last time.   Hal had been at the hospital all day, went home to make dinner for his daughter, and his father was bitter about that last bit too, according to his sister, who had no reason to lie.

Hal told his sister he’d see her the next morning and went into the kitchen where he kept the Scotch.   He drank a good deal of that fine single malt, which the label said had been aged in a sherry cask.   The warm feeling came over him.   He sat quietly at the kitchen table, in a comfortable chair that could tilt any way he leaned.  

When Hal’s daughter came in, her father was already drunk, that familiar blank look on his face.  He changed his facial expression slightly as she came into view, but the effect wasn’t exactly a smile.  She already knew that grandpa was finally gone.   She’d had the text from her aunt.   She went into her room, locked the door, and a few moments later, tweeted that she was going to kill herself.

“This is your autobiography, Al,” his friend Tova told him, walking in through the back door, gesturing toward the bottle, the daughter’s locked door.  “As you have been telling your students for decades, even back when you were still writing, ‘all good writing is autobiography’.”

“Yeah, yeah.   I was full of shit,” said Hal.  “All bad writing is also autobiography.  A meaningless cliche, like all the other ones in the vast imaginary forests of bullshit.  Vanity.  What the fuck was I thinking?”

“You made a good living,” Tova said.  

“Yes, there was that,” Hal said.  

Tova had a notification from her phone.  She read the screen.  “You’d better call David, your daughter is going to kill herself.”

David was still seven hours away, driving through the foggy night from upstate.  Even in good conditions, it was a long and tedious drive. David was the only person who could talk to Debbie in a way that made any sense to her.

Hal found himself thinking of the family roots. His father had been the last of thirteen children, from some benighted hamlet in Poland nobody had ever bothered to put on a map.  Just as well, everybody there was dead, murdered one chilly afternoon in 1943, by people smelling of vodka.   Hal’s father was in the United States twenty years by then, the only one.  Nobody had a crystal ball, or the money to consult one, otherwise they all would have tried to come to America before that madman marshaled an army of murderous zombies.  

“Look, Hal,” Tova said, as she had many times, “I’m sorry you came from such a poor, shit family and got no rachmunis from anybody when they were all slaughtered, may they rest in peace.  I, and I don’t need to remind you, I have the papers to prove my right to be fucked up, both of my parents got checks from the German government until the day they died, as you know.  They were certified Holocaust survivors, I am a certified, official child of Holocaust survivors.  You, on the other hand, are a melodramatic self-pitying drunkard masochistically fond of brooding on history that happened while you were in boot camp.”

“I could have been Charles Kushner,” Hal had taken to saying recently, “son of two Holocaust survivors who got out of Europe in time, their assholes crammed with enough diamonds to build a small real estate empire in New Jersey.”  

Charles Kushner, the billionaire son of Holocaust survivors, begat Jared Kushner, who was so righteously outraged when his father was imprisoned briefly for simply hiring a prostitute and a filmmaker to make a video blackmailing his uncle, a man who was about to turn rat.  

The blackmail video was necessary to shame Charles’s sister, who Charles believed wore the pants in her home (and, also, appeared to be susceptible to the threat of public shame).  If she said the word, the fucking rat would not take the stand against her brother. Otherwise, her husband was scheduled to rat him out at the federal fraud trial that was about to start.  Charles had been given no choice, as he explained to Jared in the weeks before he was convicted, sentenced and disbarred.  The brother-in-law was the only witness who could really hurt him, and they seemed to be on the same page going forward, but the prosecutor flipped him.  

“Fucking rat,” said Charles, when he gave the money to the scumbag who set up the whole ill-fated prostitute and surveillance thing.

“Who knew my fucking sister was also a fucking rat?” Charles later asked a pigeon sitting on the window ledge of his cell at the federal prison.  “They never revealed if she’d worn a wire that day or not, the treacherous bastards…”   The bird nodded.

“Why is Debbie going to kill herself this time?” Hal asked Tova.    

“The tweet is vague on that,” Tova said.  

“I haven’t been much of an improvement on my old man,” said Hal.  “I have no clue how to help that kid.”  

“I’m going to make coffee,” said Tova.  

“To ruin a perfectly good buzz,” Hal said, pouring the last of the single malt into his glass.  

“Buzz-kill is what they called me in college,” said Tova.  

“You went to a top school full of smart bastards, didn’t you?”  

“Not like the place you teach, professor,” said Tova.  

“No, not like the place I teach,” said Hal, drinking up.  

“No matter, David will be here soon.”

“Let’s hope he can stay awake on the highway this time,” said Hal, tilting back in his chair.   There seemed to be no end to nights like this one, he thought.

 

(to be continued, or not)