No obituary for the man who read them every day

My father, a perplexing man,  like so many of us, read the New York Times obituaries every day.   He’d come into the kitchen holding the paper and announce to my mother, “Maurice Tannenbaum, tote” which meant “dead”.    Then he’d read a few bits from the dead man’s obit.

It sometimes seemed to me he was reading the death notices each day to confirm that he wasn’t among the dead himself.  I sometimes think of his obituary reading habit in relation to something I caught myself doing in a library once — searching for my name on the spines of books on the shelves.   It would have been impossible to find a book by me in the library, because none has ever been published, but I absentmindedly scanned the W shelf nonetheless.      

“I’m sure I’m not the first to point out that you seem to be a bit insane,” said the skeleton of my father, lifting his head slightly in his eternal dirt bed.    

Nor will you be the last, pops.  

“I’m wondering about the book of your life, now that mine, gigantically bloated like a dead body kept in warm water for a long time, is largely written and languishing… festering, if you prefer…” the skeleton turned his head, with that maniacal smile they all have.  “You know, it’s a deep question:  how do you summarize somebody, make their emotional life into a coherent story?  We are largely incoherent creatures, Elie, and making sense of a life is essentially a labor of the imagination, painting a convincing picture that people can recognize as uniquely human in a way they care about, in a way that relates to their lived experience.  But truly, what the fuck?”

When you died your brother gave me a 500 word obituary he’d written and printed out and told me to contact the Times and arrange to have it published.    (A year or two ago, after Sekhnet located the print-out, I posted that obituary here.)   At the time the long obit, and the demand that I call the Times and have it printed, both struck me as absurd.  In hindsight I realize it was a pretty good piece of work by my uncle and that there was nothing unreasonable, outside of my uncle’s overbearing and oblivious style, in his asking me to arrange to have the Times print it.  

“Well, my brother could have seen that you were organizing the funeral and writing my eulogy, and basically taking care of everything else, so he could have contacted the Times, but as you say, it wasn’t his style.”    

The question of style might hold the key to the biographer’s art.  

“And the ingestion of gaseous foods might hold the key to the biographer’s fart,” said the skeleton absently.

Sometimes I wonder why I drag you into this.  

“It’s a fair thing to ask yourself, Elie,” the skeleton revolved his head 360 degrees, a new trick he’d discovered, very disquieting.  

I started off thinking how you, a man who read the obituaries religiously, as we say, never had one himself.  There was no obituary of you ever published, that I am aware of.  

“Are you blaming me?   Don’t forget, I was dead already, so, I have to plead, I don’t know– I couldn’t have done it since I was already dead?”

Nah, of course not.   I was just wondering about my inaction in the days after you died, why I didn’t get the obituary printed somewhere.  

“Well, in fairness to you, it was probably related to your general inaction, your decided predilection for inactivity — how long is it since you broke that tooth and made a note to call the dentist?   Two weeks, three weeks?   I mean, don’t be hard on yourself, man, you are inactive about many things,” the skeleton turned to watch the lazy arcs of two turkey vultures.    

“Elie, I realize you’re feeling listless and lifeless today, I get that, I really do– you could hardly feel more listless and lifeless than I do, after all, but could you leave the fucking turkey vultures out of it today?”

One turkey vulture seemed to turn to the other in mid-air as if to say “watch this” and then deposited a long stream of vulture shit on to my father’s side of the headstone my mother had picked out for them.  

“Nice,” said the skeleton, doing his best to smirk, as he turned on to his side and seemed to sink back into his grave.  


Asking Unanswerable questions

I’ve long had the intrusive habit of asking of what often seem to be unanswerable questions.   They’re not unanswerable because there is no explanation, no cause and effect that can be laid out, no illuminating reasons that can be produced to get closer to the truth of what’s actually going on. 

They’re unanswerable because they are fucking hard questions, the true reasons are ugly reasons, and great forces are arrayed to make sure they are answered only in self-serving, inadequate ways, like Mr. Trump’s (no reply submitted) reply to Mueller’s last long, compromising written question about the actions of his disgraced former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.   

The real answer will often cause more trouble than its worth — to those who have something to lose by it.  The anodyne answer (like the ones the New York Times specializes in) is always preferable, though it’s usually only a partial answer that, while accepting the status quo as the way it should pretty much be, makes no trouble.   Except that it also provides no real clue about anything but how important it is not to make trouble if you want everything to continue pretty much as it is.

I get that I seem to be acting as though humans are mostly rational creatures, animals who use sophisticated tools and logical means to enjoy the many wonders of nature and live in harmony with our miraculous world.  A clever person could say it’s illogical to proceed as if logic ruled the world.   Indeed, the world, we can see at a glance, is clearly not ruled by Reason.   That doesn’t invalidate thoughtfulness as the best we can do in a world often ruled by selfish, enraged brutes.    Understanding is always a net gain, it seems to me, as is honest connection to others.

I also understand that my clinging to “understanding” is an emotional thing, stemming from my childhood need to feel heard and addressed.   Not to say some explanations are not far better than others, only that in seeking them feathers will often be ruffled and emotions raised to the boiling point.   I grew up in a home where that happened regularly.   Some of my parents’ outbursts were understandable to me, I’d touched a raw nerve I had reason to know would be raw — but some were just rage doing what rage does — raging.    What the hell is up with rage?

After our father died, my sister used a great phrase to describe a force that decisively shaped his life (and to a large extent our mother’s as well).  “Shame-based” she said, and it’s a phrase that explains a lot.   The main characteristic about shame is that it compels the sufferer to hide that painful emotion, to rationalize, defend, develop plausible sounding explanations for actions that are not always easy to justify, and often, to lash out violently at others.

Shame is a powerful force in world history.   Adolf Hitler spoke directly to the shame and thwarted national pride of his audience.  He spoke magic words to larger and larger crowds of desperate, angry Germans after Germany’s humiliating defeat in World War One and its submission to a harsh and destructive treaty.  According to the self-taught Mr. Hitler, the German army had never lost the war, not at all; Germany had the greatest military in the world, but it been savagely betrayed, you see, it was stabbed in the back.   No reason to feel national humiliation, the punitive Versailles diktat was heaped on a great and victorious nation by vicious, scheming, inhuman traitors, you understand.   Inferior traitors who continue laughing at Germany, traitors whose laughter will turn to whimpers and screams when we turn the tables!!!

Shame is the source of much rage and violence.    The need to hide shame and act out to keep it hidden is behind many of the terrible stories of savagery we see, many tragedies that unfold before us.  Shame leads directly to abuse, in its many forms. 

 A few years back I heard a great interview on this subject with a psychiatrist named James Gilligan who’d spent many years in prisons working with violent offenders.   He put his finger on shame as the common denominator for violent acts of domination, horrible things done out of a sense of being “disrespected”.    You can read his article on the subject here.    Every sadist was once humiliated, and the reaction to that humiliation is often expressed in a desire to humiliate others.   The vicious cycle (literally) is turned harder by the fact that we tend to blame ourselves for our shame, and for the sometimes shameful things we sometimes do to avoid further shame, which makes everything ten times worse.    

There is a great scene in the movie Goodwill Hunting that vividly illustrates the first step on path away from shame  — addressing the pain and forgiving the self for feeling it.    The psychiatrist, played by Robin Williams, finally get’s through Will’s (Matt Damon) resistance to gaining real insight.   The young man is clearly in pain, and his nerves are painfully exposed after he lays out the violence of his childhood, the terrible punishment inflicted on him by a brutal parent for no reason.    Williams tells him “it’s not your fault”.   The statement is undeniably true — the kid is not responsible for the uncontrollable violence of his angry drunk father.   Will tries to nonchalantly acknowledge this, but he is only retreating back to his tough guy pose.   The shrink, not going to miss the opening, tells the kid again “it’s not your fault.”   He keeps repeating this statement, in the face of his patient’s rising emotions.    In the end the young man breaks down in the older man’s arms and it’s a moment of great progress in his treatment.

Of course, it’s a Hollywood movie.  We know all about successful Hollywood movies — they are pretty much mostly bullshit.   Every time a couple has sex on screen — they come together.   Every time a victim gets a gun, she shoots her sadistic victimizer dead in the final scene.   The poorest characters live in beautiful homes.   Violence is cathartic, makes everything better.   Plus, for good measure, showing a naked woman or man is much more offensive, for purposes of ratings, than showing people being shot, blown up, smashed in the head with baseball bats.    Still, the essence of that scene between Robin Williams and Matt Damon crystalizes something deep and true.

We tend to blame ourselves, which increases our sense of being worth less than others who, aggravatingly,  do not seem to blame themselves.   Except in rare cases, nobody shows us how not to blame ourselves when we feel guilt, or regret, or shame — or rage, for that matter.   It’s our fault we are (slug in your pet fear here).   The poor, generation after generation of these hard-pressed fuckers, have only themselves to blame for their poverty.   After all, hard work and determined ambition is always rewarded in a free nation like ours — just look at all the successful people who worked their asses off to become celebrities!    Surely the poor can grab ahold of their own bootstraps and perform the physics-defying feat of lifting themselves off the ground by their own heels.   Even the metaphor is absurd — but no worries, the image is good enough for our purposes.  Our purpose, to sum it up, is “fuck you.  It’s not me, not us, not the way we do things here, it’s you, asshole.”

So it is down the line with superficial, stupid answers to troubling questions.   Husband, finding himself in a tight spot, as a result of unsuccessful embezzling and numerous lying attempts to cover up his crimes, about to declare bankruptcy he’s kept secret from everybody, suddenly threatens mass murder– stabbing, beheading and killing by fire — of his entire family.   What the fuck?  “He was under unbearable pressure!”  Decades later, the wife who never left, dismisses the homicidal raging as an isolated thing that only happened once.   Her children, two of the intended victims, must never know about the shameful, terrifying episode.   She can’t understand why she still has tremendous anxiety, even though her life is objectively pretty much stress-free, though, admittedly, she does blame herself for the low self-esteem that prevented her from leaving her volatile, serially untruthful husband.

A woman tells you, after a few glasses of wine, that she has always hated everybody.   Present company excluded, she adds with a wan smile, realizing how bad that categorical statement must have sounded.   We all laugh about it, admit that we hate most people too.   Then, over time, it emerges that this woman does hate EVERYBODY– present company now included.  Doesn’t talk to her brother or sister, rages at her children, is in a constantly escalating war with her husband, etc.  She hates everybody because, when it comes down to it, her life is shit and she hates that too– and, most unbearable of all,  it’s all her own fault.

A guy praises and thanks his old friend, offering to do him a favor he then, without explanation, decides not to do.   When questioned about this change of heart the guy explodes — “this is the last straw, you demanding fuck, I don’t owe you shit, I don’t owe you an explanation, you pushy fucking fuck!    I love you, man, but we have a gigantic personality conflict here, so maybe better if you just fuck off and die.”   The guy, on some level, must know he’s overreacting and trashing a long friendship over what seems to be a pretext, but, for whatever reason, it feels good for him to rage at this guy.   Certainly better than feeling whatever shame is behind his emotional outburst.

In any of these cases, the facts don’t speak for themselves.   The true causes are murky and, most likely, shame-based, as my sister said of our father’s frequent outbursts.   The wife whose husband threatened to kill everyone would need, at minimum, a sincere apology from her murder-threatening husband before they could move on together in their lives.    The woman who says she hates everyone is reaching out, clearly in pain, feeling isolated, no matter how justified her feelings of hatred may otherwise seem to her.  The guy who loves his friend would, it seems, extend a tiny benefit of the doubt rather than attacking, but, who’s to say?

You probe these kinds of shame-based scenarios at your own peril.  As we have seen over and over, many people would rather punch you in the face than look squarely at something that causes them shame, or even discomfort.   Turn on the news and you will hear the latest “social media” attack by a powerful man whose overbearing, inhumanly demanding, brutish father (and loveless, materialistic mother) instilled in him a lust to blame others as loudly as possible as the better alternative to dealing with the lifelong terror of shame and a deep sense of his “inadequacy”.   Better to put three, four and five year old enemies in prisons, let them stink and catch all the diseases unsanitary confinement produces, then brazenly lie about their conditions of captivity, than realize your entire life is based on unbearable desperation not to feel the shame inflicted on you by relentless sadists, no?

Telling the story of my father

I started this post a week back, intending to get back to draft two of my account of my father’s life.  I rarely let a post sit unfinished this way, but the shit has been flying off the fan so continuously with this not-non-Nazi president that I haven’t had a moment to reflect.   The distractions with this fellow are wall-to-wall but it’s my own fault that I’m so distracted.  Sekhnet tells me I lack executive function, the power to focus on and complete a task.   

My mind keeps flipping back to the witnesses who said Trump frequently used the forbidden word “nigger” while posing as America’s greatest businessman on a top-rated “reality TV” show.  Every American knows that Trump paid off women he allegedly had sex with, forced them to sign binding nondisclosure agreements.  The incriminating tapes of him from The Apprentice were also purchased, along with silence.   Does anyone doubt this thoroughly racist German-American ever used the word “nigger” to describe “a low IQ, stupid, ugly” person from a “shit hole country”?  Get the fuck out of here.  I wonder what, if anything, would happen if those tapes of the racist Trump honestly being Trump ever came to light.   Speaking the “n-word” (and fuck that f-ing n-word shit– how about having a real public discussion about American racism instead of banning an f-ing word, you c-words)  out loud seems to be the one taboo this norm busting winner has not broken.

OK, dad, now that I’ve filled the spittoon, let’s continue with you.

When I sat down to make a serious attempt at untangling the contradictory lessons of my poor father’s life– a life lived partly as a monster– I thought I was looking at a unique situation.  Irv Widaen was a bright, funny, sensitive, curious, affable, quick witted, well-read, sardonic, fairly hip, justice-oriented man  who was at the same time the brutal zero-sum Dreaded Unit in the cozy confines of his immediate family.   I imagined that solving this great riddle would be the journey of the book.   It turned out not to be.

1,200 pages and more than a year of pondering later, it dawns on me that my father’s story is not unusual at all,  In fact, it’s all too familiar, a fairly universal story.  The details of what makes somebody a tyrant in the confines of his family home are always somewhat different, but this Jekyll and Hyde personality is on view everywhere if you get a true peek behind the fragile facade of civility we all wear in public.   We are, each one of us, capable of monstrous things, when we are upset and “justified”, if we feel safe acting out.

How do I explain the life-altering brutality of a man who rarely hit his children?  It’s elusive, as, for many years the reasons this otherwise good man, sympathetic to  the underdog and committed to justice, ruthlessly oppressed those he loved the most were carefully hidden.   To understand how a father can be hard-hearted toward his children you must look at the role models he had, the humiliations he underwent, the painful conflicts he never resolved.

If you met Irv Widaen you’d have been struck by his intelligence, his quick-wittedness and how engaged he always was in a conversation.   He was funny.    He was honest.   He was committed to bending the moral arch of history toward justice.   Well-read and interested in the world around him, he could comment intelligently on any subject that came up.    He connected easily with people.  Though he had firm political views, he could argue both sides of virtually any issue, a skill not many people bother to develop.   He was irreverent.   Out of the blue he could hit you with some darkly funny observation that would crack up his friends.  I recognize now that he did the best he could, and I know this for sure from the regrets his expressed the last night of his life.

My sister never recovered from the damage our father did to her.  She feels I had it worse than she did, because, while she usually tried to keep her head down,  I always fought back.   I had it bad enough, and my path through life has been strewn with violent obstacles and sometimes vicious confrontations, though who can really say who suffers more from what?   

In the first draft of the Book of Irv (and I know I probably need a better title, for starters), I wrote everything I could recall about our father’s implacable anger, the black and white world he set out– a world where my sister and I might win individual battles but would “lose the war.”   What was the war, dad?   I mean, can one really comprehend the desperate insanity of a father teaching his children that formulation of  life?   “You might win this battle, but you’re going to lose the war.”   The war?   What the fuck, dad?

In turning over this material, I came to see things from my father’s distorted point of view.  Odd to say, my imagined conversations with the opinionated, voluble skeleton of my father, who spoke from his grave outside of Peekskill, the benighted little anti-Semitic town he grew up in, revealed my father’s point of view in ways I never could have imagined.   I know that I imagined all the responses the skeleton provided, day after day, but some still struck me as surprising revelations.   I actually came to see things through his eyes.

So one major thing I need to convey in the book, I see now, is how a damaged person, desperate to feel whole, and intact, fashions a persona to conceal the shame that tortures him in his private moments.

(more to follow, I have to get back to the protectors of our Klansman-in-Chief…)


Business as usual — running out the clock on the American experiment in representative democracy

I’d planned to get back to writing about my father, having had a renewed offer to get the story of my father’s life into printed book form recently.   Business as usual, and what Sekhnet has taken to calling my lack of executive function, has prevented me from starting to reframe the long manuscript into a svelte 250 page telling of the story of my poor father’s life.   I started a post on the reframing several days ago, but it got lost in my morbid fascination with our lying attorney general and the slow-motion horror show that is proceeding in our enraged, ill-informed nation.

My father would be worked up these days too, no doubt, if he were not already an insensate skeleton.  Three and a half months ago Mueller handed his completed report and a fully redacted executive summary to the new A.G., Bagpiper Bill Barr.   Barr, it should be noted, is an accomplished bagpiper.  I believe he may have won bagpiping competitions.   My father, oddly enough, always loved the bagpipes, but I don’t think he would have loved Bagpiper Bill in the least.   Bill is running the clock, like the pro he is.  

My father used to be a bit disgusted to see a college team running out the clock toward the end of a close game, spreading out and passing the ball in a methodical way that made it virtually impossible for the other team to have a chance to score.   Unsportsmanlike, if very pragmatic, to keep passing the ball that way, ahead by a couple of points and freezing the action until the other team desperately fouled, hoping for a rebound and a chance to score, as the clock wound down to 0.

Almost four months ago Robert S. Mueller III handed in his report to the A.G.   Barr spent months spinning the findings with a bravura flair for untruthfulness, is spinning them still.   Mueller was subpoenaed and was scheduled to testify before two House committees on July 17.  Then, as it happened, not enough members of Congress had read his long report, they needed more time to get questions ready for Mueller.  This delay was apparently at the behest of Democrats, looking at their one shot to convince their party’s iron-willed political strategist Speaker Pelosi that what is described in the obstruction section of Mueller’s is much worse than what Nixon was accused of in the third Article of Impeachment against him.

Instead of discussions of the report’s actual contents, partisan spins have been offered on both sides, parsing short cryptical public comments by Mueller, two months ago, and continual, ever flowing less ambiguously exculpatory ones by Barr.  

So Mueller is now scheduled to testify, for three televised hours, on July 24, four months to the day from when Barr presented his misleading conclusions a couple of days after Mueller delivered his finished report, and fully redacted executive summary, to his boss.   Nice way to run four months off the ticking game clock, boys. Mueller will now speak to Congress on July 24, in three hours of must-see TV, and then, two days later, Congress will go on its well-earned six week vacation.

Democracy is on a ventilator — as our unchecked, unmoored president, who came into power on a robust, surgical 78,000 vote victory in several key states to win the Electoral College, has found his Roy Cohn at last — and these public servants are leaving Washington for some nice R & R before resuming their grueling campaign financing schedules in the fall.   My father would dismiss this last bit as within their rights, as business as usual and nothing to get excited about.   People can’t be expected to sacrifice their paid vacations, he would say.

Still, William Barr, the openly corrupt president’s handpicked gunsel, I know would be giving the old man fits.  The latest is that he succeeded in preventing the two former DOJ attorneys who worked with Mueller from voluntarily testifying to Congress.  The NY Times (which the old man read cover to cover every day)  reports:

And, for now at least, Democrats have agreed to proceed without immediate access to Mr. Mueller’s top deputies that had previously been incorporated into his appearance on Capitol Hill. Both House panels had expected to have a chance to question the deputies, Aaron Zebley and James L. Quarles III, in private after Mr. Mueller’s public testimony.

The Justice Department had objected to such questioning and directed the men not to appear. But the reason for the change was not immediately clear.


Almost two months ago, Barr told an interviewer on a CBS broadcast:

From my perspective the idea of resisting a democratically elected president and basically throwing everything at him and you know, really changing the norms on the grounds that we have to stop this president, that is where the shredding of our norms and our institutions is occurring.


It’s hard to disagree with Bagpiper Bill.   It’s not as if this president was an illegitimate trickster, born in Kenya and living here under a false birth certificate, the real one disqualifying him from running for president, a secret Muslim with a name so suspiciously like Osama that when Bin Laden was killed virtually every newscaster flubbed the name of the executed terrorist, accidentally saying the president’s name instead.  It’s not as if this president never produced his long form birth certificate and college transcripts (well, let’s forget the college transcripts, SAT scores, everything else–not relevant, NOTHING TO SEE!).  

It’s not as if the opposition party, suddenly controlling both chambers of our bicameral Congress, vowed to block everything the twice popularly elected president proposed and denied him his constitutional right to nominate a candidate to replace a deceased Supreme Court justice.   It’s not as if this president’s successor (if any) will take pains to dismantle every deal this guy makes, void every law he has passed, remove his name from history, except as the biggest loser to ever serve in the office.   That’s how you shatter norms.

Sorry, dad, I know you tried to raise me better, but it’s simply too tempting, up to my nostrils in this swirling, stinking Koch-manufactured sewage, to simply say: fuck you, Barr  (and the fucking McConnell you rode in on).



writing the anodyne version

I had a thought the other day about my massive on-line manuscript for the book about my father — write a detailed, sanitized version that gives only the many reasons to like and admire the man, as a preface to the whole deeper portrait.    Write the anodyne account, the one anyone could read with no fear of being confronted by anything unsettling or upsetting.  No harm in that.

The original first draft of the manuscript included everything I could remember about my father and his life, the noble things he did and the traumatic harm he also perpetrated — along with the unspeakably terrible details of the horrific childhood he survived.   I conducted a two year-long interview with my dead father (seriously) to help me speculate about things I knew almost nothing about — for example, a black and white photo, taken some time after World War II,  of him looking happier than I’d ever seen him.   To my amazement some of the things my father’s skeleton “told me” took me by surprise.  These revelations, spoken to me in his voice, furthered my understanding and changed my evolving view of this complicated and challenging person, dead now fourteen years.  

People who loved my father could easily have been horrified, on his behalf, at my first draft’s open recitation of some monstrous behavior, always done in the privacy of his family home.   Airing this kind of “dirty laundry” is generally frowned upon.   Every family has it, it always stinks, why wave it around?   Nobody wants that.   Unless, of course, you are determined to understand the forces that shaped your own challenges.

I realized the other day that it’s possible, perhaps even desirable, to write an andoyne version of my father and his life — one that shows only the many good sides of my complicated old man, only hinting at the understandable human foibles that we, all of us, are subject to.   Picture reading the inspirational story of a person born into unimaginably desperate circumstances who simply would not allow the past to hold him down.  Someone imbued by the privations he suffered for the first eighteen years of his life with a hunger for justice, a better world for everybody.   A man intimately connected to a sometimes terrible history, who did not shrink from doing all he could to help bend the moral arch of history towards justice.   

As any writer who seeks to seduce a reader knows, we must draw the reader over to our point of view by giving her (at least at first) treats she can readily chew on and digest.   My father was funny, clearly very bright, an idealist.  You see, here he is again being bravely idealistic, pelted with rotten vegetables as he speaks to New York City parents and teachers about the importance of de-segregating the schools in the mid-1950s.   Here’s a throw away line of his that always got a chuckle.  Look how tender he always was with animals, how playful with little dogs and young children alike!   Now we’re talking.

fueled by partisan outrage

It’s worth taking a closer look at what the pathetic porcine puppet said during his forty minute spin session on national TV before he released the redacted Mueller report on the investigation into Trump’s alleged misconduct.  Let’s take this part of his long statement apart, it’s rich in inventive detail.

ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR: In assessing the president’s actions discussed in the report, it is important to bear in mind the context. President Trump faced an unprecedented situation. As he entered into office and sought to perform his responsibilities as president, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinizing his conduct before and after taking office, and the conduct of some of his associates. At the same, there was relentless speculation in the news media about the president’s personal culpability.

Yet, as he said from the beginning, there was in fact no collusion. And as the special counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents and fueled by illegal leaks.   Nonetheless, the White House fully cooperated with the special counsel’s investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely, and asserting no privilege claims.

President Trump faced an unprecedented situation, Mr. Barr points out sympathetically.  Just because Mr. Trump was constantly sending out angry tweets that made him look guilty, changing his story constantly, repeatedly lying, raging, acting like a guilty man, he was unfairly attacked by his enemies.

Fair enough.

Also, there was this vicious inquiry into his associates, very few of whom were actually indicted and convicted of serious crimes.  These crimes, outside of the financial ones, were crimes of loyalty to the president, in the cases where only a small handful of his closest former associates lied to Congress and the FBI.   Can you really even call lying out of loyalty a  crime?   Just because some of his closest advisors are heading to prison, and others cooperated with the investigation in exchange for staying out of prison, is no reason to believe there is anything dirty or unethical about the president himself.

There was no collusion.  Fair enough.  Mr. Trump’s personal style is chaos, he is not a collaborative leader, he does not listen to advisors or work well with others.  His mother once noted with a chuckle that little Donald never played well with other kids, he always played to win, even in the playroom, even against his baby brother.

Here is my favorite part, a completely meaningless piece of lawyerly bullshit:

And as the special counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents and fueled by illegal leaks.

OK, Mueller provided ample evidence (much of it seen in real time by every American not turning away in horror from all media coverage of this unique president) that Mr. Trump was sincerely frustrated and angry.   Now we know, informed by Mr. Barr, that Trump’s belief was sincere that they couldn’t lay a finger on him because he was innocent, innocent, innocent!  

So his anger was righteous anger, according to Barr, similar to Boof Kavanaugh’s righteous, perfectly understandable rip-snorting, tearful temper tantrum when confronted with  credible testimony describing how he, while a blackout drunk in an elite Catholic prep school, had traumatized at least one teenaged girl while he was in a drunken state.    That allegation was thoroughly investigated in five days by the FBI and, naturally, no corroboration of the woman’s story was found among the small handful of people interviewed by the FBI.   Nothing to see there, unless you are fueled by pent-up rage over being a loser!

Since the president sincerely knew the  Mueller investigation was totally unfair, a witch hunt, knew that he was totally blameless, perhaps the most blameless president in history, he was absolutely right and morally entitled to be frustrated and angry, according to Barr who says that Mueller “acknowledged” all this.  

What?   Get the fuck out of here.

Mueller was, according to Barr, working for the president’s political opponents, even though Mueller belongs to the same political party as the president and the president’s party was in power when Mueller was appointed– and they oversaw his investigation.

I guess Barr’s point was that since Trump sincerely believed he was completely innocent he would have had to have been Jesus Christ himself not to react in frustration and rage, on a several times a day basis, at all the speculation in the press about how guiltily he was acting.   How would YOU feel if YOU were totally innocent and subjected to that kind of vicious, partisan witch hunt?  And the media would not shut up about it!!!  Wouldn’t you instruct your people to shut that shit down, if you had the power to ?!!! Sure you would.

Last bit of great shit from the pathetic, porcine puppet:

Nonetheless, the White House fully cooperated with the special counsel’s investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely, and asserting no privilege claims.

This statement is what used to be called a lie, since it asserts things that are not, strictly speaking, true.  The White House merely refused to answer follow-up written questions from the Mueller team, after the president’s lawyers submitted incomplete written answers (that Trump claimed, ludicrously, to have “written” himself)  the first time.   The White House legal team (of which Barr is now, unaccountably, a member) made it clear that they would not let Trump, a habitual, reflexive,well-documented liar, walk into a “perjury trap” by talking to Mueller (taking the lesson of what happened to perjurer slick Willie Clinton, a much more sophisticated, articulate man– and a trained lawyer–  than the smartest president in human history, the man we have now).  The access was fettered, to say the least.

Meanwhile, the president was continually ordering subordinates to bend or break the law, to stifle the investigation and create the public perception that Mueller had absolutely no grounds to pursue his partisan inquiry into a president who, among other suspicious official acts, innocently met with Vladimir Putin twice, alone, with only a translator, and ordered the American translator to destroy his notes of the meeting he translated.  Nothing to fucking see here!

That’s what the pathetic porcine puppet would call full transparency.  The president was sincere in his belief that he could get away with it.   And he did!   Proving, as always, that Mr. Trump’s sincere belief is the best measure of everything in his world, a world the rest of us just live in.

“Let’s just say (pause, one beat) he remains unchanged”

At this point I don’t remember what I have written about my father, now a skeleton up in northern Westchester County, and it is likely I’ve mentioned his great bon mot about his brother, my uncle, but here is a new take on it.

In the years before cellphones, (these days I often walk while talking on the phone) I almost always drew during phone calls.   My father had stayed overnight with his brother and my aunt, who lived in Bethesda, Maryland, outside of Washington, DC, where my uncle worked for the government.  I don’t remember why my father was there, or why my mother wasn’t with him.   I spoke to him shortly after the visit and asked him how my uncle was doing.  He paused to reflect for a second.

“Let’s just say … he remains unchanged,” he said diplomatically as I transcribed the wonderful bit of understatement on my drawing for posterity.   He told me we could talk more about the visit when I was in Florida in a couple of weeks.   We never did, but the point was made.

My uncle was a slightly built, seemingly jovial man with a corny sense of humor and a distinctive scraping laugh he let loose regularly.   My mother was always unaccountably cool toward him, seemed to regard him as an annoying bantam rooster.   It turns out she’d seen flashes of his violent temper early on and was disgusted by the overbearing little tyrant.  

I’d had nothing but warm interactions with my uncle, until I was about 40, when I was suddenly confronted with his implacable temper and rigid, irrational demands.   I can see now that he was fucking nuts, but for much of my life I always felt he was much more approachable and understanding than my father.

“Ask his son which one of us was more approachable and understanding,” said the skeleton of my father.  

You’ll get no debate from me.  I have to give it to you on this one, though of course, it’s not a very high bar.  It’s certainly undeniable that the last night of your life you were very open to conversation, at least as far as setting forth your regrets, apologies and concerns.  

“Well, I didn’t want to leave without setting all that out as clearly as I could,” he said.

That you did.  One of your regrets was that you’d always seen the world in black and white, you sighed as you imagined how much richer your life, all of our lives, would have been had you been able to appreciate that beautiful array of gradations, all the colors and flavors of life.

“Well, you gild the lily there a bit, I wasn’t so florid in my description, but yeah, that’s essentially what I said.”

It hit me the other day when I thought of your great line about Uncle Paul, “let’s just say he remains unchanged”, that it was, at the same time, not only a characteristically personalized judgment on your brother but also an expression of your overall view of anyone’s ability to change.  You always held that people cannot change in any fundamental way.

 “I still hold that belief, pretty much,” said the skeleton.

Although you yourself have changed.

“Well, yeah, I’m a lot thinner than I used to be, if that’s what you mean,” said the skeleton, “and I’m not very active, though none of that was my doing.”

Come on.   You were changed when you were full of regrets and apologizing that last night of your life.  

“No, that’s not really a change of any kind.  It’s a common occurrence when a man contemplates his life helplessly from his deathbed, Death hovering nearby, looming over him, those kind of thoughts, you know, it happens a lot,” said the skeleton.

My mother denied she was dying of the cancer that devoured her until she went into a coma.

“Well, there you go, different strokes for different folks.   She had less to regret and apologize for than I did,” said the skeleton glibly.

Glibness is its own reward, pops.  

“Well, look, in our case, you and I had a lifelong battle and I couldn’t yield any points to you, ever. It’s just the way it was.  You may have changed, I suppose you did when you stood by my bed at the end of my life.  I would have expected at least a little anger from you, was relieved to feel none,” the skeleton turned his head, surveying the small cemetery with sightless eyes.  

Anger was pointless at that point, dad.  You know, to another way of  thinking, the anger between us is what your insane mother always referred to as Seenas Cheenam, senseless enmity.  

“Well, a case could be made that it was that,” he said.   Thoughts of my father’s long, terrible childhood ordeal flashed before both of us, under the turns of two turkey vultures, wings outstretched, lazily riding the thermals.

“Look, Elie, you recall that your mother told us both that she saw the change in you, how much better you became at reining in your anger.  I refused to see it.  You remember when you told me….”

That you yourself were living proof of our ability to change ourselves.  Yeah, and you certainly won that point, though it cost you pretty dearly.

“I’m not proud of that moment,” said the skeleton.  “But, again, I saw the war between us as a zero sum, black and white game, one of us had to win unconditionally and the other had to lose.   It was an asshole’s view of things, granted, but it was as far as I’d been able to come in 78 years.”

You remember that Yom Kippur about ten years earlier, when I’d told you I’d no longer tolerate hostility thinly disguised as paternal advice?

“Yeah, link to the fucking piece you wrote about it, spare us all here and now,” said the skeleton.

 Done.  So, during our last major argument over whether angry people can learn to be less angry, learn to breathe, to honestly discuss things instead of debating from obdurate positions, I pointed out that you had kept your word not to discharge hostility in the guise of fatherly advice.   Tell everybody what you said, dad, during that last real conversation between then and two or three years later, on your deathbed, when I pointed out how well you’d refrained from that behavior for the decade since.

“You’re still fighting me, Elie,” said the skeleton.

I am fighting the bullying impulse, wherever I encounter it, the insistence on forcing people to swallow their legitimate feelings, to submit to intolerable conditions, to stuff whatever reasonable grievances they might have.  

“Fair enough, when you put it like that, ” said the skeleton.

“I never really thought there was any possibility that I could change anything about my life and I extrapolated from that on to everyone else.   I was desperate when  I dismissed my own change in my superficial actions toward you.” 

My point at that moment was that changing the superficial actions had been a step toward improving our relationship, even if only a small first step.

“Had it really been a step toward improving our relationship, Elie?   Seriously?  In light of everything else?”  

No, not at all, not in light of what you said next, go ahead, say it.  

“I told you it was merely an act, hiding the hostility, like the insincere, transactional act I did with Roy, who I fucking despised, and that ‘if I ever told you how I really feel about you it would do such irreparable harm that we could never have any kind of relationship.'”

The People rest.

“Like I said, I’m not proud of it.  I was about to lose, Elie, that’s how I saw it, my back was to the wall, I had nothing but the nuclear option at that moment.   The only way not to lose was to blow the whole fucking thing up.  You want to say love wins, you merciless fuck, how about I tell you that I treat your love exactly the same way I treat the love of another bastard who I openly despise?”  


“Nice work, if you can get it,” said the skeleton dispassionately.