Nothing personal — my father’s deathbed Zen koan

Perhaps the most mysterious, profound and illuminating thing my father said to me the last night of his life was that none of the long war between us had been personal.   It took me a long time after he died to figure out what he meant by that.

“You have to understand, Elie,” my father told me in the strained voice of a dying man, “on a real level there was never anything personal about our battles.”   He explained that the hostilities had little to do with me, personally, though I was the one forced to fight.  He assured me he’d have acted the same way with any child, regardless of their temperament.  

Nothing personal.  When I fought you to the death every night, it was, strictly speaking, nothing personal.  My father was fighting his demons, the fears that tortured him all his life, those torments just took on my face when I sat across from him.  When he snarled at me it was difficult for me not to snarl back at him.   Nothing personal became intensely personal, though he told me that last night that I had to understand none of it had been personal, strictly speaking.

It reminds me of the moth joke Norm McDonald used to tell Conan O’Brien.   Norm took a ten second joke and milked it for seven minutes.   The set up is a moth walks into a podiatrist’s office and starts pouring out his heart to the doctor.  In Norm’s telling the moth is tortured by how much he hates himself, hates the reflection of himself in his son.   “When I look at my son,” Norm’s overwrought moth tells the podiatrist, “I am overcome with rage and self-loathing, it’s like looking at everything I hate in myself, and I hate that I hate my own son, which reminds me more how much I hate myself and how much I deserve to hate myself.  What kind of father feels revulsion when he looks at his own son’s face?  I tell you, doc, that kid, it’s like the worst in me condensed into a face I want to literally hit with a hammer.  I’m afraid one day I’m going to act on this rage, and I know it’s irrational, it has nothing to do with the poor kid, who I can see has some good qualities.  He’s actually a pretty good guy, my son, but I continue to stare at him with rage, I can’t help it, and I know how sick it is, doc, but I look at the kid’s face and I literally want to vomit, I’m afraid someday I’m going to murder him…” and Norm continues in this vein for several more minutes as Conan chides him and goads him on.

Finally the podiatrist says “listen, it sounds like you have some serious issues you need help with, but you really need a psychiatrist.  I’m a podiatrist, I treat problems of the feet and lower legs, I’m not the kind of doctor who can help you with what you just described to me.  Why did you walk into a podiatrist’s office?”

“The light was on,” says the moth.

Like the light that went on when I finally understood what my father meant by telling me I had to understand it was never anything personal, strictly speaking.  That he put it in context was helpful.   He told me he’d felt me reaching out many times over the years to make peace, but that he was always too fucked up to reach back.   He told me how much he regretted his lack of emotional maturity, imagination, moral courage.  He said he wished we could have had this kind of honest, back and forth conversation fifteen years ago, after only thirty-five years of constant, senseless warfare.

Nothing personal, like the universe itself had decreed it.  And we, hapless pawns that we are, blown like leaves in the wind, subject to forces too gigantic and terrifying to have any hope of overcoming.  Nothing personal, a great relief and a terrible curse, at once.  

From Heather

FOX, of course, focuses on Hunter Biden, because, you know, even though Volodymyr Zelensky wouldn’t admit it, or even pretend to, Hunter bin Biden is a much worse and more dangerous person than the Tea Party vote fraudster Mark Meadows who was promoted to replace South Carolina Tea Party star, Office of Budget Management director and chief of staff Ambassador Mick Mulvaney as Trump’s final White House body man and gunsel, and made a few small mistakes like anyone could have.

Examining the nefarious left wing conspiracy

I’ll disclose this from the start, for anyone who may have stumbled on this post —  I am a member of the nefarious left wing conspiracy, particularly now that the sides are drawn so clearly — autocracy vs. democracy,  indulging and empowering unlimited mass hatreds (for the outsized benefit of the very, very few) vs. engaging with political opponents to hammer out solutions to real problems and extending the benefit of the doubt to people on the other side of the political divide.  Party of obstruction, vituperation, pollution, tax breaks for the wealthiest vs. party of everything else a free people might need.

Regarding the benefit of the doubt, I’m certain that any two right wing and left wing people have much more in common than things that actually divide them.  There are hundreds of things virtually everyone would immediately agree on.  Both sides love their children and want the best for them.  Both sides are revolted by crimes against children.  Even the strictest “spare the rod spoil the child” parents do not believe it is ever right to beat your child to a bloody pulp or break their little bones.  Liberals and conservatives want old people to live their final years in dignity, without fear or deprivation.  Nobody, not one of us, likes these constant mass shootings everywhere in the land of the free.   All Americans believe in fairness, in certain unalienable rights like the right to live with integrity and to pursue your dreams without being attacked by the government, or anybody else.   There are countless things human beings everywhere, all over the world, agree on, across all political affiliations.   

The science of fascism is how to mobilize grievances and galvanize the hatreds that makes humans willing to march in armies to exterminate inhuman enemies. It is only by creating artificial, black and white tribes that are not people of differing political or cultural leanings but deadly enemies, that totalitarian regimes come to and retain power.

Those who hate “majoritarian tyranny” (and this anti-democratic trope predates the John Birch Society, Libertarianism and Charles Koch, goes back to John C. Calhoun and friends of slavery decades before the Civil War) find ways to make enough voters hate the “other side” to defeat it.   They help themselves stay in power by passing laws to restrict their enemies’ right to vote, by irreversibly purging 100,000 enemy voters on the eve of an election they’ll win by 40,000 (see, for example, candidate Brian Kemp, in 2016, using his power as Secretary of State to remove tens of thousands of likely Stacey Abrams voters from the voting rolls in Georgia right before eking out a victory in the Peach State’s most recent gubernatorial election. Republicans in Florida’s state government did the same for DeSantis before his narrow victory). 

Their party’s members on the highest court in the land will provide crucial tactical support by ruling that the Voting Rights Act will not henceforth be enforced and that unlimited secret money to influence political outcomes is merely free speech, to which legally created eternal “persons” are entitled under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The mass influence tactic most often employed by fascistic types, it seems, is what psychologists call “projection” — projecting your problems and fears onto others.   Projection 101: I am prone to outbursts of racist anger, but don’t like to think of myself as an angry person, or a racist, so I will accuse anyone who wants to dispute anything with me of being an enraged racist psychopath.   The shoe might fit me much better better than it fits you, but I will angrily cram it on your foot and fuck you, now you have to defend yourself, you angry racist piece of shit!   The simplicity of this technique, the old three year-old’s taunting “I know you are, but what am I?” makes it an irresistible tool for cutting off debate of any kind.

This textbook example, a statement issued by the House “Freedom Caucus” (the most rabidly aggressive right wing members of the House, the stars of MAGA world) in defense of Marjorie Taylor Greene’s right to incite whoever the hell she feels like inciting, based on whatever she feels is right, with no push back from anyone,  jumped out at me, a real masterpiece of MAGA art, that, like the rest of the far right ouevre only stands as brilliant art if it goes unscrutinized.  Lack of scrutiny is key for this entire playbook.   The beauty, of course, is when you’re angry you can’t see nuance or scrutinize anything but doing somebody about what is making you so goddamned mad you can hardly see.  The real facts cannot be allowed into the echo chamber or the alternative facts (Trump advisor Kelleyanne Conway’s brazen rebranding of the old judgmental word “lie”) can’t take hold.  Let’s walk through this classic example of right wing projection:

The left’s attempts to politicize the courts:   

Well, the left has created a well-funded and powerful legal fraternity and career ladder, active in virtually every American law school, where leftist law students can get internships with left wing federal judges, help them research and craft activist left wing rulings, audition for becoming judges themselves with their bold left wing activism and then, after auditioning as lower level judges and showing a fierce and unwavering fealty to the left wing orthodoxy and judicial philosophy of their legal fraternity, wind up as lifetime political appointees on the federal bench.  A majority of these disciplined, proven zealots will eventually control the Supreme Court for a generation.  

Wait, that’s the right.   That partisan judicial career network is the Federalist Society, the outfit Ginny Thomas and the Council for National Policy (a secret membership by invitation nonprofit corporation of the highest echelons in “movement conservatism”) made then-candidate Trump swear to choose all federal court nominees from their carefully vetted lists of candidates most dedicated to the principles of their legal fraternity.  

The last century’s famous “activist” Supreme Court, the Warren Court, was an outlier in American history (most Supreme Courts are conservative, by nature and by design — only change the constitutional status quo if there is a pressing national need to do so).  Chief Justice Earl Warren, appointed by Eisenhower, was a Republican and a conservative.  He had the desirable judicial quirk of having strong beliefs but also being biased toward giving the cases before him a fair hearing before rendering a decision.  He and his colleagues were amenable to being convinced by a superior legal argument. Warren, and his often unanimous court, ruled on the merits, the relative strengths and weaknesses, of the case presented, with an eye toward increasing, rather than restricting, the rights of citizens whenever possible. 

This is a much different judicial philosophy than the one animating today’s Federalist Society Six, the 6-3 Trump/McConnell majority on our current Supreme Court, who select cases and render decisions in order to restrict rights for partisan advantage. Many of these cases are handled secretly on the “shadow docket” (where no legal argument need be noted in an unsigned majority decision) on a straight party line basis to advance their political beliefs and enhance the power of their party.  John Roberts and a 5-4 Federalist Society majority invalidated enforcement of the Voting Rights Act the Senate reauthorized 98-0 and conservative president George W. Bush praised in a signing ceremony.  Whose compelling liberty interest was Roberts’ activism vindicating?

On the other hand, we have Earl Warren’s most famous bit of “radical left” “judicial activism” that scandalized racists in every strata of American Society, 1954’s unanimous Brown v. Board of Education, which struck down the racist practice of segregation in public schools.    After seeing vivid proof that “separate but equal” was a cruel farce, that there was nothing remotely equal in the racial separation at law, that it was a ruse to keep Blacks “in their place” by making them accept second class status and disproportionate poverty, the Warren court struck down segregation in public schools.   If the proposition that segregation was racist and in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment needed proving, nine justices were convinced by the proof presented by Thurgood Marshall and the plaintiff opponents of the practice.

You need only look at photos from the Jim Crow era to see the brutal in-your-face mockery of this hoary “legal doctrine” of Separate but Equal.   The modern refrigerated water fountain was for whites only, the hose marked “colored” was the equal facility for Blacks to refresh themselves on brutally hot summer days.  Restaurant bathroom, whites only, the outhouse in the back, or the bushes, separate but equal.    And so it was in schools, stated the Supreme Court after massive proof had been presented.   Which enraged generations of a certain kind of angry white asshole, funded by white assholes of immense hereditary wealth. A group, once the lunatic fringe of the Republican party, now its highly energized base.

to achieve what they cannot at the ballot box

Leftists famously lawyered up and ran to the courts, their national committee footing the immense legal bills, before and after the last presidential election, to limit voting, contest pandemic voting rules, to have judges declare them right and their enemies shit out of luck.  Leftists contested the results of the presidential election in courts everywhere their candidate lost.  Leftist elected officials told left wing groups, on video, that if they didn’t stop their right wing enemies from voting en masse they’d never hold national office again.    They passed laws in state after state to prevent perceived voter fraud they never proved exists (though they swear it does) and putting final electoral decisions in the hands of proven partisans ready to overturn fraudulent elections to ensure the “integrity” of those elections.

Oh, wait, that was the right doing all of those things, plus forming a well-funded dark money group, The American Accountability Foundation, to contest every single nomination by the new, illegitimate administration [1], the one who millions had been convinced had stolen the election with those eight million highly suspicious Black votes.

America is on a dangerous path

True dat, no question about that one.     Sometimes all it takes is a drop of truth, to make the rest of the bullshit medicine slide right on down the old gullet.

[1] from one of America’s finest investigative journalists, Jane Mayer:

But the fierce campaign against (Ketanji Brown Jackson) was concerning, in part because it was spearheaded by a new conservative dark-money group that was created in 2020: the American Accountability Foundation. An explicit purpose of the A.A.F.—a politically active, tax-exempt nonprofit charity that doesn’t disclose its backers—is to prevent the approval of all Biden Administration nominees. . .

. . . Rather than attack a single candidate or nominee, the A.A.F. aims to thwart the entire Biden slate. The obstructionism, like the Republican blockade of Biden’s legislative agenda in Congress, is the end in itself. The group hosts a Web site,, that displays the photographs of Administration nominees it has targeted, as though they were hunting trophies. And the A.A.F. hasn’t just undermined nominees for Cabinet and Court seats—the kinds of prominent people whose records are usually well known and well defended. It’s also gone after relatively obscure, sub-Cabinet-level political appointees, whose public profiles can be easily distorted and who have little entrenched support. The A.A.F., which is run by conservative white men, has particularly focused on blocking women and people of color. As of last month, more than a third of the twenty-nine candidates it had publicly attacked were people of color, and nearly sixty per cent were women.


What I learned from an hour of Marjorie Taylor Greene’s live testimony in a Georgia courtroom

Today there was sworn testimony in a lawsuit brought on behalf of Georgia voters contesting Marjorie Taylor Greene’s right to be on the ballot, as someone who took an oath to defend the Constitution and who then advocated loudly for extra-constitutional remedies to an election she claimed was stolen. The case was brought under section three of the Fourteenth Amendment, which reads:

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

The hearing was live streamed to anybody interested in hearing it in real time. I heard about an hour of Marjorie and then the closing arguments of both lawyers. Here are some new things I learned from Marjorie Taylor Greene’s testimony today.

She seems to have a fairly spotty memory for someone her age. She didn’t recall making any of the strong statements she made about the need to stop the peaceful transfer of power. When her own words were played on video she said they were taken out of context, but didn’t elaborate except to call CNN a lying outfit. She swore she had no recollection about people she talked to before or after January 6th because she was very busy running her new Congressional office. Her recollection is particularly poor when it comes to specific contacts of her’s who were arrested for the violent assault on the Capitol.

She says she really has little control over what appears on her Facebook page, or on her Twitter feed. She said she has many staffers and does not directly authorize the videos, even ones that have been on her facebook page for a year-and-a-half, prove good for fundraising (Biden stole Trump’s presidency and the radical left thinks we’re idiots) and are never taken down.

Marjorie believes that socialist liberals are out to portray her as stupid, her followers as not smart people. But she insists her supporters are smart enough to know that when she encourages them to show up in numbers on January 6th to flood the Capitol because it’s a 1776 moment, or that Pelosi and others might need to be executed, and we need you all there to help us right this evil injustice of a stolen election, that she is only referring to a peaceful lawful march to the Capitol to keep the pressure on fainthearted Republicans to legally overturn a stolen election. In other words, free speech. Plus, after the riot was stopped she immediately urged everyone to be peaceful and to obey the law.

I may have missed it, but when she spoke of a planned peaceful march to the Capitol, I thought the lawyer questioning her should have asked her if she was aware that the organizers of the January 6th Stop the Steal protest rally had not sought a permit for any kind of march that day. Why involve all those extra police and spend all that extra money when you can all just march down there as a bunch of individual free citizens and go into the people’s house which you already own and don’t need an invitation to, or permission to enter, even when its closed for a joint session of Congress?

And besides words like “fight like hell or you won’t have a country anymore”, or her “we can’t allow the peaceful transfer of power Joe Biden wants” are obviously metaphors meaning be peaceful, don’t insult the police, don’t hit them, gouge their eyes out or spray mace at them, if they tell you the building’s closed obey their lawful orders, and all like that.

And, of course, when she said that Nancy Pelosi had committed treason and that treason was punishable by death, she was a private citizen, in 2019, come on, she was just a regular person trying to get elected to Congress. In other words, she hadn’t taken the oath of office yet, the oath to defend the Constitution, so like are you going to go all the way back to when I was in high school looking for things I said that you can use to crucify me? (her lawyer interjected that bit about going all the way back to high school for compromising comments she made a year or two before the riot) [1].

And what we learned most of all is that she, like Boof Kavanaugh and her party’s raging leader, is the victim of a dark money-funded nefarious witch-hunt campaign, by cannibal pedophiles, no doubt, to bring shame to the people who voted her into office as their duly elected representative. (in the very election that was rigged against Trump!)

In summary, she is merely the victim of enraged, insane partisans trying to stop democracy by taking her off the ballot on some weird and farfetched old legal theory about not helping and encouraging, aiding and comforting, people who want to violently overturn a corrupt and evil election and stop them from “peacefully” putting a monster in the White House.

Her lawyer’s closing focused on the need to look only at the peaceful, lawful rally at the Ellipse that preceded the riot, something that was 100% protected by the Constitution, to wit, the First Amendment rights to free expression and to peacefully assemble, and that it’s not fair to punish someone merely for supposedly aiding and abetting a riot she later tweeted, once it was underway, should be done lawfully and peacefully. In fact, he took pains to read “or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof” right out of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Once the briefs are filed next week and the judge has a chance to weigh all the evidence and arguments, this could be a very interesting and helpful case going forward. Brad Raffensberger will then have to weigh the administrative law judge’s decision against his own political future and the number of death threats he recieves before likely leaving Marjorie on the ballot. I found it fascinating to watch how outwardly calmly Marjorie conducted herself during most of the part I saw, Like others before her she preferred to come off as a pinhead with the memory of a housefly rather than truthfully answer almost any question under oath. Her composure was particularly surprising after some of the overheated rants she made on right-wing media in the days leading up to her forced sworn testimony in a baseless case launched, no doubt, by moneyed Jewish space laser wielders and four black elected women she denounced by name in recent “out of context” rants.

[1] from the commies at Business Insider:

“She’s a traitor to our country, she’s guilty of treason,” Greene said of Pelosi in a 2019 Facebook video, according to CNN. “She took an oath to protect American citizens and uphold our laws. And she gives aid and comfort to our enemies who illegally invade our land. That’s what treason is. And by our law representatives and senators can be kicked out and no longer serve in our government. And it’s, uh, it’s a crime punishable by death is what treason is. Nancy Pelosi is guilty of treason.”

An insightful exchange about healthier “social media”

Gail is Gail Collins. Bret is Bret Stephens. They write for the New York Times. As the Gray Lady styles it:

Ms. Collins and Mr. Stephens are opinion columnists. They converse every week.

Gail: Lord help us. Even if Twitter tanked, wouldn’t there be some new post-Twitter communications system coming around the bend soon? You’re 10 times smarter than me about this stuff, so tell me what you think, and I’ll adopt it as my theory. At least for the spring.

Bret: Maybe in the distant future a big media company will create a platform in which non-unhinged adults can exchange ideas, air their disagreements without rancor, make a few jokes, have their claims fact-checked before they are published and then go out for a friendly drink.

I’m sympathetic to the idea that social-media companies should try to honor the spirit of the First Amendment, even if they aren’t legally bound by it. But the idea that Twitter is a good forum for speech is silly. Trying to communicate a thought in 280 characters isn’t speaking. It’s blurting. You don’t use Twitter for persuasion. You use it for insults and virtue signaling.

A healthy free-speech environment depends on people talking with each other. Twitter is a medium for people to talk at others. The best thing that could happen to Twitter isn’t an acquisition, by Musk or anyone else. It’s bankruptcy.

Gail: Wow, I’ve always pretty much avoided Twitter, but it was mainly out of laziness. Now I’m cloaked in righteousness and am deferring to you on all Twitter topics.

This Is Not the Year of the Optimist

Hang my Vice President, please!

When former President Donald Trump told an angry mob that had burst into the Capitol that Mike Pence had betrayed them, it was not the first time in American history that a US president advocated hanging his own vice president. Perhaps there was no irony involved in the fact that the other president was the largely ignorant Trump’s favorite president, noted man of violent temper Andrew Jackson.

Unlike Trump, who with perfect deniability (his intent is still being debated by great legal minds) merely noted that his vice president was a traitorous coward and incited an angry mob to make good on their threat to hang him, Old Hickory announced that he was ready to go down to South Carolina and personally hang his seditious vice president. You can’t make this shit up.

John C. Calhoun, employing an early version of the now new again Independent State Legislature Doctrine, secretly authored South Carolina’s refusal to obey a federal law under a States’ Rights argument. He argued, arguably seditiously, that a state need not follow a federal law that it found repugnant to its traditions or offensive to its own interests, in this case the harm it would do to slaveholders to obey this federal tariff against Great Britain. South Carolina announced, almost thirty years before taking up arms against the US in the “War of Northern Aggression,” that it was officially nullifying this odious federal law in South Carolina. Predictably, Jackson was furious and ready to go down to South Carolina and personally hang John C. Calhoun.

It wasn’t that they disagreed about slavery, Andrew Jackson a self-made man of the people, had risen from modest circumstances, made his fortune in the slave trade. Jackson was not a man who took kindly to being undermined by his second-in-command, which is not hard to relate to, really.

Read all about the Nullification Crisis of 1832–33, in the online Britannica encyclopedia: