An evocative song for our times

Here is a beauty by Frank Burrows, a comrade from high school I have embarrassed over the years by repeatedly, and without provocation, calling a genius. I Wish is unique among his works (as far as I know), both instrumentally and because it’s a waltz. My hat’s off to the guy. I love this tune. Take a few minutes, breathe, and take it in. You won’t regret it.

How to Never Heal

Pro tip: NEVER, EVER, ADMIT YOU WERE WRONG!

In a world where we all make mistakes, sometimes very hurtful ones, I’m glad to have a disposition that allows me to forgive people. That may sound funny coming from a man who felt he had to cast many old friends adrift over the years, but it’s true. All I need to be able to forgive is a sincere expression of regret when somebody I care about hurts me, their understanding of why I was upset and an assurance they will try hard not to act that way again. Reconciliation can’t happen without truth. If I won’t even acknowledge that I acted badly toward you, when you spell out exactly why you were hurt by my actions, repeated actions in many cases, what hope can you have about the comfort of our friendship going forward? Think about it.

How not to heal: refuse to hear what the other person is concerned with, no matter what, focus on your own counter-grievance, press it over and over. When they complain, tell them they are whining snowflakes, oversensitive, passive aggressive pussies. “I elbowed you in the Adam’s Apple for the fifth time this week — BY ACCIDENT, ASSHOLE, as I already fucking told you!” is an explanation that attempts to bully you into accepting your powerless in the relationship. “I’m not wrong, YOU ARE,” is an asshole’s first response most of the time.

People who are not comfortable apologizing will often “double down” in the sickening gambler’s phrase we all learned during Mr. Trump’s regime. Apology, admittedly, requires a moment of putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, recognizing that you too would feel hurt, followed by an act of humility — contritely asking forgiveness — that makes you vulnerable. Ironically, it takes a certain amount of strength and self-confidence to apologize, even when you know you’ve hurt someone.

Insecure people have a very hard time admitting they are ever wrong, especially when the result of their actions is set in front of them. By reflex they feel attacked, become defensive, counterattack. It is the only play of someone too insecure to acknowledge the possibility of being mistaken. We are living through a prime public example of what I am thinking about in interpersonal terms and it has us at the brink of being angry enough to actually begin murdering one another.

In the case of the many Republican politicians continuing to support the president (many by their silence) in his endlessly repeated lying claims of massive electoral fraud (he made the same claim when he narrowly “won” in 2016, millions of dead people voted then too), they are sticking to their stories [1].

That their story may make little or no sense, less important than having a story. As more and more terrible facts emerge, like sickening details of the violent riot incited by their leader, seen by everyone, the stupid cover-stories about the sudden need for unity, or Antifa, or Trump learning the first lesson of his life, become more and more ridiculous. They simply can’t stop now, not after their tireless, valiant campaign has finally brought us to to bring about this sickening, anti-democratic zero-sum political moment. Now even a violent riot by insurrectionists planned and fomented by the president can be … a… a teachable moment? — a step forward on the road together? They need a story. Any story is better than no story, wait, here we go.

To hold Trump accountable for planning and inciting a riot, inviting an angry mob to D.C. on January 6th to STOP THE STEAL!, sending the stirred up mob down to the Capitol while he instructed federal law enforcement to stand down, in hopes of seeing Mike Pence (so disappointing!!) swinging from the gallows and the heads of his other enemies on pikes (“Hi Nancy, hi Chuck!! Hi, Shifty Schiff! who’s laughing now?”), would– eh, DIVIDE THE COUNTRY! That’s it — yeah, Democrat traitors, look who’s trying to divide the country now, shameless partisan hypocrite zealots!! We’re trying to heal here, you libtard commie fucktards, and you’re… so… goddamn mean and hypocritical — and vindictive! Admit you’d do the exactly the same thing if you had the election stolen from you, or even claimed repeatedly and falsely that it was stolen from you!

As I watch this heart-sickening theater, personal feelings are being vigorously stirred. Two friends from childhood did exactly this move in recent years. One simply by refusing to admit that his reflex to make me angry had anything to do with him, the other by telling me he had no idea why I was upset with him, repeatedly asking for an explanation for why I was so hurt and then attacking me for explaining it in such a brutal way. In short, two smart people incapable of great insight into themselves, unable to behave any better than they did and angry at being unfairly expected to. Each now has the consolation of knowing that I was finally the cruelly self-righteous, heartlessly unforgiving asshole who put an end to a long, beautiful friendship. I don’t begrudge them, it’s all they’ve got.

I was telling a friend recently that I’d truly have no problem forgiving either of them, if they would only own up to what they’d done, and kept doing, that was so hurtful to me, promised to try to do better. If the first guy had a breakthrough in psychoanalysis and called to tell me he realized that he was actually, unconsciously, often trying to provoke me to rage and was sorry about it, I’d be playing guitar with him the next day. The second guy is a slightly harder case, because although he initially thanked me for my mildness in stating my grievance without accusation the first couple of times, he remained specifically unapologetic (he claimed to have no understanding of why, exactly, I’d been so upset) and non-responsive, repeatedly telling me I still hadn’t made myself clear, pushing me for clarification, and then blaming me for clarifying things, which was very hurtful and made him feel terrible! A more complicated kind of asshole than the first guy, still, I’d be glad to forgive him, if he contacted me with even a soupçon of insight into how his actions, and his constant doubling down, had finally aggravated me beyond endurance.

Politics is personal, its roots go back into our formative childhoods. Social scientists have run tests to determine the basic personality types of the typical liberal and the typical conservative. Here’s a test. Take these traits and assign them to one side of the political spectrum or the other: obedience, loyalty, harsh punishment, self-sufficiency, individualism. If you said “liberal” you pass the test. How about these: fairness, reconciliation, mutual help, community. If you picked “conservative”– how right you are!

We embrace the worldview that comports with our upbringing, or sometimes rebel against it hard, like Stephen Miller (whose family, survivors of Hitler, is anti-fascist). If dad taught you that the Bible said “spare the rod, spoil the child” and took every opportunity to not spare the rod, well, you are more likely to have a certain view of the righteousness of harsh punishment and retribution. If mom instilled a conviction that food should be shared equally by everyone at the table, that no-one should ever go hungry, or get less than somebody else, there’s a different fundamental lesson about what is truly important in life.

I knew the families of these two guys I grew up with quite well. The home life of the first was an endless exercise in restraining and repressing very understandable anger. The mother, a woman of great charm and intelligence, is a compulsive (though often harmless) liar and something of a manipulator. The father, an equally charming person, was treated like a rebellious child in their home, and acted chastened much of the time. This daily humiliation was disguised as a deep love that nobody could deny. The second kid was raised by an openly autocratic father and a narcissistic mother who worshipped his uncompromising dad without question. My friends had little chance to learn any life lessons at home but what they did. Both of these boys, as men, endured rough marriages that ended in ugly divorces.

You can understand these unfortunate backstories and, still, it doesn’t sit right (my home life was as bad or worse in many ways), in a world where we can work to gain more insight and change things about our lives that torment us the most.

I am prone to anger, and it is my daily work to get better at not succumbing to it, work I consciously do. One thing I’ve learned is that when you cannot solve an interpersonal problem with someone, it is crucial to simply walk away. That applies in the moment you are getting mad as well as longterm, of your decision to stay in an aggravating arrangement with little emotional counterbalance. To conclude that proneness to anger is simply my nature, and there is nothing I can do about it, would be an abdication of any moral responsibility or agency on my part. What they used to call a “cop out” in the sixties — it’s not me, man, it’s undeniable, immutable genetic-social necessity!

To return to my personal examples of the problem of making peace with people who have lost the ability to see things from your point of view: the first guy will endlessly deny his anger and his unconscious provocations, make it everybody else’s problem that they are so angry all the time — a stance that is, frankly, infuriating. The second guy will do pretty much the same, actually, though in a much more sophisticated way. They will both be right, eternally. And so be it.

It is beyond our powers to change any of that, least of all in someone else, particularly a person who sincerely believes we can really not do anything differently, or better, than we’ve always done. It reminds us of the role our native dispositions play in our outlook, I guess, and whether you’ve had the luck to have at least one parent love you unconditionally.

Back to “politics”, the sword hanging over all of our heads. As the US nears 375,000 dead of the pandemic, it’s clear that the president, who has snapped that he has no responsibility for it, doesn’t care. He cares about overturning a rigged election he has produced zero proof was in any way improper. He clearly DOESN’T CARE IF YOU DIE and he’s not going to address taking reasonable steps to prevent the wild spread of COVID-19, in fact, he’ll weaponize disease prevention itself and insist on super-spreader events like that mask-free tour de force of domestic terrorism he hosted last week then inflicted on the Capitol.

The plain fact that the leader of the wealthiest nation in the world, whose infection and death rates are 5X higher, by population (4% of world population, 20% of infections) than anywhere else, clearly doesn’t care about stopping the spread of this deadly plague, by itself, should be a compelling argument for removing him under the 25th Amendment. It’s depraved, if not outright insane.

Oops, there I go again, angrily dividing this poor, ravaged country!

Back to the promise of the title: How to Never Heal. Focus on a grievance and being the victim. Nurture those painful feelings, no matter what.

In the case of aggrieved Trump followers, let’s take one major strand of their belief system — that the unreasonable, pushy demands of America’s coloreds endlessly claiming racism in America are a crock of crap. Here’s what you do, Trumpie, hit back with history. FACT: the ones who were slaves, the black ones, were freed more than 150 years ago. Fucking get over it! You people are fucking animals, look at you! That’s why we had a phalanx of National Guardsmen in full anti-riot gear guarding the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as you passed by in your protest march — because you are insane, violent savages who will never be satisfied no matter how many rights we give you and you would have attacked even the sacred statue of Abraham Lincoln, the best friend you ever had until LBJ, if given the chance. Nothing will be enough for you, until we are your slaves. Now get out of our way so we can go hang Mike Fucking Pence.

There you go, it is as easy as that. If you are determined to be right, even with a grievous self-inflicted wound, even if it means being a moronic, self-deluding puppet screaming against your own best interests, it is very simple to do. Take the three easy steps again: focus on a grievance, nurture it, justify it, no matter what; repeat as necessary. You can thank me later.

On the other hand, if you want to heal, for some reason, there are a few necessary steps. You have to be honest. You need to honestly discuss the things in the past that have led to the harmful situation we find ourselves in now. You have to acknowledge terrible things that happened (beyond a nonchalant “we uh tortured some folks”, if you know what I mean) and commit to fixing them. You have to listen carefully, be open to all proposals for improving things, if you want to have real reconciliation. If you want to correct injustice you have to first look at it fairly, listen to the voices of those who are being hurt by it, remove from the conversation those who are intent on perpetuating unjust practices.

If you want to be right, of course, just blame the pitiful losers for wanting to be victims when YOU ARE ACTUALLY THEIR VICTIM! You know what I’m saying?

USA! USA!!!!

[1]

The New York Times, channeling The Onion (America’s Finest News Source), reported on its front page earlier today (they removed the headline in the last hour, during updates, so I paraphrase:) Supreme Court Declines to Fast-track Trump Election Case. I was too slow to click on it while it was up, and it can’t be easily found (searching “Supreme Court” on the buggy NYT phone app doesn’t do it) but, seriously– WHAT THE FUCK? What fucking Trump election case?

One from the vault (Sensitive Dog)

One from the Random Acts of Senseless Creativity files. After I thought about this track an hour ago I went looking for it, a journey through a labyrinth of old emails and various digital booby-traps. After a few small wrestling matches with the technology, I was able to place it here, where it can be found easily next time. I was happy to locate it and I’m glad to pass it on.

The underlying track for this is called Dog on a String, composed and performed by Paul Greenstein sometime after the turn of the twenty-first century, if memory serves. This was an improvisation I recorded, back on April 14, 2006, apparently. All parts were played for the love of making the track and for that reason alone.

For me this over-the-top jam captures the thrill of interactive invention — the joy of improvising over a groove you’re really digging.

Our ability to find joy and improvise has been sorely tested in the isolation of this COVID crisis. Mutual, playful improvisation, a vital part of human interaction, a free delight of life, fades during dark times, the habit of playing happily — another casualty of the pandemic. Playing together gives us joy, undeniable but easy to forget, sometimes. This track reminds me of how much fun play is.

Paul’s track was a delight, I greatly love that mysterious, soulful Indian singer, all of Paul’s parts are superb (if several lovely ones were drowned out by the overloud distorted guitar, sorry about that). It is also beautifully engineered, everything is exactly where you want it to be in the mix and the EQ. I’ll ask Paul for the original track, so I can post that beauty for you to hear.

Listening to this track I hear my excitement, the enthusiastic variations inspired by the sheer fun of following a wildly idiosyncratic groove.

Sensitive Dog starts with a dog lover’s question for Cesar Milan, who then considers the best way to interact with a dog who is very sensitive. Odd to say, I couldn’t tell you what key it’s in, I had no idea when I was playing it, most unusual for me, I followed the singer as best I could.

There are suboptimal notes, which I can’t begrudge someone inventing parts over a track he is greatly loving as he plays. If you don’t let yourself be distracted by the mistakes and take in the entire 1:56 as a piece, I think you’ll get what I’m talking about.

My only regret is the mix. If someone had been sitting at the controls (there were no controls, the overdub was recorded off the small amp that was also playing Dog on A String) and adjusting the volume on the distorted guitar, to allow Dog on A String’s many subtle nuances to be appreciated, the track would be infinitely better.

To me, the track is still cool, instant time-travel to a moment of great fun. A reminder of a vital thing, sadly easy to forget during dark days — the joy of carefree play with someone you enjoy. I hope you find it so too.

What are we doing today, baby?

As universally hated Lyin’ Ted Cruz and now eleven other brave Republican Trump supporters in the Senate (the most highly placed members of the Sedition Caucus) call for an emergency special commission to immediately audit undisputed votes in an election certified in every state (and recounted a few times in several) that only Trump the Kraken insists was rigged, stolen, corrupt, fraudulent, a lie, a big fat complete Communist con job, #StoptheSteal! I wonder “what am I going to write about today?”

I certainly ain’t writing about Lyin’ Ted, the despicable guy with the unsexy wife, whose father killed JFK and whose ancestors, people are saying, nailed up Jesus. Fuck him and his vile, seditious crew (note, this may be the first time the wildly unpopular Cruz is the leader of any crew, way to go Ted).

I’m also not going to mention the provision of the National Defense Authorization Act, vetoed by Trump in the first Trump veto overrode by the Senate (never too late to do the right thing, I suppose), that makes it criminal for federal law enforcement agents to cover their name tags while performing their duties or otherwise operating as unmarked, unaccountable thugs [1]. Who’d have thought such a measure was needed in our nation of law?

This was likely one provision of the military budget bill that outraged the easily angered Trump — if former Attorney General Barr says it’s perfectly legal and reasonable to use chemical irritants, batons and a horseback charge by mounted federal law enforcement, with covered name tags, to break up peaceful protests (Washington D.C.) or to have heavily armed, generically uniformed goon squads jump out of unmarked rented vans and grab dangerous anarchist, God-hating protesters off the streets, force them into unmarked vehicles, without identifying themselves as law enforcement (as federal agents did in Portland) who is the goddamned Congress to usurp the massive powers conferred by Article Two?  Fuck that noise, everyone knows Trump wishes he’d been a real dictator, instead of a Twitter dictator. Today is Sunday, a day of rest.

So, like, what do you want to talk about?

Is this an example of you talking to yourself?

Hah, no, it’s an example of you talking to yourself.

You got me there, comrade.

You’ve been noted, around the house, because, during this tyrannical COVID lockdown you no longer live alone in your apartment where passersby in the hall and in the airshaft have no inkling you’re not muttering to somebody else, that you are, in fact, carrying out grunted conversations with yourself…

Nay, that would be YOO, muchacho.

Hah, OK, you got me there! Anyway, she mentioned these grunts I seem to make as being pretty regular, constant, apparently. From the other room she hears the conversational-sounding grunts, she says.

Hmmm, we always imagined that these internal conversations were in your head, my head, our heads.

Well, that’s imagination for ya!

By the way, I admired your restraint above in not mentioning fucking Acting head Homeland Security stooge Chad Wolf, declaring that unrestricted federal military force was necessary in Portland because violent anarchist terrorists were out of control (he used the term “violent anarchists” 60 times in a short speech when he got to Portland), including those hundred or more bitches, the mothers of these violent anarchists, who came out to form a peaceful barrier between unmarked assault-attired federal officers and their fellow citizens. And, you know, got gassed, the wall of mothers.

OK, OK, calm down. “‘No reason to get excited,’ the thief he kindly spoke.”

Yeah, I suppose that’s true. Good to have you here to calm me down sometimes.

Yes, yes indeed, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Neither would I. By the way, it was determined by the government office that determines these things that fucking Chad Wolf had been in the “acting” role longer than was legal and that his authority was now being exercised contrary to American law.

Look, you know better than most people, when you’re dealing with childish, irrational assholes with authority accountable only to somebody exactly like them, you just have to cut them infinite slack.

I know, I know…

So?

Fuckface likes “acting” loyalists in charge of everything. “I like ‘acting’,” he said nonchalantly, with his characteristic frankness. They don’t have to be vetted or confirmed, their lack of credentials for the job is immaterial, they are accountable only to his moods, can be used as needed and discarded like the disposable toilet paper they are, you can fire them at will and nobody will even care!

Basta, bastardo!

Right! I did cook a nice variation on Divya Alter’s delicious mixed vegetables in cashew curry sauce an hour so so ago. Came out really delicious, creamy, with a nice mushroom accent.

Let’s not talk about that, you ruined lunch, you heartless fuck.

OK, well, anyway, it was nice talking to you, as always, I have to get on with some random creative pursuit now.

There seems no way to stop it these days.

True dat.

Have a nice day, man.

You too, bubba! Nice talking to ya.

[1]

OK, obviously not “criminal” but Congress stated that federal authorities must “visibly display” their name tags when operating in public. Clearly there is a great deal of play in the word “must”.

Inspiring words from historian Howard Zinn

Looking toward the future (at this perilous and hopeful moment), and our places in history (if there is to be history, in the future), here is Howard Zinn’s inspiring message, delivered as an older man, accepting a prize from a French historical society, talking about why he studied and taught history, why he wrote A People’s History of the United States:

“I wanted, in writing this book, to awaken a consciousness in my readers, of class conflict, of racial injustice, of sexual inequality and of national arrogance, and I also wanted to bring into light the hidden resistance of the People against the power of the establishment.   

I thought that to omit these acts of resistance, to omit these victories, however limited, by the people of the United States, was to create the idea that power rests only with those who have the guns, who possess the wealth.  I wanted to point out that people who seem to have no power — working people, people of color, women– once they organize and protest and create national movements, they have a power that no government can suppress.

“I don’t want to invent victories for people’s movements, but to think that history writing must simply recapitulate the failures that dominate the past is to make historians collaborators in an endless cycle of defeat.  And if history is to be creative, if it’s to anticipate a possible future without denying the past, it should, I think, emphasize new possibilities by disclosing those hidden episodes of the past when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, occasionally to win.

“I am supposing, or perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in the past’s fugitive moments of compassion rather than in the solid centuries of warfare.”

Stating the Obvious, year-end edition

I am not alone in wishing good riddance to this fucking deadly year. Not that flipping the calendar page will do anything, really, but it’s nice to symbolically turn the page on 2020, which NY Times op-ed writer Michelle Cottle generously called a “soul crushing hellscape of a dumpster fire.” It has been that. Let’s look at just a few things we learned.

If you have an even one vote majority in the Senate, you get to decide what business gets in front of the Senate, what the People will get an up or down vote on, what democracy is.

Black guy picks a replacement for a suddenly deceased giant of the right on the Supreme Court? No hearing, no advice nor consent, forget it, let the People decide in the next election. President impeached by the House, the law requires a trial in Senate? No worries, we openly vow to work closely with the president’s defense team, allow no witnesses or evidence, acquit him ASAP and put the blame back where it belongs: on enraged haters, traitors, communists, black terrorists. COVID-19 puts burdens on the wealthiest corporations in the country (many making record windfall profits during the pandemic) while poor people who work for these outfits (“essential workers”) sicken and die? A liability shield for all corporate entities who may have inadvertently killed people by forcing them to work in unsafe conditions during a highly infectious, deadly pandemic. It’s only fair, and a totally reasonable pre-condition for any government aid to tens of millions of immiserated Americans.

Record Wildfires and Killer Storms, a small price to pay for continued prosperity.

A pandemic is first and foremost a political event.

Public safety precautions urged by medical experts may safely be mocked as partisan bullshit, a hoax, a nasty stunt fueled by irrational anger. Mayors and governors seeking to enforce mask mandates, social distancing? Sue these tyrants in court, exhort unhinged supporters to take up guns, rise up against tyranny!! No political price need ever be paid, in fact, the base (‘al qaeda’ in Arabic) loves it!

Check out this dead Republican’s official website, updated when he died of COVID-19. Do you think this staunch supporter of the president wore a mask, ever?

Alternative facts are just as good as so-called real facts.

When a police officer kills an unarmed person, live on video, particularly if that dead person is “colored”, the officer is entitled to the presumption of innocence, “qualified immunity” [1] from prosecution and a vigorous public defense by the media team at the police union.

And you can go down the whole disgustingly detailed list. How did we get to this hideous and embarrassing point in our experiment in democracy? My short answer: consumerism, materialism, greed, stupidity, the coercive power of advertising, extolling the unlimited virtues of unlimited individual competition between Rugged Individuals who duke it out for supremacy.

The value of the American Dream, and the life of every dreamer, can be expressed in a number, which follows a dollar sign. During this pandemic the 650 American billionaires increased their wealth by almost a trillion dollars. A trillion is a thousand billions, a million millions, like so: $1,000,000,000,000. Thousands of American lives could be saved, and many of the dead would still be alive, by the targeted infusion of that kind of money (a historic windfall to our 650 wealthiest, during a pandemic) into the fight against this terrible disease, to keep people from homelessness, hunger, terror and despair.

We’ve been successfully sold the idea that Bezos, Zuckerberg, Gates, Musk and Koch deserve every penny of their more than $100,000,000,000 fortunes, and every blessed dollar of their tens of billions in plague-related profits. To tax any of that money, even a windfall made during a pandemic, for use on the public good, even in a vast public health emergency, is coercive, socialistic, yea, communistic, totalitarian. So we seem to believe here in the USA, the land where Rugged Individualism has been marketed so successfully by influential actors like The Great Communicator.

MacKenzie Scott, former wife of world’s greediest man Jeff Fucking Bezos, has so far taken about 10% of her estimated $59,000,000,000 fortune and given the money directly to causes that need help, like pandemic relief and anti-racist groups. She gave six billion dollars to organizations she believes in, asking them only to use it where it was needed most.

Contrast that with usual billionaire strings-attached philanthropist micromanagers like Gates and Zuckerberg (Bezos, Musk and Koch don’t seem to believe in philanthropy) who, considering themselves among history’s greatest geniuses, create foundations that bear their names and fund specific solutions they believe in, like proposing to solve inequality of education and its role in intergenerational poverty with private “charter schools” (that don’t work — certainly not to help fix our long-besieged public education system).

Heather Cox Richardson wrote a short version of how we got here, an essay that arrived in my inbox around 5 a.m. Our pay-to-play political cesspool today is directly traceable to the rage and determination of a group of very wealthy white men following Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 decision when the “activist” Supreme Court unanimously declared segregation unconstitutional. You can trace their privilege-protecting, anti-majoritarian determination to take back the unquestioned power they never lost in the Civil War to the years right after American schools were ordered to be de-segregated “with all deliberate speed.”

Racism plays an outsized role in our nation’s woes — though, like the “n-word” itself, it must never be uttered aloud.

Think of it, without racism you have a tiny group of super rich, politically insulated heirs of great fortunes (think the old slaveholding class in Dixie and their counterparts in the North) versus the overwhelming human force of the great masses of the poor and disenfranchised. If poor whites and poor blacks ever united in a voting block based on their mutual interests, ever marched by the millions demanding action towards justice — you’d have to hire literally an army of lone gunmen to shoot all of their leaders in the head. Remove racism from the mix and you’d have sudden, massive change, or a bloodbath of our greatest, and most valuable, citizens. The world would not be safe for those born, booted and spurred, to ride the backs of the rest of us.

Of course, not every one of the 74,000,000 who voted to give Donald Trump a second chance to make America great again is a racist. On the other hand, we all understand that every eligible racist in the country voted for Donald. Anger at racism? It brings me back to personal experiences with old friends and reminds me of how personal the political always is.

The guy I asked to please stop provoking me would not even acknowledge doing it, he’d never provoked me, he kept insisting. At the same time, the last time we talked, he couldn’t rest until, reminding me three times in 15 minutes that though it was unfair to accuse me of disrespecting him, based on the actual events of the day and my constant communication with him about delays, that he still felt disrespected by my lateness. The third time he brought this up was the charm. I finally exploded, listing several very specific reasons I had no respect for him. Set and match.

It’s this way with racism. You keep bringing it up, I’ll keep telling you it’s not a problem. We are never going to talk about it in any meaningful way, nor acknowledge its prevalence in our culture. When you get mad, well, it just proves I was right all along about you fucking people.

A guy complained that he had no idea how much he’d hurt me because I’d been so calm, reasonable and nonjudgmental when I told him I was hurt. Somebody who is really hurt cries out, he pointed out, it’s only natural. How could I really blame him for not knowing how upset he’d made me when I didn’t cry out? It was unfair of me to expect him to know how hurtful and aggravating his actions were without a little screaming to give him a clue. So, to allow him to understand why I was hurt, and how much, I cried out. When I did, he was devastated that I could be such a merciless fuck.

This is how it works with racism too. You can be philosophical in the face of the pain of it, but that’s only a way of coping. Your restraint can be cited, by those who don’t believe in racism, as a demonstration that you’re pretty much cool with the way things are, that we all enjoy freedom here, and basic equality under the law.

Everything seems fine, until another unarmed black man, not resisting his handcuffing by police (as a suspect in a very minor, non-violent crime), is slowly murdered on video, by an officer kneeling on his neck for long, agonizing minutes, while the officer’s colleagues assist in the killing — during a pandemic. A high school girl films the entire thing on her cellphone. There is no question about the hideous sequence of events, the lynching, exactly how long it takes the begging man to lose consciousness, how long they wait to call for medical help.

Now you take to the streets by the millions, finally bringing many thousands of “white” people with you, everywhere. Racism doesn’t seem so abstract now, does it, you reality denying motherfuckers? Of course, now you are a visible, united threat and people who deny that racism exists start getting defensive, even shrill. Who is really making the problem here?

Anyway, a happy, healthy 2021 to you all. It’s hard to imagine it can be as bad as 2020, though guys like Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham will do their best to hold the line, keep hope alive for al q’aeda, the base. The feelings of those left out, the large majority shoved aside, hurt, in need, bereft by the preventable deaths of loved ones — well, as Mitch and Lindsey and their ilk are used to believing, they simply don’t have the votes to do anything about it, do they?

A majority of one vote or not, we’re going to have a much better 2021 than the surreal, stinking shit-show of 2020. Take that to the bank, stay alert and be of good cheer.

[1]

Qualified immunity is a judicially created doctrine that shields government officials from being held personally liable for constitutional violations—like the right to be free from excessive police force—for money damages under federal law so long as the officials did not violate “clearly established” law. Both 42 U.S.C. § 1983—a statute originally passed to assist the government in combating Ku Klux Klan violence in the South after the Civil War—and the Supreme Court’s decision in Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics (1971) allow individuals to sue government officials for money damages when they violate their constitutional rights. Section 1983 applies to state officials, while Bivens applies to federal officials. Because damages are often the only available remedy after a constitutional violation has occurred, suits for damages can be a crucial means of vindicating constitutional rights. When government officials are sued, qualified immunity functions as an affirmative defense they can raise, barring damages even if they committed unlawful acts.

source

Why Be Normal?

This is something of a trick question, obviously.

Years ago, during a visit to my parents after they retired and moved to Florida, I bought a bumper sticker, legible from five car lengths back, that read:

WHY BE NORMAL?

On my way out for a walk that evening, I put it on the back bumper of my parents’ Cadillac. It remained there until my father noticed it, a day or two later, and it was gone.

To suggest that being normal is even a question, well, it’s simply not normal. The normal thing is to want to be normal, I suppose, to do what a normal person normally does, to want a normal life. The larger question, of course, is why be philosophical? Why inquire?

It was not normal, before recent years, for an incumbent (or even retired) president to publicly lie over 25,000 times in a four year span. Now we’re used to it, you know, everybody lies, this guy is just really, really driven to lie, so what? The deadly, massively destructive storms that now visit nations around the world regularly, while uncommon, even unthinkable two decades ago, are now pretty much normal. Friends communicating exclusively by texted initials like LOL, ROTFLMAO!, etc. is now, like, totally normal (even if these two are relics). We have a bias toward getting used to what happens regularly, quickly considering it the new normal. The first time we are confronted with the unfamiliar might be a shock, even feel like a moral reckoning, the fifteenth, certainly the hundredth, time is pretty normal.

This is what we mean when we speak of battle-hardened troops. It’s normal for a person to hesitate to kill another person, until you are in a place where your best friend’s head gets blown off by a deadly enemy. You see the ugly bastard swing his gun toward you and you blow his fucking head off. It’s him or you. The first time you blow somebody’s head off you might vomit, have nightmares about it. After a few times, well, shit happens, you simply have to get used to it. It becomes fairly normal. Eventually you can even fire into a crowd, fuck it, these fucking people are not even people. It’s normal human behavior, has been from the dawn of the homo sapiens epoch.

So it was when one of the psychiatrists who interviewed normal German bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann before his trial for crimes against humanity in Jerusalem. Asked if Eichmann was “normal” one court appointed shrink said “more normal, at any rate, than I am after having examined him.” [1] Astute readers of this blahg had to know a reference to Nazis was on the way, at the same time, the normal Nazi is one of the best examples of what I’m talking about.

We have Normal (standard behavior based on the norms of the group — sane) on one side and Abnormal (extraordinary, exceptional, out of the ordinary — insane) on the other side, the side where monsters, saints and heroes live. As I have written here many times — we are always able to justify our actions as good and morally correct. This is a cardinal characteristic of the “wise ape”. If I cut your head off it’s because you made me do it, you sick bastard. That’s normal.

Normal for 126 sitting members of the House of Representatives to join the president’s Texas friend’s baseless lawsuit seeking to invalidate the votes in each swing state that Trump lost in 2020. They just argued, you know, that the Supreme Court should throw out those millions of votes because they deprived the majority in the great state of Texas of their right to the president they chose. Nothing not normal about sucking up to a powerful, famously vindictive boss who rules by fear and intimidation and is also a sadist. Normal, also, for the well-funded elected representatives of the rest of us to do nothing about these 126 democracy subverting lickspittles.

Decency, of course, is normal too. Kindness to others, perfectly normal. Mercy, normal. Except when these things are weaponized, which is now normal too. What a useless idea “normal” is. I was reminded of that by this headline in the New York Times.

Now there is absolutely no reason to think that Mr. Trump was one of these outliers, I’m not saying it or even suggesting it. In defense of a man who’s hard to defend, he was pretty much the same before and after his dramatic brush with COVID-19 (and Vegas oddsmakers are at odds over whether the Liar-in-Chief actually ever was infected with the novel coronavirus before his heroic quick “recovery”). Mental illness is a whole other topic, when we start throwing around words like “psychotic”… hoo boy, that’s not normal. Not normal at all!!!

[1] Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem p. 25

Low Tide Thoughts On Christmas Eve

On Monday I woke from fitful, too short sleep, to brood about three issues that are no longer torturing me. I needed a couple of more hours of sleep, but my brain was boiling, thoughts leaping from one supremely annoying scenario to the next. I got up and began hammering at the keyboard in an attempt to tire myself enough to get back to sleep.

My plan didn’t work, all the annoyances, especially in exhausting combination, retained their power to keep me awake. A fucking doctor, a negligent dermatologist in a hurry that necessitated a second biopsy to confirm what I went to him complaining of in October, nonchalantly illustrating the often cancerous nature of profit-driven, unaccountable American corporate medicine; some money-related trouble that also involved apparent disrespect; and the thought of the upcoming high-stakes runoff election in Georgia and a short, persuasive letter I wanted to write, print and mail to the same people I’d sent postcards to in Georgia. The deadline clock ticking loudly on the second and third of these items. These three nagging thoughts tag teamed me all morning, and took turns buggering me, into the afternoon and evening.

When you are fresh you can tackle whatever it is you need to deal with and often make short work of it. You tend not to let a couple of random annoyances become a solid, ominous wall you cannot get over, under or around. In an exhausted state, as most of us are on this extraordinary and isolated Christmas Eve during a disorienting plague, overseen by a depraved administration, three random troubles are more than enough to poison your day.

All day Monday I was grumpy as hell, overtired and overwhelmed after short sleep, I could not sleep it off or rouse myself from my mood. Sekhnet could do little to help, except to be nimble jumping back when I lunged to bite her. Yesterday she was in a similar state to my Monday malaise, her mouth a determined frown I could not move, no matter how puckish I attempted to be.

A couple of random thoughts that could bring a touch of good cheer and then I’m off for a nap. I’m afraid they are Trump-related and I warn you of this in the event you understandably want to tune out. To me, they are a bit of upside as our attention-craving Executioner-in-Chief kills a last bunch of federal death row inmates, ignores another few thousand American deaths of COVID-19, keeps claiming that the election he openly tried his best to steal was stolen from HIM, rages that he’s surrounded by traitors in his own party, and scrawls his jagged Sharpie signature on the pardons of more of his friends and co-conspirators.

A pardon, and pardon me if you know this, removes any jeopardy for the crime you were pardoned for. You can’t be punished in any way for anything connected to the crime you were pardoned for, you can’t incriminate yourself in that matter. 86 of the so far 94 pardons Trump has granted so far were given to people personally connected to our transactional president. A number of them were convicted for lying under oath to protect Mr. Trump by dummying up about or falsifying information that could put Trump in legal hot water.

Now that they’ve been pardoned, in many cases completing a typical Trumpian quid pro quo, there is no problem forcing them to testify about what they were involved in. There’s no possibility of double jeopardy, self-incrimination or punishment for the original crime. Guys like Manafort, Stone, Flynn, perjurers and obstructers already convicted of lying to protect their benefactor (let’s gratuitously add the demented Giuliani and the blustering Barr to this list, Merry Christmas!), will have a very hard time not lying to a grand jury when direct questions are put to them by skilled attorneys. When they lie again under oath they commit a brand new crime of perjury that the presidential pardon has no effect on. Like their buddy the president, they are not strictly capable of not lying when cornered.

That thought cheers me up on an otherwise fairly bleak Christmas Eve.

Former Trump “fixer” Michael Cohen is already serving a prison sentence for a conspiracy committed with and at the instigation of co-conspirator Individual One. That unnamed party is Donald Trump. That gives me a little bit of Christmas cheer, even as Trump no doubt has Legal Kraken Sidney Powell crafting the overblown language of his self-pardon even as I tap out these pissy words.

A pattern demonstrating corrupt intent can be shown as evidence of a key element required to prove obstruction of justice (as Mueller showed when presenting at least ten instances of this pattern to establish Trump’s modus operandi in trying to obstruct the Special Counsel’s investigation into the 140 known instances of cooperation between the Trump campaign and Putin — something he eventually succeeded in thwarting when he hired Bill Barr). When Trump preemptively pardons Louis DeJoy, or Rudy, or Igor and Lev, it will be another tile in the seamless mosaic of the president’s corrupt intent to cover his crimes by pardoning his co-conspirators. If Trump had run these pardons by the office of the Presidential Pardon Attorney, as is the standard practice, he probably would have known this. In Trumpworld, however, nobody is smarter, cannier or a more stable genius (or a more “perfect physical specimen” or more “extremely young”) than Trump.

Yes, yes, politics is exhausting and Trump is exhausting as a matter of his chaotic and domineering personality and his insanity. No, the Democratic party, as a party, has shown little to no courage in making a compelling case to America about much. Yes, unfettered corporate power is choking democracy to death and it firmly controls the party of Pelosi and Schumer. Understood, but still.

When Donald Trump was inaugurated his campaign smashed the old record for inauguration donations raised. The DA of the District of Columbia is done with the discovery phase of his lawsuit against the Trumps for self-dealing, fraud and illegally profiteering off the presidency. The amount at stake is a paltry million dollars, and Ivanka, who was deposed recently, denounced the lawsuit on twitter as another baseless Democrat witch hunt against her father [1]. Of course, that doesn’t explain why a ballroom at the fabulous D.C. Trump Hotel that a conservative Christian group rented for $5,000 that same week cost the Inauguration $175,000 a day to rent. Money that went directly into the Trump family coffers, along with a ton of other money raised that was not accounted for. Like the more than half billion that was funneled opaquely through the slush fund Jared set up for dad-in-law, Ivanka and family.

Sure, abuse of power is no longer illegal for a president to engage in, that’s only politics. Obstruction of justice, same deal, depends on whether the person you obstruct is a complete asshole who is biased against you. Corruption is in the eye of the beholder, which is why Trump has made a point to find and pardon the greatest and most notorious scumbags he can. War crimes? No such thing, it’s like abuse of power, a charge with a simple, irrefutable answer: fuck you.

The thing that encourages me at this sickening moment for our nation, as the barking mad president organizes rallies for himself that he hopes will kick off a violent revolution to keep him in power, is that decency is more powerful than cruelty. We wise apes have a bias toward justice, toward seeing karma play out fairly.

It may not seem like that way much of the time, especially at this moment in history, and we can argue about whether some of our top leaders are sociopaths or psychopaths, or merely just very competitive, empathy-challenged lying narcissists, but the human instinct is for decency. I believe even people who seem like angry idiots, when given the sudden choice between saving a baby or letting the kid get killed, will scoop the kid up and talk soothingly to her.

Of course, Anne Frank thought the same thing and things went badly for her. Still, it’s a comforting thought on this eve of the birth of the Prince of Peace, the gentle, godly son of the Creator who taught that it is a blessing to protect the meek, to… ah, you know the drill. Merry Christmas, everybody.

[1]

Regarding the criminal investigation by Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance, Ivanka tweeted:

“This is harassment, pure and simple. This ‘inquiry’ by NYC Democrats is 100% motivated by politics, publicity and rage. They know very well that there’s nothing here and that there was no tax benefit whatsoever. These politicians are simply ruthless.”

A lawyer for the Trump Organization did not provide a statement to us on a possible indictment by the Manhattan D.A., or on the charges he is considering.

In legal papers, Donald Trump’s legal team has said Vance’s inquiry is “bad faith,” and an “overbroad fishing expedition.” Trump’s lawyers have stated in response to news reports there was “no fraud or tax evasion by anyone.”

Ivanka Trump tweeted about Vance’s investigation: “This is harassment, pure and simple. This ‘inquiry’ by NYC Democrats is 100% motivated by politics, publicity and rage. They know very well that there’s nothing here and that there was no tax benefit whatsoever. These politicians are simply ruthless.”

source

Share and share alike

Years ago a friend asked me to rewrite his parents’ wills to make sure his newborn daughter was added by name. His parents were happy to do this, I went to meet them. Reading the two short documents they already had I noted one serious flaw — the signature of the attorney, by wild coincidence, in addition to being scrawled in the same eccentrically blue-green ink as the witness signatures, was in the exact same handwriting as the signatures of the two witnesses to the will. When I pointed this out to them they smiled at me, and at each other, and told me fondly what a lovely man their now deceased lawyer was. Each will was an otherwise standard will, except for a phrase I really enjoyed. The assets not otherwise spoken for above were to be divided among the grandchildren equally, “to share and share alike”. I made sure to retain the phrase in my rewrite of the wills.

Share and share alike is a formula for avoiding conflict. There’s one less big reason to fight if we share everything fairly. Most people I know have this impulse. When you cook and put the food on the plate, or slice a cake, you try to give the same portion to everyone at the table (unless somebody indicates they want a smaller portion). When Sekhnet and I were domesticating the Feral Five this summer, we both reflexively did the same thing: made sure they all knew they’d get the same food, attention and playtime as all the others. One kitten would start eating, the others quickly learned that within a moment they’d have their own bowl in front of them. When giving them treats, each one got the same amount tossed to them and there was almost never stealing or attempts at hoarding. There was little anxiety or any reason for competition for these things because they shared and shared alike. It seems pretty clear that this is the fair way to divide things — share and share alike. It’s a basic philosophical stance, it seems to me– that everyone should get, to the extent possible, the basics that they need to live with safety and dignity, particularly in a place where others have a thousand, or a million times, what they need.

I think about that, in our gilded age of Inequality with its insane, often lauded, greed and — in an environment of the artificially enforced scarcity, the glorification of the “winners” of our natural “competition”. Our greatest citizens are not those who learned to “share and share alike” they are the audacious ones who learned to grab, and bring lawsuits against others like them, dominate the competition, take it all.

The supremely entitled twat who runs Facebook? One of the greediest fucks on earth, and supremely destructive in his limitless greed and arrogance, but– hey, don’t knock what he’s accomplished! Bill Gates? Arguably a slick monopolist at one time (with the lawsuits to prove it) but today one of our greatest philanthropist, although he is the ultimate expert on everything and determines precisely how his donations are spent (he always knows best, after all), and rightfully so, he’s about the smartest man in the world, as demonstrated by his vast, hard-earned fortune. But who am I to judge these great men so harshly? What fortune have I amassed? The People rest!

There is no downside in America to super-sized greed and hoarding — no matter how obscene — if you are a success. Our greediest and most avaricious [1] citizens are seen as the best of us by most of us — a kind of natural aristocracy in American life. Sekhnet doesn’t disagree when I snarl at the seemingly insane greed of a Jeff Bezos (not that she likes my frequent snarling), but she also loves the innovations in convenient shopping he’s made possible and defends the sick fuck, at least for the excellence of his genius instant-gratification delivery service. Bezos, I note, never leaves a penny on the table when he can grab it for himself.

It seems to me that once you’ve amassed, say, a $100,000,000,000 personal fortune, you can afford to stop obsessively snatching up every penny in sight. It’s probably safe to allow your hardworking employees to form a union, let’s say, or to have certain benefits at work (like bathroom breaks), a work site that is as close to a modern day salt mine as exists in our enlightened nation. For Jeff “Democracy Dies in Darkness” Bezos, it’s the principle of the thing. A penny left on the table, or in a mere employee’s hand, is a sin. A fucking sin!

I imagine that in the childhood homes of every supremely greedy acquisitor (often wealthy homes) there was an ethic (false, of course) of “zero entitlement” and of “working to earn everything you get.” “Share and share alike” was considered a recipe for losers. Fred Koch made his boys literally fight it out for his approval. The young Koch brothers punched each other in the face, and Fred was all for this manly vying over who was the most ambitious, the fittest to survive and therefore the most entitled to inherit oversight of his fortune.

Think of young Donald, with his charismatic, much older brother getting so much of daddy’s attention and praise — until the brother broke his father’s heart by showing himself much less ruthless than necessary to run an empire. Young Donald, fourth pup in the litter of five, angry, spoiled, entitled, bullying, acting out, fledging rich young juvenile delinquent, was then sent to military academy in an unsuccessful attempt to make a mensch out of him as Frederick Christ Trump groomed the young narcissist to become Trump.

Back to the opposite of these types and share and share alike. What is wrong with share and share alike as a view of life between siblings, life in a community? One thing that pops out of the American/Puritan myth — if you always get what you need, where is the incentive to create wealth, to dominate and become “great”?

Greatness, in the capitalist ethic, means constant expansion — continual growth of the enterprise, of profits, of wealth. Success is measured in immensity of expansion and the scope of your personal dominance. That’s why you can rape the earth as much as you want (as long as their is no priggish progress-hating government nanny there to coerce you and force you to stop) if the end result is being the richest man on the planet you murdered.

You want to raise children who are less susceptible to jealousy and corruption? Teach them to share and share alike, by your fair example. The alternative is what we are living in now: Betsey DeVos as the Secretary of Making Education An Earned Right Again as Christ Himself teaches.

[1]

I use, employ and deploy this synonym for greedy (note this is greed for wealth and material gain, as opposed to simple greed) in a nod to the pettifogger’s habit of stating and restating, reiterating and repeating, the obvious, the plain, the too clear to need clarification, the open and shut, in as many words and variations as possible, to cover every contingency, circumstance, event, foreseen and unforeseen, every possibility, in this world or any conceivable world. I learned that this laughable, risible, ridiculous habit derives from the age when we used to use scriveners, men with excellent handwriting, to write our legal papers. These weasels were paid by the word, hence the endless series of qualifiers, synonyms, distinguishing marks, clarifiers, the ostentatious, overbearing, absurdly ornate and, frankly, wordy restatements of the same thing:

Reservoir of Rage — and Silence

Rage is a famously difficult subject, which is why I’m trying to take some ways of expressing it one at a time. Reframing, for example, is an essential technique for angrily dominating someone in an argument. Silence, in the face of a friend or family member’s expressed concern, or in answer to a direct request for a conversation, is one of the most potent weapons in the war of rage. It has the virtues of being subtle and deniable (there are MANY reasons for silence), but it is also highly effective, dramatic and deadly, in my experience.

Silence can be a great blessing, of course, like when an overbearingly loud noise finally stops. When quiet descends we feel our breathing calm, we can focus and concentrate. Silence (as opposed to blurting something) can often be very useful when confronted with vexation, it gives you time to gather yourself, deliberate and react more productively. Silence is golden, as those prone to uttering cliches will sometimes say in a quiet moment.

Silence can also be used as the ultimate, uninterruptible, elegant last word in a spasm of rage. One obvious beauty of using deathly silence this way, (to the practitioner), is that it’s the anger expression technique that keeps giving, the silence will continue to irk the other person until they can forget about it and the meaning of the silence itself can always be debated, ill will denied vehemently.

Silence is just silence, the practitioner will insist if confronted, though it might feel like the “silent treatment” to an oversensitive eternal victim type. “… and, you know, though it might well be possible that my silence actually does express my utter contempt for you, you overweening baby, you will always get an unwinnable argument from me about why you are totally wrong to construe it that way. It’s just silence… no meaning to it whatsoever, it’s all inside your messed up head… and typical of you to blame me for the outpourings of your corroded imagination.”

The genius part of this defense is that it’s often true — people fail to respond for many reasons, including being busy, distracted, overwhelmed, truly not knowing what to say. I used to be offended when I heard nothing back from friends I’d send random bits of gratuitous creativity to. Now I understand there is no intention to be hurtful — most people have no experience with a need to feel creative and simply don’t know what to say when someone sends them a thirty second bit of original music. Musicians know that “nice” is a perfectly satisfying reply if they like the thing, but, most people feel overmatched to respond to a drawing sent out of the blue, an incoherent bit of calligraphy, a poem, or whatever the fucking thing is. “Nice” seems mechanical, I guess, something original probably seems in order, and what to actually say to someone who insists on “sharing”– I have no idea.

For our purposes here I am talking about the silence that is a refusal to speak, after being asked to. If you ever experienced this kind of bruising silence, you know what I’m struggling to bring out here.

It is an integral part of the game of rage to always have an argument ready to justify your anger and the actions it caused you to take. (The passive voice, we note, is always good in this case: righteous anger caused me to do this, it was clearly not my choice to be so provoked by you, asshole!)

The argument an angry person makes doesn’t need to be sound or have any chance of prevailing based on what actually took place, the only point is to contest the other person’s right to their feelings. Anger is a zero-sum game — one winner (innocent, 100% right), one loser (infuriating asshole, 100% wrong.) It’s an angry fool’s reductive way of looking at life, but there it is.

This readiness to fight, and the devilish quickness to justify any harsh action, are hallmarks of the perpetually angry person. That raging reflex to deny, no matter what, is what is so infuriating about people addicted to that intoxicating surge of righteousness anger provides. Compulsive Contrarians will fight you angrily, out of an insatiable need to fight, no matter what the cost, to the death and beyond.

To be clear about the kind of anger I’m talking about, it is an unyielding reflex to remain angry and to win the fight. We all experience anger, it is an inevitable part of our condition here as humans. Unfairness, disappointment, bad luck all make us mad. A mark of maturity is being able to keep these things in perspective, to learn to fix what we can and not dwell forever on everything that makes us angry.

The kind of anger that demands the regular harsh punishment of others is an attitude toward life. It hardens into a stance of eternal grievance, a much different, more destructive force than what is released when we sometimes get pissed off at the ordinary frustrations we all have to deal with.

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said “forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a permanent attitude.We need to be ready to forgive, when the time is right, we have to stay receptive to another person trying to make amends — hence, the permanent attitude. Being ready to accept an apology is a philosophical stance. The same goes for letting go of, or holding on to, anger. We can stay focused on a grievance forever, and act accordingly, or learn to repair what we can and coexist with things that enrage us but that we can do little about, without being mad and ready to fight all the time.

Back to the angry use of silence in situations where dialogue is needed. Political examples of this, the brazen refusal to honestly answer a straight question, for example, are ubiquitous. No point to cite specific cases, there are too many every day, every hour, to start naming. Besides, our current political idiocy is too sickening and bringing it into the discussion is a distraction that will take us off course. I’ll stick to the personal here, keep it clean and straightforward, in hopes of making a point worth making.

The epoch we’re living in now is a worldwide Age of Anger, (or Age of Rage, if ya like a rhyme on yer page) to an extent not seen on this scale in almost a century. Since we’re all forced into offense so much of the time, by news designed to make us angry (and watch the ads [1]), it is best to see anger as the personal thing it always is. Anger is personal, totally, for every person who feels it.

Working to understand our own relationship to our personal anger, and what specifically makes us mad, is probably the best we can do, and a first step toward making our own lives, and the lives of those around us, less contentious. It’s also one of the hardest things to do, especially if you’re prone to getting pissed off. We live in a world of constant provocation at a historical moment when the dial is turned up to 10 all day long (and all through the night).

Here are a couple of examples of angry uses of silence from my life, as succinctly as I can lay them out (I’ve written about each of these vexing kerfuffles here when they happened.)

Let’s recognize first that silence can have different meanings, depending on how we were raised. These meanings determine our feelings about silence and our sensitivity to it. In some households silence may be a proper initial response to a perplexing question. It can indicate respect, the person is thinking deeply about your question and will give a considered opinion after they have thought things through. In another home you’ll be taught that silence as a reply means “never,” the silence about your expressed concern will go on until the next time you bring it up, when it will be answered by an identical pointed silence and so forth, ad infinitum.

Nobody who expresses a concern likes to be ignored (nobody that I’ve ever met, anyway). It is a cruel thing to do to a child (or a person of any age, actually). It amounts to neglecting them emotionally by ignoring their fears, desires, questions and concerns. Is it as cruel as daily beatings, making the child go to bed hungry, humiliating the kid publicly? That depends on how diligently silence by way of response is wielded.

In my own life I’ve come to understand, as a fairly old man, that what I thought of as my father’s relentless cruelty (he made very effective use of strategic silence as a weapon) was in large part his relentless inability to do any better than he did. He was the victim of unspeakable abuse in a home ravaged by poverty, ignorance and rage. He did the best he could, I understood finally, though his best did a good deal of damage. This understanding of my father’s helplessness against his pain and anger came only after a lot of pain and conflict in my own life. My eventual understanding of his limitations erased virtually none of it, but it makes the world make much more sense to me.

As he was dying my father made a seemingly incomprehensible request, asking me to understand that, in a real sense, our long war was “nothing personal”. I thought about this Zen koan for a long time before its meaning emerged. His mistreatment of me had nothing to do with me personally — he would have done the same thing to any child of his, no matter who he or she had been. He was reiterating what he’d said earlier that last night of his life: it had been him, not me, who created most of the intractable problems between us. Our endless war had little to do with me personally.

If I was traumatized, as a young kid, to suddenly learn about the Nazi death machine, by seeing black and white film clips of a guy wheeling a wheelbarrow of jiggling skeletons and dumping them into a pit of corpses (an image that caused me to vomit), and agitatedly asked my father about it, what did I really expect him to say? He was not emotionally equipped to say what he probably wished he had:

“You saw some of the most horrible images in human history and you’re asking a terrible question that the greatest minds in the world can’t really answer. You’ll learn about racism, scapegoating, the terrible violence angry mobs are capable of when whipped up by hate-filled maniacs. You’re right to be upset, especially at age eight when you have no way to put any of this into context. I’m sorry you saw those clips that I tried to spare you from seeing, I know you can’t unsee them, but believe me, a lot of the horror you’re feeling right now will start to fade pretty soon. We humans are very adaptable, you’ll feel much better tomorrow, I guarantee. I understand why you vomited, you were right to vomit. You’re safe now, and we can talk more about this later. As you have questions, just ask and I’ll do my best to explain what I can.”

Instead, frustrated and overwhelmed, my father snapped that he’d warned me not to see that goddamned movie, forbade me, in fact, but I never fucking listen to him, that I’m a drama queen always trying to claim a special right to feel like a victim. He told me angrily that just because many members of our family died (people he referred to as “mere abstractions!”) at the hands of Nazis and their helpers, it gave me no special right to feel in any way like a holocaust survivor, and so on.

He was overwhelmed, upset, not at his best, would have felt shame if I played a recording of what he had said to “console” his young son. Obviously he’d much rather have said something along the lines of the more humane response I set out above. On the bright side for him, it was years before I asked again about the slaughter of at least 15 great aunts and uncles and their entire extended families.

You grow up, reach an understanding of things that hurt you and hope to do much better yourself treating other people well. As Hillel said: what is hateful to you, don’t do to others. As you also learn — it is best to avoid people who can’t do this.

If you send a professional writer friend a piece you talked about, something you hope to publish, pages he said he’d be happy to read and comment on, and you never hear back? Shades of that hurtful silence, especially after two or three follow-ups when you still don’t hear back from him. In the end, if the guy claims you’re the asshole for being upset after only three or four tries for feedback, that anyone but a schmuck would have persisted, that, in fact, he probably did read the piece, likely even replied at the time (it made no impression on him either way, understand) you know the story with him. It’s not personal, in a true sense.

If an old friend offers legal help with a painful legal situation you find yourself entangled in and winds up playing devil’s advocate throughout the aggravating weeks and months, then loses his temper a few times that you keep getting upset, then apologizes, but later feels compelled to tell you he only apologized because you are such an irrationally angry person that groveling was the only way he could get you to calm down — you have learned who your old friend is, on a primal level. He operates within a very narrow empathetic bandwidth, to put it charitably. When he claims to have carefully considered every point you raised about the sad pass things have come to, while responding to none of them (and insisting he’s still been given no clue), his hurt silence is predictable, and finally welcome.

On down the line, I have other examples from my own life but I think the point is made. Again, as the sage Hillel told the man challenging him to put his Jewish faith into a single sentence: what is hateful to you don’t do to someone else. We all know what is hateful to us. It’s a good principle to try our best not do it to others. When we know we’ve failed, we should be quick to express our genuine regret.

When you know your personal kryptonite (in my case silence wielded as a final response to an expressed concern) all you can do is tell the people in your life, when you feel them doing that, YOW! THAT SHIT IS MY KRYPTONITE, please don’t wave it near my face! When they know what hurts you most, they have the final choice about whether they will deploy it against you or not. They will decide what the silence at the end means.

Almost never is that silence the blessed kind that restores calm, unless they are silently figuring out how to take care of another person’s hurt feelings and are going to get back to you.

At the same time, with deathlike silence there is something healthy and refreshing about the way the ugly noise finally stops. In fact, there are few things better, when things have already turned ugly, than the peace that comes when somebody who sincerely doesn’t know how to treat people finally shuts the fuck up.

[1]

Thought for a future post:

The mass media has long known that “if it bleeds, it leads”– all the research has shown executives that a larger audience will tune in to breaking news about violence, murder, mayhem, teased loudly in an alarming headline. The more recent refinement to this theory was among Mark Zuckerberg’s great innovations in monetizing the universal human desire for connection: rage is contagious, spreads like wildfire and there’s fucking GOLD IN THEM THAR FUCKING HILLS!!!

Speaking of rage and gratuitous best-selling violence, I would love to punch that particular noxious piece of shit in his smug, grotesquely monetized face. I’m pretty sure Mark would like it, too. And if not, it will be nothing personal, I assure you.