Pandemic Learning

This worldwide outbreak of an incurable disease is disorienting. Nobody alive has any living experience with the last one, which was over a hundred years ago. You’d have to be 110 to remember much, and little was known back then, except, in hindsight, that a deliberate lack of good information increased the spread of the deadly plague. So today we are are trying to learn, slowly, how to operate during this hellish time of social isolation against the backdrop of a disease that has killed over 130,000 of us here in the United States of America so far. Here is something I learned yesterday that seems useful.

Get up every so often and move for five or ten minutes, throughout the day. It actually makes you feel better than sitting around for hours at a stretch.

I have a fitbit pedometer clipped to my shirt. I try to get my 10,000 steps a day and come pretty close most days. I walk after the sun goes down, since I’ve had numerous skin cancers scalpeled off my nose. I walk my five miles during the coolest time of the summer day. This little pedometer keeps track of another stat: active minutes and when you are logging them. Here is what I learned.

One of the bits of data you get at the end of the week is how many hours, during the average person’s 9 active hours per day, you have moved at least 250 steps. That’s a walk of three or four minutes. I consistently score 2 of 9 hours daily, correlating with my evening walks. That means for 7 hours of the day, I am sedentary, for no real reason except inertia.

I have been feeling a lack of energy lately, a certain resignation to everything stagnant in my life, powerless against every powerfully destructive force we are up against, a wave of futility kept washing over me. I write, read and watched news clips but I am constantly distracted, seeking distraction during my distractions. I took no joy in drawing, practicing calligraphy, playing the guitar, hadn’t picked up a ukulele in days. Yesterday it hit me: take a little walk.

I went around the block, then down the street, strolled for ten minutes or so. Came back up to the computer and continued to brood. An hour later, back down, around the block, sat on a bench. I’m in an area where there are few people on the street, so I carry a mask that I slip on to avoid infecting anybody I see approaching, though it is unlikely I have this sneaky disease that can be spread by people with no symptoms.

These little bursts of light exercise really seem to help, even just a little. A little bit of help is nothing to sneeze at when you’re feeling helpless.

I’m going to put my shoes on and walk for a few minutes now, if you will please excuse me. I highly recommend it (walking and excusing me, both).

Why Isn’t Every Democrat in America Saying These Things now?

contrast these humane views of our history, our present and our future with these wildly applauded, incoherent phrases:

We have to cherish our past. We have to cherish good or bad. We have to understand our past. We have to understand our history. Because if we don’t know our history, it could all happen again. We have to know our history.

— President Donald J. Trump June 23, 2020


Writ Of Mandamus– extraordinary legal remedy, ordered in Flynn Case, 2-1

Federal Judge Noemi Rao, confirmed by party-line Senate vote in 2017 to work for the Trump White House, appointed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals by Mr. Trump (to fill the seat vacated by Kavanaugh, when he was promoted), wrote a clear and learned-sounding opinion granting a rare legal remedy, a writ of mandamus, in this case ordering federal judge Emmett Sullivan to dismiss charges against Mike Flynn without a hearing on the merits of the DOJ’s motion to dismiss.

Writing for the 2-1 majority, Judge Rao set out why the extraordinary legal relief sought by Trump’s first (of four, so far) National Security Advisor, the man who led the “Lock her up!” chants before pleading guilty to charges including lying on his sworn security application about being on the payroll of the Turkish government. Judge Rao explained the legal necessity to for the presiding just to immediately dismiss the case against Mike Flynn, without arguments on the merits. The case involves the Barr Department of Justice seeking to nullify the sworn confession of a confederate of the president. Barr’s DOJ worked in concert with Flynn’s lawyers, who filed a motion in the Court of Appeals to force dismissal of the case pursuant to the DOJ’s unprecedented motion to withdraw criminal charges after guilty pleas. Judge Rao wrote, in granting the unusual remedy of mandamus that this was a not unusual case and that the unusual government request to dismiss a case in which they’d secured guilty pleas must be granted under this unusual set of facts.

As cramped in its legal reasoning as Kavanaugh’s recent 5-4 Supreme Court decision ruling in favor of the petitioning Republican National Committee that Wisconsin citizens had to vote in person if they wanted to cast ballots in an election that could neither be constitutionally postponed nor extended, it is better written. (Kavanaugh, Rao’s predecessor, now has the luxury of never being appealed, so that, rather than a lack of Judge Rao’s seeming legal sophistication, may account for his nonchalance and judicial sloppiness.)

Judge Rao’s argument rests heavily on the purported irreparable harm a hearing prior to dismissal would have on the discretionary powers of the Executive Branch and on the presumption of “regularity” it is entitled to — the presumption that it is acting legally, fairly and without prejudice or favor.

Her argument relies even more heavily on the same fundamental legal principle that Kavanaugh’s Wisconsin voting decision does: we have a one vote majority, so suck it, loser cucks!

I will spare you reading her legal prose. In a nutshell, she finds in this case the extraordinary situation in which no hearing may be held before the judge grants the motion the law says is granted “by his leave.” The reason is that such a hearing would be an unconstitutional usurpation of Executive Branch prerogatives.

(the decision is here — click on the In Re Flynn link or download your own copy)

I don’t necessarily recommend it for non-lawyers, although the dissent is beautifully presented, one former prosecutor said it sings. Well worth reading, and crisply written, skip down to it. I have selected some pertinent sections to give you the gist of both arguments [1]:

Flynn petitioned for a writ of mandamus before this court
pursuant to the All Writs Act,28 U.S.C.§ 1651, seeking three
forms of relief: (1) an order directing the district court to grant
the motion to dismiss; (2) an order vacating the amicus
appointment; and (3) an order reassigning the case to a different
district judge.

For this court to grant a writ of mandamus, “the right to relief must be ‘clear and indisputable’; there must be ‘no other adequate means to attain the relief’; and ‘the issuing court, in the exercise of its discretion, must be satisfied that the writ is appropriate under the circumstances.’” In re Cheney, 544 F.3d 311, 312–13 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (quoting Cheney v. U.S. Dist. Court, 542 U.S. 367, 380–81 (2004)). Applying these standards, we grant Flynn’s petition in part.

Let us pause for a telltale footnote:

2 See U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Justice Manual § 9-27.200 cmt. (2020)
(“[A]s a matter of fundamental fairness and in the interest of the
efficient administration of justice, no prosecution should be initiated against any person unless the attorney for the government believes that the admissible evidence is sufficient to obtain and sustain a guilty verdict by an unbiased trier of fact.”).

We note here (all of us) that this DOJ directive refers to “initiating” a prosecution, not dismissing it after the admissible evidence actually results in a guilty plea. In Flynn’s case the defendant has signed a detailed plea deal admitting to numerous criminal offenses, offenses he later sought to plead innocent to in a changed plea. He stood by his guilty plea twice, under oath. In Flynn’s case the DOJ’s after-the-fact motion to dismiss requires actually vacating a sworn statement acknowledging guilt. In granting the extraordinary remedy of a writ of mandamus to dismiss the charges, under these highly unusual circumstances, Judge Rao writes:

Because this is not the unusual case where a more
searching inquiry is justified, and because there is no adequate
remedy for the intrusion on “the Executive’s long-settled
primacy over charging decisions,” Fokker Servs., 818 F.3d at
743, we grant the petition for mandamus in part and order the
district court to grant the government’s Rule 48(a) motion to
dismiss the charges against Flynn.

Fokker, of course. Naturally the judge would cite a case called Fokker, over and over. Fokker, by the way, is not a controlling precedent, it turns out, since the judges in that case made related observations and recommendations (dicta) but no holding that created a binding precedent for the DC Circuit Court. The dissent pithily points out that Judge Rao’s ruling converts dicta (non-binding) to dogma (violations of which traditionally punishable by excommunication and death).

Were Judge Rao and her colleague right to rule in favor of this extraordinary remedy in the Flynn case, which as the judge blandly and authoritatively (2-1, fair is fair) opines is “not the unusual case where a more searching inquiry is justified”? Let’s hear a bit from Robert Wilkins, the dissenting judge on the three judge panel:

WILKINS, Circuit Judge, dissenting in part: It is a great
irony that, in finding the District Court to have exceeded its
jurisdiction, this Court so grievously oversteps its own. This
appears to be the first time that we have issued a writ of
mandamus to compel a district court to rule in a particular
manner on a motion without first giving the lower court a
reasonable opportunity to issue its own ruling; the first time
any court has held that a district court must grant “leave of
court” pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 48(a)
without even holding a hearing on the merits of the motion; and
the first time we have issued the writ even though the petitioner
has an adequate alternative remedy, on the theory that another
party would not have had an adequate alternate remedy if it had
filed a petition as well. Any one of these is sufficient reason to
exercise our discretion to deny the petition; together, they
compel its rejection. I therefore respectfully dissent from the
majority’s grant of the writ.

Mandamus is a “drastic and extraordinary remedy,”
Cheney v. U.S. Dist. Court for D.C., 542 U.S. 367, 380 (2004)
(quoting Ex parte Fahey, 332 U.S. 258, 259–60 (1947)), and
its “three threshold requirements are jurisdictional,” such that
the absence of any one compels denial of the writ and dismissal
of the petition for want of jurisdiction, Am. Hosp. Ass’n v.
Burwell, 812 F.3d 183, 189 (D.C. Cir. 2016); see also In re
Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc., 756 F.3d 754, 760 (D.C. Cir.
2014) (“[T]hree conditions must be satisfied before a court
grants a writ of mandamus: (1) the mandamus petitioner must
have ‘no other adequate means to attain the relief he desires,’
(2) the mandamus petitioner must show that his right to the
issuance of the writ is ‘clear and indisputable,’ and (3) the
court, ‘in the exercise of its discretion, must be satisfied that
the writ is appropriate under the circumstances.’” (quoting
Cheney, 542 U.S. at 380–81)). In issuing a writ of mandamus
compelling the District Court to immediately grant the Government’s motion to dismiss the information against
Flynn, the majority concludes that each of these prerequisites
is satisfied. The majority is in each respect mistaken.

Judge Wilkins also, persuasively, writes:

In considering whether Flynn’s right to relief is “clear and
indisputable,” it serves to remember that the question at hand
is not whether or under what circumstances a district court may
deny a Rule 48(a) motion, but whether it may give
consideration to such a motion before ruling on it. It should
come as no surprise that, before today, neither we nor any other
Court of Appeals has ever read Rule 48(a)’s “leave of court”
provision to mean that a district court may not even consider
such a motion before giving its “leave.” Cf. United States v.
Ammidown, 497 F.2d 615, 622 (D.C. Cir. 1973) (“[W]e do not
think Rule 48(a) intends the trial court to serve merely as a
rubber stamp for the prosecutor’s decision.”). In fact, some of
our case law clearly points in the opposite direction: “The
requirement of judicial approval entitles the judge to obtain and
evaluate the prosecutor’s reasons.” Id.(emphasis added).

The dissenting judge makes this impossible to refute (but easy to simply ignore, if you are writing for the majority) point about why the extraordinary remedy of forcing a court to dismiss the case (before a hearing) of a man who has already pleaded guilty is not allowable in this case. A writ of mandamus is available only in the rare situation where petitioner has no other legal avenue to attain the legal result petitioner seeks. Here:

The inconvenient reality is that the petitioner— Flynn— has an adequate means, via a traditional appeal, to attain relief should the District Court deny the Government’s Rule 48(a) motion. See Inre al-Nashiri,791F.3d 71, 78 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (“Mandamus is inappropriate in the presence of an obvious means of review: direct appeal from final judgment.”); Cheney, 542 U.S. at 380–81 (noting that the requirement of absence of adequate alternative remedies is “designed to ensure that the writ will not be used as a substitute for the regular appeals process”). This fact alone defeats our jurisdiction and requires the Court to dismiss Flynn’s petition for a writ of mandamus.

Judge Wilkins adds:

In issuing the writ compelling the District Court to grant the
pending motion without considering it, the majority shuts its
eyes to the unsettled state of the law on the relevant questions:
the import of Rule 48(a)’s “leave of court” provision, the size
and shape of a district court’s discretion in considering an
unopposed Rule 48(a) motion, and the interplay between the
Executive’s prosecutorial discretion and the Judiciary’s
adjudicative power in these circumstances. Flynn has adequate
means to attain the relief he seeks, and he has pointed to no
authority mandating his preferred outcome here. As such,
Flynn fails to carry his burden, and especially given that the
District Court has yet to rule on the motion to dismiss, the writ
should not issue to compel the District Court to grant the

Judge Wilkins makes another compelling point, also unaddressed by Judge Rao, about Flynn’s attempt to retract a sworn guilty plea:

The majority also concludes that the writ should issue to
compel the vacation of the District Court’s order appointing
amicus (1) to address whether Flynn should be held in criminal
contempt for perjury, and (2) to present arguments in
opposition to the Government’s otherwise-unopposed Rule
48(a) motion. In neither respect has Flynn carried his burden
to establish that his right to relief is “clear and indisputable.”

We should also note the numerous amicus briefs filed on behalf of Mike Flynn’s urgent emergency application to have the trial judge barred from considering anything before dismissing the case against him (see list of big shots who weighed in for Flynn at bottom of this post).

Wilkins continues, regarding Flynn’s possible contempt of court:

“The power to punish for contempts is inherent in all
courts; its existence is essential . . . to the due administration of
justice.” Ex parte Robinson, 86 U.S. 505, 510 (1873); accord
Michaelson v. United States, 266 U.S. 42, 65 (1924) (referring
to this premise as “settled law”). Federal Rule of Criminal
Procedure 42 provides a procedure by which a district court
may appoint an attorney to prosecute contempt, should the
government decline to do so. FED. R.CRIM. P. 42(a)(2). This
Rule reflects the fact that “it is long settled that courts possess
inherent authority to initiate contempt proceedings for
disobedience to their orders, authority which necessarily
encompasses the ability to appoint a private attorney to
prosecute the contempt.” Young v. UnitedStates ex rel. Vuitton
et FilsS.A., 481U.S. 787, 793 (1987). “Moreover, a court has
the power to conduct an independent investigation in order to
determine whether it has been the victim of fraud.” Chambers
v. NASCO, Inc., 501U.S. 32, 44 (1991). Far from establishing
his clear and indisputable right to relief, neither Flynn, nor the
majority in his stead, engages this precedent or forwards any
legal arguments as to why a district court that may undeniably
appoint a private attorney to prosecute contempt lacks the
lesser power to appoint amicus to advise it regarding whether
it ought to do so. Nor does the majority explain why directing the District Court to grant the motion to dismiss renders moot
the District Court’s appointment of amicus to advise it on the
legally separate issue of contempt.

Wilkins reaches the heart of the DOJ’s dodgy legal rationale for suddenly dismissing the case against Flynn as he wraps up his dissent:

The majority opinion effectively transforms the
presumption of regularity into an impenetrable shield. In 2017,
the then-Acting Attorney General told the Vice President that
Flynn’s false statements “posed a potential compromise
situation for Flynn” with the Russians, Gov’t Mot. Dismiss
Crim. Info. Ex. 3 at 8, No. 1:17-cr-232, ECF No. 198-4 (May
7, 2020), and just a few months ago, the prosecution said that
Flynn’s false statements to the FBI “went to the heart” of a
valid counterintelligence inquiry and “were absolutely
material,” Gov’t Surreply Mot. Compel Produc. Brady Mat. at
10–11, No. 1:17-cr-232, ECF No. 132 (Nov. 1,2019). Now, in
a complete reversal, the Government says none of this is true. Gov’t Mot. Dismiss Crim. Info. at 13–16, No. 1:17-cr- 232, ECF No. 198. The Government doubles down by asserting in its motion to dismiss that Flynn’s statements could not have been “material” within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 1001 because the FBI had no grounds for any “viable” investigation of Flynn at the time he made those statements, id. at 13, even though that contention appears squarely belied by our precedent, see United States v. Moore, 612 F.3d 698, 701 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (“We . . . hold[] a statement is material if it
has a natural tendency to influence, or is capable of influencing,
either a discrete decision or any other function of the agency to
which it was addressed.”) (emphasis added); United States v.
Hansen,772 F.2d 940, 949 (D.C.Cir. 1985) (Scalia, J.) (“A lie
influencing the possibility that an investigation might
commence stands in no better posture under § 1001 than a lie
distorting an investigation already in progress.”). This is no
mere about-face; it is more akin to turning around an aircraft

The Government asserted to us that it has no duty to inform
the court in a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 48(a) of all of
its reasons for seeking dismissal. Oral Arg. Tr. 33. Today the
majority declares that nevertheless—in spite of the
Government’s abrupt reversal on the facts and the law, and
although the Government declares itself entitled not to be
forthcoming with the District Court—these circumstances
merit no further examination to determine whether there may
be additional reasons for the prosecutor’s actions, and if so, if
any such reasons are impermissible. Under the majority’s
interpretation of Rule 48(a), so long as the defendant consents
to the dismissal, “leave of court” is a dead letter.

The Government may be entitled to “leave of court” under
Rule 48(a) to dismiss the criminal information to which Flynn
pled guilty, but that is not for us, as a Court of Appeals, to
decide in the first instance. Rather, the District Court must be
given a reasonable opportunity to consider and hold a hearing on the Government’s request to ensure that it is not clearly
contrary to the public interest. I therefore dissent.

Of course, as we see over and over, a simple majority decides such cases. As even a litigant as legally unsophisticated as Mr. Trump can easily see, on a three judge panel, two beats one every time!

D.C. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, the presiding judge brought to court for emergency intervention by Flynn’s lawyers (supported by a veritable Who’s Who of prominent government Republicans and related “outside groups”) to stop the hearing Sullivan had scheduled to hear evidence before deciding whether to dismiss the case, can appeal this highly unusual partisan ruling (allowing the DOJ to immediately dismiss the case against a presidential favorite, “with prejudice” — “forever”– without a hearing) to the full Appeals Court. In fact, he did so immediately.

Not surprisingly, Flynn’s lawyer’s Hail Mary emergency move to stop a hearing on the motion to dismiss was supported by amicus briefs from, among others, the Solicitor General of the United States and the Attorneys General of Ohio, Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and West Virginia. Also on the side of petitioner Flynn were former United States Attorney General Edwin Meese III and Conservative Legal Defense and Education Fund and eleven Republican members of the House. Also heard from for petitioner Flynn on immediate, extraordinary court-enforced dismissal of this “not unusual case” were Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senators Tom Cotton, Mike Braun, Kevin Cramer, Ted Cruz, Charles E. Grassley, and Rick Scott.

Even if Judge Sullivan had not appealed, the Appeals Court, on its own initiative, can review the case and decide whether the two judges followed the controlling law in ruling as they did for this extraordinary remedy in a “not unusual case”. It is important that the review take place, particularly in light of several other recent highly partisan DOJ irregularities and bold-faced abuses of discretion. Unless Barr recommends a Casper Weinberger-style presidential pardon of Flynn to make the case moot, this matter should wind up in the Supreme Court some time in 2021.

Here is an opinion that contrasts sharply with my own (unlike mine it is “fair and balanced TM”), by someone who may or may not have read Judge Rao’s remarkable ruling and the brilliant dissent. No need to read so much technical material when you know the TRUTH! This is from FOX:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Wednesday ordered the controversial lower court judge, Emmet Sullivan, to follow the law by dismissing the false statements case wrongfully brought by the original federal prosecutors who were either incompetent or corrupt — maybe both.

As evidence emerged that Gen. Flynn was set up and framed by malevolent actors at the FBI —fired Director James Comey, fired Assistant Director Andrew McCabe and fired counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok — the Department of Justice (DOJ) moved to dismiss charges against Flynn a month ago.


If the retired three-star general can be faulted for anything, he is guilty of being human. Under threats and duress (as well as bad advice from his prior conflicted counsel), Flynn pleaded guilty.

He caved in to the tactics of intimidation, coercion and bullying. He should never have done so. Flynn began to regret it, as evidence of his innocence materialized. He then sought to withdraw his plea. He had the absolute right to do so under the law [although only under certain circumstances — ed.].

Judge Sullivan inexplicably balked. This precipitated a skilled legal effort by Flynn’s new and better attorney, Sidney Powell, to uncover the exculpatory evidence proving that her client should never have been charged with anything at all.

Notes concealed by the FBI and prosecutors showed that Flynn did not lie to bureau agents.  Instead, he was the victim of a politicized campaign by Comey, McCabe and Strzok to falsely accuse and wrongfully convict him of a crime he never committed. The bureau never had a legitimate reason to even interview Flynn because he had done nothing wrong and the FBI well knew it.

This is important because whatever Flynn said during his FBI interview was “material” to nothing. In a false statements case (18 U.S.C. 1001), “materiality” is an essential element of the crime. Hence, the new prosecutors in the Flynn case soon realized they could not possibly have won the case. Not only did Flynn tell the truth, according to the only witnesses involved, but his remarks were immaterial to an illegitimate investigation. [2]…

…Again, Sullivan balked. Something was amiss. At this point, it became clear that Sullivan was not a neutral or objective jurist dedicated to following the law. He was a rogue judge with an agenda. His decisions reeked of dead fish…  

Judge Sullivan had no authority under the Constitution to usurp the power of a separate branch of government.

about the author:

Gregg Jarrett is a Fox News legal analyst and commentator, and formerly worked as a defense attorney and adjunct law professor. He is the author of the No. 1 New York Times best-selling book “The Russia Hoax: The Illicit Scheme to Clear Hillary Clinton and Frame Donald Trump. ” His latest book is the New York Times bestseller “Witch Hunt: The Story of the Greatest Mass Delusion in American Political History”


[1] I tried to omit most of the crucial legal citations, for your ease of reading, but the formatting troubles were formidable– just skip over the citations, if you can.

[2] Naturally, it is now “immaterial” that Flynn was fired by Trump for lying to Mike Pence about contacts with the Russian ambassador during the transition period, that he repeated the same lie to the FBI who gave him numerous chances to correct his lie, that he pleaded guilty to lying as well as being on the payroll of Turkey as he took the National Security job, without disclosing this clear conflict of interest on his sworn security screening application. Under Barr’s new theory: NO MORE LIE!

The Book of Friedman

Friedman, a man with a problematic singing voice, was, at one time, a prodigious writer of highly personal songs that were often hard to listen to, sung in that difficult voice of his. A central tragedy of the poor devil’s life — to write with sensitivity for an instrument so ill-suited to music. The singer-songwriter had a good sense of pitch, it was not a matter of tone-deafness, in the strict sense. For all his skill on guitar and piano, for all of his original musical ideas, his singing was more than anything a certain lack of grace.

When he was found dead, naked in a chair last summer in his home in Santa Fe, his older brother was contacted by a Medical Examiner. “Just like on TV,” he said. The two brothers flew down to New Mexico to clear his cluttered house and settle his tangled business affairs. They lived for two weeks as guests of Friedman’s ex, a generous woman he finally rejected when he felt she’d been insufficiently supportive when he was inconsolable over the death of his mother, at almost a hundred. “She was his rock,” said his older brother, after their mother died, “he was lost without her.”

The older brother was dogged by guilt, he’d finally had it with his demanding, eternally unhappy youngest brother and had laid into him at one point. The younger brother had never spoken to him again. It had been three years. Then the call from the Medical Examiner asking what to do with the dead body. The middle brother, always a practical man, had avoided a fatal falling out with the youngest by always keeping him at arm’s distance. When an annoying email arrived, screen after screen of tortuous arguments, the middle brother immediately hit delete. He took the same approach to the clutter in the dead brother’s house. Several cartons of contractor bags, a quick look and toss the stuff.

Among the things tossed, to my great regret, were a series of letters between Friedman and the father he always complained didn’t respect him. A box of letters between father and son. They felt like voyeurs after beginning to read them and quickly tossed the collection. As a longtime student of Friedman, and someone who knew his father pretty well too, I feel the loss of these unknown letters keenly. Goddamn, I would have loved to read those letters! There was a book full of pathos and insight in that back and forth, 100%.

Another book, saved by the older brother, exists. It is the hard-covered once blank book where all of the lyrics (and probably the chords) to all of Friedman’s songs were inscribed. The definitive record of a life in music that was almost lived. If only he’d had the voice to sing them. It occurred to me recently to ask the brother if I can borrow this book for a while, to read his collected songs and use them to reconstruct his painful, illuminating life. The endlessly repeating tragedy of his life is the greatest cautionary tale I know.

Many years ago, and I mean decades now, Friedman accused me of using my friends as lab rats in my psychological dissections. I suppose he had a point, the long serving, giant lab rat, though I plead science and the expansion of human knowledge as a redeeming rationale for my experiments (as all the great monsters of history have). We are raised, many of us (and probably all of us who are subject to bouts of misery), deliberately blinded to what we are actually up against in this life. It takes determination, and openess, as well as a certain amount of blind luck, to eventually begin to see the crucial clues that are zealously hidden from us. Friends as lab rats, a small price to pay sometimes, to learn the things we need to learn to live less miserable lives.

(Cold? I don’t know. It certainly doesn’t put the narrator in the most sympathetic light. Start again.)

In telling the story of the talented, miserable, demanding, aggressively unhappy Friedman, I will try to illuminate the two paths open to each of us. We can struggle, in the darkness, to be right, always, to justify, everything, to prevail, at any cost. We can struggle to grasp what is intolerable in our lives, work to see and understand what particularly triggers our misery, seek to suffer less and inflict less pain in the world. I am, clearly, biased toward the second way. Friedman is the greatest example I know, though far from the only one, of the first way — the way of righteous anger and eternal victimhood and fatal disappointment.

Yes, we also have a president now who fits that description– a selfish, childish person who is always the victim, always right to be angry, a fundamentally unhappy person who, although already very wealthy, can never get enough. Forget him, if you can, as I tell you the story of Friedman, the youngest of three boys, an envious sibling who never got enough respect from dad or love from mom.

“OK, let me get this straight, sir,” says nobody in particular “you propose to tell the story of a remorseless, graceless asshole, with no insight into his own misery, told without sympathy, the tale of a putz famous for sweeping others into the ‘putzbin of history’ for betrayals real and imagined.”

I wouldn’t use that as my elevator pitch, no.

“Get on with it, then, why should anybody give a rat’s tutu about this so-called book proposal?”

Insight, man. Hard to come by. Look at it as I pieced it together. At one time this guy was my closest friend. Over the years I came to see, more and more unmistakably, that he was, in elemental ways, an unredeemable version of the worst of my father. Both were smart, articulate, capable of waging fierce arguments to the death, both were supremely sensitive in their own feelings and often monstrously insensitive to the feelings of others. My long wrestling match with Friedman turned out to be an attempt to get a grip on the dilemma with my own father.

“OK, so far you ain’t selling jack, son.”

Says the voice of the internalized victimizer. Look, I’ve been putting together clues for many years now. The Book of Friedman might be the most straightforward way to put them between two covers in the context of a story with a start, middle and end. Much easier to write than draft two of the 1,200 pages I’ve written as I came to see my father’s tragic point of view through his too late clear eyes.

“If you say so…” then there is the pregnant pause, more potent in its power to undermine than any words could be, “we’ll see if this idea comes to anything more than dozens of other big ideas you’ve hatched over the course of the long misadventure that has been your life here, dreamer.”

Which leaves me with this toothache of a thought: What is left of our lives here, beyond what we leave behind?

Music Lessons

My teacher of basic music theory and guitar harmony in high school was a talented, nasty, brutally superior classmate named Speed. (A member of his family was Abraham Lincoln’s close friend, Joshua Fry Speed, for you history bugs). Speed, who started on harmonica (which he played incessantly in gym class, to the horror of the drill sergeant) and quickly taught himself guitar, was a prolific composer, one of the greatest musicians I’ve known, and a demanding prick. When he played his complicated tunes, he’d grunt with genuine disgust every time he hit a wrong note. He was angry at himself for not being able to flawlessly play things nobody else at the time could play either. After all, he’d already been playing for a few weeks! A complicated and tormented fellow, and great musician and writer — also very funny, but also– quite brutal.

Unsurprisingly, the talented Mr. Speed was a merciless teacher. He showed me all the fancy chords he used, the 7-9 chord, the 7 raised nine, the flat nine, the eleventh, the thirteenth, the sus2 — or added nine, the seven flat fives, major and minor, the augmented chords (and I left out the beautiful sixth chords). He taught me why each one was named the way it was, demonstrated the many harmonic uses for each of these “jazz chords” (these chords are extensions of the essential major, minor, dominant seven and diminished chords that all guitarists learn). It was a great bootcamp for someone with natural curiosity about music, though I was more drawn to Crosby, Stills and Nash tunes, much simpler, which were fun to play on guitar. Speed held me to a much higher standard, a standard I always disappointed him by failing to attain. I did learn a lot of chords, and how to play them smoothly in various positions, something that came in very handy, but eventually the brutality of the “lessons” just got to me and I finally had to tell Speed to fuck off.

What I’ve learned since, so elemental, took me many years to realize. What I love about music is the dialogue between the different parts, the way each voice adds an essential element, and the active listening and nuanced response required for good ensemble playing. Music is really a beautiful conversation, when it’s grooving. How did Speed miss teaching me this basic concept? Too mad, I guess.

You start from silence, then a nod, or a count, or somebody hitting something in time. Listen to any great arrangement, there’s a lot going on, but most of the parts are quite simple. One voice may be hitting one note over and over, a pedal tone this is sometimes called. But it is hitting that note in a crucial rhythmic spot, driving the music forward. That beat provides an anchor for a harmony instrument to spread some colors over, which in turn opens still more possibilities, rhythmic and melodic both. The way things interact musically, an endless mystery that does not perplex at all– it delights.

There are “infinite” harmonies to any melody, Speed once told me. Maybe so, but it is the beautiful ones that compel us to sing and nod and dance along. And, again, all music starts in silence — and the beats of silence in the music are very precious too.

The prerequisite to making good music is relaxation, grace is required to hit the notes calmly and strongly. The crucial element of generosity in your fellow musicians, and towards yourself, cannot be overstated. Relaxed, engaged listening is essential for creative, musical collaboration. It’s hard to be relaxed playing with a guy like Speed, perfectionistic, always demanding more than you can do, sometimes more than even he can do. He had bands, with excellent, top-shelf jazz musicians, they played his stuff well, but still — there was often a joy missing, it felt to some in the audience. It felt to me. These great top musicians loved the challenge of his music, though sometimes it was just too damned challenging for the listener. I remember in one club, dramatically, the dance floor emptied long before his first set was over. The club owner suspected he had a genius on the bandstand, but he was openly perplexed about letting them come back on.

The best of Speed’s songs, there’s a darkly brilliant one called “I Can’t See You” that always comes to mind, although supremely difficult to play (on the only version I know Speed plays all the instruments) are full of soul, grace, space, cleverly interacting off-beats, and there is beautiful singing and clever wordplay among all that. I remember this track (done on a 4 track tape recorder) before the vocals, it was gorgeous as an instrumental too, but that version had to be sacrificed due to the technology of the day, which required “bouncing” of tracks for any overdub beyond number three. Anyway, you can hear all those things, the compelling dialogue between the different parts, in this song, as in any realized piece of arranged music.

I often think of this story, in relation to Speed, who always disparaged my guitar playing and musical naiveté. More than a decade ago (2011, I see now, scrolling through gmail to find the track) I sent a basic track (two guitars and piano, against a drum patch) to a genius I knew in high school, Frank Burrows, the only guy alive, when we were in high school, who could play Speed’s compositions (he’d been playing guitar a year or so by then).

To my delight, Frank orchestrated the track, literally, he arranged an orchestra of instruments over my track. He came up with many colorful, sometimes madcap, parts that made the simple ideas in my track blossom. It was brilliant, as was his hauntingly evocative C part (at 3:40, below), which ends the tune. It was as thrilling for me as sending a tune idea to Frank Zappa, or Jimi, or Django, and getting back a fully realized musical version, virtuosically played by an entire skilled band. I emailed the finished track to Speed. Speed liked it, and confessed he couldn’t tell my playing on it from Frank’s. Fucking A, I thought to meself, I finally graduated!

Aside from the ego gratification of playing music well, and having people admire your efforts, there is a much more fundamental benefit of playing music, it seems to me. The beauty of the thing itself. My playing, and Frank’s, are exactly the same in their intent and effect, whether Speed applauded them or disparaged them. The notion of appreciation must lie in the heart of the player, as it does for anything we truly love. This is also a good life lesson — kindness, always, toward the self. That is the true and only root of kindness and generosity toward others.

Think of it like this — every note you faithfully play, or sing tunefully, once it fits into the larger scheme of music, becomes a living moment of grace. There is no comparison, no consideration other than serving the music properly, making the thing you are playing sound better. There is no greater reward for doing anything than a beautiful result. With music, you have it at once, as you play it well. No need for the dough to rise, the cake to bake, the critics to nod — it’s there, in the air, light and precious as the air, just as beautiful and almost as essential to life.

The Benefit of Thinking

I’m currently experiencing an annoying and intermittently painful medical situation, a bit of the old gross hematuria that’s been going on for a few days.   I’ve learned not to stray too far from a bathroom, as the sudden urge to piss a little blood and a few clots sometimes becomes, in two seconds, completely unbearable.   I am assured by my urologist that this is not unexpected in a man my age and that medicine doesn’t know the exact reason I’m having these troubles (science calls such unknowable things “idiopathic”) or how long they will persist.   I’m waiting for test results that could shed more light in a day or two.   I’m told we can safely rule out all of the most scary end-stage cancer possibilities and so I’m inconvenienced, and drinking ridiculous amounts of water (a gallon and a half the other day) but otherwise not full of fear.

But enough of my medical troubles which nature will resolve, or medical science eventually will.   The reason I bring them up is to foreground the life-affirming power of wrestling a difficult intellectual/emotional/moral puzzle into comprehensibility and how the effort brings a great sense of satisfaction as it helps put physical suffering into perspective.   I find it a particularly rewarding exercise in this age when supremely confident, heedless ignorance is triumphantly strutting at the head of several of the earth’s largest nations.

I’ve spent the last few days, between hundreds of sessions straining and groaning in the bathroom, writing and thinking, thinking and writing, digging my way to the bottom of a deep, extremely vexing situation, the tragic end of a friendship of fifty years.   Thinking helps writing, of course, and writing — and rewriting —  greatly helps clarify thinking, I find.   

After many hours, I finally wrote the final words on the subject, explaining to a perplexed girlfriend (two actually, my friend’s and mine)  exactly why I could struggle no more to save something that appears to be dead.   When any doubt about my motives and my sincere efforts to resolve things was cleared away I felt a great sense of relief and release, having worked to fully set out what had been impossible for me to fully grasp — or explain– before the hours and hours I put into grappling with the thorny issues.  It was not the effort to be “right” that consumed me, it was the effort to fully understand and articulate exactly why I’d been so hurt, why the situation was so intolerable to me.

One great beauty of this process was that in the end I had something I could read to Sekhnet, that put my feelings into a reasonable frame for her.  It allowed her to understand that I had not acted out of blind anger, or pettiness, or pride or any impulse but trying to preserve a friendship that was clearly on life support while in a death spiral.  It put its finger squarely on what has become unsupportable in that friendship.

In the midst of this exercise, which took several days across several weeks, we watched an excellent 2013 movie called Hannah Arendt.   I rediscovered Hannah a couple of years ago and wrote a kind of intro to her calling her the Intellectual It-Girl for this moment in history.  She is a hero of mine and, among other things, a great analyst of totalitarianism and how it operates — how it requires ignorant faith in irrational ideas and leads to the violent repudiation of rational thought.

Her masterpiece, Eichmann in Jerusalem, is perhaps my all-time favorite book [1].  In that short book, which made her legions of devoted enemies, she gets as close as anyone to isolating and describing that irresistible impulse in some humans, pursuing a perverse but common notion of ambition and integrity, conforming without thought to abnormal new norms, to commit the most monstrous evils, while themselves being neither psychopaths, fanatics nor monsters. 

We watched the 2013 movie, which starred the superb Barbara Sukowa as the Hannah of my dreams.   Take a look at the trailer.  I was tickled all the more, watching the film a couple of days before what would have been my mother’s 92nd birthday (happy belated birthday, mom), at Barbara Sukowa’s uncanny resemblance to a younger Yetta, my mother’s mother.  We both thought the movie was great.  It showed clearly the price Hannah Arendt willingly paid to not kowtow to any particular interest group, tribe or ideology, but to get to the deeper, more difficult truth of the matter she was investigating, wrestling into comprehensibility and presenting for readers.  

To my knowledge nobody has ever written a better short history of the Nazi era than Hannah Arendt’s masterpiece.  It would certainly be hard to imagine one.   The unsettling insight that emerges from the book is that ordinary people will do unspeakable things under unspeakable conditions and that some of history’s greatest “monsters” are simply ambitious people who unthinkingly go along with their insane masters’ plans [2].

In the case of Eichmann, he unquestioningly did whatever he was told by his superiors.  First he diligently sought to expedite Jewish emigration, a good solution, he thought.  Then, in phase two, he applied himself to the forced expulsion and concentration of Jews, which was admittedly less pleasant for him, but nonetheless necessary.  He was equally diligent in the performance of his duties in the final stage, his least pleasant task: getting the optimum number of Jews on the optimum number of trains to optimize the number that could be solved, finally.

A man like Eichmann deserves to be executed, if anyone does; Arendt doesn’t flinch for a second over the fate of a blindly obedient unthinkingly murderous cog like Adolf Eichmann.  He doesn’t get a pass, because he’s a clown, for his willing participation in one of the most gruesome mass murders, certainly the most coldly efficient, in world history.   Hannah:

The German text of the taped police examination, conducted from May 29, 1960, to January 17, 1961, each page corrected and approved by Eichmann, constitutes a veritable gold mine for a psychologist — provided he is wise enough to understand that the horrible can be not only ludicrous but outright funny.   Some of the comedy cannot be conveyed in English, because it lies in Eichmann’s heroic fight with the German language, which inevitably defeats him.   (p.48)

She was right, the comedy couldn’t be conveyed in English, though she gave it a shot, a short parade of absurd examples of Eichmann’s limited and ridiculous powers of expression, to give a sense of it.  She concludes:

The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely related to his inability to think, namely think from the standpoint of somebody else.   (p.49 — in the margin I see I have written “Trump” in pencil, hmm…)

To present Eichmann as one of history’s greatest monsters — well, to her it completely missed the point.   An important point.  A crucial point.  When we stop thinking, analyzing, acting as moral agents, we become capable of unimaginably monstrous things.   Like shipping millions of Jews to their deaths while insisting you are no killer, never ordered a single killing, never deliberately hurt anyone, are not in the least bit antiSemitic, have never harbored any ill will toward anyone.

Fortuitously, a friend just sent me a link to the first article by Arendt published in the New Yorker in Febaruary, 1963  (the articles that later became Arendt’s book length masterpiece).  Read the opening, admire the mind that, fluent in English, French and German (and probably other languages) can say, without hesitation, that the German translation (the only one Eichmann and his lawyer could understand) was by far the worst.   The three Israeli judges, good men all, were originally German Jews.   They struggled at times to correct the poor German translation, to clarify things, and they did not pretend to wait for things to be translated into Hebrew before they replied.   Hannah admired these qualities in the judges as she lamented the terrible German translation that surely muddied the clarity of the proceedings.   She wonders why, with so many fluently bilingual German Jews in Israel, the German translation had been so poor.  It is something to think about — and perhaps another of several reasons Arendt’s book was not published in Hebrew, or available in Israel — none of her books were–  until 1999.  

Of course, thought is famously hard, as is expressing thought coherently, as is arguing intelligently about which thought is more profoundly thought.  Sekhnet and I loved the movie.   A very articulate and well-read critic at the New Yorker had problems with the movie, serious ones, and equally profound problems with Arendt herself.   You can read it and emerge convinced that the filmmaker and Hannah Arendt both missed the mark, badly.  In the end, the critic acknowledged that Arendt had inadvertently written a ‘masterpiece’– though he claims this happened by accident.   Take a look at the smart review if you have some time.  Or, better still, watch the movie — then read her book.   Then read this brilliant jerk-off’s well-argued opinion.

For me, the guy’s surgical critique of Arendt (and the film about her)  brought to mind words I read at the end of a short biography of Django Reinhardt, included as part of a book teaching a few of Django’s guitar parts note for note.    The writer who’d been paid to write the short bio (not the musician who lovingly transcribed what Django had composed and improvised) concluded with his considered opinion that Django had been a “near genius.”   I immediately felt the urge to contact this hack writer and correct him.  Actually, the urge was a bit more direct than that.   Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, of course, but, as someone pithily put it once: not their own facts [3].

There are facts, things that actually happened, physical things, tapes that can be played back to confirm what was said or show what was actually done, documents, there is data, ideally verifiable and reliable data compiled by scientists.  Facts make our beliefs more or less solid, basing action on fact separates considered opinions from absolute, blind faith or sheer stupidity.  The factual world, the idea of truth itself, is under attack.  No useful understanding of anything is possible without first knowing, as factually as possible, the thing you are trying to understand.

In Brazil, strongman former military junta member Jair Bolsonaro is doing the same work Narendra Modi is doing in India, the tireless work this orange-toned manipulator is doing here:  the human and scientific facts have NOTHING TO DO WITH ANYTHING!   Bolsonaro has taken to insisting, aping his American counterpart, that hydroxychloroquine (70% of the world supply is manufactured in Modi’s India) is a miracle drug that will protect everyone from the virus, as the pandemic sweeps through Brazil’s crowded favelas, its slums, as it has been wildly spreading here in what has become the world epicenter, of the pandemic and denial of the pandemic, both.  As it is sure to sweep the crowded slums of India, makers of most of the world’s most miraculous miracle drug.    If you follow leaders like these, and carry out their orders, in spite of the shakiness of the “logic” they present, be prepared for the judgment of history — if, indeed, we will have history in the future — or any human future at all, for that matter.


[1]  Right up there with The Collected Stories of Isaac Babel (Walter Morrison translation).   If you have not read these stories, particularly if you’re a writer pick up this out-of-print book, (you can also read this post.)

[2]   A tangentially related point enraged legions of Jews and others against Arendt.   She noted that had the Jews not voluntarily organized themselves, had their leaders not helped keep order in their ghettos and make lists of Jewish property and designate which individuals were to be deported, that fewer Jews would have died in the chaos that would have resulted from lack of Jewish cooperation — chaos that would have required massively more Nazi manpower to supervise (the Jews were forced to provide their own police forces to assist the Nazis).   People wanted her head for this, though she made this hard to dispute observation in passing while describing several desperate cases of certain Jewish elders, forced into the unimaginably hellish position of having to deal with the Nazis who were busily killing them, some of whom believed they could make moral deals with monsters, at times making decisions a few would later commit suicide over or, in at least one case, later face criminal prosecution in Israel for (he was murdered during the trial)

[3]  Daniel Patrick Moynihan, as the internets inform us.

The Last Song is Always the Same when a Friendship is Dead

One of Charles Bukowski’s swarm of trivialities, the accumulation of which send a man to the madhouse and can kill quicker than cancer, is people who insist they’re your friends.   Friendship (I’m referring to the kind of close, hopefully lifelong, friend we rely on) requires mutuality, above all else, a common desire to treat the other person’s feelings gently.  Sometimes a relationship becomes heavier on one side than on the other and after a time things become insupportable.  If both friends are not trying their best to keep things mutual, in balance, things will eventually go badly.  The end of a friendship tends to be the death of many small cuts.   The music it goes out on as it dies is always hauntingly similar, as I have noticed over the years.

Maybe because I was raised in a house of hissing rivals, the comfort of friendship has always been very important to me.     Friends, they say, are the family we choose.  A parent may be an unhappy, demanding, critical person who reflexively crushes any sign of excitement or spirit in the child, but friends, the kindred souls we find and choose to befriend, hopefully don’t act this way.   A good friend, of course, will never knowingly crush your dream or piss on your enthusiasm, never withhold sympathy when you are in a tight spot.   

When a friend sees you’re hurt, they will be quick to find out why, see what they can do to make you feel better.  Until that sad day arrives when, for reasons that are always complicated and impossible to know for certain, that is no longer the case.   Your friend, for whatever reason, may decide that nothing you say or do can change anything that is bothering you in the relationship.   This unresolvable conflict will inevitably escalate until the friendship is a shambling zombie devoid of the soul that once animated it.  Cue the end music, which is always familiar.

I’ve been through this sad cycle enough times over the years that I’ve come to consider myself something of an expert (I’ll come to that in a moment).   I can recognize the familiar signs now, and know, after a certain point, that my efforts will probably be in vain, though I always try to save a moribund friendship, apparently I can’t help myself.  Call me sentimental, I’ve tried, try still, to hold on to even very frayed friendships — a thing not always possible or desirable.  The death of good will is something I have a very hard time grasping, it seems.  It’s a sad thing to resign yourself to not being able to work things out with someone you once shared a great relationship with.  But it is far sadder to remain in a relationship that is no longer mutual, has become intolerably troubling.

I used to condemn my father for the way he cast his closest friends over the side, to the sharks.  If they hurt him, they were dead.   As a kid this struck me as typically immature behavior on my father’s part — people we loved and laughed with many times were suddenly as absent as the dead.   When I’d ask the old man about the latest casualty, he’d snarlingly describe how they’d shit on him.    He was an insecure and hard man, quick to condemn and unable to forgive, and it always struck me as just part of his weakness to cast dear friends out of his life that way.   I’ve come to realize that sometimes ending a friendship that has become toxic is the most merciful thing you can do for yourself.

The song at the end of every long, intimate relationship remains uncannily the same, the hints of the refrain in the lead up and its final statement as the last music you will hear from that particular person.   At the end of most of my long friendships that eventually had to be put out of their misery: an indignant protestation of love.   That’s the common theme in virtually every friendship I’ve watched die, in spite of my efforts to keep it alive.  The friend swears they love me, but that I am a vicious, unloving fuck.   I think about this problematic statement of love each time I pick up the hammer to solemnly drive the stake through a heart and move out of the moldy graveyard.   

“You complain that I have mistreated you,”  says your aggrieved old friend “and you go into this long description of something that, frankly, I can’t even begin to understand, let alone take responsibility for — and I also dispute it — but you can’t end our friendship, pal, because I LOVE YOU.”    This desperate trump card comes out when all else fails, and it is a tell.    “You can’t be hurt by me, as you irrationally claim you are, BECAUSE I LOVE YOU, man!”

The first of these several sad standoffs came about twenty years after high school.   A close high school friend named Tom, a young man damaged beyond repair, apparently, by his father, an uneducated man who nonetheless had no respect for his son’s educational achievements or his professional career, somehow placed me in the position of being the approving father he never had.   

We do this sometimes, place new, more sympathetic people in the roles of problematic family members who did us wrong.   There is nothing inherently unhealthy about this desire to make a painful past thing right by reenacting it in more sympathetic circumstances, except that much of the time it doesn’t work out the way we might have unconsciously planned.  

I had no idea, until very late in the game, that Tom was expecting the validation from me that he never got from his affable but ignorant, crushingly opinionated father.   I had no hint that this could remotely be the case, until it was way too late, when he revealed this was why he was so furious at me.  Tom began a series of escalating passive aggressive moves, until I could finally not miss how enraged he was.   I then learned how I had failed him.   Never ONCE did I validate him for his educational or professional achievements!  Not one fucking time!   Then, too late, I made the connection, and only after the mad idea had been stated out loud.   

When I realized the friendship was over, I told Tom the reasons why.  I immediately got a letter from Tom (this was decades ago, when we still wrote words on paper), telling me that nothing I could do could end our friendship.    He understood that I was trying to pretend we were no longer friends but that, no matter what I did, we would always be friends.  I used a photocopying machine to enlarge and print out his memorable line, decorated it with a nice, floral frame, and hung it on the wall in my kitchen:  “sorry, pal, but it’s not in your power.”

How right he was.  

Last fall I spread the ashes of the most unhappy, demanding, manipulative person I have ever known.   We’d been friends for years, close friends.  Over those years I saw Mark make and lose countless friends.   His most compatible girlfriend (the only one I knew who was funny, likable and fairly sane) was not good enough for him — something about the unworthiness of a club that would have somebody like him as a member.    When he changed his mind, years after dumping her, she considered carefully and then declined his offer of eternal love.   Another great betrayal in his life, a betrayal I played a supporting role in.   

Everyone Mark ever knew ultimately betrayed him.  I finally wrote him off years ago, after a long, doomed struggle to fix things.   One day his brother, Gary, got a call from the medical examiner, they’d found his little brother’s corpse, in a chair in his house.  Gary flew down to supervise the cremation and tie up the dead man’s business affairs.   He felt terribly guilty, having not spoken to his estranged brother in three years.   I hadn’t spoken to Mark in maybe 15 years.   Gary acknowledged that Mark had had no other friends, and that if I was willing, he’d appreciate the company as he went to spread the ashes (he also needed a guide to show him where the lake was).   He and I trudged to the guy’s favorite lake, on a gorgeous day, and spread the poor fuck’s ashes in that sparkling, clear water.  Then we had a nice lunch on the lake, exchanging illuminating stories about the unhappy departed as we ate our sandwiches.

We humans all carry pain, and anger, and grief, and other things that are hard to bear alone, like loneliness.    Many of us did not have the nurturing childhood we would wish for people we care about.   We can sometimes come to understand the limitations of our parents, the great difficulty of becoming your own nurturing parent, the necessity to move past anger about things we did not receive when we needed them as vulnerable children.  Things, by the way, that sadly our parents were incapable of doing for us any better than they did.   

Coming to grips with these painful things is very difficult.   I understand that not everybody is cut out for this kind of work.   Forgiving the unforgivable seems like an impossible task, to those who despair of the effort.   No matter how much progress you may think you’ve made, or may have actually made, there will always be pain there, and the chance that strong emotions will flare up, however profound the understandings you may have reached.   This is our fate as sentient beings.

Here’s a common mechanism I’ve seen a few times, for how the combustion of a friendship can come about, and it usually seems to be, at least in my life, centered around who has the right to be angry or hurt.  Express anger or hurt, about anything, to somebody who has learned only to swallow and repress anger, deny hurt, and you will often provoke anger in return.  This anger tends to be wild and rage out of control, since it is so threatening to the person that they spend their whole life choking it down.  The rage of somebody who almost never expresses anger is truly terrible to behold.   

The way this cycle of anger works is not hard to understand, in hindsight.  They have plenty to be angry about, much more than you do, actually, and you don’t hear them whining about it.  Yet you go on and on, self-righteously ranting about an intolerable injustice you have suffered, casting about for a remedy that doesn’t even exist, outside of the realm of creative imagination.   Even if it is a clear injustice you’ve suffered, even if you have a right to be angry about it– you have no right to tell them why you’re so angry, even if they ask.   They don’t get to tell anyone about their anger or their pain.  Never.   

So they will question whether what you’re angry about is really that bad.  They may point out that Job, in the Bible, suffered far worse than what you claim to be going through.   They will suggest that not everyone would be so mad, just because they were arguably the victim of something that could make a person angry.   Just because something happened that made you angry, that might make someone else, even most people, reasonably angry, does not give you the right to be this angry.   And just because I impatiently question your right to be angry doesn’t give you the right to be angry at me for reasonably questioning your unreasonable right to be mad!

You could see this as neglecting the first law of friendship when you see a friend upset — listen to her, hear her out,  sit with her until she’s calmer.  Friendship 101:  first do no harm. 

Recently my oldest friend, who I’ve known since Junior High School,  called to challenge me about an email I wrote him that he’d found uncharacteristically snide, and inaccurate.    What right did I have to write him a snide, inaccurate email, he wanted to know.   We argued about the extent of the snideness of my email, which he eventually conceded had been small — and the email had turned out not to be snide and inaccurate, but merely snide–  but still strikingly snide, coming from me, a person who generally refrains from snideness, at least as directed toward him. 

He told me he’d called because he was worried about how disproportionately angry I seemed to be, simply because I’d had my health insurance suddenly terminated without notice.  He argued that I was excessively, unhealthily, irrationally angry.  After an hour trying to convince me of this, and growing frustrated, I imagine at the irrational persistence of my anger, he screamed at me, challenged me to tell him he was an asshole and to go fuck himself.   I took a gentler tack and by the end of the long call we had worked things out.  He told me he loved me, apologized for making me angry.    We seemed to be on the right path.  But, of course, if I’d paid attention to the background music, I’d have known this reconciliation would turn out to be an fond illusion. 

Then his next offer to help came, in any way I specifically requested, in figuring out how to right this injustice I complained of.   Of course, if I was not 100% specific in my request for help, he kept pointing out, he couldn’t really specifically help me.  Our emails went back and forth in this way, two lawyers making distinctions, splitting hairs, seeking clarification, reframing what we were actually really discussing, and so forth.  He constantly restated his desire to help in any way he could.   

When I told him, after many annoying questions, that the greatest help I needed was not being forced to debate every point of how he could help and how he couldn’t,  He said I was being unreasonable.   When I pointed out that professions of incomprehension of my anger and his endless, cool, clarifying devil’s advocate questions had inadvertently hurt me, he said that because the harm he’d inflicted had been inadvertent, as I myself had conceded, it was wrong of me to hold him responsible, or even point it out to him.   And so forth.

Things escalated, as they do in these sorts of impasses.   He apologized in an email for accidentally hurting me and then proposed we talk on the phone again.  I called.  Within fifteen minutes he was so enraged he cut me off to yell “you think I’m an idiot, I’m a fucking moron!  I’m an asshole!”    Then, as if resting his case, he hung up on me.   He clarified by sending me a text informing me that he no would no longer tolerate being “reamed” by me. 

So be it, all clear enough now.   A few days of writing and thinking it through, I pretty much understood what had happened, that there was nothing further I could say or do to fix this broken thing.  The matter of our friendship was out of my hands.

Then, as often seems to be the case in a long friendship in this digital era, a long email.  Not mentioning his angry childishness, but defending himself a bit, telling me how important my friendship is to him, and asking me to consider this decades-long friendship and asking me to get back to him when I felt able to. 

He also pointed out, I’m not sure why, that his apology in that long, angry phone call about my snideness, had been a desperate attempt to calm me, since I was so out of control, and that he’d “abjectly capitulated” not because I’d made a strong case for why he should, but merely because I’d been so upset and he saw no other way to continue the conversation.   He’d greatly appreciate my reply he wrote, as he considered me his closest friend, and would continue to hold me in that high esteem until after he heard from me that I wasn’t his friend.

I thought of my buddy Tom. 

I waited a couple of weeks, and, goddamn my better nature, wrote him the most thoughtful analysis of our impasse I was capable of.   I spent a few days carefully combing out any formulation I thought might offend him.  In the end I was fairly proud of the piece, one of the best things I’ve ever written, I think.   

It described Complementay Schismogenesis, a dynamic that our impasse was a vivid illustration of.   Two very different types locked in a conflict, the respective efforts of each of them to resolve the conflict makes the schism deeper and wider.   It went into the infernal lawyerly habit of reframing: taking the discussion in a completely different direction so as to change the subject away from the issue at hand.   It talked about the first requirement of friendship: to listen and try to understand before responding.   I reminded him of my particular vulnerability: the hurtfulness of getting silence as response to my question or concern.   It was as deep a discussion of our particular friendship as I could have written. 

I urged him to take his time considering everything I’d written, that there was a lot to think about, a lot to consider, that our friendship was clinging to life at this point.   I reminded him that there was no need for a quick reply, that a rushed or emotional reply would not be helpful, with our badly damaged friendship on the line, as it clearly was.

Naturally, two days later, I got his thoughtful, unfailingly high-minded email.  A friend gratefully replying to his oldest friend’s attempt to get their friendship back on solid ground.    He thanked me for my thoughtful reply and the clear effort I’d made not to hurt his feelings.  He told me he appreciated how I tried to express my feelings.   I couldn’t help noting, as I read, that he’d not responded to a single point I’d raised, or even mentioned one, beyond what is embedded these two perfectly reasonable, well-written paragraphs (note the reframing, by the way):

I know you’ve tried earnestly to educate me as to the nature of the various flaws you perceive in me, and I appreciate that. I know you’re trying to help me be a better person as well as a better friend. I’d like to be able to tell you that, thanks to you giving me a good shaking, I now see the light, and painful though personal growth may be, I see the situation and see myself as you  do.  I’d like ti telk (sic) you I’m confident that I’m on my way to being the better person and friend you’d like me to be. I’d like to be able to say that I can therefore offer you assurance that you need not be concerned that I will again act in a manner that hurts your feelings in a similar way. This would indeed be a happy outcome to all of this. I value our friendship, and know that neither of us is pleased with the prospect of such a long and rich friendship coming to an end. 

At the same time, I have too much respect for you, and too little ability to knowingly try to con a friend, to feed you a line just to smooth over a rough patch. I can certainly assure you that you’ve given me much valuable food for thought, and that I take very seriously everything you’ve said to me. I can assure you that in whatever interactions we might have in the future, I will strive be more aware of how my actions might affect you, and strive to avoid causing you pain. Yet, I understand that we all will determine for ourselves the sorts of behaviors we will tolerate, and the sorts of people we want as friends. So if the person I am at this point in my life isn’t someone you feel you can trust, or my various assets and liabilities just don’t add up to someone you want as a friend, it will sadden me greatly but I’ll understand. You deserve to surround yourself with people who make you feel good. If you conclude that doesn’t include me, my best to you, and thanks for everything–is (sic) been a great ride in countless ways. I’ll hope that at some point you change your mind, and I’ll be here if you do. 

This time there was no need for further delay, my last words on this great ride of our long friendship went back to him at once:   

I understand that this patronizing gloss of a response allows you to believe you’ve acquitted yourself with fairness and integrity, subject to whatever admitted emotional/moral limitations may be in play.   I have too much respect for you to pretend otherwise.  From my point of view, silence would have been infinitely preferable to this last gust of your familiar, unerringly rational superiority, so impeccably polite and correct you can hardly smell the seething, or the fear.

Style tip: the undeniable pathos of it aside, the tell-tale, suck-my-ass bitchiness of lines like these kind of gives the emotional game away:

And, I’m aware that this pain is on top of a lot of other stresses with which you’ve had to contend over the past months–health issues, sudden loss–twice–of health insurance, the pandemic, dismay over the sorry state of our government and our predatory economic system, conflicts in other personal relationships, and so on. I can only imagine how difficult it has been for you.   

I suggest next time you feel called upon to respond to a detailed, vulnerable, emotionally nuanced attempt to save a valued friendship you have already evacuated on, from an old friend you claim to love (and who refrained from lambasting you for acting in the childishly dickish way you unapologetically did the last time we spoke) you follow this template, which works exactly as well as what you’ve written and has the advantage of brevity:     

I did appreciate what you wrote last year. I apologize for not writing sooner. I do not however wish to continue dialogue or be in a relationship with you at this time.
Please respect my feelings and refrain form further contact. I honestly wish you well. 

You have my sympathy, I suppose, for the indigestible lack of nurturing in your early life that left you this rigidly implacable.  You win — your indomitable, bullying father did a more thorough job on your psyche than poor old Irv ever could on mine.    Please tell R_____ I wish her the best of luck, and my best to your sons.   

We’ll have to allow those last words you said to me, before hanging up in rage back in April, to be the final zero-sum words on this matter — true and complete they turn out to have been.   

Then, the stake driven, I put down the hammer and noticed, to my relief, the silence, that fucking music had stopped.   Now all that was left was to digest how my accursed better nature had once again allowed me to believe it was in my power. taking somebody at his word, to carefully think things through, state them as clearly as I am able and have a positive effect on an unresolvable impasse.

The Opposite of Love

The opposite of love, it is said, is not hate — it’s indifference.   I think this states a profound reality– it is a very cruel fate to experience utter indifference to your suffering.    There is little difference, to the person suffering, between deliberately inflicted cruelty and that inflicted by nonchalant indifference to your suffering.   

Love and hate are related by a strong feeling towards another — indifference is the absence of any human connection whatsoever.  Indifference utterly erases the humanity of the subject of its neglect in a way that even hatred does not do.  Not to defend hatred, of course, but I’m trying to make this distinction between love and indifference as clear as possible.

It can be illustrated by a famous historical example.   The debate took place between former prisoners of the Nazis and former prisoners of the Soviets about which form of cruelty was worse.   The Nazis were known for expressing hatred and contempt for their captives, deliberately humiliating prisoners, subjecting them to sadistic treatment.    The Soviets were known for their utter indifference — to prisoners freezing in extreme cold, losing digits and limbs to frost bite or gangrene, to prisoners dying of disease or starvation.   The Nazi jailers made their hatred known, the Soviets made their indifference plain.   The verdict: pick your poison, both will kill you just as dead.

In comparing an administration that singles out a despised class of people for harsh treatment, as in babies ripped from their mothers’ arms at the border and sent to cages far away, with one that actually murders those babies in front of their mothers — well, obviously, the one that actually kills the children in front of the parents is worse.   

Though, of course, that’s not a thought that offers much consolation to the mother of the infant who is snatched and sent far away, never to be seen again.

What is wrong with us, America?

The New York Times, a highly literate, aspirational outlet for its liberal-minded, well-to-do demographic, sometimes publishes extremely well-researched, important stories.  I have serious concerns with the many things they do not report, their reflexive decision to couch every story, no matter how outrageous, in reasonable-sounding terms, the way they have sometimes directly colluded with the worst things our government does (often simply by agreeing to silence), the massive influence they exert in allowing a murderous status quo to function smoothly and efficiently, but I appreciate that they are also a vital and important news source.   They ran this headline yesterday:

Screenshot_20200506-212539_NYTimes (1)

This widespread child hunger, among young children, in the wealthiest country in human history, is happening as American farmers are destroying massive quantities of food, plowing it into the ground, dumping it, trashing it.   Thousands of tons of edible crops, eggs, dairy products, disposed of because the market for these foods has been eroded by the mass closures necessitated by our efforts to control the pandemic.  

A caller to a radio show recently asked a supremely reasonable question on-air: can’t the military or the national guard send trucks to collect this food and get it to hungry Americans who are already lined up, waiting for it?   The earnest politician she was asking spoke of a few related matters, but they ran out of time for him to answer that specific, excellent question.  I’d love to hear a good answer to why that isn’t being done, as at least one in five young children in America is malnourished and farmers are destroying vast quantities of food.

Presumably shipping that food directly to poor people would be Communism, an unAmerican affront to freedom and liberty.   Indecent, unAmerican, to distribute free food it is much more cost-effective to simply destroy on the spot since it can’t be profitably sold.  

In any case, the president clearly does not care how many low-income Americans have to die, as long as his ratings stay above 38%, the stock market remains upbeat and his chances of winning reelection are viable.   Don’t forget, he registered his 2020 re-election campaign on the day of his inauguration in January, 2017.    

One in five young American children are hungry in our land of food abundance, reports the New York Times.

What is wrong with us as a people?

Low-paid workers, many of them migrants, are recently ordered by the president, by scrawled Executive Order (as he refuses to use the Defense Production Act to order companies to produce needed personal protective equipment, tests, ventilators and other things vital for combating the plague), to show up for their shifts in American meat processing plants.  Never mind safety, never mind health, to hell with the pandemic — the nation needs warriors, says the president, to hack up those slaughtered animals and turn them into meat!   No matter, really, if  he winds up having to walk back this or that particular order, edict or pronouncement, he will announce he was being sarcastic, or meant the exact opposite of what he said.   He’s playful as a puppy!

The same cannot be said for the strongman of the Senate, the man who takes grim pride in his nickname, The Grim Reaper.  He is the proud, rictus-faced murderer of any humane bill that reaches his desk, he simply leaves them on his desk to die of neglect.  No vote, no nothing, make me do it, loser!   This well-married son of a couple of non-entities is not going to let any Commie-style legislation past him.   Getting a law past him that favors the average person over the extraordinary persons he represents, those well-funded corporate persons who keep him in power, is harder than getting a pork chop past a hungry wolf.  

You can read about what motivates this sick, destructive, unprincipled, soulless fuck in great detail in  How Mitch McConnell Became Trump’s Enabler-in-Chief  an exhaustively researched article by the great Jane Mayer.   He is presently seeking to pass legislation to protect our largest corporate persons from that fearsome army of aggressive plaintiff’s lawyers always ready to frivolously sue any business who negligently kills anyone or doesn’t protect their imagined health or rights sufficiently.  Shades of the legislation, at the dawn of the eternal War on Terror, to immunize mercenaries and other military contractors for things like torture and collateral damage.

Lewis Black got several of the last great laughs out of my mother that she ever had, in his one man show from the Kennedy Center, which we watched together on TV in the spring of 2010.  A big laugh came when he aptly described our electoral process. He asked the audience:  when was the last time you went into the voting booth and cast your vote for somebody you really believed was an excellent person for the job?    (For my parents it might have been Adlai Stevenson, who lost against Eisenhower a couple of times and then lost the 1960 Democratic primary to JFK)   No, said Black, you don’t get to vote for that person, ever.  You go into the voting booth, pull the curtain  AND IT’S TWO BOWLS OF SHIT, YOU GOTTA PICK ONE!

Our current reality TV-star, largely ignorant, compulsively  “sarcastic” president ran against Hillary Clinton, a highly competent but problematic politician.  The Democrats went with her because it was “her turn”.   During the lead-up to the 2016 election I heard that Donald and Hillary were the first and second most hated politicians in America.  Sounded about right to me.   I don’t recall which was number one most hated and which was number two, (both smell like number two to me) but, apparently, the best man won, by 78,000 surgically applied votes in every county in the three or four states the big man needed to win the Electoral College.

The bowl of shit the corporate Democrats are proposing as their candidate to beat Trump “like a drum” in 2020 is a vain, surgically enhanced old man with a famously winning televangelist smile and a dodgy political past featuring a lot of right-wing compromises.  He was the long-time senator from Delaware, the corporate incorporation capital of America, after all.  

To be clear, as I did with Ms. Clinton in 2016 (and her husband before that), I will vote for the clear lesser of two evils, hold my nose and choose the bowl of shit not labeled “Trump”.  I will urge everyone I talk to to do the same.   I won’t pretend, though, as the New York Times will, that President Biden will bring about a return to decency, make everything normal again here in the land of the feee and the home of the brave.  He will be a better president than Trump, without a doubt, but so would almost anybody.  After all, Trump is the worst president in American history by a country mile.  How bad?   He makes people, even on the left, nostalgic for his runner up as worst-ever president, George W. Bush.

May we be objective here for a moment?   The smiling blue collar Biden is something of an unapologetic jerk.   He charms his way out of the worst accusations thrown at him, using folksy, workingman’s humor.  After he was publicly admonished for touching women who didn’t want him to touch them he made a joke, putting his arm around a male on the stage with him.   “Look, I asked his consent, he said it was OK,” Biden said to the crowd, who gave him a hearty laugh.   It was probably less funny to any woman he’d been inappropriately handsy with.    Listen to Jeremy Scahill’s excellent analysis of the giant turd in the Biden/Democratic punch bowl

Trump is an absolute pig who takes pride in being that way and has threatened to sue every woman who ever accused him of being what he undoubtedly is, (particularly the ones who are not his type, women he wouldn’t rub against with Mike Pence’s dick).  He was lying about suing them all, it turns out, but then, that’s just his way, he’s litigious, full of puffery.   On a more sincere note, he nonchalantly indicated he’d like to have sex with his daughter Ivanka, you know, if he could get away with it.   He said it like a joke.   “I’d definitely date her,” he said, as his favorite daughter cooed uncomfortably next to him during the TV interview.   He said many other things about women much worse than that.   If you have no problem with a guy like him, he’s probably your man.  Join that solid 38% who love him no matter what he does.

But Joe Biden, self-proclaimed champion of women, has got some serious credibility problems of his own in the matter of his treatment of women, including his occasional unwanted shows of physical affection to women he interacts with.  I thought Jeremy Scahill’s was the best presentation of this truly perplexing situation that I’ve heard yet.  His recent interviews with journalist Melissa Gira Grant and former Nevada lawmaker Lucy Flores were detailed and thought-provoking.

We don’t always stop to think that when a powerful man says, of an accuser’s allegation, “it never happened” it also means “she’s lying.”   Joe Biden says, unequivocally that it never happened, that he never pushed his aide up against the wall and shoved his hand up her skirt and down her panties; therefore, the then young aide, Tara Reade, is lying, she’s a vicious liar.  

The Democrats have been insisting loudly, especially during the administration of a proud serial sexual violator,  that we must give women who complain of mistreatment by powerful men the presumption of credibility (ask former Senator Al Franken, lynched by zealous members of his own party).  As Biden himself said during the Boof Kavanaugh hearings:  

“For a woman to come forward in the glaring lights of focus, nationally, you’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she’s talking about is real.” 

Which, of course, is quite different from what he’s saying now, about Tara Reade’s allegation — in her case, she’s simply lying.

Recall his words and actions as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Anita Hill made allegations against now Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.  Note that Biden did not even support Thomas’s nomination, he was among the 48 who voted “nay” in the 52-48 confirmation [1].   He chaired that committee around the time he is accused of feeling up his young aide in the rudest possible manner.  

He allowed Anita Hill no corroborating witnesses, allowed her to be roughed up by the men of the committee who were allowed to ask her to tell them repeatedly exactly what she claimed Clarence Thomas had said about her lovely breasts and the pubic hair on the Coke can, and how she felt, (was she really humiliated or just flirtatious and later feeling scorned, as women do?)  and why she made no complaint,  and then was forced to tell the same shameful things again, and grilled about why she continued to have a professional relationship with her former boss if he had actually sexually harassed her and made her feel so humiliated, why she didn’t use the brand new sexual harassment laws to bring him to court and humiliate herself … etc.   Biden chaired the circus, which Thomas indignantly called a “high tech lynching”, Biden held the gavel, had the power to make the abuse of Anita Hill stop at any time [2].  

Biden never apologized to Anita Hill, beyond saying, around the time he threw his hat into the ring to be the 2020 Democratic bowl of shit, that he wished there was more he could have done to stop what was done to her.  (Note the lawyer’s use of the passive voice– what was done to her– not what he, or anyone else did– nobody actually did anything, it was simply done, shit happens, gosh…).  It’s not as though he had the power to do more than he did … it isn’t like he was the chairman of the committee, representing the majority on it, or anything like that…

Besides, as he points out, this lying woman, Tara Reade, is talking about something that never happened twenty-seven years ago!   Where was she with her false claim all these years when he was being vetted over and over again?   Since she said nothing all those years, why believe her now when it’s very politically convenient to suddenly come out with this smear?   Biden’s most visible female surrogates, vice presidential hopefuls all, are forced to point out that they believe Joe and that the New York Times reported, about Tara Reade, well, she, there were some holes in her story, and other reasons to doubt she was the most reliable historian… and… and… the New York Times did a thorough investigation several weeks ago and determined…

Get ready to hold your nose, folks.   Joe Biden is the man Tom Perez, Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic brain trust have chosen for you, brought back from the dead on the eve of his defeat, by the coordinated Super-Tuesday eve efforts of a united national party intent on not allowing a vigorous debate about the future of America, the minimum standard of decency we citizens actually deserve, what protections for human citizens are actually needed against merciless corporate persons.   We’ll chose the bowl of shit the Democratic party puts in front of us, if we know what’s good for us.   What choice do we really have?   Do we really want to wake up in November living in the Fourth Reich?  I don’t think so.

What is wrong with us, America?



[1] The ultra-conservative Thomas received 8 confirmation votes from Democrats; one each from Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Virginia; he got both motherfuckers from Louisiana and Georgia.   Proving how much times have changed her in American race relations, even white southerners recognize the value of putting a black klansman on the nation’s highest court for his lifetime.

[2]  The Republicans who confirmed temperamentally unsuited right-wing extremist Boof Kavanaugh to his lifetime post on our highest court, learned a valuable lesson from the Thomas/Hill shit show.   They enlisted a woman to sympathetically grill Kavanaugh’s main accuser, Christine Blasey-Ford.   As a result, Blasey-Ford’s testimony was heard in full, and believed by most Americans who heard it.   During the break FOX news was in despair, it appeared to be over for choir boy Brett.   It would be up to the angry white Republican men on the committee, led by a crying Lindsey Graham,  to support the indignant, snorting, crying Kavanaugh so he could be confirmed.   Fucking babies.

Personality Conflict

If you are raised by a relentless bully there is a challenging process you must go through not to become a relentless bully yourself when you grow up.   Granted, it is not a process for everyone.

Under stress, we sometimes revert to type, in spite of what we may have learned to do better, through great effort.   Human.

I don’t want to argue with people all the time.  I try my best to avoid it, I really do. You want to argue me out of my desire not to argue, since it is a waste of a good skill set, to your way of seeing it.  I understand you can’t help the constant demand that I justify everything I say and do, but I don’t like it, can’t make you understand how much I don’t like it.

“You have an emotional blind spot,” I say, when subjected to this again, when I can see no other way out, no way to make you see my point of view.  

“I don’t see it,” you say, reflexively asserting your human right to see things as you do.  

Later, blood pressure rising as the futility becomes more and more impossible not to feel, I will make an ill-advised reference to tone-deafness that will send you into a rage, cause you to scream and slam down the phone.  

“I am neither tone-deaf nor do I have an emotional blind spot, I, in fact, love you more than just about anyone in the world,” you will write in a long, reasonable email a few days later.   “As for your ‘kryptonite’ — silence by way of response — I don’t get why your right to a response supersedes my right not to have my innocent silence misconstrued.   Further, my recent apology, which I found it unfair and unreasonable of you to demand,  was only given because you were so irrationally enraged…”

At which point my desire to continue reading fades, the stomach acid returns to my stomach and I reach for my guitar.  I play “That’s Amore”– now in the key of D, a much better key for a solo guitar version of this snappy tune, which I can’t seem to get out of my head.   Play it in D, you will like it very much.   

I later rescue from undeserved obscurity two paragraphs I wrote in closing a post I later deleted for fear of offending an old friend, my last words on the subject:

Silence, ideally, is the best remedy for unwanted silence, to demonstrate exactly how it eats at a heart that has posed an unanswered question.  To know how it actually feels, a thing difficult to explain in words.

Though here, in the odd event that my old friend who could be affected by this ever reads these words, I’d have to sacrifice the cold satisfaction of that beautifully symmetrical working of easy, elemental justice in the name of further digesting this true, hard stone — that professed love is worth little without a reflex to unconditionally empathize when your friend is in pain.