Majority Rules

Like a two year-old with a shit filled diaper triumphantly proclaiming ownership of the sandbox, the party with the commanding 51-49 majority in the Senate plunges forward in its quest to quickly confirm another extreme right wing corporatist partisan as our next Supreme Court Justice.   The stakes are high, a second appointment for Trump and the Kochs, as criminal investigations close in on the ethically exempt president:  a permanent extreme right corporatist majority on the Court for the first time since the Great Depression.   The nominee sits, face as bland as a potato, waiting for the hurried sham hearing to proceed, as the minority party, the losers, appeals to the chairman for basic fairness and integrity.   Loyalists for the majority party keep making points of order, insisting the hearing not be interrupted or delayed for any reason.

The chairman, Chuck Grassley, tasked with getting this done before the midterms two months away [1], bristles at the challenges to his fairness and integrity, in the face of a strong argument he and his party lack both.   42,000 pages of documents regarding this nominee were delivered to senators the night before the confirmation hearings.  Documents requested by Chairman Grassley himself have not been produced, the minority senators claim.  Presumably these are among the 100,000 pages deemed too incendiary to release, Kavanaugh memos written while he advised George W. Bush on judicial appointments and vetted candidates, being withheld under some convoluted version of Executive Privilege.  A privilege, incidentally, that the Executive in question, George W. Bush, explicitly waived recently, in the interests of transparency and the appearance of fairness.

The Democrats don’t point it out, trying simply to get time to read the 42,000 pages before the confirmation hearing, but the nominee was a well-known right wing partisan activist and did some potentially compromising things in his zeal during the Clinton impeachment and in the Bush/Cheney White House.   There is also his record, as a judge under Merrick Garland, in cases involving employers and employees, consumers, the environment, of voting, in split decisions, against the public interest 87% of the time .   Nothing to see there!  Today, in spite of his salacious interest in Bill Clinton’s sex life and the impeachable offense of Clinton lying about the blow jobs, and his aggressiveness prosecuting this terrible crime, that Mr. Kavanaugh believes, and has written, that, as a general principle, the president is largely above the law and should not be distracted by investigations during the performance of his duties. Convenient, no?   Moved the corporate ass-kisser to the head of the Koch brother’s list of conservative jurists ready for the top job.

The chairman pretends to consider Corey Booker’s appeal (the two women who sought to intervene moments earlier were both ignored by the chairman) for an adjournment to read the redacted, 42,000 page record.   Then Grassely responds, gravely and respectfully, to Mr. Booker.  How dare the minority party interrupt my hearing to try to take advantage of my sense of integrity!   My integrity is absolute, as is that of my party, my president, my president’s revolving cast of advisors and cabinet members, no matter how many might have been forced from their positions, indicted or convicted in recent weeks. 

Senator Grassley listened respectfully to the female senator from Hawaii, Mazie Hirono, who expressed concerns about the unprecedented step of requiring judicial committee members to pre-submit their questions for the candidate for screening, by telling her politely to shut the fuck up.  Grassley, although pompous, appears not to be the sharpest knife in the drawer (not that he needs to be, 51-49 as it is), as when he admits, in response to Senator Leahy’s concern that the claim of Executive Privilege (a claim not asserted by the Executive himself in this case) must be resolved before any hearing is held, that he could answer all these minority questions “but I think if I answer those questions it’s going to fit into the effort of the minority to continue to obstruct and I don’t think that’s fair to our judge, it’s not fair to our constitutional process… blah blah blah.” [2]

 

All Chairman Grassley had to say was “I know you are, but what am I?”  As every two year-old knows, 51-49 is a majority, a commanding majority.   Might makes right.  49% has no right to interrupt while the 51% is telling it to eat shit.   Get your spoon and fucking dig in!   Simon says!  And say “God bless our sacred constitutional democracy and our infallible leader” as you shovel it down, assholes.

 

[1] Forget here, if you can, that the illegitimate Kenyan Muslim’s pick for Supreme Court, a well-respected moderate named Merrick Garland, Chief United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit,, was short circuited by partisan Republicans who insisted the People should decide, since a presidential election was about a year away when Antonin Scalia suddenly died.  You can’t have an appointment so close to an election, the majority party insisted, before they insisted the opposite, with a fraction of the time left on the clock and as investigations against the president continue:  we have to have this hearing before the looming midterms!   So the People can speak!

The haste here, of course, is that the 51-49 majority enjoyed by the party of Trump could possibly disappear in a matter of weeks as we await the will of the People on this matter.   Their leader, a prodigiously untruthful autocratic oligarch, might even face impeachment, or worse!   Time is suddenly, very much, of the essence if we are to have a solidly right wing Supreme Court for the next few decades.   This emergency began with the suddenly negotiated retirement of the so-called Swing Vote, the conservative Anthony Kennedy, a man who voted with the zealots most of the time, but unaccountably, was not homophobic or openly misogynistic.   Forget all this, it is irrelevant.  Fake controversy ginned up by lying partisan twats like me. NOTHING TO SEE HERE!  God bless America.  USA!   USA!!!

[2] Grassley goes on to answer Senator Leahy’s concern about what the administration has to hide among Kavanaugh’s writings while he advised President George W. Bush, when he served as advisor on judicial appointments.    White House counsel speak under an expectation of confidentiality, said Grassley, as do all lawyers to their clients.   If this was not so, a memo using language that could be taken out of context and used to destroy a candidacy, such as “I recommend we press the nigger/bitch/kyke hard on whether they support the murder of the unborn,”  or a suggestion to, say, demand photos of President Clinton’s penis, flaccid and erect, to be used as exhibits during his impeachment, would never have been written, depriving the Executive (or in the case of Clinton’s impeachment, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, who Kavanaugh zealously advised) of the full, frank range of partisan opinions to which he or she is entitled.  Confidentiality demands no less.

As for the 42,000 pages of documents delivered to the committee the night before the hearing, the only requirement, according to Grassley, was that they be delivered before the hearing, and they were.  End of story, whiners.  The Republican members of the judicial committee managed to read all 42,000 redacted pages, suck it up, obstructionist minority party.   If you can’t manage to do your homework, don’t blame the diligent students who did.

Melancholia, Anyone?

Live with sorrows long enough and they will sometimes gather and swoop down in a wave of melancholia.   Allowing these sorrows to gather and swoop is something I have done since childhood.   It is familiar, somewhat understandable and without any terror to me at this point in my life.    I know the drill and accept it now, there is no sense fighting melancholia.   It has its seasons.  It is best just to slowly go with it, it arrives to make you consider your life a bit.

The semi-hollow body electric guitar you love to play, with that genius little looper that allows you to stomp, play, stomp, play along with your first track, stomp, add a second track, has no appeal when melancholia descends.   “Fuck it, maybe later,” you think to yourself, passing the guitar and looper on your way upstairs to tap these words.

There are cures for melancholia, of course.   You needn’t passively suffer from the blues, blues you don’t even have the energy to play or sing.   You can call a friend, if you have one.   The world is less lonely when you are talking to a friend.   You can go for a walk, or a bike ride, though your mood will accompany you, at least for the first part.   You can go shopping.  It’s what we’ve been taught since childhood, buying something new will cheer you up.  It works for millions of happy consumers everywhere, even if what you buy soon turns out to be crap.   You can read a book, watch TV (and we are in a renaissance of television at the moment), devour content in dozens of electronic forms. You can distract yourself until the cows come home, and when the cows get home, you can distract yourself some more.  It’s called entertainment, be entertained.   Yo, there are also anodynes, many of them handy, like eating something tasty, though the relief of that is momentary at best.

It doesn’t take melancholia to make you notice the brutality of the set up. We are told that statistically the odds of being killed by somebody else have never been lower in human history, unless you live in one of the many dangerous killing spots currently smoldering on the earth.  Of course, the odds of dying by your own hand, intentionally or inadvertently, have never been higher, are actually, for the first time in human history, more likely than your odds of being killed by somebody else, but that too is just a statistic, you dig.   We may, arguably, have a suicide epidemic in the greatest country, the most exceptional nation, the world has ever known.  Add the more than 72,000 overdose deaths from opioids last year to the tens of thousands accomplished by Second Amendment enthusiasts with their instrument of choice, add in drunk driving deaths, and murders by car, your goddamned vehicular homicides, and you start to get an impressive number of dead Americans.   We don’t need to talk about these motherfuckers really, they are not only losers, but dead losers.

This notion of winner and loser is a sick one I should pick at a bit here, just because this idiotic worldview is at the source of so much human misery.   You are a winner at the moment you win the lottery, a matter of pure luck, just as you are a winner when your Nazi-loving father dies and leaves you $300,000,000, another kind of lottery, albeit one you have paid dearly for by having a Nazi as a father.   Still, these are momentary victories, like every win is.  

That is the key thing: winning and losing are happening constantly in every life.  They go by other names, good luck and bad luck, providence and accursedness, good randomness vs. bad randomness.  Work is involved, of course, in preparing for victory.  I don’t discount the amount of hard work necessary to win a competition, nor do I necessarily shrink from it.   The thing I want to get across here is that winning and losing are relative and transitory, think about it even for two seconds and you will grasp that piece too.

The greatest baseball players in history, in their greatest all-time record-setting seasons, lost 60% of the time they went to bat. [1]   They were out more times than they succeeded.  An impressive majority of the time they were losers.  A 40% success rate, for Shoeless Joe Jackson, Rogers Hornsby, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, was a season for the ages, a .400 season.  A small handful of historically elite players have ever achieved that.   Babe Ruth, the greatest hitter of them all, by many estimations,  made it to a personal best of .393 one year.   Anyone hitting .350 today is having a season for the ages, but still– losing more than they are winning.     Winning is a relative term, unless you understand this you are a loser.   Even if you understand it, you are still a loser, as often as you are a “winner”.

We’re told there is an attitude that winners have, an ineffable quality that makes them winners.  I think of the greatest American exemplar of winning, a man who has won every contest he has been involved in (by his account, anyway), including the greatest prize for an American winner, the presidency of the United States.   Being the world’s greatest winner means that you have conquered the game, are at the top of your game, on top of the world.   No reason to be angry, or peevish, oversensitive or insanely needy — you’re a great winner and therefore happy in a way a loser will never be.  

Still, check the man out.   Five a.m. rage tweets lashing out at the unfairness of his envious, unfair persecutors,  an inability to be truthful except in rare, unscripted moments (“I could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and these gullible morons would still support me”) a life of manifest unhappiness and gnawing insecurity, behind a gaudy front of blustering compensatory over-confidence, for the world’s greatest winner.  What’s up with that?  You want to be a winner like him?  Go for it.  Start with choosing the right dad.

The winner/loser game has one measuring stick: wealth.  If you are rich you have won.  Except, of course, that there are always other motherfuckers richer than you (some have vast, interest generating hereditary wealth, going back generations), which is a goad and a motivation.   Being filthy rich is no longer enough, to be a real winner you have to be richer than Jesus Christ and his father combined.   The Greeks used to have myths about foolish humans sucked into this thing called hubris.  The insatiably greedy Midas got the gold touch, and that was the end of him.   His food turned to gold, when he wiped his ass that turned to gold.  He was done.  [2]  The Midas touch, which we think of as the gold standard of good luck, turns out to be one of the more clever curses of the gods.  I always loved the Yiddish curse:  may you be very successful in business, may you become very rich and build a mansion of a hundred rooms — and may the devil chase you from room to room.

Of course, I am a bitter man, melancholic today or not.  I tend to think of winners like the fucking Sackler family, several generations of doctors who have evolved into a clan of fabulously wealthy drug pushers under the corporate name Perdue Pharmaceuticals.   It turns out they researched which areas of this great country were most plagued by drug abuse, specifically opioid abuse.   They targeted these ravaged, hopeless areas where despair was rampant and options few, coal mining country, rust belt, foreclosed farm communities, etc., with trained doctors, nurses and pharmaceutical reps claiming that their patented product, Oxycontin, had an “exquisitely rare” chance of addiction “less than 1%” (a number they pulled out of their collective, corporate asses).   The Sacklers made billions upon billions marketing this highly addictive patent protected anodyne poison to America’s most desperate while addiction and overdose deaths predictably sky-rocketed.   Winners vs. losers, yo.

Civil suit after civil suit against Perdue Pharma resulted in nothing but wasted legal fees and shrugs all around, and anger and despair for the loved ones of those now dead from the exquisitely well-marketed opioid.   You can’t prove the lying corporation killed your boy, ma’am, nor can you make them pay you shit for his death.   It was the drug addict’s own damned fault, after all.   Nobody held a gun to his dumb head and forced him to overdose.  De minimis non curat lex, sir.

The U.S. Attorney in Virginia finally brought a criminal case against Perdue Pharma.  In 2007, after a series of negotiations (pre-dementia Rudy Giuliani was brought in to do his magic for Perdue) the parties agreed to a plea deal where the corporation, charged with a series of felonies, pleaded guilty to the single felony of “criminal misbranding” a crime that had been committed continuously for six or seven years by then.   Three executives took misdemeanor charges.  Justice was done, as well as it ever is done to extremely wealthy malefactors.

In a nation that was not insanely racing against death by trying to acquire everything in sight, and blindly worshipping those who can,  this would not appear to be a reasonable, fair or just outcome.   At the very least this gigantic corporate drug dealer, after “criminally misbranding” its deadly anodyne and profiting obscenely from its crime, with deadly consequences for hundreds of thousands (and counting), would have to lay out the cash to set up rehab and treatment centers in every area they had targeted to sell their lucrative, criminally mislabeled product.   That’s not how it works in the land of winners and losers.   We don’t punish the powerful here.   What kind of message does that send?   We punish the weak, send them to private, for-profit prisons.  They are losers anyway.  Yo, be serious!  Punishing losers equals corporate profits: win win!  

Not to say this hideous picture is all bad.  In the impoverished West Virginia town of 400 that received 9,000,000 tablets of Oxycontin one year, many were able to keep their noses just above poverty by selling the pills, which go for up to ten bucks a piece.  The free market, being free.

I am content with the things I own.  The guitar I love cost a few hundred dollars, a fraction of the price of the one the Chinese factory skillfully recreated.   I am a good enough guitarist that I “deserve” a guitar costing many times more.  I don’t need it.   Do you understand what I am saying?  Owning a $5,000 or $10,000 guitar would be lovely, sure, but I don’t need it.  Can you grasp that?   It is worthwhile to grasp a thing like that.  Otherwise, in the words of an ex’s Hindu guru, you are like a deer, dying of thirst as you chase a mirage of water.

Our failure here is a failure of imagination.   We fail to imagine the many real possibilities that would make the world a more decent and merciful place for all but the richest and most psychopathic among us.   We simply cannot imagine the great philanthropists of our age, the finest people, folks like the Sacklers, ever being held accountable for any crime they may or may not have committed.   “Criminal misbranding”, I mean, how bad a crime is that really, in the hierarchy of felonies?    It’s a fraud perpetrated deliberately year after year to the harm and death of tens of thousands, but it has to been seen in context.    The Sacklers donate wings to museums, they endow professorships, they are culturally generous with their billions.   The men who paid themselves a record $135 billion in compensation in 2009 after almost causing the second worldwide Great Depression by their systemic, highly lucrative, fraud, same deal.   Does it really help anyone to put these kind of folks in prison?  Aren’t they really too big to jail?   Seriously, am I suggesting that such fine people deserve to be held accountable for the petty crimes they may, arguably, commit?  Unimaginable, the luxury prisons we’d have to construct to house such fine people.

Our failure of imagination, in this nation where we are trained from birth to be passive consumers,  makes us replace the universe of possibilities with the world we have in front of us.   You see, there is no way, in a free country, to make sure no children are raised in dire, hopeless, life crushing poverty because…. the Free Market.   Communism obviously failed, was put out of business and taken off the map by the only form of social organization that makes sense, that truly reflects human nature, Capitalism.    

We reduce many undreamed of possibilities to our famous imagination crushing false dichotomy.   If you hate Capitalism as it is practiced today, as it has always been practiced, then you are a Communist, by definition a discredited loser.  History proves how much you suck.   Winners win, losers whine, suckers walk.  Freedom is on the march.  Democracy equals capitalism, winning equals fabulous wealth, end of the story, boys and girls.  Koch Industries, sponsors of the NY Yankees, makes products you use and are dedicated to a level playing field where everyone has an equal opportunity.   They say so in their own ad.   Nothing else to see here.  Bird Wins [3].

This is a world of losers, friends, every one of whom will die without any hope of eternal, corporate style, life.   Losers with costive imaginations, hemmed in by mass-marketed external reality.   That’s a peevish and dumb way to put it, ‘costive’ being an old-fangled word for constipated.   Imaginings are not shit, of course, though they are constantly shit on.   Neither are they all good, some in fact, would benefit from not have been shitted out at all.  

We are led to imagine that all the problems in the world caused by runaway, unregulated capitalism are the fault of illegal aliens and refugees, poor people sneaking through our porous borders to rape and murder, while bringing illegal drugs in.   Many are, quite possibly, terrorists who hate our freedom.   Imagine that!   All of our problems, caused by those ruthless, relentless fucks, millions of them, lawlessly overrunning our once great nation like cockroaches.   At one time, even now in many parts of the world, in some of the best parts, the best parts, my people get the blame.  The fucking Jews.   If Hitler had finished his important work every ignorant racist fuck in the world would now be a king, once the goddamned colored people were dealt with the same way. It’s only a matter of will, of winning.  

Happy Labor Day, my hard laboring friends.   Get out there and take advantage of your day off and your freedom to save big at malls all over this great land.   They’re practically giving the wonderful stuff away.   Go, go, go!  If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to slouch over to my guitar and see what comes out.  [4]

 

 

[1] for the quibblers, sure, their On Base Percentage for those seasons, the times they walked added to the times they had base hits, means that these baseball immortals, in their greatest seasons for the ages, only lost maybe 50% of the time.   Call me pisher.  

[2]  OK, fine, the Greek myth makers gave greedy King Midas a reprieve and his story a laudable moral.   Ecstatic about his new gold touch he hugged his beloved daughter, she turned to gold and he broke down.   He begged the gods to take the curse away, and they did.  Midas lived a life of generosity when his touch stopped turning everything he loved into gold and died beloved of his people.

[3] Bird Wins was the title of a book I once tried to write.  The title referred to the flashing sign in the Chinatown Arcade on Mott Street, mercilessly announcing that the tic tac toe playing chicken had beaten its human opponent again.   The bird went first, and always played to thwart a victory.   I doubt anybody, ever, beat the goddamned chicken, though many probably tied.   Bird Wins stands in for all fixed games, rigged contests, manifest abuses of the gullible and earnest alike.  

[4]  I‘m So Tired, it turns out, by the fookin genius John Lennon.

Son of Why Do You Bother?

I was extremely reluctant to spend $152 for a pen, even a fountain pen with a beautifully flexible nib.  I’ve dreamed of a pen like that for years, but $152 seemed nuts.   I carry several favorite pens with me every day and their price in total doesn’t come near $100.   Which is not to say I don’t value each of my favorite pens greatly, I do.  A good pen is like a true musical instrument, one that stays in tune and is a pleasure to play.   You can’t make music without a true instrument, nor love the marks you make on a piece of paper without a pen that feels good leaving its mark.  

Still, $152 for a pen struck me as ridiculous, even in a store that sells $4,000 pens.   It was a beautiful pen, with a wonderfully flexible nib.  I tried it for a long time in the store and sighed when I handed the pen back to the salesman.   The salesman took the pen back when I told him I couldn’t spend that much for a fountain pen.   He smiled and said “you’ll come back for it.”

A few days later I did.  It quickly became my favorite pen.   The salesman had assured me that the soft, delicate, flexible nib was under warranty for three years.  That was reassuring, especially since, from the beginning the pen was temperamental, finicky.   It was a challenge to get it to write sometimes.  I learned a few tricks to gently help get the ink flowing.  I cleaned it with cool distilled water periodically.   I learned I had to use it every single day to keep it flowing.  My cheaper pens never hesitate, this little prima dona rarely wrote as soon as you picked her up.   I began carrying a little pill bottle filled with distilled water to clean the nib, on subways and wherever else I drew.  

Over the course of seven months I had worn the nib down, mostly from trying to get it to write when it didn’t feel like writing, and, eventually, found myself trying to write with the dreaded “sprung nib”.   This means the nib no longer flexes since it cannot return to its thin state, the tines being now permanently separated.   Picture two fingers splayed apart.  The pen is ruined.   I hesitated for a long time, dreading the likeliest outcome,  and finally brought it back to the “Fountain Pen Hospital” where I had purchased the fine writing instrument.  Sekhnet met me there for moral support. 

The kid at the counter was sympathetic when I told him how much I loved this pen and that the patient was in bad shape and needed a fountain pen hospital.   He recommended a place I could send it where they could fix the nib for about a hundred dollars.   I reminded him of the three year Namiki warranty.  The older man at the desk chimed in to tell me there was no warranty for the nib.  He told me he’d been doing this for sixty years and that nobody gives a warranty for a nib.   I told him what his salesman had told me.  He said it was impossible, Paul had worked for him for twenty-five years, he could not have told me the nib was under warranty.   Paul himself passed by a few times.   I was clearly a desperate man, lying, and Paul was cool as a cucumber, his boss had his back.

I somehow left the store without expressing any anger and walked away feeling a little bit kicked in the balls, but there was little I could do but call the number the kid had given me and plead my case to Namiki/Pilot.   I’m not optimistic there either, but it’s worth a shot.  Japanese companies still seem to take a pride in their products that American corporations have long ago realized is for losers.  

Our next stop was the Samsung store in the ultra-trendy Meat Packing District of New York City.   The guy who sets up the repair appointments admitted that the oversensitive moisture sensor of the Galaxy S-8 that prevents charging with a cable was a design defect.  They had fixed the defect in subsequent models, Jose said, examining my phone.    In high humidity the sensor goes off, and even though the phone is advertised as surviving immersion in water… but hold on.   My screen was cracked, my warranty was voided and I’d have to pay $249.99 for Samsung to correct the design defect that prevents me from charging the expensive phone with a cable.   Here is my cracked screen:

IMG-20180820-WA0003.jpg

I snarled and stalked away from the guy to cool off, as Sekhnet continued to talk to Jose.   A large security guard, hearing my curses before I walked away from Jose, came over to stand guard nearby.   I calmed myself, looking into the distance, breathing slowly.  After a minute I  went over to the guard, who had been watching me.   I explained why I’d gotten angry and showed him the phone.   He agreed that the tiny scratch voiding the warranty was bullshit.   He agreed that corporations regularly fuck customers, it’s just part of their business plan.  Profit making means breaking a few balls here and there, no big deal for a “person” who only has one job, maximizing profit.   The security guard was a lovely guy.  I told him about “The Corporation”  available to watch on youtube, and he told me he’d definitely check it out.  My friendly chat with him helped calm me the rest of the way down.

I went back over to Jose and Sekhnet to confirm my appointment for the following day and Jose said he hadn’t made the appointment since I’d walked away from him.  I told him he would have walked away too.   He admitted he probably would have. “I can’t lie,” he said, as likable a response as you could hope for in that circumstance.   I’ll be going over there in a couple of hours to have the phone ‘s design defect repaired, the battery replaced with an improved one, the screen replaced.   All for only $249.99 plus tax.   Minus the 15% goodwill discount Jose said he’ll give me, which brought the actual price down to a mere $230.43.  

Minor interaction in an art supply store we went to next left me feeling no better.   The manager was confused and defensive regarding a refund for a bunch of piss-poor nibs I’d bought in another store of their chain.   She told me she couldn’t refund anything without the original packaging (they came out of boxes behind the counter, there was no original packaging), and that to her knowledge they didn’t make the 3B mechanical pencil leads I was looking for (I held up my pencil with the 3B lead in it– another branch a few blocks away, I learned later,  had it in stock)… etc.   I started getting pissed off and left my credit card with Sekhnet to take care of the business while I sat outside, calming myself, reading off my “cracked screen”.  A few minutes later Sekhnet handed me the receipt and I saw that, for whatever reason, $2.18 had been not refunded.   Well worth the price of not walking back into the store.

Then I remembered Sekhnet pays for insurance for the two phones, about $25 a month.  Almost 40 minutes on the phone with T-Mobile (the first 25 or so on hold, with a syphilitic robot periodically coming on to tell me to please continue to hold, we don’t value you pieces of shit enough to hire enough representatives, all of whom are busy helping other customers) eventually connected me to the third party that Sekhnet pays to insure both of our fancy phones.  

I could send my phone in, they’d send me a temporary replacement phone, and they’d do the repairs for only a $175 deductible (about $60 less than Jose’s place which will do everything within 3 hours today).  I asked her what the deductible is if the phone is lost or stolen.  $175 she said.

“So your company’s policy incentivizes fraud,” I said, “I’d be better off just tossing the phone into the nearest sewer, or selling it to a crackhead for $20 and reporting it stolen.”

“Well, that’s why our rates and deductibles have to be high, because people take advantage of insurance companies, that’s why it’s so important for us to be watchful for fraud,” she said pleasantly.  

“No,” I told her, ” that’s insurance industry b.s..  Your rates and ‘deductibles’ are high because insurance companies are in business to pay out as little as possible.   It’s a fabulous scheme as far as your profits go, even if a bit sleazy, though nothing personal, you sound like a very nice person.”  

I managed again, for a third time in a few hours, not to get unreasonably angry.  One’s asshole eventually gets used to the uninvited probes, I suppose. 

If the corporation was actually a person it would be someone like Donald Trump.  They owe nothing to anybody.   They are incapable of real conversation, of any kind of mutuality, really.  They control the terms of every interaction.   They refuse to lose, or even compromise, no matter what the price.  They can never admit wrongdoing, nor can they apologize.  They do what they do because the law allows it, or at least does not explicitly proscribe it.   If it comes to it, they’ll  change the law to make their latest profit-increasing scam legal.   They have an army of lawyers, on salary, just waiting around to make their boss’s day.   Ever been sued by a billionaire?  Nothing like it, boys and girls.   

Capitalism, its defenders always say, is the most accurate reflection of human nature.   It is an expression of human freedom that incentivizes creativity and innovation, rewards the entrepreneurial spirit, maximizes liberty and the pursuit of happiness for everyone.  These defenders are always at least moderately wealthy. Those who do not fare as well under the Darwinian law of the jungle may be excused for seeing the out of control greed-driven psychopathic form of capitalism that is currently energetically destroying our habitat as a reflection of only a certain facet of human nature:  the insanely greed-driven psychopath.    

A powerful church that rapes children and protects the rapists is… we may as well just say it, even if the Pope can’t … evil in the eyes of Jesus, and of every dispassionate child you can ask.   An economic system that makes obscene wealth possible for a very few and a decent lifestyle possible for another 10% or so, while creating health-destroying insecurity or inescapable poverty for many times that number… and unspeakably brutal  poverty for billions more worldwide, the unseen collateral damage of the global “free market”, well, you do the math.

And have a blessed day…

Why Do You Bother?

A voice started nagging me the other day, a familiar voice with famously bad breath.  “What the hell are you doing?” the voice said, with annoying, random inflection, the words arriving unpleasantly warm and fetid in my ear after wafting past my nostrils.

“You continue, day after day, to sit and write.  You seem to write about whatever comes into your head.   You write clearly enough, we’ll stipulate to that, but the larger question is ‘what the fuck’?   Seriously– what is your plan?”

A fair enough question, ass breath.

“More than fair, really.  If you are writing literally every day, taking the trouble to clearly set out all these things that are on your mind, document your long wrestling matches with anger, futility, depression, vexation with the ongoing triumph of incoherent narratives… why are you not spending as much time every day branding, marketing and selling your content?   Why are you not monetizing the skill you’ve been honing for decades?”

Nicely summarized, my inscrutable dilemma, there, toe cheese breath.    

“You can sit there asyntactically smarting me all you like, as you worry about the warranty for the nib of a very expensive fountain pen you love, the fairly new acoustic/electric guitar that is no longer electric, trying to overcome the frustrations of a smart phone that is smarting you daily, having failed to write down the robotically delivered authorization code for PT that the health insurance company robot read to you– foolishly assuming that same code had been sent to PT (it hadn’t, of course) and now you can’t make an appointment for tomorrow’s session since they are no longer picking up the phone, after you called Healthfirst back and were eventually connected to the third party who had the authorization number you need to continue rehabbing your sore knees…”  

I get it, sweat gland breath.  

“A blessing that you can’t smell your own breath, my decomposing friend. I’m just giving you a little friendly advice: you’re not a writer just because you write, even if you write clearly and convincingly, even if you do it every single day of your life. You are a writer if your writing is in print, paid for by somebody else, and with a check written to you for writing whatever the hell it is. Period.”  

Sure thing.

 

Prisoners of Technology

Young people today may be the true heirs of the information age.  They were born with the sum total of the world’s accumulated information and opinion in their pockets, instantly accessible on phones so smart they can anticipate what we want to know.   Those born with this amazing power feel they are the best informed generation in history.   Maybe they are.  

The great educational innovator Sugata Mitra claims that students no longer need to memorize long lists of dates, famous names, salient facts etc. since everything of that sort can be found instantly on-line.   I’m no longer so convinced on this particular point by the extremely convincing Mr. Mitra, though I am a big fan of his theories of how we learn, how we are born wanting to learn.

As others have pointed out, what happens to the holder of the sum total of the world’s acquired information when your phone is out of battery life, if the power grid or internet goes down, in the event of a large scale emergency where smart phones no longer operate?   We are dependent on technology to an extent never before seen in the ravaging reign of homo sapiens, the earth’s apex predator and determined destroyers of our own habitat, if there is enough money to be made doing so (and, to be honest, even if not).

I’m just bitchy because my expensive new phone is messed up.   A month ago it was near an open window during a rain storm.    It didn’t get wet, but was exposed to 100% humidity.   It would not charge after that, giving me a shrill warning to immediately disconnect it–  “moisture has been detected!”.   Fortunately, it could be charged on a wireless dock.   Another popup message a few days later informed me that it could take some time for the detected moisture to disappear.   Now it is a month.  

Last Saturday a technician at Best Buy, a nice fellow named Curtis, fixed the phone, it was able to take a charging cable.  He reset something, told me there was a problem with the sensor in this model of Samsung phone I have.   I was able to charge it with a cable.  Once.  Now it again warns me that I will do permanent damage to the phone, void the warranty, cancel my insurance policy, etc. if I leave it connected to a charging cable.

Customer service is no longer something we can expect just because we are customers.  The world is now way too smart for that.   That’s where our smartphone comes in, it helps us figure out how to get customer service.   Who knew the Samsung guy at Best Buy was my best bet?

I discovered, after Curtis didn’t fix it, that there is a Samsung store at 837 Washington Street, not hard for me to get to.   I can use my smartphone to make an appointment to see a brilliant technician there.   They can tell me how foolish I was not to back up the 3,000 photos randomly and without warning deleted from my phone a few weeks ago.   They can point me to the Android to Mac program I need to download on to my laptop so I can save data from an Android to an Apple computer.   Hopefully they can also fix the phone and allow me to charge it with a cable so I don’t have to keep my friend waiting another hour for lunch while the phone gets a trickle of a charge on the wireless dock.  Last I checked it was up to 61%.   Could be 70% by now…

Hopefully the insurance I pay every month will cover this repair of a very expensive phone and the $175 “deductible” won’t kick in.   Hopefully.

Look around and think about that “hopefully”.

 

A Ticklish Personal Matter

When attacked we can fight, take flight or do any number of other things.  I have been trying in recent years to follow the principle of non-harm, Ahimsa, approaching others openly and directly, and without violence.    I don’t mean to whine, but this is sometimes a tricky road in a culture where every rugged manjack among us is expected to compete and a shove, a knee or sharp elbow is perfectly permissible in this contact sport not intended for sissies, weaklings or peaceniks.   It is a particularly hard road when, in a moment of misguided bonhomie or extreme peevishness, a friend feels free to get some blindside shots in.

In my hubris, holding my vow of peacefulness in absurdly high regard, I made a mistake, I realize to my great misery today, expecting that one kind of animal, given the chance to be heard, to listen, to reflect, could turn into another kind of animal, somehow.  I was hoping, in the face of escalating bad experiences with a troubled, reflexively defensive old friend (and we all have our troubles) that we could somehow work out the worst of our conflict and have a more honest, mutual relationship going forward.  I was actually hoping for a miracle, rare as those things are.  It was a foolish hope, no matter how laudable and high-minded the attempt to save a badly damaged old friendship might have seemed.

Writing is the only tool I’ve developed for thinking and working through this kind of painful situation — being hurt, receiving an extracted, pro forma apology  (my friend insisted there was an implied apology already given when he said, after my long explanation, that he now understood how I felt) and then having the ante immediately raised by more of the same mistreatment that was already apologized for, ad nauseam.  The hurtful behavior comes down to an uncontrollable reflex to ignore, disregard or minimize the feelings of others, seeing only your own feelings. The raw feelings in others often aroused by your own words and deeds, you truly feel have nothing to do with you or anything you might have done.

Some people seem wired to be incapable of not doubling down when they feel they’ve lost a poker hand.  Admitting fault, apologizing, being humble, really listening to another person’s point of view — all losing hands in the eyes of the winners of our culture.   Being on the other end of things, a loser, I need to finish rinsing the fecal matter out of the Hawaiian shirt I was wearing yesterday (bad accidental spraying of projectile diarrhea) and try to get on with my regularly scheduled unpaid work, progressing well, in spite of the odds.    (here)

“I apologized to you, but that apparently wasn’t enough for you” he said chidingly to begin our reconciliation talks.   He appeared sincerely irked that his apology, sincere as he could make it, did not seem to have been enough for his unreasonably demanding old friend.   All he’d really done was accuse me of malice or extreme stupidity and hold me personally responsible for a catastrophe in his life (he later allowed that he’d been wrong to do that, but I have to understand the stress he was under at the time), put me in an unfair situation no friend should ever put another person in, and vent angrily at me after I’d done my best to be a supportive friend. He seemed genuinely aggrieved that his apology had seemingly made no difference to me at all.  Not the  conversational opening, or attitude, I’d hoped for, but I’d try to make the best of it, somehow.   

I pointed out quietly that after that apology the same hurtful behavior has been repeated in each of our recent exchanges.  I told him it appeared he was unable to stop doubling down, seemed poised to keep his streak of controversy going.   I said we should refocus our chat, talk about  the changes that would be needed going forward, in light of the multiple times recently my feelings—

“You want to talk about feelings?  I feel disrespected, traffic jam or no traffic jam, after being very easygoing about our meeting time, you have to admit, I was extremely laid back about our changed meeting time, which you’ll recall was originally 2:00, and which you later agreed would be three pm, and then we didn’t get together until 3:34 pm.   That’s very disrespectful, that long a delay is simply disrespectful on its face, especially on a day when we’re supposed to be having this important conversation you requested.  Of course, things happen, none of us can control a traffic jam, but it was very disrespectful nonetheless.”

Ten minutes later, the same feeling of being disrespected about our delayed meeting time, explained and expressed again, this time half a mile from where we started our walk.  My disrespect of him was becoming a leitmotif.   Shortly after that, maybe a block and a half later, he expressed his feeling of being disrespected again.   The boy can’t help it.   The third time was the charm.    I snarled that he was perfectly right to feel disrespected, I don’t fucking respect him.  I recited the top five reasons why.  Starting with his unfathomable difficulty understanding the emotions raised in others by his need to argue every point, the smaller the better; his indefensible, dependable tone-deafness to the feelings of others.  

A very nervous fellow (he insisted his baseline nervousness is no more than a three, four at most, on a scale of one to ten), he was remarkably calm yesterday, as he pressed on, constantly turning the conversation toward minute, arguably disputable details and away from the larger point:  his reflex to provoke and then wildly defend himself, a tic that needs to be controlled if he expects us, against all odds, to remain friends.  

He was calm and collected and I was on the verge of exploding in anger as he calmly explained, for example, why he is more of an expert on depression and anxiety than I can ever be (and by the way, he definitely does not suffer from anxiety disorder, he told me that categorically)  he had been trying to spare me this.  You see, as an undergraduate forty years ago he worked in a mental hospital, for a year and a half, and had regular briefings from a famous doctor, and therefore, sorry old bean, I didn’t want to pull rank on you and rub your nose in it, but since you brought it up… 

It went on this way for almost an hour.   Note for note, tit for tat, making an equivalence at every turn, true or false as needed, distinguishing, reframing, focusing on a tiny, irrelevant detail at great length, contradicting, insisting, qualifying, comparing, rephrasing, using the passive voice, digressing slightly, sticking a few convoluted points that would have impressed a professional contortionist.  At one point he told me, point blank, when we disagreed about the timing of an unfortunately dashed off email he’d sent — “you’re lying”.   On that issue it turned out, looking at the gmail time stamps later, I was approximately as close to a true recollection as he was.    When I could bear no more of this ceaseless counterproductive cavil I snapped, pointed in the direction of his car and told him to take a walk, get in his fucking car and go home.  We were done, I told him, I was done.  Direct and nonviolent, but direct, and done.  I truly had nothing else to say.   I’d started with nothing to say and now had less than nothing to say.

My display of anger, which I’d managed to resist for almost forty minutes, seemed to give him a lift, odd to say, maybe it was the small moral victory he’d been craving — he became as conciliatory as he knows how to be.  He was relieved to see that I was finally calming down.   He assured me that he was capable of change, was going to change himself, fully intending to, and soon, he was back in therapy again.  He told me he would try to do better at recognizing the signs that he was making me angry, and promised to try to back off when he saw me getting very upset.   I told him it was a bit late to consider a friend’s feelings at that point, once he was already provoking his friend to anger.   He was undaunted, optimistic. “People can change,” he assured me, after his tour de force of immutability and well-fortified neurotic constancy.  

He implied that I was being hard-hearted to insist that an apology must contain a promise about future actions.   There I cannot yield.   It is a crucial component of a healing apology, real ownership of the hurtful thing done, acknowledgement of how that hurtful thing feels, sealed with a credible assurance that the behavior will not be repeated.   He would stand by his apology, although he couldn’t guarantee all of that, since so much of his hostility, if any (he wasn’t going to fall into the trap of stipulating to that) is apparently unconscious and therefore beyond his control, nonetheless I should believe his promise that he is sincerely working on changing himself, to become a better listener, not always provoking, being much less provocative, not that he was admitting he did provoke anyone, it was surely something he was completely unaware of about himself, if I even was right about it, which he had his doubts about, but since I seemed to believe that he was…

We spent a few senseless hours after that, talking in a more or less relaxed manner about a number of more mundane things, and then, as it was close to his bed time, he headed off  shortly after the sun went down.   As we parted, he played the love card, going for a hug.  I gave him one arm and told him that love is more than a word or a feeling, it’s the way you actually treat the people you love.

I am done being a lawyer, and trying to be patient in the face of reflexively defensive, often inept would-be amateur lawyers who insist on their right to keep arguing no matter what.  At least lawyers with the training and experience know, most of the time, when to fucking shut up.

A prayer, then:

Strive to be humble, never haughty,
Seek understanding, not strife    

Attack not, nor shall you counterattack, except to save a life.

When in the wrong, be remorseful, not aggrieved
Be not proud, but meek
Modest, not brazen
seek insight, not vindication,
Listen with your heart, become wise.

talk to your rebbe
friend
he will tell you the same thing

(please rise) 

There is no grinding like the Law

The relevant rule governing “retirement” for purposes of not paying the biennial $375 dues:

(g) Each registration statement filed pursuant to this section shall be accompanied by a registration fee of $375. No fee shall be required from an attorney who certifies that he or she has retired from the practice of law. For purposes of this section, the “practice of law” shall mean the giving of legal advice or counsel to, or providing legal representation for, particular body or individual in a particular situation in either the public or private sector in the State of New York or elsewhere, it shall include the appearance as an attorney before any court or administrative agency. An attorney is “retired” from the practice of law when, other than the performance of legal services without compensation, he or she does not practice law in any respect and does not intend ever to engage in acts that constitute the practice of law. For purposes of section 468-a of the Judiciary Law, a full-time judge or justice of the Unified Court System of the State of New York or of a court of any other state or of a federal court, shall be deemed “retired” from the practice of law. An attorney in good standing, at least 55 years old and with at least 10 years experience, who participates without compensation in an approved pro bono legal services program, may enroll as an “attorney emeritus.”

and does not intend ever to engage in acts that constitute the practice of law.

Which suggests retirement is final and irreversible.   On that ground I paid my dues every two years, though I haven’t practiced law more than a few times in the last decade.  

I was told by a bright man at the Office of Court Administration that coming out of retirement is easily done.  It is a simple process, though, apparently, a secret one.   You request a Rescind Waiver Form, fill it out, submit it along with the full biennial dues for that period, and take one Continuing Legal Education credit for each month going forward.  A matter of a few weeks to come out of retirement, no problem.

I told him that I had no doubt about what he’d told me but that, as a lawyer, I needed something in writing to that effect.   This is because if I acted relying on a statement of the rules he sent me in writing, I’d have an excellent defense if it ever came to that.   He obliged by sending this email, which is not part of any rule or contained in any on-line guide one can access:

A link to the registration rules can be found here: www.nycourts.gov/rules/chiefadmin/118.shtml

NYS does not have an inactive status as may be available in other jurisdictions.

The retirement certification may only be claimed if you do not practice law in New York or elsewhere and do not intend ever to engage in acts that constitute the practice of law.  If you meet the definition you may sign the retirement exemption and the biennial registration fee of $375 is waived.  As a retired attorney you would remain a duly admitted NY attorney and there would be no bar to you filing on a future registration as active – additionally, Part 118.1(g) allows retired attorneys to continue to perform legal services without compensation.  Therefore, since you remain a duly admitted attorney you would still be required to register every two years.

and do not intend ever to engage in acts that constitute the practice of law.

The devil cavorts in the legal details, yo.   The road to hell is paved with good intentions, they say, including, I suppose, the intention never to engage in acts that constitute the practice of law.