How bullies see the world

Bullies, because they have never felt safe, loved, or cherished, grow up supremely defensive, perpetually hurt, ashamed of their weakness and inconsolably angry. They were emotionally neglected, humiliated for ordinary human needs, bullied by someone they depended on when they were very young. These tiny victims grow up to see life through the eyes of a hurt child, a zero-sum game pitting the strong against the weak, a contest fated to end only in dominance or submission.

To berate and dismiss, or otherwise beat you, is to dominate you. To sincerely apologize to you when I see I have hurt you is to bend the knee in humiliated weakness. Bullies see a simplified black and white world, a series of grim transactions to be fought to victory or defeat. Victory feels fleetingly great, the agony of defeat is well-known and terrible to behold, particularly in a bully.

This inconsolable rage in the heart starts in the bully’s earliest life, continues year after year, making the young person harden himself against pain until finally he succumbs to sadism. The ability to dominate and bully people is not without its rewards in the world of business and politics, but it is a shit thing just the same. When a bully in control of others creates a culture of bullying, where only brutality in service to the bully is rewarded, it is a shit thing and often a deadly thing.

I just finished listening to the fascinating The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller. Though the book, in its first edition, was published in 1978, it ends with a seemingly prescient insight, though it addresses a perpetual human failing — the falling into angry mobs because the unbearable anguish of your life compels you to take out your rage on strangers, in the name of a belief system. Here is the very end of Alice Miller’s popular book:

A person who can honestly, and without self-deception, deal with his feelings has no need to disguise them with the help of ideologies. The basic similarity of the various nationalistic movements flourishing today reveals that their motives have nothing to do with the real interests of the people who are fighting and hating, but instead have very much to do with those people’s childhood histories.

The mistreatment, humiliation and exploitation of children is the same worldwide as is the means of avoiding the memory of it. Individuals who do not want to know their own truth collude in denial with society as a whole, looking for a common enemy on whom to act out their repressed rage. But as the inhabitants of this shrinking planet near the end of the twentieth century the danger inherent in self-deception is growing exponentially, and we can afford it less than ever. Fortunately, at the same time, we now have the tools we need to truly understand ourselves as we were and as we are.

For most bullies, the path away from sadism is too painful. What they have suffered as vulnerable children is too painful to seek insight into. They feel in control only when dominating others, as they were brutally dominated.

We learn, to nobody’s surprise, that as children Donald Trump and Charles Koch (born 1946 and 1935 respectively), both had driven, largely absent fathers who were brutal, intolerant and demanding, people who might fairly be called unloving pieces of shit. They were raised to believe that only the ruthless pursuit of money and power made them worthy of love (which it is unlikely either of them ever found in later life.)

Fred Koch was an admirer of the Nazis, he was introduced to Hitler before the war and Koch Industries built the oil refineries that the Luftwaffe would need for their high octane fuel to lead Hitler’s blitzkreig. Fred Trump was arrested as a young man at a Ku Klux Klan rally in Queens. Fred Koch was one of the founders of the John Birch Society, the lunatic fascist fringe of the far-right in the years after Brown v. Board of Education made public school segregation illegal in the U.S., the Birchers responded by calling for the Chief Justice’s impeachment. Fred Trump took millions in tax subsidies to build post-war working class housing, passed most of it on to his children tax-free through various frauds (read the New York Times investigative story about Frederick Christ Trump’s elaborate tax fraud and tax evasion schemes, a factual article never challenged in court [1]) and kept his housing developments racially segregated (no Puerto Ricans either, thank you) until the Fair Housing Act and the federal court forced him to stop discriminating. Characteristically, Fred Trump, and his second choice protegée. Donald [2], admitted no wrongdoing and claimed victory in the case, although “minorities” were now able to rent Trump apartments.

Charles was the second oldest of four Koch brothers (he and David beat the other two in a bitter, decades-long court battle for the right to Koch Industries), Donald was the third of four Trump children. Fred Koch believed his sons should fight it out, to see who was fit to be the boss. When they were toddlers Fred Koch, who was rarely at home, hired a strict German nanny to make sure the boys all used the toilet at the same time every day, and she raised young Charles, his older brother Fred Jr. and the babies, until the Nazis took France and she returned to the homeland to celebrate with the Fuhrer. Fred Trump openly favored his older, brighter son, a golden boy named Fred Jr., beloved of everybody. Young Donald didn’t know what to do with himself until he got a little brother to bully. It beat the hell out of his life before he had a weak baby brother to practice sadism on.

Bullies see the world as a desperate fight not to be injured and their main weapon is attack. They find people weaker than themselves to prey on, if someone shows fear, they attack. The way not to be bullied is to stand up to a bully, though few of us consistently have this ability. In the case of Donald Trump, any time he has been forcefully opposed he has backed down. We saw this at several key moments during his time in office, even at the very end, while vehemently denying his electoral loss, when he backed down from replacing the Attorney General with a man who would lie to confirm Trump’s lie about a stolen election, after a three hour shouting match, in the face of a unified threat from leaders of the Department of Justice and his loyal White House Counsel.

The bully as an individual is one thing, and sickening enough. The bully as a mob, a thousand, or a million strong, gathered to take out their limitless hurt and rage on those who can’t defend themselves, an ongoing tragedy of human history. Insight might be extremely painful for a bully to attain, but it is probably less painful than being tortured, with your neck in a noose, at the mercy of your fellow enraged bullies.

[1]

In spite of this threat, a brilliant example of the fiercest legal puffery money can buy, inserted in a very droll matter by the Grey Lady, between two paragraphs detailing the fraud with great specificity:

[2]

Freddie, Fred Trump Jr., (Mary Trump’s father) had disappointed his father with a lack of ruthlessness, demonstrated dramatically when he replaced drafty windows in freezing Trump apartments in a complex he was managing without forcing the tenants to take their powerful landlord to court. It cost Frederick Christ Trump millions to replace the windows, (for no reason!} and was the decisive blow against his chosen son, Fred Jr. as his successor.

Fred Sr. realized he’d have to train the vain little juvenile delinquent to run the Trump empire, once the kid proved that, even though he had little business smarts, he was a ruthless killer who’d do whatever was necessary to increase the family fortune. Fred Jr. ended his days drinking himself to death as a custodian in one of the Trump buildings. His family would be cheated by the other Trumps when the patriarch finally died, naturally. Donald would finally be able to defy his father by selling off all his properties, in express violation of his stated wishes. He sold his father’s real estate empire for well under its appraised value, naturally.

R.I.P. Rom

Rom Rosenblum was my dear friend Howie Katz’s best friend. Howie, a man with an irrepressible sense of humor, was never known to have said a bad word about anyone. Howie died the gentle, early death of a person beloved of God, he was stopped at a red light, his foot on the brake, and his life winked out like a candle flame extinguished by a whisper, his passenger unaware until the light changed and he said “Howie, Howie…”

Rom went to the airport to pick up Howie’s daughter for the funeral. “I’m the adult,” he told me, “her father’s best friend, who held her as a baby, I’m like her uncle, I’m supposed to be comforting her, but as soon as I saw her I just started crying, and she’s trying to comfort me. I couldn’t stop crying.” They both no doubt bawled together on that ride back to the city.

Rom was a beautiful soul, kind, funny, a great musician. I used the past tense because I got a text, out of the blue, that Rom died of pancreatitis a few days ago. I wish I’d known he was sick, I certainly would have called him. We might even have had a laugh. No matter how dark the situation, I think Rom could find a way to laugh about it.

Rom was about five years older than me. We met when I was seven or eight. Rather, he performed for my little sister and me when I was that age. It’s a story I can now never confirm with anyone, my father, who knew Rom well, was an appreciator of Rom’s quick, irreverent wit, and who Rom thought highly of, is gone. Now Rom is gone too. My first encounter with him was at a weekend convention of teenagers my father was supervising, held at a big hotel in Hampton Bays, Long Island, either November 1963, starting the day JFK was murdered, or perhaps the following fall. My father, a high school social studies teacher, had a second job as the director of the Nassau-Suffolk region of a Zionist youth movement for teenagers called Young Judaea. If my math is right, Rom was probably about the youngest of the high school-aged Young Judaeans at that convention.

He was walking with a cane, having injured himself, I always assumed, playing ice hockey, a game he loved. To my sister and me he looked a bit like a young John Lennon, which puts this convention the year after the JFK assassination, since no American kids our age had ever yet heard of John, let alone knew what looked like in November 1963. I recall the tall, skinny kid with the glasses and the attitude, slouching on a couch outside the dining room, where everybody else was still occupied. When he saw my younger sister (she was five or six) and me he went into a performance, pretending he was drunk (or maybe not pretending? he kept slurring the ad line “sure didn’t taste like tomato juice…”) and using the cane as a hockey stick to reenact the action on the ice, as he called out the exciting play by play of a sport I never understood “Giacomin with the save, wait, slap shot, SCORE!” and so forth. Eddie Giacomin, I confirmed years later, was a goaltender for the NY Rangers, the only NYC hockey team at the time.

My sister and I found the young Rom delightful, entertaining, as clever and hilarious as Peter Sellers, who he also slightly resembled. Here’s what he looked like in more recent years:

Our paths crossed over the years, as my father continued his involvement with the youth group and eventually became director of their summer camp in Barryville, NY. It was at this camp. in the summer of 1969, that I ran into Bruce Rosenblum, the guy who’d entertained my younger sister and me with his madcap improvisations years earlier. By then he was going by the name of Peanuts — on his way to Rom. His was riding in the back of a small, open, flatbed truck with a large group of other high school seniors at the camp, the overloaded truck negotiating a twisting road, when the truck flipped over, flinging its occupants, causing numerous injuries. Peanuts spent some time in the hosptial, I recall and came back from the hospital on crutches. He was no less stylish and cool, clomping around the camp on crutches than he had been with his cane.

A few years later he was in Israel, a new immigrant, serving time in the Israeli army with his buddy Howie Katz. Howie was part of a tank crew that wound up in a firefight in the Sinai desert during the Yom Kippur War. I believe Rom was in the same crew. So was Don Tocker, the guy who’d go on to be the first director of the new kibbutz they were all founding members of. Suddenly, seeing something, Don yelled “jump!” and they all leapt off the tank. The tank blew up after a direct hit from an Egyptian artillery shell. The entire crew miraculously escaped unharmed. I met Howie shortly afterwards on that brand new kibbutz in the Aravah desert, in the valley across from the mountains of Jordan. Howie was my kibbutz father, and nobody ever had a better father than Howie. We became lifelong friends.

Howie eventually became disillusioned with life on the kibbutz, a small town where people gave him a hard time, among other things, for walking around everywhere naked. I don’t know much about Rom’s reasons, but after a year, or maybe more, he too left the kibbutz, and eventually returned to the US. They both settled in the Bay Area, Howie in San Francisco (where he and his wife raised two children in the heart of the Castro, the gay district of SF, during the AIDS epidemic, a time of great human rights battles over the “right to be gay”) and Rom settled across the bay, in East Bay, near Berkeley.

Over the years I maintained some contact with Rom. Any time I was in California I made a point of getting together with him. We played music together a few times, the first being at a Halloween party where, as part of an impromptu band, all in costume, Rom (a brilliant keyboard player) played an excellent harmonica and sang, and I played a borrowed electric guitar behind him. I can’t overstate what a great musician he was. He was also a recording engineer. I visited him in East Bay once, we played a bit, and then Howie came by in his truck to take me back to San Francisco. Howie requested “All Along the Watchtower” and Rom, in about a minute, put together a great loop of that simple vamp. We played variations on the theme for a couple of minutes, Howie beaming at us the whole time.

After Howie died suddenly, Rom, who was in agony, comforted me on the phone when I called to express anguish about inadverently alerting a difficult former friend of Howie’s who’d angrily written Howie off, who was now heading to Howie’s funeral and might upset Howie’s widow. I asked Rom for his help. “Don’t worry about it, it won’t be a problem. It’s not your fault you that talked to his mother, it will be fine,” said Rom, “There’s nothing you did, or can do, nothing I need to do, everything will be fine. Don’t worry, we’re all adults, it will be fine.” And it was.

A couple of years later Howie’s daughter asked a friend and me to do the music for her wedding. We were honored, it was a thrill, and very hard work leading up to the wedding, particularly for me, the entire rhythm section, in real-time, on one guitar. The guy I played with was very nervous, unsure if I was up to the task he’d set of me holding down the entire accompaniment for him. I had to arrange and learn each tune perfectly, the bass, embellishments, each chord, perfectly in time and at the right place. Otherwise we’d be embarrassed as his melodies crashed over an unsteady one man backing band.

I was not worried, but I knew I had to keep working my ass off to get ready. A few days before the wedding I spoke to Rom, who was officiating at the wedding with his wife Debby, both of them duly empowered by the State of California. As always, Rom urged me not to worry. He’d bring his keyboard and back us up, he would need no rehearsal could easily play off the cuff whatever we’d taken days to learn. It was a great relief that he’d round out the band, it instantly took a lot of weight off my shoulders. The plan was quickly nixed, it was deemed improper for the rabbi to be in the band. Taking Rom’s lead, I did not protest. I played 8-10 hours a day in the days before the wedding and mastered playing all the parts. The music came off without a hitch.

Rom and Debby performed a beautiful wedding ceremony. There was something otherwordly, and at the same time so fundamentally sane and perfect, in two great humanists, a married couple, ushering a young couple into marriage. Very joyous. Rom’s face, as he lovingly hugged everybody at the wedding, stays in my memory. It was the second to last time I ever saw him.

In this troubled world, people who seem slightly above it, more sensitive, more aware, gentler, more generous, more understanding and amused, readier to amuse, than most people, give the rest of us hope. The human is capable of this, and we have examples living among us. They inspire us to be better. Rom was one of the best of us.

How Not to Be Depressed

Fuck if I know.

The only insight I have, and this took me years to really take in, is not to make depression more bitter by blaming yourself for feeling hopeless. This is the trap of depression — you feel depressed because you believe you don’t have what it takes, you lack the qualities that everyone else has, you are a loser, too weak to do what everyone else manages to do. That is the fucking depression talking, trust me. If you feel depressed, it is burden enough without adding unforgiveness toward yourself. It is also useful to remember that depression almost always passes, nuance, taste and color return.

As for good reasons for depression, there are currently many. At the top of the list is the accelerating pandemic, a wildly proliferating virus much cannier and more adaptable than the puny earthlings fighting over how to fight it, as the planet plummets toward ecosystem apocalypse. From the demented, “transactional” former president’s point of view, and millions in his cult, the more Americans who die of Covid-19 under Biden the better. It will prove that Biden is a loser, working with the Chinese Communist Party and Burisma Energy to kill as many white Christian Americans as possible and let George Soros replace them with brown fake Americans dumb enough to vote for elite pedophile cannibals. Luckily for Trump, he’s got a 6-3 Supreme Court majority poised to make it much harder for the Biden administration to fight this relentlessly morphing, deadly worldwide disease. US Covid death numbers are climbing every day, as a burned out health care force, on the front lines now for more than two years, in a war with no seeming end, starts to call in sick and quit. Talk about fucking depressing.

Any chance of justice after a president who lost reelection by a large margin repeatedly lies about a stolen “landslide victory” then unsuccessfully twists the arms of election officials to change results, then tries to get the DOJ to announce fake fraud investigations while his henchmen in Congress do the rest, then executes the elaborate, extra-constitutional “Green Bay Sweep” to sweep aside certified, recounted election results, based on what Ted Cruz yelled were “unprecedented allegations of massive electoral fraud,” before he unleashes a whipped up crowd, and everything else the defeated never-say-die motherfucker does daily? The Attorney General announced finally that the DOJ is very seriously considering doing something to restore faith in American justice, as long as the DOJ can convince people that it has no political agenda, in a society where even basic safety precautions during an unprecedented modern pandemic are weaponized for partisan advantage (by only one party, boys and girls).

Even Mike Pence, a Trump loyalist who embarrassed actual obsequious miniature poodles with his stone-faced ass-licking of his master, realized the game was over prior to the “Green Bay Sweep” on January 6. He consulted far-right former federal judge/Republican operative J. Michael Luttig about John Eastman’s absurd interpretation of the Twelfth Amendment which supposedly gives the sitting Vice President the right to overturn the results of any election that does not keep him in office. Even Luttig, a man who defended as proper Bill Barr’s meddling to get insane Trump fanatic Michael Flynn’s guilty pleas for perjury thrown out, told Pence not to do it. So did former VP Dan Quayle, in no uncertain terms.

Here’s the kicker: after Pence broke the bad news to Trump, that he could not hold up the certification of Biden electors, based on a lie — no matter how big — and a crackpot legal theory, Trump was furious. To Pence’s reported horror and anger, on the evening of January 5th Trump released a press statement announcing that Pence was fully on board with the plan to force another fraud investigation before Biden could be certified as the duly elected president.

Think about just the Pence angle of this hundred ring shit show MAGA seditious conspiracy circus. A crass yet obsequious far-right Christian crusader who had taxpayers fund Gay Conversion Therapy in Indiana (fuck the teen suicides, Jesus said to cure ’em!), an unlikable, charisma-free smudge of Santorum put in office by the connivance and funding of Charles Koch and company (like equally disgusting, suddenly invisible Mike Pompeo, who started as the Kochs’ personal Congressman from Topeka), Pence deserves whatever fate karma might have in store for his type. Still, when he decided to do the right thing, to follow the law, Trump set him up as a traitor by publishing a lie that made him seem like a suddenly vacillating liar too weak to do what he’d promised. That’s why the mob wanted to hang him as a cowardly traitor, because he’d chickened out at the last second, because he didn’t save America from the illegitimate brown and yellow hoards. When Trump sent a motorcade to evacuate Pence from the besieged Capitol, Pence declined to get in, fearing, not unreasonably, that his boss had taken out a hit on him. What the fuck?

We learn that the Fulton County DA spoke to Trump’s lawyers last month, and Trump reacted in fury that was then hard to understand, since nobody knew about the meeting with Trump lawyers, outside of the DA, the lawyers and Trump. The only sticking point in prosecuting Trump for that well-known attempt to cajole, persuade, threaten and otherwise get Georgia officials to “find 11,780 Trump votes”, we are cautioned, is the question of Trump’s intent.

What if Trump actually believed he’d really been cheated? What if he sincerely didn’t believe Barr, Chris Krebs and everybody else he appointed, and who were soon out of his government shortly after telling Trump there’d been virtually no voter fraud in 2020? I went to law school and practiced law, and I still don’t understand this lack of intent business, unless it goes to an insanity defense for the former president.

So, yeah, there are countless reasons to feel as depressed as I did opening my eyes this morning. Unless your depression is so severe that you feel life is not worth living (in which case, exert yourself to seek help) my best suggestion is get out of bed, use the bathroom, brush your teeth, take a shower, get yourself walking. Much of soldiering through depressing times is just getting yourself walking, and connecting with others, however you can, no matter how how horrific the prospect of being in contact with others may seem. It is very easy to feel alone in this, and very important to stay connected, as best you can. My two copeks on how to endure any perfectly reasonable depression you are feeling right now in these exceptionally depressing times.

The supremacy of a story

As illustrated by the NY Times framing of the rash of Omicron in Puerto Rico (see previous two posts) the way you tell a story makes all the difference in what the people who hear your story believe and what they take away from it.

One frame on the spike in covid cases in PR might focus on the poverty and lack of humane and efficient health care for millions of American citizens, including, conspicuously, natives of Puerto Rico. One frame might, as my doctor friend does, stress that Omicron is rarely a serious health threat to vaccinated people and that breakthrough infections are to be expected with a strain so infectious. There are multiple ways to tell the same story. Which version of the story you believe will determine how you feel about the things described by the storyteller.

Nothing humans do is done without a convincing story behind it. We have a strong need to believe in our good intentions, pure motives, righteousness, that we are doing things for a good and sometimes even noble reason. Only a sociopath acts without the need to justify himself. For the rest of us, a story we believe in is necessary for any action or inaction we take. Some stories speak to our best impulses, others to our worst, but any story we truly believe can motivate us, for better or worse.

People who storm the Capitol, battle the police, chant about hanging the Vice President, shooting the Speaker of the House in the head, defecate in the halls of Congress, do it because they truly believe the intolerable story that they’ve had their legitimate presidential choice stolen from them. The supremely infuriating story of a stolen election, a rigged system in state after state riddled with widespread systemic fraud, massively fraudulent results — a stolen landslide victory — hidden even by corrupt, smelly, traitorous RINOs, is told to them over and over by everyone they trust.

It is not even a matter for them of suspending disbelief, or asking how so many Republicans won in 2020 on the same ballots Joe Biden and his co-conspirators rigged to steal only the presidency from the rightful winner. They will never ask why Republican state officials and federal officials appointed by Trump confirmed that the election with the largest turnout in American history was also one of the most secure, that the incidence of voter fraud was, as always, infinitesimal.

The story you believe as you gather with fellow faithful patriots, watching a blood curdling betrayal video on a giant screen and getting fired up to storm the Capitol and Stop the Steal, covers all of that. The lack of actual evidence for your point of view, or that it may appear illogical in light of the facts, is only the final proof of how cunning and vicious the evil, inhuman, traitorous enemy is!!!

We humans are simply this way, and we are probably the only creatures who act based on a story that tells us how to see things and what our duties are. Few other species march off in long columns to kill and die based on a fervent belief in the story that Jesus died on the cross to cleanse the world of sin and violence.

I’m reading a fascinating book, The Drama of the Gifted Child, by a psychiatrist of mysterious origins who wrote as Alice Miller. It is in part about the stories told to justify all sorts of harmful things done to children, often by generally well-meaning parents. Depending on who’s point of view you look at things from, you will emerge with very different stories about a family dynamic. This framing inevitably reminds me of my father’s story about me. Here’s a snapshot, told to me from my father’s pre-deathbed point of view:

You are a very angry person with an explosive fucking temper and a mouth like a fucking toilet bowl. You’ve always been troubled and challenging and had an irrational hatred of authority. From the time you came home from the hospital as a newborn you stared at me with those big, unblinking, black, accusing eyes, you judged me harshly from the very beginning. Nothing I ever did was right, no sacrifice I made was ever appreciated, you always just angrily attacked me. You were “born with a hard-on against the world”, and since people can’t change their essential nature, no matter how much they delude themselves that they can, it was preordained that you and I should have been lifelong adversaries engaged in an existential war that could never end.

A hard story to swallow for me. It always was and always will be. It leaves out many important parts of my character and personality, any progress I’ve made in my life, any valuable lesson I’ve ever learned, reduces me to one intolerable trait justifying an angry reaction in turn. More ridiculous still is the self-prophecy aspect of this story, the more forcefully the story is told the more it comes true. Anger is predictable for a child insistently told that even as a newborn baby he was simply an angry, challenging little bastard and will always be treated as such.

Telling me variations on this story over and over did nothing to help my father, outside of making him always feel justified in fighting me on everything. The simplistic story did nothing to help me. It only hurt us both, and it hurt my mother and my sister. But there it was, preferable, by a million miles, to the awful story my father finally told me as he was dying:

My life was basically over by the time I was two. I never experienced love as a child, only brutal punishment for things I didn’t do and fear. I grew up in terror, hungry all the time, for food and for things I didn’t even know what they were. I finally exceeded the low expectations placed on me as a stupid boy and started a family of my own. The anger I expressed toward you, you have to understand, it was really nothing personal. I’d have done the same to any child of mine. Nothing you could have done would have changed the story I believed, and I am so sorry to have put that burden on you and your sister, the burden of having an immature, angry horse’s ass as a father.

Imagine how painful and threatening that would have been for any father to feel and try to work through prior to having a few final days to consider his life as he was dying.

On the other hand, and contradicting my father’s undisturbed fifty year story about me, I was a peaceful and supportive listener as my father was speaking his last few hours of thoughts. As he catalogued his regrets I told him that he should have no regrets, that he’d done the best he could, that if he could have done better he would have.

My calmness was possible only because I’d gone through a course of sometimes excruciating psychoanalysis that left me at times feeling like all my skin had been peeled off and I was only nerve endings. The only memorable benefit of this painful process was that, at a certain point, only months before my father discovered his death was less than a week away, I was able to concretely grasp that my father’s unyielding story about me had been told because he needed to tell it. He told it for his benefit, needed to believe it in order to live, that he could not change it and that if he was capable of doing any better he surely would have. This understanding allowed me to take a step away from my anger at my father, since I finally understood he couldn’t figure out how to do any better, pitiful as that also is, and that my understandable anger toward him was most painful to myself. I was able to let some of it go, and not a moment too soon.

I sometimes think of this calm ending of the long war with my father as a kind of mutual blessing. I thought so more at the time than I do now, fifteen years later. His admission, hours before he died, that he felt me reaching out many times over the years to try to make peace (I had), but that his emotional immaturity had prevented him from taking a step toward me, gave me valuable validation that I had not been the belligerent cartoon he always insisted I was. He saw his inability to ever compromise or admit fault as the mark of an unforgivable asshole, but he hoped for forgiveness anyway. Easing his suffering however I could, short of lying, helping make his death as gentle as possible, was my main thought as I listened, so it was easy to make him feel forgiven, for whatever help that might have been to him at the end.

Knowing all this about myself, and having lived how an insane story can be pressed quite rationally and reasonably, stated as fact and embraced by others with cult-like fealty, I accept my own strong, uncomfortable feelings when someone unfairly blames me entirely for something that is only, in small part, my fault.

Here’s my story now: I take the burden of things I do wrong and do my best to make amends, but I don’t carry the burden of a story that paints me as the entire problem, to make someone else feel better about their story. That shit, you understand, is for the birds. I simply can’t do it. Neither should anyone else.

Brave New World

Comedy Monster Jim Gaffigan made an interesting distinction that illuminates a lot about our current social crisis. He differentiated between being old and being like “no cellphone in high school” old. I am both, as anyone born before about 1990 is. To prior generations, the idea of having a super computer in your pocket, capable of Flash Gordon-style video conferences, was something out of 1950s science fiction, yet there it is, in my shirt pocket as I type.

Has the smart phone changed the world? You betcha. More than the printing press, telegraph, telephone, radio and television changed the world? You betcha, since it makes irreversible changes instantly, simultaneously, in real time, constantly tweaked and updated for billions of us puny earthlings.

The technology of smart phones has released limitless wealth for many smart business people, many of them now powerful, influential billionaires, their fortunes derived from selling targeted ad demographics based on what they learn about the preferences and personal habits of actual individuals.

Printers made a lot of money selling new printed books, and some newspaper owners got very rich, the latter from ad dollars as much as from people buying newspapers. Telegraph and telephone magnates surely got rich. Radio, a populist game changer, was another gold mine. TV made many people very rich, also based on massive ad dollars spent on this powerfully influential new entertainment technology that instantly reached millions. But none of these was on the scale of these current day billionaires who get rich by monetizing the private needs, wants and weaknesses of billions of people using the internet and the smart phone.

How the technology, carried around in a pocket by billions of us, changes the way we interact is what I am thinking of. There is little chance for real nuance in a text, LOL! The loss of this nuance, to me, is a big deal. I spent years making myself a better writer, learning to choose and rearrange my words carefully. I’ve spent a lot of time making my writing a clear and accurate expression of my thoughts, feelings and observations. It is a certain kind of satisfying work, though unappealing work to many, sitting over something you’re writing and methodically revising it to make it clearer and clearer.

An average writer sending an informational or opinionated text dashes off some words, and an acronym or two, with every expectation of being understood. ROTFLMAO is one you used to see, instead of hearing the sound of your friend laughing, watching her rolling on the floor, you know, her ass literally falling off she’s laughing so hard.

Facial expressions, eye contact, body language, tone of voice, irony — all impossible to discern in any but the most skilled text message. The world of interpersonal communication, the world itself, has radically changed, in less than twenty years.

I know, I’m an old fart and there is probably not even a point to registering the things I am trying to express now. It is surely the kind of nuance that we’ve lost that makes no difference at all to anyone raised without it.

Why quibble about a thumbs up being the same as saying “I like the way you phrased that, very sly” with a wink, a pat or an eye roll? Thumbs up! Like. Nothing ambiguous about it, I thought it was cool.

I text and email my friends all the time, sometimes it’s the only contact we have outside of seeing each other at long intervals (now that we have this endless Democrat [sic] plague upon us, a new Trump-resistant variant of the original “Kung Flu”) but to me, even without the eye contact, body language, facial expressions, talking to them on the phone is almost always preferable to the linear process of sending notes back and forth.

In third grade we passed notes, written on slips of paper, to people we wanted to talk to. During lunch break we got to talk. Back in class we passed notes that were not allowed to be passed. We’d be busted for passing notes sometimes, and would have to pretend to be sorry.

Today it seems to be largely passing notes, purely linear back and forths instead of conversations that can turn into discussions where we actually learn something new about somebody or something else. The other regrettable feature is the linear nature of texts, they focus solely on the matter at hand. It strikes me like the difference between googling a source for a term paper, and including a link as a footnote, and reading a book that leads you to other books that give you information you didn’t know was important.

I am old school, I know, a dying breed. I like to listen, I like to talk, I like to bring in divergent topics related to something I hear someone say. I like the idea of learning, shedding light, having it shed for me, gaining what used to be called insights.

Insight is in short supply in a knee jerk world of instant thumbs up or thumbs down. That business is from the Coliseum when the mob indicated if they wanted a vanquished gladiator killed or spared. It is the same today, friend, “unfriend”, have a nice day.

I love a good talk. I understand that conversation is a dying art, in an age when it is so much easier to tap a few keys and wait for a usually instant reply. We are programed to respond to our phones right away. It saves time, yes, but saves it for what? Time with those we care about is really the only real wealth we have.

To me, a conversation can be magic. A text is only a parlor trick that more than a billion people do billions of times a day. We can see what happens to the world when conversation, and the ability to discuss nuance, and problems that are complex, is flattened into a yes/no computer process that ends in a thumbs up or a thumbs down. LOL!

Rolling on the floor laughing…hey, wait! Where the hell’s my ass??!!!

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas

On the eve of the birth of Jesus, believed by many millions worldwide to be the Messiah, Son of God, Prince of Peace, I’d like to wish the baby a very happy life. His story is an awesome, terrible story. He was born into a world stubbornly impervious to his wisdom, angry about his preaching on love, treating his best ideas for a moral life as revolutionary heresy and nailing him to a cross for a slow, cruelly painful death. It is hard to feel anything but great empathy for a baby born to live this life. To all who celebrate, a very merry Christmas, a happy, healthy Christmas to you, as my grandmother would say. Now a few words on how the teachings of Jesus have been wielded for evil purposes by cynics whose love of Jesus is highly suspect.

There is regular ignorance, which is simply not knowing anything about something. If the conversation suddenly turns to ballet, I will be mostly listening, since I’m basically ignorant about the subject. I know nothing about ballet, aside from the names of a few superstar dancers from many decades ago. There was a photo of one of them, Edward Villella, in LIFE magazine, that impressed me when I was a skinny adolescent, and caused me to increase my number of daily pushups. The guy was captured at the height of his leap, suspended in air, high above the ground, torso a knot of muscles, legs strung with what looked like steel cables. Here you go:

Edward Villella - Founding Artistic Director of Miami City ...

So there is ordinary ignorance, which is nothing to worry about, really, since you can always ask questions, learn about something and cease being ignorant, if you ever feel the need. Then there is a much more destructive kind of ignorance, pugnacious ignorance. It is ignorance with an attitude, provocative fighting ignorance that wants to make you mad enough to say or do something stupid so they can beat the snot out of you or kill you.

Pugnacious ignorance is supremely useful for guys like Charles Koch, or Donald J. Trump, who use crowds of excitable, pugnaciously ignorant people like I use kleenex when I have a head cold. Koch, it turns out, just like he did with the “spontaneous” “grassroots” radical right Tea Party-Freedom Caucus that arose to angrily oppose the last Democratic president, funded anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine and anti-mask rallies all over the country, to galvanize resistance to government “tyranny” and get traffic flowing on the highways again, burning oceans of lucrative gasoline [1]. Most of the thousands of Americans currently dying of Covid every week embrace this freedom to resist “tyranny.” In every “anarchist jurisdiction” where a damned Democrat radical had the final say, the pugnaciously ignorant story is that these freedom-hating, anti-religious Commies were forcing tyrannical so-called health mandates on people that were really all about depriving them of their God-given liberty to do whatever they feel like doing. Bring God and Jesus into it, you know, and you can really seal the deal, as our top psychopaths have learned.

Jesus, of course, it is widely believed, was God’s son, is God’s son and the world celebrates his birthday tomorrow. In the New Testament Jesus is a gentle friend of the poor and the meek and protector of the helpless. Not a very useful Jesus for obscenely wealthy autocrats to weaponize for their own ends, not at all! So now tens of millions of Americans faithfully believe that Jesus loves freedom, the right to carry assault weapons, the right to defy health precautions, a strong military, militarized police and paid firemen. The rest of the government, for the most part, Jesus believes, according to wealthy American preachers, is a bunch of anti-freedom haters who won’t even let you say “Merry Christmas” to each other any more because, and this is a key point, they hate Jesus Christ. Just like the Jews hated Jesus, just like the Muslims, who took up swords against good Christian defenders of the faith who went on crusades to Muslim lands to put infidels to the sword.

I’m not here to pick a fight with anyone on the eve of the birth of the Prince of Peace. I am a big fan of Jesus, the man of peace who, as he was being arrested, to be crucified, told his followers to put down their swords. This was right after one of the Romans who came to arrest him had his ear slashed off by one of Jesus’s followers. Jesus picked up the ear and miraculously reattached it to the Roman’s head. On this detail all of the Gospels agree (even though they vary widely in most other details). Hard not to love that Jesus, I’d say. Talk about practicing what you preach and loving thine enemies.

The problem with any religion is not the highest ideals of the religion, which can be mobilized among the faithful to do wonderful things, but the lowest impulses that can be called forth in the name of defending the holy. It’s not a religion, of course (though in a way it is) but corporatism, embraced by many of our wealthiest, most influential Americans, believes corporations have the same rights as all other persons. They have immortal souls, you understand.

Corporatism is another massively influential belief system that encourages humanity’s lowest impulses. A corporate “person,” though brilliant and strategic, has no conscience, therefore is capable of anything in pursuit of profits. Think of the difference between an armed human sentry and a deadly robot sentry who instantly directs deadly force at any movement. Dead workers, a ravaged ecosystem, child cancer clusters downstream from a factory? Externalities. This is the unfortunate downside of corporatism, some must die that others may live very, very, very well. You must factor these externalities into your budget, since sometimes they will cost the corporation a pile of copeks. Otherwise, like Jesus always said, wealth is the only true blessing of God. Health? Not as much. Wealth is the real test of a blessed life. Hallelujah.

As a teenager wrestling with the question of the existence of God in a world of massive brutality and injustice, a world that ends in death for each of us, and wondering whether God is merely “a concept by which we measure our pain,” I thought of an image that resonates with me still. If we defend God’s goodness in the face of evil, and evil there is in this world, aplenty (why else crucify a teacher instructing people to love each other as they love themselves?) then here is an explanation as likely as it is not.

God gave us all Free Will [2], defenders of God’s mercy in the face of murderous greed, genocides and hate crimes teach, and if we use it for evil ends, the fault is our’s, not God’s. Still, why doesn’t an all-powerful, loving God simply stop shit like the regular slaughter of innocents?

God is now very, very old, and He has watched for millennia as the most evil humans persecute everyone else out of their own lust for unlimited profit and power. At seventeen I concluded that humanity had finally broken God’s heart, that He was now in heaven weeping, unable to even look at what has become of His loving creation.

What does God do on Christmas Eve? He weeps, with Jesus, no longer a baby, but a full-grown man who was killed in the most vicious way imaginable. For the unpardonable crime of teaching love, you understand.

Merry Christmas.

[1]

A new report titled “How The Koch Network Hijacked The War On COVID” reveals how a right-wing network linked to billionaire Charles Koch has played a key role in fighting public health measures during the pandemic, including mask and vaccine mandates, contact tracing and lockdowns. The groups include the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), Donors Trust, the Hoover Institution and Hillsdale College. We speak about the contents of the report with co-author Walker Bragman, who says the right-wing network’s attack on public health is designed to “maintain corporate profit at the expense of human life.”

source

[2]

I can’t help but think of Free Will as the same sort of term as Free Market. In each case, we possess as much freedom as the accident of our birth allows for.

Fear vs. Anger

It’s an obvious point that fear makes us feel vulnerable and weak and anger makes us feel righteous and strong. When you are afraid you are at your most helpless, an extremely hard feeling to sit with. Anger, on the other hand, makes you feel mobilized against an intolerable threat. Frustrated by feeling helpless in the face of terror, or shame, it is common to lash out in anger. The nice thing about anger is that it makes you feel justified, and it is much easier to feel than fear. The object of anger is not as important as the certainty that you’re right to be mad, a safe target of anger is often selected, even if that person has little to do with why you’re angry, or afraid.

Neuroscientists have done research into how anger works on a biological level. There is a center of the brain, the insula, that is engaged whenever you have a strong emotion. The insula is what makes you unable to find fault in the person you are infatuated with. It glows when you have a creative idea or are doing something you love to do. It is a very important part of the brain. It lights up when you’re angry. So they attach electrodes, get people angry, and watch their ability to analyze reality become disabled. All the angry person can see, while the insula is engaged, is their anger. It is literally impossible, while angry, to see another person’s point of view, to take in an explanation, to see any gradations in human experience. You are certain of only one thing– that you are completely right to be mad as hell.

The most widespread form of human genius is our ability to rationalize anything we feel strongly about. A glance at politics shows us this in an instant. If you supported a candidate who lost, that loss had to have been because of massive fraud and you have every right to be mad as hell and do whatever it takes to restore justice. Anything can be weaponized, it turns out — science’s best precautions against a new, highly infectious, deadly disease can be turned into infuriating provocations, designed by evil people solely to tyrannize and having nothing to do with public safety. When anger rules fear seems to disappear and the world becomes black and white, simple, good vs. evil. The thing you are afraid of does not go anywhere, but your fear is masked by the energetic righteousness of anger.

Demagogues have always known this and used it to get and keep power. I think of the nobility of eastern Europe, born booted and spurred to mercilessly ride the peasants, the serfs, the poor and the powerless. Whenever the mood of the masses was turning ugly the lords and barons set the mobs on the Jews, who were said to be to blame for all evil in the world. A nice drunken pogrom makes the mob feel much better, stronger, more powerful. It allows them to blow off steam by beating, raping, burning, killing and looting. It does nothing to give them any measure of control over their own miserable lives, but for a while it is apparently intoxicating to join others to do violence to people you hate. Think of mobs in this country, doing the exact same thing to a succession of immigrant groups (and indigenous ones), most commonly and consistently to Blacks. Think of the myth of White Supremacy, the massive pogrom in Tulsa, Oklahoma a hundred years ago, the popular rage of local powerless whites incensed that a prosperous Black middle class had emerged in that oil boom town.

Think of someone you love, who is seized by fear. Fear of death is a big one at the moment, and it is entirely rational to fear death right now, during a deadly pandemic that is the perfect accompaniment to the worldwide rise of angry autocrats who lead violent mass movements. Was Berlin in 1932 a fearful place? Our moment in history is not that different, but let’s focus on the personal. Take any fear, the fear of not being loved. It hurts like hell to feel it, and it feels unfair, like a betrayal, when someone close to you withdraws empathy. What did we do to deserve having sympathy and consideration taken from us? Painful as hell. The predictable response to fear and loss is anger. There is a theory, that sounds reasonable to me, that depression is anger turned against the self. Anger and depression is a cocktail as potent as a deadly pandemic amid a worldwide march toward fascism. Don’t drink it, though, it will fucking kill you.

Parent and child 2

How does a child recover from repeated violent betrayal by its mother? That is a question I don’t have an answer to. The harm this brutal mistreatment would do to a person is very easy to see, the science and art of brain and soul plasticity, and the ability to heal from trauma is a much more complicated story. I think of my father, from his earliest memory, experiencing the violent hatred of his mother. His father was afraid of his tiny wife’s rage and powerless to protect his young son, who found out early that he was on his own in a very cruel world. How does that kid ever trust anybody after that start in life?

That’s why my father told me, in the middle of the last night of his life, in that wavering dying man’s voice, that his life was basically over by the time he was two. He doesn’t remember being shaken, left cold, roughly changed, harshly wiped, ignored and the rest of what a helpless young baby must simply take. The first things he can consciously remember is the mother who gave him life, glaring at him with open hatred and slashing him in the face with a thick, rough length of cord.

It’s hard to imagine this kid growing up to have a sense of humor, and a certain charisma, and being an idealist and a friend of the underdog. He was also sometimes subject to spells of uncontrollable laughter, spells I am also subject to, every ten years or so. Or maybe that’s all predictable, I don’t know. These things lend themselves to discussion, not pronouncements. We don’t, any of us, know what would become of us if we had the start in life that someone like my father had. Any echo of that shit in our own lives is enough to stop us in our tracks.

Loneliness, anyone?

A recent pre-pandemic survey found that 61% of Americans reported feeling lonely. The epidemic of loneliness is painful in its own right, plus, it leads to destructive attempts to escape the pain of feeling isolated and eternally alone in the universe.

Lonely people look for community on-line and find “social media” groups where their worst suspicions are confirmed in sickening detail: fucking Tom Hanks drinks the blood of children he has kidnapped, after doing sexually perverse things to them!

Words on a page, even those written by our most skilled users of language, almost never contain the nuance conveyed by a wry twinkle in the eye, a shrug, a sarcastic body movement in concert with the words spoken — a pregnant pause.

Lonely people staring at screens take the words they read, words they hope will somehow bind them to others, at face value. Of course George Soros, Barbara Streisand and fucking George Clooney had something to do with those vile accusations against innocent, humble, nonpartisan, never a black out drunk, Brett Kavanaugh!

Aside from an epidemic of suicide caused by loneliness and despair, aside from the political chaos, the literal madness, it has unleashed among desperate people looking for simple answers to complicated, vexing issues, aside from the outward rippling misery loneliness causes, loneliness is, at its heart, a very painful condition.

A writer named Steven Petrow published a thoughtful essay called I’m not alone in feeling lonely. There are ways to fight loneliness. It appeared in today’s Washington Post and has been generously “gifted” to you by a supremely generous man of the people, the illegally anti-unionist Jeff Bezos.

A thoughtful essay by Mr. Petrow, I thought. When a painful condition is stigmatized, and those who talk about it are treated as pathetic losers, the pain of that condition is greatly compounded. The first step to dealing with anything painful is to acknowledge that it hurts and talk to others about it, tough guy.

It helps nobody you care about, and yourself least of all, to pretend you’re fine when you have the cold arrow of loneliness stuck in your chest.

If you feel lonely, or know lonely people, this article is worth a read, especially during this time of year, the “holiday season” when the days grower shorter, expectations for merriness soar and suicides spike.

Miss Lipschitz, follow up

My Hebrew school teacher Miss Lipschitz was a young Israeli woman who, in the warm weather, favored sleeveless shirts. She had a habit, when the class was noisy and popping out of our seats, of extending an arm straight in front of her, snapping her fingers and loudly calling “Shave mahair!” This move would reveal a tuft of hair under her arm, something uncommon in American-born women.

In Hebrew “shave” is the command form of “sit” and “mahair” means “quickly”. She was telling us to sit down and come to order. But to some of us, hopped up on smuggled in candy, resentful about being back in school at 4:00, after a full day of regular school, not knowing a word of Hebrew, the sight gag of “shave my hair” was too good to resist.