Fifteen years


Fifteen years is long, for a prison sentence.  Fifteen years for the rest of your life seems like the wink of an eye.  As my father was dying, talking to me suddenly as his beloved son and not a lifelong adversary who’d gotten his young father’s back up by staring at him accusingly from my crib, he expressed a feeling that stays with me.

“I wish we could have talked like this fifteen years ago,” the dying man told me, after getting a lot off his chest, with no grief for either of us.   

At the time I thought “seriously, you’d settle for fighting like rabid rats for 35 years and then 15 years of peace?”   A sadly modest request that fifteen years seemed to me.

He died the next evening and I suddenly understood that fifteen years to speak humanely to each other would have been a great blessing to everyone.   So would fifteen months have been, or fifteen weeks, or fifteen days, or even fifteen more hours.  

When the other person breathes his last, there is only the silence and the love that might have been. 

Tech Support and BIRD WINS

About a week ago I went to post something on this blahg, which I rent from WordPress (they never fail to thank me each time they automatically bill my credit card), and got this message:

Currently, my laptop won’t allow me to so much as visit my blahg, out of an overwhelming concern for my privacy. There was no way to overcome this uncompromising protection of my privacy to post on this blahg, or even visit, except on my phone. I contacted WordPress (email only) and was told I probably need to update my macbook operating system. I noted:

I resist doing the updates on the macbook because Apple, in its infinite greed, is notorious for disabling useful features of their native programs with each update, clawing back once-included capabilities so they can sell them back to you.   

A few days later I was given three things to try, by Happiness Engineer Tish, (the second idea was overcoming my reluctance to have all programs reformatted and some randomly rendered useless) and wrote back:

Hi Tish,

Took a weekend away from technology.   Now I’m trying your suggested fixes.

1- clicking this link got to the same message as the screen shot I sent a few days ago, Your Connection is Not Private!

2– still reluctant to have all of my programs reconfigured/disabled by Apple as they have been every update since at least 10.6.7

3– installing Firefox now (unless I get a Connection Not Private! message preventing it),  Here you go:

There used to be a game in the Chinatown Arcade in NYC where a live chicken would play all comers at tic tac toe for 50 cents a game.   The bird went first.  If you played well you could tie, but I’d never seen anyone beat the bird.  After the bird beat the sucker, right after its victory dance (the disk it stood on would wobble and it would exert itself not to fall over) it would frantically claw for a couple of kernels of dry corn, literally two or three, that were its reward.  While this was going on a big lighted sign flashed BIRD WINS.

Perfect parallel for technology companies of all kinds.   You want the feature you’ve always used?  Tough.  We had a team of geniuses redesign it completely and it’s what you want now.  Choice is for the people who bring you this miraculous technology, they know better than mere “users” what is actually desirable in the product.  Capitalism runs on eternal “improvement” and built-in obsolescence.  Tech companies, even a nice outfit like WordPress, are the masters of this.  New design, new world order.   Read Shoshanah Zuboff’s “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” and shudder for the amazing world of crushing pressure to conform kids are growing up in now, ushered in by “social media” and unlimited, ever more thorough data collection from “users”, in the name of… well, profit, mostly.

Anyway, thanks for your help.  I’ll probably wind up updating this machine and using it just as a word processor, as nature intended.

Eliot

P.S. Before I sent this I tried one more thing.   DuckDuckGo just fixed it, I can get to the innovative (and, like, totally improved, even if the theme I use is now “unsupported”) WordPress block composer from there.

I did not bother to add, for Tish, a complete stranger, that I am clearly, as my father more than once noted, the kind of person who’d complain if he was hanged with a new rope.

Punchline, which I sent to “tech support”:

DuckDuckGo allowed me to get on the WordPress site, write and post an entry.  Once.  Now I get this again:

BIRD WINS!

NOTE: had to add this using my phone

when you try to defeat this unwanted “protection” you get this message:

gratuitousblahg.com normally uses encryption to protect your information. When Google Chrome tried to connect to gratuitousblahg.com this time, the website sent back unusual and incorrect credentials. This may happen when an attacker is trying to pretend to be gratuitousblahg.com, or a Wi-Fi sign-in screen has interrupted the connection. Your information is still secure because Google Chrome stopped the connection before any data was exchanged.

You cannot visit gratuitousblahg.com right now because the website uses HSTS. Network errors and attacks are usually temporary, so this page will probably work later.

Or, if you prefer, Go fuck yourself. Have a great day!

Restraining heartlessness

Dean Joan R.M. Bullock:


Thank you. Well, I will just end with the quote from Martin Luther King, who said, “Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.” And what I want us to — as the takeaway — is that whatever the rule is as it relates to the meeting of the minds must be of one set that applies equally to all and that the heartless, those who govern by rules which they would not prescribe for themselves, must be restrained in that situation. And if we do, at least, restrain the heartless– we might not be able to change the minds and the hearts of everyone, but if we can restrain the heartless and have everyone under one set of rules, we will indeed be a people that are equal under the law.

Bullock, Joan; Fain, Constance; Weeden, Larry; and SpearIt (2021) “Panel III Discussion: The U.S. Constitution: Reimagining “We the People” as an Inclusive Construct,” The Bridge: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Legal & Social Policy: Vol. 6 , Article 5. Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Texas Southern University.

“Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.”

Rules, agreed to and abided by, with enforcement when needed, can restrain heartlessness. A strictly enforced law against lynching may not change the hearts of those who feel most alive as part of a righteous, muscular mob hauling some guilty chickenshit bastard off to be tortured to death, but the certainty of severe punishment for the merciless act can restrain the heartless. That King quote cited by the law school dean begins with a beautiful sentence: It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also.

My oldest friend summed up a terrible and common human dilemma: it is humiliating to have to ask for what you should be given freely, but it is also something we must do. The context was close personal relationships in which the other person treats you unfairly, or even with a nonchalant brutality sometimes, instead of giving you the benefit of the doubt and the steady mercy we all require from our loved ones. We grow up with the beautiful idea of unconditional love, being loved simply because we are a soul that deserves love, not because love, like respect, has to be earned. All love, it turns out, has conditions attached. It can only flourish when the humiliation of having to ask for what we need is not constant, doesn’t become a heavier and heavier burden. Love by itself, clearly, is not the answer to every terrible question.

The essence of morality, expressed by the ancient Jewish sage Hillel when he was challenged to state it, is “what is hateful to you, do not unto others.” To me the simple practicality of this statement stands by itself as an indispensable guide to a moral life. We all know, more intimately than almost anything else, what we hate. If we hate it when it is done to us, we should be aware that others would hate it too and refrain from doing it to them.

It has taken me many years, but I finally understand the empathy-related problem with even that insightful expression of the Golden Rule. Its limitation is our human limitation on feeling empathy automatically, unless someone else’s vexation is identical to, or very close to, our own. This is a universal limitation on our powers of effective real-time mercy. What is so hard about the seemingly straightforward “what is hateful to you do not unto others” is that we humans naturally understand things from our personal perspective and are geniuses at framing things so we are blameless.

“No, I wouldn’t hate that, no, you just have a problem with someone making a perfectly reasonable demand,” is much easier to say to an aggrieved loved one than, “you know, now that you’ve explained yourself clearly, without making me feel defensive — thank you for that — I would feel terrible if somebody treated me like I just treated you and I’m truly sorry and will try my best not to do it again. Please let me know whenever I start to do it so I can be more aware of correcting that fault in myself.”

That second answer is for fairy tales, in the society we live in, or only possible between two people who love each other while honestly, openly accepting each other’s faults, a rare thing. Easier to shift the blame off yourself, particularly in a highly competitive culture like the one we live in, where one is expected to defend oneself at all costs.

We have not been raised in a generally cooperative society, we don’t solve mutual problems as a group, (ironic in a democracy, that), but see and are forced to accept unilateralism daily in our own lives, in the workplace, we can hear it reported in the news every day as part of public life. One unmovable person, in the right strategic position, has the power to hold up a solution for an entire family, or, in the case of government, thwart a solution for the unmet needs of millions.

We also don’t have a social support system in America for, or a history of, group problem solving, no respected wise elders available for advising on disputes between loved ones, outside of family court and the ever-popular divorce court. In our combative society we’re rewarded for playing hard and winning, not for daydreaming and refusing to compete.

A glance around, at the boiling hatred that animates so many of the world’s billions right now, shows us that a conversation based on the need for love will not get very far. If you are a Muslim in India, ruled as it is by a hard-line Hindu Nationalist party, you do not expect love, or even respect, from your government. Love is for the immediate family, the tribe, and people everywhere are always ready to fight for that. For outsiders, the Other, all bets are currently off. The question is: how do we best restrain heartlessness?

Seeing how hard it can be between individuals who care about each other to always show kindness, we can multiply the difficulty of mitigating group heartlessness by a million or so. The common, grim view of humanity is that we are all flawed, corrupt, out primarily for ourselves, and that we, if given the power, would fuck others we don’t care about as nonchalantly as those in power routinely do to the powerless. Given this view, held by billions, the best we can shoot for is limiting the heartlessness of those with the power to inflict humiliating conditions on others.

The dean quoted at the top obliquely references Hillel’s Golden Rule when she notes “that the heartless, those who govern by rules which they would not prescribe for themselves, must be restrained in that situation.” A wealthy legislator who lives on a yacht, rakes in a tidy sum from his coal interests, and is well-funded by the nation’s greatest toxic polluters, does not consider himself heartless just because he opposes any law that would hurt his family’s bottom line. He simply loves his damned family and wants to make them wealthier! A woman who campaigned as a progressive, promised to fight for fairness and equality, be an advocate for the oppressed, and then takes $750,000 in campaign donations from pharmaceutical corporations that benefit from the current health insurance laws in the US, does not consider herself heartless, or hypocritical, when she opposes any changes her generous sponsors would not like.

When you ask a proven heartless partisan like Mitch McConnell, as Chuck Schumer did the other day, for a procedural compromise to prevent the scorched earth that McConnell’s threat to filibuster raising the debt ceiling will inevitably produce, you will always get some variation on this: “There is no chance, no chance the Republican conference will go out of our way to help Democrats conserve their time and energy, so they can resume ramming through partisan socialism as fast as possible.” 

Politics in the USA as usual. The heartless (and ridiculously exaggerated) claim here is that Democrats are attempting to ram through a hateful, partisan, socialist agenda, including securing the ability to continue paying for a debt that McConnell’s party increased by 25% during the four years of a popular, angry, incompetent game show host’s presidency. That McConnell’s claim is incoherent makes it no less compelling in today’s heartless, zero-sum, sound bite-driven polity. I’ve got no solution for this, except to urge strength to the arms of those in power who find themselves in the humiliating position an incoherent set of loudly amplified self-serving lies has placed us all in. Love them or hate them, the heartless must be fought and restrained with everything we have.

Be very careful what you say when you’re hurt

“I don’t know what I did to make you treat me so unfairly and so disrespectfully,” while possibly accurate, is probably not the best line of approach when someone you love has treated you hurtfully.

If you have degenerative arthritis, say, and did not qualify, until a few weeks ago, for palliative injections that will allow you to exercise for six months without pain while building up surrounding muscle, why is that really anyone’s concern besides yours? Why would you expect automatic acknowledgment of your physical limitations and the empathy that follows from considering a loved one’s disability?

Say you feel wrongly accused of a flaw you try not to have, say in addition to an unreasonable expectation of sympathy, there’s the perception of your habitual comfort inconveniencing everyone around you. You like to sleep all day, so nobody can even be on the road for a vacation workout by a reasonable 10 a.m.

All these feelings, after someone shows you an implacable face, must be put to the side as you figure out the best way to restore trust and mutuality. It may take more patience than you have, particularly when you feel hurt, but that’s a separate question.

The real question is how to convey to them how hurt they would feel, placed in the unfair situation they’ve placed you in. That is not the work of a few minutes or a few hours, of simply choosing the right words. It requires a supremely patient telling of the right story, framed sympathetically, to keep everyone calm and help them understand.

It may take more patience than you feel you have. It becomes easy to think up past wrongs echoing the latest and be hurt by the confirmation of callousness, but making this list carries the risk of making you sound petty and prosecutorial. Best to focus on understanding, clarity and directness, toward a more loving future.

Otherwise, speaking out of pain, you are much more likely to do harm than to say anything that will contribute to healing or empathy.

Try writing the situation out first, it may help you grasp things better, to be more clear and better able to stay out of the many deadly traps hurt will steer you towards.

Best of luck, there is no harder work I know than remaining mild when you feel deeply hurt. It is worth the price to master this supremely difficult skill. In the meantime, be very judicious in what you say while still smarting.

Meditation on 5782

Today is the first day of the Jewish year 5782. The most religious Jews believe that HaShem, according to Jewish tradition, created the universe by performing the miracle of dividing light from darkness, land from waters and creating life 5,782 years ago, literally, as it is written. Thus Jews believed two thousand years ago and, so it is, to the most fervently religious, to this day. Other Jews see 5782 as a symbolic number, the bit about God creating all the plants and animals one by one, culminating in his masterpiece, his special children, humans, woman created out of the first man’s spare rib, as so much Biblical poetry.

Religious belief has never interested me, I have no talent for it. My first thought is armies of the fucking righteous, putting the faithless to the sword, century after century. Virtually every religion has had a turn at Holy War. The most righteous of every creed recognize that the reward of an ethical life, some version of heaven or enlightenment, belongs to the righteous of all nations, when they are not slaughtering them.

My second thought is the hotbed of anti-Semitism that was Hillcrest Jewish Center, where, for several years, I was forced to attend classes after the regular school day was over.

Beyond the “fuck that” of a kid who’d just been sprung from jail having to report to another jail for a few hours, especially on beautiful days when playing baseball was much closer to God than learning to parrot prayers, in an unknown language, that were never translated or explained, there was the silencing of all questions. The blotting out of critical thinking was the most intolerable part of the Hillcrest Jewish Center religious experience. It was a gaslighting similar to what I experienced at home, where my very clever father endlessly fought me over everything, generally by recasting whatever else we were talking about as a damning referendum on my character.

Trips to the principal’s office, fucking Frieda Berkman was her name, did not cure me of my need to question things we were supposed to believe, rites we were supposed to perform by rote, mouthing prayers we didn’t understand. After Berkman got sick of having me wait in her tiny outer office day after day under a poster that said “a teacher attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with the desire to learn is hammering on cold steel” (I asked her about that one, she didn’t like my disrespectful question at all), I was sent to wait in the plush outer office of the rabbi, Israel Moshowitz by name. Moshowitz was photographed shaking Nixon’s hand, of course. He was a big deal. I have no recollection of the pious speech he eventually laid on me about being a good Jew and just doing what I was told. I’m fairly sure it involved the Holocaust.

It took me many years to get over the antiSemitism that was instilled in me by my early religious miseducation at Hillcrest. I used to recoil from the well-dressed swarm of once-a-year hyper-religious Jews who congregated at the Yom Kippur service (the Day of Atonement is ten days from Rosh Hashana, Jewish New Year). I’d feel real disgust watching them hurry home to break their fast, in a huge hurry, all full of the righteousness of not having eaten in 24 hours. I’d walk to the synagogue to meet my father, shouldering my way past these hungry, rushing, bad-breathed creatures, and walk him home to break our fast.

I had no patience for the meaningless “please rise, please be seated” ritual of the Hillcrest gymnasium, where cheaper seats for High Holiday services were made available to those who were unable or unwilling to pay top dollar for an expensive seat in the sumptuous main chapel. Once in a while, in the gym, people would faint, and fall off their folding chair on to the lacquered wooden floor where, on other days, I’d played basketball.

No need to mention the vengeance of Frieda Berkman, who snarled at me over a loudspeaker during assemblies, or the united fucking by the synagogue itself, first in not presenting me with the Bar Mitzvah kiddush cup I had earned by reciting a few lines of Torah when I turned 13, and then by inviting me to a special service, in the Ferkauf Chapel, where, I was promised, I’d be presented with my kiddush cup. I put on a suit, went down there, “please rise, please be seated, please rise, please continue to stand,” and, at the end of the ponderous droning, there was no kiddush cup. I think of this every time I celebrate shabbat with friends who have their own, and their adult children’s, kiddush cups on the table filled with wine. I also think of how telling it was that my parents never intervened on my behalf.

So ritual for me, for the most part, so much contemptible horse shit. I say this with God Himself looking down on me, only slightly hurt. Worse things have been said by Jews, by Christians, by the otherwise righteous of all nations. If you experience a sense of community and spiritual completeness by sitting in a temple with others of your faith, God bless you, more power to you.

For me, religious ritual just reminds me of the super-religious Amy Coney Barrett, quickly ruling that religious gatherings during Covid-19 must be exempt from all health regulations, because God requires worship, and then, a short time later, ruling that an unconstitutional abortion ban in a state with a notoriously high infant and maternal mortality rate, a law designed to kill more poor women by forcing them to give birth whether they want to or not, is perfectly fine because the unconstitutional law is administratively complex. You can keep the ritualistic, inhuman religion of fanatics like Amy.

I emerged from a scarring childhood of incoherent religious idiocy, years later, to separate the moral teachings of Judaism from the empty rituals. There is a moral core to the teachings of the rabbis that is worth embracing. If you hate something, don’t do it to others. Be not intimate with the ruling authorities. Remember that you were a slave, do not tolerate the enslavement of others – freedom demands it. If you hurt somebody, do your best to make amends. A pretty good set of core principles, I believe.

These are moral precepts I have gleaned, some during interminable services (bar and bat mitzvahs, usually) where I flipped to the back of the prayer book and read Pirkey Avot, Selections from the Fathers, a short collection of pithy sayings that is part of the Mishnah, a vast book explaining every aspect of God’s laws. “Be not intimate with the ruling authorities” is in there somewhere, and it makes a great deal of sense to me. “What is hateful to you, do not unto others” is Rabbi Hillel’s famous formulation of what would later become Jesus’s Golden Rule “Love thy neighbor as thyself” and, to my mind, it provides a much more concrete guide for how to live an ethical life. If you hate something, don’t do it to somebody else. We humans know few things more deeply than what we hate.

Love, on the other hand, while precious beyond poetry, is a much shakier guide for how to act. A woman I used to know, who loved me, once gave me some counsel I argued against following. She countered that she wasn’t telling me anything she wouldn’t tell herself. I told her I knew that, but pointed out that in the past she had told herself to shut all the windows, turn on the gas and put her head in the oven, something I would never consider doing myself. In fact, I’d fight somebody who tried to insist I kill myself. She had the grace to concede that I had a point. Love is slippery as hell, and many of us don’t love ourselves as unconditionally and faithfully as we should, making it hard to love our neighbors as ourselves in the kindest possible way. At the same time, we, and those we love, are all we really have.

So I was happy today to see my smiling friends, regular synagogue goers, video me from a beautiful beach where they are celebrating today. “The beach is our shul this year,” my friend said, smiling from her beach chair, a light breeze tickling the shade umbrella under a perfect blue sky. I told her how beautiful their shul was, as she got up to take a panoramic shot of the sand, sky and ocean, and stop filming our other friend, who’d said hello but, like me, had had enough of the video conference after a short time. “Please be seated,” I should have told her.

Cover note to a former close friend

I will fold this up, put it in an envelope, and send it to this longtime friend who told me he loved me like a brother, before repudiating me forever. Oh, well. I don’t write it for him, I write it for myself. You be the judge:

Maybe friendship, like everything else in nature, has a natural life span. On the other hand, long, close friendships that end in mutual enmity, while both former friends are still alive, reflect an unwillingness (or inability) to reach a humane understanding. Not that humans are primarily rational, of course, as we see on the world stage daily, and friendship is not an entirely rational thing. On the other hand, concluding that a person you once loved and trusted is an irredeemably hurtful asshole reflects a fundamental emotional/intellectual disconnect, an irreconcilable battle with your past self. Most tragically, in a world where we’re lucky to connect with a few kindred souls over the decades, this fatal falling out cuts off all possibility of redemption, a more nuanced understanding that leads to reconciliation and a better life. The traditional image of heaven, old misunderstood enemies tearfully embracing — not for chumps like us.

To clarify, I’m not trying to change your mind about anything. It’s pointless to go over the angry phone call when you rang to confront me about what you said was my dangerously out of control anger. If nothing else, your aggravating show of “concern” was a reflection of emotions that had long been simmering in your heart. We’ll agree that your inability to understand why I was so upset when you dismissed my right to have strong feelings about a screwing you couldn’t personally relate to was genuine.

We can safely assume I’ve always been the kind of vicious, hypocritical, ruthlessly angry hurtful fuck you now conclude I’ve always been, regardless of my protestations of patience and mildness, and that you’ve always been a hectoring bully confidently pessimistic about the possibility of real human growth. Not a problem. I try to learn lessons from things like a falling out with a friend of fifty years. I know saying that is provocative, especially to someone who doesn’t believe people are capable of truly learning from pain, or making meaningful changes in their emotional lives. It is one more of my irrationally superior tics, something that makes a lazy lost soul like me so despicably infuriating.

Here is a bit I wrote the other day, trying to work out some more lessons from life, as I wait for the update on whether or not I am dying of prostate cancer. Have a great day, man!

With the benefit of hindsight

Sometimes it is impossible to see a thing clearly, if you you feel a certain way about it, until you can look at it with the benefit of hindsight. Something you had no way to understand as significant when it happened can become clear as part of a pattern you can only see looking back. A seemingly small thing you didn’t see as any kind of problem can come into focus as an important clue to what went wrong, once the entire situation is in the past tense.

I used to be good friends with a cheerful madman, hospitalized periodically for bouts of mania, who inflicted terrible, fatal damage on his old friend’s beautiful Gibson ES-335 (BB King’s Lucille was an ES-335). The lovely guitar, a pleasure to play, had its F-holes gouged out with a file, its mellow Humbucker pickups pried out, it’s perfectly formed, smooth mahogany colored hollow body partially bashed in. The neck was violently pried off, splintering some more great wood. Its remains were then left floating in a bathtub full of soapy water covered with hair the nut had maniacally clipped from his partially shaved head. The guy in the guitar shop just shook his head sadly when he saw the brutality of what had been done to this wonderful instrument. He pronounced it dead.

With hindsight I came to understand how deep my friend’s reservoir of rage was, but that was a lesson I’d learn much later. As for the guitar he destroyed, I knew the back story right away. It makes no sense in the cold light of pure Reason, but I understood part of the rage that made the gleeful desecration seem momentarily justified to my out of control friend. The occasionally crazed man was a fairly good musician who could sometimes come up with cool parts for the songs of his friend the songwriter. He often added inventive keyboard parts that greatly enhanced his friend’s songs. The songwriter always viewed his friend as a side kick, his loyal accompanist. The songwriter, like Lennon and McCartney before him (when they gave Harrison no credit for his many great arrangement ideas and melodic contributions, like the brilliant, soulful song-making opening riff in “And I Love Her”) never gave him any songwriting credit. It wore on him over the years. Finally in a bout of mania he fucked up the guy’s expensive, vintage guitar (this guy I’m talking about, not George Harrison).

Footnote: credit or no credit was purely academic since not one of the songwriter’s songs was ever published, let alone performed and monetized. As a sign of respect and friendship, the songwriter would have been well advised to give some credit to his friend for his major help on a bunch of his tunes. Particularly in light of how things ended for that beautiful guitar, and their long friendship.

I had a friend, since Junior High School, who became a locally well-known lawyer. He explained to me, when we were adolescents, that he had to work hard in school, to graduate at the top of his class, to maximize his chances for getting into a top school that would be a ticket to professional success and ultimate happiness. His vision of success, he explained (as I smoked a joint he would no longer share — he had extra credit homework to complete), was coming home every night to a beautiful home where his beautiful wife would hand him a perfect drink as he relaxed, admiring his sunset view, as the final touches were put on his gourmet dinner. It struck me as a shallow vision of the good life, even at fourteen, but who the hell was I to judge? To each his own, or as we learned to say in our Junior High School French class “a chacun son gout“.

He worked hard, graduated at the top of his specialized high school class, went on to Harvard and then Columbia for his law degree. He got a highly paid job at a prestigious law firm which involved, among other things, defending toxic polluters against lawsuits from tree huggers. After a relatively short time, he changed sides. He took the litigation skills he developed at that corporate law firm and, taking a big cut in pay, went to work defending the environment as the lead lawyer in a branch office of The Earth’s Law Firm, fighting the same powerful world destroying scoundrels he used to represent. This move was the right thing to do, and as far as I know, he never regretted making it.

We remained close friends over the years. He didn’t like to talk about personal troubles of his own very often, feeling that the world is a bitter enough place without adding his complaints to the conversation. He seemingly enjoyed talking about my personal troubles, though, probing for the intimate details, playing devil’s advocate to show me that, arguably, the person I was having trouble with no doubt saw me as the culpable asshole, and not without reasons, which he would lay out and I would counter. I took all this in the spirit of what I thought of as friendship, in accordance with the emotional limitations of what this unhappy, critical old friend was capable of giving.

Until one day not long ago, when he called me in agitation, to challenge me about strong feelings I’d expressed to him in an email. He was very concerned, he said, that I seemed to be so disproportionately angry about a relatively small thing that had happened to me (the illegal termination of my ACA health insurance in January 2020). He was angry, in fact, that I seemed so irrationally angry, and was worried that I was going to kill myself with unhealthy rage. It appeared to him that I was full of destructive self-pity, seeing myself as the only person fucked by a giant fucking machine he was up against every minute of his life, as was everybody else. He eventually challenged me to tell him to go fuck himself. I declined, which, in hindsight was a mistake. Within a few months, after a lot of futile effort to avoid it, I essentially had to tell him that anyway.

But here’s the thing that hit me so clearly, looking at it in hindsight the other day, out of the blue, as I kept a steady pulse with a few simple chords on my guitar. I’d visited him at his new girlfriend’s house in California. He had two nice guitars and I began playing a steady, easy to improvise to rhythm part on one guitar. He began soloing over the simple changes on the other guitar. His girlfriend passed by with a big smile, commenting on how good we sounded. I played rhythm guitar behind him for the whole time we played together. The sound of a few notes in harmony, placed just right against the beat, and keeping the pulse steady as a heartbeat is the soul of guitar playing, to many of us. I never mind playing accompaniment behind a singer or another instrumentalist.

We’d both been playing since we were fourteen, he’d started a bit before me. He had been a hardworking lawyer while I’d spent those same working years, as a lawyer, working as little as possible, mostly as a low-paid court appointed piss boy, and before that, a teacher. I see now the great advantage I’d had over the years in the music department, because I loved guitar I’d spent countless hours of my life of leisure learning to play it. In his busy life of great responsibility, with much less time to play, he focused on mastering scales and modes, to solo. His soloing sounded pretty good.

After an hour or so I asked him to play a three or four chord vamp, so I could show him a bit of Gypsy guitar I’d learned. He said he couldn’t do it. The chords were simple, I don’t know what his reason was, but I didn’t press the matter. When it came up later, I told him it was fine, I’d had fun accompanying him, he sounded good.

Now, in the cool light of hindsight, this odd refusal to do a simple thing makes a certain amount of sense. Since reading the fable of the Grasshopper and the Ant together in ninth grade French class, my hardworking friend often referred to himself as the Ant, while I was, clearly, the Grasshopper. In this morality play the Grasshopper played violin all the time and wanted nothing to do with his fretful friend the Ant’s constant neurotic reminders that winter was coming and that he’d better start gathering food for those long cold months. The Grasshopper mocked the Ant, played some fancy violin, and the Ant furrowed his brow and went back to work. When winter came, and food became scarce, the Grasshopper, starving, finally swallowed his pride and went to ask his friend the Ant for food. The Ant, who had worked his ass off and had no time to “enjoy” life in the reckless manner of the self-indulgent Grasshopper he had tried to warn, tells the Grasshopper to fuck off. The Grasshopper starves to death. FIN.

In that context, my friend’s anger at my anger is as understandable as his claim that he couldn’t play a D, G7 and C chord, the chords every guitar player learns in the first week of playing. He has always been a competitive man, number 26 in his highly competitive graduating class in HS, degrees from two top Ivy League schools. I have always been an under-achiever, trying my best to gain insight and become a better person. To him, as to many ambitious people, achievement and success are the only measures of self-worth, and trying to become a “better person” is an illusory pursuit, a foolish exercise in self-deception. To me, doing what I love as well as I can and treating myself and the people I care about gently seem to be my top two loser priorities.

So, picture this — he’s playing live music, with a friend who plays a steady vamp that is open and easy to improvise to, and his girlfriend loves it. Why would he start playing possibly shaky rhythm guitar, which he hasn’t spent decades perfecting and polishing (as the fucking Grasshopper, in his life of infinite leisure, has) so that his shiftless friend can start improvising in a way that could, possibly, make him look bad? It’s lose/lose for him. So he simply says “I can’t do that.”

Seen in this new light I’m tempted to drop my old friend a line, tell him concisely how contemptible and ultimately self-destructive his reflexive competitiveness is, using this petty but telling example of his inability to play three simple chords for two minutes. I’d follow up with a couple of choice politically incorrect insults from our adolescence characterizing the unfair, childishly insecure type who is afraid, in front of his girlfriend and the best friend he ever had (“I love you like a brother”) of “looking bad” somehow — or worse, letting his unworthy friend look good. Because, as every successful person knows, playing music is actually about proving your dominance over the other players…

Funny, in the moment, most of us tend to let these kind of things slip by, in the spirit of not sweating the small stuff, not making a friend uncomfortable for no reason. Those of us who are not, by nature and long habit, carping, argumentative, super-competitive douche bags (his favorite phrase for worms, from back in the day), at any rate.

Why Do You Write? (2)

The world comes into focus when I sit down to write. As I write, and rewrite, what I mean to say becomes clearer and clearer, to me and to anyone who reads the words. Writing feels very much like having a meaningful conversation with another person, an unhurried exchange with no regretted, blurted word, as little ambiguity as possible, the endless chance to make things as clear as they can be made, nothing that can’t be fixed before it’s a problem. Writing and careful editing can make everything more understandable, which in itself is a beautiful thing.

Writing feels like a talk where everyone is listened to, all confusion is heard and responded to thoughtfully, every complexity clarified. This is rare in conversation, sadly, and we fondly recall those conversations where we take the time to really hear and are listened to this way. I feel the embrace of this kind of intimate talk virtually every time I sit down to write. It matters little to me, as I write, that very few people, or no people, will read a particular piece. The conversation goes on in any case, ready to be joined at any time.

What is it, exactly, that is spurring me to write today? What do I want to talk with you about? Once you give your thoughts a title (an excellent suggestion from Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. I read, and took to heart, as a sprout) it becomes much easier to follow them, to corral them, to get the flow of them to make sense. Today I am writing about why we write, though, of course, I have little insight into why YOU write.

I speak for myself, obviously, as I write these words. I’m certain that many of you experience a similar feeling of connection to others when you sit down to write. This feeling is particularly precious in our atomized, virtual world where much of our communication is done in short text bursts or other digitized interactions, without the nuances of eye contact or body language. The conversational/connection angle of writing and rewriting will resonate with those of you who are motivated the same way I am.

Vonnegut said he always wrote imagining his bright, well-read sister’s reaction. If he could picture her shaking her head over something he wrote, that passage would have to be rewritten until it met her high standards, or tossed. When I write, I sometimes picture a literate stranger, in India, China, or the Ukraine, and strive to make my prose as clear and my train of thought as focused as I can. I also sometimes picture my mother’s reactions when I write, she was a keen appreciator of good writing.

When I was a boy, I used to write much more emotionally, driven by the mistaken belief that I could include everything I’d ever felt, thought or learned in the piece I was writing. I was driven by a strong need to sum everything up every time I sat down to write. I have heard this impulse compared to trying to hit a mammoth home run every time up. It took time to adjust my expectations, get better control of my swing, to learn that making good contact is the point of this game. It took time to learn to choose one thing to focus on at a time. That’s where Vonnegut’s advice comes in so handy. The universe swirls, an infinite multi-dimensional kaleidoscope, in constant, frenetic motion, making it impossible to focus on the giant themes we often feel up against. Unless you focus on one specific thing at a time, and naming that one thing up top helps. Which, of course, is not always as simple a matter as it seems.

For example, I heard a few snippets of some of the speeches at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (mein kampference [1]) in Dallas. The former president, a compulsive liar loved by 39% of Americans, continues to lie about his second term being treacherously stolen from him in a fake election. The faithful do not doubt that his lie (which would, of course, require a national, bipartisan conspiracy against him) is true — if not literally true, based only on evidence, then true in the higher, faith-based sense that true believers believe is a higher truth than the earthly, limited fact-based variant. To verify that his endlessly repeated claim of a stolen election is an audacious, incendiary lie, we need look no further than the many Republicans and Trump-appointed judges who found there was no fraud in the election the Orange Polyp still claims was rigged to steal from the rightful winner, him. To see how provocative and dangerous this lie is, we need look no further than the deadly January 6 riot and the GOP’s continued far-fetched defense of a stirred up insurrectionist mob that violently stormed the Capitol and successfully stopped the peaceful transfer of power for several hours, at the exhortation of the former president and his faithful, like his son Junior, Rudy and Alabama Representative Mo Brooks. Yet, the CPAC crowd [2] drowned the lying speakers in adulation, chose the ex-president by 70% in a poll of who these extremists want to represent their party in 2024. This paragraph would become the seed of a post, after I called it something like “Nazi rallies had nothing on these cute pups!”.

So I realize another reason I write is to digest things that are otherwise indigestible to me and to make my point of view known. Most people I know have little tolerance for discussing the depressing battle over our nation’s soul, they want to relax, enjoy life, be out in nature, eat good food together, not be tortured by someone making an all-too convincing case that we are living in Berlin, 1932. Or the soon to be violently sundered United States of 1860. I can gently judge them without blaming them, I understand their point of view, nobody likes a fucking party pooper, I hate them myself. Here, on the other hand, I can lay things out that would otherwise suffocate me, if left unvented. Writing it out here helps me process things and leaves me able to say much less to friends about the details of this ongoing horror movie we are all living in.

Thoughts lead where they do, and if we follow them carefully we can make the path of those thoughts intelligible. It gives some comfort, at least to me, to be able to see things in perspective. In the case of the paragraph about CPAC, it leads, invariably to certain related thoughts and questions. The MAGA riot actually stopped the function of government, as it was intended to, which is the legal definition of an insurrection, so why is nobody on trial for inciting insurrection? Why have none of the funders ($50,000,000 on advertising alone), organizers and promoters of the attack on the Capitol been indicted for anything? Why are there no senate investigations into senators who actively spread the Big Lie and then actively contested the counting of uncontroversial votes, based on the prevalent Republican belief in the Lie they had helped to spread (Lying’ Ted, you brazen little vampire!)? Same in the House, why no ethics investigations if members were seen conducting tours of the building for the rioters in the days before January 6? Is Merrick Garland, a thoughtful, decent man who cried at his confirmation hearing recounting how this country had saved his family from the Nazis, the right man to face off against our home-grown American Nazis? I’d have loved the even-tempered, fair-minded jurist on the Supreme Court, but I don’t know that he has the stomach to do what must be done to face down the virulent antidemocratic threat we are up against.

I see I’ll have to go where these thoughts lead me today, but I’ll go there later, in another post. Another great feature of writing is that you can leave off wherever it makes sense to leave off, and hours, even days later, pick right up after reading everything you wrote in the previous session. What you have already written leads you directly to your next thought.

Which is a magical thing about reading and writing, along with our human ability to string letter symbols into words which can then be fashioned into expressions of even our most complicated thoughts and feelings. Wow.

Another beautiful thing, you can go back, proof-read, trim, fix, reorganize, restate, clarify, polish, as many times as you need to. I’ll no doubt be back to this post a few times in the next day or two, making little tweaks.

Hey, stop me if I asked you this before: why do you write?

[1]

An obnoxious little (parenthetical) darling, adding nothing, likely subtracting, that I should almost certainly murder …

[2]

reads a bit like it was written by Dr. Bronner, but surely the work of a true patriot:

Why do you write?

People write for different reasons, just like we play music for different reasons. Thinking of music, I know some people who play music for the applause, in hope of fame, dreaming of playing to and impressing large, appreciative audiences and being thought of by others as a real musician. In writing it that way, I see I am passing judgment on them, just for doing the normal, natural thing in a competitive society where all we are is what we can prove to others we do better than most. It also suggests there is another way to think about making beautiful sounds, about writing, about doing anything we love. I will explain.

When you play an instrument to produce the best possible sounds you can on it, you are attuned to it, related to it, and you will always play as well as possible. When you pay attention to your intonation, the dynamics of your notes, how you produce different sounds, which sounds most make you love the instrument in your hands, how you bend the note, or slide to the note, or hammer it from a lower note, you are playing in a universe that has nothing to do with others appreciating it. You play for love of what you are doing, love of the sounds your fingers (or breath) and the instrument are making.

I suspect every great instrumentalist plays this way, because they love the sounds they begin to master, love the instrument that produces the sounds, love the way it interacts with other instruments in the mix. When you are in this zone, nothing else really matters to you. When you play out of this kind of love, you naturally get better and better, because it’s not a matter of practicing to attain a goal, it’s always a matter of joyful play. You are absorbed in making a beautiful melody sound as beautiful as you can, laying in a harmony or counterpoint line as perfectly as you can. There really is no better work.

You play a note on the piano. You can bang it hard, stepping on the sustain pedal, and have it ring like a gong. The instrument is called the pianoforte because it is capable of playing pianissimo (quietly) or forte (strong!). A good player can make a piano whisper too, whenever needed. You can sound some notes loudly and others quietly to achieve all kinds of subtle effects. There is a range of things you can do on an instrument capable of this palette of dynamics that were impossible to do on the instruments that preceded the piano, like its direct ancestor the harpsichord. Writing is the same thing, there is a vast range of what you can do with words, lining them up in different ways, loud and soft, for different effects.

I’ve been writing since I was a kid, and I’m officially an old man now. I often wrote out of a feeling of being unable to understand and make myself understood. Though I always spoke well enough, it was not enough. There were things I struggled to express, things I barely understood myself, and I found early on that writing, and thinking, and editing, clarifying what I felt and what I was actually trying to say about what I was wrestling with, was a very helpful process. Writing led me to understand things that perplexed me and it allowed me to share them, through the writing itself or talking, in light of what I’d worked out on the page.

What struck me more and more as I went along was the incomparable beauty of clarity. The writers I admire most set things out clearly. If you don’t give the reader all the necessary background, set out concisely so as not to waste her time, you are doing nobody any favors. If the solid back story needed to understand a point is missing, ambiguity floods in. There’s enough of that in life, it does not enhance expository writing, in my experience.

My goal when I write is clear expression, and I cut away anything that interferes with clarity. I often have to murder a darling, resist the impulse to make the words dance, or shimmy, or call attention to themselves. My main thought when I’m reviewing and revising my words is to make them as plain and clear as I can. This is particularly important when dealing with a difficult, perplexing subject.

For example, and this example stretches over decades, you are perplexed at an unresolvable contradiction about a parent. In my case my father was very smart, very funny, his politics always favored the underdog, the oppressed, he loved animals and treated them with great tenderness, he was insightful, keenly interested in the world and could be very reassuring when he wanted to be. A wonderful man. At the same time, he was very often irritable, angry, critical and mean. He was an abusive prick to my little sister and a determined enemy to me for most of my life. How do you reconcile these things? How is it possible not to take your father’s seething anger at you personally?

If you internalize this kind of parent’s view of you, it makes no sense, the world makes no sense, your life is a painful jumble. A devoted friend of the underdog, a man who believes deep in his soul in human equality, in a right to be free of tyranny, who teaches you to be kind to others, to treat animals with tenderness, snarling every night that you’re a venomous snake … WTF?

How do you understand this? You take an insight, like George Grosz’s comment that in order to understand how someone can behave brutally you have to study the humiliation they underwent. You read this in a biography of Grosz you are reading as you research how this political artist used his talent as a weapon, how he was forced to flee by the Nazis, who would have happily made a gruesome example of him, how he struggled in the US. You started reading about Grosz because your father once compared your drawings to Grosz’s, a compliment you did not take to heart at the time, but one you cherish in hindsight.

You have to study the humiliation that makes a man act with brutality. How do you do this? You can’t really ask the man. One kind of writer would write a novel, create a character she could interrogate, put in different situations, see how he acted, what made him brutal, fill in the imagined humiliation that made the story make sense. I am not this kind of writer, though I love good fiction I’m not drawn to writing it, my attempts over the years strike me as mostly sketchy. I need actual details to work with directly, to describe as accurately as I am able.

So I spent many, many hours conversing with my father’s beloved seventeen years older first cousin, Eli. The man was mostly estranged from his own three children and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, the result of his tyrannical insistence on raising them as he saw fit, not as they might have liked to have been raised. He could be very difficult, flew into a rage easily, but also, as with my mother, was very easy for me to placate if I acted the right way, backing off just a bit, like I was easing up on the gas pedal.

As easily as Eli’s face turned purple, spittle formed on his lips and he became savage as a leaping panther, he would calm down and return to being a funny, wonderful story-teller. I suppose it was the same dynamic between him and me as the one between my mother and him. They loved each other and fought constantly.

As often as he was blind to the needs of others, to his own role in making people miserable, he also had frequent moments of great insight. It was fascinating to watch these two contradictory things marching forward side by side in our conversations. If I’d spent 40 hours talking to him, I’d never have learned what I needed to know. It took hundreds of hours, over the course of dozens of drives up the twisting Sawmill River Parkway to visit him, before he thought to reveal the difficult truth I needed to know about how my father was humiliated, from the time he could stand.

It was a crushing revelation and he made it with all appropriate hesitation and regret to have to tell me, but describing it to me was an act of love that turned a light on in the universe and enabled me to start to let go of much of the pain and anger that had been building in me for decades. It allowed my father, a few years later, to have a son standing next to his deathbed who knew exactly why he felt his life was over by the time he was two. In a sense, it is a miracle my father did only as much damage to my sister and me as he did.

I have mused about this, and Eli’s gift, over the course of a thousand page first draft that is sitting on this blahg, needing another pass to start turning it into a book you could read and extract lessons from for your own life. Click on the subject “Book of Irv” to the right of this post and you will see what I’m talking about.

A word about “by Oinsketta” instead of publicizing my name, Eliot Widaen, as any normal writer would do. When I started this blahg it was to get access to a supposed archive of research on Malcolm X compiled by Manning Marable a scholar who died shortly after (or maybe right before) the publication of his biography of Malcolm X, El Hadj Malik el Shabbaz. I’d read the book in fascination, thinking it was a great and insightful work, and then the critical shit hit the fan. People who loved Malcolm (as my father had, as I do) were outraged by some of Marable’s assertions in the book. I’d seen a reference to an online archive of Marable’s research, went looking for it, found it, logged in and found virtually nothing of use there.

I remember feeling quite disgusted at the “archive”, that the sources of the controversial parts of what Marable had written had apparently gone with him to the grave. Before being able to access the Malcolm research archive site, I had to log in to something called WordPress. I logged in as my late, beloved cat, Oinsketta, created a PIN and was given a blog. That was about ten years ago. I don’t think I can change the author’s name at this point, on the other hand, I never really checked it out. On the other hand, I suppose I don’t really care enough to research it. At the same time, the clock is ticking, and I’m trying to get some of the best of my thousands of pages of writing into publishable form.

Why do you write?

Hiding the truth

Every shameful practice, done by individuals or governments, is generally denied, hidden, explained away, recast as something else, blamed on “leakers” and vicious disloyalty. Often the exact opposite of what actually happened is promoted as the true story. This new false story can become a galvanizing battle cry, or the last stand of personal integrity (by the liar).

“Remember the Alamo!” is a great battle cry from American history, it mobilized the nation to fight a war against tyranny. In that story two hundred brave freedom loving Americans made a valiant stand, outnumbered ten to one by the Mexican tyrant’s army, and fought to the last man (except for Davy Crockett, who surrendered and was later barbarously executed by the Mexicans). The Americans who died at the Alamo mission became martyrs for the cause of a war against Mexico to conquer and seize a giant tract of Mexican land for the United States.

The real story of what actually led up to the doomed stand-off at the Alamo is a bit different from the myth. Americans were allowed by Mexico to settle in the northern Mexican area known as Texas. Mexico liked having a buffer against hostile Indian tribes, the Americans liked free land. They brought slaves, grew cotton, grew wealthy, everything was fine. Until 1830 when Mexico outlawed slavery. Americans reacted violently to this outrage against freedom. You see how this is going?

A full-blown war with Mexico a decade or so later, to the rallying cry of “Remember the Alamo!”, territory seized for the USA, slavery continues in Texas, Texas secedes from the union 15 years later and Texans fight the US government in their glorious ongoing campaign for freedom and human dignity.

I once loaned a guy a large sum of money, a short term loan he promised to repay within days. He didn’t pay it back, as promised, and I pressed him, by then needing the money myself. Unknown to me was that he’d borrowed money from all of his friends (most soon to become former friends), including a very wealthy guy I knew well. He explained that the rich guy insisted on being paid back first, and that he was working his way down the list, to me. I told him I’d talk to the rich guy, explain that I needed to be repaid before him. I was pretty sure the wealthy guy would understand my situation (it turned out he didn’t, being a wealthy guy).

The reaction of the guy who owed me the money should have told me the whole story about him. “I can’t believe you’d be such a rat, such a fucking pussy, to embarrass me like that. You have no respect for privacy, you have no character. What a fucking whiner you are. Do not talk to him about this, it’s between you and me. If you tell him, if you betray my trust, I’ll be really pissed off.”

Years later he would max out his dead father’s credit cards for cash, bringing his wife his “pay” every week, pretending for a year to be going to work every morning when he was actually living off his dead father’s credit cards. As you can imagine, he made every attempt to hide his scam, make it look like he was actually working. When it was discovered by his wife, he had many incoherent reasons for his criminality.

A true story can be talked about, learned from. A fake story, or a buried story, is a dead end. The details of what actually happened can be discussed and the issues they raise can be resolved. The details of a myth that never remotely happened lead only to ignorant opinions and stupid decisions based on the need to keep telling the lie.

Every abuser tells his victim a story that shifts blame from himself to the person abused. “If you didn’t have such a big fucking mouth, I wouldn’t have to shut it for you.” “You want to blame me, but you should look at your own infuriating behavior, then you’ll see who’s really at fault” and so on. As long as the true details of exactly what happened are never discussed, as long as I don’t mention an inconvenient detail like you bloodied my head with a stick because you flew into a rage, we don’t have a problem. “How is it my fault that you fell down and hit yourself in the face with the ground six or seven times? Fucking grow up…”

So we have pugnacious culture warriors, the Bill Barr types (fuck that fucking bagpiping fucking windbag), who smugly insist that angry blacks have nothing to be angry or even upset about, that statistically more unarmed whites than blacks are killed every year by cops, only a small handful of unarmed blacks are killed by police anyway, and whatever other freshly pulled out of the ass talking points his type can spout. “Why talk about police violence against those murderous fucking savages when they’re killing each other like the fucking animals they are? Let’s be honest, isn’t the real problem Blacks?”

In the telling of this type, American history has been one long, unblemished march toward a more perfect nation, based on the unalienable human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of wealth. To them a simple answer suffices for all the carping, unAmerican critics of how we, as a nation, conduct, and have conducted, ourselves. The self-evident truth that “all men are created equal” should be the end of this Communist propaganda about a country that supposedly oppressed Blacks (it was the Democrats!), making racist laws for a century after the end of slavery that shamed even Mr. Hitler’s top lawyers, slaughtered indigenous people (they attacked us first!), villainized immigrants (dirty!) marginalized women (“all MEN are created equal, duh!”) fought a series of wars on the shakiest of grounds (freedom on the march!), etc.

Now we have non-profit “think tanks”, funded by a handful of right wing billionaires, who, in order to mainstream a narrative more friendly to them, write model legislation to make history denial enforceable by law. If teachers are critical of some of the counterfactual claims of America’s most powerful, well, maybe those teachers shouldn’t be working with young people. Slavery ended 156 years ago, why are we still talking about slavery? The Nazis were defeated 76 years ago, why are we still talking about Nazism? Hitler wasn’t all bad anyway, he had a great economic plan while he was getting the German war economy up and running again, he was a brilliant job creator. Sure, he may have killed a few too many Jews, but look at them… they hated Hitler without mercy…

Now we read that wealthy right wingers, who are furious that the tax records of their fellow billionaires — showing many pay virtually no income tax– were illegally “leaked.” The scandal is not the often legal tax avoidance of the very wealthy and corporations, the scandal is that some piece of shit made it public. You cannot raise taxes on the rich. You also can’t give more money to the IRS for enforcement, to catch wealthy tax cheats and put more money into the public coffers because… that’s Communism, and partisan, racist fuckery, and… uh, it’s unAmerican to start witch hunts against innocent job creators, philanthropists, the best of the best… and… uh… [1]

The main thing is, if you have a story that makes you look bad, rewrite that shit to make yourself look good. The only alternative is the things you have carefully hidden coming to light, inducing shame, and anger, even violence (not to mention accountability, God forbid!), and who needs any of that shit?

Investigators who looked into the use of federal force against peaceful protesters right before Trump’s photo op at the church didn’t interview the man who ordered the use of force.
Nothing to fucking see here!

[1] from accursed Jeff Bezos’s mouthpiece:

Over the past decade, persistent budget cuts have hurt the IRS’s ability to conduct audits, including those targeting wealthy and large corporations. Tax experts have expressed alarm that the weakening of the IRS has helped fuel the increase in U.S. income inequality, in part because the rich have more tools to dodge the increasingly weak tax collection agency . . .

. . . “Reports of increased audits, enforcement and reporting requirements raise red flags with our members,” Kuhlman said. “We would urge and encourage instead increased compliance assistance, better customer service and remedying the processing delays.” . . .

. . . The groups leading the opposition to the IRS budget increase include those that have received funds from major conservative donors, including the Mercer Family Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundation and Donors Trust, a donor-advised fund that gives to conservative and libertarian causes. One signatory of the letter, Phil Kerpen of American Commitment, worked for five years at Americans for Prosperity, the main political arm of the influential Koch network.

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