Periodic Digest # 1

I often have a hard time finding things I’ve written about on this website, even when searching by remembered key words.  I write virtually every day, on several different subjects, and pieces get mixed together and buried quickly.   I will try to post a digest from time to time to help readers, and myself, find some of the better things I’ve written lately.   Here are a few from the past week, click the title to read on:

PERSONAL

Take Your Inspiration Wherever You Find It

Here is a bit of inspiration for those who can take it. Admittedly, I’m not the typical hero of an inspirational story, I haven’t had that great heartwarming moment of underdog triumph we are used to seeing in movies, hearing about in author interviews on Fresh Air.  I have achieved little in the outside world, though my inner world, where I live most of the time, is a place I can recommend highly.  I offer this encouragement to follow your impulse to delve, imagine and create, and to go boldly where it leads.

 

A thought about my father’s talent for empathy

I was thinking about the mild, kind, nurturing side of my complicated father recently.   It was not his default setting, he was usually guarded and ready to attack if he felt in any way threatened, but it was a memorable side of him that needs to be brought out in describing him to you.  He was capable of great sensitivity and supportiveness, in the right emotionally threatening situation.   Anybody who ever found themselves in a tough spot, and was calmed by my father’s talent for using his great intelligence and warm humanism to relieve worry, will remember him gratefully.

 

Five Elements Soup

We discovered this delicious soup a few weeks back in a vegetarian Chinese joint called Zen Garden.  DEEE-licious broth, truly the most flavorful broth I’ve ever tasted.   It is also supposed to be very healthy.  This is how it’s described on the menu:

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Scientific drawing:

In the spirit of Leonardo Da Vinci 

 

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POLITICS

 

Cutting through Mueller’s legalese to draft articles of impeachment

The problem for the Trump impeachment is not a shortage of impeachable behavior, it’s an overwhelming ongoing pattern of high crimes and misdemeanors.  The challenge is putting the worst of it into a few easy to understand sentences, strong articles of impeachment subject to proof based on irrefutable evidence.

 

Bill Barr defends the Unitary Executive

In Bill Barr, president Trump has found his long sought Roy Cohn, the fiercest, most powerful attorney a president could have — Trump appointed him  head of the Department of Justice.  Barr has been tireless in protecting his boss.   He is currently traveling the world to assemble evidence that the Independent Counsel’s report, which according to Barr exonerated the president of all wrongdoing, was a partisan witch hunt– the six convicted close presidential aids charged pursuant to the investigation notwithstanding.

One more treasure from Bill Barr’s 11/15 speech to the Federalist Society

I can’t help it.   Just read the remainder of Barr’s recent remarks in detail  (looking for his apparent, and telling, ad lib about Secularists — not found in the original text) and this gem was too beautiful to ignore.  In arguing about how wrong it is for courts to second-guess the actions of a conservative president, he offers this:

 

 

Take Your Inspiration Wherever You Find It

Here is a bit of inspiration for those who can take it. Admittedly, I’m not the typical hero of an inspirational story, I haven’t had that great heartwarming moment of underdog triumph we are used to seeing in movies, hearing about in author interviews on Fresh Air.  I have achieved little in the outside world, though my inner world, where I live most of the time, is a place I can recommend highly.  I offer this encouragement to follow your impulse to delve, imagine and create, and to go boldly where it leads.

The world will grind you down, constantly, it is a machine that seems designed to do that to most of us.  It doesn’t give a rat’s cuisse about you, your thoughts, desires, what you love, what you need, what you think you deserve. It is run, down to the smallest subdivision, by the most desperately misguided, almost by definition. The most driven, entitled, selfish, forceful, corrupt and violent will often decide matters for everybody else. Look around the world, it is largely run by vicious motherfuckers who did not get to rule everybody else by chance.

At the same time, the natural world is an infinitely beautiful place – a miracle. Plants, animals, the sky, the oceans, rivers, mountains, the ground you walk on, what is under the ground you walk on, its colors, tastes, sounds and smells. Human imagination is a miracle. Unimaginable things are routinely accomplished by our puny fellow earthlings. Our ability to communicate using combinations of symbols, as you and I are doing right now– no less miraculous for being also somehow explainable. Empathy and kindness from strangers, another characteristic of the species, another kind of miracle. Is there a miracle greater than the intimacy we share with those we love?

Leave aside the destructive myths of the cultures we live in, the false values that cause untold suffering to the vast majority of us, the vain, heedless leaders hellbent on destroying the marvelous planet we all live on. Human creativity, that eternally surprising source of inspiration and hope, and the unshakeable will to do something new and amazing, are among the best parts of being human.

I’m typing quickly, I’m excited, following this thought. I’m in a hurry now, hastening to urge you, and myself, to take inspiration at every opportunity, from wherever you find it.

I’ve been listening to the remarkable Robert Caro reading his book Working. In it he collects a few thoughts about how he goes about his work, gives a few choice illustrations, assembles some notes for an intended longer memoir he hopes to write one day. He is now in his eighties, and working on the last volume of a vast biography of LBJ.  Before he embarked on that work of several decades he wrote his first, now famous, ground-breaking study of power, his tome on Robert Moses, The Power Broker.

Caro has a great, down-to-earth New York accent and he speaks and reads his writing beautifully.  He is a kind of genius. When he was broke, and feeling desperate, five years into his work on his first book, the study of all-powerful New York City colossus Robert Moses, he found himself, several times, almost at the end of his faith in himself as an author.

Each time he felt about to give up and go back to working for New York Newsday, at the time a crusading liberal newspaper on Long Island, he managed to catch a break.  At one point it was a literary agent who got a sum of money for him and his family to live on as he continued to work on the book. Beyond that, she told him the New York literary world was already abuzz, very excited about his upcoming book and she found him the perfect editor. Later, when his faith was beginning to falter again, the stroke of good fortune was a key to a research and writing room at the New York Public Library.

This is the inspirational bit I am getting at. He was in a kind of despair that he might never be able to finish the massive book he was working on. Originally, naively, he’d envisioned taking a year to research and write it. Then it was two years, soon it stretched to five years and a million words.  He was trying to get at how power works in the world, using the person of the most powerful man in New York City, an unelected public builder who ruled for half a century and inexorably shaped the city forever.  He was writing a biography of Moses as a way of laying out the workings of political power.

Understanding how power works entailed learning and telling the stories of the many anonymous people screwed by the exercise of power, to get at power’s effects in the real world, on the daily lives of millions affected by it.  These anonymous people were hard to find, it took a lot of work to locate them.   The more research he did, the more interviews he conducted, the more he wrote, the more questions emerged and the further he seemed to be from the end of the gigantic project he’d devised for himself.

His wife had sold the family home she’d inherited, that money was gone, after some desperate days the additional advance from the literary agent was allowing them to rent an apartment as he continued to work in a tiny rented space, but his isolation as he worked was taking its toll. At the newspaper he’d been surrounded by colleagues, worked closely with an editor, got support from seasoned investigative journalists, had constant feedback and tight deadlines. Working in the tiny Bronx office he rented he was alone with his massive assignment.

He began to realize how much he missed the company of other writers, people who understood and could relate to the lonely work he was driven to undertake. He started thinking he might never finish the book, five years seemed an eternity and he was nowhere near done.

Off of the large research room at the main branch of the New York Public Library, there was a smaller room for several authors with book contracts who were doing research at the library.   Caro was given a key and a desk where he could write and keep the books and other files he was working with.  There were several other writers working at other desks in the room. Everyone worked in silence and for a few days he didn’t talk to anybody.

One day in the grubby library cafeteria (“grubby” I believe is the word Caro used) a writer he admired asked him about his project and how long he’d been at it. It turned out five years was not unreasonable, this writer had taken longer to research and write a book Caro had prized. Another impressive writer told him a similar story.  Suddenly he was not an outlier indulging a fantasy that could never be realized, he was a working writer trying to see an ambitious project to completion.

He reports how the simple revelation of these facts by two writers he greatly respected made him feel like kissing each of these men. You can feel his relief in the way he tells the story.  I take inspiration from his relief.

I don’t have Caro’s elite education, I went to public schools all the way through graduate school. I don’t have his background as an award-winning investigative journalist who spent years honing his craft under the watchful eyes of skilled editors and seasoned reporters he admired.  I don’t have Caro’s prodigious work ethic, if I’m being totally honest.   I work in my own imagination, in almost complete silence. Once in a while I write something that moves someone I know and they send me a quick email or text to tell me so. That is as close as I come to the world seeing me as a writer.

I write every day, as I have for many years. I’ve become good at setting things out clearly and I have a short shelf of books in mind to write. The tools are sharp, and waiting for me every time I sit down to write.  I write with a great appetite to set things out as plainly as I can and I rarely hesitate to write what’s on my mind to tell.

I had a remarkable conversation with my father the last night of his life. In that confession, which I heard with the mildness of a good priest, a whole life was encapsulated, sorrows expressed with terrible regret. My father candidly said things that night that he’d fought tirelessly to deny for all the years I knew him. A nurse friend later told me this happens sometimes to people close to death, Death hovering nearby can have this truth-encouraging effect.

Searching for a way to make some money, I learned from a writer friend about a website that pays $250 for short pieces about the experiences of Baby Boomers. I’d told this guy many stories over the years, including the story of my father’s deathbed conversion.   He told me to write some up and send them to the editor, that these family stories were just the kind of thing this website buys.

I sent the highly condensed story of a combative childhood, the constant war around the dinner table, the screaming every night, the verbal abuse. The call from Florida, decades later, father admitted to the hospital, time running out, rushing to Ft. Lauderdale airport. That final deathbed conversation, where my father, with almost no time left on the clock, told me he should have been mature enough to have had real conversations with his children, that the eternal, absurd black and white combat had been his fault. “You’re supposed to have some fucking insight…” he said in that raspy dying man’s voice. I told him it was OK. He died the next evening as the orange and pink Florida sunset outside the hospital windows turned the palm trees into silhouettes.

After a few back and forths during which I cut the piece from 1,500 to 1,000 words, it was published on the website and I had my first $250 check.  I had a bracing moment reading it on-line.  The editor had changed a few lines, swapping in a cliché here and there for a well-chosen, precise description, and in one egregious case, rewriting an entire sentence to make my narrator an insight-challenged idiot who could not understand how his mother could have loved his father, something I understood very well.

He left the next piece I sent him virtually intact, and sent me another $250, and he also loved the third, which he promised to publish soon. When I got no check for the third I inquired and he told me he thought he’d sent me an email about changing his mind. The piece was great, he wrote again, but maybe a bit too edgy for his audience. I sent one or two more but got tired of having this ham-fisted editor as the arbiter of whether my work was worth the fee. I should have begun flinging these pieces, and others, over the transoms of every magazine out there, but I didn’t.

Instead, I set out to write the book of my father’s life and times.  Every day I’d make a cup of coffee and sit down to recall what I could of my complicated, difficult father.  It was work I greatly looked forward to every day.   A man of charm, great intelligence, dark humor, idealism, sensitivity, my father was, at the same time, a broken soul who generally acted like a merciless, prosecutorial dick to my sister and me.

I proceeded on the theory, initially, that I had to show the traits that endeared him to so many, his wit, his empathy, his championing of the underdog, his intelligent counsel, and then dramatically contrast them to the dreaded monster he turned into in private during the ruthless nightly battles over dinner.  A monster! Jekyll and Hyde, something dramatic that the kids would want to buy.

After the intervention of my father, in the form of his talkative skeleton, and more than a thousand pages written over the next two years, and a year thinking more about the book I was trying to write, I came to realize that my initial theory had been crap.   Irv was an ordinary, even typical, man of his generation, of many generations. His story was not about a monster but about the crushed dreams of a little boy who’d grown into a man, doing his best, but always fearing the worst. A man, like all men, who wrestled with terrifying demons, not always elegantly, not always without damaging those closest to him.

My life was basically over before I was two,” he said with infinite sadness, yet without self-pity, that last night of his life.  By then I knew exactly what he was referring to, and he knew that I knew.

The story of a life is an elusive thing, it changes radically depending on your point of view, your proximity to it, how that life affects your life. Your life, my life, how do you summarize it?

Robert Moses was very unhappy with the detailed portrait Robert Caro painted of his life in The Power Broker. He wrote a seething 3,500 word refutation of Caro’s book, based on the excerpts of it he’d read in The New Yorker. He wrote like a haughty, angry child who’d gone to the finest schools. Larded with obscure literary quotations and references to the classics, defensive and pretending not to be, from beginning to end it was the wounded cry of a man who felt he’d done great things, for millions, without a bit of gratitude.  A master chef who had made the world’s most beautiful omelets, admittedly having broken a few eggs in the process, a thing impossible to avoid, and whose artistry was so unappreciated.

The half million people Robert Moses had summarily evicted from their longtime homes, destroying their neighborhoods (like my mother’s) to build his dream projects that allowed cars to drive quickly through what he regarded as former slums?  “You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs” was how he summarily  refuted that assertion by the scurrilous Mr. Caro.   You can read his 3.500 words here

In trying to fairly assess my father’s life, the valuable ideals he instilled and the terrible harm he inflicted on my sister and me, I found it necessary to talk things out with my dead father. There was no trove of documents to read through, no witnesses to interview, no writings left behind to ponder. There were only my memories, my intimate knowledge of the man, and the hints of a final conversation between us that should have started decades earlier.

That last chat was a good starting point for a relationship, then he was dead. I was glad to hear that I was no longer being blamed for the whole long series, senseless skirmishes, relieved to finally be let off the hook as the instigator of all the ugliness between my father and me, but then… poof! the suddenly reasonable man was gone. All that was left was the image of his skeleton, sitting up in his grave outside of Peekskill, piping up from time to time, giving me someone to discuss these perplexing mysteries with.

I started writing the manuscript daily in 2016. I worked on it every day through the end of 2017. Then, overwhelmed by a rambling 1,200 page draft that had not yet captured a real likeness of my complicated old man, had only touched on the damage he’d done, the deeper lessons of his life and the inspiration he left behind, I found myself sucked into the swirling toilet bowl of the ever-distracting, attention craving Donald J. Trump and his destructively transactional worldview.

Trump, for his part, was fond of saying that his father, the ruthless Fred Christ Trump, was his teacher, his mentor and his best friend.  In more honest moments, the second youngest of the five Fred and Mary Trump children acknowledged that Fred was a hard man, ambitious, demanding and impossible to please. Young Trump, paid $200,000 a year from birth for undisclosed work he did for his father as a baby– his life was basically over by the time he was two.

Inspired by the example of historian Robert Caro, I feel like I’m ready to get back to work on the book of my father. Take your inspiration wherever you find it. Here is Robert Caro on the time-consuming search to get as close as we humans can come to historical truth:

The part of me that, now that I was writing books, kept leading me, after I’d got every question answered, to think, in spite of myself, of new questions that in the instant of thinking them I felt must be answered for my book to be complete. The part of me that kept leading me to think of new avenues of research that, even as I thought of them, I felt it was crucial to head down, it wasn’t something about which, I had learned the hard way, I had a choice – in reality I had no choice at all.

In my defense, while I am aware that there is no truth, no objective truth, no single truth, no truth simple or unsimple either, no verity eternal or otherwise, no truth about anything, there are facts, objective facts, discernible and verifiable, and the more facts you accumulate, the closer you come to whatever truth there is. And finding facts, through reading documents or through interviewing and re-interviewing, can’t be rushed, it takes time. You could say that truth takes time.

But that’s a logical way of justifying that quality in me and I know it wasn’t only logic that made me think I’m never going to write about a crucial election, a pivotal moment in my subject’s life, and say that no-one’s ever going to know if it was really stolen or not until I’ve done everything I can think of to find out if it was stolen or not.

I could not track down the character who had falsely counted the votes for LBJ in that long ago local election, and perjured himself in a court proceeding decades earlier, and interviewed the now regretful old man, as Caro managed to do.  All I can do is imagine and re-imagine my dead father’s life, in light of the discussions his skeleton and I have had, taking into account every fingerprint he left on my own life and on my sister’s.

Come to think of it, I haven’t heard a peep from the voluble skeleton in many moons. Probably time to wake him up, we have a lot more work to do if I’m going to get to the bottom of this challenging puzzle I’ve been assembling in this dark room.

Take inspiration from my determination, if you can, as I will also try to.

I Can’t Keep Blaming Mr. Hitler

True, Hitler did send columns of determined men with guns to conquer areas where my family in Europe lived, followed by special squads of “ideological” specialists who worked with desperate, angry locals to kill everyone in my family (and their ilk) left in Europe.   Not a bit nice, as my grandmother Yetta used to say about people who did awful things.   Yetta herself had six siblings (every brother and sister she had) and her two parents murdered, by local Ukrainians, granted, but at the behest of specialized men who took an oath of personal loyalty to Mr. Hitler and did everything he told them to do. [1]     

I tend to think regularly of the outsized influence this conceited little puke had on my family, by killing virtually all of them — and then I think– you know, it all took place thirteen years before I was even born.    There are, after all, two sides, at least, to every story, plus all that nuance.   Maybe I am just being a melodramatic little bastard by continuing to make a big deal about this Hitler business, blaming that long-dead extremist demagogue for things that had nothing whatsoever to do with him.

I mean, people in my small family here, people I actually knew well, hated each other– having nothing whatsoever to do with Adolf Fucking Hitler.   A pair of half-siblings, my father’s first cousins, didn’t exchange a word for the last thirty years or more of their long lives.   What had Mr. Hitler to do with that?  Absolutely innocent on that count, your honor!

My fractured family, largely extirpated by men obedient to Mr. Hitler, was composed, a couple of generations back, in Hitler’s day, of a large group of hardworking poor people.   They were what you call “nobodies”.   Their lives fell silently into that huge statistic of dead people killed in the deadliest war in history.   On my father’s side the disappeared hamlet they came from, down to its precise location in the marsh land of Belarus, was one of literally thousands of Jewish enclaves permanently wiped off the world map in those years, when men like Mr. Hitler and his kind made big, important decisions about who shall live and who needed to be exterminated.  

I look at my own circumstances, ponder the epigenetics of it sometimes, the way my grandparents’ experience of being the sole survivors of large, murdered families might have shaped their personalities, how that unspoken of trauma of their murdered brothers and sisters and everyone else they knew altered the things they passed on to me without any of us being aware of it.   Then I think, there you go, blaming Mr. Hitler again!

I sometimes find myself comparing the circumstances of my own family with those of the proud, accomplished Jared Kushner and his family.   Jared has that haughty bearing, proud and imperious as a top SS man in the old photos.  It may seem unfair to make that comparison between a very wealthy Jew and the most “ideological” of the Nazi leadership cadre (most top SS men, as they say, were “well-born”), but you have to admit, looking at the way he carries himself, that Jared is an indomitable man and appears quite certain of his superiority.   Jared would never allow himself to be marched to a ravine for a bullet in the back of his head, after giving up his clothes for payment to his murderers.  No way.  Jared would find a way to win, to vanquish his enemies, because a guy like Jared Kushner, let’s face it, one of the President of the United States’ top advisors, is a winner.   His kind doesn’t get shot lying face down in a ditch like a nobody.

You may be tempted to call it a matter of pure, dumb luck, observe that Jared was randomly born to a very wealthy family of Jews who escaped the Nazi murder machine and managed to thrive in the United States, amassing a fortune of almost two billion dollars in barely two generations.  Think deeper.   It is just as likely a matter of character, which is, of course, destiny.  The best are the best for a reason, n’est-ce pas?  If it was mere dumb luck that Jared’s grandparents arrived here and were able to build a modest family business, buying and renting out multiunit apartment buildings in New Jersey, into a thriving real estate empire in just a few decades while mine worked as hard for a fraction of the reward, then what does it all mean?  What is the possible meaning of this random, merciless arrangement? 

I get worked up sometimes considering questions like these and I eventually get back to blaming fucking Hitler.   At the same time, I know that Mr. Hitler was merely a symptom, a purulent boil that was fated to burst upon the scene, like any inevitable destructive psychopath whose message manages to resonate with millions and spurs them to unthinking violence.  

I mean, if Mr. Hitler had never lived, had never come to power in the most civilized, highly industrialized nation of his day, had never held sway over millions of Germans (36.8% voted for his party in the last election of the democratic Weimar Republic), how different would the world be today?  How different would my life be?  Hard to imagine.   And senseless to try, really, except for the lessons I take from it, having studied Mr. Hitler and the rise of the movement he led, some might say obsessively, on and off for literally decades.

I realize, of course, that even if Mr. Hitler (I’m adopting the New York Times style here, the Grey Lady once puckishly referred to “Mr. Clapton” and “Mr. Diddley” in a piece about Eric and Bo) had never existed, most of my family probably never would have arrived here in the USA anyway.   By 1924 prominent American “nativists”, xenophobes and racists, under the banner of Eugenics (a discredited sham science that the learned and unimpeachable Mr. Trump devoutly espouses to this day), had severely restricted immigration from shit-hole countries like the places my people come from.  The few who arrived here came in before the land of the free largely closed its doors to immigrants in 1924, the last of them, my grandfather, sneaking in in 1923.

1924, coincidentally, was the year of my father’s birth, in an unforgiving, crime-infested  slum in Lower Manhattan.    Trump’s feverishly imagined Baltimore has nothing on the Lower East Side of New York City in 1924.   1924 was also the year, nine years after D.W. Griffith’s darkly influential silent film masterpiece The Birth of A Nation extolled the heroism of the Ku Klux Klan, that Klan membership in America reached its all-time peak of 2.4 million proud sheet wearing members.   Birth of A Nation was the first motion picture screened in the White House and President Woodrow Wilson, who watched it raptly, [2] later enthused “it’s like writing history in lightning, and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true!”

What was so terribly true, in the eyes of the otherwise progressive Woodrow Wilson (aren’t people complex?), was that the former slaves down south had been completely out of control, savagely and vengefully dominating the innocent local whites and raping the women — also attaining political office in many areas with their new bayonet-imposed right to vote.   As Griffith showed in his blockbuster epic, history written in lightning fifty years after the fact, a heroic band of white underdogs, modern day knights in sheets, arose to protect the glorious South from these unrestrained black beasts and protect the honor of their pure, white women.  

I was exposed to a big chunk of this controversial movie by an Italian visiting professor, during my time in graduate school at City College.   Almost ninety years after Griffith wrote his terribly true history in lighting, she insisted the group of us in her comparative literature seminar watch it.   I was there as part of my study of, eh, creative writing.   We all agreed that movie was some fucked up and incendiary distortion of history as we knew it.   It also explained a lot about historical revisionism and the dramatic power of heroically presented bullshit shouted through the right megaphone.

The forces of violent, irrational hatred in the world are always simmering (open virtually any history book anywhere if you doubt this).   Mr. Hitler sometimes, in the early days, when he was up and coming, humbly referred to himself as a “drummer”, the kid tirelessly banging the drum to set the cadence for the righteously marching troop parade.   Like the guy on the old slave-powered Roman galley, the hortator, some poor bastard who beat a drum and chanted to set the cadence for the coordinated pulling of the heavy oars by the other slaves, as ordered by the captain.

We have a hortator, inciter, encourager, exhorter, urger like that right here, in charge of scrawling his name jaggedly across the bottom of Executive Orders, veto pen in his other hand, and though I hesitate to invoke his tiresome name (again) in a piece about blaming Hitler, well, really, who can blame me?   Ah, fuck him [3] and the Nazi hordes he rode in on.   I really do have to stop blaming Mr. Fucking Hitler, though.

 

[1]  Hitler’s every word was, literally, law.   The Nazis phrased it “Fuhrerworte haben Gesetzeskrafte” and it was left to an army of Nazi lawyers to put their infallible leader’s every utterance into crisp legalize and codify it into the German legal code of the time. 

[2] I’ll try to keep the fucking toilet type adjectives and nouns here in the footnotes, gentle reader.  Wilson was a racist motherfucker if there ever was one.  He was the only U.S. president  in history born and raised in the Confederacy, so there’s that– he grew up in besieged and eventually defeated territory that had staged an armed rebellion against the United States.  In fairness to him, the famous Progressive also apparently hated Jews, a people who are not, except to certain racists, actually a “race”, though, like the Fuhrer himself (who had more than 300 “do not touch” Jews on his list) he had Jews he thought were first class.    He nominated Louis Brandeis to the Supreme Court in 1916– a bold and progressive move.    As it was later written of Brandeis by Justice William O. Douglas:

 “Brandeis was a militant crusader for social justice whoever his opponent might be. He was dangerous not only because of his brilliance, his arithmetic, his courage. He was dangerous because he was incorruptible … [and] the fears of the Establishment were greater because Brandeis was the first Jew to be named to the Court.”

the Wiki continues:

On June 1, 1916, he was confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 47 to 22, to become one of the most famous and influential figures ever to serve on the high court. His opinions were, according to legal scholars, some of the “greatest defenses” of freedom of speech and the right to privacy ever written by a member of the Supreme Court.

source

[3] Shit, sorry, gentle reader, I f–ed up.  So hard to keep the fucking cuss words out of it, idn’t it?

Organizing my attack

Sometimes we get insight in a very roundabout way, only after a thing has been gnawing at us for a very long time.   It can take being nibbled by a particular demon for many years before you jump out of your chair one day and say “what the fuck?!!” look down and see what is snacking on you.

At the end of several long, stressful days getting the house ready for the contractors (the lioness’s share done by indefatigable, self-proclaimed working dog Sekhnet)  I went through a pile of papers (a short stack) propped helter skelter on a board laid across an open desk drawer.   More than half the pages immediately went onto the recycle pile to be carried down to the bag.   The rest, mostly drawings, I clipped neatly into the clipboard they were lying haphazardly on.   

Not really very hard, I realized, though the volume and variety of papers here, as I glance around, is many, many times more than that short stack at Sekhnet’s I dispatched in a few minutes.   Of course, Sekhnet is right — spending a half hour a day at it would make a big difference within a few days, even here, in the eye of the storm.

Another insight hit me when I pulled a page I’d printed out of the pile and began reading.   It was my unsent pitch to a publisher who welcomes book proposals from unknown authors.   A two paragraph evocation of the book I thought I was writing about my father, something I worked on hours every day for two years, a massive, unwieldy first draft.   

I stopped reading my pitch shortly into the second “reveal” paragraph.   I was glad I’d never sent the thing, it was a labored, strenuous, grunting swing at nothing but air.   It did not present a hint of a compelling idea for a book.

I recently saw a best-selling author, in the windup to an ad for his Master Class on how to become a successful writer, describe the writing of the second draft as an exercise in convincing everyone that you knew exactly where you were going when you wrote the first draft.    Wow.    That’s precisely my challenge in putting together the book of my father’s life and then successfully pitching it.   

The story of my difficult father’s life is not the tired old story of a smart idealist with an abusive dark side, fighting for justice for strangers while doing great harm to his own family.   It’s not the story of a man’s triumphant emergence from childhood poverty into the middle class (along with a large cohort of World War Two vets at a unique and fleeting moment in history).  It’s not the story of monstrous anger, righteous and senseless both, and a rigid inability to forgive.   

Those things are part of the back story.   The book is more of a meditation on the nature and substance of history itself, what we remember and what we forget, and the imagining of a lifelong conversation that should have been.   That conversation with the skeleton of my father, the one that began the last night of his life, is the heart of the book, though it’s not the story I need to tell, shop and sell.  

The real story is what I suspected from the start, the difficulty of forgiveness and a rare moment of grace, just before death, when an unbearable burden is lifted, the regrettable truth finally spoken and reassurance given to the dying man just before his light winks out.  The story is about exactly what those regrets are made of, what was learned, and lost, how the unlikely and precious moment came to happen at all.

Twenty-five years ago an old friend celebrated my decision to become a lawyer (an ill-considered one, at best) as me finally being about to “compete”.  I get what he was saying, I’ve always kept myself out of the economic competition that defines our materialistic culture, refusing to race the rest of the rats for the mirage of an illusory goal (or simply being a cowardly rat, depending on your view).   I did not embrace the world’s second oldest profession, nor did I ever really compete in it, outside of plucking the occasional victim out of the meat grinder of justice, as when I saved an old woman from homelessness at the hands of zealous NYCHA attorneys.

In mulling over the anger I’ve been feeling lately I realize part of it is my chafing feeling of paralysis (not helped by painfully arthritic knees — as Vonnegut said “be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.”), of being overwhelmed by difficult things that are hard, true, but clearly not impossible.    Part is anger at my resigned acceptance of a limited, frugal life, foregoing comfortable middle class options while muttering here in great, sometimes worthwhile, detail about the objectively atrocious state of things and what I have pieced together.   

I’m angry about having no voice, in spite of speaking all the time (as I am silently doing right now, you dig?), and often finding and saying things I think would advance the larger discussion in a threatened world increasingly dominated by mindless bluster and vapid shouting.   I’m angry that evil idiots, often born “booted and spurred” to ride the rest of us [1] rule and I that have nothing to say about any of it, no matter how well I may say it.    And that others, professionals, who blow “thoughts” out of their asses, are well-paid to do it.

I’m angry about my inability to marshal my abilities to tell a story and get paid.   I’m angry that I have to monetize my writing in the first place (but in an uncertain casino economy one needs to keep some money coming in) and I’m angry that I’m not getting any money for it.

I’m angry that I’m not getting paid for writing what I write and I’m angry that I’m doing virtually nothing about it.  It is a frustrating cycle and it presses on because I do not confront the hard work I need to do to market and sell my work.   I am, on a fundamental level (and as hard as I’ve often worked in my life) lazy, preferring at any given moment to do what I like rather than what needs to be done.  Since writing itself is satisfying to me, once I have the words in final form, I never think of it as unproductive unless paid for.   When I think of it that way, through the eyes of the world, it pisses me off.   

I don’t mean to say that lazy is the last word on my life, it certainly isn’t (he hastily added).  There is also fear, of course, long habit, the actual daunting difficulty of the uphill task, and so forth.   I learned a very important life lesson during a dark time in my life — how crucial it is to be kind to yourself.   I don’t pile on myself when the going gets tough and I never reduce myself to the sum of my faults.   

On the other hand, this anger I’ve described is something only I can work on, a grating car alarm only I have the key to silencing.  I also remind myself that I don’t need to be paid a million bucks or write a blockbuster hit, a couple of thousand dollars would be a very good start.

Sekhnet observed the other day that the therapy I’ve gone through did not touch my powerful aversion to organizing my papers, my life.   Fair enough.  I’ve recently come to think of my great and irrational resistance to going through old papers as an odd reflection of my fear of death, but what the fuck is up with that?

Anger at how difficult it has been for me to read the proverbial writing on the wall, about situations, sometimes about people, the bottom-line nature of the reality we are all living in, is less than useless.    Anger, while it can alert us to a problem in the manner of all pain, disables the ability to see any path out of it, as anger directs all energy back to itself.  Time to poke a few breathing holes in this smothering carapace of aggravation, I say.  

 

 

 

[1]   The well-read Thomas Jefferson, master of the felicitous phrase, stole this famous image for his final letter (shortly after the great passage about democracy  “arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government”).

The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.

source

from Richard Rumbold, a man executed by the English for treason more than a century earlier.  Rumbold delivered the line toward the end of his final remarks, moments before he was drawn and quartered :   

I am sure there was no man born marked of God above another, for none comes into the world with a saddle on his back, neither any booted and spurred to ride him.

source

I always loved this image of people born “booted and spurred” to ride the rest of us, particularly at a moment like this — Avi Berkowitz, 30 year-old assistant to Trump Special Advisor Jared Kushner, himself the supremely unqualified son of a billionaire. is elevated, by another very important man who inherited hundreds of millions and squandered more than that, to take the helm of  Trump’s secret, still unreleased Middle East Peace Plan that these born booted and spurred individuals are already boasting about. 

as to Richard Rumbold, here’s some great detail:

Note 1. Delivered in Edinburgh. Rumbold was captured after having been wounded and then separated from his companions in arms. An immediate trial had been ordered that he might be condemned before he died of his wounds. He was found guilty on June 26, 1685, sentenced to be executed the same afternoon, and was drawn and quartered, the quarters being exposed on the gates of English towns. [back]
Note 2. At this point Rumbold was interrupted by drum beating. He said he would say no more on that subject, “since they were so disingenuous as to interrupt a dying man.” [back]

 

To Feel or Not To Feel

An old friend reminded me the other night that it is better (though not easier) to feel what you’re feeling, experience the pain of it if it’s painful, than to pretend not to feel any part of what is oppressing you.   Feeling your feelings is an essential part of processing, healing, moving forward, being respectful and kind to yourself. Which seems counter-intuitive when you feel like shit.   It was good to be reminded of this pillar of humaneness.  If we practice not feeling what we’re feeling, how do we remain empathetic to difficult things our loved ones often go through?

I think of the choice to feel or not to feel as closely related to the choice between knowing and not knowing [1].   I think it’s better to feel and to know.  The choice not to feel a given feeling or consider a given fact is often simple denial.   Repressing the feelings your soul is going through, denying things that make it go through turmoil, is a one way ticket on the Miserable Asshole Express, as far as I can tell.   As they say on TV, individual exceptions may apply.   I’m not certainly not advocating no anesthesia before a painful procedure, I like a good anodyne as much as the next agony avoider, but I also see the importance of feeling my feelings and having my thinking informed with as much actual knowledge — and feedback from people I trust —  as possible.

What we feel is often closely related to what we know, or, just as often, to what we don’t know.   I’ve been feeling mostly anger since I learned of the sudden, senseless, premature death of a once very close friend.  He died alone and virtually friendless, in spite of possessing many great and rare qualities that could have made him a good friend to many.   It irked me, in large part, that his mere death, a purely random event two thousand miles away,  compelled me, involuntarily (as far as I could tell) to focus once more on his irremediably painful life of wasted potential.  To me an important piece of working out the puzzle of anger is figuring out exactly why the hell something makes me so mad.  I don’t know a better way of trying to digest things and come out the other side of anger.

I’ve been remembering viscerally, continually, the many years I tried to make the pain-filled solipsist see another perspective, how hard I banged my head against the locked door of his highly intelligent but utterly closed mind.   Part of my anger is at myself, for remaining friends with such an impossible person, expecting the clearly impossible, even after ample proof of its impossibility, not accepting the futility of this abzurd expectation years earlier, not saving myself a decade or two of stressful, energy-sapping adversarial relations with a very unhappy and demanding, yea, toxic, person.

Sometimes something we learn or realize can immediately begin to change our feelings for the better.   We can’t learn this kind of crucial thing without being open to learning, and to our feelings about what we learn.   We can’t feel any differently, can’t get relief from hurt, without additional insight.   Not that learning a better way, or discovering an objective, revealing fact that changes a story,  instantly makes bad feelings go away.   Feelings, bad and good, will always arise and often challenge us.

One insight I was blessed to be given was that sometimes much of what we suffer over is not remotely our fault or our doing.  No less an authority than the Buddha taught that the nature of life in this world involves this kind of impersonal suffering we can’t help but feel personally, from the pain of being attached to things that can vanish at any time.   I don’t know much about Buddha, but I do know that what the fox said in William Steig’s beautiful The Amazing Bone rings very true in regard to perplexing things beyond our control we sometimes agonize over:  I didn’t make the world.

All we can do is live in this world the best we can, trying to be kind, maintaining the relationships we value as well as we can, until it is our time to move on, hopefully with some grace, as a final gift to those we love.  

I’m thinking about this today in part because of what my friend said the other night about feeling his painful feelings and partly because of two very different reactions from two old friends to my last angry piece about the now recently cremated Mark.

One read the final email exchange between me and my relentlessly exasperating old friend and didn’t understand what was so provocative about his final response that I felt compelled to drive a stake through his grieving heart right after his mother died.  His question caused me to re-read Mark’s last words carefully and write a detailed explanation.   This process entailed putting my finger on exactly why it had set me off, giving him the context of my long experience that had left me with the conditioned reflex to react that way.   He wrote back that he understood now, and found my explanation quite complete and sensible.

Another old friend had a much different reaction.  He was troubled by the outpouring of rage, which struck him more as the reaction of a betrayed lover than a merely disillusioned friend.    I wrote back that we were like siblings, bound in a constant sullenly competitive rivalry (Mark really wasn’t my romantic type, I’d have to say).  I offered to send him the long email I’d already written explaining exactly where the rage came from but he declined, having read enough already.   De gustibus non disputandum est.   I don’t judge anyone about their appetite for the hideous details, we are all different that way.

I have an appetite for the hideous details.   As, to some extent, does my friend who asked me why I’d been so savage replying to what appeared to him as an inept, clumsy, odd yet sincere attempt at reconciliation, not the final provocation I took it to be.   It was a good question, I saw, rereading the awkward reply that had set me off.   Sitting down to examine my anger and setting out exactly what ignited it was an excellent use of several hours.   In the end I felt neither arbitrary nor capricious (nor unfair) in responding the way I had.  

This can also be seen as merely my take on the endlessly justifying human need to endlessly justify our behavior and the justness of the feelings that lead us to do what we do.   Sure.   I made a good case for why I was angry, cited a few persuasive examples from the text.   It is what lawyers do in our litigious society and I did it to the satisfaction of my fellow lawyer.  

It was also an examination, for me, of the more vexing question of whether I had been fair to do what I’d done.   I questioned my actions, my motives.   The whole process of unraveling Mark’s maddeningly “un-unravelable” lifelong conundrum, as reflected in his final email, was some help to me.  In the end I was satisfied that I’d behaved as I’d want to behave, as I’d will anyone else in the same situation to behave, if I had the power to make it so.   The old Kantian Moral Imperative: act in a way that the world would be a better place if everyone did likewise.

One more annoying question and I’ll be on my way.   Why write things like this and hit “publish”, why put these sometimes troubling personal musings up on the internet for anyone to find?     Aren’t these private thoughts best shared among a small handful of closest friends?  Couldn’t they potentially torment people who might have loved Mark and not shared my anger at him?

I write them for an invisible reader as a way of putting things that feel important to me in a more objective, finalized form.   I need to provide enough general background for anyone to understand what I’m talking about.   In doing this I practice sorting through everything in mind and putting it forward in a way that is most easily comprehensible.   It’s not good writing if the average reader can’t follow it.  

Writing it, and constantly re-editing it, allows me to go back and clarify whatever is left unclear, on the page and in my mind.  In combing away cluttering words (in a way I wish I could attack my desk or kitchen table) I am able to make what I am saying, what I am feeling, clearer and clearer — to the virtual reader and to myself.

When it is as clear as I can make it, there is a feeling of completeness, the satisfaction of a job well-done.   Before I hit “publish” I read it one last time, to make sure everything is in the place where it makes sense for it to be (I often continue editing an already ‘finalized’ post any time I find something confusing in it).  If somebody in Kenya reads it, and it helps her see something in her life better, my work is worth it, I suppose.

 

 

[1[  Mind you, though you surely don’t need reminding, I speak merely as one opinionated, self-appointed pontiff (the better to pontificate, I say).   Feel free to skip this entirely, reject my right to write it or mock away.  This thinking/writing business works for me, better than the alternatives, anyway, but reading it is not for everybody — it goes without saying… just sayin’…

Denial or Contentment

I consider myself a student, learning something cool is exciting to me, even at my reasonably advanced age.   I try to learn what I can, understand as much as I can digest.    Much as I often devote myself to trying to master facts, read critical histories, acquire actual knowledge on which to base my strong opinions, I also see more and more that the world we move through is ruled by emotions, not facts, history, the wisdom of the ages.  Emotional learning is as important as anything, more important than most things, in fact, but it can be tricky, since we have mainly our feelings about our emotions to go on.

We are always at the mercy of emotions, our own and the emotions of others.   Emotions are beautiful, terrible, life-affirming, deadly, limitless in their kinds, shades and intensity.    There is nothing inherently good or bad about them, for the most part — only the actions (or inaction) they cause are of urgent concern.   Our feelings are the biggest part of what makes us human, what makes us hopefully humane.  It’s better to be motivated by feelings of empathy, mercy and generosity, on balance, than by selfishness, ruthlessness and jealousy.  The mind comes into it, always, to justify the moral correctness of what we already feel.   Who wants to feel like a selfish, ruthless, jealous person when they can feel virtuous instead?  [1]

It is an idea, seized by emotion, that animates all human belief and action.  One of the cruelest things you can do to somebody is destroy their idea of real hope for anything better.   This was the central tragedy of my father’s life — true hope had been ripped from him as a baby.  It is the idea of being able to improve our situation that sustains us in our worst moments.   Remove this idea and you’re done.    The ideas we embrace are crucial to how we live.

There are countless examples of how this idea framing shapes the emotional world, and human history. Take a look at Mein Kampf for one example.   In his chapter on Vienna, its author describes how logic and reason, in the crucible of the “poisonous snake” that was the city of Vienna, finally convinced him of a truth his tender heart did not want to consider: that Jews were the cause of all of the evil in the world and must be exterminated.   Fair enough, if you believe that shit.   Millions did, millions do.

My mind turns to politics when I think of examples of this idea/ feeling connection, since we’re living in emotionally-charged, pivotal, make-or-break times, close to where the world was in the 1930s with the additional pressures of an overpopulated natural world on the verge of vast climate catastrophe and global capitalism running nakedly amok, in the name of unlimited profits for the few while increasing billions have little or no prospect of anything good.    You’ll forgive one more “political” example and then I’ll turn to my larger point.

The radical right’s ascendance in America in the last few decades was founded on their shrewd understanding of the principle that ideas lead to emotional acceptance and then to unified political actions.   You frame the discussion, change the way people are talking about things, get public opinion on your side, et, voila, representative government is the real enemy of the People.    

It may be the same government that sent federal agents into the most overtly racist states to prosecute the Ku Klux Klan and stop a century of terrorism, that passed laws banning child labor, created standards for workplace health and safety, created a vast infrastructure that facilitated great wealth, passed laws designed to remedy centuries of racism, sexism and xenophobia at law, created food and drug safety agencies, an agency to protect our environment and one to protect citizens from financial fraud, administers vast medical programs for veterans, poor people and retirees, created a social safety net for children and old people, on down the list… this same democratic government is a tyranny that brutally coerces people to give up their most important possession–  liberty.   The essential liberty not to be coerced by majoritarian mobs for the benefit of “takers”.

Frame anything strongly, particularly to someone already inclined to believe your story,  and you will see emotions confirmed, certainty and vehemence increased.   The entire debate is in the framing.  Guns — constitutionally protected freedom.   Guns — murder weapons regularly in the hands of murderous maniacs.   Abortion– the vicious murder of unborn souls, an abomination God hates more than He hates homosexuals.   Abortion — a difficult choice women often agonize over but something preferable to bringing a rapist uncle’s unwanted baby into the world, or dying in childbirth.    Global warming — a vast conspiracy of freedom-hating Takers who just want to punish wealthy Job Creating Makers.   Global warming– increased atmospheric CO2 levels, largely the result of a century of burning gasoline and our vast meat/dairy industry — warming the earth quickly with disastrous and readily perceivable results: wild fires, droughts, floods, other catastrophic weather events, mass extinctions, etc.

OK, that’s enough of the political applications.   What I am really thinking about today is our moods, my mood.   The ever-shifting continuum of how we feel about the things around us, what we’re doing, the progress we are, or are not, making. Talk to me Monday and my idiosyncratic life is impossible to justify.   If I am such a good writer, why am I not seriously figuring out how to brand and market my work, get paid for it?   Where is the line of customers telling me how important my writing is to them?   I look at my seeming paralysis about doing simple things, like spending thirty minutes a day taming my uncontrollable desk and kitchen table.   What the fuck is that about?   That thought’s enough to send me into a funk, on a given day (though not enough to spur me to action organizing my jungle of papers).

Clearly, logically, if I spent even fifteen minutes a day going through that haystack of papers, shredding most of it, within a few days I could have the full use of my kitchen table, my desk, find my passport, the extension to the adapter for my laptop, missing photos, that roll of orange cloth tape I’ve maddeningly lost, other things I’ve been unable to locate lately.   Can’t seem to do it.   Once in a while this irrational paralysis torments me, colors everything in my life, makes me appear monstrously weak to myself, terrifying to Sekhnet.   I see the world through this vexing inability to do something every idiot in the world knows how to do and I feel bad.  At the same time, I clearly see that it is one perspective, and a merciless one at that, causing me to see my life so harshly, if not entirely unreasonably.  On a given day we may feel discouraged or encouraged; on discouraging days, courage is hard to find.

Talk to me Tuesday and I’m relatively carefree.  I have reason to be.   I sleep almost eight hours most nights, spend an hour or so every day walking, often in parks, have a few good friends, a loyal life partner, and many things I love to do.  I’ve become good at a number of these things I love to do (which tends to happen with things you love, if you have the time to do them).  

If you love to draw, and have all of your favorite drawing tools at hand, and paper you like– shit, that’s a blessing that’s hard to explain.  Same with a musical instrument you can pick up and make sing.   Bending the strings to give the instrument a beautiful voice  — what could be a more blessed thing?  I also write almost every day, a contemplative stretch of a couple of hours that makes me feel productive and very blessed indeed.   Whether there is a God that blesses us in these moments, or a spirit, or someone named Dave, these are all net benefits, blessings of life, doing things that bring us pleasure, that allow us to see our progress.

An idle thought started me off today, idle, though also tricky and maybe important — how much of my good feelings on a good day are the result of simple denial and how much is actual contentment with my, admittedly, unconventional, random, disorganized-seeming life of chronic non-achievement?

It’s very easy to see the denial in somebody else.   They might tell you they are not angry, then suddenly refuse to interact in a friendly way, then fly into a rage when asked about this, then admit that maybe they were a little angry, then tell you again that they are not angry — you are.    This is classic denial, and easily observed in the world.    Our current president is a reflexive practitioner of this — he says something, denies he said it, is shown a video of himself saying it, claims it’s a fake video, says the opposite, then says the original thing.  It’s all the same.  Whenever somebody points out something that might annoy, anger or embarrass you just say “you’re lying.  I never did what I just did — you did it, ass-breath.”

One thing I learned from a very scary period of waking every day in a black hole, seeing no way out (not strictly the case unless you wake up in an actual black hole, held prisoner by some sadist or some State):  the inescapable black hole is in your mind, your spirit, your feelings.   It is your feeling of being in a black hole, not an actual black hole you are forced to stay in.   It’s very real when you wake up in it– nothing could be more real in that moment than your certainty that you are trapped — but it is a feeling of being in a desperate place, as opposed to a physical reality.  

The phone could ring, a familiar wise-ass on the line, and you will find yourself falling right into the rhythm of the familiar wise-ass chat. End the chat and fall back into your black hole, as often or not, but there is a lesson in knowing we have some control over the feeling.   Next best thing is simply remembering that these feelings generally pass, as long as there are enough good things in your life as well.

We are all of us alone, fundamentally, particularly in the moments we feel desperate.   We, and everyone we love, we all must die — a terrible thing to consider. Does feeling a sense of connection with a writer who touches you qualify as a denial of your essential apartness, the unbridgeable actual gulf between you and the mind of the writer, or is it part of a larger sense of connected contentment as when you discover something new and familiar at once?    

A feeling of connection is better than isolation, in most cases, so why not smile when recognizing the brilliantly expressed humanity of a Shoshana Zuboff, an Isaac Babel, a Steven Zipperstein?   This abstract feeling of community is a great thing, it imbues us with admiration for our fellow beings and hope for the future.   The lack of this feeling, a sense of eternal, existential disconnection, is at the core of every destructive movement in the world.

You feel isolated, you have no prospects of anything much better, you are suffering alone and you are going to die.   The world is ruled by (insert your hated group of powerful psychopaths) and you are utterly helpless against it.  You need to take these horrible feelings out on somebody.    These strong feelings will cause you to look for others who feel this way.   There are literally millions of them.  You can find their avatars on-line.     There are no guarantees on the internet, of course, boys will sometimes find themselves talking to a fifty-year old pervert who calls himself adorable twelve year-old Vicky.   Part of the danger, but not that much different from being in a crowd of fist-pumping fans who do not stop to think about what they are actually cheering.

Contentment is sometimes elusive.   I am not content when I see all the horrible things done in my name, when I consider the sick values promoted by the exceptional society I am part of, when I feel myself treated unfairly, when I think of the misery sadistically inflicted by the spouters of meaningless slogans.   When I see the pugnacious face of thirty-three year-old Jewish Nazi Stephen Miller.    I can’t be in denial about any of these feelings, and I can tell you about any of them in detail and why I feel that way.

On the other hand, when I find the clip of Nature Boy on youTube is in the key I know it in, D minor, and I can immediately play along without having to tune the ukulele, I’m quite content.   If it’s in E minor, I’m content. G#minor… less content. 

Or maybe I’m in denial.  So many of us are. 

 

[1]  The obscure Colorado libertarian school Charles and David Koch attended (after their graduate degrees at MIT) for some lectures and later funded was devoted to the idea of liberty and the righteousness of the born-powerful.   Its founder and head lecturer taught that the “Gilded Age” was actually the greatest period in American history, there was no shame in using brutal advantage to increase your own vast wealth, and that the “Robber Barons” were, in fact, heroic builders of our great nation, the greatest Americans of all time.  

RIP, David, give my best to Roy Cohn.

King of The Jews

Our world-savior president, Donald J. Trump, recently embraced the exalted new name bestowed on him by tweet (by an impressive maniac in his own right) and doubling down on that inspired compliment (Trump’s only move in any situation) referred to himself (with a point at the heavens above) as “the Chosen One.”   Done and done.  The best friend the Jews ever had, since Reinhard Heydrich, and I say this as a Jew. 

The messianic president should be on guard now, I think.    I say this as a Jew, as a loyal American, as someone with Google on his phone.    Last I heard, things did not go well for the last person to wear that “King of the Jews” crown (which was made of thorns).   Y’all remember Jesus of Nazareth, “King of the Jews”?    Just type “King of the Jews” into your smartphone and you get this:

The acronym INRI represents the Latin inscription IESVS NAZARENVS REX IVDÆORVM (Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum), which in English translates to “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews” (John 19:19).         source

That mysterious INRI on the sign shown in many old paintings of Jesus being crucified stands for “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”.   It was a final vicious mockery of the Prince of Peace, a flicker of that old Roman sense of humor. 

Likely suggested, as we are told by devout men, by the hateful “disloyal” Jews of the time, Jews that Christians soon blamed for the crucifixion of God’s son (the alternate story, that Jesus was executed by the Roman authorities, would not have been popular in Rome — and Rome controlled most of the world’s known population at the time).   Hey, it’s all about P.R., after all, if you plan to proselytize widely and become a major world religion.

It is not known whether the crucified in 33 A.D. King of the Jews had a sense of humor.  I like to think Jesus did.  It is a mark of a gentle character, to see the humor in things.  Laughing together is a beautiful way of bonding, a blessed moment of relief from oppression of every kind, a gentle reminder to be humble.   Of course, a talent for laughter is also the mark of a good Nazi, the comradely ability to see the undeniable humor in the wretched humiliation of a hated enemy.   The jury, I suppose, must be eternally out on whether INRI had a sense of humor.

A thought about humor, and who laughs, and why:  

“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.” [1]

Humor is clearly a double-edged sword. 

Seriously, then, our president, The Chosen One, an “extremely stable genius” (with an historically gigantic member), tweeted that he is not going to Denmark next week because he was insulted that his ridiculous proposal that the United States buy Greenland was characterized by the Danish prime minister as “abzurd”.   Greenland, by the way, is one of the places on earth where global warming is happening at a disastrously higher rate than predicted.

“‘Abzurd’,” the president repeated in disgust, quoting the mortal insult again, a moment before characterizing the Danish prime minister, a woman, as “nasty”.   

Donald King of the Jews knows a lot about nasty, vindictive, hateful bitches, always the victims, always blaming him because they are sexy, or good looking, or ugly, or powerful, or smart, or incisive, or use a word, or a tone, that wounds him.  The real victim is always the savior of mankind, about to be crucified by really unfair, totally conflicted, disloyal, nasty witch hunting bitches of both sexes, of many sexes.

I would love to be undistracted, to concentrate, back inside my imagination and my memory, on the things I need to write.   There are things in my mind much more compelling than the most recent ass-tweetings of an unstable attention-craving idiot.

My sister, for example, at the age of three or so, grabbed the largest pointed knife in the kitchen, a long, sharp meat slicer with a white handle, and plunged it toward me.  I backed away quickly without turning around, backpedalled out of the kitchen, five years old myself.   She followed a step behind, holding the large knife in front of her, tottering unsteadily forward on her tiny feet as fast as she could.   I was afraid to turn my back on her to flee up the stairs.   The pursuit ended in the front closet, me somehow backed inside it, against the coats as my sister brandished the knife, thrusting it forward, smiling fiendishly.    Why did I not simply overpower her, take the knife?   I was afraid of blood, of the aggression of this tiny child, afraid that either of us might be spouting blood out of a severed artery if a struggle over the large knife took place.  Afraid.

A friend told me that some of my writing in the first draft of the memoir of my father was “extreme”.   She was hard pressed to explain why she felt that way, beyond that it was just too brutally honest, and the conversation veered into other subjects before I could learn more.    Weeks later I read an old piece that was pretty good, but contained an objectively extreme phrase, describing my father’s angry stare as “the unblinking mask of a psychotic” or something like that.   Extreme.  My father was not psychotic, not by any definition. 

Not only was it not a good description of his face at that moment, it was a weak and distracting one, a lazy one.    It betrayed unrestrained emotion, undermined my credibility and instantly pulled the reader away from the more important truth I should have been establishing: my father, a good man, smart, funny, sensitive and idealistic, was eternally desperate and it was this desperation that kept him on guard and frequently enraged at his children.   

How the story is told is very, very important for passing on the intended message, the discovered insight.   One sloppy stroke and the reader is rightfully distracted, shakes her head “fucking guy, pretty interesting piece, but he lost me there” and then on to the next link.

Instead of making forward progress in my own life of leisure and genteel poverty (I can live without working as long as I don’t spend much money), I drink my coffee while reviewing a few events that made the news since last night.    The NY Times reports that the president called any Jew who was prepared to vote against him “ignorant” and “very disloyal”.   I know this guy simply talks out of his face and his ass interchangeably (no comment about his breath) but found that I had to read a little about it.  Which led to a youTube clip, which led to another, which led to an article and so on.

Back to the King of the Jews and disloyalty to him.   My father had a colleague and good friend named Evelyn, who later became a hated former friend and former colleague.   I  looked her up decades later and we began a correspondence.  Evelyn had converted to Judaism in the intervening years and was trying to convince me that then-presidents Bush and Cheney, the neoCons and the Evangelical right, were the best friends of Israel and all Jews.   The invasion and occupation of Iraq was very good for Israel, she argued.  The one-time socialist scholar was not very persuasive, she was unsuccessful in her mission to convert me to extreme right wing politics, in the name of Judaism and what is best “for the Jews”.   An  old saw:  two Jews in an elevator, five strenuous differences of opinion.  

An old joke, by way of  illustration:   Two Jews are stranded on a desert island for many years.  When the rescue boat finally arrives the rescuers find the two Jews have built three synagogues on the island.  “I don’t understand,” says a rescuer, “there are two Jews, why three synagogues?”   The Jews point to the third synagogue and answer, in one voice, “nobody goes to that one.”

There are Jews today who, to me, are indistinguishable from Nazis in their core beliefs, which include a righteous, well-justified refusal to regard “enemies” as human beings.   If you sincerely believe that every Palestinian two year-old is a hate-filled terrorist you might as well let them live in open air prisons until they are old enough to shoot with live ammunition at the border fence.    

If you believe, as Jews have long been urged to do by our tradition, in the importance of protecting the weak, being hospitable to the stranger among us (a tradition modern-day desert nomads still practice), you will have a much different attitude toward the suffering of any child, Palestinian babies, Israeli babies or the tiny children (and their parents) in the privately owned for-profit hell-holes that Trump’s ICE uses to keep stinking, unwashed human asylum seekers in cages.  

It is only a Nazi type who justifies inflicting  this kind of suffering on others, wholly innocent of anything themselves, insisting their victims deserve their cruel fate because they are part of an infestation of an invasive species of subhuman.   That’s Nazi shit, my friend.

To me, speaking as an American Jew, this self-appointed King of the Jews, seriously, is more like the fancy King of the Very Fine Nazis, the finest Nazis, some very, very fine Nazis.  Hey, what a cool idea: a King of the Nazis!  I guess you could also call that heaven appointed ruler the Fuhrer.  Got a nice ring to it, I think.

Nazi fucks…

 

 

[1]    Senator Leahy:  “You’ve never forgotten them laughing at you.”

Blasey Ford “They were laughing with each other.”

Leahy:  “And you were the object of the laughter?”

Blasey Ford  “I was underneath one of them, while the two laughed.”

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