Fighting Helplessness

In the end, it’s losing all hope that finally kills us.   The challenge is to remain hopeful, with our eyes open, and to act in a way most likely to make our best hopes come true.   How do we sustain ourselves in an unfairly competitive  society clearly rigged to fuck most of us, unto the death?  Particularly during a pandemic that is literally sucking the oxygen out of this troubled world, at a time when the constricting threat of immediate death is palpably tightening.

While ordinary people, except during overwhelming catastrophe, are generally content to go about their lives, feeling everything is more or less OK, extraordinary people are up early every day, never satisfied, organizing and scheming to get more than they will ever need if they live to be a thousand years old.  During Obama’s time in office, when Hope and Change were in the air because we were now a “post-racial” society with a black guy as president, a great orator who seemed reasonably in tune with the great majority of Americans, the forces of reaction kicked into high rage mode.  

Untold mountains of money were spent to undermine and cripple an “illegitimate” president and his insane desire to see more people covered by private health insurance.  We wound up with neither hope nor change, we got Ta-Nehisi Coates’ first white president, the reactionary’s reaction to a half black man in the White House.

I confess, I don’t understand the motivation of these vicious motherfuckers, though I get how infernally determined they are to rule everybody by sheer force.   You see them now, during a literal plague, arguing that luxury cruise lines and the most profitable industries in history, like the highly toxic but super lucrative fossil fuel and fracking industries, need hundreds of billions in taxpayer bailouts more than people walking around on the earth need all available help to live out a plague.    If you pay attention you notice a hundred little things on the extreme right wish list being implemented during plague time: the EPA has relaxed all enforcement of those hated regulations  that so hamper the liberties of the highly profitable fossil fuel refining industry.  [1]  

Crisis equals opportunity and this crisis is a heady aphrodisiac for the greediest and most powerful among us.   These evil fucks (and we can call someone who prefers increasing his personal fortune to saving lives an evil fuck, I’m looking at you, Jeff Fucking Bezos) have a long, consistent wish list written, edited and ready for immediate implementation when crisis equals a chance for them to get richer and more unaccountable to anyone but themselves.

What chance do we puny earthlings have against the ruthless, one-sided power that in increasingly exerted upon us?    In a culture where vast entities whose sole mandate is making profit are treated as “persons” for purposes of putting them on equal legal footing with human “persons”, how do we make ourselves heard?   I have no fucking idea, outside of organizing, and how the hell do we do that in a place when we’re all thoroughly brainwashed to believe the lesser of two evils is the best choice we’ll ever deserve in the wealthiest and most extraordinary nation in history?

Much of the time we have to sustain ourselves with small things, I suppose. Reminding ourselves of the general good will of most people (outside of the outsized psychopaths who dominate most political discourse) is a help.   Most of us are at our best, our most generous and selfless, during times of crisis.

 It also helps, I think, to not accept indignities we are not required to accept.   In this category I put things like acquaintances who try to insist that we obey their irrational dictates.  When appeals to Reason and mercy prove useless, a tart and finely pointed “fuck you” can do wonders for the mood.  Come to kill me, demanding I “respect” your right to do so?   Fine, but first, I kill you with the smallest effective dose of the specific poison you require.   Now we’re cool, brother, kill away, my zombie friend.

I am wrestling with a too long letter to the CEO of the corporation that politely wished me dead while claiming my best interests were their number one priority.  It is a wrestling match that seems futile, a corporate “person” is not worth talking to, once the outcome is settled.   Will it make me feel better to write the most succinct and persuasive statement of an issue no human could refute?  I have to think it will.  

I need to go back to the drawing board, write a one page “open letter” that I can send the CEO, cc straight to the Attorney General (who should be ashamed her office can’t provide the simple legal  answer to the direct legal question in my letter) and the New York Times editor in charge of health and education.

Picture the case that Americans have an absolute right to know, at minimum, the laws that protect them, written plainly in 1,000 words, printed in the public record. Seems like the least I should be able to do, if also, sadly, the most.

 

 

[1] and this beauty, from the greedy and the evil, from today’s New York Times.  Who needs those pesky, job-killing Obama fuel efficiency goals after the air quality in urban areas has noticeably improved after only two weeks of reduced traffic?  No proof that car exhaust has anything to do with air pollution, assholes!!

Pack the churches for Easter, yo!

With a president whose strategy for dominating the world is dominating the news, fake and otherwise, during a pandemic or on any other day, it’s not surprising he’d call for packed churches on Easter Sunday.   Why Easter Sunday, of all days?   Oh, thanks for the reminder, Don!   Nobody would ever accuse you of being subtle, you rascal!

It’s easy to forget, when thinking of those 63,000,000 votes he allegedly got in 2016, that many millions were cast by America’s most organized, religiously fervent Protestants, the Evangelicals.   The pastors of these mega-churches were mostly all in on MAGA.   As long as Trump meant a government that comports with Christ’s message that no fetus ever be executed by the state and things of that nature, they urged their credulous followers to go to the polls and make it happen.  

In the noisier Trump world of white racists and corrupt super-greedy super-wealthy folks, it is easy enough to overlook the millions of true believers who came out to vote for the flawed vessel of Christ’s will, Donald Trump, in 2016.  Without the Evangelical voting block, no President Trump.

As you wait out the plague hoax, and get ready to rush out to pack the churches, take a moment to read this excellent opinion piece The Religious Right’s Hostility to Science Is Crippling Our Coronavirus Response.

It seems unfair, perhaps, to blame decent men and women of unshakeable faith for the acts of many of their leaders.   The Intercept put together a collage of Evangelical pastors telling their flocks that faith would protect them from this overblown new illness.  One of these pastors, naturally, promised that “God is going to purge a lot of sin” with this novel disease.   

I have a personal story about Evangelicals.   By Evangelicals I refer specifically  to faithful believers in whatever God-revealed truth their charismatic preacher tells them is true,  obedience to an authority-based belief system being their highest duty to God and man.   

My parents, toward the end of their lives, befriended a young Evangelical couple whose daughter my mother was trying to teach to read.   My mother reported that the girl was very sweet, and that she really enjoyed working with her, but that the child seemed unable to grasp the first thing about letters, sounds, the mysterious elements of reading.  

My parents soon became friends with the family, the young parents, having become fervent Evangelicals, were estranged from their own families.  They really took to these old Jews.   The theological and political arguments (the couple and everyone in their church had voted for Born-Again Dubya and the aptly named Dick Cheney), though bitter, were always tinged with love.

When my father was dying they came to the hospital, with a group of their co-religionists.   They loved him and wanted to make sure he got into heaven, so they held a prayer vigil around his bed and asked him to accept Christ.  My father was beyond giving a shit about anything at that point (this was a day before he died) and probably nodded at some point to get them to leave him alone.  They blessed him and left.  He died.  None of these religious lovers of Christ ever called his widow, ever.

Had I been there when these fanatics held hands and asked Jesus to save this old Jew from hell,  I’d have done my Christ with the money changers imitation.  You want to see a righteous Jew, you misguided fucking soul-saving Evangelicals?   Leave the poor bastard alone, particularly if you intend to abandon his widow in her time of grief.

But I digress.   Evangelicals look forward to the End Times, the Rapture, the blessed day when the earth with all its wickedness will be destroyed, as it is foretold, and the righteous will be spared, and taken up directly to Jesus’s ever-merciful bosom, while the wicked will be cast into eternal hell-fire.  My father, I’m glad to say, will presumably be among the blessed saved, his head on his saviors breast.  Although a Jew, these good Christians saved him from hell.   Me and most of my friends and loved ones?  Big party in the hot place, yo.   Do you think science will save you from religious fanatics and the beliefs that make them impervious to heresy?

After all, what is “science,” my friends, but a set of organized alternate alternate facts, vainglorious “theories” “proven” by unenlightened atheists who heed not the voice of the Lamb, nor do they tremble before the might of the Holy One, blessed be He.   Can I get an amen, you ignorant fucking dumbasses?   Hallelujah!

A cynical friend thinks it’s a great idea to pack the mega-churches on Easter Sunday during plague time.  Let them put their powerful beliefs to the test that religious zealots have always selflessly submitted themselves to.  Only, make them stay in the churches for two weeks afterwards, that their souls may be purified.   And as should be done with all the so-called Libertarians who revere individual liberty above all else, and recognize no role for organized people governing themselves to protect everyone, deny them entry to those despised, coercive halls of science where the arrogant pretend to know more than the righteous about the best way to treat a deadly, highly infectious disease created by the All Mighty.

 

“We’ve done one hell of a job,”

“nobody’s done the job that we’ve done.”

The president is right.   His words to a nasty reporter the other day need to be remembered.   We’re now number one, worldwide, in Coronavirus cases.  USA!  USA!!!

Nobody does it better.

In fairness to the president, admitting he was slow to react to the looming pandemic, denied it for crucial weeks, called it a Democratic Hoax, and dismissed it as no worse than the flu, all those things might hurt his chances of reelection.  So, basically, he has to pat himself on the back for the hell of a job he did, literally.

Plus, look, he’s over 50% in approval polls for the first time in his life as the most unfairly attacked president in history.  Constantly exonerated, constantly attacked by wealthy elite enemies.  Jesus himself must wonder how the man can take it.

 

 

Laddie Boy, and bullying for no reason

There was a popular dog food, when I was a kid, called Laddie Boy.   For all I know it’s still around, I’m seldom in that aisle in the supermarket these days.  I think our brilliant dog Patches may have eaten Laddie Boy.  I recall the stink of it when the can was opened — in later years on an electric can opener that sounded like George Harrison’s electric guitar on Revolution (White Album version).  

I had a classmate, for a couple of years, named Fred Ladner.  I liked Fred, we stood at the back of the sized place line in fourth or fifth grade and he was always pleasant.   One day, for reasons– or more likely simple, brutish reflexes — I can’t recall, I menaced Fred in the school yard.   I remember how he recoiled, confused and hurt and I recall the vitriol with which I called him “Laddie Boy” as I glared at his sudden fear.  I may have grabbed his shirt, but I don’t think I even did that.  He didn’t make a move to get away, just stared at me wide-eyed, his sense of my senseless betrayal clear in his wet, scared eyes.   I don’t know how it happened, I don’t know what, if anything, may have precipitated it.   What I remember was his fear and confusion, and that I was the direct cause of it.  

I don’t remember any other incident of myself being a bully in childhood.   I sometimes expressed a bit of malevolence here and there, as any boy sometimes does, like after a friend’s mother drove him and his sister into a concrete stanchion and the guy wore a maroon wool hat, a la Mike Naismith of the Monkees (not sure what color Mike’s wool hat was) all day long in school.  One day somebody snatched the kid’s hat off and we saw that it covered a white circle shaved into the dark curly hair of his head, where he had been probed, or stitched or whatever.   He was very unhappy to be exposed this way and I was in the circle of boys, his friends and classmates, who sadistically kept the hat away from him in a game we used to call Saluji, for some reason.  He desperately tried to get the hat back, only to see it flicked away at the last second by the mercilessly grinning little boy he rushed.

It was a momentary thing, and this kid was probably my best friend at the time, something I quickly forgot about.   I had no recollection of it until, to my surprise, I learned that he was still very bitter about it more than fifty years later, when he brought it up one day with great feeling.  

It is easy enough for me to see these behaviors, and if there were two instances I can recall there were surely more, as me acting out what I experienced at home.  Where my sister was sly, passive aggressive, darkly, sadistically funny, I fought back directly whenever our parents took a verbal swing at me.  My father was, I can see now, often tormented by demons that caused him to act contrary to the way he taught my sister and me to behave, contrary to his ideals and highest beliefs.  He bullied my sister and me, often goaded by my mother’s demand, after a long day at work, as he was trying to rest up a bit before going to his second job,  that he do something about the two disobedient, disrespectful little pricks she had been dealing with all day.

We are aggressive and sometimes irrationally hostile, we smart apes, and, in crowds, we are capable of doing things that are the stuff of nightmares.   We have always been this way.   We don’t always know why we are screaming and pumping our fists into the air as someone we hate is being publicly tortured to death.   It’s a homo sapiens thing.   You don’t see cats and dogs doing this kind of thing.   Pigs raised for slaughter in Auschwitz-like conditions don’t act this way.   Only humans form lynch mobs, send armed men into villages to rape and burn, build vast state-of-the-art machines to kill as many as possible in the shortest amount of time.

As I state the obvious I’m also thinking about what makes a reliable narrator.  Is somebody trying to get to the bottom of his or her pain a reliable narrator?   For example, I wrote hundreds of pages, posted here, in a first draft trying to get to my father’s point of view as he was inflicting terrible damage on his children.  This process caused me to swing wildly at times, in an attempt to vividly describe the damage and also understand it from a bully’s point of view.  

Although he generally bullied us, is that really what my father was at his essence?   Surely there were many other things at work in his nature, more salient features that those who knew him would see him as before “bully”.   Describing my father’s angry glare as “psychotic,” for example, was a wild swing and a clear miss.   In the second draft, should I live long enough to produce it, these missteps will be corrected as I convince the reader, and, more importantly, the publisher, that I knew what I was doing all along when I stumbled through the first draft.   (Tip of the yarmulke to Neil Gaiman who hipped me to this in his Mahster-clahss youTube ad).

I don’t think it requires a Sigmund Freud to convince anyone that the indigestible traumas of our childhoods live on in us many years later.   The pain we can’t understand or process has nowhere to go except various, mostly unconscious, survival strategies: a rigorous daily exercise regime, sarcasm, constant busy-ness, “recreational” drug use, etc.   We make vows to do better, as I have with my attempt to apply an “if I can’t help, I don’t hurt” ahimsa-based approach to my own life.   Knowing that I am as capable as the next little Hitler of cruelty to my fellow creatures, I try to be aware of my hurtful actions as I keep my own interactions with violent or provocative assholes at a minimum.   A neutral straight face shown to a vicious person one encounters by chance, I’ve learned, is usually better than a sneer, a comment, a middle finger raised.  As is getting away from them as smartly as possible.

Still, most of us get to understand so little about what makes us act the way we do. Of course, we’re all masters of justifying it, to ourselves and anyone who might be offended by it.   I realized a few weeks ago, to my great surprise [1], that after writing everything I could think of about my father, in the course of a daily practice over two years, that I am now able to clearly see things from my father’s point of view.   I imagined his voice, informed by the regrets he had while dying and the lifetime of progress he made in the last few days of his life, expressing what he wished we could have talked about when he was alive.  

Talking to his skeleton regularly explained things to me I could never understand before.   I don’t pretend to understand exactly how this happened, but imaging the conversations I know he wished we’d had revealed things I never had a conscious clue about.   I finally understood this perplexing character, in a way I cannot presently understand the little boy who suddenly turned on his friend Laddie Boy and made his eyes grow wide in betrayal and fear.    Very much like my father’s eyes when, one day during a verbal beating he was dishing out, I stood, a skinny fifteen year old, with such violence that the old man in his chair was suddenly afraid.  

 

 

[1]   As I learned, to my great surprise, one day during law school while I was transcribing words of a legal decision into a paper I was writing, that I wasn’t looking at the keys as I typed.  I was amazed to realize that I’d taught myself to touch type, completely unconsciously, simply by typing countless pages during my dreamy creative writing days and as a rat-like law student. 

Useful information about the pandemic

One thing we all suffer from, with extremist zealots in charge of staying in power, rather than providing useful information, testing, medical expertise, financial help or anything else, is a lack of good information.    I provide a few links I found very useful — they come from a publication called Axios, an organization I know virtually nothing about. (here is what they say about themselves)

One thing that jumped out at me when I saw these numbers (points 1 and 2) last night was the extremely low recovery rate, and the extremely high death rate, in the United States relative to the global numbers.  Globally we see recoveries exceeding deaths by a better than 5:1 ratio.   Here in the US those numbers are almost reversed, with a 3:1 death to recovery ratio. 

In fairness to America, we have no idea of the actual number of cases.  Only millionaires (and very sick people) can currently be tested at will.  We are developing our own exceptional tests here, while other countries rely on the World Health Organization test, a test that will not do for red blooded Americans or the private companies that stand to make a killing from a great, highly reliable test.   Same goes for masks and other needed equipment.   USA, yo.

Anyway, there is some excellent information here, particularly at the last four links.    Good luck, everybody.  Wash your hands, don’t get too close to people, get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, do what you can to reduce stress.  Hope to see everyone again soon.

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 367,457 — Total deaths: 16,113 — Total recoveries: 100,879.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 41,511 — Total deaths: 499 — Total recoveries: 178.
  3. Federal government latest: A procedural vote on Senate Republicans’ $1.8 trillion “phase three” stimulus package failed for the second time in less than 24 hours.
  4. Business latest: FDA eases rules to expand ventilator production for automakers, parts suppliers and other industrial companies that have offered to lend their manufacturing expertise.
  5. States latest: New York is the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak as reports of positive cases surged by nearly 40% in 24 hours — Michigan issues stay-at-home order
  6. World update: German Chancellor Angela Merkel has tested negative.
  7. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancing.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

A few words in defense of our country

We would all do well now to take a few moments to listen to one of our great American songwriters reminding us about the greatness of America.   Randy Newman wrote this song (the lyrics were published as a New York Times op ed way back in 2007) when the leaders he sang about were unrepentant war criminals and bunglers who many of us now think of kindly, in light of this epically churlish two-year old we have up there now.   Here the inimitable Mr. Newman sings these excellent lyrics.

I’d like to say
A few words
In defense of our country
Whose people aren’t bad
Nor are they mean
Now, the leaders we have
While they’re the worst that we’ve had
Are hardly the worst
This poor world has seen

Let’s turn history’s pages, shall we?

Take the Caesars, for example
Why, with the first few of them
They were sleeping with their sister, stashing little boys in swimming pools, and burning down the city
And one of ’em, one of ’em appointed his own horse to be Counsel of the Empire
That’s like vice president or something
That’s not a very good example right now, is it?
But here’s one:
Spanish Inquisition
That’s a good one
Put people in a terrible position
I don’t even like to think about it
Well, sometimes I like to think about it

Just a few words
In defense of our country
Whose time at the top
Could be coming to an end
Now, we don’t want their love
And respect at this point’s pretty much out of the question
But in times like these
We sure could use a friend

Hitler
Stalin
Men who need no introduction

King Leopold of Belgium, that’s right
Everyone thinks he’s so great
Well, he owned the Congo
He tore it up too
Took the diamonds
Took the silver
Took the gold
You know what he left ’em with?

Malaria

You know, a president once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”
Now it seems like we’re supposed to be afraid
It’s patriotic, in fact
Color-coded
What we supposed to be afraid of?
Why, of being afraid
That’s what terror means, doesn’t it?
That’s what it used to mean

You know, it pisses me off a little that this Supreme Court’s gonna outlive me
Couple young Italian fellas and a brother on the Court now too
But I defy you, anywhere in the world, to find me two Italians as tight ass as the two Italians we got
And as for the brother
Well, Pluto’s not a planet anymore either

The end of an empire
Is messy at best
And this empire’s ending
Like all the rest
Like the Spanish Armada
Adrift on the sea
We’re adrift in the land of the brave
And the home of the free

Goodbye
Goodbye
Goodbye
Goodbye

Good Analysis of Government Priorities during the Plague

Janine Jackson, criticized for her often snarky tone by the friend who recommended her excellent podcast to me, lays out an insightful analysis of the scope of America’s larger problem– conflating the financial health of the corporate “persons” who control the nation and the actual health of the actual human citizens of the nation–here.

You have the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, urging his workers to altruistically give up accrued sick days for their ailing low-paid colleagues in his operations.   Massive no-strings bailouts to the very corporations that are destroying the planet (fossil fuel, fracking, airlines) to ensure their economic health while ordinary citizens must content themselves with incoherent platitudes and partisan drivel.   There are no plans to safeguard the millions who are incarcerated, including the thousands in privatized immigration cages, of course.

You have the incoherent, angry president having his Secretary of State announce the tightening of sanctions on Iran, even as Iran is an epicenter of Coronavirus.   

Jackson correctly describes the situation as a crime scene.   Which is, of course, only true if you consider the rights of ordinary humans as important as the rights of the legal fictions that actually run our country and the world.   Here she is, and here is the transcript of this informative episode, with a side order of appropriate snarkiness:

The coronavirus is highlighting existing faults and fissures in US society.  Stark evidence of government priorities and their impact is coming fast and furious: $1.5 trillion is available instantly for loans to banks, but there’s no plan to protect incarcerated people, in jails, prisons or migrant detention centers. Congress can’t seem to act on assistance that reaches all the people who need it, and Jeff Bezos—the one with $111 billion—wants Whole Foods workers to share their sick leave.  Immediate tests for celebrities without symptoms—yes; reconsideration of devastating sanctions on Iran and Venezuela—absolutely not.  It’s a crime scene that’s setting up social economic justice work for the next many years, and calling for dogged, humanistic reporting that doesn’t “ask what questions this all raises,” but instead demands better answers.

the rest of the episode