Salute to Israel

I am a Jew and I love that my historically fucked people finally have a state where they can live, for the most part, without fear of abuse or death by government policy.    I don’t exclude myself from my people by referring to a state where “they” can live, I just don’t live there.  I speak Hebrew and have many fond memories of my stays in Israel.   That said, the practices of the current government of Israel are not all that far from certain ethnic policies of the German government of the mid-1930s.  There is a vast, depressed group of Israeli citizens who recognize this too, but they are, like fair-minded Americans of every political stripe, unable to effect meaningful change in their democracy.  

Collective punishment, such as the current restriction of electricity to Gaza, which receives only four hours a day now, was a hallmark of the government, led by Mr. Hitler, that went on to kill millions of my people and many millions more who were not Jews.   I’m not calling the current government of Israel Nazis, I’m pointing out that in certain ways they are acting like them.  There is only the basest rationale for these inhuman policies, tactics to combat hated enemies, not a strategy toward solving a mutual tragedy going back now several generations.

Check out what American Jews, on my behalf, and the right wing Christians who say they support Israel, are proposing, a bipartisan American bill to curtail, in one specific setting, the First Amendment right to peacefully protest.  The bill, seeking to criminalize support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel and imposing huge monetary fines and up to 20 years in prison as punishments, already has a lot of votes in Congress.  Was it covered much in the corporate media?  I have no idea, I rarely touch that stuff these days.

One shouldn’t be that surprised, sniffing the political winds here, that this unconstitutional law is being enthusiastically entertained by so-called friends of Israel in the U.S. Congress.   Just recall that our current president’s first foreign trip was to a monarchy that executes people,  like the fourteen that the Saudi justice system, under Sharia law, is prepared to decapitate (if they haven’t been beheaded in the last day or two) for the capital crime of attending pro-democracy protests in Saudi Arabia.  They will have their heads cut off for exercising a right in an oligarchic tyranny that tyrannical types in America would be happy to outlaw here as well.  

No point mentioning that Saudi weapons, purchased from America, are currently being used to destroy hospitals and water filtration plants in Yemen, the poorest country in the region, as cholera spreads.   Why talk about war crimes being committed by our mega-rich Wahabist allies when we can propose laws to punish speech we don’t like?

Bravo, you fucking psychos.

Psycopathy Update

If, in this hot weather, you feel like having a little cold chill run up or down your spine, check out Get Me Roger Stone on Netflix.   It’s a documentary about a man who claims to be, with a good deal of support to those claims, a trail blazing pioneer of political consultant/lobbyist influence selling, unlimited political campaign spending via legal loopholes and negative campaign ads.  He considers himself a genius in these fields and is coy about also being a master of what he calls disinformation.   Trump is this smiling sociopath’s proudest protege.  The president even models his speaking style on Stone’s.

Stone’s Rules, which are featured throughout the documentary, read like a psychopath’s catechism.  “Deny, Deny, Deny” is one of his rules. “Fuck ’em where they breathe” may be another.

The entire exercise for Stone is about winning and forcing his view on others, without regard for what many would consider ethics.   Stone proudly announces that with the election of Donald J. Trump we are all now living in the Age of Stone.   I suppose it could also be phrased as the Stone Age.    Stone’s comments about ethics and morality mirror comments made by no less an authority than the man the New York Times referred to as Mr. Hitler.  According to Mr. Hitler, “conscience is a Jewish invention”, morality is a Jewish device to weaken the will of those destined to rule the earth at any price.  

Roger Stone had a moment of revelation when he was an elementary school student during the Kennedy-Nixon election of 1960.  He loved Kennedy, a fellow Catholic with “great hair”.   During his elementary school’s mock election he told every student in the lunchroom that Nixon had a plan to extend the school week to six days.  Kennedy won in a surprise landslide.  Stone was hooked on the rush of an audacious lie swaying an electoral outcome.  He childish infatuation with JFK was short-lived, he soon developed a lifelong connection with Nixon.

Stone had a political revelation around 1964 after reading Barry Goldwater’s manifesto “Conscience of A Conservative”.  At age twelve he became devoted to increasingly extreme right wing politics.  He worked for Nixon, who he greatly admired.  He was proud to be the youngest person connected to Nixon’s corruption, and has a tattoo of Nixon’s head on his back.   He helped Reagan win with the campaign slogan “Make America Great Again”.  It was one of several slogans Reagan used, decades later it would be the only one Trump needed.

In the same way that the corporation, a “person” with only one legal concern, maximizing profits, fits the human definition of the psychopath (see this wonderful documentary  for a detailed comparison of modern corporations and serial killers — good website too), Mr. Stone and Mr. Trump are the human embodiments of this “no holds barred” kick ’em in the nuts approach to political dominance.  Heedless of anything but “winning”, unabashed about spouting the vilest fictions, they are examples of the great men that history, sadly, produces from time to time.

Enemies List

Tyrannical types are prone to zero tolerance of anybody who crosses them. Nixon, an ambitious man who lost a close presidential election in 1960 and a 1962 run for governor of California, was known, in the end, for his obsession with winning.  He famously maintained an Enemies List.   The list had the names of everyone who had slighted him, insulted him, threatened him, opposed him or his policies in any meaningful way.   Our current president, a man whose brand is winning at any cost, seems unable to forget anyone he feels crossed him.  He too seems to be making a list of America’s internal enemies and checking it regularly.    

While it’s a natural human reflex to dislike anyone who takes a stand against you during a time of vulnerability, it’s also a hallmark of the psychopath to divide the world into “with me or against me”.  Psychopathy we learn is a spectrum, you can be a little bit psychopathic or very, very psychopathic.   Even extreme psychopaths are not necessarily killers, some are very successful in business and politics, being highly intelligent, often charismatic, unimpeded by doubt or hesitation, seemingly fearless.  

Much as we’d like it to be, the workings of the world are neither simple nor straightforward.  That’s one reason telling my father’s story with any degree of completeness might take me another few years, or beyond the span of my natural life.   It might take a thousand or more subtle strokes to paint a lifelike portrait, but even that is not enough.  A lifelike portrait, by itself, tells us only what the person looked like.  I’m aiming for a portrait that shows exactly why he looked and acted the way he did.  High bar.

I’m thinking of Nixon’s enemies list because my father had one.  It was never committed to paper and it was not a very long list, but it was absolute.  As a kid I argued with him about this tendency to cast beloved friends out of his life forever with no chance of reprieve.    

“You have been over this very idea several times already in this ms.,” says the imagined psychiatrist, impatient for me to get on with it, or at least to expedite payment of his bills with my insurance company.

A friend insisted, shortly after I started writing this manuscript, doctor, that I was actually writing this book about myself, not about my father.   I conceded that it might be so.   It’s a book about a relationship, I told him.  The relationship was marked by a one way lack of forgiveness that became, after a long enough while, mutual.  It took decades to have any helpful insight into the implacable nature of my father and how to let myself off the hook for his unexplainable anger.  I get it now.  I fortunately had just begun to really get it when he was rushed to the hospital to get the news that he had less than a week to live. 

“Again, old news.  His liver cancer diagnosed six days before his death, in the E.R. while his cardiologist, endocrinologist and hematologist were still making appointments with him, to try to figure out what was wrong,” the shrink observes, snappishly.  “He had an appointment with the cardiologist for the day he died, didn’t he?”

“I love that you’re making the shrink the asshole foil now, Elie, instead of your poor old father,” said the skeleton of my father, with a rictus of approval and a bony thumbs up.  

I know, pops, I’m doing it for your sake.  

“The two of you really are nuts,” observed the shrink.  

“The two of us?” said the skeleton indignantly.

All right, that’s enough, you two.  Doctor, my father was always very suspicious of psychiatrists, because of fear of his own demons and because psychiatry is a profession we know attracts a disproportionate number of mentally unbalanced people.  Dad, this pretentious quack is only trying to be helpful.  So, both of you, calm down.

“You’re an asshole,” said the mental health professional definitively.  

Look, doctor, there’s no need for the fucking language.  I appreciate your professional opinion, but I’d appreciate a more specific diagnosis.  I’m sure that DSM you have there has more specific categories and insurance codes for my particular constellation of conditions.  

“Go to hell,” said the mental health professional, closing his notebook, grabbing his DSM and stomping out of the room.  

“I rest my case, Elie,” said the skeleton of my father pointing to the fleeing shrink’s back.  “What is the new point you are trying to add here today?”  

My Way or the Highway, the roots of that extreme and inhumane position.  

“Well, that is a fucked up way to operate, and as you recall I had deep regrets about having been that way, I told you about that the last night of my life.   We know a lot of people like that, too insecure and damaged to listen to advice or hear anything that contradicts anything they need to believe.  Your beloved Eli, he was a great practitioner of that philosophy,” said the skeleton.  

You loved Eli too, and you were afraid of him until the day he died.  

“Life is complicated, Elie.  You’d have been afraid of him too, if you’d met him when I did.  He was a bundle of rage who had no hesitation to punch anybody in the face.  Anybody.  When he drove a truck he had a pistol tucked next to the steering wheel.”  

He told me it was in a holster strapped to the steering column, just below the steering wheel.  

“It’s a miracle he never shot anyone, with the temper he had.  The Gleiberman temper, he’d always say, with that winning smile.  The man had a beautiful smile,” said the skeleton.  

Do you think My Way or the Highway is related to a fear of shame?  

“How’s that?”

Complete and categorical intolerance of any opposing point of view.  What do you suppose motivates that?  

“Fear and shame, yeah, probably a pretty safe bet,” said the skeleton with a yawn, and then he fell back into his soft grave, snoring.

What a mensch would do

There are few far too few mensches in the world, unfortunately.  A mensch will go out of his or her way to do the right thing.   A mensch listens to the whole story before putting their two cents in.  A mensch is patient, gives the benefit of the doubt.  A mensch is fair, and humble and doesn’t take advantage of people.  A mensch will not fight unless there is no reasonable alternative.  Like I say, mensches are rare, sadly.   Much more prevalent, particularly in a competitive, hierarchic, materialistic society like ours, are the dickheads, douchebags and motherfuckers, the winners who wake up every day ready to kick some ass.   Just look at the front page of any newspaper, you will see photos of an impressive collection of these types.  It is rare to see a mensch as a captain of industry or in any position of great power.

I mention the lack of mensches, and Hillel’s idea that in a land where there are no mensches, it is even more important to act like a mensch, as a backdrop to the following story.  If there was a mensch involved in the medical office I am going to describe, they could have done things much differently, much better, in a much more healthy way for all involved, particularly the patient. 

I was diagnosed with a serious kidney disease during the annual renewal period for Obamacare.   In light of this diagnosis, I decided to change insurance, pay many times more than I paid in 2016, in hopes of getting better medical coverage than I had last year.   The results have been mixed, though I am paying, literally, more than ten times what I paid last year for health insurance.  It’s an irrelevant detail for purposes of the following story, though, it annoys the shit out of me, so I mention it.    

In April, having been diagnosed with this disease four months earlier, I visited a nephrologist I’d contacted off a list given to me by a friend, who got the list from an acquaintance at a hospital.  This nephrologist had been the second or third I called, the first, I remember, only dealt with end-stage kidney patients, and I hopefully have a few years to go before that.  

The doctor seemed bright and personable.  I liked her.  The doctor had a hammer.   The only thing, she told me, that medical science has to cure my disease is immunosuppressive therapy, which comes in six month, twelve month and single injection form (though insurance doesn’t cover the very expensive one shot deal).  Some people, she assured me, have very mild side effects from the back to back to back infusions of steroids and the other chemicals designed to temporarily shut down the body’s ability to fight disease.  

They control for the suppressed immune system, inoculate you against the worst diseases you’re likely to get when the body’s natural defenses are suppressed.   For some reason, I was uncomfortable with this, particularly when the doctor explained it as an atom bomb or shotgun approach that temporarily takes out the whole broken immune system and, more often than not, fixes the problem when the system comes back on line.  A cure percentage was not available to the doctor.  When pressed she said it was closer to 50% than to 90%.   

My disease is idiopathic, which means the cause is unknown.   I needed more information.  I’d heard, for example, and the nephrologist confirmed, that 1/3 of patients who get this idiopathic disease have a spontaneous remission within the first year or two.  The disease, in other words, disappears by itself, as unexplainably as it appeared.

 The doctor, having only a hammer, told me I was wasting my time trying to get answers to all these questions and that hoping for remission was a crap shoot that could do permanent damage to my kidneys.   I was hung up on the fact that the disease was idiopathic, she said.  She tried to convince me that it was not idiopathic, because they knew so much about its progression and how to cure it.  She described the cure again, in great detail.  

At the end of her long presentation about her hammer I told her that since science doesn’t know what causes this membrane to grow on the filters of the kidney that, whatever they knew about a way to cure it sometimes, by definition the disease was still idiopathic.  She didn’t like the way I’d seemingly ignored her presentation of the cure.    

The doctor retested me, five or six weeks after our first meeting.  The test would confirm what the January and April tests had– I have a blood marker, some kind of antigen or something that comes up 99.9% in patients with my kidney disease, and only in the blood work of such patients.  

Still, though the test might well show that the disease was still progressing (and the retest would show it was),  I hesitated to commit to six months of immunosuppressive therapy, which she was urging me to start immediately. We had another discussion during that second visit, virtually identical to the first.   She dismissed the idea that diet, exercise, life-style changes could have any effect on the disease or improve my chances of remission without the chemotherapy.  She told me I’d be wasting time and money going to see a nutritionist or naturopath.   She had no studies to point me to.   At this point, realizing this was all she knew, and that my many questions could never be answered by her,  I probably should have thanked her and gone to see another doctor.  

Instead, I allowed her to convince me to have a kidney biopsy.   She explained to me in detail that a biopsy is the only way to know how long I’ve had the disease.  In an early stage, the tissue sample will show tiny dots, like pinpricks, of membrane.  As the disease progresses these dots become larger and larger and begin to grow on top of each other.  Eventually, toward the stage where you begin to have serious decrease in kidney function and are headed toward dialysis or a kidney transplant, the membrane is a thick coating over the nephrons.  By staging the disease, she told me, we would know exactly how urgent it was for me to begin immunosuppressive therapy, medical science’s only present treatment.  She sent me downstairs to the lab to retest my blood and urine.

A few days before the biopsy I had a call from the lab.  The doctor had neglected to check the box to have the coagulation of my blood tested, along with the other tests.  This coagulation test was needed before any biopsy.  I made an appointment and went back to the lab I’d been to a few days earlier.  A few days after that I managed to avoid a $2,100 charge to my credit card, demanded of me the afternoon before the biopsy,  prior to the biopsy.  I avoided this charge, though my final “out of pocket” responsibility for the biopsy is well over a thousand dollars.  

It turns out the biopsy cannot tell you how long you’ve had the disease, not with any precision at all.  The biopsy is, however, necessary protocol before the immunosuppressive therapy can begin.   The doctor told me I’d misunderstood, had unreasonable expectations, was very smart but had too many questions.  I resisted telling her she was acting like a fucking bitch, but we did argue.  We argued again the next time we spoke.  She told me again that I was being unreasonable.  

Being a lawyer, by training, I began to make a record.  I sent her a message that laid out part of my case, her repeated failure to return calls to give me test results, promises she simply didn’t keep.  She called me and struck a very defensive pose, which is to be expected.  She explained that she works at four different sites and rarely has a chance to check email or messages.  For my part, I was frightened and angry and not acting like a mensch, though my words in the text were very measured and I mostly kept my patience as she justified herself and explained why I was wrong.  I made my points.  The relationship between doctor and patient was now toxic and adversarial.  

She began to offer the conditional apologies Harry Shearer has helpfully styled “if-pologies”.  If you feel that I misled you about the biopsy, then I am sorry.  If you were hurt that I never responded to multiple messages and calls to my office to give you test results and that increased your anxiety, then I am sorry.  If your anxiety was increased by misunderstandings or miscommunications, then I am sorry.  I corrected her each time as to the form of these non-apologies, but it was a very wearying exercise.

After a few more defensive, blame-shifting ifpologies, I felt ready to punch her out.  I managed to summon the last of my cool, thanked her for calling, told her I was sure she was a very nice person but that I had to get off the phone.  My head was ready to explode, but I felt I had done pretty well under the circumstances.    

A few hours later, early Friday evening, when I’d finally calmed down, I had another call from the doctor.  She told me how upset our previous call had made her, how much I’d hurt her feelings by calling her a malicious person, etc.  I suppose one could call this playing the woman card.  It worked a little bit, I explained quietly that I had never called her malicious nor did I believe she was a malicious person.  Overworked, defensive, a bit dismissive and argumentative perhaps, but not malicious.  I told her I believe she is a good doctor.  It was truly a pointless call, although hopefully it made her feel a little better.  Her “unconditional apology” at the end was meaningless.

I went online and cancelled the appointment the doctor had made for me, without consulting me, on the Friday before my birthday.   During this appointment we would presumably discuss the biopsy and set up the immunosuppressive therapy. I’d already told her I was unavailable that day, but it was, in her words, another misunderstanding.  

I sent a message asking her to send my biopsy report to my general practitioner.  When I heard nothing back I followed up 24 hours later with a call to the Patient Advocate and was promised they would send it right away.   My doctor read the biopsy report and confirmed there was nothing conclusive about staging, though it did show very little scarring to the nephrons, indicating it had not yet progressed to the point it was doing any permanent kidney damage.  

Sekhnet got me a referral to a very experienced nephrologist from her beloved doctor of more than 40 years.  We highly value this wonderful doctor’s advice and I was looking forward to a second opinion from a nephrologist who could answer some of my questions and refer me to recent research on the efficacy of the treatment I was being pressured into beginning right away.  I want to make a fully informed decision before allowing them to pump steroids into my veins the first three days of every other month, while I sit with other chemotherapy patients.  

My bills for two visits to this nephrologist, blood and urine tests, and the biopsy are close to $2,000.  Good news for me, in a way, because once I rack up $2,000 out-of-pocket my insurance will kick in and begin to pay part of my future medical bills.  When I mentioned the expense to the nephrologist she told me she had nothing to do with the billing, had no idea an initial visit to her was billed at $860.  I made some snide comment about corporate medicine and she promised to look into getting me some reduction on my bill.  It was a promise made in good faith, and, naturally, never followed up.

Anyway, to the issue of menschlichkeit I promised at the top.   When I called to make an appointment with the new, highly recommended nephrologist I was told that, since he was, as luck would have it, in the same practice group as the first nephrologist, that the two doctors would have to agree that I could see the highly recommended one, since I’d already been a patient of the first.  The mentor, I was told, had to have permission from his protégé and would have to agree to see me.   I wrote to the first nephrologist asking her to expedite the switch so that I could continue my treatment.  The following day she wrote back:  I have instructed my front desk staff.  That was on June 22, almost a month after the kidney biopsy.   

Each time I called after that to make the appointment I was told I’d need to be called back.  Each time I received no call back.  On July 13 I finally had a call from the office manager, only two days after the most recently promised call back.  She told me it was an apparently inviolable office policy, that no doctor in the practice group would see anyone who had seen another doctor in the group, under any circumstances.  

She brushed off my comments about the unethical three week wait to deliver this news, if the policy was indeed inviolable the first time I called, while I’d been trying in the meantime to make an appointment and being told each time that the doctors hadn’t yet discussed it.  She offered to refer me to other nephrologists outside the group, and wished me the best of luck.  I resisted telling her to fuck herself as I said goodbye.

My reaction was rage.  I wrote a letter accusing the doctor I’d been referred to of being unethical.  I figured to run it up the food chain at the corporation he worked at, pressure him into doing the right thing.  It was a stupid idea, although my doctor endorsed it, in fact, recommended it.  I was talked out of  sending the letter.  

I thought of the belligerent retarded man I’d represented years earlier in Housing Court.  He stood on his right to smoke crack, play loud music and bring prostitutes to the room in the nursing home he’d inherited a right to when his mother, who he apparently helped care for, died.   He was angry every time we were in court, left me angry phone messages, sometimes several in a row, between court appearances.  When I finally settled his case, with no admission of wrongdoing on his part, and preventing his eviction, the judge congratulated me.  

A few days later I had a complaint forwarded to me by the First Department’s Attorney Disciplinary Committee.  The letter gave me two weeks to respond in full to the charges or face a disciplinary hearing and possible sanctions including the suspension of my license to practice law.   I read the complaint thoroughly.   It had my name spelled right.  My office address was given as the Bronx Housing Court.  The box for the complaint was entirely blank.  I spent four hours composing the letter defending my professional name against a blank complaint.  I eventually had a letter back from the First Department dismissing the blank complaint against me.  

I figured there has to be a similar procedure to make a complaint against an unethical doctor.  I have no idea if there is.  And anyway, I was urged, more important for me, as a man with a serious kidney disease, to find a new nephrologist in the phonebook than to fight these unaccountable, defensive, reflexively united, never at fault pricks.  

Here’s where somebody being a mensch comes in.  If the original nephrologist was a mensch she could easily have reached out to me by phone or message.  She could acknowledge that things were not going smoothly between us and persuade her colleague to see me, even if only for a single second opinion visit. To her mind, this would be an admission of defeat, of having proceeded badly with a patient.  She has established that she is not much of a mensch.   Like I say, the mensch is a rarity.

What of the doctor highly recommended by his older, highly respected mensch colleague?  How difficult would it have been for him, out of respect for this colleague, if for no other reason, to have contacted me and asked me what the problem was?  

Too much trouble, much easier to have the office manager call me back, after weeks of misleading delay, and wish me luck with some new doctors.  I researched this senior nephrologist online and found only one comment about him from a patient.  According to the comment he did not return calls, did not provide answers to patient questions, was abrupt and dismissive.  How well he has trained his protégé!  

It is rare to find a mensch.   For years doctors routinely removed the breasts of countless women who came to them with early signs of breast cancer.  It was standard procedure at the best cancer hospitals at one time, a radical mastectomy.   It is no longer standard procedure, thankfully, as advances in science, more women in the medical field and a greater recognition of the importance of treating the entire patient, feelings included, emerge.  

In the meantime, I’m determined to have a very nice day, and to go fuck off for a while, before I compose the original letter I should have written to this apparent douchebag of a senior nephrologist.  On the off-chance, you know, that he was recommended to me by a mensch because he himself, in some hidden region of his non-reptile brain, has the repressed spark of acting like a mensch.  In any case, that unanswered letter will be a better one to send to the medical ethics committee, if such a thing exists, than either of the two previous attempts at a letter.

Demonology Two

Demons are intensely personal, created in a dark place and individually crafted to do the most damage.   What is terrifying to one person may be a matter of indifference to another.  It’s very hard to understand a terror if you’ve never felt it.   Fear of public speaking is said to be a very common terror, many people would rather be in the coffin, it is said,  than standing next to it called on to give a eulogy.   My father had many demons, but public speaking was not one of them.   He was an excellent eulogist, delivering his eulogies like a jazz soloist.  

He’d improvise from a minimalist lead sheet, five or six words in his small, meticulous handwriting, on an index card or the back of an envelope, indicating a few points to remember to bring out.  The rest he’d just let fly, speaking from his heart, faltering without any show of discomfort, hitting some good notes, getting a laugh, making the tears flow, another laugh, more tears, laugh.  Nothing came easier to him than delivering a eulogy, and he was a master of the form.  He was also not shy about appearing on TV, or addressing large groups anywhere, even the hostile crowds he spoke to about the need for desegregation of the New York City schools in the years after the Supreme Court ruling.   That said, he was the furtherest thing from a show-off.

Demons tailor themselves to our individual lives.  I can only dimly imagine the horrors my father encountered in that tenement kitchen on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where he was first whipped in the face by his mother.  I cannot imagine a more terrible thing, though there are things as bad.  Parents killed in front of you, or children, I think is as horrible.   Watching people marched to their deaths, blown up, burned alive, decapitated– about as bad.   Think of the worst thing you can imagine; can you think of something worse than being whipped in the face by your mother from the time you could stand?  

I can’t picture how one survives that particular assault on one’s tiny soul.  Whatever my mother’s faults and weaknesses, I never doubted her love.   Even my father, most often appearing in his dreaded, highly defensive, adversarial aspect, I knew loved me, in his twisted way.  I could see it sometimes, revealed at odd moments, between the plates of his armor.  

Demons, continuing to assemble themselves as my two or three year-old father was driven up to Peekskill with his parents and baby brother.   They arrived in the small town, his parents in a miserable, arranged marriage, as the wards of his Uncle Aren.  Aren was his mother’s much older brother, the man who had sent for her in Belarus, rescued her from the muddy hamlet where everyone would be murdered thirty years later.   They were soon the poorest family in Peekskill.  Then, as my father started kindergarten, terribly nearsighted and without glasses, speaking only Yiddish, the Depression hit.   It is virtually impossible to imagine these effects on the psyche of a kid, and all this happened before he was even able to see the world with his 20/400 vision corrected.  

Demonology is complicated terrain.   My father referred to his demons on a few occasions over the years, in the context of talking about everyone having their demons.  His demons were never discussed with anyone, as far as I know.  My sister concluded, after he died, that his morality was shame-based. This is not an unreasonable summary.   He was….

“You are writing blindly and without focus,” says the imagined psychiatrist, eyes beady, calmly critical.  “You have been over all this terrain before.  In fact, this may be one of the most recursive tales ever told.  Back and forth over the same finite set of facts.  This rumination is mere brooding.  No wonder it’s nine hundred pages long.   Why only a mention of the family slaughtered in the old country, the plowing of the entire community into the marsh?  Certainly you must be eager to rake all that up for the tenth time.”  

OK, doc, let me focus this for you.  

I have noticed this particular trait in people consumed by shame, by self-hatred.   They are ruthless and desperate.   They often become expert manipulators, it is the only way they can survive.   They argue, they cajole, they minimize their own bad acts, they bully, they attack, when confronted they rage and in an extreme situation may even threaten to kill.   Even if the murder threat is made only once, it is hard to forget.  

“You are veering into terrain you vowed not to go into in this ms,” says the shrink, making a note on a legal pad with an expensive fountain pen.  

There was one relationship in my father’s life, an involuntary one at that, that would illuminate more about the way he was than any single relationship I can think of.  It is one I must not write about directly, it is taboo.  Which presents a maddening dilemma to me, as the person trying to tell the complete story of what my father faced, how he was driven to be the way he was.   

I once heard my father’s millionaire first cousin Dave, Eli’s younger half brother, laughingly chide my father for wanting to control his money from beyond the grave.  Dave was a pleasant man with a big smile my father always referred to as Dave’s Cheshire Cat smile.   My father was concerned about not leaving money to a relative who flushed huge sums of money down the toilet regularly.   He agonized at the near impossibility of protecting his life’s savings from this relative.

“What are you doing?” says the shrink, acting as some kind of guardian of decency, real or imagined.  

Your demons will make you tolerate evils that will make other people shudder.   You will defend someone who only threatened to kill you and your children once.   You will be silent as the truth is made taboo, an alternate false set of facts is forced on everybody, fake smiles all around, rage ready to blow at any second underneath.    

“You truly can’t keep your mouth shut about this, can you?” says the shrink.

My most goading demon, doctor, is a powerfully amplified voice that says, in a dozen dialects, even if you are completely right, shut the fuck up, especially if you are completely right.  One of my main demons.  I think that bastard is the main one.   A lie will suffice to explain everything, your search for the truth is an affectation, arrogance, hubris.  There is no truth, smiles the demon, nothing that can’t be twisted and used against you as long as enough desperate determination is applied.  

The demon laughs, pointing out how brief the periods in human history have been where this has sometimes not been the case.  Invites me to write about one such time, after the riot in a Brooklyn high school in the 1970s when the study conducted after it was an earnest search for causes and solutions rather than the usual fixing of blame.  The demon keeps asking why I continue to perversely struggle against the way the world of humans has always been?  

I’ve seen the damage lies do, felt it in my tissues.   Lies justify every atrocity.  They cover every imaginable shame, obscure every criminal enterprise while creating greater shame, hatching motives for other crimes.   We simply do not speak of things that cause the deepest pain.  So it was with the worst of my father’s behavior.  So it is whenever humans act in rage.  So it is for every human burdened with shame, humiliation, painful experiences that are impossible to carry.   What is left to that person is to manipulate others, to defend themselves at all costs.  Such was the terrible burden my father carried for his eighty years, with the high costs it continually extracted from his loved ones.  

“Fairly adroit pivot, there,” said the shrink, filling in another line on his New York Times crossword puzzle. “Under the circumstances.”

Demonology

Take a pain that is too great to bear, it is a doorway for demons to walk through.  In my father’s case I learned of his primal pain accidentally.   I was over forty when his beloved, seventeen years older first cousin Eli turned the light on in the dark room that was my sometimes cruel father’s inner life.   Eli witnessed the scene, more than once, when he was a teenager.  He described it to me almost seventy years later.  His beloved Aunt Chava, who loved Eli to death, raising a heavy, frayed cord from her steam iron.   She’d snatched it out of the drawer next to the head of the table where she sat.  In a rage, my tiny grandmother brought it down furiously across my two and three year-old father’s face.

“Seriously, Elie, how do you recover from something like that?” said the skeleton of my father, with a sorrow to rival Eli’s when he told me the story. 

“After a while all she had to do was rattle that drawer,” Eli told me with infinite sadness.  “And your father would….” and he did one of his beautiful pantomimes, this one of a terrified child, eyes cast to the ground,  shuddering in terror.  

“You understand now that one doesn’t ever recover from this,” said the skeleton of my father.  “And, obviously, I could never speak of it.   Certain things are too fucking painful to talk about.”    

I found myself in my room as a kid, confused and agitated by the violence I’d just been exposed to, generally over something relatively trivial.  I didn’t drink my milk, a liquid I always hated.  My mother believed that if a child didn’t drink four glasses a day their bones wouldn’t form right, they wouldn’t grow up strong and tall.   We had battles over drinking milk from time to time.  My father would chime in with his famous prediction “you may win the battle, but you’re going to lose the war.”  It was the voice of experience talking, just not the kind of experience you could build a healthy outlook on.  

In my room I wrote, I drew, I learned to play guitar and then keyboards. Honing my powers of self-expression became an obsession of my childhood that persisted into my adulthood.   It simply could not be that this was the sum of life and the last word — endless war against insane adversaries with no appeal to a non-insane higher power.  My mother wanted the best for me, so did my father.  They had other troubles, their own childhood demons, that often turned wanting what was best for me and my sister into a war.   We grew up, my sister and I, in a war zone.  The alliances were constantly shifting.   Once in a while my sister or I would hit with a line at our father’s expense too funny for our mother not to laugh at.  Her laughter was the ultimate betrayal of my poor father.  

“Sure, side with them, Evvy, they’ll be dancing on your grave,” he’d snarl, from his corner spot at the kitchen table, a spot between a counter, my sister and the refrigerator, where he was trapped.   For the record, my sister declined my invitation to dance on our father’s grave as we walked from his grave after his funeral service.  

Demons caused by unresolvable childhood pains lead people into cults.  Sometimes the cult is a cult of one.   It can be someone just like mom, or dad, or whoever our psychological weakness draws us to.   Membership in the cult confirms, on one level, what our demons tell us, that we have no right to anything better.   Anyone who proposes any alternative to the cult is seen as an existential threat, a deadly enemy to be avoided.  

I was determined, as a boy, scribbling in my room, to learn to communicate well enough to do battle with my demons.   My sister always maintained that I had it worse, because I fought back against our father’s bullying.   I don’t know which of us had it worse.  I do know that I am thankful now for the thousands of hours spent learning how to sort through my thoughts and feelings and set them out clearly on a page.

“So it says here that your recent notes on your father’s life are now almost 900 pages long,” says the imaginary shrink, eyes twinkling, lids twitching slightly.  

“Was your father also a brutal prick, doc?” I ask, studying his shifting face.

 “We are not here to discuss my father,” says the psychiatrist, composing his face.  “I have a very successful practice and a very good life.   We are here to discuss your failure to thrive.”  

“You know, doctor, my failure to thrive is not the thing that troubles me the most about my life.  I don’t have a house, or a car, or an expensive guitar, or even a livelihood at the moment, but those things cause me little pain.”  

“Then why are you ponying up the $50 copay on your shit silver insurance plan to see me every week?” says the doctor acutely.  

“It is my sense of powerlessness, doctor.  The sad fact that, in spite of insights I may have gained wrestling with some very energetic demons, I am unable to help anyone else.  Maybe we can never help anyone else, except by listening attentively and responding as directly as we can to what they’ve expressed.  My sorrow is largely about my inability to be a moral actor, except in a very, very limited way.”  

“I’m sorry, our time is up,” says the doctor.  

“What are you talking about?  I’ve been here less than five minutes.”

“That’s what you say,” says the doctor.  

This is the kind of shit I’m talking about.  That moment where it doesn’t matter who is telling the truth, who is lying, who is right, who is wrong.  That disorienting feeling of in-your-face unfairness, instantly releasing chemicals designed to help us fight or flee, when external reality fades completely in the face of an arbitrary power, exercised brutally.  This flood of cortisol and adrenaline overflows from our earliest experiences of vicious unfairness.  

“That’s why they call us demons, motherfucker,” says a demon cheerfully, “we exist outside of time, outside of objective reality, our power is undiminished by the passing of years, even decades.  We retain the power to fuck you up any time we like.  Kind of sucks, doesn’t it?”  

I can easily picture my father’s shifty-eyed expression whenever I came close to cornering him in one of his infallibly presented flights of hectoring illogic. It’s related to the implacable look this demon is giving me, but he adds a mirthfulness my father never had when attacking.  It is a mirth, in the face of my suffering, an overbrimming satisfaction in seeing me suffer, that makes any desire to flee vanish, now the chemicals are all urging me to fight.  

“It is, in fact, my face,” says a former close friend, veteran of several stays in mental wards.  True that, my brother.  It is a facial expression that provokes rage.  It is the face of someone determined to provoke violent emotion, no matter what the cost.  It smiles at your pain, mocks your anger and it comes from a bottomless well of self-hatred.  

“Yes it does, bitch,” he says with that maniacal grin, smug as a pedophile priest untouchable by any law, “that’s why they call us demons, son.   Now, if you would stop crossing your legs so we can get back to work…”  

Demonology is not a short talk, but I am done with it for the moment.  I also know that defeating demons can rarely be done alone, no matter how well we manage to set the issue out before us, before a reader, even for a jury of our peers.  Was my father a monster?  He believed so as he was dying, to some extent.  He feared that he’d lived as a monster, at least.  There is some evidence to support that fear.

A book about a monster is not as interesting to me as a book about a highly moral man who, in spite of his deeply humanistic values, inflicted terrible pain on his loved ones.   That book, if I could put it into your hands, on to the shelf of your local public library, would be a fucking demon.

 

 

The Business Judgment Rule

A quick google search will turn up everything you need to know about the Business Judgment Rule, a firm rule of American law.  The highest authorities agree — a court should not substitute its judgment for the judgment of a business making a good faith business decision.    

Economists teach us about externalities.  Externality is an extremely nice, bloodless, abstract term for something that may be otherwise quite hideous. An externality is a cost that is not originally figured on, an unforeseen expense associated with bringing a product to market, a downside to be calculated in determining the bottom line.

A factory makes batteries in a land where labor is cheap.  Not only is labor cheap, there is no regulation against dumping factory waste into the local water system.   Getting rid of toxic chemical waste safely is expensive, as every factory owner in America knows.  If the corporation can just dump the chemical waste in the river they can save a ton of money, make higher profits.  It’s win-win.  Cheap labor force and no health or safety regulations. Huge profit vectors.

The rash of cancer deaths in children downstream in the river valley where the factory is located is an externality.  It is arguably an atrocity, a sin, certainly a public relations nightmare, but its monetary cost is also, like any other business expense, something to be reconciled on the corporate balance sheet, after it is resolved by the corporation’s legal department.  In practice, the families of the dead children, being in dire poverty, will settle the wrongful death cases for rupees on the dollar.  The life of a dead poor kid is about as cheap a life as you can buy.   The cost of paying the parents of these dead children is an externality, as is the death of the children themselves.  These are not intended consequences of the business policy, they are a kind of unfortunate price paid for the business decision made to maximize profits.  

The Supreme Court ruled that a corporation has only one legal responsibility: to provide profit for its shareholders.  The corporation was elevated to personhood, and lately given an unlimited voice in American elections by the Citizens United ruling, but the sole legal duty of the corporation remains, as the Supreme Court decreed many years ago:  to make maximum profit for shareholders and executives. 

People die as a result of corporate policies.  An externality.  Business judgment rule.  Unfair practices are committed routinely, business judgment rule.  The courts will not substitute their judgment for the judgment of those running a business.  It is fucking hard to run a business, Jack.  Let those with the expertise, the vision and the genius, folks who actually run the business, make the business judgments.  We owe them at least that much, Business Judgment Rule.   God bless America, its flag and the republic for which it stands.