A fascinating conversation

Krista Tippett interviews neuroscientist Dr. Rachel Yehuda about the effects of trauma (and, sometimes, resiliency) passed down genetically from one generation to the next.  The interview, including a transcript, is here.  Rachel Yehuda is a pioneer in the field of epigenetics, which Krista describes:

epigenetics is the idea that not only do experiences lodge physiologically, but that physiological changes can actually be passed on to the next generation — transmitted generationally, trans-generationally. One helpful way, to me, that you’ve talked about epigenetics is, you said, “Think about genetics as the computer and epigenetics as the software, the app, the program”

The conversation is interesting throughout, but the second half gets very deep.  Krista begins:

This whole notion of generationally transmitted trauma, it gives a kind of a chemical basis for talking about what happens to populations of refugees, or African Americans in this country who have this history of generational trauma, or aboriginal peoples in Australia, or — I was reading about some work in generational trauma that Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart did on the Pine Ridge Reservation, using the term of the “soul wounds,” the wounding of the Native American soul. This is science that is putting something to that phenomenon that seems to me to be quite new. It’s a more holistic way of describing what happens to human beings.

Dr. Yehuda: Yes, but it doesn’t all have to be negative. I think the purpose of epigenetic changes, I think, is simply to increase the repertoire of possible responses. I don’t think it’s meant to damage or not damage people; it just — it expands the range of biologic responses. And that can be a very positive thing, when that’s needed. Who would you rather be in a war zone with — somebody that’s had previous adversity, knows how to defend themselves, or somebody that has never had to fight for anything, but might be very advantaged in many other social and cultural ways?

Ms. Tippett: Right. So you’re saying that our — that there’s an intelligence in our bodies, behind this adaptation?

Dr. Yehuda: Oh, yes. There is a wisdom in our body, for sure.

Me:  And we have to be told this kind of basic human thing, in our culture, and hear it explicitly, to understand what we need as human beings, as sentient creatures– to feel, be listened to and heard:

Ms. Tippett:  … I’m so struck by the fact that this knowledge itself, just acknowledging the force of what has happened to us — that the force of trauma itself is a piece of knowledge that — I don’t know if you want to say it’s healing, but that it helps, that it’s kind of a — that it’s a building block to healing.

Dr. Yehuda: I think it’s a necessary prerequisite for healing. You have to do more than just recognize it, but you have to recognize it. We have a culture that goes to two extremes — they either completely dismiss something as “Nothing happened, don’t worry,” or they get very hysterical about what might have happened. And really, what we have to do is give ourselves a little time after an adverse event, to kind of take stock and not be so hard on ourselves, or not set expectations, and just listen to our bodies and give ourselves the space to be quiet and to heal and to see, to ascertain what has been damaged and try to counteract that by putting ourselves in the most un-stressful, healing environment that we possibly can have, to counteract some of that and promote a biological and molecular healing process that might forestall some of the epigenetic and molecular changes.

Ms. Tippett: I keep having this memory of an experience I had a couple months ago. I was in the city of Louisville, where they’re working on — from the mayor to the chief of police to the school system, they’re trying to figure out what it would be to be a “compassionate city.” And they’re actually using some science in this, they’re bringing some contemplative methods into schools — it’s very interesting and very holistic. And there was an — actually, a pastor, an African-American leader, who leads one of the — an important church there. And he said that one of the most important, transformative things that this mayor had done — that young people in his community had said this to him — was to sit with their grief.

Dr. Yehuda: Beautiful.

Ms. Tippett: To be — to dwell with the — and they may have used the word “trauma,” but just to let that be in the room.

Dr. Yehuda: Feel it. Feel it, instead of running to someone to give you a sleeping pill. Feel it. If you want to have that kind of a culture, it boils down to two words. It boils down to being able to ask someone, “You OK?” Just the idea that you are acknowledging the possibility that something bad has just happened to someone, and inquiring about them, is really, really at the heart of how military cultures really check up on each other. And in other healing cultures, you really hear a lot of people saying, “Hey, you OK?”

Their conversation ends beautifully, with one of the most profound statements I’ve heard in a long time.  I tip my hat to these two brilliant, empathetic women:

Dr. Yehuda: “How are you?” has become a pleasantry that is devoid of all meaning. But just really taking a second to inquire, in a real way, about how someone is doing — and even if they don’t tell you, and even if they lie to you, it will probably have a beneficial effect.

What I hear from trauma survivors, what I’m always struck with is how upsetting it is when other people don’t help, or don’t acknowledge, or respond very poorly to needs or distress. I’m very struck by that. And I’m very struck by how many Holocaust survivors got through because there was one person that became the focus of their survival, or they were the focus of that person’s survival. So how we behave towards one another, individually and in society, I think, can really make a very big difference in, honestly, the effects of environmental events on our molecular biology. [laughs]



Dramatis Personae (draft one)

Azrael “Israel” Irving “Irv” Widaen:  protagonist, educator, socially conscious, angry one-time historian, talkative skeleton.  He grew up in Peekskill, a small town an hour north of New York City, in grinding poverty. Had a lifelong interest in social justice and history.   A man of great wit, intelligence, compassion, known to his children as the D.U. (Dreaded Unit) he faced his sudden death stoically and without self-pity, but died with terrible regrets.  His life is an object lesson in the dangers of unexamined anger.

Aren “Aaron” Gleiberman: uncle of the protagonist.  But for Aren’s desertion from the Czar’s army in 1904 as his unit was being shipped east for the Russo-Japanese War (he and two fellow Jewish draftees headed west) the life of the protagonist, and this account, would have been unimaginable.  Aren sent for his youngest sister, Chava, on the eve of World War One.  Chava would beget the protagonist, in 1924.

Chava Gleiberman Widem — born in the tiny, doomed hamlet of Truvovich in Belarus, across the Pina River from Pinsk, Chava and oldest brother Aren, in America, were the only members of their family left alive after the Nazi advance across their area.  Tiny, red-haired, religious and given to rage, she entered into an unhappy arranged marriage with Eliyahu “Harry” Widem and gave birth to the protagonist in 1924.

Eliyahu “Harry” Widem:  the protagonist’s father, a cipher.  He was described as completely deadpan, his face “two eyes, a nose and a mouth.”  The most complete account Irv ever gave of his father, given the last night of his life, was “my father was an illiterate country bumpkin completely overwhelmed by this world.”  He died young, his gravestone indicating that he was a straight, simple man, which, it turns out, is not as uncomplimentary as it sounds.

Uncle Paul:  younger brother, by less than two years, of the protagonist.  Highly intelligent, he was a lifelong civil servant in the federal government in a bureau dealing with alcoholism.  A mild mannered, playful man with a corny sense of humor, he was also, among his intimates, a man of towering rages.  After retirement he dedicated himself to the creation of a federal civil service museum, a dream that was not realized.

Eli Gleiberman:  first son of protagonist’s Uncle Aren, seventeen years older than the protagonist, the closest thing Irv had to a father figure.   Aren’s wife died shortly after giving birth to Eli.  Alone in NYC, Aren planned to give the baby up for adoption.   Eli’s mother’s mother, and her three daughters, took Eli to grow up on their farm in the Bronx.   By age four, Eli reported, he ruled that farm, his word was law.  He added in a quiet voice “… which was very, very bad….”  Eli had, and displayed, the “Gleiberman temper”.  A man of great charm and humor, a wonderful story teller, equally capable of brutality.  He greatly loved, and terrified, his first cousin, the protagonist.

Evelyn:  wife of the protagonist, a poetic woman with a good sense of humor, given to wild exaggeration.  The sophisticated NYC girl had been reluctant to meet the bumpkin Irv, who was related to neighbors/friends of her’s in the Bronx.  The witty college boy soon swept Evelyn off her feet, although there is much more to the story than that, obviously.  They were married in 1951 and remained so until Irv’s death in 2005.

“My sister”:  younger than me by twenty-two months, the protagonist’s only other child, a bright and very private person.  I have zealously excluded all details of her life and identity, except for her participation in childhood events and her occasional insights on the protagonist and his wife, our mother.


Divergent Approaches to Life

I realize it’ll be hard to write this without sounding like an overbearingly judgmental asshole.  I may be setting myself another impossible task today.   For one thing, we live in a society whose values I consider insane, one where “winning” is the only goal, admitting fault and sincerely apologizing are often derided as weakness, the marks of a hesitant loser.   We argue in order to make ourselves feel that we are right and the other party is an asshole.  We omit the best points of our opponent’s arguments, reduce them to the stupidest things they’ve said, the most foolish or despicable choices they’ve ever made.   We win!   We win!   (Or we take our ball and go home.)

We win like the twitching chicken that used to play tic tac toe in the Chinatown Arcade on Mott Street.   For fifty cents you could play tic tac toe with a scrawny caged bird.   Most often, at the end of the match, the sign would flash “BIRD WINS!” and the victorious poultry hen would peck hungrily at the two or three grains of dried corn that dropped down a chute as its reward.   It was impossible to beat the bird, she went first.   A skillfully played game would result in a tie, which was as close to a win as the paying human could come.   I saw my proudest, toughest third grader humbled by the bird, in spite of my warnings that the game was rigged.   His classmates laughed at him and, for once, Roscoe did not retaliate, he hung his head.    My friends, this is the world we live in, playing as purported equals on a grotesquely tilted playing field.     

I’ve spent much of the last twenty-three months reimagining my troubled father’s life.  It has been a productive exercise for me, getting a much more nuanced understanding of my difficult father, probably because I am wired that way.   My father was called the Dreaded Unit, and his dreadedness was the result of an implacable will never to be defeated.   The phrasing is deliberate.  He fought doggedly, on many fronts, and I see now that his desire was not to “win”, he had little hope of that, but was simply a desperation not to “lose”.   

Consider how disabling this need would be to a person, to a friend, to a colleague or parent.   My father was very smart, knowledgeable, funny, capable of great empathy, full of traits that made him good company– his burden was living determined not to be defeated in any contest, no matter how small.   He didn’t play games, as a rule, since the prospect of losing was so painful to him, I guess.  His need to not lose restricted his view of life to a black and white funnel through which he saw every encounter.  It was a worldview he expressed great regret about as he was dying, trying to imagine how much richer his life would have been if he’d allowed himself to see all the nuance, gradation and color in the world.

Here is the divergent approaches to life point I allude to in the title.   Among our choices every day: you can accept what is in front of you, God having granted you the serenity to accept the things you cannot change and all that, and not fret over the many things you are powerless to influence; you can look at life through a straight-forward, narrow lens, pursuing happiness and your goals and interests as best you can; you can ponder and try to make sense of things that make little sense, hope to reach an understanding of vexing things that will lessen their sting, enable you to remain calm in the face of them.   This is a clumsy attempt, on my part, to set the stage for the hideous sounding thing I am poised to say.   I will dance towards my point.   

My father, at one point toward the end of their friendship, reserved special venom for his long-time friend Caroline, who was always running to do good deeds but, when my mother was hospitalized after her cancer surgery, and later confined to bed for several weeks, apparently didn’t find her way five blocks to visit her old friend.   I wasn’t there, I take his word for it.  I don’t recall quizzing my mother about it, although I think she confirmed it.  My mother didn’t appear overly hurt or angry about it, but my father was inconsolably peeved.   

“Caroline always runs a full flight pattern,” my father grumbled, stoking his anger at her and selling the righteousness of it to me.  “Since she’s always running, she can’t be responsible for the things that fall through the cracks, she’s too busy, you know.   She didn’t once, in all her frantic running around being everyone’s best friend, manage to make the long five block trek to visit her good friend who was laid up.   If I confronted her about it, she’d put her ears down and become immensely guilty, but why would I bother?   The point is, that type of neurotic person can always justify why it was impossible for them to do something that would have been easy enough, like drop off a bowl of soup, sit for ten minutes with a friend who can’t get out of the house, because they run a full flight pattern.”   

The full flight pattern is one mode of coping with a challenging, frantic, sometimes mad world, particularly since time is money.   You keep your schedule tight, your day productive, you run from one meeting to another, one task to another, stay busy, stay on point, feel good because you are ticking off important boxes many times a day.  At the end of the day you’re tired, fall into a deep sleep, wake up early the next day and do the same thing, try to get to the things you didn’t do the day before.   With a full flight pattern you can never actually do everything you need to do on a given day, but that only makes it more important to run faster and book more flights the next day.   

I get it.  I read a quote once that many people in our society have an absolute dread of leisure.  Leisure (unless an earned vacation) is equated with laziness, and laziness is the deadly sin of Sloth.  A good person does not slack, shirk, relax until the jobs are all done, a good person is tireless and productive.  I kid myself, I suppose, that I am not lazy but doing the hard work of trying to recover fully from a traumatic childhood to lead a better, more useful life, attempting to leave a road map for strangers to make use of.  I tap these keys in a quiet room, make my thoughts as clear as I can, and feel I am not just lazily indulging myself but doing something important.  I am lazy, even if I am also doing hard work most people would not even consider thinking about.   

Here’s the divergent approach to life bit:

I had the luck to spend many long visits with my father’s first cousin Eli, during the last few years of Eli’s long life.  Eli, seventeen years older than my father, had been a larger-than-life, opinionated fly on the wall during my father’s infancy and childhood.  We eventually became close enough friends, Eli and I, that he felt compelled to give me whatever difficult insight he could express to shed light on my vexing relationship with my old man.   Eli greatly loved my father.  He told me that the roots of our family were impossibly tangled and supremely difficult to understand or explain.  It was worse than that, most of our large family had been murdered by people empowered by those intent on making Germany Great Again and there was no way to even explore any but a couple of living roots.  There were warring factions in our small family– one tiny group didn’t have any contact with the others.  Hitler’s work was done.   

Brief meta-aside: 

When we hear a story we want a fairly straight line, a narrator who leads us on a fascinating tour without a hundred distracting detours.  Every detour has a dozen potential side detours and each side detour a suite of hidden rooms.  Soon the story is as clueless as the world itself and there is no way forward.  I get that.  I’d like to avoid footnotes today.  Here then, to tie a bow on this for you.   

When I returned from Eli’s, with new stories that shed light on my father’s torturous childhood and on my father’s often baffling stances as an adult (we pretty much agreed about politics, but he found cause to argue every time we spoke on the subject), my father hunched into a defensive crouch and hurled curses at fucking Eli, the closest thing to a father he’d ever had, a man he loved.   

He discredited Eli in a long torrent of reasons Eli was full of shit.  Eli had a violent temper, was deluded, falsely insisting he could have been a millionaire several times in the course of his egotistical life, if others hadn’t screwed him, Eli had a cockeyed view of life, was a bullshit historian, Eli had been a despicable tyrant to his kids, all of whom avoided him, one of whom hated him.   Yeah, ask Eli’s kids about fucking Eli, he suggested.   My father fought so hard to fend off whatever Eli might have told me that it never came up for discussion.  It was all intensely painful to my father, I realize now, and it was his choice neither to discuss it or to attempt to get, or give, any insight into any of it.  The thing was to fend it off, even if it meant savaging the character and the soul of the cousin he loved the most. 

My sister seemed to share the D.U.’s horror that I was probing into this painful past.  She was offended on his behalf when I asked my father, when the three of us were on line at a wedding buffet table, if he still considered verbal violence the same as physical violence, in terms of the psychological harm it does.  He told me he did.  I asked him, in light of that, if he’d consider my sister and me to have been victims of child abuse.  He told me he did.  My sister glared at me angrily, empty plate glistening in her hand. 

Our father’s life, she once told me insightfully, a few years after he died, had been shame-based.  He lived with deep shame and his existence was devoted to warding off any sign of shame.  Shame is a motherfucker, no question about it.  Among violent inmates in prison, a psychiatrist who spent many years speaking to them came to understand, virtually all of them had done violence out of an unbearable sense of humiliation.   “All violence is an attempt to replace shame with self-esteem,” wrote James Gilligan, the man who’d spent years working with violent inmates. 

The point is, with our divergent approaches, some find comfort in moving forward, at the greatest possible speed.   The demons that may dog them in rare unscripted moments can usually be outrun.  Others find more comfort in this careful chewing, turning the thing over and looking at it from different angles, with different light sources.  I should not wonder that my sister has not responded once to the last six or seven slices of this manuscript I’ve sent her over the past year.   I imagine that even the most merciful, least revealing of these pieces fills her with dread of what the others might contain.   Everyone has their own style for minimizing pain. 

As for mine, there is incalculable value, to me, in trying to see as much of the vexing, endlessly fascinating picture as I can, even as it delays me in rushing toward the goal line to do my victory dance. 

Even as it sets me up as an easily mocked self-righteous asshole who has never learned how to make a living and who sits alone, feeling smart, as he edits his thoughts for clarity, that they might be read by half a dozen people once in a while.

Insight on the Human Capacity to Change

I was talking to my father’s nephew just now, his brother’s son, my first cousin.   We got on to the subject of how much a person can change himself.   It was triggered by my comment that I sometimes think I should drop a quick note to that arrogant nephrologist I battled when I was first trying to find out how best to treat this kidney disease with no known cause.  I thought I might send her what she should have said to me, a very simple sentence or two, instead of constantly arguing, that it might help her going forward.

“She wouldn’t change,” he said confidently.  “That type acts that way out of hardwiring and lifelong practice.  Your most generous, eloquent letter would have no effect on her behavior going forward.  Why waste your time?  You certainly don’t owe her anything.” 

I reminded him of the endless argument my father and I had about whether, and how much, people can truly change themselves.   I said I’ve come to realize that clearly there is no yes or no answer to the question, people do make tremendous changes all the time, while certain predispositions are no doubt hardwired, easy goingness, a proneness to frustration, etc.   He made a profound point. 

 “Self-awareness and an ability to step outside yourself, a certain philosophical detachment, are necessary before you can change.  There is a predisposition for those traits too.”   

Goddamn, I thought, and I said “that’s a profound insight.”   

My sister once despaired to me that she realized she had become the D.U.  I was alarmed, told her immediately that she had to work on it, that it was within her power to change that.   

 “No,” she said, “that’s the essence of being the D.U.– there is no possibility of change.”   

“Well, you see, Elie,” said the skeleton of my father, “they’re right.   You, for whatever reason, were born with an ability to, eventually– and luckily for you you’ve lived long enough so far–  recognize things you do that harm you, and people around you, and to act a different way.   Not to say, of course, that you’ve figured everything out, or have a contented life or anything like that, I mean, you’re still subject to most of the same torments and everything, but you’ve learned to eliminate certain things that caused you a lot of pain.  You’ve come  a bit closer to really knowing what is hateful to you and not doing it to others, much closer than I ever could.”   

Not a very high bar, dad.   

“Admittedly,” said the skeleton.  A hawk screeched, or maybe it was another kind of raptor. 

“I can’t help you with that, Elie,” he said looking up toward the circling bird.  “Though I was a country boy, I don’t know a hawk from a falcon, an oak tree from a maple.”   

How little any of us actually know, I thought to myself.


Madness may not be an unreasonable option (And Mike Pence on guns)

In fairness to Lennox Hill Hospital, they did give me a long list of side effects to watch out for– cold/flu and high blood pressure among them.  I’ve never seen my blood pressure this high, day after day, even after doubling the dose of my blood pressure medication (at my doctor’s suggestion), but they did warn me.  Fair enough.  I just learned that it will take up to two months after my immunosuppressive treatment to see if my kidney disease is in remission.  Oh, well.

I don’t suppose my high blood pressure could be at all related to the recently announced deadline to re-apply for private health insurance by December 15th (if I want health insurance on January 1).   I have the choice of continuing to pay 500% to 1000% more than the law requires for a person of my income, as I did this year, in hopes of getting better health care than I did in 2016, or once again finding all new doctors to continue treatment of my kidney disease and skin cancer.  Oh well, just part of living in a Free Market in our exceptional nation, I suppose.   

The thing that riles me today, of all things, as I ponder the real possibility that going mad may be my best option, is fucking Mike Pence.   Google “Pence on concealed carry law” and you will quickly learn that he is rated A by the NRA.  Just scroll down the first page of hits:  

He voted in favor of national concealed carry reciprocity, a policy that would … Pence further undermined Indiana’s already weak gun laws – which pose a dire … 

Authorizes a person who has a valid permit to carry a concealed firearm in one state and who is not prohibited from carrying a firearm under federal law to carry … 

Or, go no further than this one, the third:

NRA-ILA | Freedom Fighter Mike Pence

Oct 26, 2016 – Pro-gun candidates don’t come any better than Mike Pence. … amendment that allowed law-abiding gun owners to carry concealed in national …

The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, at the link above, approvingly quotes  Freedom Fighter Mike Pence (one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s…):

In stirring language, he said, “No state has the right to legislate away the blood-bought constitutional right of every law-abiding American to protect their person, their family and their liberty.” 

He noted further, “This decision is a victory for the Second Amendment, but as a 5-to-4 ruling among the justices, it also sends a warning. The Supreme Court is closely divided and at least four of its members would not extend a basic constitutional right to all 50 states. For that reason alone, the nomination and confirmation of any Supreme Court justice requires careful deliberation to ensure that the members of the high court will protect the rights handed down by our Founding Fathers.” 

With Hillary Clinton’s contention that “the Supreme Court is wrong on the Second Amendment” and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s stated intent to overturn Heller, Pence’s words of warning resonate even more today than the day he said them.


OK, we know that Mr. Pence, who while running for Congress in 2000 advocated diverting funds set aside for indigent HIV/AIDS patients to “programs for those seeking to change their sexual behavior,” is famous for being a slippery, deniable advocate of Gay Conversion Therapy [1].   This is a debunked, one might say medieval, method for turning sinful homosexuals into God-fearing straight people by an intervention that makes the homosexual see the evil of his or her sexual preference and become a normal heterosexual.   

Mr. Pence is an extremely religious Christian, we are told.   He believes that every abortion is an act of murder and signed a law as governor of Indiana making burial or cremation mandatory for every aborted fetus or embryo.[2]. 

Now, far be it from me to say that someone who believes things like these is fucking insane.   The degree of an individual’s religious fervor, even fanaticism is their own concern.  Arguably only our business if that religious person imposes those views in a lawmaking capacity.   But let’s get back to guns, a subject less fraught with emotionalism, superstition, faith and bigotry.

What is this concealed carry reciprocity?   It is a turning on its head of the old States’ Rights argument, the long time rallying cry of conservatives everywhere.  States’ Rights is a relic of the Civil War with roots that go back to the days of the Articles of Confederation when states kept control of virtually everything and were very zealous about what powers, if any, they’d cede to the federal government.  States should have the ultimate say on what goes on within its borders, most Americans seem to agree.  States today maintain control of most of their legal affairs, business, civil, criminal and family laws, etc. except where there is an overriding need for a superseding national law.   Nowadays most Americans recognize that in certain important matters, like, for example, the treatment of former slaves and later so-called Civil Rights matters (more properly called Human Rights, as many have said), citizen’s rights can only be protected by federal law and federal government enforcement.   Regulation of dangerous working conditions, pharmaceuticals, toxins in the environment have traditionally been the realm of the federal government.

Look, we know one shouldn’t look for any kind of consistency, or even logic, in political ‘ideology’, particularly now in the Post-Fact age we are expected to live in, but this National Rifle Association initiative, to expand the state right of concealed gun carrying (and these aren’t rifles they’re concealing, by the way) into every state in the US by ‘reciprocity’, is inconsistent beyond reason or even madness.   

Here’s the logic for overriding the will of states who want to limit guns that these otherwise States’ Rights advocates use:  State A, say Mississippi, passes a law that allows citizens to walk around with licensed guns concealed on their person.  Now I have a damned valid Mississippi license to carry, why should fucking Massachusetts have the right to prevent me from carrying my legally concealed legal gun when I go to Boston?  States rights have nothing to do with it!  It’s a matter of basic damned comity.  My Mississippi driver’s license allows me to legally drive in every state in the union, why do some states get to arbitrarily deny me my blood-bought constitutional right to carry my licensed concealed gun?

We already have plenty of gun-friendly legislation in various states, but this is not enough for those who truly believe the right to have and use guns is the “blood-bought constitutional right of every law-abiding American”.  Look no further than  ALEC’s  “Stand Your Ground” which is the law in roughly half of the United States. Written to give legal grounds for shooting someone you reasonably fear anywhere you may encounter them, all a peaceful citizen who doesn’t believe guns are the best way to solve the problems of fear and violence can think about it is “what the fuck?!!”   But there it is.  Under this law a citizen can jump out of a car, confront a black kid on the sidewalk, feel reasonable fear when the kid tells him to fuck himself, shoot the kid to death and be exonerated at trial under “Stand Your Ground.”  USA!  USA!!!  Tip of the cowboy hat to the Koch boys and other funders of ALEC, and to the legal eagles at ALEC who drafted the nifty bill/law.

Granted the NRA is a very powerful conservative lobbyist.  Granted the American love affair with the gun goes back to the earliest days of colonization, when the only cure for lawlessness was a brave man with a gun who was not afraid to shoot when decency and public order was at stake.  Or, say, in a field where sullen black slaves might seek to threaten and physically overtake the overseer.   That overseer, without an Equalizer, as the Colt .45 revolver was called, would be dead meat in any slave revolt.  One man with a gun that could fire six shots in a row was a match for any three muscular brutes with bad intentions.  Same goes for godless savages intent on thwarting America’s God-given Manifest Destiny.  You want to scalp our women and children?   We have gatling guns for you motherfuckers.

I am idly wondering about the beliefs of devout men like Mike Pence, one unhealthy heartbeat away from becoming the most powerful man in the world.   He is loved and supported by the Koch Brothers, the two billionaires most responsible for making their father’s lunatic fringe right wing vision a reality,  and he is loved by the National Rifle Association.   He is a devout Christian who seems untroubled by the fact that, on average, 33,880 Americans die every year by gun shot [3].  Jesus may weep, but Mike Pence is clear eyed about it. 

He is a Christian who would, first of all, dispute that number of annual American gun deaths as gun nut propaganda.  The actual number is indisputably way, way less than 33,880 [4].  Say we take the inflated Brady Campaign numbers, on the high side it’s more like 10,000 Americans a year outright murdered by people with guns.  It’s not fair, as the NRA consistently insists, to include the 21,037 gun suicides a year.  That wildly skews the numbers.   How is that fair?  If someone uses a gun to blow their own brains out, isn’t that the fault of the crazy person?  How do you blame the God-given right to own a gun for that?  So unfair!  SAD!  Skews the “facts” completely, inflates the numbers artificially.  Guns don’t kill people, especially when those people are only hurting themselves.   Partisans will point out that American suicide by gun is 800% the world average [4].   Exceptional, you have to admit, but nothing to do with the annual number of Americans killed by guns. 

So as you follow the news of the Mueller investigation, watch the noose tightening around many of Trump’s lawyered up inner circle, tingle at the seeming inevitability of our provocative, supremely unqualified president being designated, like Nixon, an “un-indicted co-conspirator,” remember that this white haired Christian soldier, Mr. Pence, is one heartbeat away from doing a Jerry Ford for all those best people unfairly targeted by relentless partisans.  And then going on to be chief executive according to his conscience, and the consciences of billionaires David Hamilton Koch and Charles de Ganahl Koch.

And, like I say, madness may actually be a not unreasonable way to go.  If you’ll excuse me, I have to try to expectorate more of this greyish white gunk.

[1]  quote:

Vice President-elect Mike Pence has also appeared to support conversion therapy. When he was running for Congress in 2000, Pence’s website declared that money set aside by the federal CARE Act, to help indigent HIV/AIDS patients, also be “directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” (The Trump transition team has not responded for a request for comment.)


[2]  quote:

Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed House Enrolled Act 1337 into law on March 24, 2016, a hulking piece of “kitchen sink” legislation that the National Network of Abortion Funds called “one of the most vicious omnibus anti-abortion bills the United States has ever seen.” Among its 31 draconian provisions is a requirement that miscarried and aborted fetuses must be buried or cremated.

Mandating interment means that women accessing abortion would be forced to state in writing how they want the tissue disposed of. The fetus would then receive a burial-transit permit and be transferred to a funeral home, where a funeral director would oversee its final disposition. These absurd requirements load additional administrative and logistical burdens on clinics. Further, says Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, “these laws are certainly attempts to shame and stigmatize women who have decided to have abortions. Telling them that the embryonic tissue has to be cremated or buried signals that the state is treating the embryo or fetus as a person.”



[3]  On average every year in America

33,880 people die from gun violence

  • 11,564 murdered
  • 21,037 die from suicide
  • 544 killed unintentionally
  • 468 killed by legal intervention
  • 267 die but intent was unknown


[4] see, for example USA Today