Accepting Reality

I had a random thought just now, listening to the president’s bold new plan to meet his stable genius counterpart in North Korea (something the U.S. Secretary of State himself didn’t know about as recently as yesterday) that when I was growing up we knew virtually everybody on our block.

I thought of Sam Gerwitz, across the street, who my father told me was very rich.   He must have been, he and his wife had a little statuette of a jockey, a small white fellow (his face and hands may have been painted pink during my early childhood), on their front lawn.  He held a lantern illuminating the path from the sidewalk, a path to their front door with a large white column on each side.  He was exactly the kind of little jockey Frank Zappa sang about knocking off the rich people’s lawns in his gospel-tinged Uncle Remus.  

I thought of the Meltons down the street, their daughter Joy, and Pierre, their dog. My father came in angry one day after work, carrying his battered brief case. Pierre had apparently loped on to our front lawn and left a pile of steaming cannon ball-sized turds.   I don’t remember what kind of dog Pierre was, possibly a standard poodle, but my father was outraged that the Meltons let him run wild to gleefully defecate on the neighbors’ lawns.  Melton might have smiled, observing his dog taking the Arnold Palmer putting stance and letting nature take its course.  I just remember how outraged my father was, and who could blame him?

The point of these quaint recollections is that I could go down the block, certainly our end of the street, and name every family, and family member, in every house, the Bengles, the Ticks, the Weissmans.  Such is not the case for most children growing up today.

The Good Humor man knew our dog Patches and would front her a cup of vanilla ice cream (which he dutifully opened for her and placed within reach of her tongue) until a human came out of our house to give him the ten cents. “Patches would come running, along with all the neighborhood children, when the music from that truck started,” my mother reminded us.

In those quaint days on the leafy streets of Queens, New York, we led what seemed an idyllic childhood.  My best friend Michael Siegel and I built a series of forts (in peoples’ back yards), formed the Waterbugs– a secret society dedicated to running through every sprinkler they passed– made an intricate system of dams in the street when the sprinklers sent water in rivulets down the hill to Union Turnpike, played baseball in the street.   Nobody feared the Good Humor man, or any local shop owner, as far as any of them being a child molester.  It emerged, years later, that my best friend’s father was a pedophile, but apparently such a gracious host, so gentle and loved by the boys on the block that several stood crying as the cops led him away.

Not to imply by these sentimental little vignettes that life in those days was like the Great America our imbecilic president claims he’s trying to bring back.   Yes, I grew up in a stable neighborhood of well-tended lawns, on a quiet street where I knew everybody’s name.  But, as Woody Allen’s slippery character evasively answered in The Front, when asked under oath if he knew a certain suspected Communist screenwriter: when do you really know somebody?   Did the neighbors hear our screaming fights at the dinner table every night?

The public school I attended was segregated, a decade after the Supreme Court ordered an end to the racist practice.  I remember the first black children arriving at our school, on the E, F and G buses, at the end of a bitter war I also remember, during which my mother’s friend and pro-integration comrade Mildred Rose received a vicious letter with COMMIE scrawled across the envelope.  I recall Mildred’s horror as she told my mother, gasped the word COMMIE, the look of concern that crossed my mother’s face.  The word itself was one of the funniest things I’d ever heard. My friend Robbie and I began using it daily, calling each other and everyone else Commie and laughing at how it was always so fucking funny. 

Meanwhile, largely unknown to us, our government was engaged in an existential war on Commies everywhere, in the name of freedom, had been since a decade before our births.   In the name of freedom charismatic John F. Kennedy quietly sent military advisors and tons of weapons to help a corrupt Vietnamese regime fight the Commies led by Vietnamese nationalist hero Ho Chi Minh.    An invented pretext allowed Kennedy’s successor to escalate the war, a war to prevent all the countries of Southeast Asia from falling like dominos to Communism if Vietnam was lost to the godless Commies.  The “Domino Theory,” like “Manifest Destiny” before it, was good enough to sustain an unimaginably gigantic campaign of organized violence and mass murder for years.

Here is what I am getting to about accepting reality.   The reality then for me, as I became a teenager, was if the Vietnam war had continued another year or so, I would have had to figure out how to get out of the draft, like war-loving Dick Cheney, Dubya Bush and Donald Trump had, or be sent over there to fight for American freedom by burning the villages of Vietnamese Commie sympathizers on “our” side of the arbitrary line drawn on a map when the northern part was ceded to the Commies after the expulsion of the French colonialists not long before I was born.  

Much of my childhood had been spent watching atrocities on TV, exciting war news about a war no more sensible, or justifiable, really, than the First World War.   The scores ran like obscene basketball scores across the bottom of the screen.  Yesterday we won 1,396 to 55.  We killed 1,396 Commies, they’d only gotten 55 of us.  Later we learned how the scores were arrived at:  kill any Vietnamese guy between 12 and 60, score one for us.   All presumed fucking Commies.

I remember seeing a marijuana-related piece on the nightly war news, which we sometimes watched during dinner on a small black and white TV with rabbit ears.  The piece was a brief aside about the rampant drug use by American soldiers in Vietnam (thousands came back addicted to heroin).  A couple of smiling grunts demonstrated the ingenious technique of using a gun barrel as a pipe for smoking inhumanly large lungfuls of ganga.  They’d create a burning pile of the weed at the top of the gun barrel and one soldier would blow the smoke forcefully through the gun barrel into another soldier’s mouth.  They called it shotgunning.  I remember the poor bastard who’d been on the receiving end of the shotgun, an American kid caught in an endless jungle war in toxic quicksand, falling over backwards laughing, expelling vast, thick plumes of smoke.  The news correspondent mentioned the name of the god-forsaken place they were sitting and signed off.

There was a massive anti-war movement, and I attended many mass protests as did most people I knew, but the war machine raged on for years.  Many of us marched out of outrage against what was going on, the horrors being committed in our names, and fear for our fate if this insane war was not ended.   Our leaders spoke high-mindedly about ending the war on our terms, Peace with Honor.  One slogan the anti-war folks had was “Killing for Peace is like Fucking for Chastity.”  After the American attack on Vietnam (which included vast quantities of chemical weapons like Dow Chemical’s Napalm [1], a flammable flesh burning weapon from hell)  finally ended our leaders realized an all volunteer army was better for morale, and public support of any war.  The end of the draft had the great benefit of depriving millions of a personal stake for protesting American military adventures to wipe out godless Commies (today the enemy is “terror”) wherever they might be hiding.

Accepting reality means, on one level, accepting that there is really nothing we can do about the irresistibly obscene profits of those who make weapons.  Can’t sell the goddamned things and have ’em sit in a fucking warehouse, governments ain’t going to go for that on the gigantic scale we need to make it worth keeping the factories going full-time, keeping everyone employed in the munitions industry.  Got to have wars, constantly, everywhere we can.  It’s a sad reality, but military force is the only thing these evil motherfuckers understand.  When Trump dropped “the mother of all bombs,” devastating a square mile of Afghanistan, he got a standing ovation from the spokesmen for a nation grateful that he was finally acting “presidential”.

Talking piece of shit and chief apologist for our culture of gun violence Wayne LaPierre reminded me the other day, with his snide dismissal of godless left-wing attempts to cynically exploit tragedy and manipulate the public after every single isolated and unfortunate high-profile mass shooting of school children, of a long dead activist whose name has become a snarling point for patriotic right wing pundits: Saul Alinsky.  I reserved Alinsky’s 1971 Rules for Radicals from the public library and a few days later picked it up at the branch that is scheduled for demolition, as soon as all the ULURPs are signed off on and the checks are all cut to interested parties.  

The book is a guide for practical actions to steadfastly but nonviolently change hearts, minds, practices and laws.  During his prologue Alinsky states emphatically that the revolution he advocates has nothing to do with Communist revolution, although Communists have written virtually all of the manuals for revolution in the past century.  He states several times that violence is not a sensible option for affecting positive social change in a democracy.   He points out the failures of every revolution by force, how quickly the new oppressors entrench themselves in self-perpetuating power.   He makes the point that social change, imagining and creating a better world, requires overturning many core beliefs of the status quo.  

The U.S., at the time he was writing, had produced 1,600 tons of nerve gas.   We weren’t going to use it, of course, but we needed 1,600 tons of it since the Commies were intent on converting every American to a slave.  Follow that logic, if you can.  That deadly shit, the kind of stuff that, if his forces employed it, would justify a righteous attack on the murderous Mr. Assad in Syria, is now at the bottom of the oceans, waiting harmlessly for God knows what.  Nerve gas is an inhuman, universally condemned chemical weapon, although, it must be said, the U.S. still produces and sells White Phosphorous, which burns unstoppably through flesh and bone and the use of which is considered, by many, to be a war crime.

How does the world get better?   By people of conscience organizing, imagining a better future, creating effective nonviolent battle plans, improvising smartly, using the mass media to further our narrative of how the world should be.  I have not read very far into Alinsky’s book, but it invites me to imagine the world and the kind of principled action he is talking about.   You can’t kill your way to peace anymore than you can fuck your way to chastity.  

When I was eight racist police chiefs were turning high powered hoses on blacks who were intent on voting, using public bathrooms, walking on the sidewalk instead of the street, not being lynched for the crime of making eye contact with their white superiors.  I am now sixty-one and racist government officials still fight the idea that just because significant numbers of unarmed blacks are killed by the police every year, in numbers grotesquely disproportionate to the percentage of blacks in America, that we have a systemic problem here.  The problem is not widespread racist injustice, according to these officials, it’s fucking agitators, lawlessness, troublemakers, whistleblowers, goddamned ‘citizen journalists’ with their video phones, malcontents, racist black terrorists, Commies.

Homo sapiens, the descendants of apes who now rule the planet, calls itself “wise man,” sapiens apparently meaning wise.   We are wise enough to combine in huge numbers, animated by abstract beliefs, and do amazing things.  Sadly, one of the most common and consistent of these things is organized mass violence against other groups of humans, against any species or ecosystem we choose.  We were wise enough to rise up, from an insignificant prey animal, and organize ourselves, collectively, during the geological blink of an eye, into the apex predator on the planet. 

When President Obama vastly expanded the drone killing program his people came up with something called the Signature Strike.  It might have been Cheney’s people with that innovative idea, I’d have to ask Jeremy Scahill [the program apparently started in 2008 at the end of the Bush administration– ed.]  [2].   The theory is fairly straightforward: certain actions in certain areas are the signatures of terrorists and militants.  When we detect a pattern of such things we send a drone to kill the unknown persons who are engaging in things terrorists tend to do.  When we count the dead bodies, any male body between certain ages is counted as an enemy combatant.  As simple, and effective, as the body counts in Vietnam.   You hardly need a scorecard to know that if we kill more of them than they kill of us, we are winning.

We homo sapiens are capable of amazing things, creating transcendent beauty.   We can move each other to cry using words, sounds, sights, tastes.  We can laugh, and make each other laugh, by these same devices.  We are also the most violent, insane, unbending motherfuckers on the planet.   Can you imagine a better future?  We must get busy finding others who share this vision, organizing, successfully spinning our vision of a better future correctly in the mass media, influencing the perceptions, confirming the most decent innate beliefs of our fellow citizens.  

Failing this, we’re all fucking dead, my friends.   The New York Times may put a nice spin on much of this, you know, how freedom and progress are on the march, and the world is a pretty good place, never better, really, if you can afford to buy the things that make it worthwhile, of course, but none of their bodies are on the line, until every human body on the planet is on the line.  Which, one could argue, is now.


[1] Here’s a surprise for you, gentle reader:

In the 1960s, the Dow Chemical Company re-partnered with Badische, the German company that had produced Zyklon-B, the gas used to execute people in Nazi death camps, and formed Dow-Badische. Dow-Badische created and produced Napalm-B, an updated napalm consisting of “25 percent gasoline, 25 percent benzene, and 50 percent polystyrene”.[9] After news reports of napalm B’s deadly and disfiguring effects were published, Dow Chemical experienced boycotts of its products, and its recruiters for new chemists, chemical engineers, etc., graduating from college were subject to campus boycotts. The management of the company decided that its “first obligation was the government.” Meanwhile, napalm B became a symbol for the Vietnam War.[10]

[2]  Signature strikes began during the Bush years, in January 2008, as the US intensified drone strikes in Pakistan. When Obama entered office in 2009, his administration picked up where Bush left off and exponentially increased the number of drone strikes. During his eight years in office, Bush launched 51 drone strikes in Pakistan and killed between 410 and 595 people. Obama, so far, has launched 419 drone strikes in Pakistan, alone, and killed over 4,500 people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia since 2009.   (this was as of August 4, 2015)



Mars Attacks (and the Office of Government Ethics)

The 1996 movie, imagining an invasion by ruthless Martians, although arguably no masterpiece, has a few nice images that are useful today.  

The Martians walk the streets, assuring frightened citizens that they mean no harm. “We come in peace,” they repeat, as they vaporize the populace with their death rays.


Mars Attacks.gif

There’s a great moment with a farmer, clutching his shotgun, defending his home from the Martian. When a Martian tells him to put his gun down he says  defiantly “you’ll have to pry this gun from my cold dead hands.”  The Martian tells him his offer is accepted, and blasts him with the death ray.


Without comment, or any connection to what I wrote above (or this horrific gif), this from the current US Office of Government Ethics:

OGE’s Strategic Plan Charts our Course through 2022.

February 12, 2018

OGE’s newly released five-year Strategic Plan reflects commitment to our important mission of preventing conflicts of interest in the executive branch. Government leaders and employees take actions and make decisions every day that affect the wellbeing of citizens and people around the world. It is critical to our democracy that we have a strong ethics program so that the people trust that government decisions are made based on the public interest rather than one’s personal interests. Uniformity, accountability, continuity, and citizen engagement are central to a strong ethics program.

To that end, OGE commits to the important strategic goals of:

  • Advancing a strong, uniform executive branch ethics program;
  • Holding the executive branch accountable for carrying out an effective ethics program;
  • Contributing to the continuity of senior leadership in the executive branch; and
  • Engaging the public in overseeing government integrity.

Ensuring the impartiality of executive branch decision-making and enabling the public’s trust in its government is imperative and a shared responsibility vital to our democracy. OGE looks forward to working with all of its stakeholders to make progress on these important goals.

We invite you to read the full plan here: OGE’s Strategic Plan   


And God bless these United States.

Deriving Their Just Powers from the Consent of the Governed

Was it Sir Winston Churchill, Cold Warrior, who quipped that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the rest?  OK, it wasn’t really a quip, says Jeeves.  Churchill said it in the House of Commons in 1907, when the Cold War was just a twinkle in his witty eye, ascribing the comment to some unknown predecessor wit:

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…

The central conceit of democracy (dēmos ‘the people’ + -kratia ‘power, rule’) is that informed citizens vote for lawmakers to act in their interests, according to the wishes of these knowledgable citizens.  This is the ‘consent of the governed’ part, from which elected legislators and executives ‘derive their just powers.’

The worst form of government, except for all those other forms.  Better than a King, I’d wager, even if the king is a nice guy.    The king’s son will as often as not be an entitled, unempathetic asshole.   Ruling by Divine Right, God only knows what the motherfucker might do.  Military dictators, as a rule even worse than fucking monarchs.  You don’t like the way they do things?   “Take this malcontent to the secret detention center and let him bitch there, with the electrodes on.”

Modern democracies are huge, which is one great modern weakness in the noble idea of rule by the will of the people.  Elections are mediated, and decided, in the mass media.  Voters, when they show up, cast their votes for the people who raised the most money by making promises to wealthy donors, who looked the best on TV and had the most convincing ads right before ballot time.   We can see the problem with this.

 Look no further than our bald headed commander-in-chief with that beautiful mane of carefully architected hair who flaunts every rule and norm of  democracy.   “I don’t do ethics, boner breath,” he smiles when the head of the government ethics office resigns in indignation after the new president gives a cheerful fuck you to the Office of Government Ethics.

Even Dick Cheney, famous for his smirking fuck yous, his contempt for critics, his no-bid contracts, his huge vault of top secret classified documents, his dark-side operations, his embrace of torture, his impatience with those who questioned his right to do whatever the fuck he needed to do to keep America safe, well, even Cheney finally conceded he had to go into a room, hand in hand with President George W. Bush, and testify secretly, and not under oath, to the 9/11 Commission he and Bush had fought for so long.     Not to praise that evil fuck in any way, it’s only that even in comparison to Cheney, this new asshole is one very bad hombre, ethics-wise.

Taking potshots at Trump is easy, and I choose not to do that anymore (within reason and the limits of my restraint).   He is a symptom anyway, a gigantic cancerous chicken coming home to roost.   The scarier deal is that most Americans are now convinced of our utter powerlessness in a democratic society with one set of laws for the powerful and another for the powerless, where deals are made by the strong and must be tolerated by the weak, the great masses of us.    

This works even on a neighborhood level where mass media coverage is not such an essential factor in who gets elected.   A few weeks back I went to the Audiencia Publica in my local intermediate school, about the massive rezoning plan now on its way to action.   The local politicians kept a low profile, most of them already committed to the massive development plan worth tens or hundreds of millions to wealthy developers and their cronies.  Their representatives (several sent secretaries to speak) were booed, as was the one oily, double talking fuck who appeared in person, manipulated his way into speaking first (among 150 speakers) due to “prior commitments”, and reiterated he is fighting for the greater good.   He was booed as he left right after speaking.  I watched another local pol, who didn’t speak, eating a bowl of free rice and beans from a table in the back of the packed auditorium.  I remembered that smiling asshole from the time I went to speak to him.

I dutifully wrote my statement for the “record” and realized, not long after, that while the Audiencia Publica gave local citizens a chance to vent, pump fists, raise signs, yell our approval or anger, that my words would not even be printed out for future use as scrap paper.  Not a single ass would be wiped with my hours of composition.  The locals have nothing to say on this issue.  Fuck the locals.  You don’t like the new plan?  Get the fuck out, you homeless asshole!

Deriving their just powers from the consent of the… wait, the consent of those who pay for their expensive campaigns.  It’s just a fact of modern democracy– it’s how much positive attention you get in the media, how well your team spins your personal ambitions as altruism,  how nicely you clean up to be packaged and sold as “authentic”.  The politician who spoke at the Public Hearing began his five minutes with two straight minutes of Spanish.  This was to show his authenticity to those who had been booing him a moment earlier, and would boo him again when he concluded his mealy-mouthed English speech.

“We got nothing,” I realized, when I was done counting up all the arguments I had made.   Loss of historical character of neighborhood– nada.   Increased crowding, air pollution, additional subway headaches — nada.   Closing and demolishing the neighborhood library as part of a gigantic rezoning plan– nada.  All perfectly legal, as attested to by the permit application numbers and the entire semi-public process of making these decisions.   “Above your fucking pay grades, you grousing cocksuckers,” the local Dominican city councilman might as well said, and to the hecklers “que tengas un buen dia, comemierda motherfuckers.”

Let us be brutally honest here (and what is honesty without just a whiff of brutality?) on the one side are people who want their quiet little neighborhood to remain as it is, pretty much.  Enemies of progress.  Not a penny to be made with that sort of attitude.  On the other side, every possible argument and upwards of many, many millions of dollars, with plenty to go around to anyone with any power who might also have any qualms.  A slam dunk.   “Have a nice day, shiteater motherfuckers!” they all say in unison, although, without uttering a sound, the consent of the governed, of course, being the place from which all just power in a democracy is derived.

Moral Dilemma

I have gone on at length here about the damage done by concealing crucial information, in pubic and private life both.   It is impossible to make sense of a situation when the underlying events are secretly redacted, classified, above your need-to-know pay grade.    This obfuscation of what actually happened, what used to be quaintly called “the facts”, can be found in virtually every situation where somebody is brutally, or even gently, fucking somebody else over.   Withholding key information is necessary for the proper functioning of every abusive situation,  every betrayal and scandal, personal, political, environmental, what have you.

Removal of transparency has been institutionalized by the powerful corporate players who sponsor candidates for the legislature, it is now also the rule in the government unlimited free speech money has largely purchased.   It would not do, for example, to have the facts known about the effects of the toxic waste being produced by a fabulous company employing thousands and making billions.   Public relations firms are employed to humanistically spin the work the friendly corporation does, to direct people’s fleeting attention away from the murderous externalities the corporation seeks to conceal. 

An energetic public relations firm has been at work for Koch Industries in recent years, showing actors playing women, black people, minorities of every kind, happily employed in important jobs by beneficent, forward looking Koch Industries– making a better tomorrow today and shit.   

There is obviously no hint in these feel good Koch pieces that the toxic sludge they are piping from the Alberta tar sands they own, across the entire width of the U.S., to refineries in Houston, is the most toxic form of fossil fuel left on earth.  Or that it’s flowing sluggishly (with at least one massive spill so far) across more than a thousand miles of the American watershed.   Forget, for a moment, the raped wasteland the ‘harvesting’ of this toxic prehistoric sludge leaves behind on the Canadian lands owned by the Kochs.  The Americans who are protesting the pipeline are beaten up by privately hired goons, set upon by dogs, by Trump, strip searched and imprisoned for carrying signs stating their case about protecting the water supply.  Nothing to see here.  Koch, making the future bright, for winners.  Whatever else you can say about piping this toxic sludge, the profits it will generate for the two Koch boys will double their already incalculable fortune.

Or as you will immediately learn by googling Keystone XL: 

The Keystone XL oil pipeline will be the safest and most advanced pipeline in North America, providing U.S. jobs, energy security and economic benefits.

Wealthy criminals who are actually prosecuted can avoid admissions of guilt by signing lawyerly agreements where they pay a sum of money without an admission of guilt.  Trump and his dad did that, thanks to the rabid genius of the unscrupulous Roy Cohn, who countersued the government for defamation when the government prosecuted the Trumps under The Fair Housing Act.   Trump Inc. who had been systematically violating the Fair Housing Act long before it became law, admitted no wrong-doing and agreed to have its rental policies and practices monitored to ensure no future violations, but the government blinked.  Trump never had to admit their policy and longtime practice of not renting to brown skinned low-life motherfuckers, no matter how respectable they appeared to be.  Nothing to see here, bitches.  You didn’t prove shit and we didn’t admit jack.  Fuck you!

Political and business obfuscation is ubiquitous, too common to even talk about.   Rule one: never admit shit.  Rule two: when accused of violence, punch the accusers as hard as you can in the face, repeatedly, while kicking them in the balls.   Rule three: no disclosure.  Make me.  I know you are, but what am I?

“Yeah, we violated all 371 treaties we made with Native Americans, so?  They were fucking Stone Age savages who thought the earth itself was a god.  Fucking losers, they didn’t even know how to smelt metal.  Plus, a handful of the survivors became very, very rich, filthy rich, with those tax free casinos.  What are they bitching about?   You can’t bring back the dead.  Fucking losers….”

The moral dilemma I referred to above is in the personal arena.  It is an almost daily torment to me.   Hitler did a nice job trimming my family tree back in 1942 and 1943.  Of what would have been dozens of relatives today, from a once large family, I am left with a tiny handful, most of whom I haven’t seen in years.   The work that Hitler wasn’t able to complete, well, there are other ways to do it, yo.

“There you go again with the hyperbole, Elie,” said the skeleton of my father, popping up randomly, as he often does.  “You’re going to lose a lot of readers with this Hitler shit.  Hitler, yeah, not a nice man.  Mass murderer, twisted fuck, fine, most people know Hitler was no goddamned good.   You’re not shedding any light here by dragging his hideous face into this conversation.  My suggestion: leave fucking Hitler out of it.”

After a long pause, that included a shower, lunch and checking on the progress of Aaron Judge’s recovery from shoulder surgery, I agreed with my father’s skeleton that the best way to explore this moral dilemma was with a piece of fiction.  A lie, as Picasso put it, that reveals the truth.  And remember, total darkness is the best cover for abuse and shame.

The first time Jim met the man, the man said that Jim was a pussy, a man who lacked the balls to “confront” his girlfriend’s father.  “Confront the bastard!” he told Jim militantly as Jim’s girlfriend smiled and slightly cringed.  Jim felt no need to confront the girl’s father. He’d had dinner at his table, the man didn’t particularly like Jim, and as the father of a young woman who had middle class expectations, Jim thought the man was well within his rights to be wary of him.   Jim was idiosyncratic, disconnected from the general ambitions of the world, though smart.   Jim and his girlfriend’s father got along as well as they needed to, and the romance between his daughter and Jim was going along very amicably, in Jim’s opinion.  Jim told the man he always kept his word to the girl’s father, had her home by the hour he promised, and that preserved the peace and made everything much easier.

The guy who was lecturing Jim about having no balls was trying to convince Jim’s sister, who he’d met weeks earlier, to quit her excellent job, pack her things and run away with him to Arizona.   He was fleeing a failed marriage, it was complicated, he was deeply, deeply in love and he had no intention of meeting the parents of the pretty young woman he was trying to abscond with.

“Phew… that’s some ripe, eh, fiction,” said the skeleton.   

You can’t make this shit up, dad.   From that twisted exchange, an unneeded moral lecture to Jim about something he himself was incapable of doing, the rest followed in a straight line.   A long con game.  Soon he’d lost his job, asked Jim with a smile if he could borrow some money, just for a short time, a couple of months.  Jim was generous, Jim was foolish.   The man took advantage.  Jim became the subject of mounting anger on visits to his sister.  He was cursed as the “fucking Jew” who, years later, still came every month, driving a six hour round trip, just to collect the monthly payment they never mailed to Jim.  

The man was always more comfortable blaming others than taking responsibility for his frequent mistakes.  It is only human to make mistakes, it is inhuman not to forgive, preached the man who did many bad things without ever once apologizing to anyone.

The skeleton of my father nodded from his grave, very satisfied. 

“Nicely turned, Elie,” he said.  “I love that you didn’t even mention the many old friends he ‘borrowed’ money from who eventually abandoned the lying fuck, the several times, that we know of, that he embezzled from a boss who loved and trusted him, the year or more that he pretended to go to work every day while he was fraudulently drawing his ‘pay’ from his dead father’s credit cards.  The $10,000 he borrowed from mom and me towards the downpayment on a home he was pretending they were going to buy, two or three days before he declared bankruptcy.  Particularly heroic, on your part, not to mention the time he threatened to murder his children, his wife, me and mom, and then himself.  Like all desperate, murder and suicide threatening cowards, he could have saved everyone a lot of grief by just snuffing himself first.  So I salute you for not going there.”

Why would I go there, dad?  You know I always take the fucking high road. 

“Just one more reason you sometimes feel so fucking alone, Elie,” said the skeleton, wanly.  “I’m just sayin’… Try not to brood on lost nieces and nephews, eh?”

Guns Don’t Kill People, seriously

I gave an example, in yesterday’s post, of how much anger can be put into a few paragraphs of snappy prose.   It detracted from the larger idea of that post on understanding and learning to overcome angry reactions, and so I severed that part of what I posted yesterday and am re-writing it here, as an example of how anger and fear (and obfuscation by those who profit from those things)  play an outsized role in human affairs, in politics, in why solving a terrible problem can be made to seem overwhelmingly complex.  

And to give myself the opportunity to imagine Wayne LaPierre, head of the National Rifle Association, shot through the voice box with a perfectly placed small caliber bullet as he is spouting his shit about how guns don’t kill people and only lying fucking Jew agitators like sneaky unAmerican Saul Alinsky could even claim that they do.

America leads the First World in gun violence by a very healthy margin.  In America, our gun homicide numbers are off the world chart for similarly wealthy nations (some very poor countries have higher per capita gun murder numbers than we do, but we’re working on that).   Year after year we are alone as number one in death by gun among the high-income countries, by a gigantic margin.  We lead the industrialized world in the same Bunyanesque way that the year Babe Ruth first shattered his own home run record he hit more home runs than any other team in the American League [1].

Those who love guns, and those who profit handsomely from their unfettered sale, are, eh, up in arms about the unfairness of including the vast number of American gun suicides in the U.S. statistics of annual gun deaths.   Suicide by method other than gun is a shaky proposition, the success rate is surprisingly low.   Suicide by gun has an 82% success rate.   In contrast, overdose and poisoning have a less than 2% chance of success (1 in 50) of killing the would-be suicide.  Don’t take my word for it, here’s a Harvard study.

It’s unfair to lump gun suicide and gun homicide together, claims the NRA, because including the thousands of desperate losers who kill themselves every year with guns artificially inflates the gun death numbers to make it look like we have a plague of gun violence in America, when actually it is only mentally ill people who misuse guns to kill themselves that make it falsely seem that way.  Less than half the total deaths are the murder of somebody else, (and many of those killings are justified, probably) argues the NRA, and so it’s misleading and very unfair to include in gun death statistics the deaths of those who kill themselves with a gun.  Also, very unfair to point out that the majority of suicide attempts are unsuccessful while the vast majority of gun suicide attempts are successful.

We can bat statistics back and forth, as we do, but every time there is a slaughter by a deranged white man with a military assault rifle, usually acquired legally, the sickening public conversation is identical.   A majority of Americans want restrictions on the number of mass killing assault weapons legally available to violent men.  Congress always votes any restriction on gun ownership down.

The sanctity of gun ownership, extending to assault weapons capable of spraying deadly fire over a large area, was established not that long ago by a convoluted Supreme Court ruling in which the brilliant, evil Antonin Scalia construed an absolute right of individuals to own guns from his learned reading of the Second Amendment, which begins:  A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state…  Scalia took from this language the intent of the framers to create an unassailable, constitutionally guaranteed right of every individual American to keep and bear whatever kind of arms he wants.   The NRA has the Second Amendment as its catchphrase, but, full-disclosure, they only use the dependent clause.  Their version reads simply, like the version Scalia endorsed:  The right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.  

Guns are seen as the ultimate personal protection by many Americans.  They feel they need protection from intruders, lawless thugs, even, God forbid, a government run by an illegitimate African Muslim intent on prying their guns from their cold dead hands.  It is fear that makes Americans crave powerful weaponry to keep themselves safe, anger and fear that makes them reach for their guns.   It’s as if these patriots don’t realize how easily a truly repressive government could send a Hellfire missile, launched out of a drone, to take out you and your ten well-armed buddies making a stand for the sacred Second Amendment with your AR-15s, even if you each had a hundred high capacity clips and a bump stock for each of those assault rifles. 

The National Rifle Association cries that it is unfair, unAmerican, yea, unChristian, to restrict the rights of an American to own any kind of gun he wants.  Guns are not the problem, says the NRA over and over.  The problem, according to the NRA, is that some people, a statistically tiny percentage of the tens of millions of responsible gun owners (who own the more than 300,000,000 privately held American guns), misuse guns to sometimes do unspeakable things, like shoot their mother in the face and go to the local kindergarten and spray the classroom walls with the blood of young children.  The problem is not guns.  The problems is that fucking liberals, fucking clueless about the violence we are all up against, constantly try to “exploit tragedy for political gain”.  It’s not the fucking guns that are the problem, it’s the fucking misguided bleeding hearts.

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Everybody who goes somewhere with a gun intent on killing as many people as he can is always in a rage.   He is mad.  He can’t think straight.  We are the only wealthy democracy in the world whose lawmakers will not address this homicidal madness.  We easily lead the rest of the high-income world combined in annual gun murders, even leaving out the thousands of suicides.  After every massacre those who profit from gun sales tell us it is not time to talk about keeping guns out of the hands of violent maniacs, out of respect for the poor families of the victims of the random violent maniac.

It is easy for the average citizen to get mad about this NRA rope-a-dope bullshit that the NRA and its generously paid minions do every single time after a mass killing, though anger by itself is not very effective for fighting back.   Propaganda, mass media spin, a powerful political machine and massive campaign contributions work better in this particular debate, apparently.

NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre had this typically defensive comment about so-called American gun violence, in the aftermath of the most recent mass shooting in an American school, the slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where one severely disturbed asshole with a semi-automatic weapon (never used in hunting or conceived of by Scalia’s infallible Founding Fathers) killed seventeen while wounding everyone else at the school:

“As usual, the opportunists have wasted not one second to exploit tragedy for political gain.  Saul Alinsky would have been proud, the break back speed of calls for more gun control laws and the breathless national media eager to smear the NRA”.

What a whining whore LaPierre is, him and his almost $1,000,000 annual salary as the chief spokesman for the freedom of some Americans to kill other Americans, or themselves, with guns.   I thought dropping the name of that Jewish idealist and community organizer in there, as symbol of vicious haters of our God-given American freedom, was a very nice touch and a cool dog whistle to his red meat eating base.  Much better than openly calling all of us who want an end to America’s violent gun culture a bunch of sneaky fucking America hating Jews, in my opinion.

I wonder how old Wayne would feel if somebody shot him in his smug fucking face, or one of his kids (if any) in theirs.

Better still, what if the shot didn’t kill Wayne, just destroyed his larynx, a surgical shot from the side, with a small caliber gun, just rendering him permanently incapable of speech, shutting him the fuck up?  There’d be a tad of good old American frontier justice in that, would there not?

There is no simple end game for gun violence in a country like ours, with as many guns as citizens (some own 100 guns, many own no guns).   For starters, instead of an extremist-imposed national right to concealed carry of hand guns even in places that have banned them, I’d like to see a ban on guns in America, except for traditional weapons for hunters.  I’m not a hunter, but I know a few who are decent, law-abiding citizens, responsible gun users — and staunch environmentalists.  To enforce the gun ban I’d impose mandatory prison time on those insisting on their phantom Scalia-created right to own and wield the most powerful legally available military assault weapons and hand guns, especially semi-automatic ones.  

Well, since that ban won’t ever happen in a competitive, commercial nation where the gun lobby is so powerful, I guess I’d settle for fucking Wayne LaPierre’s voice box being ventilated by a good shot with a precise knowledge of human anatomy.   We should all remain aware, if that terrible thing ever happens, that it won’t be the gun that renders LaPierre speechless, it will be a bad guy with a gun, no matter how good his intentions may be.

(Angry enough for yuh?  Ahimsa is sometimes a wrestling match with killer passions.   The hardest part of trying to be truly non-harming is having to listen to supremely certain motherfuckers like Wayne LaPierre and other constantly whining victims of the Liberal Conspiracy Against Real American Values.)


[1] there was one NL team in 1920 whose players combined to hit more home runs than Ruth that year.  The Philadelphia Phillies, led by a player who hit 15 home runs and one who hit 14 (nobody else in double figures, though outfielder Casey Stengel added a career high 9), hit 64, as a team, to Ruth’s 54.  No other major league team equalled Mr. Ruth’s home run total in 1920.

Written Statement to Community Board 12M

It was gratifying to see the standing room only crowd at the public hearing at I.S. 52 last night, in spite of the opaque public notice of the hearing, to discuss various ULURP application numbers.   People turned out en masse to resist a plan that puts neighborhood residents and small businesses last as developers plan to profit off the largely unexploited northernmost section of Manhattan island.   150 people signed up to speak to a boisterous crowd, many of whom held signs that said things like “La Gente Antes de Lucro” (“People Before Profits”).  The rest of us were told we had a few days to submit a written statement for the record.  I had a chance to review a few of the hundreds of pages of dense bureaucratic documents prior to the meeting.  There are some devilish details in there.   I’m determined to write a cogent, one page statement for the Public Hearing Record today, to wit:

I submit this comment as part of the public record of the 2/22/18 Public Hearing on the Inwood Rezoning Proposal.

Inwood is a small, fairly quiet working class community, with old residential buildings and a large, beautiful, well-used park.  It is no mystery why it would be so desirable for real estate developers.   The unique charms of the NYC neighborhood I’ve called home for more than forty years are currently protected by zoning laws that have largely prevented it from being overrun by developers like the ones hatching the current plan under discussion.   

The lack of transparency of the Inwood Rezoning Proposal is striking — the meeting was called for a public hearing to discuss ULURP applications identified by number only.  No plain English/Spanish abstract of the proposal was made available for consideration before the public hearing.   The details of the ambitious rezoning plan must be gleaned from a few hundred pages of bureaucratic text, some of which I was able to ​read (CEQR No. 17DMEOO7M) at the doomed Inwood Public library prior to the public meeting.  The details that follow come from that report.

New affordable housing:  25-30% percent of the proposed construction, meaning 75% would be “market” or luxury units, radically changing the character of this stable, ​working class neighborhood.  The building of 3,804,435 sq. feet of residential space would increase the population of this small area by more than 12,000.   An additional 50 tons of solid waste per week would be generated by this increased population.  50+ passenger car equivalents per project peak hour on already crowded mass transit would be required to transport commuters.  The A train is already one of the worst running​, and most crowded, in the city, there are often no seats on the train at eleven pm.   Air quality:  “proposed actions generate vehicle traffic exceeding emissions threshold.”   

The rezoning plan would quietly make the Inwood Public Library “collateral damage” depriving us all of a valuable public resource.  The children of our community would be denied a place to get books, to do research and study, in a neighborhood whose schools have already closed their libraries.  The representative from the Economic Development Corporation spun the planned demolition of the neighborhood’s library (“the library project”) unconvincingly:  “the library project creates more than 100 affordable housing units”.   No plan for an interim library was presented.  Presumably the rebuilt library would be housed on the first floor of the large, 75% market/luxury high-rise to be placed on the library’s current footprint and that of the adjacent property.  There are provisions in the plan for the construction of a private school and a “community center”, presumably for the benefit of the some of the 12,000 new Inwood residents.

We read that because the commercial/residential mix would not “directly displace 500 or more residents” many disclosures in the application can be skipped. Shadows longer than 50 feet would be cast by new construction made possible by the rezoning, removing sunlight from streets, necessitating the inclusion of more bureaucratic language in CEQR No. 17DMEOO7M.  Proposed “sidewalk widening” is no answer to severe crowding, noise, pollution, increased sewage flowing into an old, overtaxed sewage system.   We don’t need pedestrian malls or doublewide sidewalks in Inwood, we have a beautiful park for strolling in.   We particularly don’t need this constriction of our streets if vehicle traffic is expected to become much worse under the plan.

This is a plan that puts the interests of wealthy real estate developers first, local residents and business people of Inwood last.   City Councilman Ydanis Rodriquez tried to spin the question as largely a matter of perception: fear of gentrification, perhaps fear of progress.   There is often something irrational about fear, although we have all seen such “progress” all over the city.   It benefits the rich while hurting everybody else.   This is a plan I’d expect from Bloomberg’s real estate cronies, or Trump’s.   It must not be allowed to happen in Northern Manhattan.  Please vote “No” on the Inwood Rezoning Proposal. 

NOTE:  crap, forgot to attach this document  much referred to by many of last night’s speakers!

Controversy in America 2018

barring gun purchases by people on the terrorist no-fly list

You would not think something like this would be controversial in a nation that girds itself against terrorist attacks and has long been ravaged by regular mass shootings, at schools, workplaces, movies, malls.   You would not think something like this would be a partisan issue, anywhere.   If the government has the right to maintain a list of people it suspects of terrorist ties, what theory ensures the right of these possible terrorists to have and to hold the most deadly guns the law allows?

Is it just me?  I know back in the day a well-regulated state militia was essential for putting down slave revolts.  I am well aware of the mythical American hero, the unblinking rugged individual putting his life on the line without a shiver, standing in the center of dusty Main Street, facing down evil with a Colt 45.   I get that one man with a gun, with no hesitation to kill, has always been the equal of several more powerful men with legitimate grievances.   I understand the outsized role the gun has played in American history, and how the gun has been romanticized and fetishized.

What is controversial about:  barring gun purchases by people on the terrorist no-fly list?   Maybe fucking Wayne LaPierre can explain that to me and my stymied countrymen.