Searching for Ancestors

It is late at night, has been a long day, an emotionally challenging day, but I wanted to get back to my cousin in Israel, so I dropped him an email just now.   He has been searching for the traces of our family and recently found some real clues.   The hamlet our people came from, on a fork in a marsh south of the Pina River a short ferry ride from Pinsk, has been erased from history, wiped off the map–  the people who lived there and the name of the hamlet that all those who lived there called it by.  

Truvovich was the name, wiped from every map in existence, as far as my cousin, and I, and a friend who lives in Poland and is a pretty fair researcher himself (and who searched in Polish), have been able to ascertain.  Between us we turned up one map, with a Jewish star and the letter T at the place we suspect may have been that site where one of my grandmothers, and one of my cousin’s grandfathers, were born.  The link I sent my cousin to that map no longer exists, though we have my screen shot of the pertinent section of the map.  

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This takes us into the realm of What the Fuck?   We know the Nazis were fucked up, that the einsatzgruppen, the special killing units that followed the Wermacht, the army, as the secret police state was imposed in one occupied territory after another, were merciless (until they started going mad, becoming alcoholics, became unable, most of them, to continue murdering unarmed civilians and their children, usually by shooting them into ditches).  

The Final Solution, with its mechanized extermination camps, was put in place partly because the number of Jews and others believed by those insane Nazi fucks to be genetic poison was too great to be wiped out by shooting alone, and partly because the killers they sent to massacre these folks just couldn’t keep doing it, psychologically.  Those rare sadists among them who loved to kill became another kind of problem.  Easier to just put them in charge of a crew in one of the death camps, where their perversion would be a virtue.

But I am getting ahead of the story.   At one time all of my family members were alive and supremely insecure in the impoverished little shit hole in the marsh where they lived.  Of two of them, Harry Aaron (who I always knew as Uncle Aren) and my grandmother, Chava, I know what can be known.  Aren fled the Russo-Japanese war, made a life for himself in America, had three children, all of whom I knew.   My cousin in Israel is the son of Aren’s daughter.  I remember Aren too, he lived until I was eleven.   Chava, Aren’s youngest sister, begat my father and my uncle and died in Peekskill a few years before I was born.  There was a cousin, Dintsche, who had two kids in America, both still around,

Beyond that, the fate of the rest of our family is a statistic.  The einsatzgruppen rounded up all the Jews of Pinsk, and the outlying areas, and wiped them out in two major aktions, a few months apart, in 1942.  The details are here.

It is late, and airless, the humidity is like a continual punch in the face.  Outside the sky is black.  I haven’t the strength at the moment to follow all the thoughts that led me to begin to write this.   Except to note the mystery, as we are alive here in this wink of an eye, and the need to know.   The desire, like a serious thirst, to find something out, to learn even a single detail.  It is too maddening to know nothing.  

Recently my cousin learned that one of his great-uncles, a man I’d heard of as Volbear, a man he names Wolf Bear on his family tree, is listed in Yad Vashem as killed in 1942.   This was big news, to see the testimony, our ancestor’s name in writing.  The testimony consisted of a few names: Wolf Bear’s (born 1888), his wife Tzirel’s (age unknown), their two children, Leah Reizel, 14, and Yisrael, 10, and the year they died in the slaughterhouse that was Nazi-occupied Belarus in 1942.  This is far more detail than we have about the fate, and lives, of Aren and Chava’s other brother Yudle or their sister Chaska.

The other day my cousin sent me this photo, taken in 1938, found among his mother’s papers (she lived to 104!).  The niece and nephew of our common ancestor, named for the matriarch and patriarch as far back as our family tree goes (four generations).  Those ancient ancestors would be my great-grandparents on my mother’s side, Leah and Azriel [1].  The nephew and niece in this photo are Azriel and Leah.  Look at them:

Azriel & Leah (Nephew & Niece) - 1938.jpg

1938, before Hitler’s war, the war the madman insisted the Jews made him start. Their photo, taken that year, came with a note, in Yiddish, which my cousin had translated into Hebrew.   My cousin wrote: they state that life is difficult and they are looking for help.  

 

[1]

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“I’m going to assemble my thoughts”

“Where are you going to assemble them?” asked Sekhnet, covered in dirt as she tills the rich earth of her little farm in the back.   Sekhnet is never happier than when she is covered with dirt.

Upstairs, I tell her, where I can write them down, see them before me, move them around until they make some sense.  

“Oh,” she said, “I didn’t know where they were.”

I made lunch for us, vegetable wraps, which we ate out in the garden, which  is starting to come to life, there are beautiful colors everywhere.   Mama Kitten, now almost three years old, an ancient for feral cats around here, came over to rub against my leg and have her ears scratched, her face stroked.  She liked having her back scratched so much that she turned her face around, with an open mouthed expression, thinking of sinking her fangs into my hand, then thought better of it and rolled on to her side, to have her ribs scratched.

Her four latest kittens (she’s given birth to at least twenty, the first litter when she was six months old) are as beautiful as all the rest, as good looking as their beautiful mother.   They are not much bigger than large mice at the moment, and much cuter.  All the rest of Mama Kitten’s many offspring are dead, but when they were alive they were very handsome, playful little cats.   Sekhnet has photos of a hawk sitting on a nearby tree.   The fucker was licking his beak the other day as the tiny kittens were dragged by their mother to another hiding place.   Six months or a year is a long life for these beautiful little animals.

We have a friend who takes care of a small colony of feral cats in her backyard.  She has had them all spayed and neutered and they all get along fine, huddling in winter months in the warm insulated dens our friend makes for them.  Most of them are seven years old and older.   One year, at her urging, we caught three young kittens here, took them to her vet to be neutered.   Within a few weeks all were gone, probably delicious snacks for the hawks.  Of Mama Kitten’s many offspring, every one of them a beautiful little animal, these four new ones are the only ones alive.  Alive and delicious.

 We watch these adorable, doomed little souls, the four of them, then the three, then maybe one.  They play, they display bravery, or timidity, they show their little personalities.   Then nature does what nature does.  Man plans, God laughs.  We try not to give them names, though some, like Dobbie, Cathead and Mini Me, we could not resist getting personal with.    

We were told by a cat expert that once a feral cat gets to a certain age without being touched by a human it will never let a human touch it.   Mama Kitten, as a young adult, often sat close to us when we sat outside, but never let us touch her.   Then she began eating from a spoon we’d hold out to her, as her next batch of kittens also did.   Then she began rubbing against our legs.  Now she is like our pet, living in the merciless wild, surviving not through God’s mercy but by her superior skills as a survivor.

How do you bear the sorrow of seeing these adorable animals disappeared like political dissidents in some South American dictatorship?   I have no idea.  God’s merciless plan, I suppose.  Everybody’s got to eat.  

Sekhnet shot a video of Mama Kitten in a stand-off with a fledgling hawk.   Sekhnet took the earthbound bird’s side, you can hear her in the video trying to dissuade Mama Kitten from killing the bird, which was almost the same size as the cat.  The plucky little predator was not taking any shit from the cat who could have easily killed her.   It was a standoff.  The bird hobbled off to grow up to feast on kittens, most likely. 

When I feel the anxiety that plagues so many in America today I usually try to get some exercise.  I walk five miles a day most days, I ride the bike for short, hard, uphill rides or long leisurely ones along the beautiful Hudson River, and always feel better after a ride.   Since my fucking idiopathic kidney disease, and the twelve weeks of no exercise after the “chemo,” I have been trying to get back into shape.   It has been a battle, trying to get the legs strong again, the heart and lungs back up to capacity.  I tried too hard, apparently, a week or two ago, pushing myself two days in a row, and now wear a knee brace.   I am bitter, I am anxious, I feel sorry for myself, and angry.   If I get up too fast, CLICK!, my knee locks up like a steel trap, with the flash of sudden pain one associates with a steel trap.

Nothing for it but a visit to a specialist.  Thankfully I managed to arrange one for two weeks from now.   I will try to take it easy, keep my knees calm, take hot baths, let the soreness in my shoulder from doing a sitting one-handed push up every time I stood, when the knee pain was at the worst, calm down.   I will try my best to keep myself calm and reasonable.   That is more than most people are able to do but I consider it a worthy goal.  

 There are millions of anxious people who live with deadly secrets, too terrifying to even think about.  The threat of certain fearful truths becoming known makes people into fabulous story-tellers, geniuses of fictive narrative.  They rewrite history, they invent the present, they dream of a future where they are magically not irrevocably fucked by hideous things they can never admit.  

I must take solace where I can find it — from the blessings of my life, of all life, and from my stance– at least I’m not one of those poor fuckers who can’t bear to explore themselves, look at the demons that are always close behind.   I may not know everything I need to know about living a good life, but I have a leg up on many people I can think of.  Even if that leg is currently a bit tender to walk on, or even to sit with now as I assemble my curious thoughts here in the far reaches of Cyberia.

 

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The Radiating Power of A Lie

I’m not talking about a lie told to spare somebody’s feelings, saying “oh, what a cute baby!” as you’re thinking the opposite.  It’s a slippery slope, of course, sparing feelings as a bullet-proof justification for a lie, but I am talking about a different category of lie, really, the outright denial.  This kind of lie, which insists something that happened never happened, erases all possibility of resolving the underlying issue that gave rise to the lie.  It destroys trust, once it is uncovered.  The damage that this kind of lie does, and how many harms radiate out from it, is our subject today.   

On a political level the lie is as powerful in America as it ever was, maybe even more so.   With tribal loyalties in America at a high water mark, issues are no longer discussed based on the underlying realities that cause the actual problem.   All political issues are now summarily disposed of by reflex, without analysis, according to the color of the hat you wear, the color of the money you stand to make or lose if the issue goes one way or the other.  

Millions recoiled from anything the Black President did, even if what he did was implement a long-time conservative dream like the PPACA, Obamacare, which greatly expanded the market for the private health insurance and pharmaceutical lobbies who remained free to pursue profit from illness without undue competition from gigantic government programs that could kill their corporate bottom lines. We now call the lies that support this kind of mindless opposition “alternative facts,” the fruits of our “post-truth” culture.  The good and bad of the PPACA, what was actually accomplished for its intended beneficiaries, how close it brought American health outcomes to the standards of the other wealthy nations, what needs to be tweaked to make it better, is all beside the point.   You support it 100% or you want to repeal it 100%.  Those who hate Obama believe that anything with his name on it must be destroyed.  Those who love him, same deal, but the opposite.

Annoying and disgusting as they are, I am not even thinking of the demonstrable lies being constantly told by our supernaturally thin-skinned Commander-in-Chief.   We are no longer surprised when he is revealed as a pathological liar, contradicting his ever-changing legal team’s assertions at every step.  I see this person as the embodiment of something he had no hand in creating, a familiar type he was born, booted and spurred, to be, the cancerous chickens coming home to roost– there is nothing unique about him except for his undeniable genius as a shameless self-promoter.    So I will respectfully leave this divisive motherfucker out of my meditations on lying, tempting as it is to cite some of America’s current head CEO’s more grotesque untruths.

When my father was still fighting for social justice, in the early 1970s, there was a riot at a Brooklyn high school.  My father’s team went into the school and brokered peace between warring student factions.   A year or two ago I read the New York City Division of Civil Rights’ report on the riot.  To my amazement, they were not seeking to lay the blame for the riot anywhere in particular.   In this rare moment in our history, around the time of the first massive Earth Day celebration, public officials were earnestly seeking to understand the causes of the strife and how to improve things so that, to the extent possible, groups stopped hating each other.   Or, at least, to understand things enough, and make enough changes, to end the violence between the ethnic groups involved.

The report describes how black students bused in from their segregated, low income Brooklyn neighborhoods were congregating at local hang-outs on the main thoroughfare of the slightly more upscale white neighborhood near the school.   There was escalating friction with local residents and business owners.   Several factors that contributed to the violence at the school were set out and discussed in the report.   The report was filled with analysis and nuance.   It was a sober, fair attempt to understand and solve the underlying problems that led to the riot.   As I said, it was a rare moment in our history.

Much more common is to simplify, vilify and righteously hate.   You see, the problem is not segregated living, segregated schools, institutionalized inequality, fear, anger, prejudice, pressures caused by these things.   The simple answer is that the riot was caused by unruly blacks, or angry whites, or whatever your simple-minded, self-serving Trumplike answer is.    Once you have your idiotic answer, implement policies that flow from it.  Privatized prisons come to mind, in the nation, long a beacon of freedom and democracy, that leads the world in incarceration, and, naturally, incarceration for profit.  The death penalty for dealers of illegal drugs ought to solve America’s drug addiction crisis, wouldn’t you say?

We are no longer expected to see the big picture, only the tiny part of the picture our attention is being directed to.    Look, there’s a photo of a black student punching a white kid in the face.  In the fucking face!    End of fucking story, as far as the person holding up that photo is concerned.    Another pundit has a photo of a group of snarling white students surrounding a cornered black female student.   Again, a snapshot used only to argue that there is nothing left to argue about.

I am quite familiar with this selection of a single incendiary image to end a conversation. My father was a master of this.   During one heated exchange he insisted I had no defense for my actions because I had impermissibly entered the kitchen of a rented hall and therefore anything that happened after that, including the physical assault on me, was strictly my fault.    It didn’t matter that I’d received prior permission to go into the kitchen, from the person in charge.  There was no discussion possible, it was rage against rage.  It only ended when I extended a finger and smartly popped it against my father’s nose, a warning shot.

Something happens and there is a moment of truth.  I once smoked a little weed with a friend (and, like Obama, we both inhaled).   When we got back to his house his wife asked us if we’d smoked.  My friend immediately said “no” as I was saying “yes”.  My friend had an excellent and irrefutable reason, as far as he was concerned, for lying to his wife.   My admission of a simple fact was apparently mortifying for him, made him look like a goddamned liar.   The resulting angry confrontation that took place between us had nothing to do, as far as either of us was aware, with me not lying to support his lie.  The argument was based on all kinds of confused emotional stuff, the impulse to lie versus just saying the true thing never came into it.

In fact, it is only now, years later, that I even see the simple yes or no question, and my abject failure to back my friend in a necessary lie, as related to the ugly fight we had.   No punches were thrown, but I can tell you it was as ugly a fight as I have ever been in, including ones where punches were actually thrown.  

A lie that forecloses discussion?  It’s like a government that keeps a program top secret, a program that permits the arguably legal torture of suspects in the event that they are actually connected to terrorist organizations.   Slogans are advanced as irrefutable justifications for why this secretive program must be kept top secret. These foreigners being roughed up in our name hate our freedom, quite possibly.   The revelation of proof of war crimes, kept secret by the chain of command, is regarded as treason when somebody like Chelsea Manning makes them public.   Same slogans: revelations of these things that inevitably happen in the fog of war are weaponized by those who hate our freedom.  No punishment is harsh enough for a traitor like that, say a good proportion of our nation’s true believers, even as the cool execution of Iraqi civilians by American soldiers is regarded as a trifle.  Like however many Mi Lai massacres there may have been during our long, bloody mistake in Vietnam.  Nothing to fucking see here!  Support our troops!

The examples are too many, and too ubiquitous, to catalogue.   The harm these lies do is hard to calculate.  It radiates outward from the shameful source of the lie in ripples that have no end.  It ends intelligent discussion before it can even start.  The lie may confer a strategic advantage at the moment it is told, but it will be deadly for intimacy, among those naives who still hold a quaint value like “honesty” in high esteem.

Here is how it works.   This thing happened that is … I’d have to say humiliating to me, potentially infuriating to others.   I make up a story to make it appear non-humiliating, non-infuriating.  What is the harm to that?   I’m trying to avoid friction, strife, keep the peace, save us all from a truth that is, to some, humiliating, regrettable, sickening.    What is your problem with my impulse to improve on the horrible situation on the ground with a harmless variation on the truth that makes things better for everybody?  

The thing that makes it worse for everybody (with the possible exception of the person who appears to benefit from the lie) is that the actual facts of the case have been completely removed from the conversation by the lies.   Nobody thereafter has any chance to gain any insight into what happened, and all that flowed from what happened, because what actually happened is buried, will never be the topic of discussion.  Cause and effect are completely uncoupled, events are now simply a mystery of the Human Condition.   The lie erases any possibility of understanding.   Not to mention, to those aware of the lie, the erosion of ongoing trust.

There was a lot of whining recently over the remarks of Michelle Wolf, comedian, at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, an annual theatrical event as phony and disgraceful as any in our culture.  A female comedian had insulted the female press secretary in a joke that said the press secretary burns the truth to create her  “smoky eye”– a reference I took as relating to how somebody throws “shade” on somebody by giving an evil side glance, a move the embattled press secretary is known for.   I may have been way off in my interpretation.    The comment was construed on Fox as a vicious attack on the press secretary’s looks, a woman on woman hate crime.   It was pointed out by the other side, disloyal commies who hate our freedom, that according to his supporters only the president is allowed to comment on how women look, call certain women fat, ugly bitches.  They played a half dozen recent clips of the president doing just that.   The whole irrelevant argument over “comedic good taste” makes me want to politely projectile vomit.    

What is lost to most in this “argument” over what a comedian may or may not say, what is funny and what is just sick, blah blah blah, is that we are currently refueling Saudi fighter jets and bombers, in the air, that are raining death on the civilians of Yemen.  That a secret global kill list is maintained and acted upon at the sole discretion of the American president, and that list may include any American citizen the president designates an “enemy combatant”.   That environmental protections are being rolled back every day, that civil rights are once again under forceful attack, along with public housing, along with a record number lifetime appointments to the federal bench.  That we have a seemingly lawless administration in power, corruptly sharing the public wealth in an open and notorious manner, brought to office in large part because the Democratic party insisted on running their anointed, wildly unpopular candidate and turned a deaf ear to what was actually going on in the country.  The DNC insists, with idiotic certainty, that it was the Russians who turned the election, cost them the White House in 2016.  But for the evil Putin, you know…

Trevor Noah interviewed Michael Hayden last night.  Hayden, like James Comey, is a guy long high up in covert operations now flogging a “tell-all” book.  Like Comey, he’s suddenly seen by millions as a good guy because we currently have a villain from Batman, with his own eponymous fortress of evil, as the chief executive and this former high public official is very critical of the boss.  Hayden’s book is called something like “The Attack on Intelligence”, a clever double entendre.  

Noah asks Hayden about Russian interference in the 2016 election and Hayden gives a superficially thoughtful answer.   Russia is incredibly sophisticated in their skills at public manipulation, says Hayden, they literally wrote the manual on this kind of thing.   What Russia did was far worse, far more insidious, than anything our CIA ever did to interfere with another country’s internal politics, according to Hayden.  That would include, apparently, assassinating democratically elected foreign leaders, orchestrating violent protests, funding U.S. friendly rebel groups, and sometimes death squads, with money from the local drug trade, bombing, invading and occupying countries on a series of weak, or openly false, pretenses.  

You see, Hayden points out with a winning smile, America loves freedom, but Russia, heh-heh, they are masters of freedom hatred and are very, very good at it.   End of story, nothing more to see here, nothing to do but buy the book.  “Available now,” says the great Trevor Noah, holding up a copy of Hayden’s book as the “applaud” sign lights up, the studio audience applauds and they cut to a commercial.

I love Trevor and have no ax to grind regarding him or his great show.  It is simply the way it is here in mass media America.   Fame sells books.  It doesn’t really matter so much what you are famous for, as long as the public relations firm does its job, makes you and your book look irresistible.   Don’t you want to hear what West Wing insiders actually know about the president’s personal life?    Isn’t it fascinating that a career politician whose unprecedented, unfounded (and unprincipled, for that matter), misleading public disclosure, days before the 2016 election, had a definite effect on the  outcome of that contest between two historically hated candidates is now doing the circuit of talk shows as a kind of hero because he is standing up to the man he helped elect, who then fired him?  

We Americans have a famously short memory and almost no attention span, and this is by design, as far as I can tell.   That lack of attention is handy for those who profit from our inattention, our snarling about celebrity personalities instead of open public debate on the issues that matter most, like the foreseeable end of our inhabitable planet.   Add in the unchallengeable corporate right to conceal, withhold, classify, assert numerous legal defenses to prevent publication, prevent most lawsuits, and you have a perfect storm.   We do terrible things, in secret, then describe these things in modestly heroic terms that even a distracted seven year-old can understand.  

The PR industry knows exactly how to do this.  The spinmeister’s battle.  According to your preference, grievance, tribal loyalty (three factors pithily cited by Hayden for our current political impasse) you will come down firmly on one side or the other.  There is no space in between those two sides, you are either with us or against us, you either love freedom or you’re with Hitler.  Unless, of course, you are one of those very fine people who love freedom and also admire Hitler.   In that case, just make sure to wear an American flag pin.  The swastika is held in bad taste by those who… well, why even go there?

Loneliness (for fun and profit)

The loneliest woman in the world married the most gregarious man in the world.  She told me, during the last conversation we had face to face, that at the time they met and got married he was very lonely and isolated too.   The man was a good friend of mine, and over the years I got to be good friends with his wife as well.   He was a kind, generous person, full of good cheer, an excellent host who really enjoyed company.  The time we spent together over the years was always full of laughter and meaningful conversation.    Sekhnet only got to spend a few fleeting times with him, but she immediately felt like she’d known him always.

In a vindictive turn on the phrase my father used only to make my mother tearful, “don’t worry, Evvy, only the good die young”, my friend died young.   Suddenly, stopped at a red light just off the freeway in Berkeley.   When the light turned green his passenger said “Howie…” but Howie was already gone.  His life had winked out like a candle flame in a soft breeze.

There was a lot of crying over Howie’s sudden absence, which came about a month before my long-suffering mother breathed her last breath.  I spent many an hour on the phone with Howie’s widow.  She felt abandoned by their large circle of friends, things were getting worse at work, her old enemy had been steadily climbing the corporate ladder and was now sabotaging her at every turn.   I noted at one point that I’d never heard Howie speak badly about anyone, a remarkable thing, we agreed.   We both marveled for a moment about this saintly habit of the departed and then wondered what we’d talk about, if not for badmouthing people.  

Then her complaints would continue, the treachery of those who’d always pretended to be her friends, how everyone had turned their backs on her, while feigning great love and concern.  The details were endless, the proofs she advanced very damning.  I was as sympathetic as I could manage.    

I remembered well my own mother’s loneliness after my father died.  My mother was bright, interesting, a sociable person with a great sense of humor, but my father, it emerged as soon as he was gone, had been the social glue that bound people to my mother and father.  Funny, in a way, because he always professed to be a curmudgeon who’d rather spend his time reading and my mother was the social director who arranged all the dinners and visits.  Until my father died, and the calls and visits abruptly stopped.   So I was in touch with Howie’s widow regularly, recalling how painful the isolation had been for my mother after her mate was gone.

Howie’s widow could be demanding, as I learned, shopping for and preparing the buffet for Howie’s unveiling, for example.   She didn’t always show gratitude, I began to notice, while doing nice things for her.  Over time our friendship began to feel more and more like a one way street.   Her mother, someone who’d given her a lot of grief, died after a period of dementia.   I loaned her a great book on seeing the larger picture after the death of a parent, even a difficult parent.  I wrote her a letter to go with the book.  She took the book and letter without comment.   On three separate occasions in the years afterwards she told me she’d look for the book, which she hadn’t read, and send it back to me.  I never saw my original, annotated copy of Death Benefits again.

Here is the kicker, and I notice, as it is not the first time, that a missed call is later cited as the fatal proof I didn’t give a fuck about somebody.   The first time that happened was when a former good friend, a mentally ill guy with vexing emotional problems and an unbearable amount of self-hatred, broke a promise at a very trying time for me and then left me a missed call afterwards, instead of an explanation or any kind of apology.  He claimed he’d left me a “missed call”, at any rate, my phone had no record of the call.   I was hurt at the betrayal, and angry, and didn’t return the “missed call” I hadn’t known about for several days, something that was then thrown in my face by this pant-load while shabbily blaming the emotional standoff on me, you dig, for being too petty to return a “missed call”.  That my phone recorded no such missed call was but a trifle for someone determined to defend himself at all costs.    

Howie’s widow used a similar ploy in the end to make me the asshole who’d viciously rejected her.   I had a missed call from her.  She had been calling, I learned a few days later, to tell me she was coming to New York, but she left no message, sent no email or text.  Once in New York, a day or two before she was leaving, she called to chide me for not caring enough to call her back in time.   I arranged to be available the following day, but she never called back.  I left her a message and I assume she flew off to California pissed at my betrayal.

I heard how hurtful my betrayal had been to her months later, when mutual friends were in New York.  They’d been asked to find out why I had so coldly rejected our old friend.  I told them the story and have heard nothing since from, or about, our rejected friend.

Loneliness, my friends, is a curse and often its own reward.  This woman is very active on Facebook.  I am not, in fact, I hate that shit, for too many reasons to list here.    Another mutual friend called to give me shit a few months ago for missing his mother’s funeral.   I told him how sorry I was, that I hadn’t known his mother died.   He told me it had been on Facebook.   He then gave me some grief for not being a good friend to Howie’s widow, now almost ten years after Howie’s death.   I explained, but it was no use, he wasn’t buying it.   Most likely she’d announced on Facebook that she was coming to New York, but I was too much of a self-absorbed asshole to even check her Facebook page from time to time.   He told me he’d call me back the next day, and that was the last I heard of him.

Loneliness has been monetized, friends, if you want to verify how much, just look up Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth.   I was recently at a free dinner Sekhnet had RSVP’d to attend, hosted by some financial company.   One of the speakers flashed a slide and mentioned the FANG stocks, very valuable positions in any respectable portfolio. I glanced over at Sekhnet who gave me a sly smile at the term FANG, which encompassed some of my most hated mega-corporations.    The slide showed the logos of Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google.  

Every FANG stock is part of the increasingly monetized loneliness of our digital world.   Don’t go to a store, or even talk to anyone on the phone, order shit from your computer, have a slave deliver it to your door for free.  Use a device that marks you as a cool person with money to burn — sure, you can buy cheaper versions of the products Apple sells, but you can’t be COOL if you do.  Don’t interact after work, go into a cocoon, chill and binge watch shows without commercials on Netflix.  Down the fucking list of FANGS.

One of the many reminders, this apt acronym, of the vicious power of loneliness to drive commerce and finance a comfortable retirement, if you are properly positioned with FANG to do so.  God bless these United Global States of corporate personhood.  

 

What is worth reading, worth writing

I was flipping through a sketch book yesterday, one I keep in the inside pocket of my winter coat, and noticed many notes I’d stopped to make while listening to podcasts as I walk.   I listen to several history podcasts, a few of which strike me as particularly good because they appear to have no political ax to grind.  As a character played by the great Dennis Hopper once told a character played by the great Christopher Walken, about reading history, “I find that shit fascinating.”

It seems to me, particularly in our current political culture where opinionated “partisans” speak loudly and with supreme confidence from their unwashed lowest sphincters, that the facts of what actually happened when have an important place in the conversation.   I know this marks me as somewhat eccentric.   Many people I know prefer to tune out, rather than talk about, the many aggravating, gigantic subjects that are rubbed in our faces daily.  After all, you know now after a few words where somebody stands on all the most important issues of the day, even the most ignorant are today reflexive “ideologues”.

It feels to me like knowledge actually is a kind of power.  Since we are all potential photojournalists now (think of cellphone videos of unarmed black men shot or choked to death  in confrontations with adrenalized cops), I snapped this photo of a page from my sketchbook on the creeping E train to Sekhnetville last night (hence its less than perfect sharpness, sorry, Sekhnet).  

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With another click I inexplicably wassupped it to a friend, as the train sat in the darkness near the 67th Avenue station because “there is another train ahead of us.”  A few moments later, as we crept past the next local station,  my friend tapped back words to the effect that, oy!,  I need to read a good novel, take a long walk in a beautiful place, have a vacation.   All true things, but, also, I take this page as an example of these fucking ugly facts not beating my brains in.

The unnaturally Confident Genius-in-chief, a guy with an inferiority complex a mile wide and infinitely deep, has recently called, speaking of talking out of unwashed nether sphincters, for the death penalty for “drug dealers.”   The drug dealers he is referring to are people like the illegal spirits dealers who grew rich and powerful during Prohibition.  The ignorance of the Tangerine Idi Amin (tip of the skull cap to Larry Wilmore) on this notion of solving our epidemic of drug addiction by executing drug kingpins is multi-leveled.   

Why are so many Americans addicted to drugs that make their pain seem to vanish?  The folks who get addicted, it seems to me, have no hope of anything better than making their pain and desperation disappear for a few hours.   The great pleasure of the initial drug experience for addicts, the pleasure that gets them hooked, apparently disappears rather early in addiction.  From then on the game for addicts is not really played for kicks, it’s all about the desperate compulsion to get the drug into the bloodstream to prevent feeling like complete shit.  

Drug addiction is an affliction of despair, of hopelessness.  Give those people an option for a life of connection with others, a productive life of hope and laughs, most of them will choose not to be drug addicts anymore.   This has been seen in place after place where the problem of drug addiction, a disease most addicts are genetically predisposed to,  has been addressed intelligently.  In America we prefer tough love, these criminalized fucks need to spend a few years locked up with violent sociopaths.

I jotted down an arresting stat: more American deaths by drug overdose in 2016 than total American KIA in years of the war in Vietnam.   Fuck.   We beat that record in 2017 and are on a pace in 2018 to beat last year’s record for Americans dead of drug overdose (unless Jared Kushner can find a magic wand to cure the opioid crisis while making peace in the Middle East and avoiding prosecution for what appears to be a string of financial crimes). 

It is a crisis when more people in your country die of drug overdose every year than of gunshot wound, in a country that leads the world by a hefty margin in deaths by gunshot.  The asshole solution: kill the drug dealers.   Duterte in the Philippines does it, why not our own populist president?   So unfair, how come the dictator of a third rate country gets to kill drug dealers, extrajudicially, and the American president, the most powerful man in the world, can’t?  Unfair!   SAD!  It is this two year-old’s level of sophistication that is being brought to bear on our nation’s most vexing problems by our most powerful citizen.  

If the president had a nimble, smart, loyal team of lawyers like Cheney and Bush did, guys who secretly redefined “torture” to make it, arguably, legal for Americans to practice against enemies real and theoretical, he’d soon have the tool in hand he needs to execute drug dealers without trial.  There is already a precedent, two American presidents have openly used it, of killing ‘enemy combatants’ without trial, evidence or any kind of charges against them.  

Obama openly did it to two or three American citizens.  Spin it right, there’s absolutely no problem doing it, you can even joke about it at a press conference, like Obama’s spokesman did when an innocent American teenager and his friends were turned into chopped meat in a remote area in Yemen.   Cheney’s lawyers gave us the president’s absolute right to designate people ‘enemy combatants’, place them on a secret kill list, and have skilled American gamers take them out by remote controlled missiles.  Constitutional law professor and idealist Obama gave the president the right to do this to selected Americans who could be designated ‘enemy combatants’. Word up, Trump.

I pause to reflect on the words of an Iraqi-American doctor, speaking to Brooke Gladstone recently.  He said that when people are not held accountable for their crimes it gives permission for the crimes to continue indefinitely.   When Obama took the famously “high road” on American torture, looking forward and not back (while nobly and folksily admitting ‘we tortured some folks’), he gave the architects and drivers of the recent, widespread American torture program the eternal gift of ongoing silence.  

These creatures who made their bones torturing, first the meaning of the word and then actual humans, continue to live successful lives.  The two fucks who wrote the infamous “torture memo”, government lawyers who claimed it is not torture unless the pain is as severe as the failure of a major organ system, are today quite prosperous and well respected.  One is a tenured-for-life federal judge, the other a tenured professor of, I shit you not, Constitutional Law, at Berkeley.  The two psychologists who reverse engineered the torture program from the SERE manual, and were paid over $80,000,000 for their important work?   Well, they finally had to cough up a few million to private plaintiffs, but that case settled.  Hush money paid, they can get back to their fabulous lives as fabulously wealthy American psychologists.  

Nothing to see here.  Look, we have two completely different systems of law here, one system of justice for the powerful and well-connected, another for losers.  What is news about any of this?

OK, then, who are the Sacklers?   A family name I have a hard time recalling, they currently own Perdue Pharma, a name I can usually recall easily.   I have written about this fabulously wealthy American family, headed by at least three generations of doctors, at least one of whom was an award winning pharmaceutical marketing genius   You can get the bones of their story here, with a link to a thorough, and sickening article about these evil bastards.   Jewish doctors who would make their Nazi colleague Josef Mengele tip his hat to them, if I may be explosively hyperbolic for a moment (nobody here to stop me, I notice).  

What is so evil about the family that created and falsely marketed Oxycontin as a time-released, and therefore low probability of addiction alternative to the other prescription opioids on the market?  For one thing, their widely trumpeted and hugely lucrative claim, inexplicably allowed by the FDA, was total marketing hype not backed by any research at all.  Users intent on getting high have only to crush the pill, et voila, no more time release.  For another thing, the guy at the FDA who approved the false and misleading package insert went on, by sheer coincidence, to work for Perdue Pharma at many times his former salary.   For another, these high society altruists made literally billions on the sale of this overprescribed miracle drug that has been a big driver of the Opioid Crisis.

Many Americans who get addicted to opioids start with a pharmaceutical opioid they, or someone they knew, had prescribed to them by a doctor.  These pills can be quite expensive.  Hard for a drug addict to afford after a while.  Heroin is a cheaper alternative.  In a nation that has no safety regime for illegal drugs, the heroin users buy can be 25% heroin or more, or less.  Enterprising drug entrepreneurs are able to make heroin much cheaper to produce by stepping on the product again, cutting it with more powerful, and much cheaper, fentanyl.   A shot of heroin with enough fentanyl mixed in is deadly.   The addict never knows how strong the white power they are injecting is until it is too late.   Some places have drug testing sites where addicts can find out how powerful the shit they are about to shoot is.   These places are extremely rare in our country, if they exist anywhere. 

As far as executing drug dealers, or even keeping them in check, the Sackler’s corporation has been successfully sued in a couple of states, and settled these suits for many millions, on the condition of absolute secrecy: all research, testimony and evidence in the case must be sealed.  This means every state Attorney General who wants to sue the Sacklers must start at the beginning, pay for all their own medical experts, witnesses, research.   In fairness to the family, they are now worth billions and so are immune from the normal process of criminal justice.   That weasel selling Oxycontin by the pill?   Shoot him dead, a bullet through his fucking head!

The cartoon AR-15 then checks in reminding us not to be so fucking judgmental.  Guns don’t kill people, you know, people using guns do.  It’s like a highly addictive pill in brilliantly marketed form.   If you are not a damaged person, you can use this product safely.   The only wrinkle is that we are, virtually all of us, damaged persons.   Part of the human condition.  

I have been consciously pursuing mildness and non-harm for the last few years.  I was raised in a family where abuse was a common way of showing love.  I have had to deal with anger, otherwise anger will deal with me.  You don’t go from someone who will reflexively scream back at mistreatment into a calm, philosophical person without waging a constant battle, without remaining focused on quieting the reflex to rage.   Sekhnet will frequently remind me that I believe I am doing better in this than I actually am, but she did not know me thirty years ago.

So given a society based on advertising, acquisition, fairly rigid class status, competing, judging, having two sets of laws — a generous one for winners and a viciously punitive one for losers– we all are on our own to do the best we can.  I’d love to read a great novel on a lush green lawn somewhere, with a perfect sky overhead and the lapping of water over rocks in the background.   That is a beautiful part of life: relaxation.  I love to relax.  But there is also work, and this shit, which I also find fascinating, is mine.   Even if I am not currently being paid for it.

Calming a Psychopath

The psychopath will reject this title, for starters.  

“Your premise is bullshit.  There’s no need to calm a psychopath, a psychopath is already calm.  Plus, who the fuck are you to call me a psychopath, meat?   How bout I just bite your plump, tender fucking face off?  Plus, shut the fuck up.  Plus, you will keep my secrets because I said you will.   Plus, shut up.  

“Fine, I once threatened to lock my wife and kids in the house, set it on fire and kill all of them.   That was after I got back from slaughtering her parents.  Then I threatened to kill myself, when it was all over.  That last part was the genius part: I have nothing to lose, I’m going to be dead, but just after the rest of you.   Oh, yeah, like you’ve never in a moment of desperation threatened to burn two little children alive, prig.   And, of course, because you’re so mentally healthy, you miss the most important part, the only important part:  I didn’t do any of that!   A threat is just a threat, mere words, and if you don’t know the difference between a threat and an action, you are one sad, ignorant asshole.  

“And while we’re talking about you, Mr. Stable Genius, who the fuck are you to look down your long, hooked nose at somebody who hasn’t worked in years?   Last I checked you were last in court a couple of years ago, doing a fucking inquest in some seedy Bronx courtroom on behalf of some guy with a cane who provoked a dentist to call him a homo and a cabron and throw some business cards in his face.   Real important case, though it was the last time you got paid for anything.  Oh, wait, I forgot, you’re a writer now, that’s right!   You write, everyday, essential crap like this.  Setting down your precious insights like you’ve learned something deep about the workings of the world of humans.

“Brilliant insights like it’s morally wrong to lie to your children, a real rare million dollar gem you got there, professor.  Except that EVERYBODY lies to their children, on some level.  At least I know I’m lying to my children, and I do it mostly by omission anyway, so it’s not like I’m force feeding them a lot of actual lies.  Plus, I defy you to show me any way my lying has had a negative effect on either of my wonderful kids.  Both kids love me, trust me, know they can always depend on me. You have no kids, know nothing about the responsibilities of parenthood.  Easy for you to fucking pontificate, bring up every little long ago mistake I ever made.  Like you never made a mistake in your high and mighty philosopher king life.  

“I understand you’re working on a letter to me and my wife, to lay out all the so-called moral issues involved.  You call it a letter, I call it your death warrant.  You always whine about Hitler, ‘Oh, Hitler killed my maternal grandparents’ 12 siblings, Oh, Hitler wiped out my father’s people… the shithole they came from literally wiped from the map…’  Yeah.  Blame Hitler for you being an asshole.  Hitler made you a righteous asshole, I understand.  

“Here’s something you should understand: I will not be attacked, by you or anyone else.  Your catalogue of things I supposedly did is a dead letter, motherfucker.  This war has long been over.  You lost.   You don’t want to talk to me because I am a compulsive liar?   Fine with me.  Just don’t expect my kids to reciprocate your attempts to stay in touch.  They know what you are, just as they know what I am.  You want to call me a psychopath?  Fine, I’m a psychopath.  Being a psychopath means never having to say you’re sorry.

“You got time?  I could go on this way all day, don’t even need a break to piss.  I piss on you, asshole.  You see, the thing you’re missing is that gamblers who make a losing bet usually double down.  I know a thing or two about doubling down, about not being a fucking loser, like you, Mr. American Dream.  You can’t win it all back if you ain’t in it.  Life is a roll of the dice.  You never accepted this, think that you are in charge, somehow, that the ‘truth’ is some kind of magic shield against the randomness of life.  You’re powerless, with your pompous integrity and hyperbolic sense of fairness, you’re not in charge of shit.   You think your long laundry list of ‘facts’ is more persuasive than my hugs and kisses, and promises (whether sincere or made for dramatic effect)?  Think again, asswipe.  Possession is nine tenths of the law, counselor.   You can’t take what’s mine.  You can try, if you want to be crushed, in fact, I invite you to come right on.”

I brought this on myself, clearly.  The psychopath makes a good point — the indisputable facts of the case only make things worse for me.   The more reason for shame, the deeper the resolve to fight that shame by any means necessary.   I’m not holding any cards here, except for facts nobody wants to know, and there is no price too high to pay for not knowing those terrible things.

 

 

 

 

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)

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