Yesterday, I found out what it’s like to be a target of the government. As a white, straight male, I never thought that they would come for me. How does it go?
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
You can insert whoever is currently being maligned or demonized in this cussed era of open white supremacy and it will still ring true. Everyone should read that and understand that we have a duty to come to each others’ aid when the chips are down, especially given the open hostility that characterizes this administration’s attitude (and to a larger degree, the right wing in general) to so many groups of ordinary folks trying to get by who aren’t always white, straight and male (throw Christian in there if you like).
You might be wondering: what is it about me that makes me a target?
I’m a veteran.
A disabled one.
Who’da thunk it, right?
You would think that any president of the United States would reflexively support wounded warriors or any fucking warriors, but PresidentTrump clearly has no use for the troops or veterans except in the most perfunctory of ways.
And today, I don’t think I have a safe space on social media anymore because his administration wants to look at my accounts to determine whether or not I need my Social Security benefits anymore.
I have been a vocal critic of Trump on Facebook, and there’s pictures of me smiling and happy there. I know it’s hard to believe, but smiling and being happy on social media just might be one metric of how they determine whose benefits can be cut.
Both of those editorials linked above go into satisfactory detail about why this is an incredibly bad, wrongheaded and misguided way to cut fraud. We may be disabled, but that doesn’t mean we are miserable 24/7.
If this policy goes into motion, who’s to say that the Veteran’s Administration won’t use these metrics? Best practices say to assume that all agencies are politicized at this point. I’m sure Trump has seen on Fox that segment of a reserve major (and I am not denigrating his service, he did one more tour in the sandbox than I did) who worked for Bear-Stearns (and was under consideration for head of the VA) saying that those of us that cannot get a job at Bear-Stearns use too many benefits.
If any of this is successful at slashing my retirement benefits it will leave me and my family homeless and in bankruptcy should these arbitrary standards become a way to cheat the disabled from benefits they earned.
So I have decided to leave Facebook until I am assured that none of this will become policy. I don’t even know if it already has and I am not sticking around to find out. I am doing better these days, but I know bipolar disorder is waiting to attack if stress is applied. It’s never far away. I had to earn this reprieve from the disease, it took 13 years of medicinal wrong turns, hundreds of hours of therapy, and multiple trips to a locked ward to get where I am today. And I am lucky and grateful we have this safety net so for once I cannot be dogged my my illness. I have a right to be happier without Trump’s Gestapo bean counters misinterpreting that it’s a sign that I’m all better.
In the meantime, y’all let me know when I can be happy and safe again on social media. They won’t find me here in my tiny corner of the internet. No one can, come to think of it.
Veteran’s issues came into sharp focus in Austin a few days ago. We lost another soldier when he walked into a VA clinic and shot himself in front of hundreds of people.
I had no idea that this is a thing that has been happening. I mean, vets take their own life all the time, but I didn’t know they were steady offing themselves at the clinics. Here, scroll this. In fact, it happened in my back yard over the weekend.
Now, normally when a story like this grabs the public, a good government would take notice and pledge to reduce the number of veterans killing themselves because they don’t have enough access to care. But since we don’t have one, the number of suicides at hospitals will continue unabated. The current administration is trying to monetize the VA as they do with all their Cabinet positions, handing over delicate specialty care to private practice- not to improve care, but to profit.
I have a tendency to come to the VA’s defense because I have gotten nothing but top notch care from them. I have never wanted for an appointment. When I needed psychiatric inpatient services, my wife was able to do with me what she needed to do for all of our sake. Today, thanks to all the hard work people did at the VA to get me here, I have come out the other side of a dangerous, merciless and unrelenting disease like bipolar disorder. I’m experiencing more clarity than I ever have in the past, perhaps even more than I did before the illness reared its head and ruined my career as a soldier and a productive member of society. I’ve battled for over 13 years at the least to get where I am right now and my doctors have been right by my side in the fight. So generally, when people tell me the VA sucks, I tell them to go fuck themselves.
But these horrid shootings cannot be ignored by me nor the federal government anymore. I am very fortunate that I am only a 25 minute drive to the VA. Lots of vets have to travel much longer than that, and that’s unacceptable. We are still in the middle of the longest war in American history and I don’t think we have significantly improved the infrastructure to deal with the flow of broken warriors. This map clearly shows that vets in several regions are under-served, especially in the places where soldiers generally come from to escape urban hopelessness and rural ennui. They shouldn’t have to go back to their home of record not knowing where to turn for soldier trauma, which is unique.
It’s going to take a herculean attempt to right this wrong. But this congress and this president have no stomach to meet the challenge with the unparalleled power of the federal government. Anything that costs money costs too much, unless we are shoveling out cash to corporations and banks who cannot stay afloat without a bailout. With all the ballyhoo about “taking care of the troops”, by doing nothing to meet the needs of soldiers when they come back we are currently saluting service with one hand and shooting the finger with the other.
I have a lollapalooza of a katzenjammer this fine Sunday morning. I am glad I am not religious, because Jesus would undoubtedly have taken a back seat to this hangover. I decided to take some kratom to dial back the symptoms and I am sure I will feel much better in a few minutes, or at least I’ll be happy enough while I suffer through this mother.
So: let’s talk a little about kratom, which is the powdered leaves of mitragyina speciosa. There are loads of misinformation out there on the nature of the drug (and yes, that’s what it is). I have been a user for probably a year or so, and I believe I have standing on kratom, pro and con.
One thing that is certain is that if you are gonna be hooked on something no matter what, you could definitely do worse than kratom. Good strains will lighten your mood, untie your tongue, and make you feel like you are on prescription cough syrups. It’s far, far cheaper than having a pill habit, and many people swear by kratom to replace an opiate addiction from fighting chronic pain. It doesn’t show up on a piss test because it’s not looking for the metabolites of mitragyna. You can get it in head shops, but there are sources for bulk buying overseas where you can get discounts for the amount you buy. You can also get premium stuff through the mail, unless you live in a handful of states or cities who have scheduled kratom as illegal.
What’s not to love about all of that?
The size of an average habit is a subject of debate, but that’s what happens when you cripple good research and have to rely on your own empirical study to get at the truth. Take this stupid page; they say a low dose is 10 grams. I can tell you with certainty that a person who does 10 grams at a time is a heavily developed, full blown user. You don’t need more than 3 grams to get off. However, remember that this is a drug, and one that you can easily develop a tolerance to if you go at it too much, and consequently you will need some more to tickle that
Kratom advocates can be somewhat disingenuous about its addiction potential. I realized I was addicted about a month ago, which is my primary reason for writing this. There are many ways to ingest kratom, and I either mix it in a shake, or dump it straight down the gullet with a drink nearby that I can chug to wash it down. I had an 8-9 gram a day habit, broken up into two administrations. How did I find out I had a monkey on my back? I needed a hit before a grocery trip but the wife was in a hurry. Guess who came first? Kratom. What’s worse is that I flushed hot while I was measuring the dose on a small digital scale. I know what that means, even if I have only really been truly addicted to cigarettes. At that point, I wasn’t even enjoying myself anymore even if I bumped up a gram. I was now doing maintenance to feel normal. So I knew I was dealing with a problem that needed my attention.
I am now stepping down, slowly but surely. I have cut my use by more than half without issue, and that is another one of the good things about kratom- withdrawing slowly does not cause any discomfort. I’m going on vacation in late May, and I will not be taking kratom with me so I have a mission-to either stop completely, or cut the dose so low that I don’t need the drug as much anymore and I can go days without it. With luck, I might be able to get back to enjoying it as a pleasant occasional high.
All addicts understand the hedging I am doing about quitting.
To close, respect opioids, no matter what form they take. I still think kratom should be legal, researched and regulated and should be a part of modern American medicine to fight pain. No one’s going to do any crime to get some. It’s certainly not something that belongs anywhere near the schedule table. But if you are going to have fun with kratom, know the risks concerning addiction like you would any drug.
A few posts ago, I decided that making peace with the fact that Robert Mueller could not establish a incriminating link between Russia and Donald Trump is the best thing I can do for my sanity. We lefties hitched a ride on a star, and that thing imploded on us when AG William Barr said there wasn’t anything to see. Now the question most of us asked was, how did he boil down a 400 page report in the space of two days? The answer is not complicated. The original author of the summary had to be none other than Robert Mueller. Bill Barr looked over it, perhaps boiled it down some more, and that was that. Thud.
We’ve trusted a lot of unusual entities, people and agencies over the last two years or so to give us what we wanted, which is Trump’s head on a proverbial pike. We allowed the FBI, the CIA, former prosecutors and commentators, many of which were Republicans to lead the charge against him and speculate what Orange Julius Caesar was likely guilty of. We believed somehow that these institutions would be the failsafe for a president who was in insane crook. And of course, there’s Mueller himself, who is also a Republican. And you simply cannot trust them to do the right thing, because if he wanted to do the right thing, he’d be a Democrat. I’ve never put too much stock in the “reasonable Republican” myth. At bottom, there’s probably myriad disgusting reasons you don’t want to hear as to why most Republicans remain Republicans. But anyway, we got in bed with a slew of disagreeable conservatives and didn’t give a shit who they were as long as they were ostensibly anti-Trump.
Sometimes it all feels like a giant troll, or perhaps we trolled ourselves. I don’t know. What do I know is I’m done trusting historically dirty organizations and people not ideologically like us to do the work of dislodging Trump from office. At least one of them helped him get there in the first place.
Anyway, The Clown Prince From Gotham seemed nonplussed by what the report could contain following its release. Let it fly, he said coolly on Friday. However, this week he started calumniating about the report. This tends to follow Trump’s usual pattern of saying something and then walking it back or saying the opposite thing of what he said only days ago. In fact, many of Trump’s “friends” do this too, some of who are going to enjoy prison soon for playing fast with the truth. But I’m not going to read much into it, having done so far too many times in my writing about this mess of a presidency when a desperate tweetstorm dropped. I’m not going to engage in that type of wishful thinking anymore, if I can help it. Again, I get the feeling that we are being fed a story, either by a rather crafty liar, a raving lunatic, or both.
All of this notwithstanding, I’d like the report to be pored over by oversight, and that’s what Jerry Nadler (D-NY) is going to aim for. This administration has been far too secretive, from Trump’s taxes and his meetings with the Russians. Besides, we paid a couple dozen million dollars for it, so why shouldn’t we get our money’s worth? For those of us who still need to hold on hope that this racketeer president will get what he richly deserves it should be mentioned that the grand jury that Mueller created is still at work, and there are several other suits and charges against god knows who in the Trump orbit, to include His Highness of The Fat Ass.
My advice: temper your hopes. Consider your sources. Don’t get too excited, because the system is coming to pieces while Trump and his gremlins are gleefully taking a hammer to everything that might have been good or at least OK in this country. I’ll go out on a limb and say we’ll be rid of him in 2020 even if a bowl of spoiled chicken salad runs as a Democrat. So hang in there, comrades.
So went our queries to the fourteen year old German Shepherd whenever we had to step over him or when he was passed out hard on his bed and it was real hard to tell if he was breathing. He was somewhat deaf, but we’d repeat the question until he lifted his head, as if to answer.
On Friday morning, I didn’t have to ask.
The heavy breathing coming from him was unlike any breathing I had ever heard before from anyone or anything. He was literally struggling to respire. Somehow, I knew he was going to pass. I called the wife, who immediately came home after I told her that the dog was dying. She told me to offer him a treat. He declined. I laid fresh roast beef in front of his nose. He sniffed, but was not interested in eating anymore. That was the cue that it was really over, because all dog owners know they live to eat some of your meat. And to chase a rubber ball at high speed.
We picked up the dog by picking up the bed as if it were a makeshift litter. He did not object, which was another sign that he was tired and done. After putting the dog in the back of the car we went to get the kids from school, on my wife’s advice. She said that it would have been worse had they found out when they got home and he was just gone.
We arrived at the veterinary clinic. They opened all the doors so we could bring the dog to the back room where they do euthanization. As we laid him on the table he began to jerk. His heartbeat became erratic. Weaker. Fluttery. He stopped moving, and blood began to stream from his nose. The vet said he probably had a stroke as he was dying. We thought it was done.
Suddenly he started to jerk again, but only intermittently. Agonal movements, or something like that. Whatever it was, it wouldn’t stop. I had had enough. The vet offered the consent to euthanize. I chose not to keep the ashes, not understanding the need for an urn when I have memory. I signed and the vet drew up the pentobarbital, which in case anyone is wondering renders the pet unconscious before the overdose stops the heart. All the family members laid their hands on and petted him while the needle was administered. Because that’s what you fucking do in this fucking life full of pain, and all of you people that think this world is intelligently designed can stay the fuck away from me. In an intelligent world, you obliterate and say fuck you to suffering, sorrow and death.
If you are not sure if you can be there while your pet is put down, let me say that you can. It’s the least you can do. It wasn’t grisly the way you think it might be. When it’s happening you will do anything to stop the hurt of the process of dying.
He was our unwavering friend and every time I look at the damn fireplace in the living room of this house I will always remember the bed in front of it and the good boy that laid on it.
P.S.: Reader and old friend Rob M. shared with me the passing of his dog the day after I lost mine. He read my goodbye to Seiji and decided to take his fourteen year old friend Ziggy for an extra special walk that day. Look at this good boy:
Strange coincidence! But the point of this postscript is that you must show love to those who you love every day, because sometimes tomorrow is too late.
I’m the political junkie in the house. But my wife has been startlingly prescient about which way things are gonna break these days. It’s amazing; how does she do it? She has a core principle, a north star.
Nothing is going to go right, ever.
And from Hillary Clinton’s inexplicable 2016 loss to the ignominious fizzle-out of the Mueller investigation, that guiding light has made her the new political guru at this address.
I often share her cynicism, but I do try feebly to counter that there’s still some light left here and there. To naught, most of the time. I know she’s right, because the system has for the most part failed and people are too stupid in general to blame the right people for their discomfort.
Now, Robert Mueller’s report, or its four page summary to be more accurate, came out a few days ago. The full report was hundreds of pages, yet AG Bill Barr took one hell of a speed reading course and dropped its main points into the political bloodstream after only 48 hours. What did the summation say?
I’m afraid to say that part of the answer is “no collusion”.
Yes, yes, there was Russian fuckery all over the place in the 2016 election but it seems that most of Trump and his inner circle were just smart enough to stay away from purveyors of damaging information that would help Trump’s campaign. What made everything so perplexing is why the ones indicted lied so much about it. We just assumed there was some sort of omerta to protect the Don. Turns out they just couldn’t keep a story straight.
This realization has caused more than a bit of distress and stunned silence amongst some of the more pollyannaish of my lefty brethren. It looked so certain that the gods were smiling upon those of us revolted by the obvious corruption surrounding the Trump presidency, that love would KO hate; and since he’s such a imbecilic slimeball there seemed to be zero possibility that there was no fire after choking on smoke for two years. It’s Trump, after all- and stupid is as stupid does, right?
Now I know no one has seen the particulars of the report and that may take some time. But I don’t think AG Barr is lying or mischaracterizing Mueller’s conclusion on the collusion/coordination count. We will find out soon for sure, as a document with so much import cannot be hidden for long.
The other conclusion Mueller came to was that he did not find any purported obstruction on the part of the president and several of his lizard people enablers. Again, it looked to the casual observer that Trump was putting a spin on anything he could regarding the investigation. So many untruths, so much dissembling and character assassination, how could he not get himself pinched for obstruction even if he hadn’t done anything wrong? The people that did obstruct and commit other related crimes are going to jail, but at this point it appears that Trump kept a firewall between him and the people who did the more egregious lying, and was just savvy enough to not allow himself to be deposed.
There’s a ray of hope in the way Mueller puts it: “…while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” It is now up to AG Barr to look at what Mueller did find out and decide whether or not it meets the standards of obstruction beyond a reasonable doubt. I don’t have to tell you that will not bear fruit for as long as Bill Barr is the Attorney General. Sadly, the rules were in place from the start that the AG can more or less do what he feels like with this report, including nothing. So even though President Dummkopf is out there erroneously trumpeting that he’s exonerated because he can’t read and that there was no obstruction of justice on his part, it might as well be true for all the interest Barr has in setting the bar for it. The fix is in.
Nothing is going to go right, ever.
I hope my wife is wrong. And I hope I am totally wrong about all of this as well. But I’m going to do what most Democrats are about to do, and that’s move on- stop trying to make a criminal out of Trump, criminal though he may be- and instead focus on what a horrifyingly bad job he’s doing pretending to be a president. It may be the least satisfying and the longest way towards getting rid of him, but it’s time to stop singing the impeachment song and figure out how to win with ideas and legislate and advocate him out of a job come 2020. Because if we keep trying to ferret out a prosecutorial avenue that just isn’t available, we run the risk of some of our best legislators looking like the Trey Gowdys and and the Lindsey Grahams of the left wing and at this juncture I don’t think that kind of tit-for-tat is our best foot forward no matter how much we want to get a taste of blood.
I was looking on the web for an entry point into the subject of American gun violence in schools. I typed into The Google “school shootings”, and trusty Wikipedia curates a list of them going all the way back to the 1840s, sorted by decade. I thought the breadth of the information was curious enough. But what I wasn’t prepared for was how much longer the entries became as I scrolled the decades. Once you get to the 1980s, the frequency jumps. And it spikes upward yet again at the turn of the century. This decade’s list is almost as long as the one preceding it and we still have nearly a year to go.
Anybody looking at the progression will no doubt ask: what the hell is going on here?
I have a sociology degree, but I have not studied this topic. I did study it peripherally in a class about murder-I can’t say I took much from it, I think it was one of those eight week summer quickies-but we were all treated to alarming numbers about how much murder and what type was going down in America. I think I remember that in 2015, there were approximately 14,000 gun deaths. I remember this particularly because we spent a day at the college putting approximately 14,000 chalk tally marks on the sidewalk running from our classroom to the main campus building to show other students and ourselves what that number of people gunned down looked like represented physically. It’s a lot more trenchant when you have to take it all in at once.
Bottom line, it’s plain to anybody that there’s a problem in America regarding lethal weapons going back further than some of us have been alive. But the death epidemic has become supercharged in recent decades. Why?
I could take a stab or two. Obviously, being armed at one point was something of a commandment, enshrined in our Constitution. But we are worlds away from the exigency of needing to own a rifle, having completed our manifest destiny by killing or driving out the competition. Our direst existential threats are far across the ocean now, where we have a standing army to fight over there so we don’t have to fight here, as they always say. Our dicksmack “president” even wants to wall off our southern flank, and the Canucks are cool because they are white. So really, the list of the reasons for needing firearms is rather short and getting shorter. You will not be called up to the militia because of Indians or redcoats, or mounties. Oh, sure, someday there might be a need for you to go to war because of Selective Service, but even that is unlikely due to the large aforementioned standing force-and I assure you will be given a quick tutorial on how to shoot straight and be well regulated before they make cannon fodder out of you. And how likely is another Hitler? What world are we living in where we have to be on guard for that shit again? We won World War Two for the right to end the next Hitler with a button on a joystick, there won’t be any storming of the beach type shit. To put a fine point on it, today’s battlefields could not have been imagined by the founders no matter what the case. Marching in formation with arms is ceremony, not doctrine. Everything is asymmetric these days, the battle manuals are being either thrown out or rewritten as we learn how to do successful counterterrorism with irregular enemies.
To wit: you don’t need a gun. Chances are, you just want one because you like them, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But the Second Amendment’s practical use is quaint, much like the one proceeding it regarding the quartering of soldiers with citizens. And the one about twenty dollar common law suits. And don’t get me started on the parts of it that we don’t observe any more because of the creeping evolution of a police state here like the loss of habeas corpus, right to assemble, cruel and unusual punishment, the permanence of constant surveillance, and excessive bail. I didn’t see any of you Stratalounger-bound ‘Muricans with a safe full of carbines going all Daniel Shays while that stuff was happening. A lot of the Constitution, like it or not, is optional.
If you think for a minute that you need that gun to stop the government from taking your rights, you are late to the party. If you think you need it to shoot “antifa” or protect the babies from the abortion providers, you ought to be on a list of people who can’t have a gun because you are not civil. You can typically summon police in minutes if you are the victim of a bandit, one who likely got his or her weapon due to lax gun control, so that argument is mostly out the window. The fact is, “freedom” and being armed are of course not the same thing, but we somehow conflate these concepts, even when we have no evidence that we are freer because we have stopping power handy. I think people feel independent by owning a firearm (and boy howdy, do we love our Independence!), but that doesn’t mean they are. It’s the illusion of security-after all, any given situation has a higher chance of becoming ipso facto more lethal if someone brings a lethal weapon to a situation, So technically, you are less safe if you pack.
None of this logic ever finds its way into the minds of our lawmakers, especially those of a right-wing bent. That’s largely because of the way we fund our lawmakers’ campaigns. Now that just about anything can donate anything to anybody thanks to the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision on the limits of campaign finance law, candidates are desperately vying for the necessary donations to fund what are almost always multimillion dollar campaigns. And in today’s America, where so much wealth is concentrated upwards, it’s much easier to take a fat check from a corporation or a PAC or a lobby group like the NRA or what have you than to hope for thousands of small donations from serfs like you and I. This is the primary reason that our representatives don’t often represent us anymore; we can’t afford pay to play. I don’t know how or when that is going to get any better because we are in something of a peculiarly fascistic downspiral in the United States, both economically and socially and I don’t know exactly how the next bars of this song go even though someone somewhere has written the tune several times. All I know is that I am glad that it’s a classless, clueless dolt like Donald Trump setting fire to everything than a clandestine, calculated thug like a Vladimir Putin.
So what I’m really on about is what the hell is happening in fucking Indiana where teachers are getting “executed” with pellets during school shooting “drills” , something I imagine their M.A. did not cover.
Listen up, folks. I went into the Army not once, but twice. Basic training is interesting, but survivable hell. It’s quite the psychological (and physical) gauntlet. Yes, I did have live rounds going over my head while I low-crawled under barbed wire. I got choked out in a CS gas chamber. Hell, I had to do that a lot of times in my nine year stint. I threw a live grenade. But at no time was I ever “shot” with anything except laser beams in training, and if I was to “die”, it was at the hands of someone who got the jump on me by saying something like “powpowpowpow you’re dead”, just like kids horsing around. Sometimes you would discharge a blank but never, ever at close range. No pellets or BBs. Know why? It’s fucking dangerous and your math teacher shouldn’t have to be scared shitless or come home marked up.
Think about it. Somewhere, educators are probably getting more bruises, both physically and psychologically than I did in basic military training. And my benefits were and remain top shelf. In today’s climate of worker contempt, I doubt the same is true of whoever is teaching my/your kids right now. Unions are being decimated and at the same time teachers are being taught to take a bullet or kill someone, likely without the requisite pay bump for the extra work. There is something deeply amiss within the soul of this country where our killers warrant more respect than our teachers. Doubtless each respective job deserves a doff of the cap by the rest of the smart patrol. But the disciplines should remain separate. Defending is a full time job, and so is education. It’s irresponsible to mix the two at the very least, and seriously unlikely that scads of future teachers are going to carry both skill sets. And let’s not forget about the accidental discharges from bumbling armed educators.
Someone my wife knows thought it was abusive to put a teacher through this type of drill. I didn’t stop there. I think it’s terrorism.
We’ll forget soon how swiftly New Zealand acted once deadly weapons and a murderous soul found each other in Christchurch recently. We’ll keep hurting teachers until good people just don’t want the job anymore. And we won’t do bupkiss about gun control here while that list I linked above gets longer and longer except offer stale thoughts and prayers without attacking the real problem; the easy availability of a handheld weapon of mass destruction to a public whose character, long in question, has become decidedly unstable.
Should God indeed exist, I will be relieved in a sense if He tells me my life was a joke that He amused himself with and that I could come on into Paradise and live forever in a nice neighborhood having realized I was the joke, finally in on the reason for all of that silliness. Haw, haw. That’s cool- I have some practice at being a joke. Don’t we all?
I have been a good person, deserving of a little heaven, certainly more deserving of eternal contentment than some jerks I know who get dunked in some water by a pastor and are “saved”. I have had some good times, and met the most amazing people I will ever know-my family.
And it breaks my heart to the core to accept that I will not see them after I close my eyes and stop respiring. This is the part where I become angry while wiping a little moisture from my eyes with the idea of God and his adherents.
I remember when I was in my teens, desperately searching for meaning and purpose. I had stopped attending church because no one there really became a better person for knowing Jesus. I threw away the Bible and plunged into other books. There I found different ontologies. I remember being glad that there were so many philosophies, that so many great people struggled to understand why we are here and what we are doing. It made living much easier knowing that I was in good company trying to figure that out.
One of the things often missing from life is certainty. We’re all walking around doing life as it comes, often doing it poorly, or wishing we could do something else. In American capitalism, if you are lucky, you typically get four years to study up and find a meaning or an occupation that is right for you. Chances are a real job that has nothing to do with your beliefs and skills will come along once you get your paper with the pretty seal on it and take up all the time you need to think because you’ll never be done working until you are near death. When you come home every day you have to work some more, often to get ready for the next day of work. Twelve years of school has gotten you used to that idea. Small surprise that the Job that keeps you going becomes your reason. Some people are satisfied with that, that the meaning of life is what you worked on. Add a dash of everlasting salvation from the labor by being “born again”, and your meaning is hermetically sealed up, to be challenged nevermore.
I often deride these people, because I feel they are so woefully misguided. They just stopped thinking at some point because it became too painful to consider the alternative, that you are alone in American capitalism even when you are with others. God and Jesus are easy ways to explain away everything. And they derive happiness and hope from it. I am related to some of these people.
I don’t blame them one bit. In fact, I would love to be one of them. But exposure to competing ontology is like a bell that can’t be unrung. Bye, certainty. I know just enough to be dangerous to myself. We’ve been working on what this all means well before the Hebrews were in Egypt.
If you insist on being a searcher, life’s meaning becomes much like those little Russian nesting dolls. You think you’ve got it, only to find there is more to consider, a more precise set of facts that you can’t ignore. There you go, pulling at the doll’s midsections to reveal a smaller, perhaps more exquisite version of the doll. You pull over and over until you have found the tiniest one, the one you have spent so much time getting to…
And there it sits in your palm. You are done. Not much to look at, but you now know there’s no more dolls and that’s the end of the search. But the problem really is that there’s nothing inside the tiniest doll. All that thinking, and we have very little to show for it because the whole thing, the final conclusion was made of emptiness all along.
Looking at these words, it would appear that I have become something of a nihilist. And that’s cold fucking comfort to me. I don’t even think I need to go back to Sartre, for I know well what there’s a chasm between existence and essence. At 47, a medically retired soldier under house arrest and married with two teenage boys I have found myself wondering if there really is an essence at all. I feel like the entire American capitalist system is designed to make you feel that if you aren’t working your ass off, spitting out taxpayers and speaking in tongues on Sunday you are a shit American and I can love it or leave it if I don’t like it. Jesus will reward you in the next life for that bent back.
So I am stuck, looking for a philosophy that does more than commiserate with life’s punchlines…its victims. Anyone got any good suggestions? Because I’m coming down with a bad case of thanatophobia. But who the fuck am I? Just a neurotic 21st century monkey, a spudboy looking for that real tomato. How dare I look at this family and say that life is without meaning! If it weren’t for those three, I’d probably be homeless, hungry and insane somewhere. God has no time for losers who don’t work and worship.
This is all a way of saying that I just want to count on something, something huge, find the answer to the why. But perhaps I need to remember that small somethings arrive which bring happiness here, and that is the best it gets.
Some will say that an atheist like me is angry at God.
I am. Quite furious, I’ll admit.
I am angry at Him for not existing.
And I am exponentially angry with his believers because they contrived Him so they could feel better. Christianity in American capitalism is an institution, phony like any other religion but it’s generally the one that nonbelievers here have had to contrast themselves with (and I am talking about not just heathens, I’m talking about any minority belief system). It’s the cause of the emptiness I feel because it is the one I know best that came up with the idea of eternal life. I think I feel fucking miserable because you all can’t stop thinking about The End because this life has stymied your desires and scared you half to death. You and everyone else have to be Busy. Humble. Always guilty. Kneeling in pain from the weight that only God can remove.
Had we been designed to be myopic about the end, maybe things on Earth for humanity would have been more bearable. This system I am in wants nothing more than to Die. Don’t have any thoughts otherwise or you will burn eternally or be expelled from the presence of God. And you’re taking all of us with you, those of us who wonder if life is just about Life, taking death as it comes but never fretting about it because Life is everywhere right now and I want time to touch it with all my senses, hug it and kiss every bit of it. But I am exhausted from thinking about my mortality, and bitter because there is no continuance of existence as promised, bitter because we are slaves to physics and entropy. It should be logical that I want surcease from that. But I’m not going to go crying to a creator about it, least of all the Christian one. What kind of a god makes such fucked up creatures anyway, built for living but cursed with dying? I have been given so much, and the catch is that I have to relinquish it and everything that makes it good? I’m flummoxed.
God is an Indian giver, it seems.
I don’t want to hear your remedies. I want to grin and bear it, but it is hard, brothers and sisters. I am greedy for time here, not some afterlife where I’m supposed to be happy worshipping and adulating a god, a god with the vain sensibilities of Donald Trump or the Jong lineage from North Korea.
One of the logical conclusions you can make when contemplating the whole of existence is that our evolution is a mistake; even our national religion subtly peddles the idea from jump that knowing anything is a grave error. That’s a very tempting outlook to accept, and it thrills the capitalist when you adopt it. Knowing stuff is dual-edged in nature; it can empower; occasionally it disempowers temporarily. And so we find knowledge not to be the succor we so desperately need either. Thinking itself is prone to error like a motherfucker. Lots of bad ideas out there masquerading as truth. Then again, the falsities are paradoxically what’s real, until we disabuse ourselves of the previous nested doll. Science itself is predicated on a series of misunderstandings but it has a better track record these days than religion-we’re Right and getting righter. Or are we? Arthur Koestler, author of Darkness At Noon, postulated in 1942 that knowledge (political doctrine in Koestler’s case) was not technically a linear phenomenon, which was at odds with Hegel and even Marx who both thought there was a romanticized end state to knowing. He instead described knowledge as a river, with a series of lock chambers that can be filled to capacity so the boats on them can proceed upon a higher level. Therefore, even when one has reached a new level, he is at the same time at the lowest level of the next lock. So humanity appears to start over, and morality doesn’t look a whole lot like the morality that preceded it. It in fact may be replete with some of the things that the new morality wants to end. This explains a lot of why humanity keeps destroying itself; it’s moved on to a new lock level and the same brutality we want to eventually end manifests itself again, in service of getting to the next lock. It’s as good a way as any I’ve found lately to explain why we can’t seem to eradicate evil. It became necessary to become evil in order to someday purify enough to be Good.
Do the ends justify the means? This is not a good question for a talking monkey. I wouldn’t trust me to answer right.
I hate it. Are we doomed to do this? Well, if we are, I would like it if these flashpoints, these lock chambers actually made life any better. Politically, I am a fairly hard leftist but am aware that the river of Communism is partly mixed with tons of mega-gallons of blood. There isn’t a whole lot of daylight between capitalism and Communism as practiced if you are scoring with blood, though; Ayn Rand famously said that it was morally right to take land from people who don’t know how to work, improve and most importantly, use it for profit. Even at my Randiest long ago I had problems with this. If things were right, we would be having more fun living as the work load lessened and essential tasks were left to automation. That’s what they told us after the Second World War. But that’s not what keeps happening. We’re back to torturous hours just to stay off the street and no one is getting paid for their actual production. If we were, McDonald’s workers would go home in Lexuses considering how many people they feed in a week. And even when there is nothing to do, as can be the case with modern jobs, you still have to sit there because the clock demands it and you need the money anyway. A lot of misery is balled up in this system, a lot of exploitation to keep it all going. There’s so many jobs out there that people don’t have to go to anymore per se- we’re plenty past the need to go to a building for eight hours to tap on a keyboard much like the one you have at home. But what will Ruby Tuesday do if you aren’t there to eat salad you don’t want? Those croutons are pretty good anyway. How will Shell profit if you aren’t filling up every day to go to work that you hate, and buying all that caffeine, beer and tobacco to cope? For all of our imagination, we still seem to be working on the wrong problems. It looks to me like our quality of life sucks despite all of our toys, gadgets and machines. People are still surviving, not living. And no one is doing a thing about it. The economy is supposed to work for us, but let’s face it, we are working for the economy. If you didn’t have something to Do, it would all fall to pieces. Keeping you occupied keeps the shekels flowing upward. Most of us don’t own this life-we’re renters, serfs, believing that an endless supply of choices confer freedom. You get to choose Costco over Sam’s Club, a multiplex of movies in and out of your house, a Honda or a Hyundai. These are the markers of individuality and success.
This rant is over three weeks old, and I thought it a bit too ranty even for me. I wasn’t sure how I was going to end it or what the main idea here is. It came from a place of despair and anger that I didn’t know what to do with. I’ve spent my time with worse material of my own, and while I’m on blogging hiatus I thought I’d put forth some unfinished B-team work. That’s what the pros do.
Was anyone clamoring for another out of touch billionaire to run for President?
So what if he registers as a Democrat. It’s the same animal.
I’ve only just recently gotten more acquainted with Howard Schultz. A good friend asked me yesterday what I thought of him and I did not have an answer.
I’ve had a day to read some of what this guy says and my answer to my friend is not a whole lot.
I feel like he will get less votes than Jill Stein, first off. Because as far as I know, no one on the left was looking for someone to the right of the liberals. There is a demand for the Democrats to pull further left, Bernie Sanders’ (and even Stein’s) candidacy proved that. But there is no such demand for it to go further to the center. And that is why this Schultz dude will be lucky to get 3%. Furthermore, if he sticks this out think he stands more of a chance of chewing some votes from the GOP because of the coming anti-Trump backlash from the right.
In fact, I hope that is the reason for his candidacy. There’s much ado about the threat he is to the Democrats but he sure as fuck reminds me of a Republican.
Here’s what a Democratic Trump sounds like: “I must be doing something right to create so much interest and backlash from the Democratic Party.” Oh, brother. The “Did I hit a nerve, snowflakes?” routine. Fuck you. Another glib billionaire with a defiant streak, just what we need. You are pissing people off not with the things you are advocating or proposing. You’re pissing people off by pretending to be a liberal and threatening the left wing coalition. Try not to get confused. Because that’s what is keeping you on television right now.
Some more? Here, on Elizatbeth Warren: “I don’t believe the country should be heading to socialism… I think she believes in programs that will lead to a level of socialism in America.” Again, this is exasperating, this use of the boogeyman of the right. Liz Warren is a recovering conservative, a capitalist, just one who has heart and good sense who understands economics where fairness is a actually a force multiplier. So this guy is making up a dumb strawman- and for who? Do you know any Democrat who was just waiting to give it to Liz Warren for being too progressive? I didn’t think so. Honestly, if anything Schultz is giving the right wing ammo to deride the left. They’ll be playing up all the competition, trying to make it look like the lefty coalition is in trouble. It’s not. We just won the House and we’re gonna sweep the rest next year with a President who isn’t named Howard Schultz.
And, finally: “I don’t affiliate myself with a Democratic Party who’s so far left, who basically wants the government to take over health care, which we cannot afford, the government to give free college to everybody, and the government to give everyone a job.”
Then go join the GOP, because there’s not much daylight between you and conservatives with this nonsense garbletalk that means nothing.
We do not need a whole lot of bluedogs to win in 2020, any more than we need the destructive, self-wounding wing of the progressives. Clinton won the popular vote partially cloaked as a progressive. So we have an enthusiasm gap for the right of the left. Schultz becomes unnecessary and surperfluous in that analysis.
For the record, I do indeed hope that some things are moving in the direction of socialism. But there will be no capital S socialism and perhaps that’s just fine. Mixing it brings the best of both-purebreds have a habit of dying early and painfully. Frontier psychology is so ingrained in our history-mind that we reflexively do things solely for ourselves instead of for each other. I would like that to change, and to that end I am willing to vote for some mandated fairness; the only other hope is a revolution. And that will probably only end up in cracked skulls, dictators, zip ties and tear gas from sea to shining sea.
There will be no evening out of serious inequalities any time soon. The rich will stay filthy rich and there will always be poor people.
You didn’t hear it from me, but that’s part of the secret sauce to make a middle class.
If you are a regular lurker here, you know that I got seriously burned by Brian Wilson on his pathetic Pet Sounds revival. I was not alive for the 60s, much less a young person in that decade so that I could say I knew what it was all about. I piece it together backwards, bit by bit because it’s a fascinating time period. Brian and his music are/were runes to help me understand, along with a host of other artists and prominent individuals who were doing their thing, having their own trip, making their own movie. And even in that psychedelic soul search for ourselves, we realized that we were all One. Or maybe that’s just what the acid told us.
Which I guess brings me to Arlo Guthrie, if I wanna keep this short. Sometimes I have a little trouble with that.
Arlo came to visit my hollowed-out downtown yesterday. Augusta is very much like a car whose headlights have been left on all night and you keep trying to turn the engine over but it’s no use. That sound is what Augusta feels like. In the space of about four or five blocks, there’s a smattering of hep signature places to eat and get twisted, several good concert venues, and overpriced art to gawk at. Further away from the heart of the city there are some seedy places for dumb green soldiers in training to blow their little paychecks on strippers and tattoos, and the rest is what little is left of black business and desolate, rundown empty real estate. We have some very talented promoters working very hard to bring high profile acts to our little town. And we’ve indeed been successful at that beyond my expectations. Jeff Mangum came here, Camper Van Beethoven likes to stop here sometimes, funnyman Tom Segura cracked us up last year, and there’s plenty more prominent to semi-prominent acts that I don’t care about who have come by or are about to come by. None other than James Brown is our patron saint. There’s a college, just not a terribly prestigious one (I can say that because it’s where I finally finished my schooling). Things open, and things shut down. Every time it looks like downtown Augusta is going to explode onto the map, something collapses. There’s just not enough people here with disposable income to keep everything thriving. I’m probably selling Augusta short, but maybe it’s because Manhattan was my childhood stomping ground. Not bragging or anything, just stating a fact.
There I go, running off at the fingers. I said I’d be brief. What I would like to say is that I saw another historic relic of the 60s last night. Arlo brought half a dozen beautiful guitars and some of his family to Augusta to celebrate the movie “Alice’s Restaurant“, which turned 50 recently and if you haven’t heard its soundtrack at least once you are a knucklehead and I don’t need to know you. I mean, I don’t really dig folk music at all, but there’s something transcendent about Alice, a sarcastic, witty, very clever skewering of authority in the days of the draft. I was probably 15 when I first heard it, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t “get” it at the time, and it didn’t “rock” so I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Eventually I’d return to it and understand its charm. And Arlo was nice enough to do about every laugh line for us for about 15 minutes, just as we remembered it and when I say us, I mean about 400 white haired folks and maybe half a dozen younger people. He told us stories-including a very funny one about Bob Dylan, made jokes, and most importantly, reminded us in song that the world needs peace and we all have a little of it inside us and the best thing we can do is share it.
Bam. That’s the zeitgeist of the 60s and the prophecy of his father fulfilled and maybe, just maybe it could be ours if we’d just give more of a damn about each other. It sounds overly sentimental and perhaps too simple, but if we could mix some of it with the absurd American preoccupation with rugged individuality and stop ignoring the suffering of our fellow man and woman as if he or she had done something wrong to cause it, that would make this life easier to bear.
One of the last things he said between songs is that he said it was great to do the old tunes but the spirit from whence they came is “coming around again”. And I hope he’s right, because we’re tearing ourselves apart politically and fucking up the planet so that it will no longer sustain us. That message alone is worth a dozen “Love And Mercy”s from Brian Wilson. That sounds mean-spirited given that Brian is obviously suffered enough in his life but perhaps not enough to stay off tour when he could no longer perform.
Anyway, go see Arlo if he pulls into your town. It’s a pleasant evening with good folks and it will take you back where you are from, and leave you renewed to take on where you are going.