March 03, 2019

Help! Please

I've just published two posts. Two posts in a day! That hasn't happened in a while. I repeat that I meant it when I said a few months ago that I wanted to return to regular posting. I'm off to a decent start, while recognizing that it is only that, a start. The first post concerns Michael Cohen's Congressional testimony and related political matters; the second is about how remarkable animals are, and how much we can learn from them (a lot). I've already done some work on the second part of the Cohen essay; I'll publish it tomorrow or Tuesday.

Meanwhile, I am almost completely broke. I mean, completely. I rely entirely on donations to the blog for my income. Since posting has been very sparse in recent months, there have not been many donations. If it were not for 10-15 regular donors -- those people I regard as my personal angels -- I would have been out of business (in every sense) some time ago.

But I have no funds to pay the March rent, or for internet service, or for the phone, or for food. This is, as they say, BIG, SERIOUS TROUBLE. If you can help, in any amount at all, I will be deeply, eternally grateful.

And there will be quite a lost of posting in the coming weeks.

I also have to find a new home, so that I can move by the end of May. (They've finally scheduled this building for demolition, in case you missed that bit of news.) I admit I'm consumed by anxiety on that front, for several reasons. Sometimes I just want to scream for about 20 minutes, and/or break a lot of dishes. Hmm ... well, I'll hold off on that. For the moment.

Many thanks again for any help you may be able to provide. I'm enormously grateful for your understanding and patience.

Thank you.

Mama's Last Hug

After contemplating the fetid swamp of Michael Cohen's testimony and related matters, we need a brief respite. Try this, the opening of a book review from the New York Times:
The two old friends hadn’t seen each other lately. Now one of them was on her deathbed, crippled with arthritis, refusing food and drink, dying of old age. Her friend had come to say goodbye. At first she didn’t seem to notice him. But when she realized he was there, her reaction was unmistakable: Her face broke into an ecstatic grin. She cried out in delight. She reached for her visitor’s head and stroked his hair. As he caressed her face, she draped her arm around his neck and pulled him closer.

The mutual emotion so evident in this deathbed reunion was especially moving and remarkable because the visitor, Dr. Jan Van Hooff, was a Dutch biologist, and his friend, Mama, was a chimpanzee. The event — recorded on a cellphone, shown on TV and widely shared on the internet — provides the opening story and title for the ethologist Frans de Waal’s game-changing new book, “Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves.”
The review is fascinating, and the book sounds utterly absorbing. By the way, the review includes the video of the deathbed reunion. Please watch it; it's one of those episodes which genuinely cannot be missed. It's deeply moving, and completely heartbreaking.

And please be sure not to miss the concluding paragraphs of the review, which describe a similar reunion experienced by the reviewer -- but not with a chimpanzee. I find all of it endlessly fascinating.

Twilight Zone America

As I watched Michael Cohen's testimony before Congress last week, the thought forcibly struck me over and over again that we are truly blessed to live in a country with such a magnificent government. How remarkable, that this large assemblage of astonishingly gifted public servants should peacefully gather together despite their passionately held, often conflicting convictions. And how additionally remarkable that they were all so unfailingly civil to one another, again despite the fact that their aims and goals in this proceeding were often directly opposed. Why, there has never been such a government, and it is difficult if not impossible to imagine that another such might ever exist upon Earth. And these people! Such people! People so lofty, they sound as if they shit marble!

Yeah. Okay. Let's be serious. I would expect anyone over the age of six or seven (and I may thereby be insulting intelligent five-year-olds) to have been devastatingly appalled by the spectacle of the Cohen hearing. The fiction was that Cohen's testimony and questioning were for the purpose of determining certain matters of controversy concerning the President of the United States. The proceedings themselves made painfully clear that no one cared about gaining a fuller understanding of the matters in question. The Democrats already knew the truth, and nothing Cohen said (or didn't say) would alter their view. Ditto for the Republicans. I don't mind a little political theater, but I prefer that such theater be somewhat more literate than what was on offer. It would probably be too much to hope for a twist or two, but that certainly would have offered momentary relief from the unrelenting tedium of what transpired. As for the questioners ... well. I will endeavor to be polite (I can do that when pressed): with perhaps one or two exceptions (although no names suggest themselves to me at the moment), the Representatives made it impossible to avoid the conclusion that they simply aren't, well, terribly bright.

And then there is Michael Cohen himself, this pathetic, repellent wreck of a man who never was. The tiresome Sad Sack act -- this bumbling, inept creature who is so, so sorry about everything (except for the acts of repentance he's now being forced to perform, which are ennobled by his immense suffering, including the fact that he's so, so sorry about everything) -- was clearly designed to convince all of us that he couldn't actually cause anyone any harm. It reminds me of Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) at the very end of Psycho: "I hope they are watching. They'll see. They'll see and they'll know, and they'll say, 'Why, she wouldn't even harm a fly.'" What can be brilliant in art, can be deeply sickening in real life. So it is here: the person who slashes people to death, but who wouldn't even harm a fly.

I do give Cohen full credit for one aspect of his performance: his face. He provided strong evidence for the truth of Orwell's observation that, "At 50, everyone has the face he deserves." A puffy, bloated mound of flesh that can barely resolve itself into a recognizable shape, with the corners of his mouth drooping so low they practically reach the floor. For the most part, Cohen maintained his quiet, Sad Sack, droopy-mouthed demeanor, but there were a few moments when he became somewhat more animated. This occurred when he was annoyed or angered by a particular remark -- and at those moments, we got a small taste of the kind of fixer Cohen was in days gone by. At those moments, his face assumed shape and had purpose, and the purpose was to destroy you: "So I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me?”

In one part of his prepared remarks, Cohen described various misdeeds and possibly criminal acts committed by Donald Trump, followed by the comment, "and yet, I continued to work for him." He repeated this several times. If you wanted to present the strongest possible case against Trump, and certainly the Democrats do, you would turn Cohen's rhetorical device on its head. Point the observation in the other direction: despite Cohen being a thug, a fixer, a profligate liar, a man devoured by greed for power and money, with a lust for commanding others to obey his orders or else -- despite all that, Trump continued to employ him. We can state the proposition more strongly still: it is precisely because of all those qualities that Trump continued to employ him. That is very damning indeed, and mounds of evidence support its truth. Why didn't the Democrats make this point? Ah, but you see the problem: they want us to believe Cohen and what he tells us about Trump. It's exceedingly difficult to ask us to credit Cohen's testimony while simultaneously telling us that Cohen is a loathsome human being, so obviously loathsome that his continued employment for over a decade reveals Trump to be a loathsome human being as well. It's a tricky business, and it's interesting to watch people try to walk that tightrope.

As for Cohen's lying, it isn't simply that he lied a lot. He lied all the time. So how can we now believe him about anything? We can't. Despite that, I acknowledge that much of what he said about Trump is true. Trump is unquestionably a liar himself, a cheat, a fraud, a conman. But I don't believe that because Cohen says so; I believe it because huge amounts of other evidence attest to the accuracy of those characterizations. And it has been possible to make such judgments about Trump for many years. This is hardly a recent development, and these are not traits that Trump acquired in the last four or five years.

What is the significance of such judgments about Trump? It's intriguing that very few commentators have reflected on this question in any detail. Sure, they'll say it's terrible, it's awful, we can't have a President like that, and so on. But what does that mean exactly? One of the very few writers I've come across in the last several days who did address this issue is Peggy Noonan. Noonan is a conservative, of course, although never a Trump supporter to my knowledge. But I don't think she's a committed anti-Trumper, either, although I don't follow her closely enough to know for certain. (With only a few exceptions, I don't follow any commentators that closely; I don't have the patience any longer, and life is far too short.) And Noonan can often be odious. But she is an intelligent woman, and occasionally she is very perceptive on particular issues.

And to give credit where it's due -- hold onto your hats, because this is to give some credit to Reagan, too (on this one matter!) -- she did write the speech about the Challenger tragedy. You can watch the speech (it's short). The conclusion of the brief remarks is memorable, and very moving:
The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and "slipped the surly bonds of earth" to "touch the face of God."
(Here's an interesting article about how Noonan was selected to write the speech, and how the speech took shape.)

Here is the passage of interest from Noonan's column about the Cohen testimony:
Mr. Cohen implied the president’s Russian policies are not and never have been on the up-and-up: “Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump-Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign, and lied about it. He lied because he never expected to win the election. He also lied about it because he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars on the Moscow real-estate project.” Mr. Cohen said he came to see the president’s true character: “Since taking office he has become the worst version of himself. . . . Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great, not to make our country great. He had no desire or intention to lead this nation—only to market himself and to build his wealth and power. Mr. Trump would often say, the campaign is going to be the ‘greatest infomercial in political history.’ He never expected to win the primary. He never expected to win the general election. The campaign—for him—was always a marketing opportunity."

None of these charges were new, precisely. They have been made in books, investigations and interviews both on and off the record. What is amazing though is that such a rebuke—such an attack on the essential nature of a president, and by an intimate—has no equal in our history. I don’t think, as we talk about Mr. Cohen’s testimony, we fully appreciate this. John Dean said there was a cancer growing in the presidency. He didn’t say Richard Nixon was the cancer. He didn’t say the president was wicked and a fraud.

This is bigger than we think, and history won’t miss the import of this testimony.
I don't think Noonan's claim that "such a rebuke ... has no equal in our history" is accurate, unless she's relying on the fact that no such claim has been made "by an intimate" of the president. And her parsing of Dean's comment about "a cancer growing in the presidency" is a little too cute. But set that aside for the moment. What is interesting is her identification of the nature of Cohen's attack: that it is an attack "on the essential nature of a president." Cohen maintains that a racist, a liar, a cheat, a fraud, and a conman is president. In short, Cohen believes that a criminal is in the White House. And that, apparently, is what the Democrats (and anti-Trumpers generally) want us to believe.

If that's true, and if it represents a unique and fateful development in the history of the United States, shouldn't we be taking immediate action? Forget impeachment. How about massive civil disobedience? How about a crowd of a million or more Americans in the streets of Washington, D.C., a crowd that refuses to leave until Trump resigns? A criminal in the White House? Doesn't that require action right now?

Yet, in our culture, this story is merely another "hot" story of the moment. Interest in the Cohen appearance is already beginning to fade. We'll soon be consumed by some other "hot" story that will demand endless commentary and numerous columns, probably by the end of the coming week if recent behavior is any guide. So, once again, we witness a disconnect of mammoth proportions, an abyss between the words that are employed and the behavior that is considered appropriate by way of response. This is simply another political food fight. A criminal in the White House? Good copy, a good topic for talk-show guests to opine on. It's just words, after all.

There is yet another problem. Let's assume that Cohen's attack "on the essential nature" of Trump is entirely accurate. Would that mean that this development -- that a repellent criminal is president, and he continues to commit misdeeds and crimes to this day -- is unique in our history? No, it doesn't mean that at all. It is most definitely not unique, very far from it. But that is a truth most people refuse to acknowledge, because to do so would fundamentally threaten their entire belief system.

That requires some explanation. Next time! (Very soon, in the next day or so.)

P.S. If you found this post of interest, I hope you might consider making a donation to the blog. I'm in desperate need of funds at the moment. I have no money at all for March rent, internet, food, and a few other basic necessities. The situation is dire in the extreme. Donations in any amount will be received with enormous gratitude, and wild dancing. Well, maybe not wild. Please see here for further details. Many thanks for your consideration. (The PayPal donation button will be found in the upper righthand corner.)

February 04, 2019

Concerning Moral Judgment, and Moral Monsters

If we are to consider the particular question of moral judgment that concerns me here, we must first identify a preliminary issue -- and then, as abhorrent as we may find it in many respects, we must set that issue aside, albeit in a strictly limited sense. That preliminary issue is this: how do we judge a person who orders that certain actions be undertaken, knowing that those actions will necessarily and unavoidably lead to the death of at least one (and, most typically, more than one) entirely innocent human being? I must add an especially pertinent fact: nothing compels the person to order that these actions be undertaken. That is, the person orders the actions freely, voluntarily and consciously, aware of what he/she is doing. That the person in question may try to convince him/herself (and others) that circumstances exist that compel him/her to take these actions is of no matter; murderers always have justifications.

Most people would agree that such a person has placed him/herself beyond the bounds of civilized society. Persons of this kind have arrogated to themselves the power of life and death: they claim the right to determine who shall live and who shall die, and there is no recourse to their decision. They will order that innocent human beings shall die -- and there is not a damned thing you or anyone else can do to stop it. This is a claim of absolute power. Full stop.

Now, consider: such a claim has been made, implicitly and/or explicitly, by every President of the United States since World War II. When you consider all the interventions, both overt and covert, engaged in by the U.S. around the world from the mid-20th century onward, there can be no question about this. (The same is true of most, if not all, of the Presidents prior to World War II; we will not review all of U.S. history here. But the proposition is painfully, obviously true since the end of the Second World War.)

What moral judgment can we legitimately make at this point? This one: all the Presidents of the United States since the end of World War II have been moral monsters. To order actions that you know will lead to the death of even one innocent human being, when you could choose differently or even refrain from acting altogether, is utterly damnable, and entirely unforgivable. How do you make amends to the husband or wife left behind, or to the children without a mother or father, or to any of the other survivors? How do you find forgiveness for ending the life of a single, precious, irreplaceable human being?

So we are left with a procession of moral monsters, who are "honored" as leaders of a "great" nation. The newest members of this procession are Barack Obama and Donald J. Trump. Make no mistake: they are both moral monsters. They both have the blood of innocents on their hands, many times over. Some may conclude that the depravity evidenced by their actions exiles both of them to the underworld of the damned and further moral distinctions are meaningless, and even offensive.

In one sense, I would not argue against that perspective. In fact, before proceeding, I will insist that we recognize the immense evil represented by anyone who wishes to be Commander in Chief of an Empire of Evil, an empire founded on compulsion, violence, suffering, torture and death. No one chooses to lead such an empire innocently. And yet, there is a sense in which one of these two most recent members of the Procession of the Damned is worse than the other.

I was prompted to reflect on these matters when I reread a striking passage from Franz Kafka. I had placed the passage at the beginning of an essay a little over two years ago. As a writer, I feel that I am always in search of Kafka's axe. These thoughts are my fumbling attempt to find an axe that might be of some momentary use. In today's world, particularly when one considers matters of political import, we need such axes every day, and usually many times a day. If we are not on constant guard, the frozen sea will inexorably overtake us. And we will die. Even if our physical form should survive, we will be dead spiritually. Perhaps that form of death is the only one that ultimately matters. Since most people fail to recognize the crucial importance of Kafka's axe, our prospects are grim. Surely this is not news.

After I reread the Kafka passage and thought about it for a while, I continued reading my essay. I didn't remember exactly what I had said about the Kafka excerpt, or why I thought the passage was especially revelatory. The major part of the earlier essay concerned a New York Times story about Trump, and how certain of Trump's policies built upon and were made possible by policies carefully and diligently pursued by Obama. Of course, for the Times the problem was not that Obama first chose and followed such policies, but that a man like Trump subsequently inherited them. In discussing the Times' treatment, I wrote:
Note the critical phrases: the Trump administration "will find some assistance in a surprising source"; Obama "and his successors could be trusted to use them prudently"; "policies that Mr. Obama endorsed as lawful and legitimate for sparing use." In two brief paragraphs, the article depicts Obama as "prudent," a man of wisdom and restraint who can "be trusted" to use frightening and lethal powers "sparingly." And, of course, Trump is none of those things. For the Times, we should be terrified of the man who would make greater use of these powers, but not of the man who established the legality and legitimacy of such powers in the first instance.
I also discussed how the Obama administration claimed it had the "right" to murder anyone in the world, any time it wished, for any reason it chose or invented, and that it need never tell anyone about its actions or the reasoning behind them. The Obama administration claimed absolute power, the power of life and death itself. About this, I said:
You can appreciate how difficult the truth would make the Times' unceasing efforts to portray Obama as a "prudent," restrained and wise leader, one who can be trusted with all-encompassing power. If the nature and full meaning of Obama's policies are made explicit and if they are genuinely understood, we must conclude that Obama is a monster. When Trump uses the same powers -- and we can be certain he will -- he will be a monster, too. But he won't be the first one. ...

While the [Times] article makes the point that Obama fought against any legal finding that the policies in question are illegal, a battle which he won, the author works very hard to leave the impression that all would have been well, if only all future presidents were as "prudent" and "restrained" as Obama. With Trump's election, these calculations are invalidated. In this view, Trump is the problem, not Obama. This narrative ignores completely the extent to which Obama devoted himself to making certain that these policies would become a permanent part of State power going forward.
As I reread my previous essay (and there is much more detail in the full article), one thought kept repeating in my brain, growing steadily louder and more insistent: Why, Obama is far worse than Trump. It's obvious! Because Obama knew what he was doing.

In this way, the Times makes such a judgment of Obama unavoidable. In its own way, it's perfect, and a powerful example of unintended just desserts: in its unceasing attempts to justify and idealize Obama, it presents all the evidence necessary to pass the most severe of negative judgments against him. Of course, such a judgment requires that one identify fully and truthfully the nature of Obama's policies -- and this, above all, is the identification that the Times, and most mainstream commentary, is resolutely determined to make impossible.

The most common criticisms of Trump reinforce the judgment that Obama is far more culpable than his successor. According to most commentary critical of Trump, he is either an idiot or crazy. Or both. Let's take those criticisms seriously: how much does an idiot or a crazy person understand about the nature of the policies he pursues? Any such understanding will be incomplete and even accidental, at best. But the Times and most commentators endlessly insist that Obama was brilliant, "prudent," and "restrained." Obama was aware of the great dangers represented by the policies he championed -- and yet he did all he could to make certain that those policies would be protected from all legal challenges, and that those policies would be permanently grafted onto the operations of the State. As for Trump, if his critics are to be believed, an achievement of that kind would be entirely beyond his abilities, strictly limited as they are by his idiocy and lunacy.

So there you have it: on the one hand, an idiotic lunatic who unquestionably represents great and lethal danger, given the immense, terrifying powers at his command -- and on the other, a thoughtful, knowledgeable, reflective and exceedingly careful president who made certain that such powers would be available to all subsequent Commanders in Chief. Who do you think is the guiltier of the two?

It's not even a close call.

********************

Many thanks to the six people who made donations in response to my post yesterday. I'm deeply grateful. I'm still $500.00 short of what I need for February rent and a couple of other first of the month bills. And if I can't pay the rent by the end of tomorrow ... well, it will be the beginning of very bad things. The pain is a bit less today -- hence, this post -- but it's still there. I'm still considering going to the ER in the next few days. We'll see how it goes. If I do go, it would be nice to have a little money for whatever prescriptions I might be given (it seems fairly obvious to me that a few prescriptions will be in order). At the moment, I can't afford to buy anything, including food. Donations in any amount will be hugely celebrated. And my gratitude will be immense. Thank you.

February 03, 2019

SERIOUS TROUBLE: Pain. Hospital. ???

I haven't forgotten what I said about writing regularly in my last post, a month ago. I also haven't given up that commitment, despite the fact that my last post was published, well, a month ago. Unfortunately, my body and my physical health have been less than cooperative in recent weeks, to express the difficulty in the mildest of terms.

During the last several weeks, I've been in varying degrees of pain -- sometimes relatively mild, occasionally quite bad. My threshold for pain is very high. (I've learned this from medical episodes when doctors told me on several notable occasions that most patients would have been screaming, while I merely complained, albeit sometimes loudly and insistently.) But if the pain isn't substantially reduced this coming week, I think I'd better get myself to an ER to find out what the hell is going on. Regular readers will know that it takes a lot to get me to consider going to an ER, since my last experience with an ER and a brief hospital stay was utterly abysmal. But what I've been going through is precisely that: a lot.

Here's an additional consideration. I would expect -- and hope -- that if I go to an ER, I would come away with one or two (or more) prescriptions, for pain, for the underlying malady(ies), etc. And I am almost completely broke. Until last evening, I was completely broke. But two very generous and kind people made donations, so I have some funds. However, the February rent is due -- so those donations go directly to the rent fund.

But I'm about $1,000 short of what I need for the rent and the other first of the month bills, internet and phone in particular. I'm not including food or incidentals in that. The thousand is for the most basic of expenses. And the rent must be paid this week (by the end of Tuesday, if at all possible), or I'm in a world of hurt (I suppose I should say, a second world of hurt, since I'm already in one).

As things stand now, I can't even afford to buy aspirin, let alone pay for prescription drugs. I need aspirin; I may need the prescription drugs. I may need them very badly. But if I have no money, there seems little point in bothering to go to the ER. Yeah, they'll keep me alive (we hope -- although I, and many others, are known to observe that when you're sick, the last place you want to be is in a hospital) -- but for what? So I can starve when I get home? (Oh, yeah: I have about two days' worth of food. That's it.)

So the situation is as my title has it: SERIOUS TROUBLE. If you are able to help, and would care to, I will be deeply, deeply grateful.

And in the next day or two, I'll even try to get a post or two done. Before the pain became a major interference with my functioning, I'd had a bunch of posts lined up. I meant it about writing regularly. And now, among other studies in subliterate idiocy, we have the Northam-blackface farrago. Honest to God, this culture is exhausting. I have some observations I'd like to make. I'll try.

In the meantime, if you can, please help. I desperately need it at the moment.

Many thanks for your time and consideration.

January 02, 2019

Practical Matters

There's a new post directly below this one. As I was completing it, I thought: Yes. I can still write. Blessed relief.

That post explains what happened to me during December and the holidays. In short: nothing good. Health crises, and a spiritual crisis too (previously undiagnosed -- writing that post helped me identify it). I'm slowly beginning to get back on track, both to organize my apartment move in the next five months and to return to writing regularly. I'm working on several new posts at the moment. One of them (and probably more than one) deals with certain aspects of tribalism. Among other things, we will pay a visit to our old chum Andrew Sullivan; when it's not nauseating, his pitiful, ridiculous lack of self-awareness is instructive.

I didn't want to muck up the earlier post with details of my current financial state, so I'll divulge the unpleasant details here. I'm $700 short of what I need for the first of the month bills -- rent, power, internet, telephone. Ah, yes: food. Better make that $800. If at all possible, I should pay the rent by this Saturday; after that, the rent is technically late. Bad things may well ensue, possibly very bad things. My situation would have been considerably worse, were it not for a few very kind and welcome donations made in the past few weeks.

I am determined that this year will be very, very different from last year with regard to my writing -- primarily because I am determined to write regularly. There is more about that in the previous entry. To put it in different terms: if I'm going to survive this year (and the move), I must write regularly. I'm not ready to die -- and I'm also not ready to shut up, not just yet. I still have some things I want to say.

So if you can help out with this month's expenses, that would be wonderful indeed. I will be deeply grateful.

Many, many thanks for your time and your consideration.

Reclaiming My Sense of Wonder

I offer my very best wishes for the New Year to all of you who read this. I hope you had a joyous holiday season. My holidays were utterly dreadful. I had one major health crisis, and several minor health crises. I'm stable now, and sort of okay. Kind of. Most of December was spent in bed, often sleeping 14 to 16 hours a day. It wasn't exactly a restful, refreshing sleep, but more on the order of: Can I manage to survive another day? That sense of imminent, deadly peril is gone for the moment, thank God. Now I only have to deal with overwhelming anxiety, when I contemplate everything that must be done so that I can move to a new home by the beginning of June.

My holidays were additionally awful because of the piercing loneliness that has suffused my life since Sasha died, as I described in my last post. I'm slowly learning how to work through (or around) that, but the tremendous sense of loss continues to overcome me at unpredictable times. I still think I see Sasha out of the corner of my eye now and then.

Life without cats is not my idea of life at all. But I can survive it. I suppose that was the theme of the holidays for me: Can I survive this? I did. Now I merely need to find a new place to live, clean up this apartment and pack up my belongings (I'll be getting rid of lots of stuff, including many books, CDs and DVDs), and then engineer the actual move. All of which seems close to impossible given my very bad health. Well, I have five months to get it done. I can get it done in very small increments, which is the only way I can get it done.

Speaking of moving: if anyone who sees this knows of apartments in the Los Angeles area (including the vast suburbs) that are cheap but livable, please do let me know (or if you know someone who knows someone who knows someone who might know). I've been in this apartment for 21 years. During that period, and in the last decade in particular, our corporatist fucking overlords (sorry, that "fucking" slipped out, but I mean it: fuck those corporatist fucking overlords) have priced apartments in Los Angeles proper into the realm of the ridiculous. Apartments that once rented for $600 or $700 a month now go for $2,000 and more. You're no doubt aware of the "housing crisis" afflicting many of our larger cities, a "crisis" by means of which the ruling class systematically destroys all those who do not belong to its anointed, blessed rank. If I were younger and healthier, it would be bad enough; in my current circumstances, it verges on fatally alarming.

But I am determined to survive this, too. I am not yet done here. Besides not being ready to die, I still feel the need to write more. I wasn't able to do the writing I had planned in December because of the intervening health crises. But I've started pulling together some new posts. I hope to complete a few of them soon. And my goal remains to resume writing and posting regularly. A few readers have told me that they intend to continue supporting me to the extent they can regardless of whether I ever write another word. I cannot tell you how profoundly moved I am by such a gesture, to say nothing of how deeply grateful I am for the help on a practical level.

But I realize that most readers prefer to support a writer who actually, you know, writes. And I myself would be ecstatic to be that writer again and, you know, actually write. Regularly. This entry will now go in a direction I had not anticipated when I began it. My reference to ecstasy caused me to look once more at an essay of mine that is among my own handful of favorites: "Cultivate Your Sense of Wonder, and Live Ecstatically." Here are a few brief excerpts:
If I had to select just a single word to express my deepest feeling about the world, and about humankind, it would be that one: wonder. I consider it a measure of how unevolved we are that so many people appear to be capable of that feeling only when they contemplate an imaginary, supernatural plane. It is hardly surprising that our world holds so much unnecessary suffering, when so many people are willing and eager to condemn it to second-rate status in favor of one they've made up out of whole cloth. ...

Extraordinary events have transpired in history before, and they might again. We need a miracle, but not one delivered to us from a supernatural realm: we require a miracle that we create.

It can happen. Hold on to your sense of wonder; if you do not have a sufficiently strong one, then develop it. For me, it is the most precious resource in the world.

Live in the sense of wonder, and in the world of joy. Take it, feel it and pass it on.

That's sometimes all you can do -- for someone, somewhere, one day. It's everything. ...

I now add that, when you engage in this process, you yourself live ecstatically -- today.

And that is everything.
In the last few years, and especially in the last several months, I've forgotten my own advice. I've been dangerously out of touch with my own sense of wonder. It's not difficult to understand why it happened, given the dreadful events in my life in recent times. Still, I consider it a grievous error. Fortunately, it's an error I can now correct. I hereby reclaim my sense of wonder and my dedication to living ecstatically. I reclaim them to the depths of my soul.

If that strikes you as hokey and sentimental, I urge you to reconsider the matter. Cynicism and bleak despair hardly exhaust the range of "adult" emotional responses. In today's world, cynicism and bleak despair are easy. Wonder and ecstasy require courage and strength. Wonder and ecstasy are brave.

You may consider that to be boastful and self-congratulatory. You bet your sweet, wondrous ass.

Related: Practical Matters

December 02, 2018

In Hope of a New Beginning

This has been a wrenching and devastatingly difficult time for me. Unfortunately, it continues to be so; I don't expect it to change significantly for at least another month or two.

I titled the last post "Alone" because, with Sasha's death, I am all alone for the first time in exactly fifty years, since 1968. During that half-century, a few people have shared my life and living quarters -- but the one constant was that I always had at least one feline companion. For much of the last 25 years, I've had as many as three. But now, I am completely alone. It's an alien experience for me. I hate it. No, that's not strong enough: I absolutely loathe it. Without another living presence here, I barely feel half-alive myself. I'm also too ill and too poor to provide a home for another cat, at least to do so in a responsible manner.

Yet, I do desperately want another cat. For that to happen, I need to resuscitate myself. I also have to strengthen myself as much as possible because I have to move by the beginning of June of next year. The first step in my own revival will be to begin writing regularly again. If I'm able to do that, a few other miracles might be possible. I have many topics in mind; I know I'm alive primarily because a number of subjects and areas of inquiry continue to fascinate me.

I will have a new post up on or before Friday of this coming week. If I'm able to work faster, I will. Because of the damned calendar, I must pay the rent by Wednesday, along with the internet and phone bills, and a couple of other expenses. At the moment, I'm about $600.00 short of what I need. So, as always, I will be very deeply grateful for any help readers may be able to provide. I must add that I extend my profound thanks to all those who have made donations in the last few months. If not for you, I would have vanished by now. I'm sorry I haven't sent any thank you notes recently, but until the last couple of days, it's taken all my strength just to get out of bed. I'll be writing some thank you notes, too, in the coming week.

So, a month in advance of the New Year, I will start a new beginning of my own. I don't know if my new writing will be at all elegant or polished. But at least it will be new writing. And I think, based on my track record, that it will contain some original observations. I've been pretty consistent on that front. Speaking of which: has anyone else noticed that more and more people have begun writing and discussing the phenomenon of tribalism? I became aware of it more than a year ago. I wonder if my writing had anything to do with it. Some of my major pieces on tribalism were published -- wait for it -- almost ten years ago. Here's one important essay: "The Ravages of Tribalism: Learning to Hate 'The Other.'" (If you follow the links in that article, you'll find additional pieces on the subject.)

As you might expect, I have many additional thoughts about tribalism, gathered in the time that has passed. I also want to say a few things about what some others are saying about tribalism. It won't be in the nature of a spoiler to tell you that I often don't agree with the discussions I've come across. So tribalism gets added to my writing To Do list. That subject alone could keep me busy for another ten years.

But there are a lot of other issues and events to talk about. So I'll get busy on that, and I'll be back in the next four or five days (and maybe sooner). And if you have some spare change clanking around, it would be wonderful if you could throw it in this direction. I hardly expect to have a joyous holiday season, but it also doesn't have to be horrific beyond describing.

A multitude of thanks for being there, for listening, and for your consideration.

November 08, 2018

Alone

Sasha died last Friday. Her ashes were delivered to me just a short while ago.

I had known she was dying for the last several months. I didn't mention it here because I couldn't bear to think about it, although I was all too well aware of it every time I looked at her, every time I held her in my lap and stroked her and gently scratched under her chin, while she purred very loudly, every time Sasha and I curled up in bed together. But to put the fact that she was dying in writing here ... well, that would somehow make it more real than I could tolerate.

She died peacefully, here at home. Sasha was a wonderfully sweet, completely adorable little girl. My apartment, my life seem desolate without her.

Now I must somehow regroup, gather what strength I can, and go on. I have to find a new home and move in the next six months. And there is writing to do. Oh, yes, I've seen some stories recently that have reawakened my writing impulses. And I may write a bit about grief and dealing with it. God knows I've had more than enough experience with loss and grieving in my lifetime. Here's one post on that subject from six years ago: "Never Enough." That essay concerns living through, and miraculously surviving, the AIDS crisis in the gay community. I got it right in that post. I know that because rereading it for the first time in at least five years made me cry, again.

So now I cry for all those lives lost to a ghastly disease -- and all the deaths that might have been avoided if we as a culture had been more compassionate and caring, and if we had chosen differently -- for Sasha, and for all the cats that have graced my life with their treasurable love and companionship -- for all the beloved friends I've lost to other causes -- for any of you who suffer for reasons that might have been mitigated or even avoided altogether, or for any of a multitude of other reasons.

Please forgive me for the following. I must be crass for a moment. At present, I'm worse than completely broke. I had managed to get an increase in the credit line on the credit card I use for most of my purchases (groceries, certain bills, etc.). That's mainly what I've lived on for the past couple of months; it's also how I paid for all the expenses in connection with Sasha (which were considerable, and none of which I regret in the slightest -- if I had thought it would save her, I would have robbed a bank).

That increased credit line is gone now. So I'm without funds for any of my living expenses for the month -- internet, phone, electricity, groceries. I would obviously be profoundly grateful for any help you may be able to provide.

I'm going back to bed now. My body was already in terrible shape, and the loss of Sasha is wrecking me at the moment. I'll be back as soon as I can; hopefully, some writing will help to refocus me and provide me renewed strength to go on.

My deep thanks to all of you.

September 03, 2018

Just Out of Reach ...

Many, many thanks to the seven additional people who made donations in response to yesterday's post. I'm deeply grateful to all those who help to keep me going. As I've often said, without these blessed donors, I'd have been out of business, and out of, well, everything, long before now.

I'm still $240 short of what is needed for the rent. It's very important (for reasons explained in the previous post) that I pay the rent by Wednesday, if at all possible. After that, I may have to enter into difficult negotiations with the owners. I truly don't want to have to do that. So if you have a little extra money available and would like to help obtain a badly needed reprieve for a writer who would still like to do some writing, I would be thrilled, relieved, and thankful.

I thought I'd better publish this on Monday evening, rather than waiting until Tuesday, because the anxiety and lack of sleep from which I've been suffering hit me very hard today. I've barely been able to get out of bed at all. And I'm not sure when I'll be able to drag my ass out of bed tomorrow morning. So while I'm up, I thought I should take care of this since, as the saying goes, time is of the essence.

I'm hoping that things have been a bit slow on all fronts because of the holiday weekend. Perhaps some more readers will drop by on Tuesday as the world returns to its regular schedule. That's my hope, at least. And then I might be able to pay the rent and the internet bill ... (And heck, even though it's been years since I've been out to have a meal at a restaurant, isn't $240 about what people -- some people, anyway -- routinely spend these days for a nice dinner? Hell, these days, that might be what people spend for a nice lunch. And it would save me from eviction.)

All my thanks once again, for all your kindnesses and generosity.