May 16, 2019

Crisis

I suppose some people might wonder why I'm not completely hysterical. Why would I be hysterical? The building where I've lived for 22 years is scheduled for demolition, and I have to be out of my apartment no later than June 4. At the moment, I have no new apartment to move into. So, I have two and a half weeks to find a new place, pack up all the stuff I've accumulated over the years (and throw away and/or give away a lot of books, CDs, and DVDs, among other things), and make the move happen.

The good news is that there are apartments available in a price range I should be able to manage (which is to say, the new rent would be very close to my current rent, perhaps $100-$200 more per month, but that would be manageable, once the relocation expenses are disbursed to me -- see below). The bad news: I have no money to pay for the security deposit and first month's rent, or to pay for the move and/or storage of my belongings. Why is that the case?

Regular readers will know that I'm entitled to a relocation allowance. Since I'm over 62 and have lived here so long, I will be getting $20,050. Some owners make it easy on their evicted tenants: they provide a check for the full amount to help with the move. Alternatively, the owners can set up an escrow account, which is what the owners of my building have done. And the way the escrow account is set up means that, in effect, the relocation allowance functions as a reimbursement system: once you've paid the expenses of the move (or any part of them), they will reimburse you upon presentation of an invoice, contract (i.e., lease in this case), or something similar. So you have to have the money in order to get the required documentation, so that you can get the money. See how that works?

But I don't have the money. I've been round and round on this, and I can't make any headway. Up until last week, I thought I'd be able to work it out. I was wrong. So here I am, two and a half weeks away from life on the street. I've said it before, and I'll say it once again: I will not survive on the street. Given my health, homelessness is a death sentence, and probably one that would be actualized in very short order. Which, quite frankly, would be a blessing, if it came to that.

I don't believe for one moment that it has to come to that. You're doubtless wondering why this is happening at the very last minute, since I've known for a year about the forced eviction. Perhaps I haven't made clear just how bad my health is. Much of the time (and for most of the last year), it's all I can do to get out of bed for several hours a day, manage to eat a meal or two, and sit at the computer for a while. I kept thinking that I still had plenty of time -- and, honestly, a couple of months is plenty of time to move, I've done it in far less time than that, in fact, I've done it in a couple of weeks in the past -- and I also kept thinking that I just had to start feeling better soon. I never started feeling better.

So basically, I have to do my best to raise some money in very quick order. To cover the first month's rent, security deposit (assuming a rent of around $1,100-$1,200/month), and moving and storage expenses (assuming I have to store some items, as I'll probably be moving into a studio with less room than I have now), as well as contacting one of the services that come and pick up a bunch of junk and dispose of it, I'll need $3,500 to $4,000. I don't know if it's even possible to raise that much -- but I regularly see (we all regularly see) people raising far greater sums for projects that are often dubious, or at least questionable. My project is simple: it's my life. Without a new place to move into, I'm finished.

Now, I will be getting the $20,050 eventually, but to judge from the experience of other tenants who have already moved, I may not receive it nearly as quickly as I would wish. But I'll get it at some point. So I would be more than happy to agree with anyone who wished to make a donation for the purpose of this move that, once I've received the relocation funds, I'll refund the donation, plus an additional fee which you should feel free to suggest. If you want to do it that way, well, bless you, first of all, and just let me know. I'll send you an email confirming that I'll reimburse you for your donation once I have the funds.

A semi-related point: I held off on this post until today because I had made a deal with myself. Given my inability to write for most of the past year, I felt I had to publish at least one substantial new essay before regaling you with these tales of my wild adventures. I did that yesterday, and I enjoyed putting that article together (although the idea of war resulting from "bad intelligence" utterly infuriates me). I felt I had to do that as a gesture of good faith, if you will. And even though I have an incredible amount of stuff to get done in the next few weeks, I'll try to publish at least a briefer post every two or three days, or however often I can manage it. Writing should be a welcome break from the tedious tasks associated with moving.

So that's what's happening here. Although I'm not hysterical, I certainly am experiencing a considerable amount of steady anxiety. Sleep does not come easily these days; sometimes it doesn't come at all. Wouldn't it be lovely if I'd received a check in the full amount of the relocation allowance several months ago? All this would have been avoided. Ah, well. I am still confident that I can make all this happen in the next few weeks. Once I have the necessary funds, if I have the necessary funds, it's all manageable, even if very tough and pressured.

Thank you for listening. Bless you for your support and concern. Many people have to deal with situations far more grueling than what I've described here. And I am very far from giving up. I still derive a great deal of pleasure from far too many aspects of the world to consider giving up at this point. And, big mouth that I am, I still have a lot to say on many subjects. (I'd publish all my notes from the past year or so if I thought they would be intelligible to anyone else. But they wouldn't be. Sometimes they're not even intelligible to me months after I made them. "What exactly was I thinking when I wrote that?" I'll sometimes wonder. I'm sure it was absolutely fascinating, but occasionally I'll have no idea at all what it was.)

All right. I'll shut up about all this now. Many, many thanks again.

May 15, 2019

How Many Damn Fucking Times Do I Have to Explain This?

Please give your serious consideration to my profoundly upsetting personal dilemma. I am basically a serene, tranquil soul, trying my utmost best to navigate successfully (and serenely, and tranquilly) through a world beset with, well, insanity. Not merely insanity, but violent insanity. And not simply violent insanity, but violent insanity bolstered by nonstop hatred, and the desire to eliminate all traces of "the Other." And "the Other" is anyone who does not belong to any particular individual's tribe, however that tribe may be defined (on a racial, religious, political or other basis, and/or some combination of these factors). Such hatred and eliminationist desires are not conducive to sustaining and enhancing serenity and tranquillity. Not hardly.

So there I am, minding my own tranquil affairs, when I happen upon an article in The New Yorker. The article concerns the question of whether Trump is leading the United States into a war with Iran, either intentionally or "inadvertently" (!!! -- more on that point in a moment). It begins with a hint of promise, i.e., it appears the author might have more than a glancing familiarity with facts and history:
The United States has a long history of provoking, instigating, or launching wars based on dubious, flimsy, or manufactured threats.
Hey, not bad, you're thinking, right? The balance of the first paragraph and the second paragraph concern a confrontation with Iran that the Reagan administration engineered in 1986. The article presents a straightforward case of deliberate American provocation, which succeeded in getting the desired response.

Then we have the beginning of the third paragraph:
The most egregious case was the U.S. invasion of Iraq, in 2003, which was based on bad intelligence that Baghdad had active weapons-of-mass-destruction programs. The repercussions are still playing out sixteen years (and more than four thousand American deaths) later.
No. No, no, no, no, no, no. NO. O farewell, serenity! Tranquillity, farewell!

Please note that these two sentences are the totality of what this author has to say in the article about the criminal and illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. Yet these two sentences provide conclusive evidence that this author understands next to nothing about U.S. foreign policy and the forces that direct it, and also reveal that the author has entirely internalized (perhaps inadvertently!) the norms and values of American exceptionalism.

You may think that is a lot to claim on the basis of two sentences. I shall now explain. Take the first sentence: " The most egregious case was the U.S. invasion of Iraq, in 2003, which was based on bad intelligence that Baghdad had active weapons-of-mass-destruction programs."If you read commentary on current events with any regularity (and you have my utmost sympathy if you do, as well as my condolences for your lost serenity), you will recognize this formulation: it appears that many of our analysts and "experts" now attribute the invasion of Iraq to "bad intelligence."

Over a period of more than ten years, I have written numerous articles (at least 15 or 20 major essays, as well as many shorter entries) examining the entirely fraudulent nature of "intelligence" in general. I have also examined many particular instances of "intelligence" being entirely, often grievously wrong -- and "intelligence" is almost always wrong. Here, I will provide only a brief summary of the argument, but I will provide links for those who are interested in the details of the reasoning and evidence involved (either for the first time, or as a reminder).

From "You, Too, Can and Should Be an 'Intelligence Analyst'":
Intelligence is completely irrelevant to major policy decisions. Such decisions are matters of judgment, and knowledgeable, ordinary citizens are just as capable of making these determinations as political leaders allegedly in possession of "secret information." Such "secret information" is almost always wrong -- and major decisions, including those pertaining to war and peace, are made entirely apart from such information in any case.

The second you start arguing about intelligence, you've given the game away once again. This is a game the government and the proponents of war will always win. By now, we all surely know that if they want the intelligence to show that Country X is a "grave" and "growing" threat, they will find it or manufacture it. So once you're debating what the intelligence shows or fails to show, the debate is over. The war will inevitably begin.
...

To repeat: the decision to go to war is one of policy, and the intelligence -- whatever it is alleged to show -- is irrelevant. Don't argue in terms of intelligence at all. If you do, you'll lose. The administration knows that; many of its opponents still haven't figured it out, even now.
In the same article, I later wrote:
I therefore repeat my major admonition, and give it special emphasis:
NEVER, EVER ARGUE IN TERMS OF INTELLIGENCE AT ALL.
It is always irrelevant to major policy decisions, and such decisions are reached for different reasons altogether. This is true whether the intelligence is correct or not, and it is almost always wrong. On those very rare occasions when intelligence is accurate, it is likely to be disregarded in any case. It will certainly be disregarded if it runs counter to a course to which policymakers are already committed.

The intelligence does not matter. It is primarily used as propaganda, to provide alleged justification to a public that still remains disturbingly gullible and pliable -- and it is used after the fact, to justify decisions that have already been made.
For newer readers, here are two notable statements of this principle that I have often referenced. From Barbara Tuchman:
Acquiescence in Executive war, [Fulbright] wrote, comes from the belief that the government possesses secret information that gives it special insight in determining policy. Not only was this questionable, but major policy decisions turn "not upon available facts but upon judgment," with which policy-makers are no better endowed than the intelligent citizen. Congress and citizens can judge "whether the massive deployment and destruction of their men and wealth seem to serve the overall interests as a nation."

...

The belief that government knows best was voiced just at this time by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who said on resumption of the bombing, "We ought to all support the President. He is the man who has all the information and knowledge of what we are up against." This is a comforting assumption that relieves people from taking a stand. It is usually invalid, especially in foreign affairs. "Foreign policy decisions," concluded Gunnar Myrdal after two decades of study, "are in general much more influenced by irrational motives" than are domestic ones.
From Gabriel Kolko:
It is all too rare that states overcome illusions, and the United States is no more an exception than Germany, Italy, England, or France before it. The function of intelligence anywhere is far less to encourage rational behavior--although sometimes that occurs--than to justify a nation's illusions, and it is the false expectations that conventional wisdom encourages that make wars more likely, a pattern that has only increased since the early twentieth century. By and large, US, Soviet, and British strategic intelligence since 1945 has been inaccurate and often misleading, and although it accumulated pieces of information that were useful, the leaders of these nations failed to grasp the inherent dangers of their overall policies. When accurate, such intelligence has been ignored most of the time if there were overriding preconceptions or bureaucratic reasons for doing so.
Many (most) people (doubtless including the author of The New Yorker article) will nonetheless insist that "intelligence" is of vital significance, and that it depends on specialized knowledge, i.e., "secret information." That, too, is a lie. Here is Ray McGovern, who worked for the CIA (also excerpted in my article, "You, Too, Can and Should Be an 'Intelligence Analyst'"):
The craft of CIA analysis was designed to be an all-source operation, meaning that we analysts were responsible - and held accountable - for assimilating information from all sources and coming to judgments on what it all meant. We used data of various kinds, from the most sophisticated technical collection platforms, to spies, to - not least - open media.

Here I must reveal a trade secret and risk puncturing the mystique of intelligence analysis. Generally speaking, 80 percent of the information one needs to form judgments on key intelligence targets or issues is available in open media. It helps to have been trained - as my contemporaries and I had the good fortune to be trained - by past masters of the discipline of media analysis, which began in a structured way in targeting Japanese and German media in the 1940s. But, truth be told, anyone with a high school education can do it. It is not rocket science.
As I noted in the earlier article, after much additional reading and analysis, I concluded that the 80% figure is almost certainly too low; I now think the more accurate figure would be 90%, or even 95%.

For still more about the colossal fraud of "intelligence," I refer you to "Played for Fools Yet Again: About that Iran 'Intelligence' Report," which contains a lengthy excerpt from Chalmers Johnson about the decades-long failures of the intelligence agencies. You can also consult "'Secret Information': Giving Up Your Life for a Vicious Lie." The first half of this essay describes how the pattern of willingly and enthusiastically providing obedience to authority figures, in part because the young child believes the authority figures' claims that they have "secret information" denied to the child, is set in very early childhood, while the second half examines how the "intelligence" fraud cashes in on the severe damage inflicted on the child, now that she/he is an adult.

As for the claim that the invasion of Iraq resulted from "bad intelligence": c'mon. I mean, c'mon.Millions of people around the world passionately protested against the imminent invasion of Iraq. It was entirely obvious to them that Iraq represented no serious threat to the U.S., as that fact was obvious to anyone with ten functioning brain cells. Moreover, a multitude of evidence establishes beyond all question that the Bush administration knew Iraq represented no serious threat to the U.S. The decision to invade and occupy Iraq was one of policy -- a policy to which the key players had been committed since the early 1990s. They made no secret about it; to the contrary, they announced their preferred policy for the Middle East at every opportunity. That policy, in brief, was that the United States had the right (and the responsibility, they would often add) to shake up and rearrange the Middle East as the U.S. determined was necessary. To be clear: this policy was a fully bipartisan affair, and a policy to which both Democrats and Republicans (with a few notable exceptions) were fully committed.

As noted above, the intelligence did not matter, whatever it may have shown. The decision was one of policy, period. In some of my essays mentioned above, I noted that I was well aware that my views about "intelligence" were those of a small minority, and that I was astonished by how difficult it was to convince people even to consider altering their traditional view. Moreover, I have continued to watch as some people who have finally agreed me about this quickly revert to their previous, standard opinion about "intelligence," after some time has gone by. All of this confirms my view on another, related subject: that the damage inflicted on us as young children can last a lifetime. In this case, as in almost every case, the child is taught that obedience to authority is the primary virtue. The child is also taught that the authority figures in its life have "secret information" that is utterly inaccessible to her/him, and that she/he must therefore trust them completely, without any question whatsoever. This perfectly maps the adult's conviction that "important" government officials are privy to information that informs their decisions, information to which ordinary citizens can never have access, and that we must therefore obey the officials without question. Most people are unable to alter these beliefs to any significant degree once they are adults.

That most people still fail to grasp this issue results in one small benefit for the perceptive observer: watching "serious" writers, like the New Yorker author, eagerly offering an explanation of the Iraq war which is George W. Bush's preferred defense: Hey, don't blame me! The intelligence made me do it! I suspect the New Yorker writer would not consciously choose to provide succor and comfort to Bush in this manner -- but that is precisely what she has done.

I will mention only briefly one aspect of the New Yorker article which reveals the author's bias to the careful reader. In addition to the Iran episode involving the Reagan administration and Iraq, the article mentions the Vietnam War, the Spanish-American War, and the Mexican-American War. I feel compelled to mention that a much more colorful discussion of the loathsome lies and intentions behind the Mexican-American War will be found in Hampton Sides' work, which I excerpted here. For example:
The simple truth was, Polk wanted more territory. No president in American history had ever been so frank in his aims for seizing real estate. ...

Perhaps to dignify the nakedness of Polk's land lust, the American citizenry had got itself whipped into an idealistic frenzy, believing with an almost religious assurance that its republican form of government and its constitutional freedoms should extend to the benighted reaches of the continent then held by Mexico, which, with its feudal customs and Popish superstitions, stood squarely in the way of Progress. To conquer Mexico, in other words, would be to do it a favor.
Do you notice any significant omissions from the article's list of the U.S.'s "long history of provoking, instigating, or launching wars based on dubious, flimsy, or manufactured threats"? I can think of two, neither of which is lost in the mists of time: Kosovo and Libya. Curious, that. Both of those war crimes were deliberately instigated under Democratic administrations, and very recent ones. Both involved a monumental series of lies, including claims of atrocities that never happened. ("Oh, but we had to stop a genocide!" Except the genocide never happened.) For a lengthy discussion of Kosovo, please consult this post; on Libya, you may consult "If Pictures Were Arguments ..."

Let's turn our attention to the second of the New Yorker's sentences about the vast war crime of the Iraq invasion and occupation: "The repercussions are still playing out sixteen years (and more than four thousand American deaths) later." Here, the New Yorker writer has adopted an additional role. You may remember the old joke about the attorney who gestures to his client, a young man who is accused of brutally murdering both his parents, and who is obviously and unquestionably guilty. "But Your Honor! Surely we must be able to show some compassion. He is barely a young man, he's only 23 -- and he's all alone in the world. He's an orphan!" Yeah, it's truly heartbreaking to see the pain of a vicious murderer over the crimes he reveled in committing.

Four thousand entirely unnecessary American deaths is certainly a tragedy -- although it must always be kept in mind that the U.S. was the aggressor in a war of choice, a war of aggression against a non-existent threat. And there is no draft; therefore, every American soldier involved in the Iraq invasion and occupation was there by choice. No, that is not the end of the inquiry; these moral questions of responsibility and judgment are complex. "No, I Do Not Support 'The Troops'" discusses these and related issues.

The New Yorker fails to mention that, in its brutal war of aggression, the U.S. completely destroyed an entire country, destabilized an already exceedingly dangerous area of the world -- and it unleashed a genocide of world historical proportion. This is not even acknowledged.

I confess that, even after many years of writing about these issues, this kind of self-blinded, narcissistic self-absorption, to the exclusion of even a passing awareness of the pain and horror our government inflicts around the world, still takes my breath away. I repeat here part of what I wrote in the essay linked immediately above. I include this excerpt because I think I utilized a strategy that is useful in trying to break through this wall of resistance:
Since Americans' narcissism is so all-encompassing, and because the superior value of American lives and goals as compared to those of all other peoples is regarded as an axiom never to be questioned, let's put these horrors in terms that Americans might understand. Let's make it about you.

For ease of computation, we'll use approximate figures. Assume the U.S.'s war crimes have resulted in one million deaths. That is roughly 1/26 of the total Iraqi population. An equivalent number of American deaths would be 11.5 million people. 3,000 Americans were murdered on 9/11. In terms of casualties, 11.5 million deaths represent 3,800 9/11s -- or a 9/11 every day for ten and a half years.

Let me repeat that: a 9/11 every day for ten and a half years.

Perhaps you think these casualty figures are highly inflated. Fine. Cut them in half. That's a 9/11 every day for a little over five years.

Every day.

Do you begin to understand now?
That the United States government is fully prepared to do this again, either with regard to Iran or perhaps, in time, elsewhere, is a crime so hideous as to be almost beyond contemplation. But make no mistake: whatever future conflicts may occur -- and barring the unimaginable case of another country attacking the U.S. (which, given the certainty of an utterly obliterating counterstrike from the U.S., would appear to be virtually impossible) -- they will not be "accidental" or "inadvertent." Every war the U.S. has ever fought was the result of deliberate calculation, often over an extended period of time, and a course decided upon to achieve certain desired goals (usually, territory coveted for resources and/or for the markets that would be provided to the U.S.). My series Dominion Over the World contains nine essays which chart the development and implementation of the U.S. policy of global hegemony.

The bipartisan elite Establishment continues to believe that the U.S. is entitled to dictate events around the world. Yes, even the sainted Obama believes this one. You cannot be elected to national office in this country unless you believe it. Oh, yes, the odd Senator or Representative might get through now and then -- you have to reinforce the people's faith in "democracy" and its wondrous workings! -- but that's not enough to change the direction of events. But if the U.S. government should go down this route once more, there will not be fires hot enough in Hell to punish their putrid, rotted souls.

P.S. If you found this post of interest and that it offered a perspective of some value, I hope you might consider making a donation to the blog. I'm in the midst of an emergency donation drive, necessitated by the fact that I (along with the other tenants in the building) am being evicted prior to the building's demolition. I have to be out of my apartment by June 4, and I don't have all the funds required for a new apartment and associated moving expenses. So, yes, it's a crisis. A fuller explanation is provided here. I would be most grateful for your consideration. Many, many thanks. (The PayPal donation button will be found in the upper righthand corner.)

April 07, 2019

So Close, Yet So Far

I offer my very deep and sincere thanks to those who made donations in response to my post. You've almost succeeded in pulling me away from the abyss of disaster. Unfortunately, I'm still $230.00 short of what I need for the April rent.

I would dearly love to be able to pay the rent by early Monday (tomorrow) morning. If I could do that, it would almost be as if I hadn't been late with the rent at all (almost). And since I will need the cooperation of my current landlord in making the move out of here, it would be wonderful if any further lateness could be avoided. Good relations can be crucial in situations like these, so any help in reaching the rental goal sometime today would be fantastic, and hugely appreciated. (And to be sure, it would still be greatly appreciated tomorrow!)

In addition to addressing all the tasks associated with the coming move, I'm also doing my best to get the writing started again. For the last month, I've had in mind a series of posts, with the working title, "Listen, While I Lie to You." These days, it seems to me that everywhere I turn, lies are the coin of the realm. It's true not only in politics -- although lies are obviously the common language of that corrupt trade (and one of the first articles in the series will be the completion of my discussion of the Cohen testimony, and the avalanche of lies encountered in any discussion of the Russiagate controversy) -- but in science (or "science," as it should perhaps now be designated), and cultural events generally. And the theme of lies has many connections to much of my writing about the profoundly damaging lies inflicted on young children by parents and other authority figures. I think it will prove to be a rich area of exploration, and I already have seven prime examples ready for analysis.

So I'd like to get to all of that as quickly as I can, but the first step has to be taking care of the rent. Any help will be greeted with exclamations of joy, and any and all other indications of happiness you deem appropriate (or inappropriate, as the case may be).

Thank you, as always. Your kindness and generosity continue to overwhelm me.

April 05, 2019

Very Sick, Very Scared

So. The last several months have been especially awful health-wise. And the last couple of weeks ... on some days, I could barely get out of bed at all. Simply exhausted, and felt terrible. Barely ate, too, which probably was no help. Anyway, over the last few days, I've become a bit more mobile, and then last night I realized ...

Today is the fifth of the month, the last day on which I can pay my rent without being officially late. And I'm about $1,000 short of what I need. If you add in internet and phone service, it's closer to $1,200. The situation would be worse than that, but for a very kind donor who recently made a donation which will cover food for most of the month.

I will contact the property manager in a while, to let him know the rent payment will be late. He and I have a good relationship, and I've only been late a couple of times in the last few years. So it shouldn't be a problem if I get the money together by Monday or Tuesday. But if it's later than that, I'll probably be in serious trouble. Remember: we only have until June 5 to get out of this building, so they can tear it down, put up an immensely more profitable building, and charge two or three times the current rents. If they can evict anyone for nonpayment of rent, they might leap at the chance. So I'd like to avoid that, if at all possible.

My very bad health also means that I'm way behind in finding a new place to live. Two months left! I think I'm so unnerved at this point that I'm approaching numbness. I shall simply have to pull myself together as best I can, and get on with it. (I have identified several good possibilities for a new place, but haven't yet been able to follow through on them.)

And I had planned a lot of writing for March. I truly had. This weekend, I'll go back over my notes and see if I can revive some of it. And start publishing some posts, and acting as if I'm not dead yet. 'Cause, you know, I'm not.

If you can help out with the financial situation, that would be great. Given my health, homelessness would be ... well, I won't say that, but you probably know what I'm thinking.

My deepest thanks, as always. Bless you for your kindness.

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.

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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.