Sunday, February 26, 2017

I found one picture (Matthew Barry, 1993 - 2017)

Up the steep hill from my house, a neighbor struggles to move a large section of tree that has just been sawn into sections. He pushes hard to move it across the slope, but he wants it on the lot line, so he turns to face downhill. At this point an invisible force tugs the heavy log out of his grip, and off it goes, hurtling down the slope.

Right toward my house.

I 'm sitting in my back room, getting ready to practice the bassoon. I'm not very good, and I have a crappy old plastic band instrument, but I'm getting better. Isn't that where satisfaction lies? I reach for the instrument on its stand next to the rear window and notice a large log right before it crashes through my window.

I die everyday. Often my killer is a dead tree that decides to share the wealth by falling on me just as I walk next to it. Many other times it has happened in traffic because there are so many murderous drivers out there.

I will admit to having killed myself a few times, although I am never really sure exactly how it happens and am not brave enough to find out.

I am telling all of this to my nephew Matthew (the Barry one) who is sitting with me at a small round table in a darkened basement den where we watch a baby sleep. Matthew is with me in, shall I say, a spiritual way since it is almost a week since he was buried. Since I helped bear his pall to the grave and shovel in the dirt.

"Matthew," I say, "I wish you were physically here to hear me share my nonsense. You had a smile and a kindness that really were quite solid and tolerant, particularly of avuncular nonsense. I bet you didn't know that. I bet you didn't know the power of youth to inspire the old, simply by your being, simply by being watched in the process of growing old yourself."

The spiritual sense, while real, leaves much to be desired. Matthew is in no situation to give his winning smile--as I'm sure he would--but I visualize that he does in the same way that I visualize numbers when I count in a foreign language. In other words vaguely and with great effort.

Okay, yeah, I know. Avuncular nonsense.

I'm telling Matthew about the service. "The rabbi got you right when he said you loved sports but you always wanted most of all to be sure everyone had a good time and enjoyed the game, even those on the other team, which your coaches didn't understand." I tell him about the italics and how they are meant to indicate that he was wise in a way we attribute to sages but do not to our best teachers, our children.

The spiritual sense, while real, leaves much to be desired. Grief is as much physical as anything, and right now I'm asserting with tears the reality of being the only physically sentient one among the three of us, what with the baby sleeping and Matthew being that self-contained, benign watcher he always was.

Is. Was. I don't know, Matthew. Is. Yes, is.

[Your birthday is after all the day after Bloomsday. What's that? Wander the Elysian Fields and report back.]

But memory: isn't it just a spiritual sense? And here Matthew suggests: what is the stone that the builders rejected? (Matthew, the bar mitzvah.) "Do you mean the cornerstone?" Yes, that's what he means. "I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord." Now Matthew is the psalmist.

I found one picture.  It's not much. But there's also this pipe tune--Flowers of the Forest--a funeral march. Once you get to know it, nothing else comes close to suiting such an occasion, because it's just naked sound dedicated to a transcendental sadness.

"Declaring the works of the Lord."

Sounds right, Matthew. Like gravity, bringing that huge log down the slope to crash into my house.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

[cue "Sympathy for the Devil"] Trump, Fake News, and Me

I gotta say I know where #MrMendacity #DonTheCon Trump is coming from on this fake news thing. Makes me want to call him up with some advice:

Look, man, did nobody tell you this is the way it works in the public sector? I know you got ZERO experience with this. But look: It's not like private. The media ain't your bitch, doing your beck and call just because you've got the dinero.

The media rule! They got something behind them called the First Freaking Amendment and do you think they don't know it? And you're calling them the enemy? Who are you, Napoleon? Going to shut down a few salons because of the nasty gossip?

What's getting to you is that you can't control the narrative. What's that? It means they're not going to be your propaganda machine just because you think you're a swell dude and they should just love you the way Roy Cohn loved you.


They are going to report and develop stories that they think are important for whatever got-dammed reason, and they are going to fact-check those stories out the wazoo so don't go saying they're FALSE because the only thing FALSE around here is the fly-eaten shit coming out of your gob.

Did your mama teach you nothing? No, I guess it was all that love from Roy Cohn.


Mostly what I want to tell you though is: I completely understand what you're going through because I've been there, and I think you should benefit from my experience.

The press don't tell it from your side. You might want them to. Everyone in a public position wants them to. But they have no obligation to. They are not on your side. They are on their own side, which is a complicated mix of wanting to get facts out there but also wanting to develop stories that will generate revenue.

You understand revenue, right? Revenue is kind of like debt financing ... we'll talk about that later.

So here's my story: I was the director of a public library that had a nonprofit foundation whose purpose was to raise money for the library. It was a separate entity with its own board and its own director. I was on the foundation board ex officio due to my position as library director.

Ex officio? No, no, nothing to do with your previous wives acting fishy. I'll explain later.

So anyway one day my bookkeeper came to me--library staff had recently taken over keeping the foundation records (long story)--with some suspicious credit card receipts. Wow! It looked like somebody had been skimming the foundation monies for personal purchases.

So what? Well, it's the way 501(c)3 nonprofits work. It's considered to be against the law. No, no, I don't think people want you to change it.

Anyway, I investigated it, discovered the modus operandi, I mean the m.o., and the extent of the embezzlement. It was close to $25,000.

Chump change, yeah, I know. But almost enough for two years of Mar-a-Lago dues, though, right?

I know, I know. I said "almost enough." Yeah yeah yeah I get it that the initiation fee is 200 grand.

So anyway I reported the findings to the foundation board, and they decided to turn it over to the police. The police investigated my investigation and arrested the foundation director, who was charged with multiple counts of theft.

The arrest was headline news in my relatively small corner of the universe. What made it difficult was that it involved an entity--the library foundation--that was legally distinct from my entity--the public library--but initial reports weren't making that distinction.

So I got out there to make that distinction. In the course of which I got pulled into the media maw that seems naturally to want to spread the blame.

I had a clean story, I thought: a single person had stolen money. But some in what you call the "very, very dishonest media" wanted to make it a different story: who had hired this person, and were they also to blame for what happened?

Lo and behold, one media outlet--acting on a tip--found that the embezzler had a criminal record dating from 20 years and two or three names ago! So their question was well-taken: how had this person been hired? Did no one do a background check?

It got to the point--and you will relate to this--that all this negative press was overwhelming the many good things the library and the library foundation were doing. In the hopes that I could get some coverage of that, I agreed to an extensive interview. In the course of that interview I shared some insights into the hiring of the embezzler--how backers included all the influential captains of industry on the foundation board, how a previous employer was the Chamber of Commerce, and how the job immediately previous to the foundation one was director of development at a local liberal arts college.

Out of the entire interview, guess what was used? Right: only the segment about the embezzler. None of that positive spin I wanted to get out there. None. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. In fact, I believe that they cynically and dishonestly went into the interview on a fishing expedition for one little soundbite to advance their existing narrative and with no intention of saying anything about the bigger picture. But I have no proof--only the circumstances of what they broadcast.

Fake news? It sure as hell didn't tell my side. It sure as hell didn't tell the whole story. But it was not false. All of it was true, and all of it was real.

Take your lumps and stop lying, Mr. President.

Your mother loved you more than Roy Cohn.

No joke.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

"If Something Happens": Operation Mardi Gras 2017

[Viola I and Viola II are Vladimir Putin and Steve Bannon, respectively. Conversation stolen and given to the world by ουδείς.]

Viola II: I guess you saw the green light on the costume party?

Viola I: You mean this?

Viola II: Yeah.

Viola I: Sooner than expected.

Viola II: The Dems are so predictable. All I had to do was intentionally screw up the rollout of the Muslim ban and they're on it like a duck on a junebug.

Viola I: A duke on a what?

Viola II: American saying; never mind.

Viola I: No pushback from Tweetybird?

Viola II: Are you kidding? Did you see I put myself on the National Security Council and he didn't catch it until after he signed it? All he said was, "Steve, that's fine. Just give me a heads-up."

Viola I: His ass.

Viola II: Like there's any room. Haha.

Viola I: Haha. Like a junk on a dunebuggy.

Viola II: Say what?

Viola I: Russian saying; never mind. It's the green light on the costume party that I like!

Viola II: Throw me something, mister!

Viola I: What?

Viola II: Beads. You know, Mardi Gras. The parade.

Viola I: Oh right. And there's that great carnival saying, "Let the good heads roll!"

Viola II: As long as they ID as ISIS, I don't care.

Viola I: Don't worry. The right DNA will spray. You can thank Iran for that, although I know you won't. And drugs. Lots and lots and lots of drugs. Nothing to distinguish them from the usual Mardi Gras reveler passed out in a doorway and wearing a heavy coat.

Viola II: 2, 4, 6, 8, who we gonna detonate!

Viola I: What?

Viola II: Never mind. American saying. So where's the epicenter?

Viola I: Let's see here. Bourbon and Ursulines.

Viola II: Think I'm going to see if I can't find Reince a sweet little room within the blast radius. Whatever. Counting down until February 28 at 1:59 p.m.

Viola I: Eastern bloc time. Joke!

Viola II: Haha. So, is something going to happen?

Viola I: Something is going to happen.

Viola II: Throw me something! Blame will rain down on the court system!

Viola I: I am throwing you the bluebird of happenings.

Viola II: Russian saying?

Viola I: What, you mean it's not American?

Monday, February 6, 2017

The architecture of Trump's soul

The press and the President might be at war, but in at least one very important way it doesn't matter: we already know what's uppermost in Donald Trump's mind.

Because of his tweets, Trump is the most transparent President the US has ever had. They are a virtually daily diary of the things in his mind that he can't let go of. It is really quite remarkable. What other US President has even come close to this kind of directness?

That doesn't translate into a transparent PresidenCY of course--besides the most obvious, piledriver positions like The Wall, he has nothing thought out, nor anything in the way of mature policy development; thus the need for persistent journalism--but still it is quite something.

Some people think the tweets are just a tactic, a kind of dodge to deflect attention from the important issues. If it were Steve Bannon that might be the case. But the tweets are Trump communicating directly with his constituency as he perceives it: the American people. It has been this way from the beginning, Before Bannon. Trump is no managed executive. He is the top dog, and he wants everyone to hear his bark.

This being the case, there's much to be learned from this recent tweet, about an edged-weapon attack by a terrorist in France that killed no one:

Now, compare this with his series of tweets about assault-weapon attack by a terrorist in Canada that killed six people.

That's right: nothing. Because the terrorist wasn't "radical Islamic." In Trump's mind the only kind of terrorism is "radical Islamic."

If you're a McVeigh or a Roof or a Bissonnette, you aren't a terrorist. And if any of these killers have Muslim victims? Too bad! You don't exist! The only Muslims that exist in Trump-mind are terrorists or potential terrorists.

No, Trump might not have banned all Muslims from entering the US. Yet. But he sure wants to.

According to his own revelations, Donald Trump does not believe in the rights that are the foundation of American Exceptionalism.

Thank you, Mr. Trump, for your tweets. They are probative of the architecture of your soul. Or as we used to have to say in geometry class: Q.E.D.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Let's be honest 2: How to be politically erect

So you think you know what a liberal is.

"A liberal believes in Federal government spending and ballooning deficits."

Exactly. Just like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

"I mean, a liberal believes in a high income tax rate and death taxes."

Right, like those famous liberals Andrew Carnegie and Dwight Eisenhower.

"No, wait. A liberal believes in the autonomy of the individual as against the rule of the community."

Yup. Just like Ayn Rand. Which proves the total uselessness of "liberal" as a label for anything.

So stop using it, unless you're referring to someone who's a member of an actual Liberal Party somewhere. Or unless you're just desperate for a vague and meaningless insult, which is fine--we all have a primitive urge for those. Just remember that all you're doing is flushing a bowel movement of the mind.

(Which makes me think that Twitter missed a great opportunity with its name. Given its status as the cloaca of online discourse, "Shitter"--with 140-character "crottles"--would've been perfect. "Have you seen Trump's latest crottle?" or "Trump sure crottled Australia!")

But we all want to use labels, especially political ones. They help us in this crazy, multi-tasking world by helping us shrink our thinking into easily-digested portions that won't cause us to gain intellectual heft--the Slimfast of ideas.

The downside is that they are terribly psycholaxative and are a leading cause of early-onset Falzheimer's, a recently-discovered form of dementia rife among clickbait followers both Left and Right (who did not believe their eyeswere left speechless, but nevertheless completely demolished each other with pussycat videos.)

So you want to be careful with labels. You want to use good labels--not loud, empty, mindless, clueless, and obviously fake labels like "Donald Trump"--and you want to use them responsibly, in ways that show you to be, like me, the intelligent person your parents fooled you into thinking you were.

Most importantly, however--as with most of life--a little empathy is in order. The first step is to put yourself in the position of someone being labeled. Label yourself from the perspective of someone who disagrees with or even hates what you stand for. What could you call yourself that an enemy could also call you?

It's very important to do it that way so as to avoid the dishonesty projected by the halo effect of self-congratulatory rhetoric (see Let's be honest 1), which is just lipstick on a pig (my apologies to pigs).

The easiest way to approach this is to use that most common form of self-identification, the bumper sticker. If you have the Confederate battle flag on your bumper, you will be denounced as someone who supports slavery. Even if you say "No, it's Southern heritage," it doesn't matter. Your opponent has disagreed. You have to come up with a way of defining yourself as a Southerner in a way that doesn't also say you believe in slavery. Something along this line:

Or let's say your bumper sticker says "Pro-choice." Does that mean you have to own up to being a baby-killer? Of course! "That's right! I love to kill babies! It's my favorite thing to do! What about you? What's your preferred method? An aerial bombing by US jets or a drone? But only in the Mideast of course! Never in the good ol' US of A! But still baby killing! Yeah!" OK, so that wasn't necessarily very helpful in terms of reaching mutual terms with your opponent, but it does bring you closer to agreement.

Pro-life? Don't listen to me. Listen to Rachel Held Evans, who self-identifies as an Evangelical Christian, which I won't argue with unless she knocks on my door and tries to "save" me. In which case she's a Mormon, except in the South, where you have to roll the dice, and the Devil chooses. The only door you better be knocking on is Heaven's, which is why you want to listen to Rachel, because, you know, unintended consequences. You better believe God uses spreadsheets.

Maybe the eventual result would be bumper stickers on both sides that say "Doing everything possible to promote intentional, autonomous maternity." If that's not a real rallying cry, I don't know what is.

My favorite thing to do is tell people that I'm a 2nd Amendment absolutist who believes in gun control. Talk about recoil! It's like they pull the trigger on a shoulder-fired 55 mm howitzer! But all this means is that most people don't know the 2nd Amendment. I mean, duh, a militia is a military formation, and what military formation in the Information Age doesn't have a spreadsheet of its arsenal that shows what kind of popgun every Tom, Dick, and Harriet owns, how much ammo they have, whether they came to the last muster to demonstrate firearm fitness, and if they didn't, fine their asses so we can pay for everybody's higher education! Just like in the old days except now it's women too and you better believe in this militia Black Lives Matter.

Anyway, the conclusion of this Folly O'Barry is that it's time for a new set of labels that will serve to unify rather than divide. Labels like "people who vote on pocketbook issues" or "people who care about the less fortunate" or "people who think wealth should be spread equitably" or "people who want a strong defense but not an empire" or "people who think solar energy and single-payer health insurance are smart and the government should make them happen the way it's made smart things happen throughout the entire history of this republic, like a central bank, canals, railroads, rural electrification, soil conservation, retirement insurance, and interstate highways"--which of course completely demolishes the few billionaire fat pussycat videos standing in the way.

But if you still want early-onset Falzheimer's, go ahead and call me a politically erect libtard cuckservative.

And I'll stick it on your bumper.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Let's be honest 1: rhetoric (You need a diaper change)

To digest popular political commentary these days: Lies, lies, everywhere lies. Obama lied. Clinton was "lying Hillary." Trump with his 70% dishonesty rating is of course Mr. Mendacity. Oh but the lamestream media gave him the rating, and who can believe them? They lie all the time.

What's going on? Where's the truth in any of this? Where's the truth anywhere?

The problem is that our Greco-Roman heritage hardwires all of us to lie.

Rhetoric is nothing more than a grownup version of an infant crying. The baby, by wailing, sends the message, "I am dying. If you don't come right away, I will expire and you'll be saddled with a ton of guilt for the rest of your life. I am dying. Come now and save my life." The adult responds, finding only a wakeful child squirming in a poop-filled diaper. But does the adult learn from this that there is probably no emergency when the baby cries? No. The next time--every time--it's life or death.

Rhetoric is a highly evolved, systematized linguistic way of saying "Get in here, adult, and change my diaper." The Greeks discovered it. They also discovered heliocentrism and the atom, but these were ditched for having an excess of truth about them. Rhetoric, however, they kept and developed into a blazing ball of weaponized dishonesty, aka "Greek Fire." The recipe was thought to have been lost, but WikiLeaks/KGB, in a cyber-archeological coup, managed to recover it in an underground DNC cistern in Istanbul.

According to one theory, the Egyptians were too honest to develop rhetoric. The Greeks, on the other hand, included gods in their pantheon the scale of whose lies put Donald Trump to shame. At least as far as I know, Trump has not transformed himself into a swan in order to have sex with a beauty contestant, whereas one Greek god did this so routinely--without provoking any constitutional crises and, further, with much, much higher ratings than Celebrity Apprentice can dream of--that he climbed all the way to the top of Mt. Olympus without a lobbyist--though not without a (g)rope haha.

What this meant of course is that, hey, yeah, the gods must be crazy, but right on! And thus--pulled, like Athena, straight from the, unlike Athena, mendacious loins of Zeus--were born theatre, adversarial disputation, selling, marketing, and all manner of bull-riding, which quickly (what's 2.25 centuries in the eternal scheme?) morphed into 7.481 billion people--most of them able to speak and even including Egyptians--squalling for a diaper change like an Olympian in rut.

So you have to feel sorry for the heliocentric and atomistic scientists who want to convince us that it's the earth that needs a diaper change, but they use graphs and paper titles like "The Sensitivity of Fixed Data Masks in Global-Mean Diurnal Temperature Ranges." I mean, c'mon! Did they learn nothing from the KGB/WikiLeaks discovery of Alternative Intelligence on planet (T)rump? Who do they think they are, Egyptians?

Next up: Let's Be Honest 2: Labels. Or how can a proto-fascist neanderthal like you love a progressive superhero like Jesus Christ/Richard Nixon/Groucho Marx?