Welcome to the Moment of Truth, the thirst that is the drink.
Dateline: Los Angeles, Friday the Thirteenth, March 2020. Corona virus empties all the stores of their toilet paper. The beginning of the end. But let’s not dwell on that, shall we not? Shall we? Shan’t we? Let’s shan’t, shan’t we?
I’m taking the cutest little pills for high blood pressure. They’re called “Chlorthalidone.” They’re about as big as those little... I don’t know if you remember these, I know not a lot of you aren’t old enough ...little saccharine tablets. My Grandma had a tiny serving vessel, with a tiny spoon. I think it was silver, or at least silver-plated. It was the shape of a cake pedestal with a lid, hinged at the back. It was about the diameter of a Kennedy half-dollar, and at most two-inches high with the lid closed. Oh, it had a tiny tongs, too.
And they work, these little chlorthalidones! Well, in tandem with Losartan. No one knows why. My BP ranges from normal to mildly high after only a week of taking these. I have my own personal blood pressure cuff and electronic sphygmomanometer! I get to take my blood pressure twice every day! So much fun!
So, what is the value of a human life, as a society that has shrugged off the burden of Enlightenment humanism collapses around us? Whoa! That’s an abrupt transition!
Okay, here’s another one: no one knows where blood pressure comes from. Some say it was created by space aliens to prop up the pharmaceutical industry, which provides said aliens with safe and effective baby formula, with which they turn their unfertilized polyhedrons into babies. Some say it’s the curse of King Tutankhamun for the violation of his tomb and theft of artifacts therefrom. He especially misses his coffee table. He’s got to spend eternity holding a “World’s Greatest Pharaoh” mug full of Trader Joe’s Breakfast Blend because some Englishman wanted a fancy piece on which to show off his magazines. Still others call blood pressure “the silent killer” because it’s not a particularly noisy form of hypertension, except when it causes fits of yelling, and then it’s called “Mr. Furious’s Revenge,” after a character Ben Stiller played.
My blood pressure was very high last summer. No one knows why. It’s been high, probably, for the past 16 years. I’m sure I’ve done a lot of damage to my body by not getting it diagnosed and treated. Let that be a lesson to me.
So, what is the value of a human life, as a society that has shrugged off the burden of Enlightenment humanism collapses around us? Depends. Depends what mood we’re in. You can’t legislate morality! You have to have morality as an unspoken basis for your governance from the get-go. You either value human beings over profit, or you don’t. Guess which way our governing philosophy leans? Do not ask, it leans on thee. No one knows why.
Did everyone receive their census notices? Very important you fill that out. They need to get an accurate count of everyone in the USA. That number will decide the minimum amount of UBI they’ll need to dole out to keep us from rioting, how many cops they’ll need to hire to control us if we do riot, how much teargas they’ll need to deploy, how many rubber bullets to issue.
I wonder if eating a couple of bananas during the day would lower my blood pressure. I think I read that it would, although no one knows why. I’m not going to look it up, I’m going to assume it’s true.
I want to inject the name Samuel Siegfried Karl Ritter von Basch in here before I forget. He was an Austrian Jew who died in 1905, the same year Einstein published his Special Theory of Relativity and his Extra-Special Theory of Relativity, as well as several very unpopular graphic novels about anthropomorphic bats who got into sword fights. That’s a little-known fact, and a subject for another time.
Right now, I’m concerned with Samuel Siegfried Karl Ritter von Basch, the Austrian Jew. He invented the sphygmomanometer, a device for measuring blood pressure without penetrating the skin. Up until then, you had to stick a hollow needle in an artery and watch how far the blood pushed a column of mercury up a tube. I am so glad I don’t have to do that to myself, two times a day for three weeks. That would not be entertaining.
1881, that’s the year Samuel Siegfried Karl Ritter von Basch invented the sphygmomanometer. “Ritter” was his title. It was the second-lowest rank of Austrian nobility, just above Scraper, just below Crouton. He was given this title years after escaping from Mexico with his life, no one knows why.
How did he end up in Mexico, you ask? You might as well ask how he became the personal physician to Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, because that’s what he was just before being run out of town by Benito Juárez, who chopped off Maximilian’s head, which decapitation put Samuel Siegfried Karl on notice to flee. Perhaps Señor Juárez resented the claim of an Austrian to imperial reign over Mexico, as was a common feeling among other Mexicans. But, you know, around then, the Austrians were pretty hot shit. They were about to mate with Hungary and become such an empire that the simple assassination of the heir to their throne could ignite the Great War. I don’t think it was worth it, myself.
After the Battle of Puebla, the first one, the one Mexico won against the French, which is celebrated on Cinco de Mayo by frat boys and which eventually led to the French sending more troops the following year and this time winning another Battle of Puebla, Napoleon III made Maximilian the Emperor of Mexico, as part of the settlement of an old cribbage debt. So you can see why Maximilian might have been a bone in the throat of the Mexicans.
Benito Juárez and Samuel Siegfried Karl might have been friends, under other circumstances – although under vastly different circumstances they might not have had any more effect on each other than a butterfly does on a hurricane. But as it was, Samuel and Benito had a few things in common: they both rose from obscure origins from a minority population within larger empires ruled by descendants of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine. They might have bonded, the Yiddish- speaking Jew from the ghetto of Prague and the Zoogocho-speaking Zapotec from Oaxaca. But, in the end, Benito identified Samuel as one of the oppressors, and Samuel saw Benito as one of the unruly rabble. So Samuel fled back to Austria, to invent the sphygmomanometer and become Ritterized.
And so, the death of Samuel Siegfried Karl Ritter von Basch in the same Miracle Year as Einstein’s four cosmos-changing papers, and 30-or-so graphic novels of no great impact, was the clarion call that the Enlightenment, and the Euclidian universe, had come to an end. Since that time, we’ve been living in an unresolved dialectic, a smoothie which refuses to become smooth, the clunky barbarism of oppression and war rattling around in a Scrabble-tile bag together with genius and compassion personified. We have capitalism at its peak right now, helping destroy everything for the short-term pleasure of the few, the few cocaine addicts, snorting cocaine like there’s no tomorrow, no one knows why, cavalier about destroying their marriages and their futures, no one knows why, cracking in the rattle bag against the tender arts, the noble sciences, the care work, education, and other hoi polloi, as we settle in to watch it all clatter and smash from our isolated panopticons.
What will win? Will anything win? Will anything worth living for synthesize out of this Chex- mix dialectic, where the Chex represent the stuff you’d rather wasn’t in the mix because it’s made of aluminum? I heard China, where the virus was first identified, has just reported zero new infections. How about that? Should we celebrate prematurely and go right back to full throttle, burning up the world, wiping our asses on every precious thing the Einsteinian cosmos has bestowed? You realize that this is the perfect opportunity for the ruling class to decide either to let us die, or that every human is worthy of life. Which way do you think they’re leaning? Do not ask, for they lean on thee.
Can’t we keep growth and progress on pause for a little longer? The fact that our isolation has somehow happened concurrently with a drop in greenhouse gas emissions and a drop in my blood pressure, no one knows why – but it can’t be mere coincidence. I’m sure there’s causation in there, somewhere.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!
Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
The virus came to the lumpy orange buffoon at midnight, Eastern Daylight Savings Time. “Who are you?” asked the human insult.
“I am Covid-19.”
“Well, I’m Donald 45. The best president America has ever had.”
Then the virus got into bed behind the self-import flatulence and spooned up nice and close to his blobby carcass.
“If I don’t touch my face, you can’t hurt me,” said the chief executive idiot. “And I never ever touch my face,” he added, touching his face.
Meanwhile, all across the land, people were either coughing, or listening to someone else cough with dark foreboding. There was nowhere to escape to. Italy was closed. China too. The sandy echoes of coughing capered around among the population, like a million snakes with the legs of goats, the little goats who caper in the little goat capering videos. Echoing layers of coughs, a palimpsest of coughs, a sneeze, and coughs dancing around the sneeze, as far as the ear could hear, as far as the heart could fear.
Covid-19 hissed softly into the overbaked narcissist’s earhole: “Listen. The children of the night, making phlegmy music. Those symptoms are the offspring of your denial.”
“No they’re not,” squeaked the executive putrescence, his voice quivering like a statue sculpted from butt fat and bad cholesterol. “No denial. No denial. Denial no.”
The words “denial no” echoed away into the diseased and polluted world, folding itself in amidst the cacophony of sickness, a worm in the labyrinthine tunnel of a collective intestine. Somewhere in the darkness, Joe Biden punched a voter in the face.
Salvos of gunfire percolated across the farm belt. It was farmers, tilling their fields at night to avoid the instant melanoma sunshine brought, harrowing the fields with automatic rifles. At one point, the clown president had issued a clown presidential order banning all technology except guns, creating crises of impracticality so numerous and severe that the order had to be rescinded within five minutes of its proclamation. Such an extravagant taste of the Second Amendment, however, engendered a heady rush of patriotism in the people, and they refused to give up many of the new practices they’d instantly adopted, citing the inviolability of venerable tradition.
In the cities, packs of feral health care workers, long unpaid, terrorized the streets. They all carried diseases picked up from their patients, Covid-19 being only the most prevalent contagion. There was Ebola, measles, Legionnaires’, SARS, TB, rabies, trench mouth, and kennel cough. The lay populace hunkered in fear as gangs in scrubs, self-segregating by institutional color, colloidal bismuth pink, cinder block green, Necco wafer gray, moribund blue, swarmed the dumpsters and looted the shops in search of what vestiges of food, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer remained.
Canada closed its southern border. The wall at the border with Mexico had been so cheaply made, thanks to contractors pocketing most of the cash, halva never crumbled so easily. In the moonlight slouched its silhouette of ruin, a papier-mâché Parthenon left overnight in the rain. Texans lacking health insurance stole into Mexico, felled as they emerged on the southern bank of the Rio Grande by machete-wielding, hazmat-suited Central American refugees and other thwarted migrants, out-of-work smugglers with rifles, and sundry other guardians of the as-yet- relatively-unaffected Latin quarter-hemisphere.
Out on the high seas, one of Betsy DeVos’s stray yachts drifted, rolling up crests and sledding down into troughs, unmanned and derelict, an uncanny conceptual art portrait of its owner’s intellect. A lone gray whale rose to the surface, took a look around at the vast, swelling and slithering ocean, opened its mouth, and coughed.
Back at the White House, the virus’s voice slipped into the ear of the blemish in chief like a cursed Japanese girl sucked over the lip of a well and down into emptiness: “I will take your family members one by one.”
“Start with Eric.”
“Then each of your friends will fall to me.”
“Joke’s on you. I don’t have any friends.”
“Then the voters. First to die will be the old and infirm.”
“Good, I prefer the young and firm.”
“By then, the bulk of the nation will have expired. Your base will be especially hard hit, thanks to your rallies. By election day, though, all that will be left will be children.”
“I’m very good with children. Children love me more than any other person. I am their favorite. I’ll lower the voting age to four.”
“They’re all going to vote for Bernie.” “Crazy Bernie will still be alive?”
“Why are you surprised? If you’re still alive, anything is possible. And the Senate has very good health care. But the CPAC vectors will take out the GOP in both houses. You are destined to be the worst, most incompetent, losingest president in the history of the United States.”
“Is there anything I can do to get popular with the kids? I mean, besides the Nazi dog- whistling?”
“I’m only telling you this because I feel sorry for you, and because you’ll never be able to accomplish it: you should become friends with Gary.”
“Gary the Gray. The gray whale. Gary the coughing whale. Kids on Instagram love him.”
“How am I supposed to make friends with an ocean-going, I guess some people call it a fish, but they’re wrong, they don’t know it’s technically a mammogram – I can’t even swim. I mean I can, very well, in fact, I’m better than Aquaman, but I don’t like it.”
“You have to go on Instagram.” “I prefer Twitter, obviously.” “He’s not on Twitter.”
“What kind of fish doesn’t have a Twitter account?”
“A popular one. Look.” The virus produced his cell phone and reached around from behind the executive spillage’s ample buttocks to show him. The screen’s glow illuminated a shaken, unhappy, deflated jack-o’-lantern of a man. “He was up to 6.5 billion followers, now down to three. Oop, two. Oop, one billion. Uh oh.” Together they watched the numbers tumble, 500 million, 100 million, 40 million, 6 million and plummeting.
Outside, the sounds of panic, violence, and chaos fell away like the feathers and beak of a Chernobyl chicken. All that was left was silence sparsely sprinkled with coughing, the lonely pertussis percussion once heard after speeches by Jeb Bush before he wised up and started begging for applause.
Everything was damped under a swiftly-falling blanket of silence. It seemed the world had died.
Then a delicate hiss arose, and strengthened, fattened, grew rich with jangling and rattling like a trillion saltshakers shaking simultaneously. Just cockroach choirs, at first, but soon it was a chitinous chorus of every bee, wasp, beetle, cricket, mite, flea, fly, and mosquito, singing, as one, their grateful prayer to the 4 Horsemen of Disease, Toxin, Radiation, and Human Stupidity, a prayer of praise for delivering the apocalypse.
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Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
Disclaimer: an unholy slew of cultural references will follow.
The thought of Al Pacino as an Ashkenazi Jewish-accented Holocaust survivor made my sister not want to watch the new Amazon Prime show, Hunters, about Nazi-hunters in the late 70s, produced by Jordan Peele. She loves Peele, but didn’t like Pacino as Hoffa in The Irishman, and also, in a nod to identity politics, she wondered why they didn’t get a real Jew to play Nazi- hunting millionaire Meyer Offerman.
There’s a lot about the show that doesn’t work, and a lot that does. Pacino’s accent is not horrible. Saul Rubinek’s ebbs and flows. Carol Kane’s is perfect in a way I don’t understand why Rubinek’s isn’t. Josh Mostel, son of Zero, not Zoro, who played King Herod in the film of Jesus Christ Superstar – “prove to me that you’re no fool/walk across my swimming pool” – is perfect as Carol and Saul’s rabbi, although the writing doesn’t rise to the level of the performances. German actress Barbara Sukowa, who played Rosa Luxemburg in Margarethe von Trotta’s not- great biographical film of the Jewish anarchist, is featured in an episode as a possibly-wrongly executed possible Nazi.
Why this show? Why now? Because Nazis are coming out of the woodwork, all over the world, acting like “Nazi” is a valid lifestyle choice, and, somehow, whether or not it’s all right to punch them has been a persistent moral question. And that’s the big moral question of the show: is it all right to kill Nazis three decades after they committed their Naziness? Or does, as Nietzsche had it, the abyss gaze back into you? Do you turn into a monster if you hunt monsters and kill them? Another current show, The October Faction, tackles this question, and answers that, yes, monsters are people, too, and going around killing them is immoral. At least, it is in a world where monsters are people, too.
But those are vampires, warlocks and such. Not Nazis. In Hunters, the Nazis are irredeemable monsters. Mustache-twirling monsters. Obvious in their evil, evil in their declared ambitions. There’s even an idealized “Proud Boy” style monster. It’s a relevant show! It’s not anywhere as good as HBO’s Watchmen, though. I’m not even sure Hunters is good at all. I think the question of whether it’s good or bad is left ambiguous, like the question of whether killing Nazis makes you as bad as a Nazi. There’s some cleverness to all the ambiguity, but not much.
I’ll tell you a few things I don’t like about the show: I think it’s pretty ignorant about Jewish culture. There’s some beloved chicken soup in the story made by someone’s beloved Saftah, although why they use the Hebrew word for grandmother rather than the Yiddish is never explained. The characters aren’t Israeli. But, whatever. Anyhow, beloved Saftah’s beloved chicken soup is a character in itself, a bygone, mourned, treasured friend of blessed memory. But the soup looked like crap to me. I wouldn’t eat it. The broth was too clear. It had no golden hue, not even slightly. It looked like chicken, parsley, and pimento in spring water. I resent that chicken soup being cast as a real Jewish chicken soup. That’s a goyishe food stylist’s whitewashed image of chicken soup.
Another thing I hate is that the characters call every monstrous person a “golem.” “Golem” has a very specific meaning. A golem is a protector who gets out of control. Tony Soprano, if he maybe does you a favor, and you in return owe him a favor, and the plot spins off the rails for your character, that’s a Golem. A Nazi doctor is not a golem.
Also, like I said, Josh Mostel, son of Zero, is very good in the show. But he tells a story that’s supposed to be like an aggada or a fable, and it goes nowhere. And yes, many aggadot go nowhere, it’s true, but as a writer you have your choice of good ones. Or you could at least choose to have your characters tell their stories well. We get the point, but it isn’t delivered effectively, and it’s clearly the writer’s fault, the actors are acting on all cylinders. This is a flaw throughout the show. Characters attempt puns or quips or wise sayings, and they’re just not wise or quippy enough.
Back to the point of the so-called moral question: why has it been so unendurably durable in the past three years, this question of how to react to Nazis? It’s tempting to answer, “How should I know? I’ve wanted to crush Donald Dump’s skull by slowly, one by one, stacking cast-iron dunce caps on it, ever since he took office.”
But we must leave aside the visceral, teeth-gnashing impulse to stab and stab and stab. The daily realization that Donald Dump is president, which strikes me every day anew with the blunt force of anaphylactic shock, makes me gnashy and stabby in my jaw and fists. But that’s my emotions talking, not my reason. Still, my reason doesn’t tell me that I need to spend any time weighing the moral considerations of punching Nazis, or killing them, or torturing them to death, or stabbing a corpulent racist, or crushing his cranium with iron hats.
Even though it officially ended 75 years ago, the Nazi project to exterminate people is still offensive to me. Go figure. I guess I’m just a tender snowflake.
Maybe the show’s point is that, yes, you should really kill Nazis at every opportunity, but just be aware that it will turn you into a monster. It’s morally right to make that choice, but, y’know, that’s what happens. There’s no true hero that doesn’t become an anti-hero, by the very nature of true heroism.
You’ll notice I don’t criticize the show’s lack of subtlety. The show’s been panned mainly for that lack. I find it an objection that’s grown tiresome.
There’s a line from an FBI unit chief in the show, advising an agent to lie to get a search warrant: “You get comfortable with being uncomfortable with your conscience.” It’s a good line, especially coming from a law enforcement officer, as a statement about the questionable morality of moral flexibility.
An article in The Atlantic complains, of course, about the show’s lack of subtlety: “There’s no subtlety to be found here; no contemporary insight into the alienation, disempowerment, and fear of ‘the other’ that might compel weak people to embrace such banal veneration of power.”
I like that the writer tries to evoke Hannah Arendt a little bit there and fails. Too subtle, writer!
And as you read that Atlantic article, you skip over a link between paragraphs that promises to tell you that, “‘Jojo Rabbit’ Is a Fraught Tonal Experiment.” I don’t need to read anything in the Atlantic about Jojo Rabbit. It’s not a tonal experiment, it’s a perfect sardonic satire. “Oooo, it’s an experiment! It’s so weird!” Shut up. Read Evelyn Waugh or Muriel Spark, doofus. Get a clue. It’s like when Paul McCartney listened to the Beach Boys and discovered via Brian Wilson that a bass line doesn’t always need to go to the root note of the chord. Yeah, maybe you could’ve listened to, say, Mozart, and found that out.
Anyway, any show that plays the Werner von Braun song by Tom Lehrer under the beginning of a scene has at least a hint of greatness, even if it’s someone else’s greatness. And, yes, it’s played under a scene with Werner von Braun in it! How’s that for lack of subtlety?
You know what’s not subtle? “Beowulf.” It’s about a hero who goes after a monster. And, you know, it’s Medieval. The Middle Ages aren’t famous as a time of morally complex thought. At least, it’s not emphasized in their brochures. And yet, the titular hero of “Beowulf” is implicated in sin – it’s clear he makes a sacrifice, risking his soul by using a sinful weapon to defeat his final enemy. It’s the same point in Hunters: go ahead and kill the monster, but be aware that, by doing so, you sacrifice your innocence.
What’s all the fetishizing of subtlety, anyway? I think it’s related to the anti-Bernie reaction in the Democratic Party. Many are the tweets by genteel bougie moderates declaring, unsubtly, that they’re put off by the yelling of the Jew, his unstylish suits and hair, and his endless unvarnished harping on the evils of evil. Can’t he couch his rhetoric in less provocative policy discussions that will subtly, softly, gradually guide us, in the fullness of time, to something maybe in the neighborhood of, or perhaps a short trip across town from, justice? Sure, we all want justice, but not noisy, Jewy justice in my back yard.
I’m not sure, but I have an instinct, that subtlety is wasted on the greedy, the selfish, the über- wealthy, the tribally racist, the nationalistically fascistic, and the cavalier destroyers of the planet. And subtlety is definitely wasted on Nazis.
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Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
In 1224, two years before he died, St. Francis of Assisi had a vision of a seraph with six wings who gave him stigmata. He was the first one to do that schtick, wounds magically appearing on the body at the points where crucified Jesus had them.
I remember, at maybe age twelve, when I first read about people developing stigmata in, I think, The People’s Almanac, edited by the father-son duo who were two-thirds of the editorial team that brought us The Book of Lists, Irving Wallace and David Wallechinsky. It inspired me to seek more such entertainment. My world, for a while, was a magical one in which Sasquatches, yeti, and Moth Men appeared and disappeared, evading empirical confirmation of their existence. Mysterious meteors with no apparent source punctured car windshields on cliffside roads somewhere in the British Isles. Frogs, or yellow rain, or fish, fell from the skies, reported by locals but defying explanation by experts. On stone plains, ancient aliens once made uncanny designs, still visible, but only from high above the Earth. Kaspar Hauser, The Elephant Man, lycanthropes, and other historical human enigmas peopled my inner universe, along with disembodied spirits. I grew up in the boring suburbs, so a Fortian cosmology was my escape.
So by what right dare I mock those who say there’ll be pie in the sky when you die?
I suppose there are many who believe in the sky pie. After all, crazy beliefs run rampant these days. There’s a huge number of voters devoted to Donald Dump, the actual worst human being under all circumstances: at a party, he’s boorish, social climb-y, pussy-grabby, and a crappy dancer. In politics, he’s a liar, a kleptocrat, and a narcissistic, capricious sack of bile. In business, he’s a cheat, a purveyor of poor-quality goods, and a deadbeat debtor. On the golf course, he’s a wiffer, a piker, a poor sport, a cheat, and he cuts a gruesomely ungainly figure in his garbage attire and even trashier torso. These devotees believe he’s being persecuted worse than Jesus was.
Cicero asserted that all peoples, regardless of the silliness of their specific beliefs, have some concept of the divine. He considered human belief in divine power, or divine something, to be a law of nature. Although we balk at generalities like this about human nature, or nature vis-à-vis humans, it’s hard to disagree with him, just looking around at people. Including myself.
In any case, at least since the 13th Century, when St. Francis first started spontaneously spouting blood from holes in his hands, feet, and side, the idea of sacred suffering in spiritual union with the passion of Jesus has provided an entertaining twist on the idea that all the nastiness of life is somehow worth it.
From the perspective of secular history, these ideas are meant to convince those screwed by the power imbalance of an unjust society that it’s actually okay that things are unfair. In the world of the dead, rewards and punishments will be distributed according to the perfect justice of God, unlike here on Earth, where the sinful flesh of humanity causes those in power to pervert justice to their advantage. Boy, are they in for a rude awakening in the world to come, huh?
But is it really such an ordeal to have stigmata? Women bleed every month, and, while they’ve been known to complain about it, you generally don’t see them trying to use menstruation as a ticket into paradise, or a get-out-of-Hell-free card, let alone claiming it’s comparable to the suffering of the saints. Stigmata shmigshmata. Get over yourself.
A few consider themselves lucky enough to have been chosen to suffer in harmonic sympathy with Jesus. They are Victim Souls. To make themselves holy, they might even mortify their flesh with self-flagellation, penitential self-denial, and wear uncomfortable underwear made of scratchy burlap, or even barbed wire. Hey, no pain, no gain!
The Victim Soul is a Catholic thing, mostly, but it’s an old idea. Some of the Talmudic rabbis were tortured to death, a process reputed to have brought merit to their souls. And in the beliefs coming down from the Vedas in India, fasting and other self-denial can bring divine merit, even to someone with impure motives. Also in the Vedic legacy, we find the idea that economic class and duty are divinely ordained. Pretty convenient for those born to rule, and as for those born to serve, they get an intangible blessing as a lovely parting gift.
I guess in a world in which suffering is unavoidable, it’s just good old positive thinking to believe misery, persecution, disease, poverty and such, serve some function in the divine scheme. In some ways, the belief gets its pithiest explanation from Stephen Schwartz, who wrote the music and lyrics for the 1970s musical, Godspell, in the song, “All for the Best.”
The song explains that, well, let’s suppose your life is rough, while
“Some men are born to live at ease, doing what they please, Richer than the bees are in honey [...]
The best in every town, best at shaking down Best at making mountains of money”
If you’re feeling unhappy and resentful
“Don't forget that when you get to Heaven you'll be blessed! [...] all your wrongs will be redressed”
“Someone's got to be oppressed! Yes, it's all for the best!!!”
The Monty Python movie, The Life of Brian, ends with a cheerful character played by Eric Idle being hoisted on a crucifix next to Graham Chapman’s long-suffering Brian, and leading all the crucified in the song, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” It’s not just a humorous juxtaposition, a Golgotha hillside of people nailed to crosses, left to die, whistling and singing a happy tune. It’s really a jab at one of Christianity’s main functions: to control the people’s disgruntlement with the social order. It’s a pretty deep satirical cut at the godspiels. You know, the godspiels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Them apostles, with their godspiels.
Bob Geldoff, anti-poverty activist, former front man of the Boomtown Rats, and portrayer of Pink Floyd in the movie of The Wall, met Mother Teresa, nurse, nun, and erstwhile bête noire of deceased drunk contrarian Christopher Hitchens, in Ethiopia in 1985, while gearing up for the Live Aid concert Bob was organizing. I think Teresa was going to sit in on drums with Twisted Sister. Or maybe I dreamed that. Now, he’s Sir Bob, and she’s Blessed Teresa and dead. At the time, the two argued a lot as they ministered to the impoverished Ethiopians. One thing they argued about was Teresa’s claim to see the suffering of Christ in the face of every famine- afflicted child. Bob, contrary to Cicero, had no concept of the divine, and found the conceptual transformation of actual suffering people into symbols of totemic martyrdom, dehumanizing, objectifying, and distasteful.
Because, what is a Victim Soul, but a martyr, or at least a person thought to share in the martyrdom of the world’s most famous martyr, Donald Dump? I mean, Jesus?
And that’s what the defenders of the poor, persecuted über-wealthy, and their pundit mouthpieces, want us all to be. Except they don’t value the martyrdom of Jesus. They consider Jesus a sucker, or at best a victim of his own magical thinking. Expect a lot of that sentiment this year, especially if Bernie wins the nomination. “Oh, sure. let’s just give everyone free health care and education! And a pony!” Because that’s what we are to them: either spoiled children, or suckers gullible enough to accept our sacred suffering. If we fight, we’re jealous; if we acquiesce, we’re stupid. It’s called, blaming the Victim Soul.
In the meantime, the real Victim Souls are the rank-and-file white people who resent the moral burden of having to care about anyone outside their tribe. They feel victimized by the PC Police, who insist they take into account those in the world who’ve been robbed, raped, and enslaved by conquering armies whose descendants still profit with privilege. Oh, how great is the pain of the white man! O, his eternal suffering. Ecce Albus Homo, Behold the White Man, The White Man of Sorrows. Remember, he had to render unto Caesar, too. Except he only remembers that when he wants to criticize those demanding equality, never when he should be holding the über- wealthy accountable for sucking up and despoiling all the riches of the Earth.
The Victim Souls, whether followers of Jesus or of Dump, are a paradox, which is the one good thing about them. They feel like they’re his special children, and yet in a way they’re very specially forsaken by him.
It’s uncanny how long this idea that suffering is good for the soul has maintained its power. The solutions to our problems are difficult, they’ll require effort, but it’s not complicated. It’s not brain science or rocket surgery: suffering is bad for you. It makes you suffer! Misery is not ennobling; it makes you miserable. Poverty can be cured by transferring wealth to the poor from those with an obscene surplus, and from the war, finance, and environmental destruction industries.
Renounce the Victim Soul con. It’s a grift. See through it, and don’t play their shell game anymore. If we don’t get Bernie, or if they thwart him, or assassinate him, or even just assassinate his character, we’re still going fight. We’re the people! All governments, profiteers, and religions fear us, or else why would they constantly try to deceive and control us? We will have our way, by ballot or blood.
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Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
The following is a message from the Socialist Leisure Party.
I’m sick of people living their best lives. Can’t you just be average?
I understand the impulse to be extraordinary. I lived the first five decades of my life with that impulse. I thought I had something special, something requiring me to be given space to create. I was living the drama of the gifted child, all the way up to age 50.
I’ve tried being arrogant. I’ve tried being humble. Yes, arrogance gets you more pie, but, as Dwight Yoakam says, “the pie don’t taste so sweet.” Arrogant pie is downright bitter. Humble pie isn’t as bad as they make it out to be in the proverbial world, the world of proverbials.
Listeners to this segment of the show have heard me aver many times that the people you have to watch out for are those with great ambition and great expertise. It goes deeper than that. People with ambition and drive have a vast carbon footprint. And not just carbon. They have footprints of any number of elements and compounds, including, but not limited to, plastic, aluminum, depleted lithium, 99% perspiration, chicken parts, mercury, latex, arsenic, methane, phosphates, acetic acid, essential oils, sputum, xanthan gum, and BHT to preserve color. A plethora of footprints. So many footprints. They’re the human millipedes.
I’m sure you’ve all heard of the miraculous product of surgical enhancement, The Human Centipede. On this very show I compared politics to a human centipede. These, though, are the human millipedes. A human millipede is, like the Human Centipede, a collective entity, but made up of more people. It begins with a large head, and thereafter establishes its body, what you might call its “corpus,” or “torso,” or “thorax,” or “fuselage,” and attracts others to it, first with investment opportunities, then luring lesser human appurtenances with wages and, possibly, benefits. And so the human millipede forms: a big head, thorax, and myriad feet.
Of course, the head has the big idea. Sometimes it’s actually a good, helpful idea. Sometimes it is an incredibly horrible, destructive, murderous idea. But most often it’s merely an idea to take advantage of an absence in a market. Not an absence of something necessary, but of something that can be made to seem desirable that no one yet in the market is providing. The desire must therefore be created. Often the desire and that which can fulfill it arise at almost the same moment.
Then the trouble begins. Then materials are procured and processed, resources are depleted, fumes and fluids are expelled, heat is released, packages are ripped open and discarded, other packages are created to enclose goods, and a feverish disturbance is initiated. Nothing can stop the head from pursuing its goal, no thought of waste, unless it is financial, can be considered. To consider a change of course is not out of the question, but that a course will continue to be traveled, relentlessly, is certain. To waiver from onward motion is to succumb to weakness, to indulge weakness is to entertain failure, and failure is not an option. The feet must be made to march, ideally without pause for food, water, or sleep, but of course that ideal is never achieved. Nevertheless, it is the ever-unattainable goal, and must remain the goal. The impossible is always the goal, for it is only by aiming for the impossible, and thereby achieving the improbable, that the extraordinary is attached to the name, and one can advertise that the best life is lived.
We are rapidly approaching the end of the time of the Human Millipede. The environment just can’t take it anymore. We’re working the real world to exhaustion, squeezing every last drop from it, creating and fulfilling our invented desires. If there were a way for the millipede to march its course without trampling the future and the present under its many feet, then things could go on the way they have since human greatness began, since slaves were forced to build the first Wonders of the Prehistoric World, those monuments to Gods and Kings. The trouble is, we’re habituated to greatness now. We’ve become so accommodating to its excesses that we barely register them as excessive.
Our marvelous creativity as a species is the most destructive thing about us. We imagine the new or merely novel, and make it reality, inventing a world in which the unnecessary is needed. We can’t live in that world anymore. All our busy-ness creating the unnecessary, in turn, creates further needs that wouldn’t otherwise exist. Who needs washed and packaged salad greens? Only those with a shortage of time. A shortage of time must be created by someone else’s imposition. And needs for hurrying and rushing are, for most part, the result of someone else’s misapprehension of urgency. I’ve rarely met urgency, outside of a life-threatening situation of course, that wasn’t the product of someone’s over-reactive imagination. Yes, we are the creative species, but most of what we create is pressure on ourselves and others.
Do the letters “ASAP” mean anything to you? Do they mean anything at all? Is there any request or command whose meaning suddenly changes when the acronym ASAP is appended to it? No! No! A thousand redundant times No! ASAP is just so much mouth wind. ASAP is a sibilant hiss-and-pop people make with their mouths when they mistakenly believe the fulfillment of their needs is urgent. The appropriate response, delivered under the breath, of course, is “blow me.”
The kindest thing you can do for a boss is to train them to accept disappointment.
One more time, because it’s such an important rule for living. Living one’s humblest, most leisurely social, life:
The kindest thing you can do for a boss is to train them to accept disappointment.
I know that sounds cruel, and could therefore be considered a “joke,” but it’s offered in all sincerity. The necessity for expedited completion of a task is almost always the product of delusion. The necessity of anything is a delusion, and that’s a fact. David Hume proved it, to the extent that anything can actually be proven, which, of course, it can’t. As David Hume proved.
By exposing the delusion, you could save a life! Sadly, that life might be your boss’s. But sometimes your boss is your friend. It happens to those of us with enterprising friends. Don’t you want to save your friends’ lives, prevent them from working themselves to death? Or from working others to death? Because that does happen. People work so feverishly they make themselves sick. Football players do it all the time, but anyone who believes they can live on a few quick hours’ sleep is a likely candidate. A few can actually survive quite well, but some simply believe they can, because – hey! – they’re extraordinary! To what brink wouldn’t you push yourself to live your best life?
In this world we’ve created, on top of the actual world, pressing down on the real world, this created world of manic pressure, you have to steal back your time. We’re working more hours per week than any humans in history. And it’s all because we’ve let our dreams take control of us, our dreams of convenience, of space travel, of huge buildings, of thrilling entertainment, thrilling experiences, constant access to beauty, and, most ridiculous of all, our dreams of the easy life. We’ve created a monstrous machine we must continuously feed with our attention and effort, under the delusion that we can one day take a delightful vacation. We must take back our leisure.
Do you hear those horns and sirens, the engines, the whirring of fans and flywheels, the pumping of pistons, the beep of the garbage truck’s reverse signal? The gunshots, the screams, the laughter, the cacophony of chattering voices, the jackhammering of the jackhammer, the tapping of keys on keyboards? That’s the human millipedes, tap-dancing furiously on their billion feet.
While they’re dancing away like mad, pick their pockets and steal your time back. I know it’s hard. It can threaten your livelihood. But try your best to find a way around the dancing feet. You’re human, you’re creative. You’ll think of something.
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In the fall of 1945, the United Nations began pursuing its often-failed mission of preventing armed conflict and aiding economic development in regions impoverished by earlier colonialism. It was a noble effort, and, despite its shortcomings – often blamed on the organization itself rather than the intransigence and bad faith of its members – it has in fact contributed to preventing a third World War, or at least to providing, during the low rumble of constant global warfare, an institution where diplomatic alternatives to violence can at least be entertained. One can only assume it’s better than nothing.
However, rather than welcome participation in a forum for discussing international affairs among the actual participants, some in the USA have viewed the United Nations as a kind of global government usurping the sovereignty of the world’s most active military power. It’s similar to the way Brexiteers kvetch about the EU over in England. Anything remotely unifying, that might challenge the hegemony of the dominant economic interests, is some kind of “committee” that will, by definition, design a failed animal. Unions, consumer-interest groups, boycotts, marches, climate conventions, diplomatic gatherings of nations – they’re all threatening to the iron fist of the world’s policeman, arms dealer, and number one destabilizer of regions.
Those with power want to remain in power, naturally. And part of power is appeasing the people, which requires concessions. But, as the powerful become greedier and more conservative, as the neoliberal consensus has taken greater hold among them, the concessions they’re willing to make in order to appear democratic are dwindling. It’s part of a trend.
Now, the Democratic primary season has just kicked off. The Democrat National Committee are looking for a savior. Who can excite people enough to get them on board against Donald Dump, but not get them so excited that the Democrats end up having to deliver actual change? If they go with someone like Biden, and he wins, and then does the same Democratic right-of-middle- of-the-road betrayal that Bill Clinton pioneered with his triangulation, then won’t the irate, put- upon classes make the Dems pay four years later, maybe even allowing Dump back into power.
No, the DNC reasons. If we can get the people to choose Biden, it will mean their expectations have been gently, gradually, deflated so low that they can only be pleasantly surprised by any crumbs that are thrown their way.
But if a candidate promising transformation gets in and can’t deliver on the transformative promises, the masses will suffer actual grief, and deliver the feared backlash. You can feel betrayed by having your dreams dashed, but not by having your low expectations dropped on a dirty floor from a height of only a few inches.
The DNC doesn’t believe in dreams. Right now their big fear is a Bernie win. With Biden pooping the sheets in Iowa, all their anxiety will be focused, as so much white US anxiety is habitually concentrated, on the socialist Jew.
Who can save them, if not Sloppy Joe? Sloppy, woman-sniffing, language tangling, limp-waffle Joe.
Well, there is one superhero they’ve been in touch with lately. Really a cross between a superhero and a supervillain. His name is:
Bol-Ton! Bol-Ton! Bol-Ton! John Bol-Ton!
They’ve been seeking his help to destroy Donald Dump for a while now. But the impeachment process has gone as far as it can go. The primaries, on the other hand, have only just begun.
I’ve been listening to a folklore podcast called Bone and Sickle. Of course, I recommend it. It was there I learned the legend of the Cockatrice, related to the fabled Basilisk.
The cockatrice is a two-legged chicken dragon that has an absurd crest on its head. It spits poison. It’s fatal to look at, but if you show it its own image in a mirror, it will die. If you hadn’t already guessed, Donald Dump is a cockatrice.
Dump loves to look in the mirror, but he really doesn’t like to see himself. Not for real. Any reflection of his true nature gets turned into projection outwards. You can tell what he hates in himself by the names he calls others: Sleepy, Fatty, Crazy, Farty, Ugly, Stupid, Crooked, Stinky – his body is such a chimerical sack of lumpiness because of all that’s crammed into it. He’s like 330 pounds of Seven Dwarves of crap stuffed into a five-pound bag. That wacky crest on top, a cockscomb, like on top of a cock. A cock, I say, a cock.
They say the cockatrice’s natural enemy is the weasel. If you can’t find someone to cover himself with mirrors, siccing a weasel on the cockatrice is really your only option. You need a weasel if you’re going to defeat Donald Dump, the cockatrice.
Again, we are brought back to the conclusion: Bol-Ton! Bol-Ton!
Bol-Ton is a weasel! Bol-Ton will save us! He wrote a book, like so many others, telling everyone for the dumpteenth time what a pain in the ass it is to work for Donald Dump!
Sure, Bol-Ton is an avowed enemy of the United Nations, and of every nation except his own. Sure, he’s a rabid jingoistic reactionary prepared to plunge any region into war. Yes, he has the mustache of ad spokesman for oatmeal and synthetic lemonade Wilfred Brimley, who was fatally stomped to death by Tom Cruise in the movie, The Firm. But he’s no grandfatherly figure, not Bol-Ton. He wrote a book!
If you think about it, the DNC has a point. Half the country thinks the Dems are Republican Lite anyway. And many Democrats wish they could be as carefree as Republicans, just let their hair down and say what they’re feeling about the low rent teachers and other working slobs whom they’re always trying to cajole to vote for them. Shout out that, yes, black people get harassed by the cops more than they should, but maybe if they didn’t always hang around with such a bad crowd, y’know, like other black people, they wouldn’t find themselves in trouble with the law so often! And just ask Ellen, if non-binary people would just act normal, maybe straight people would let them alone! And, sure, everyone wants to end homelessness, but, I mean, have you met the homeless? If you have, you can understand why no one wants to give them a job, right? And, Medicare For All, well, sure, I’m for it cuz I have to say I am because some loudmouthed Jew pulled the party to the left, thanks a lot, but, y’know, if you can’t afford to get sick you could at least make an effort to take decent care of yourself. Have you seen the crap poor people eat?
So why not run a reactionary weasel with the facial hair of a trampled sugar-water salesman? You were ready to have him testify to the Senate, though Satan only knows what he might have said, I, personally, never trusted the guy as far as a diplomat could throw him. A Vietnam War apologist who blamed defeat on the anti-war movement, of course. His best efforts to avoid fighting in that war paid off with four-and-a-half months training in Louisiana – yet another chickenhawk hypocrite. His mentor was Senator Jesse Helms, white supremacist and rabid anti- communist. Bol-Ton helped torpedo an international treaty against biological weapons, and undermined diplomatic attempts to stop the spread of nuclear material. Yet he loves to sound the false alarm about other countries having weapons they don’t have. I guess fighting arms control efforts helps make his lies a little more plausible. He said Cuba had Weapons of Mass Destruction. He peddled the lie that Iraq had procured yellow cake uranium. Rich Lowry of the National Review, Bol-Ton’s personal friend, says that if Bol-Ton has one fault, it’s that he’s too willing to tell the truth. I guess lying about countries because he wants the US to invade them is a just a way to break up the monotony of being super-honest. Bol-Ton opposes the International Criminal Court, naturally. The way bad drivers hate traffic court.
This is Bol-Ton! Bol-Ton! Bol-Ton! Just the candidate the DNC’s been looking for. It’s too late to run him in Iowa, but maybe they can throw some of the money they might otherwise spend on poorly-designed caucus apps his way and get him started in New Hampshire.
Bol-Ton, the weasel. Legend says that when the weasel kills the cockatrice, the weasel himself also dies. Maybe he really is the perfect candidate. Would that other presidential candidates would so obliging self-destruct. If only we could pit them all against each other. Then we could just sweep the ashes away.
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Welcome to the Moment of Truth, the thirst that is the drink.
I know Democrats are capable of being just as mendacious and self-serving as any human being, and have been, but the Republicans in the Senate are just stunning models of perfidy. Simply taken on their own terms, by their own standards, or ostensible standards, they’re outdoing themselves. Even taking the least flattering definition of the already disgraced label, “conservative,” they’re not coming close to measuring up.
It’s a scary night to think about how low a human being can debase himself. It’s crazy-windy tonight, strong wind swirling around us, sounds like my apartment building is being flushed down an enormous toilet.
I just watched a short video of a crowd berating Rudy Giuliani as he’s being escorted down the street by cops. “You’re a piece of shit, Giuliani!” I feel like videos like this are all I want to watch.
Now it’s morning, I’ve just finished a supply run for the axe-throwing bar job site. It’s still blustery outside, not as rollicking as last night, but a steady wind punctuated with gusts. It’s a gustery day, as famous Detroit weatherman, wisecracker, alcoholic, and Holocaust survivor, Sonny Eliot, might have said.
The morning finds Los Angeles strewn with detritus from palm trees, some fronds weighing upwards of 50 lbs. Such a piece of tree debris once came crashing through the cargo space window of my Subaru Legacy wagon. I was about 2500 miles away from the car at the time, thank fate.
Even now, palm crud is drumming intermittently on my car roof. It’s a shaggy city, raining its dandruff on us all. Out here, at the edge of the continent, the sunset edge, with Republican perfidy wafting its sickly stench across the land, I’m reminded of our nation’s dark roots, the ones we can’t hide no matter how much peroxide we use.
The first novel written here in what would become the USA was called Wieland, by Charles Brockden Brown. Remember, as I describe this, that it was written before the War for Independence, when this was still a land of people driving fence posts into the ground, every man had to drive his own fence posts into the ground, that was a thing men had to do. Mama wouldn’t do it for him. Everything was made out of wood. People were barely accustomed to science yet.
And here’s a guy writing a book, about a man who comes from Germany to North America, with a divinely revealed religion he’s invented or been afflicted with, and he wants to teach it to the natives, and it doesn’t work out, and then I think he’s in a stone building of some kind, on a hilltop, and voices call to him, and sparks flare out the top of this cairn-like temple, and he spontaneously combusts. Then his children, the character’s children, are afflicted with hearing these voices, some of whom urge the son to murder his family, and ... that’s how literature starts in North America. With invented religions and stone structures on hillsides, evil voices calling, lightning and spontaneous human combustion. We were almost ready to become a nation.
Charles Brockden Brown was inspired to write this novel, his artistic invention, that would later inspire Poe, and Mary Shelley, and many other writers. One of them was Howard Phillips Lovecraft, whom the literary world has relegated to a kind of sideshow. But I would argue, at least here in this essay, that HP Lovecraft is the most American of writers. His vision of a realm outside our universe, but ever-watchful for opportunities to steal back into the world, into power, is America. I don’t like to say America. I generally refer to our nation as the United States. But in this case, the arrogant “America” is the proper name for our teetering, threatened, multi-generational experiment.
In Lovecraft, the Elder Gods of Cthulhu have been ousted from this world. I don’t know who ousted them, but they have been pushed off the stage of reality, maybe by The Enlightenment, who knows? They exist in another realm, outside our realm of existence, but in that realm of not-being, they poke and scratch at the cracks in the world, always seeking to pry a way open, a space through which to spill their madness and evil back into the world of humans.
And as bad as the Democrats are, and some are certainly allies of this ancient evil, the followers of the Elder Gods are really the rightwing Republicans and the Nazis. They’re always poking, trying to wear a hole in civil society, striving hungrily to find a way to bring full-blown genocide back into fashion. Genocide of black people, mostly, but of Native Americans, too, and anyone who could be associated with their aspirations of freedom. Whatever calumny these decent people can be tarred with, the Elder Gods command certain humans to defame them with it. The Elder Gods are the puppet masters of the right. Yogsathoth is their Jesus. When they say, “Jesus,” they mean a malevolent being desperate to set humans butchering each other, their flesh to feed to this monster they worship.
When Rudy Giuliani walks down the street, it is this demonic pagan grotesquery the mob is recognizing when they say, “You’re a piece of shit, Giuliani!”
When I see Senator Rick Scott defend Donald Dump, what I hear is, “Come, O Gods of Cthulhu, oh Elders of mayhem, violence, and destruction. Come take your old place at the banquet table, so the organs and mutilated flesh of humanity might sate your endless hunger. Your delight in destruction is the joy of the GOP.”
When Ken Starr makes his case for whatever he claims to make a case for, I see him shoveling piles of shrieking infants with a pitchfork into the slavering maws of the ravenous ancient Gods of corruption, pain, and perversion.
What goes on in other countries is similar, I’m sure, though they have their own villainous demons, Baba Yaga, Vlad Tepes, the Loups Garou. But here, in the United States, we, the people, are under constant attack from the disciples of Yogsathoth, the worshippers of Cthulhu, the sniveling, obsequious servants of the Elder Gods. The GOP.
Now it is night again, and I am afraid. The vile, eyeless, yet multi-eyed, mouthless, yet ridged with jagged, numberless teeth – these are the gods of the G O P: the Grotesque Old Pious. They lurk beyond the darkness, the Elder Gods, fangs gleaming and dripping with thirst. They see us, and covet our land, our homes, our brains, our hearts, our livers. Like big predators in the jungle night, they await their chance to pounce, shake us by our necks, crush our windpipes in their jaws, and devour us.
It was ever thus. When the nation was young, the men were commanded by voices to murder their wives and sisters. Now they call the voices, “pragmatism.” Today they call the way they worship these terrifying alien beings, “faith.” Today they call fealty to the Ancient Beings, “conservatism.”
Sometimes events conspire to bring the fact that what we think of as commonplace circumstances are actually fragile structures that can be broken by focused brutality. And, sometimes, all it takes is a night of violent gusts of wind, swirling and blowing, or “blirling” kind of weather, to make us see clearly the evil operating behind the scenes of supposedly polite, or politic, society. All is as glass, and can be shattered in a night.
No one should ever wonder why we laugh when someone punches a Nazi. The opposite of the black pit of ancient evil? It’s joy. Joy is why we laugh.
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I don’t know what I’ve been doing all week. Mostly I’ve been trying to draw pleasure from the same old things that have given me pleasure in the past. But it’s not working. Maybe it’s the law of diminishing returns, but I think that only affects people below a certain level of capitalization. It seems like the über-wealthy follow a different law, the law of infinitely increasing returns.
By the time I’m on This Is Hell radio, with your host Chuck Mertz and your producer Alex Jerri, who knows what part of the world will be in flames?
Then again, maybe everything will be resolved nicely by then, wrapped up with a bow, and I will have stopped agonizing about World War III.
It all makes me worry about Hillary Clinton. How it must eat at her, believing she could have saved the world from its now immanent destruction. Has anyone checked on her? I just think someone should console her, tell her, “It’s all right. Yes, your management of our forever war would’ve been much more discreet, but Australia would still be on fire. Don’t worry, you wouldn’t have done much to fix most of the problems, which we might not have even known existed if we didn’t have Dump to highlight them and to blame them on, when a lot of them were actually results of Obama, Bush, and even Bill Clinton policies. So, rest easy. You were never going to save us from what started long before Dump, only from the pain of his most flagrant vulgarities. You certainly wouldn’t have saved the world, get over yourself.”
What I should do, rather than worry about the world or Hillary, I’ll pick a distraction, that usually works. Eating, that’s something to do. What shall I eat? How about that piece of farm- raised salmon I got for such a reasonable price at the Armenian market? Color added for appeal!
Yes, I know, I know. Everything I do, every move I make, adds to the destruction of the planet. Well, at least I’m not assassinating anyone. At least I’m not provoking a region’s largest military in order to distract from the untimely publication of evidence of my crazy, ego-driven crimes. At least I’m not Donald Dump.
I agree, faithful listener, that is not a very high standard to hold oneself to. No, you’re right. I ought to expect more from myself. At least I don’t damn people to a cold darkness of eternal torment! No, I guess that’s not much better.
Was that a bomb?! Jesus, no, it was just someone closing the garage door.
You know, it occurs to me, in quiet moments of reflection like this one here, that the longer one lives, the more chance there is for something truly devastating to happen right in front of your eyes. Personally, I’ve been spared most of the horrors of human existence. I’ve only read or heard about them secondhand.
I’ve met people who were in Nazi concentration camps. I met a woman who had to watch her three-year-old daughter washed out to sea during Hurricane Iris. I’ve met people who had to escape from Cambodia, people who went through the Bosnian war, people who were tortured in Chile and Morocco and Iraq and Israel and Chicago, and who lost friends to terrorism and to serial killers. People who survived ruining their lives with drugs, and people who’ve lost the ability to walk. People who lost their children to cancer and drug overdose or their parents to suicide.
What a time to be alive!
There’s no point in dwelling on the terrible and the sorrowful. There’s no point in anything, really, if you get right down to it. But especially in dwelling on the terrible and the sorrowful.
Reminds me of some advice my father gave me. Or, no, not advice, more a chastisement. He said, “Quit dwelling on it!” I don’t remember what it was I was dwelling on, all those years ago, in our old house in Oak Park, Michigan, that starter ranch house with its olive linoleum tile in the kitchen, olive, orange and yellow starbursts scattered on the wallpaper, very hand-scrawled looking, like multicolored versions of Kurt Vonnegut’s famous sketch of a butthole.
I learned a lot about the sun in those days, that it came up in the morning and went down in the evening, sometimes as late as ten pm, even a little later, thanks to Daylight Savings Time, and Michigan being on the far-western end of the Eastern Time Zone.
In the middle of winter, it appalled me how much suffering we were expected to endure – little did I know about suffering, or of being appalled – going to school hours before the sun came up, while traffic struggled in the deep, heavily-falling snow. I was a crossing guard for a while. It was a privilege. We were given hot chocolate before having to go to class.
See, this is what happens when you get old, you reach back into your memories, clawing for any respite from the god-awful present! Yeah, it’s gonna happen to you, too. That’s how it happens, that’s how we wind up descending into going from glen to glade, burbling in the foggy forest of reverie, wandering till we’re lost in its seductive and mind-addling verdure.
This is how it happens, you sprouts, you babies, you young people with your stickball and your glue-huffing! You think it won’t happen to you! Good! Keep thinking that! It’ll happen whether you expect it or not, might as enjoy the bliss of ignorance.
Yes, this how our minds become old and foolish. But how do our minds become vile and fascist? That’s the question, which, if we ever answered it, ah, then maybe we could change the fascist mind. Then we wouldn’t have to wrap them all in a giant cloak of plastic wrap and suffocate them. Hey, that’s a great idea! Drop a big Saran Wrap on a Dump rally!
Aw, gee. Remember suffocating? They changed it to asphyxiating, I don’t know why. It’s suffocate! Why did they change that?! I liked it better when it was “suffocate!” They mean the same damn thing! Trust me! Uch, everything was better back when it was “suffocate.” Ah, remember when we used to suffocate? None of that fancy asphyxiation for us, we were down to Earth. It was a simpler time.
When did we lose “suffocate?” When we went off the gold standard? When people started saying, “I could care less,” instead of, “I couldn’t care less?” When all the candy became “sour” and “gummy” and all the chips and Cheetos became hot?
I promise you, I did not intend to wax nostalgic. Oh, remember wax lips? Why did we have those? Anyway, I had fully intended to examine the rightwing imagination, I was going to go back to Leo Strauss and his quarrel with certain aspects of the Enlightenment, and then proceed to when William F. Buckley joined the battle with his attack on academia in his early tour de force of extreme Christian fascism, God and Man at Yale. And follow that through the imaginary communist conspiracy that gave rise to Nixon, then Reagan’s inability to tell fantasy from reality, then mention the One Percent Doctrine where the reality-based community parted ways permanently with those who make policy in the clouds of the world in which they desire to live.
But then, Donald Dump, the man who has manifested desires more outlandish than Sardanapalus or Caligula, out of the thinnest air, assassinated Suleimani, Qassem Suleimani, the Quantum Salami, igniting what infernal future we will only discover when we would most wish to remain in the above-mentioned bliss of ignorance. Donald Dump, whom the worst of us conjured into being, and conjured into authority and power, and who himself conjures a mirage of statesmanship, a mirage of competence, of responsible behavior, handed as he was an imperialism conjured by the hubris of men playing at being kings and philosophers.
And that attack, that assassination – and, hey, I have nothing against assassination, especially if it spares the innocent, which this one most likely will not – it was just too much. I’m fretting over the repercussions, the revenge. So, much like Hillary Clinton, after having her ass handed to her by the Electoral College – itself yet another imaginative creation of men playing at creating a democracy but too afraid of the real thing to allow it to happen – I turn to the woods, and wander in, to lose myself in dreams of what was and what might have been.
This was and might have been the Moment of Truth. Good day!
Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
Spiders are spinning their webs in the grass: pretty, tiny, black jumping spiders, with turquoise rings around their abdomens. Spiders have spinneret glands to poop out their web strands. That’s one way to do it, I guess!
Kids with excellent eyesight can watch the spiders spin. So can old people who once had good eyesight but now have excellent reading glasses. From the vantage point of the kids, it all looks like an arachnid multi-scene diorama. The spiders appear to be weaving rustic booths in the grass, tiny bamboo booths with roofs of foliage, like tiny sukkahs for Sukkot, the harvest festival. These are Jewish spiders. Their turquoise comes from their retired Uncle Nate in Arizona.
One spider, I don’t know if he’s Jewish or not, spins his webs out of gold. His name is Epstein. I heard this story about Epstein on “The Daily,” the New York Times podcast, hosted by Michael Barbaro. It was one of many gruesome tales I’ve read or heard about this gold-spinning spider. Like all the stories about him, it’s appalling. I don’t even like thinking about them, any of them, but this one especially sickens me. Nevertheless, it should be known, so that you can understand only the smallest fraction of the way Epstein wielded his wealth. It’s illustrative of the weaponization of power through, not only wealth inequality, but gender inequality and age inequality, and a slew of other inequalities that come together to make up status inequality.
This is the story of an artist in her mid-twenties, so she wasn’t under the age of majority, as many of Epstein’s victims were. We’ll leave behind the spider metaphor for a bit, though we’ll come back to it.
Maria was an artist, not a spider. The only reason I couple spiders and the story of Maria is that what Epstein did to Maria was a violation. And the thing I think of when I think of good things being violated is industrious, busy spiders of the variety I’ve described above, weaving their tiny sukkot in their tiny diorama world in the grass, and that impulse of pure endeavor being invaded by conquistadors. It’s a world like that one, being violated. A world of effort and beauty, of individual and communal spirit, and of ritual, being violated by a creature weaving webs of gold and injecting his prey with venom that liquifies their insides for him to drink.
Maria did paintings depicting often subtly disturbing narrative scenes, slices of narratives frozen in time, in which she employed nude studies, sometimes of girls in their early teens. And she was gaining notoriety in the New York art scene at the time in question. She’s originally from Kentucky, and studied art in various schools across the country and in France, and at the New York Academy of Art.
I have a friend, we’ll call him BG for privacy purposes, and about the same time as, or a few years earlier than, Maria, BG was becoming known in the art world. His paintings, too, when he first burst on the scene, were narrative. His were monochromatic, large-format pencil paintings of surreal scenes, often involving nudity, teenage alcohol and drug use, sex, and sundry details both banal and fantastic that, somehow, brought across a sad past, looked back on in anxious, immature, haunted memories.
I want to describe one of BG’s early pieces I saw at a New York gallery show, a piece illustrating a comical, embarrassing, fraught memory. He told me the story behind it: in his early teens, he’d invited a girl over, and was fairly certain they were going to have sex. But he was a little shy about having no pubic hair at his age. So, he glued some of his head hair right above his penis. And that’s the painting: all in shades of green-gray pencil on butcher paper, just the section of his body between his bellybutton and his thighs, no explanation, his hands brushing rubber cement and about to place a tiny, thready moustache on his lower abdomen above his genitals.
I don’t know if Maria was working through similar memories in her art, or similar emotional transformations from childhood to adulthood, but she was living in her visual sense of mind and experience, building little scenes, like dioramas, some of which seem charged with the threat of sexual violence. One, in particular, she says, was inspired by Degas, and it’s been referred to as“kind of rapey.” And that was the one Epstein’s henchwoman, Ghislaine Maxwell, spotted. I believe her name is pronounced with a Greek fast food G. Like the one at the beginning of “gyro.” When Maxell saw the rapey painting, Maria says, Maxwell told Maria she had just the buyer for it, and that was who Maria was going to sell it to, and to no one else. And Epstein the spider bought it. Epstein the spider, who had already woven his big web of gold and influence in the New York art scene.
Maria was first employed as Epstein’s art procurer, and then as his door person, sending up teenage girls and old lascivious men to Epstein and Maxwell. Maria was always told that the girls were being sent up for auditions or meetings of one type or another. Maria says her unwitting role in this charade pains her to this day.
It’s not easy to make your living by making art, especially if your art is personal. It’s an incredible gift to be able to work out your demons and angels, your memories, or even just your interests and imaginings, and be recognized and paid for it. It’s a dream come true. Unless it’s a gift used as bait in a spider’s web, a false promise in an Epstein’s web.
Eventually, according to Maria’s affidavit, Epstein and Maxwell manipulated both her and her 15-year-old sister into situations of extreme discomfort. Maria says she was sexually assaulted by Maxwell and Epstein, and that Maxwell threatened to destroy her art and her career after her father came up from Kentucky and drove her away from the awful situation she was in.
There’s a quotation I return to from time to time. It’s on the opening pages of suicidal author Juan Butler’s truly unhinged book, The Garbageman. I do not advise reading this book. I abridge the quotation below for comprehensibility:
Tell me, in the anarchist society that you envisage, where all men will be free, where no one will ever be in a position to impose his will upon his fellow man, where "doing your own thing" will be the norm rather than the exception [,] who will pick up the garbage?
The garbage collector, in the nomenclature of today. The garbage collector will pick up the garbage when it’s their turn. Not because society threatens them with starvation, homelessness, and the myriad ravages of poverty. In our world, those are the incentives. It’s how otherwise good-hearted, industrious people get swindled, coerced, raped, and destroyed. The threat hangs over everything. Even the very wealthy feel it. That’s why they fear so viscerally losing their status. That’s why they have a compulsion to accrue more and more, like a child of the Great Depression at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
It’s Epstein the spider’s predatory opportunism, with which he exploited Maria’s good faith and dreams, that makes me sick. Of course, his using the same strategy in order to rape girls also makes me sick. It’s the force. Have you felt it? The coercive force of obligation to your benefactor?
Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. It feeds you, after all, so it must be a kind hand, even if it sometimes places itself between your legs and expects you to comply with every whim. How dare you refuse? Have you no gratitude? And eventually: Do you not know that we can destroy you?
It may never be possible, or even desirable, to remove status inequality from all societies. It’s a positive thing, for example, when a patient’s organs are failing, that a doctor who has accumulated immense knowledge and skill in curing diseased organs should be deferred to over, say, a careening golf cart full of drunk currency speculators, regardless of their collective self- confidence. Just as it would be desirable to allow Superman to address the opening of canned goods when a group of otherwise helpless Earthlings are stranded on an island without a can opener. Let him open the cans, what do you think you have to prove? And of course, the abuse of status inequality is possible in almost any situation wherein such inequality exists. And it often is abused. And I think there are two ways to remedy this undesirable situation: 1) identify and then inhibit, neutralize, or destroy, sets of criteria that raise the status of people vis-à-vis others unjustifiably – and here, wealth inequality, the artificial merit of having more money than others, seems a perfect example; and, 2) try your hardest to be responsible with whatever power you have over others, for whatever reason, be they people, plants, animals, buildings, celestial bodies, or other.
Defuse opportunities for abuse of power. Where inequality is unavoidable, be a spider in good faith. It sounds so simple, but nothing is ever simple. Every strand is tangled. Only patience and diligence will ever sort them out.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day.