Saturday, March 24, 2018

Un-American Activities

There seems to be this intellectual poison in the popular dialog today that every issue must be polarized. This is nothing new, of course, but this past election season has been the most polarized I can remember, with loyalty tests, political catechisms, witch hunts, accusations and condemnations, shout downs, name calling and the like not seen since the McCarthy days. The thinking today is ‘If you disagree with my ideology in any degree, you obviously don’t agree at all and must be discarded.’ It’s like the old Christmas tree light strings: If one goes out they all go out. Maybe G.W. Bush started it with his admonition, “You are either with us, or with the terrorists.” Why can’t I be neither?

I was too young to remember the Red Scare of the 50’s and the House Un-American Activities Committee and I wish I didn’t have to live it now. It’s funny in a decidedly un-funny way; a Russian talk show recently had a segment on Neo-McCarthyism. The audience wasn’t familiar with the origin of the term, so the host explained it. The response was: Oh, yes. We had that, too. He was called Joseph Stalin.

Speakers at universities shouted down for holding illiberal views? Intellectuals and investigative reporters black listed? A list of ‘banned sites’ published by Princeton University? Banned by whom? Using what criteria? Dissenting views shouted down? An errant Google engineer fired for badthought? People maligned, misquoted, and misnamed? Mantras of disinformation? A propaganda priesthood? And a faraway scapegoat who’s responsible for all of our woes? Not us, oh no! It’s that person over there. And ‘those people.’ They are THE problem. No need for self examination.

Some criticisms of the left are that we are becoming fascist. We have talking points. We have forbidden lists not clearly defined. Loyalty tests. We banish our own if they do not completely comply, even if they are just asking for dialog. If someone calls into question even one rod on the liberal fasci bundle they can lose their jobs. We eat our own. We’re the army that shoots its own wounded. We criticize the pimple on another’s face while ignoring the skin cancer on ours.

I have heard liberals on Facebook saying you ‘can’t reason with those people(!)’ What next? Should we put them all away for their own good? Maybe they’re crazy and should be institutionalized like Stalin did? Ann Coulter famously said, “…liberalism is on the spectrum of mental illness.” She wants to be heard, and so she should, yet this rhetoric betrays her own bias toward censorship. So who gets to shut up whom? When will they be put in an institution? Or special camps for their own protection? What mason will lay the cornerstone for the next gas chamber? Reeducation camps? Brain unwashing/rewashing with a rich fertilizer of spin? Barn raising of the Gulag? Pitchforks and torches of the righteous? A crusade?

We know what’s best for them, so everything is right when we do it! We insulate ourselves by declaring that it can’t happen here. How could those (Germans, Turks, Pol Pot, Edi Amin) do those terrible things? They must have been deranged or just plain evil. I’m glad we’re not like that. Now pass the pitchfork.

It always starts with a just cause. No-one wakes up one morning and says, ‘Today I will be evil.’ Things like the Suffragettes (a good idea,) prohibition (not so good,) women in the workplace, the pill, sexual liberation, entry into politics, women in the boardroom, in the pulpit, in space, etc. All good things and hard won by women and men who worked hard to achieve them. These have disintegrated into gender neutral pronouns for infants, bathroom rules, HR depts considering signed statements of compliance and penalties for ideology breaches, and the MeToo app for your iPhone which is capable of ruining someone’s career with a simple accusation. No evidence required! No due process. No innocent before proven guilty. Magna Carta my feminist ass. Burn him! Susan B. Anthony must be turning in hizer grave. When movements stop being able to do useful things, they start doing dangerous things. And soon immoral and illegal things. And at the end, war crimes.

Well, they feel they can’t reason with ‘us people,’ either. I have also heard the claim that hecklers and violent antifas have been planted to make liberals look hypocritical, and that ‘crisis actors’ have been used to fake tragedies. Well, if we find claims of ‘crisis actors’ as conspiracy theories, they can say the same about claims of ‘infiltration.’ Sauce for the goose.

What should we do? Ignore it? Declare it disinformation? Spin? More subhuman blather from ‘those people?’ The deplorable, racist, sexist untermenchen? These were only isolated events? I would like to say that the disrespectful hecklers are not indicative of the rest of us, but I can’t say that in all honesty seeing what's happened to other speakers who were not deemed ideologically appropriate. Just look at Facebook as see what’s being said by both sides? Can you tell the difference? I can’t.

In any case we should have a position on this kind of behavior, one based on dialog and respect, not self-righteousness and insults. Be careful what you throw at others. They may just throw it back.

Where’s Walter Cronkite and his show, You Were There? It relived historical events. Things like the poisoning of Socrates and the suppression of free thought. All thinly disguised attacks on McCarthyism.

The twenty first century is shaping up to be just like the twentieth.

Things change. Things stay the same.

Thursday, March 22, 2018


FATHER: “You know what?”
FATHER: “I’ll always take care of you. Always.”
DAUGHTER: “Always?”
FATHER: “No matter what.”
DAUGHTER: “No matter what?”
FATHER: “Yes. No matter.”
DAUGHTER: “But you don’t know that, you know?”
FATHER: “OK. I don’t know that. Not for real.”
DAUGHTER: “You fail at times.”
FATHER: “Of course.”
DAUGHTER: “You’re not perfect.”
FATHER: “No-one is.”
DAUGHTER: “I love you.”
FATHER: “Of course you do. I love you too.”
DAUGHTER: “And you can hurt me.”
FATHER: “And I can be hurt, too.”
DAUGHTER: “You can be cruel.”
FATHER: “Yes. I know.”
DAUGHTER: “And unkind.”
FATHER: “Of course.”
DAUGHTER: “And inconsistent.”
FATHER: “Yes. Yes to all of the above. But that’s not me. That’s my other self.”
DAUGHTER: “Other…?”
FATHER: “Yes, other. It’s not the one talking now. Not the one talking today.”
DAUGHTER: “So. Why?”
FATHER: “It’s the same as my mother’s other self. Your Grammy. Or my brother. Your uncle. We have selves that we wish we could contain but fear will get out on their own. And do bad things in our names.”
DAUGHTER: “Family history?”
FATHER: “Yes. Unspoken history that every family has and no family admits.”
DAUGHTER: “Skeletons in the closet?”
FATHER: “Yup.”
FATHER: “Well, I used to describe it as Mon roulette. Every morning when I got up. Which Mom will I find in the kitchen when I came down before school?”
DAUGHTER: “Which?”
FATHER: “Sure. Which. Pick one. There was quite a list. The loving mom. The spiteful mom. The resentful mom. The hateful mom. The ‘I’m not your nigger servant’ mom. That was quite the laugh and a half!”
DAUGHTER: “Sounds horrible.”
FATHER: “Sounds typical.
DAUGHTER: “Fifties family?”
FATHER: “A mom for all seasons.”
FATHER: “Sure. And all reasons. None of which made sense.”
DAUGHTER: “I can’t imagine.”
FATHER: “Oh. And you have your own family history. Your own selves.”
DAUGHTER: “My own skeletons?”
FATHER: “Why should you escape?”
DAUGHTER: “I know. I’ve talked to my cousins. We’ve seen. We’ve spoken.”
FATHER: “I know you have. Of course you have. You can’t have not. They’ve both spoken to me as well.”
DAUGHTER: “Really?”
FATHER: “On and off.”
DAUGHTER: “About?”
FATHER: “About what it was like growing up. Why their family was the way it was. How they felt it was all their fault. Typical stuff. American Dysfunction.”
FATHER: “Yah, ‘Yah.’ But then there’s you, for that matter. You. “
FATHER: “Yes, you. You have an other self. A self that you are not proud of. A self that does not operate under your authority nor by your leave. A self. A selfish self. A self that is there, none-the-less. Under your self. It is your self. Yourself.”
FATHER: “Yes. Oh.
FATHER: Myself. Not the self I choose to be. But the self I am to be. Whether I like it or fucking not. Well. One of my selves. We are legion.”
DAUGHTER: “What do we do with all of these selves?”
FATHER: “Deal with them. One at a time.”
DAUGHTER: “That’s it?”
FATHER: “What else? We are the only selves we have. And the only self we can give to someone else’s self. And someone else’s self out there will take our self. And we will take that someone else’s self as well. Their selves. Their many selves, the good and the bad. A self for a self. Selves unveiled. Flawed. Imperfect. But maybe beloved. A self united.”
DAUGHTER: “What do you do then? How can I trust someone who isn’t always the same?”
FATHER: “Trust yourself. Yourselves. And trust in the selves of others. And forgive. One self at a time.”
DAUGHTER: “Do you trust?”
FATHER: “It’s hard. I try. I fail.”
FATHER: “First, I trust life.”
DAUGHTER: “And then what?”
FATHER: “Then I usually make a mess of it. I fail miserably.”
DAUGHTER: “And then what?”
FATHER: “I try again.”
DAUGHTER: “Oh. Does that work?”
FATHER: “I’ll let you know when I’m done.”
DAUGHTER: “I trust you.”

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


We had a kitten. A cat. A kitten. Well, it became a cat. They tend to do that.  His name was Whiskers. Once, on our way home from church. That shows how long ago it was. I was still married then. And still going to church on Sundays. On any given Sunday my wife and I would wake up and get ready for church. We’d get up little Kristin and put on her Sunday best. I’d put on my Sunday mediocre at best and get ready for church. We attended the Episcopal Church in Brooklyn: Trinity Episcopal Church. It was nice. It was Anglican. It was Catholic-lite. All of the pomp, most of the circumstance, none of the guilt. Well, less of the guilt. Fewer of the guilt?

Kristin played a part in a Christmas pageant once. It took place in heaven. She played an angel. Her name was Hark and she was the Herald Angel. Hark, the Herald Angel! She had to wait in the vestry when the play started and then run in like she was late. Because she was. She was looking at the world that God had created and missed rehearsal for choir practice. An honest mistake. Honest little Hark. God, was she cute.

So Hark, our little angel, needed a kitty. A little fuzball of fun. On our way home, down Rt. 169 from Brooklyn to Canterbury, someone had a crudely drawn sign on their property, right on the road. Free Kittens! Wow. You can’t beat that? How often do you come across kittens that are free? We stopped in on our way home, on one Sunday morn, after a stretch on the pews and the pomposity and a heartwarming sermon and a rousing round of worship, to see about this free cat thing. Kitten, that is.

A pleasant couple met us, as well as an older couple. They had come in before us and were looking at the last kitten of the litter. The rest had been dispensed already. This was a little black and white cat that had obviously been passed over by other visitors looking for other kittens on other occasions. This one was the runt of the litter. The other couple was planning on taking this cat, as was their right. They got here first, after all. Kristin ran up to the box and picked up the kitten, who then jumped out of her arms and ran under our car. She got down and tried to coax it out. The poor little thing was terrified. I would be.

We managed to get the kitten out from tire danger and I said that this one was spoken for already. Kristin, please understand these nice people were here first so they get to take this, the last kitten of the litter. But that’s OK. The people who live here have said that they will have more kittens in a couple of weeks. We can come back then and have our pick of the litter.

Kristin was crestfallen. And the rightful owners of the kitten were kind. They let Kristin have their kitten, as, of course, they should. It was the right thing to do. They said they were happy to let Kristin have this kitten. They would wait. And come back another day. I thanked them, of course. Kristin, thank the nice people for letting you have this nice cat. He will be your best friend for years to come.

A cat’s tale. That’s what this is. Whiskers became our most beloved cat. He was affectionate. Sweet. A constant companion. A lap cat. Always gentle. Always kind. Always affectionate. And someone I was glad to have around me, always. Who could ask for more?

We became Whisker’s humans. I miss Whiskers.