The Talking Dog

September 22, 2018, oops... almost forgot...

Since it was more or less the start of Yom Kippur, the highest of the Jewish High Holidays, and right after a number of family events very close to each other in time, I overlooked the 17th anniversary of the first post on this here blog (way back when, one week after September 11th, when the bucolic air of this part of Brooklyn was still heavy with whatever toxic shit was airborne as a result of the burning "pile" in lower Manhattan, around a mile from here as the crow flies.) Seventeen years on, all members of the household here at Stately Dog Manor appear to be alive and well and in good health, even if this here blog is not as frequently updated (or read) as it might have once been. We lost TD Dad along the way, and a number of others, because, let's face it: 1/6 of a century is a pretty long time, actually.

And what have we learned (other than, dog people should marry dog people and cat people should marry cat people)?

"Don't get me started." It was Mrs. TD who said, on September 11th itself, "well, now lots of people who don't deserve it are going to die." And that was where we started. For months after the event, (which, btw, resulted in, aside from the deaths of a New York City firefighter who was a legal client of mine and a college acquaintance and quite a few close friends and relatives of people I knew, the loss of my own job), during my lengthy commute to Westchester County to my post 9-11 temp job, I tortured myself by reading the New York Times "Portraits of Grief" series, snap obituaries of over 2,000 of the people killed on September 11th, most of whom would not ordinarily get obituaries in the New York Times under any other circumstances.

And we can stop right there, because the last sentence tells me everything I have learned in the last seventeen years. WTF, you say? To be fair, it is a long sentence-- indeed, probably a run-on sentence, of the kind with which this blog is replete. So let me rewind. WTF?

Well, among the elements I mean to incorporate include man's inhumanity to man, which has certainly shown itself a very potent force on so many levels, starting with 9-11 itself and of course, moving on with "the post 9-11 world," mostly driven by the United States itself and its open-ended-never-ending-no-limits "War on Terror," which involved major shooting wars in Afghanistan (still going), Iraq, apparently large parts of Africa, and God knows where, including "black sites," "extraordinary renditions," Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, torture, the total security state featuring universal surveillance of everything and everyone on Earth, our proxy wars in Libya, Syria, Yemen, our efforts to destabilize Brazil, Venezuela and pretty much every country on Earth that doesn't have nuclear weapons. With a fuck of a lot of dead and wounded (including quite a few Americans along the way). And mind you, this is just what the United States has been up to. Other players have also been misbehaving, and right now, something like 60 million people are refugees, obviously the largest number ever (even accounting for World Wars). Just in time for the United States to announce that it will accept the lowest number of refugees... ever.

Of course, all of this happens at the same moment (because, in part, the events are related) to the impacts of climate change, as dramatic shifts in climate and weather pattern lead to insane storms (such as the one currently being "enjoyed" by the Carolinas). The response of the United States to all of this was to elect a curiously-orange-colored circus clown who promised to put his fingers in his ears and say "NYA NYA NYA NYA" loud enough so that Americans stupid enough to vote for him (not quite a majority, but still way too high a number) could enjoy his ravings as he merrily isolated the United States by pulling out of the Paris Climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, the Trans-Pacific partnership, and, at the urging of his mortgage holders and blackmailers in Moscow, maybe one of these days, NATO and NAFTA.

No, this post isn't about him. It's about the conditions that gave us him. Which takes us back to the emotional games that the New York Times was playing with me and everyone else by presenting snapshots of hundreds and hundreds of people who went to work, or got on a plane that morning and never made it home. BTW, I should note that there is approximately one mass shooting in the United States every day, and American gun deaths exceed 33,000 per year of people who also don't make it home-- but with rare exceptions (such as when victims are journalists or "notable" people), they don't get obituaries in the pages of tne New York Times.

I am not suggesting that life is not full of tragedy; there is a case to be made that it is full of little else. Indeed, despite the United States being the richest society that has ever existed, that wealth is actually in comparatively few hands, and for the most part, something like 4 out of 5 Americans live from paycheck to paycheck, which may be how it is, but is by now means "how it has to be."

So what am I trying to say, other than that the shlubs living paycheck to paycheck ain't making the pages of the Times unless they commit a heinous crime, or die in an event that the powerful want to use to fuck with the populace on an emotional scale like, say, September 11th? Oh yeah... that. And yes, although the entire media (overall, a schlock "entertainment business" that is also responsible for providing us with our "news") I actually kind of do mean to pick on my hometown's "paper of record," because fucking Judith Miler and Michael Gordon and their oh so important role in peddling the Saddam-has-WMDs-bullshit that led to the Iraq war which in turn pretty much probably finished off the future.And I mean very probably the future of humanity as we know it, not just the United States. Sorry to be a downer.

Because, as awful a cliche as it is, the United States was actually the indispensable country, the last, best hope, because, despite our bullshit (such as refusing to acknowledge that we even are an empire, despite our military presence in well over 100 other countries on every continent making us by far the largest empire that ever existed), we actually practiced general tolerance within our borders, actually tried to promote human rights and international order. Seriously: we did these things, albeit a while ago. As I said. 1/6 of a century is a really long time (btw, my friend Candace's client Razak Ali of Algeria has been gratuitously held in an American prison in Guantanamo for just about the last 17 years himself, despite never being charged with a crime, and he never will be charged. Candace has represented him-- and her client al-Ghizzawi, who now thankfully is at home in Libya-- diligently (and dare I say, heroically) over the years, but our legal system has, all too often, not proven up to do anything except the will of the powerful.)

Most of which moral authority Dubya flushed at GTMO, Abu Ghraib and the assorted black sites, my Columbia '83 classmate Barack Obama pretty much ratified by refusing to even investigate the war crimes of his predecessor, and the Orange Clown is mopping up whatever moral authority hasn't already been trashed by his two predecessors (as well, as of course adding "being a dick" to the face of all American policies foreign and domestic). I believe we start with the human soul and move outward. And that is not a pretty picture. Because after that, we get to the insane income and wealth disparities, that just keep getting worse (as a result of deliberate taxation, monetary and regulatory policies), and of course, environmental issues such as the aforementioned climate change, along with attendant storms, loss of arable land, species devastation, population disruption, ocean devastation, etc. I haven't even mentioned anti-biotic resistance, which I think is going to be really important soon, even as we continue to shoot up piggies and cows with said anti-biotics so that we can supply McDonalds cheaply from factory farms, even as that only hastens the day of anti-biotic resistance.

Boy, am I a freaking downer. And yet. And yet. Fast forward (or something) to 2016, when said entertainment-business-masquerading-as-news took it upon itself to tell us who "our leaders" would be. You see, it was our media that decided that a dozen or so Republican clowns would share a stage with the Orange Clown, but he would get to be in the middle and he would get all the interesting questions. And they decided to cover his outrageous statements, and not call him on the fact that virtually every word out of his mouth was a slander or a lie. And then the media decided to cancel the California primary so that Hillary Clinton could defeat Bernie Sanders, because Wall Street and Hollywood could just not live with a self-avowed "socialist". And then, of course, all we heard about until November were "Hillary's emails" and not the fact that a man who had never served in the military or held public office and owed hundreds of millions of dollars to Russian and Chinese banks and had decades of suspicious contacts with organized crime figures, etc.... got a complete pass because, you know, Hillary's emails. And here we are.

Because, you know, "he was good for ratings." Although not so good for political ad buying, a major profit center. But as I said, this post isn't about him.


So what is it about? Candace always reminds me that the late, great Studs Turkel wrote a book called Hope Dies Last. Much as things look, well, crappy, there is hope. And the hope has to be at a micro-level. Because, quite frankly, what we know of the "macro" is in the hands of said media (even though things like this blog allegedly "democratized" media, that is a load of bullshit, as money came in and bought up this media a long time ago, and made sure that cranks like me are on the fringes of everything where they want us... but I digress). For example, the Loquacious Pup is at college now, but, among her studies, devotes considerable time to "good works" of various kinds, such as work at a food pantry over the summer (among whose clients are recent immigrants). I am trying to do good works myself, particularly for those most under the heel of the Orange Clown's jackboots, those trapped in our immigration system. And I help "my good friend" Donald J. Putin with his twitter thing..And, you know, being nice, wherever possible.

And that's what we can do. I will leave the post in the hands of a New York native far more eloquent than me, Henry James: Henry James 'Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.'

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September 11, 2018, And here we go... again

Step right up and enjoy the September 11th festivities; has it been only 17 years? I'll start with this wonderful "meta-" piece by Brother Dmitry, who asks, among other things, "what is truth?", a peculiarly relevant question concerning the events of September 11th where, for example, we are asked to believe that three skyscrapers were brought down by the crash of two airliners, among numerous other "curiosities" (my favorite still being the recovery of an intact highjacker's passport on the ground after a crash supposedly so hot that it melted an aircraft's black box and steel beams supporting a building of 110 stories causing it to implode). Many such "curiosities" made their way into my hypothetical rant of Zaccarias Moussaoui (who? you don't remember "the 20th highjacker"?)

Interestingly, it is the Jewish Holiday of Rosh Hashanah now, the celebration of the new year, which also marked the first post on this blog 17 years ago (which was a week after Sept. 11th); the cycle of time, the circular nature of our year, coupled with the fact that we age and die and do not get an infinite number of them, always seem to loom over us. Although we have created the myth of "Homeland Security" (not to mention a massive and obscenely expensive bureaucracy called the Department of that), none of us are, or will ever be, "safe" from this fact. We can, of course, make ourselves less safe, as we have been doing consistently since, creating the sort of metaphysical angst that leads to an actual decline in life expectancy at least in some demographics. So much for the myth of progress... on to other myths!

I don't mean to open a debate about what numerous people who were not there that day, unlike me insist actually happened (it is undisputed that large structures were destroyed, aircraft crashed and nearly 3,000 people dead), so much as the certainty in events led to a certainty in assigning blame for it and supposedly in how to thwart future similar events that have led to our longest running war (yes, 17 years on, we are still officially at war in Afghanistan, if for no other purpose, to justify holding (currently) 40 men at Guantanamo Bay, including Candace's client, an Algerian named Saeed Bakhouche, who had the misfortune of staying in the wrong guesthouse and nothing else). And to justify a surveillance state that would have made George Orwell gag. And to justify Cold War levels of military spending (including maintaining garrisons in well over 100, maybe over 150 foreign countries). And so many other aspects of modern life. BTW... for a brilliant meta-take, this from Foreign Polcy, titled simply (and accurately), Al Qaeda Won.

An entire generation has now grown up in the "post-9-11 world," taking completely for granted "the new normal" that seems so dissonant to many of us whose formative years were earlier. This generation includes the Loquacious Pup, who was not quite two years old as of 9-11. It is difficult to tell them that there was a time when you did not have to take your shoes off at airports (or risk cancer from the full-body scanner), or that there was a time when you would not expect all of your internet or telephone communications to be monitored, or have military aircraft fly over football half-time shows (or indeed, have faux patriotism be such a big thing).

Of course, the irony of it all is that it was the pre-9-11 generation who decided to vote for an orange colored Neanderthal to bring us through the logical culmination of where the post-9-11 world was taking us. As George W. Bush determined that international institutions were not going to tell the United States what it was going to do, and got us into the aforementioned war in Afghanistan, and a much bigger one in Iraq, so it seems that a big enough plurality of Americans believed a Russian-sponsored career criminal who promised to "make America great again" and to "put America first." Or at least they hated Hillary Clinton (and Barack Obama) enough not to give a crap about the consequences of same.

Anyway, here we go again.

The Judge who wrote the decision permanently condemning Candace's client is now up for the Supreme Court himself (neither Candace nor I am pleased about that). The Orange Poseur has tossed around the term "fake news" to refer to any news coverage that he believes is insufficiently favorable to himself, but he is on to something nonetheless: how rigorously to treat and assess information to accept into our consciousness is, of course, based on the degree the information supports (or does not support) the story that we have been programmed to believe is "reality." What has happened in the last 30, 40, 50 years or so is that we no longer need to have top-notch, cutting age American workers; machines now do most of the heavy lifting in our economy, our society and in our individual lives (detecting the effects of Alzheimers disease might be harder as the use of GPS devices, for example, prevents people from "forgetting directions," once a sure-fire sign that something was wrong). And so, what is left for our aging population is to "manage it". Technical work could be handled by foreign imports, or mostly by the machines themselves, and actual work... well, there's less of it relative to the population as reflected in labor force participation.

Let me cut to the chase: as a people, we are stupider, and more easily fed bullshit which we more easily digest. Donald Trump is an obvious manifestation of that, to be sure. But then, so is the fact that 17 years on we still treat September 11th as if it were a religious holiday, rather than a still not understood national tragedy that was promptly used to bring on still greater tragedies (which have not finished playing out, even as war on terror still seems to seek out new venues to trot out new excuses to bring American drones, troops and violence). Not to mention violence brought by others in places American action (in the name of "fighting terrorism") has already destabilized. But as I said, a stupider population will be willing to put up with it (especially as fewer and fewer of its actual members will bear the heavy lifting of being the tip of the spear, as it were).

As individuals, all I can suggest is to try to maximize your acts of gratuitous kindness. If enough of us do this, perhaps the overall ethos of nastiness will change, and the powerful might start responding to things differently. I have no particular expectation that this will not be a long and painful thing to develop, but it's all I got. September 11th is as good a time as any to think about this, and bring about the world we would like to have, rather than the one we apparently have.


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September 6, 2018, And we're off

While the nation amuses itself in today's version of the Neo-P.T. Barnum Circus known as the Trump Administration, specifically trying to guess which "senior official" wrote "the Op Ed" in the NY Times, the latest machinations of Bob Woodward's coming book (i.e. "Trump is a mentally disturbed moron"), it seems that there is a second stolen Supreme Court nomination at issue, that of one Brett Kavanaugh.

I had the privilege, once, of watching Candace argue before a panel on which Judge Kavanaugh was the presiding judge. Prior to that, she moved for his recusal, on the basis of his refusal to disclose the extent he worked on issues concerning Guantanamo detention policies while an official at the Bush White House.

Candace recently wrote a
letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee raising the same concerns.

Your mileage may vary.

Perhaps you, unlike me, are enjoying the circus?

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