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Who put the pube in Reince Pubis? Who put the baa in Barr, the fly in Flynn, the rump in Trump? Who put the scales on Scalia? Who put the pomp in Pompeo?
Pompeo, Pompeo, Secretary of State, the pompous, pumped-up Pompeo. Pompeo distinguished himself at West Point, by graduating first in his class. That is, he distinguished himself by leaving. They were so excited about him leaving that they made him go first. He was not the cutest, nicest girl at school. Although, hefty comedian Jeff Garlin famously had a routine where he contrasted his physical form with the words “I’m a pretty little girl.” “I’m a big fat man,” he would say, and then, “I’m a pretty little girl.” And how the audience would howl in amusement.
Pompeo, pompous, pumped-up. From the French, pompier, fireman. The French find firemen funny. I don’t know why. I think there’s a rumor that all firemen are stupid. The Parisian fire department is a branch of the armed forces. Pompeo is a branch of the armed forces unto himself. Who put the pump in Pompeo, inserted it in his puckered purple portal and puffed him up to such pompous proportions? Probably some pompier.
Pompeo. Pompeo indeed. As noted above, he is not undistinguished. He’s an accomplished scholar and former athlete. Like Bob Barr, the Attorney General, Pompeo had an impeccable record, when viewed from afar. Both Barr and Pompeo are tools of Jesus the Conqueror, Jesus the Dictator, Jesus the One Who Graces the Mighty Chosen with the Divine Right of Kings. Y’know, the evil Jesus. The asshole Jesus. The Jesus who wants the US to inflict upon its foreign prisoners waterboarding, stress positions, sleep deprivation, temperature extremes, rape, threats to their families, electrocution, and of course, rectal feeding. Rectal feeding, it also turns out, is exactly the way they pump the pomp into Pompeo. One day Pompeo might pop, from all the pomp pumped into him.
Pompeo opposes abortion even in cases of rape. He opposes gay marriage, and any rights protecting gay and trans persons from discrimination. He, of course, opposes the closing of the prison at Guantanamo, because it’s such an idyllic paradise for rectal feedings. Just imagine him, sitting on the veranda overlooking the Bay, enjoying a rectal feeding as the sun sinks below the horizon.
When it came out that Trump had tried to extort President Zelensky of Ukraine to publicly state he was investigating Joe Biden, Pompeo said he knew nothing about it, he hadn’t yet read the transcript. Turned out he didn’t have to. He was on the god damn call. He heard it firsthand. He lied.
Last year at about this time, Pompeo empaneled a commission to revise the State Department’s human rights focus to concentrate on Freedom of Religion. Their report is due out early this month. While Dump has been busy packing the courts with anti-abortion, anti-queer, anti-poor and anti-woman judges, Pompeo wants US foreign policy to mirror domestic policy and support regimes who like to persecute those same populations and activities, because he says that’s what Jesus wants. It might seem a coincidence that Jesus wants the same things a homophobic, trans- phobic, misogynistic bigot does, but it’s no coincidence. The Jesus Pompeo knows so much about is an invention from his own arrogant skull, and from the minds of the clandestine Christian crusaders who believe their success and power are divinely ordained necessities to eventually bring about a global theocratic dictatorship. A dictatorship for Jesus.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Bob Barr just announced he’s convening his own task force to redefine political enemies so he can start rounding up Black Lives Matter and other antifascist activists. Yes, he also mentioned the Boogaloo Bois, but the antifascist groups are corralled under a much broader umbrella. He wants to return US law enforcement powers to those it had under the Espionage and Sedition Acts of 100 years ago.
All this as the presidential election creeps ever closer, with Dump’s numbers sagging like his neck flab, due to the deaths he’s allowed from covid-19 and now those of US soldiers Russia’s been paying the Taliban kill. Now would seem an auspicious time to gin up the base with a fresh commitment to hating everything they hate. A domestic commitment from Barr and an international commitment from Pompeo, the twin enablers of the pumpkin pussy-grabber determined to get the Trumpist base to recommit their support in a re-commitment ceremony they envision resembling a scene from Triumph of the Will.
Evangelical fascist groups like the Fellowship have unholy influence in business and government. They’re the group who puts on the National Prayer Breakfast every year, where every president since Eisenhower has broken bread with skulking schemers of skullduggery and skullfuckery. They have one major thing in common with the ISIS caliphate movement and Hindutva Indian Nationalist groups like the RSS: an affinity for enforced loyalty resembling that of totalitarian regimes from the Nazis, Franco and Hideki Tojo through Stalin, Mao, Reza Pahlavi, Peron and Pinochet to Marcos, Somoza, the Khmer Rouge, and Bolsonaro. Antagonism toward all but the most fascistic expressions of popular rule runs deep in the veins of these organizations.
This is why I discouraged praise for George Will when he broke with Trump conservatives. It’s not the thuggish gangsterish fascism Will doesn’t approve of, it’s the idea that Trump, who is extremely gauche and garishly nouveau riche in style, should be the charismatic tool to bring about a dictatorship of the elite. George Will just doesn’t like the vehicle his peers in the peerage have chosen to carry their banner. The banner itself is fine with him.
Natural law – the most unnatural thing ever created by human nature. There it is, the First Amendment, freedom of religion the most important human right “on top” of the list, says Pompeo, “so we got it right.” All other rights subordinate to whatever he imagines freedom of religion to mean.
Barr and Pompeo, these two hefty, heavy-handed revisionists of freedom, whose capitalism is even worse than the one we’re sweating under currently, because, where the normal capitalism is destined to fail due to its own contradictions, to collapse under the burden of its disparities of wealth and opportunity, this is Jesus Capitalism, which will be satisfied when its excesses become so overwhelmingly copious that they must spill out into the public. Normal capitalism is at least discrete enough to fly its torture victims to black sites, and even outsource its torture. Normal capitalism at least makes embarrassed noises when the homeless and sick flood the public square, and militarized police come a-clubbing in the thoroughfare.
But Jesus Capitalism is the Divine Justification for public squalor, torture, and mass-murder, and the violation and desecration of the living Earth. Poor people deserve to be poor, sick poor people deserve to be sick and poor. It’s not sadly necessary, or unfortunate but unavoidable, it’s what makes God happy. Jesus is a dick. That’s why Kavanaugh could be a dick at his confirmation hearing. “It’s okay, he’s just being like Jesus.” That’s why Dame Lindsey Graham decided to start emoting and bitching for the benefit of the Dump regime. He knows who butters his biscuits. “Jesus would approve. Even if I am totally gay, as long as I don’t admit it. Because Jesus never did.” Who put the pomp in Pompeo? Jesus put the pomp in Pompeo. Jesus, that mentally disabled fireman, that firer of men.
The entire system, root and branch, is rotten to the core. That’s why we all feel hopeful that these BLM anti-police-violence protests will continue. We can feel their goal bleeding into every aspect of our lives, because every aspect of our lives is infected with the virus and violence of capitalism. Police thuggery is the outward blemish on the diseased body. Police are the cold sore, capitalism is the herpes.
And, apparently, Jesus loves herpes.
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Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
Throughout the 400 years since it emerged, capitalism has believed it cannot exist without maintaining deadly domination of black bodies. And it’s been molding social discussion to promote this belief. Capitalist power derives from the mistrust of nature and has used black bodies as the anthropomorphic depiction of nature’s wild untrustworthiness. First, we had to make the Africans into our slaves because otherwise they wouldn’t become Christian. Clearly, if left in their own land, worshiping terrifying animistic spirits, or some crazy thing called “Allah,” they would eventually be overwhelmed by disease, poverty, and the pests of the natural world, a world which was itself not to be trusted. It was for their own protection.
Slavery in the United States was eventually outlawed, except when imposed on criminals, so black people were shaped in the propaganda story into basic, natural criminals. To prevent them from enjoying the opportunities of freedom, the dominant society criminalized their presence among white citizens, even to the point of policing the flow of their genes through Jim Crow laws. Eventually the Jim Crow system was defeated by appeals to society’s conscience, rather than its fear. Losing battle after subsequent battle of conscience, white cruelty has finally settled on police as the main lethal army, and prisons as the main segregating tool, safeguarding society against scary nature in the form of the black person.
For centuries before the advent of capitalism, most of civilization was convinced by rulers that it couldn’t survive without dominating women and the poor. In many similar ways to how black people came to be used, women, poor people, and nomadic peoples were seen as the main reflections of untrustworthy nature, until capitalism moved the imposition of its harshest propaganda of social mistrust onto the black body.
What has never changed during this multi-millennial propaganda blitz is that it’s always been best for the elite if we fear each other. It’s great, especially for men, if we buy into the fear of nature by distrusting woman. It’s great, especially for those who have an obscene amount of wealth, if we buy into the fear of nature in the guise of poor people. It’s great for those who profit, or believe they do, from the ownership of private property if most people can be convinced to believe in the necessity of the police to keep black people under control through the threat of death. Other manufactured races have been and might be used along the way as additional place holders for the totem of inscrutably evil nature, but the black body remains, after four centuries, the place where society has located the heart of its fear of the unpredictable world outside rational control.
To placate the owning class, the primacy of ownership and the so-called “traditional” hierarchy of power must be understood as a rational part of keeping nature within acceptable boundaries. In the end the police, who are there mostly to protect private property, can justify wielding physically threatening power over the rest of us by making the case that it is acceptable and necessary to use violence against a select group, a group whose unpredictable, volatile nature has been cruelly sculpted since the beginning of capitalism to fit the needs of the owners, whose interests must be protected from black people, the nature of whom, if unregulated, could revert to its incendiary African condition.
The others of us, who are also not to be trusted, are meant to understand ourselves as only slightly more trustworthy than black people, and therefore that much less likely to be killed by the enforcers of the hierarchy. Clearly the mistrust of nature must extend to human nature.
Black people, finding themselves over and over on the most punitive end of the police officer’s, and therefore capitalism’s, violent force, and having finally judged society’s chances to answer calls for reform through day-to-day civil procedures exhausted, have risen up, as they have many times before, but this time with far greater support of the non-black world.
Many wonder how much longer we’re going to tolerate these institutions that don’t trust us and indoctrinate us to distrust each other and ourselves. How much longer are we going to willingly inhabit the story that nothing unpoliced or unowned is trustworthy? Can we ever break free of this story? What would we need to do?
The suggestion seems to be we would definitely need to erase the cops, our leaders, the owners and bosses, and our landlords. And I have to say, that’s a great suggestion! Coeval with ideas for reform has arisen a large movement to disrespect authority even in medicine and science, but that movement has often been found to be in the service of the power hierarchy itself. Yet we do need a complete overhaul of society, without the holdover prejudices from previous generations. I know this sounds a lot like Khmer Rouge talk, but that’s one of the old patterns we definitely don’t want to repeat. For one thing, it would be way too much work. Two things on our list of things to avoid: workaholism, and psychotic Khmer Rouge-style murderous paranoia. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
People of color have been acclimated by indoctrination to the desire for proximity to whiteness, its supposed qualities, and its attendant privileges. Everyone has been deluded by the oppressive system, the oppressors and the oppressed who replicate the system of oppression within themselves. Workers desire the position occupied by their bosses and thus reflexively defend the intangible matrix into which those spaces have been carved.
When it comes down to it, we hate ourselves and others and nature and that which controls nature, while simultaneously loving and relying on all those things. When people come to this realization, they are compelled to urge everyone to “burn it to the ground.”
And really, what could be better for everyone? We know it in our secret selves, and some of us are even consciously aware. What could be better for living things on the planet than to stop civilization dead in its tracks. Power down the grid. Sure, we’ll have to go through the apocalyptic phases. There will be the total war of all-against-all phase, followed by the Soylent Green phase of food riots, the Mad Max phase of petro-militias, the climate-change-catalyzed deluge, and finally the disconnected archipelago of islands of groups of humanity cut off from each other by the Grand Global Ocean. A time of respite shall then settle in over the weary planet.
During that time the forests will return, maybe a few cultures can take it upon themselves to clean up a little while wild plants and animals rebuild their numbers. Languages will be reinvented. New philosophers will emerge, ones that don’t bug you with stupid questions like, “Excuse me, friend, do you believe in motion? But if Achilles wants to go a certain distance, don’t you agree he must first go half that distance? And even before that, halfway to that halfway point?” If you hear anything like that on our island, promise me you will instantly murder that person. We cannot reproduce the garbage ideas of the previous, say, 8,000 years.
We must invent our own garbage ideas. I think we are on the pathway already, and it would be nice if we could somehow do the oral history thing of preserving ideas in rhymes and songs we repeat in rituals so as to remember them accurately. We have to invent ritual recitations about a humanity possessing no greed or capitalism, no fear of limitless nature, somehow without re- introducing the ideas we want to annihilate. Write songs about valuing all life without implying that it’s possible not to. Write songs like, “We’re a happy tribe, nomadic and free, wandering all over the world which isn’t owned by anyone,” without causing someone to think, “What a great idea! Owning the world!” How do we sing about a world without prisons without giving some jerk the bright idea to put people in cages again?
Maybe we can start small now and build gradually to the apocalypse series and its Great Aftermath. Start by abolishing the police, and maybe wedge in there some ideas of wealth redistribution that don’t assume people are going to try to “game the system,” even if sometimes, of course, they will. Force into the general storyline the idea that people are to be trusted first.
We have to force the authorities and their owners to admit that they’re the ones out of control, they’re the dangerous thugs, they’re animals, they’re the ones who will be murdered unless they actively prove they’re worthy of being allowed to exist. Apparently, the police are already complaining about how they’re being portrayed in the media, with people able to view so many personal phone video examples of cops being thuggish and violent out of all proportion to the civil disobedience they’re supposedly trying to control. The cops are starting to understand that the story they’ve been telling about black people is now being told about the cops themselves. Maybe now the conversation will start to change.
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Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
Dateline, about 2 weeks ago. The subject of the email was: “I.Am.Over.This.Thing.And.I.Want.My.Life.Back.How.About.You?” It came from a temple advertising itself as, “An emerging community for the Jew-ishly curious in Venice, CA.”
I know, I know, but they have as much right to express their feelings as anyone else. Remember, this was before the protests, before George Floyd was murdered, even before Ahmaud Arbery was ambushed and killed for jogging while black. So she’s talking about the pandemic and lockdown, nothing else. But we’ll be looking at it with perfect hindsight. The body of the message expounded,
This is a care email. To state it plainly: I reserve the right to say “I am not OK.” And I’m not. This has been going on too long, the loss is more than my small heart can bare [sic], and with no end in sight. I hold space for all of my flaws, uglies and rough edges to say, “I hate this.”
It feels good to let it all out. It feels good to admit that my life isn’t “Awesome.” It feels great to acknowledge just how great this isn’t. That’s about all that’s great.
And you? Let's hear it! This Friday night (TOMORROW!). [The] Temple creates a forum to SHARE OUR TRUTHS. I personally invite you into our [Zoom Sanctuary] during our Creative and Musically Driven Shabbat Take Me Higher Services. Throughout the service, one at a time, we will be invited to share a public check in. I want to hear, in real time, how you are doing. And I will ask you to do this in front of a personally chosen background image that expresses creatively how you are doing. The photo above is a double rainbow on the first day of Quarantine (with my sleeping daughter; the Gold(a) at the end of the rainbow [I did not make that up. – jd]. Our minute or two together will give you the chance to express yourself, let us know why you chose that image and really just say HOW YOU ARE doing.
Quarantine Shabbat: such-and-such date and time, streaming on such-and- suchtemple.org/live and Facebook Live ...
...Wishing you Health, Sending you Care, and Holding Space for the Grief, Pain, Loss and Sorrow.
[The] Rabbi [on whom, allegedly, the recurring female rabbi character played by Kathryn Hahn on Transparent was based]
I had a visceral, if not vicious, reaction to this extremely vulnerable, heartfelt email. I would like to explain why. And my apologies, in advance. I’m just sharing what I’m not okay about. I could have shared it with the congregation, but I would have easily exceeded the time limit. I understand, the Rabbi is just offering her congregation of Jew-curious oceansiders a forum to vent their sorrows without fearing judgment or being saddled with guilt. Well, that’s an attempt that seems to me to require thwarting from the perpetually perverse.
Rabbi, Jews, folk-singer congregants, Jew-curious, and allied gawkers: I don’t want my life back. If I’d had a good life going into this shitshow, I might. But I didn’t. To be quite honest, Rabbi Ersatz Kathryn Hahn, my life hasn’t changed that much. What this quarantine has provided, for the first time in my life, are conditions in which most of the people in the world are forced to do exactly what I always do: confront my stupid self, be bored yet fearful of the future, struggle to make myself and my living space presentable to an outside world that for the most part couldn’t care less, suffer mortal anxiety when leaving the house, agonize every day over the unnecessary suffering and deaths of others caused by the callous disregard of their leaders and the über-wealthy, and entertain myself in hopes of staving off an emotional plummet into the existential abyss.
For once I feel validated! In synch with the general mass of humanity. Can’t you just leave well enough alone?
You have one job now: to stay out of other people’s way and not make them sick. See, that’s always been my job! Now you sad sacks longing for the return of your wonderful lives know how it feels to recognize that the best thing you can do for the world is to de-emphasize your existence. Tamp yourselves down a little bit. Relinquish the spotlight. Curb your goddam enthusiasm. Sit on the sidelines and let the actually essential people do what needs to be done to keep the superfluous population comfortable and alive, if either are at all possible.
You should be grateful to have such a clearly delineated list of duties laid out for you. But no, you want more.
I will confess that a small part of my very unfair reaction has to do with the self-centeredness of the characters in Transparent, especially in the latter part of Season Two and on through, I’m assuming, the rest of the series. They were like the Seinfeld characters minus the humanity. I’ve recently been told the closing of the final season was very good, so perhaps I’ll skip to that if I ever decide to return to the scene of the aesthetic crimes. I’m sure the show’s mission wasn’t to make upper-middleclass queer Jews hate themselves, or make other people hate them, so there must have been something very sophisticated going on there. Much too sophisticated for a simple kid like me from the hetero-normative town of Mayberry to figure out.
Of course, Rabbi, that’s not your fault. All of us of a certain generation from the theater scene in Chicago know who’s to blame, but we also must give her credit for some excellent writing and directing, and for including that scene of Amy Landecker leaning on her kitchen counter naked. That woman takes care of herself!
Rabbi, you say in your e-missive that you want people to provide their own zoom backgrounds to express how they are. I don’t know what you’re expecting, but I hope that at least one person puts up the image of a guinea pig happily munching lettuce in a pleasant terrarium. And you allot your congregants only “a minute or two?” I hope you’re prepared to sense the unexpressed frustration that’s bound to have built up like a straining-to-be-held-in spastic-colon fart on the other side of your screen. Unless people really aren’t particularly not-okay. Maybe their unhappiness is something they can live with a lot more easily than even they are willing to admit.
It’s not all rosy for me, either, y’know. I miss people with disposable incomes taking me out to dinner once in a while, but I’m never that thrilled with restaurant ambience. I prefer to cook for myself, and group joviality rarely fails to irritate me. I miss seeing movies in theaters, but I couldn’t afford to do it often anyway before, so I’m fine. I know you don’t want to hear this, Rabbi, as it’s not at all the purpose or the spirit of your communiqué, but “count your blessings.”
We’ve got global and national fascism currently vying to imprint the soles of their army surplus boots on our faces. But the world’s been wrong for a long time. The disparities in wealth and power have increased, but they’ve always been there, and always distorted systems of justice; the violent racism, sexism, gender-normative hate-judging, age-ism, and classism in this nation have never abated, they’ve only mutated to accommodate changes in superficial conceits in the zeitgeist. There’s nothing to go back to except the absence of a need, too often unmet, for gloves, masks, distance, sensible workplace protocols to protect essential workers, which should never have been absent in any case, and extra-germ-conscious caution.
I’m not looking forward to a return to the status quo, and I’m not alone. Maybe I should gather a congregation of the doom-curious and send out a newsletter: “Tell me what about your old life you dread returning to. It could be your job, or your family, it could be the business-as-usual public lack of concern for the needless suffering of others, it could be the mockery by the über- fattened leeches on society, and their less-affluent masochistic allies, of the perpetually precarious and the already crushed and defeated. Be sure to give your one-to-thirty-minute frothy polemic in front of your choice of virtual background that depicts the target of your hatred suffering bloody or fiery annihilation.
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Welcome the Moment of Truth, and the conclusion of the 4-part semi-fictional expose of one doctor’s degradation from healer to heel.
Fame was taking our Odd Couple for a lovely jaunt. Dr. Dave made guest appearances on sitcoms, and Mel was jobbed into a number of cable network talent exhibits. About the time Mel started doing the “Big Balls Show” on MTV alongside fellow thinly-disguised fictional standup, Kimmy Jimmel, he began adopting a definitively rightwing stance on issues about which he had no business opining.
Mel: What is it about the Middle East that causes people to be violent, do you think? Dave. Is it something in the soil? Is it –
Dave: (sarcastically) No, it’s two hundred years of oppression by the West, that’s what the liberal, the politically correct —
Mel: – is it the humus? The babaganoush? The crappy music? What is it?
Well, what are you implying, Mel and Dr. Dave? Is it just that dark people on the other side of the world have more violence in their blood or genes? Is it their religion? Their swarthiness? Middle East experts and armchair scholars alike knew that the region had been carved to pieces and raped by the colonizing powers, and the CIA had, as recently as 1953, overthrown the elected Mossedegh government in Iran to install the Shah, and were – even as Dave and Mel were busy disparaging knowledge – continuing their manipulations of peoples, their propping up of dictators, and facilitating when not outright committing the murders of political leaders in the region. The West was not an innocent observer. Radios could be heard across the nation being smashed in fury.
This was no longer a “hip” sex advice show slipping common-sense abstinence, monogamy, condom-wearing, and heterosexual-leaning advice “under the radar.” This was a couple of media figures peddling naked rightwing racist and corporatist propaganda.
And that’s how Dr. Dave finally found his ideological home in the Fox News milieu.
He tried to make it as an actor, no one knows why – I guess he figured if a rightwing toady like Ben Stein could do it, so could he – but someone who’s handsome because there’s nothing wrong with him isn’t a particularly memorable face. Safer to build on his brand as the new, less repulsive Dr. Laura (not fictional. Why keep up the pretense?). And that’s exactly what he did.
And so it’s no accident that he made the mistake of parroting Donald Trump’s dismissal of Covid-19 as “no worse or more alarming than the common flu.” He has since apologized for joining in the chorus of Fox News Trumplicking talking heads who mocked precautions urged by every reputable medical professional and institution outside that echo chamber. I don’t accept Dr. Dave’s apology, and neither should anyone else. He started his career as something of a public servant, but he developed into one of those who masquerade as public servants while contriving to serve only themselves. In the process, it’s fair to conjecture that the deaths he is responsible for are innumerable, and his smug blather downplaying the seriousness of the Covid- 19 pandemic, joining in on the wrong side of medical history, will and should haunt him until he dies choking on his truffle-oil-laced hormone-free sushi.
Was it the lure of fame and all its trappings that brought him to this ignoble pass? Probably. Can we blame capitalism? I mean, many of us are blaming capitalism for a host of societal deficiencies, the inability of our national anti-community ethos to cope with the collective needs imposing themselves due to the current pandemic not the least of them. How much blame can one economic system bear? Systemic oppression, global violence, environmental degradation – of course these can be laid at the feet of dollar-worship, but personal moral and ethical failures? A man starts out treating people’s addictions for little or no compensation. He garners some attention, then starts to pick up a little change, doing a radio gig. He leaves his unprofitable practice to seek his personal fortune. Is it really connected to the pressure to earn more and more money, first just to stay alive, and then to maintain the buffer of wealth that is the only thing standing between sparkling celebrity and the life-and-death struggle of regular people?
Look at the fate of the medical workers in the ICUs across our nation, exposing themselves to a highly contagious and often lethal disease, unprotected because of shortages due to our president’s incompetence, as well as our governing indoctrinated faith in the free market. These workers are freely on the market, and the market has offered them this opportunity, with its risks egregiously outweighing its rewards. Many of them have a calling to help the sick, and the market takes advantage of their good-hearted naivete. Some of them are just trying to survive economically, with the only marketable skill they possess.
Can anyone blame Dr. Dave for setting himself a safer, more remunerative course? Not if we blame capitalism. But would the Good Doctor himself blame capitalism? He might, if only in the barely-conscious part of his mind. Or he might simply admit outright, “I didn’t want to be poor. It’s dangerous to your health.”
Who can argue with that?
As the owners of the means of wealth conjuring grow ever more concerned that the lesser classes aren’t doing enough to keep their numbers up, we’re being bombarded by more and more cleverly disguised “voices of reason” assuring us that the death toll of the virus isn’t worth the economic grief of protecting ourselves from it. Well, not exactly “cleverly disguised.” Steve Forbes, the genetically-meritorious billionaire, recently posted on Twitter: “This pandemic is over. Let’s stop this economic suicide, and get back to work.” Not sure what work he’s talking about. Maybe his laborious job listening to the jingle of his millions rolling in? Oh, I get it, he wants to get back to work as an unaccredited epidemiologist. Sure, Dr. Steve! You get back to work doing your thing!
A tad more subtly, two weeks ago a couple of Bakersfield doctors, who run a for-profit practice that I guess must be leaking revenue, held a news conference, publicized by libertarian funding organizations, during which they touted a mangled statistical methodology for determining that Covid-19 was no more deadly than the flu, exactly the false claim our fictional Dr. Dave and his factual counterpart, Dr. Drew, finally had to apologize for. The Bakersfield propaganda show was taken down by YouTube after an onslaught of complaints by competent experts, but not before racking up 5 million views. The two discredited but somehow still practicing physicians are Drs. Dan Erikson and Artin Massihi. They are to be considered dangerous and shot on sight – oops, no, I mean, ought to be ashamed of themselves. Elon Musk thought they were brilliant! Elon and Forbes should get together for a makeout session.
Seems it doesn’t matter what profession you choose, be it pseudo-doctor like Dr. Phil or Dr. Forbes, or realish doctor, like Drs. Oz and Drew, or fictional ones like Dr. Dave – if there’s a buck to be made by siding with unscrupulous fascists, there will always be those willing to sell their ethics, if not their souls. It’s a story as old as the oldest profession.
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Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
Last we left the rising star, Dr. Dave, he had just discovered an admirable, and, it would turn out, valuable quality in his on-air partner, Howard Stern imitation, Mel Kinolla.
What it was, was showmanship. Mel was a great performer, a natural talent. Dr. Dave felt a warmth for the talent of his friend and wanted to share in it.
Mel began to draw Dave deeper into a comically jaded mindset with a little game in which the caller would be put on hold and Mel would speculate on what had happened in the caller's childhood to put them on the road to disaster. Dave would discuss Mel’s speculations, come up with his own scenario, and they would bet on whose was closer to the truth. Then they'd go back to the caller and elicit the backstory to settle the wager.
It would go something like this:
Mel: All right, honey? We're going to put you on hold for a second. (click) Okay, let's make a little wager here. I'm gonna say, father took off when she was, say, five years old. Mother was an alcoholic – no, mother had an alcoholic boyfriend. Boyfriend molested the daughter.
Dave: I think the father molested the daughter. Same scenario, but the father was alcoholic and abusive.
Mel: Abusive physically or sexually? Dave: Both.
Mel: Why? – I'm just curious.
Dave: It's very common with lesbians – or, she's sixteen, she doesn't know if she's a lesbian or not, really, at that age – but it's very common that survivors of incest abuse start to experiment with being lesbian...
... The contrast between the crudeness of Mel and the compassion of Dave grew less and less discernable as Dave’s discourse sank to Mel’s level. In response, Mel seemed to feel the need to up the crudeness.
Mel: I'm gonna say, drunk father, abusive to mom, mom neglected her, dad was sexual around her but didn't touch her, just let his Johnson hang out, walking around the house. Maybe he even spanked it in front of her. She was raped by a much older boyfriend.
Dave: Raped or seduced? Although it amounts to the same thing. I think there's something anal there.
Mel: Anal? Whaddya mean, like a suppository? Or a broomstick? Dave: I don't know. Something anal. I can't put my finger on it. Mel: Good. Don't. Don't put your finger on the anal thing.
A pattern in Dr. Dave’s diagnoses was that bisexuals weren't bisexual but, rather, confused. And teens below the age of, say, eighteen, who considered themselves homosexual, couldn't possibly know what their sexuality was yet – they were still experimenting, at best. Interestingly, the difficulty of ascertaining one's sexual identity before the age of eighteen never arose when the callers described themselves as heterosexual.
Adam and Drew, I mean, Mel and Dave, found themselves confronting the same problems night after night: young girls who needed the validation of older men and got it by having sex with them, young men wanting to pressure younger girls into having sex with them, young people exacerbating the stress of adolescence with drug use, and, more generally, screwed up people who got that way by being misinformed, weak, fearful, and lazy.
Each caller was a unique individual, of course. In an ordinary practice where he would have been treating young people with such problems, Dr. Andy David Piktis, MD, would never have mocked his patients publicly. But Mel, no physician, neither ethics nor bedside manner any concern of his, began to treat the callers as if they were always the same annoying person, doing the same dumb thing again and again. His comments, sometimes during the calls and sometimes after, grew increasingly abusive.
Mel: Where do they come from Dave? Our callers. How do they live? They seem too dumb to live.
Dave: Well, they muddle through on luck, I guess.
Dave was still clinging to the last shred of his role as the voice of reason, but it wasn't long before his responses to Mel’s suggestions that their callers were deserving of a good dose of ridicule along with advice sounded more sympathetic with Mel’s plight than theirs.
Mel: All right, John? You're not gonna drop out of school, and you're gonna quit sniffing glue, and you're gonna get an HIV test and not have anymore unprotected sex, right?
John: Huh? Yeah, well, my girlfriend won't have sex with me if I wear a condom –
Mel: No. John. Listen. You are not going to have sex without a condom anymore. Okay? You're going to get an HIV test—
John: Yeah, yeah, but—
Mel: No buts, John. Promise me you're not going to have sex without a condom. John? You there?
Mel: Do you understand? Promise me, John.
John: Well, yeah.
Dave: And no more huffing, okay?
Mel: But, Dave, his girlfriend won't have sex with him if they don't huff. Okay, bye John.
Mel: What A-hole would let his daughter within a hundred yards of that retard? Dave?
Dave: There are a lot of A-holes out there.
Mel: That idiot. He's not gonna—he didn't hear a single word we –
Dave: He's an idiot. He doesn't have the motivation. Some people are so dumb they need to hit rock bottom. Although—
Mel: Right, because huffing in Mom’s basement while screwing your junkie girlfriend without a condom isn't –
Dave: Right, exactly –
Mel: That's not rock bottom enough – Dave: That's not far enough down.
Still, Dave didn't have the hostility in his diction that Mel had. He didn't fly off the handle and refer to all Muslims as "Habib" or lambaste anyone who opined that the Canadian healthcare system provided decent health care. But he did sit by and buy into each argument, without actually engaging in the polemical rhetoric. But neither did he ever contradict it.
When we return with the fourth and final part of this fictional saga, we’ll find out how much farther Dr. Dave is willing to go to continue to live the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Join me for Part 4 of “The Good Doctor.”
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Welcome to the Moment of Truth, the thirst that is the drink.
When we last left our fictional protagonist, Dr. Dave Pitkis, the Dr. Drew Pinsky doppelganger of this four-part roman à clef, a radio producer in LA had just had an idea to pair medical advice with adolescent stoner commentary.
Mel Kinolla was in heavy rotation on off nights and as an opener at the Laugh Factory comedy club on Sunset, just a block or two east of the strip proper. Let’s face it, everything east of the Chateau Marmont is not really the strip. You can’t say Zankou Chicken is on the strip.
Kinolla was a real workhorse. He had a palette of embarrassing real-life situations he put to good use, or harnessed into service, as one of those self-deprecating comics. Paired with Dr. Dave on the radio show, which was now broadcast out of LA with the name "Dopeline," and for which both were paid, Mel spoke with the voice of the regular guy who understood the stupid urges of teenagers and probably would have been in the same mess as many of them if he'd had the opportunity or the balls when he was their age. Dr. Dave would warn Mel of the dangers of this or that behavior, however fun it might seem on TV or in Grand Theft Auto or in the sexy mass- cultural mythology, and give the teenager under scrutiny advice on how to get out of the mess he or she was in. And Mel would say something like, "Still, I wouldn't mind hittin' some of that. Sounds like James here has it pretty good, diddling two broads." And Dr. Dave would say, "No no no. You really don't want to do that. Not without a condom, and not with a minor."
By teenager, incidentally, I mean to include the numerous twenty-somethings who called in with the emotional problems of teenagers. The mean age of the callers rose and fell, but their median emotional age hovered at around sixteen.
Dr. Dave was the name he went by, as he does to this day. He was called Dr. Dave even when he testified before a Congressional Committee on the advantages of treatment-based approaches to fighting illegal drug use as opposed to the punitive kind favored by the "smaller government" mentality that had come into vogue in Washington. "Punishment doesn't cure addiction and so ultimately does nothing to shrink demand for illicit drugs," Dr. Dave testified. "Under what other circumstances do we punish someone for being sick? You can't punish the measles out of someone, that person is still going to spread the measles."
A word about Dr. Dave's charitable attitude toward addicts at his stage in his degradation: an ex- girlfriend of mine's best friend was friends with a cousin of Dr. Dave, and she was at a dinner at Toscana at which the cousin and Dr. Dave were both present, and this cousin had brought her fiancé, who was working in the emergency room at County Hospital. And this fiancé got to talking about how many junkies he saw, ODing or in withdrawal or infected with HIV, about whom the fiancé said, "God, they are so stupid. These people are just stupid."
And my ex-girlfriend's friend said Dr. Dave got kind of upset when his cousin's fiancé said this, and that Dr. Dave said to the fiancé, "You're a little young to be speaking that callously about it. Those people are your patients, and you have no idea what led them to that condition. And you – you have not earned the right to call those people stupid, and I don't know if anyone ever earns that right no matter how long they live. That is a screwed-up attitude and I want to dissuade you from it right now."
Or words to that effect.
There was a certain pragmatism to Dr. Dave's approach on the radio. If he could bring a caller around to a small discovery that might help, he would go for that over blanket condemnation of the caller's entire life as he or she was currently living it. And in the first few years of the commercially syndicated show he never resorted to ad hominem attacks, even after the call was ended. It was all the more admirable since at this time "Doctor" Terri Toynbee, my fictional equivalent of Dr. Laura, was making a huge splash with her tough talk, calling people idiots, losers, weaklings, and really laying into them. She claimed to take her morality straight from the Bible, so she called homosexuality a disease. It had a nice marketable ring to it when Rush Limbaugh was rising to his full power.
And yet in an early profile on some fluffy pseudo-news program, Dr. Dave described "Dopeline" as a conservative show sneaking into popular youth culture "below the radar." His advice was typically anti-experimentation vis-à-vis sex and drugs, especially for those below the age of eighteen. But the Good Doctor's decision to characterize safe-sex and anti-drug-abuse advice as "conservative" was puzzling. Radical gay activists, radicalized by the Reagan Administration’s negligent and victim-blaming attitude during the AIDS epidemic, had spearheaded the national safe-sex discussion, people Dr. Dave knew, and knew to have been very supportive of his early column and radio program. Yet during the rise of a rightwing movement destined to all but destroy just about everything he'd stood for up to the point of his radio success, Dr. Dave seemed to be attempting, however subtly, to throw his lot in with exactly that rightwing movement, or at least not to be seen as pushing back against it.
He may have done so in the belief that the rightwing madness which had seen to it that every 18th word uttered on network television was "America" would only let his show survive if it was understood as fitting into the mad project. Or he may have done so because he was preparing to one day get on board that crazy gravy train.
Throughout the early years of "Dopeline," Dr. Dave dispensed sensible advice, while Mel made it palatable to the hip youth of the day with his colloquial diction and fart jokes. But at the time just after the Gingrich conservatives took over Congress, in the mid-to-late nineties, something began to shift.
That something was not in Dr. Dave, but in Mel. Mel started to behave as if, by sitting next to a doctor in a studio every night, he had accumulated some diagnostic and therapeutic expertise. He began to speak less like the id who jokingly wants to engage in bad behavior, and more like the id who wants to tell people with problems that they're morons. Dr. Dave then had the straight man's burden, still comical, of not only dispensing real, useful information against the contrast of Mel's crude, humorous ignorance, but also of representing compassion against Mel's jaded mockery of the feeble-minded wretches who called in.
What was it that would eventually draw Dr. Dave into the very same jaded mindset? It’s true, Mel was not a stupid guy, nor was he entirely unappealing. He was a funny guy, although his humor emerged nearly unadulterated from his all-too-real emotional life. He had taken to the role of foul-mouthed adolescent-minded loser like a germ to mucus. He enjoyed himself. That enjoyment was infectious. Dr. Dave didn't really grok Mel for the first few years of their partnership, but since the partnership was working, earning them both money and celebrity – and Mel was a friend, he'd become a real friend – the Good Doctor was along for the ride, and with no complaint.
It was not long after the "below the radar" remark that Dr. Dave and Mel had a breakthrough in their relationship. Up to then Dave had played the logical Spock to Mel's Homer Simpson. But then this happened, and I saw it: I was running the board in the studio during a show, and, during a break, Dr. Dave was jotting down some notes, when Mel said:
"I'm gonna take a shit. Can you take control of the phones? That's fair, I take a shit, you take control. So we're both taking something. Isn't that fair? Splitting the take?"
Dr. Dave laughed. No one looks quite as insane as Mr. Spock does when he laughs and jumps for joy, especially at the end of the Amok Time episode when it turns out Spock hasn’t, in a state of pon farr, killed Captain Kirk in the battle demanded by Spock’s bonded mate, T’pring, who set up the fight by making the ka-lee-fi challenge. Dr. Dave laughed and for the first time allowed himself to hear past the profanity and get the joke. That was some clever wordplay, he must have thought. I like this guy, this Mel Kinolla. He's got something on the ball. Not sure what yet, but something.
In the next chapter, we’ll find out what that something was, and just how far over into the dark side it would take Mel and Dave, when I continue to Part 3 of The Good Doctor.
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Though I call him the Good Doctor, he's not good. He's not a bad doctor, necessarily. Just a bad person who happens to be a doctor. Or a good person who found a way to opt into a bad system for glory and profit. Either way, the "good" is tongue-in-cheek, or ironic, or sarcastic, or sardonic. Perhaps all simultaneously.
The Good Doctor recently apologized for having repeatedly repeated Donald Trump’s irresponsible talking points that Covid-19 was no worse than the flu, calling it “a press-induced panic” from as early as February 4. On March 10 he mocked people for heeding New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s advice to avoid riding the subway. He continued to mock and downplay legitimate medical advice about avoiding exposure to the virus all the way until he gave a contradictory lie on March 31 to try to cover his ass, and only officially admitted being wrong in an apology via Periscope feed on April 4, less than a week ago. He’d had a change of heart. Or a change of mind. Or the facts changed. Or maybe he was simply making a minor tweak in a discrete component of the overall structure of his brand. I could’ve told him, when you echo whatever echoes in the rightwing echo chamber, you will make mistakes. This time it might turn out to have cost thousands of lives, we’ll never know, although we can assume the damage he did by boosting bad information will have been large.
I always wonder how a somewhat reasonable person transforms into a jolly rider aboard the rightwing bandwagon.
The Good Doctor was in fact a good person at one time. Or perhaps he was a bad person who happened to stumble into the business of helping people. He was a specialist in addiction and addictive personalities. Way back when. And in pursuit of that specialty, he had a clinic where he helped a lot of people, including people who couldn't afford to pay him. Poor people. He helped the poor, that's pretty good. And knowing what he's become, it’s hard to figure out why he was so helpful to those poor people, or to anyone. It was almost as if he didn't know anybetter. He didn't know he had the option to be a thoughtless, selfish person who happened to be a doctor. That's my current theory. The same reason a lot of young people get married and have kids without even knowing why, except that that's what's done, and when they find out later they had a choice not to be spouses and parents, some of them try to find a way out of those circumstances.
Not all of them succeed. But the Good Doctor succeeded in escaping his circumstances. I don't believe it was his intention to escape when he first stepped out the door. But once he'd traveled out of sight of his old circumstances, there was no question of his ever going back. Back to being good in some way.
Good and bad are subjective terms, we can all agree. And yet there are overlapping qualities any socially functional human being can point to. The lines may be blurry, the territory they mark out amorphous, but the boundaries and the territories are there, for most of us. By agreement. Still, the Good Doctor's journey from one territory to the other bears describing, if only to contribute to an understanding of where the boundaries between them might be.
Dr. Piktis is his name. He bears a resemblance, in the lineaments of his career as well as those of his physiognomy, to Dr. Drew Pinsky of radio and TV notoriety. But Dr. Drew is an actual, living person. Here we are discussing a fictional person who just happens, by pure coincidence, to evince those resemblances.
Why drape this fictitious façade over a real-life story? I wanted to add some made-up incidents that were important to the arc, basically. I honestly don’t understand what happened to turn the real Dr. Drew from a reasonable person to a right-leaning media bottom-feeder, but I found that, creatively imagining scenes behind publicly available information, everything fell into place.
Yes, I could have contacted him and interviewed him, trying objectively to weigh his version of his own tale, but that would have been dishonest. I harbor great hostility toward the man, and it wouldn’t be fair to him for me to pretend objectivity when I was researching what was bound to be a hit piece. And so, mostly to protect the real Dr. Drew Pinsky from me and my lies, I’ve gone to the trouble of inventing a fictitious, somewhat parallel, person.
Andy David Piktis, MD, is his name. He goes by the name Dr. Dave now, one of the few media figures brandishing the label "doctor" who is in fact a member of the American Medical Association. He came from a good Jewish family who would never think of misusing the title the way "Doctor" Terri Toynbee and "Doctor" Neil Edwards (both also fictitious) have. Andy was always going to be a doctor, a medical doctor, from the start.
No single incident led to Andy's interest in addiction, but we know his mother was addicted to caffeine. That might seem a little silly. Poor woman, caffeine, you might snort haughtily. But Mrs. Piktis got terrible migraines when the java ran out. A kind of pink, luminous foam would begin lathering at the periphery of her vision, accompanying a pain like having a trowel shoved into the base of her skull. The foam would bubble like acid, burning the edges of her sight until all she saw was its blistering effervescence. Even a slight underdosage of caffeine could bring a spell of migraine. Andy witnessed his mother several times, screaming, heels of her palms pressing hard into her eye sockets as she wandered blindly through the house, scattered as it was with used coffee cups, acrid dregs stagnating in the bottoms.
Don't tell me there was anything particularly good-hearted about his choice of specialty just because it was inspired by his mother's pain. He had to pick a specialty at some point. It's more a testament to his lack of imagination than his empathy that he went into addiction medicine and opened his clinic in Oakland, CA. All he did was latch onto the first human weakness he could understand. It could have been anything.
Andy got married fresh out of undergrad, took the MCATs and passed the first time, as did his wife. They both did their rotations at Rush Presbyterian in Chicago. The mutual support they displayed during those years was admirable. In academics and work ethic they were an exceptional couple. It's tempting to believe that anyone who can maintain such a marriage must possess some inherent goodness. But that would be mistake. Again, it's more likely a semi-conscious conformism and a barely-suppressed fear of loneliness were at work in both the husband and wife than any rarer virtue.
Who is good, then, by these definitions? you might demand. And well you might. I understand your frustration. It may appear to you that I'm merely attaching the worst motives to actions of which the real ones are unknown to me, to avoid admitting the goodness of the Good Doctor. Could be, could be. But read on, because whatever virtue Andy seemed to display in those years, and the ones immediately following, he either lost or jettisoned or never really possessed. Myself, I would find his story far more tragic if I thought he'd ever had a truly virtuous cell in his body.
His wife joined a psychiatric practice in Oakland, and Andy set up shop as a GP, all the while with an eye to turning it into an addiction clinic. Little by little he referred his non-addiction patients to other GPs. They in turn funneled their addicts his way. The local lifestyle in Oakland and San Francisco at that time offered more than enough grist for his mill. Heroin was everywhere, and then crack came up from Los Angeles. Business was booming; within a few years he was getting research grants and hiring his own staff. After publishing a few entertaining articles in the Chronicle, he was offered a syndicated column. It ran in only three papers, but they were the LA Times, the Guardian, and the Bakersfield Tribune, so he developed a respectable readership from the Bay all the way down to Marina Del Rey, and eastward to the edge of the Inland Empire.
By then he had adopted his well-known clean-cut look, that crew-cut and those little glasses. His face was simply clean. (His radio and TV partner, Mel Kinolla, would later say of him, "He's the kind of guy who's handsome because nothing's wrong with him. Kind of like a prototype human waiting for its warts and stuff to grow in.") He had the boyish face that recalled Radar O'Reilly, but leaner, a little less naïve. But naïve nonetheless, because of his Mr. Spock-style clinic-speak. He was disarmingly earnest and unpretentious in public, and those characteristics translated surprisingly well to radio.
He was solo on the radio at first. He did his show for free at the leftwing Pacifica radio station, KPFA. He had by now realized how much young persons’ needs to feel part of a social group impelled them to risky behavior. And more than just trying to fit in for fitting-in's sake, a young adult longed for, and feared the absence of, sexual companionship and the approval of a sexual partner. Dave’s call-in radio show became as much about escaping bad relationships and avoiding STDs as it was about addiction to drugs and alcohol.
It was at this point that a producer for a commercial station in LA heard about “Dr. Dave” (as he had begun to call himself) and had one of those ideas that are "so crazy it just might work." Dr. Dave would field calls from troubled teenagers, many of them drug abusers, victims of sexual abuse, engaged in risky behavior and harboring untreated infections. All the program needed was someone, a sidekick, to bring out the hilarious potential of such misfortunes. That’s where we’ll pick the story back up in Part Two of this 4-part exposé.
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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.
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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.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!