American Journalism Sucks Because Too Many Journalists Don’t Get How Mosaics (Or Connect-The-Dots) Work

Hmmm… I wonder what it is…?

After five years of Trumpism in our politics, America’s news media have finally acknowledged that Trumpism is a very real threat to our democracy. If you demanded specificity, most journalists would probably point to all the obvious instances of Republicans drafting anti-democratic legislation in nearly every state. They’d be right, of course. Most of those journalists are very clear about the terrible implications of what the GOP is doing and what those implications mean: the Republican Party is trying to discount every other vote except theirs. If they can’t outright STOP Black, brown, young or LGBTQ people from voting then they’ll simply refuse to COUNT those votes. Same end product: the Will Of The People to expand the democratic franchise as far as possible will be circumvented by an angry, racist, white minority who want to keep all political power for themselves. But then, after reporting this, most reporters, upon turning to the next story — the battle over the filibuster, for instance — will report it as if the previous story didn’t exist. So, in one moment, Republicans are destroying democracy while, in the next, Democrats are being asked why they won’t work with Republicans.

One of the most painful, frustrating experiences American journalism subjected their news audience to flows from the idea that, in American politics, “both sides do it”. This fallacious framing is pure cynicism. It ascribes the same motives to the Republican suppressing a Democrat’s vote as it does the Democrat whose vote has just been suppressed: they’re being “political”. Oy. That’s as stupid as ascribing the same motives to the car thief and the car thief’s victim who wants his car back. “You want your car back? What are you, some kind of car thief?” That’s the implied question. “Both sides do it” turns healthy skepticism — something every journalist must have in their arsenal — into unhealthy cynicism. Except our motives are all different. If Democrats thought and acted like Republicans, they’d BE Republicans.

The simple truth is, progressives and conservatives (never mind their political labels) are different creatures. We think differently. What’s most important to us is different. Conservatism wants to preserve the past for as long as possible because the past represents a kind of “Golden Age” in their minds. Progressives, on the other hand, want to fix what the past got wrong and make THAT our collective future. We will almost always favor people over profits. The commonweal is way more important to us than anyone person’s bank account. We understand that it takes a village to do literally anything — especially when it comes to money.

American journalism has gotten it into its head that, at all costs, it must be “neutral”. To a degree, they’re right. Journalism’s job is straightforward reporting of the facts with as little bias as possible so that the news audience can draw their own conclusions. But, as new information enters the environment, the environment must adapt and evolve. If new information says it’s raining outside, you may want to take an umbrella with you when you walk out the door. This morning’s weather forecast will be useless by this afternoon. But, American journalism — because they think “both sides do it” — has become obsessive over old weather forecasts — as if this morning’s forecast still applied to right now even though, clearly, the weather is entirely different.

American politics have always been ugly. We forget that because we have no sense of our own history; we’ve gotten it into our heads that, in the past, we were all “Kumbaya” despite our differences. We’ve never been that. Hell pro-slavery Southern Democrat Preston Brooks nearly beat abolitionist Republican Charles Sumner on May 22, 1856 to death on the Senate floor. Quick reminder: per Heather Cox Richardson’s excellent “To Make Men Free: A History Of The Republican Party”, Lincoln’s Republican Party and the modern GOP are diametric opposites now of what they were then. Modern Republicans are Southern Democrats (Dixiecrats) who always opposed racial justice in America. But, as bad as it has been in the past — up to and including attempted homicide — the introduction of Trumpism into our body politic (into Republicanism in particular) — ratcheted up every terrible impulse every Republican ever had.

Same goes for our journalists.

“Mexicans are rapists” should have been the end of Trump’s presidential bid as it would have been for literally any other candidate. “Pussy grabbing” should have iced the “Trump Will Never Be POTUS” cake. And yet, both those very real concerns for a presidential candidate were outdone by “But, her emails!”, a tempest in a teapot if ever there was one. “Mexicans are rapists” wasn’t just a single statement addressing a single issue (Trump’s appreciation for fellow rapists), it was an opening to a wider discussion because what Trump revealed was clear: HE’S A RACIST who, without even thinking about it, regularly says racist things.

But, let’s bore in on racism itself as an example of what I mean. Our news media thinks its an open question as to whether anyone is or isn’t a racist. They think it’s as easy as asking a racist if he’s racist. Except racism (like beauty, ironically) isn’t up to the subject, it’s up to everyone around the subject — the beholders either of the beautiful person’s beauty or the racist’s racism. And it’s not subject to a vote either. It only takes one racist victim to make a racist. If anyone feels anyone else is being racist toward THEM (no one gets to proxy here), then that’s the end of it. Mind you, this does assume we’re all being honest actors, so obviously I’m excluding any and all Republicans.

Our news media struggles with whether or not Donald Trump — with a whole freakin’ HISTORY of doing and saying racist things — is or isn’t a racist. That’s because they bore in on each instance of racism as if stood all by itself, unconnected to any other moment in Trump’s life. Trump’s niece Mary Trump did a wonderful job of contextualizing her uncle’s psychopathology. She doesn’t question whether or not her uncle’s racist because she’s heard him say racist things. Same goes for whether or not her uncle’s a scumbag.

If you looked only at a dot on a page, you might think that dot was everything — the whole universe. A professional, compulsive journalist would, understandably, make that dot the sole focus of her existence until she’d explained it. But, if that compulsive journalist can only see that one dot — even down to the microns of ink intertwining with the microns of paper fiber — while she may be giving us a new, profound understanding of one thing, she’s missing the boat on literally everything else in the whole universe. Or, can we say “missing the big picture”?

A tile is one thing, the mosaic it sits inside of is something else entirely. Donald Trump was the first president EVER to have been impeached — for election fraud no less — and then run in the very same election he was impeached for cheating in! But, during the election, very few journalists connected those dots for their news audience — even as Trump was actively cheating in the very same way. But then, Trump cheated to become POTUS in the first place. If not for Russia, Trump does not win in 2016. What about that piece of the mosaic?

Our news media continues to this day to scratch its head over the hold Trump has on the Republican Party. While, sure, there are Republicans who just plain adore Trump’s authoritarian bent (they’ve always hated the gamble that elections present), it’s not ideology connecting these pirates. It’s treason — pure and simple. Our news media should know this because THEY have reported it. In 2017, the Washington Post reported on a conversation that took place in 2016, a month before the GOP nominated Trump to be their presidential candidate. Current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy walks into a room of Republican leaders a month before the convention and says out loud (it was recorded and the recording was played for the Post’s reporter) “There’s two people I think Putin pays — Rohrbacher and Trump — swear to God!” For the record, no one in the room questioned McCarthy’s truthfulness. They all seemed to take it as a given that McCarthy was spot on — that Russia was paying Rohrbacher (among other Republicans) and Trump (the guy they were about to nominate to be POTUS). Their issue wasn’t THAT Trump was compromised, it was “how are we going to keep this terrible information a secret?”

That’s why, per then Speaker Of The House Paul Ryan, the Republican leadership agreed to keep the secret that their presidential nominee to be was a Russian intelligence asset “in the family”.

It shouldn’t be a question of “Is Trump a traitor” just like it shouldn’t be a question “Is Trump a racist?” Hell yes and hell yes!

The Big Picture shouldn’t be as hard to see as we make it. And connecting dots shouldn’t be the challenge it is either. For the record? The connect-the-dots picture up top? It’s a dinosaur.

Icing v Cake

How many times has a cake with amazing icing disappointed because the cake itself — even if it was good — simply couldn’t match the icing’s enticing promise? Or, more basically, how would we feel about being served a piece of cake that promised greatness but delivered its opposite (while making us physically sick)? . Icing’s a great metaphor. It sets up a promise that the cake beneath better deliver on — that’s how “cake” works,. The icing in the brick designed cake above is funny, clever and a great enticement to sample the cake within. But, what if the situation was reversed slightly. What if beneath every bit of icing meant to look like a brick was a real brick? Okay — clever icing but it leads to a terrible final experience — no one wants to eat an actual brick, right? Or, even if we iced the brick with the best butter cream icing available? We can make that brick look incredibly appetizing — until the moment you bite into it and wreck your teeth. Expectation v Reality. And sometimes? Flat out bullshit v reality.

Sometimes we go even further: we sugar coat poison then serve it up to people.

Politics is “Icing v Cake” on steroids. So’s religion. That’s what makes both so vulnerable — the most toxic political or religious cake can be hidden beneath Kool-Aid flavored icing a la Jonestown. Nobody went to Jonestown to die. That wasn’t the “icing” they bought into. They had no idea how diabolically evil a cake Jim Jones was baking for them all. “The Peoples Temple” sounds lovely because it’s icing. Consider what that icing looked like BEFORE the massacre: The Peoples’ Temple that Jones founded in 1955 was racially integrated and counter-cultural; Jones advised his adherents to live a communal, socialist life style filled with shared purpose. Strip away fifty years of accrued cynicism and you can sorta kinda recall how much more “innocent” we were. Innocence and icing love go hand-in-hand. That’s not a knock, it’s just a fact.

Most of the 918 people who died at Jonestown walked in the door expecting one thing — the glorious icing of happiness but, instead, ended up dead because the cake itself was utterly poisonous. Figuratively and literally.

The Republican Party is another “Icing v Cake” situation. Their icing says they’re a political party. The cake beneath is something entirely different. The cake — and we’ve experienced samples of it for five long years now — is flavored with greed and power lust and even treason. The odor it gives off is pure, unadulterated corruption. Our news media however cannot see the cake below the GOP’s deep red surface. To them, it’s just a red cake doing things red cake does. They’ll even ask the red cake how it tastes — not an unreasonable question but you have to know as you ASK the question that the answer is going to be totally biased. “I taste great!” says the red cake even though, fact is, it tastes like an anal wart covered in putrescence.

That’s like asking a racist if they’re a racist. How the hell would the racist know? He’s too much of a racist to give you any sort of an honest answer. Want to know if someone’s a racist or if the cake they made tastes okay? Ask someone ELSE. And don’t ask someone who hasn’t sampled the cake, ask someone who’s experienced racism directly. Even better, ask someone who’s experienced the racist’s racism directly. They’ll tell you — even as the racist shakes his head in earnest denial — not only THAT the racist is a racist, but just how MUCH of a racist the racist is. Racism, of course, is one of the cakes always available in America.

Cleaning up America’s cake is going to take some time. Republicans and conservatives have been hard at work the past decade destroying our pantry, making our stored ingredients vulnerable to rats and roaches and other gnarly creatures. Worse yet, Republicans sold us out to their crazy friend Vladimir. What else are we to make of “icing” that looks as screwed up as this —

Alas, our news media are icing junkies who have a limited tolerance for cake. That’s a product of “both sides do it” journalism which insists that both sides make exactly the same cake; they just frost them differently. That is absolutely not so. Republicans like their cake dry as hell — white as hell, too. Angel food is ideal because it’s white. Any chocolate on it better come from a jar so they “keep a lid” on it at all times. Progressives and most Democrats are far more open-minded about cake. They make a point of embracing all the kinds of cake there are — especially the multi-colored kind with the chocolate icing.

Marie Antoinette famously said (was famously misquoted actually) “Let them eat cake” when told the peasants of Paris were starving because they had no bread to eat. What she really meant, of course, was let them eat icing. Rich Marie knew better than to promise the rabble anything as nourishing as cake.

What Does It Say About You When You Suck At Being A Christian?

In theory, following Jesus is remarkably easy. So easy, in fact, that even an atheist can do it just by “Doing it unto others”. And yet, looking around at the most “Christian-y” among us, people “doing unto others” is the last thing you’ll see — unless they’re doing it unto others before those others can do it unto them. But, in theory anyway, the most Christian people should be the people who most want to model their lives on Jesus’s. Hmmmmmm… the most visibly Christian people visible to us are televangelists like Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker and Kenneth Copland and Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Joel Osteen Copland famously explained why it’s just not possible for a “man of Jesus” to fly commercial. Each of these characters is a study in performance art, not spirituality. Kenny Copland and Joel Osteen couldn’t care less about your problems unless you start making monthly donations via your credit card. The only thing these scumbags have faith in is their bank account.

Jerry Falwell, Jr wants you to know it wasn’t Jesus who put THAT smile on THAT young woman’s face. No sirree. Jesus couldn’t do that on his best day. But Jerry just did (he wants us all to know).

The fact that it’s sooooooooo easy to pick on televangelists should tell us something. The fact that religious figures have been figures of satiric fun going back to Moliere’s Tartuffe (1664) should tell us something. In Tartuffe, a rich guy takes a religious fraud into his house believing it will raise his standing. Of course, the rich guy doesn’t realize Tartuffe is a fraud (though everyone else in his house does). Even when Tartuffe seduces his wife atop the very table he’s hiding under doesn’t convince him. That’s some serious bamboozlement — but that’s the whole point of televangelism. It’s theater. God Kabuki geared not toward anyone’s spiritual enlightenment but toward enriching the preacher as quickly as possible. As Kenny Copeland will happily tell you — it costs Jesus a bomb to fly private, but a messiah’s gotta fly how he’s gotta fly — and, hell — where’s my damned drink?

Why is it the most ardent Christians seem the least good at it — like they need to keep talking about Christianity or, they know, they’ll stop believing in it. Like they’ve “heard” the good news they’re selling except they can’t quite make themselves buy it.

To be fair, being a Christian is indeed hard: you have to swallow a lot of things no one should have to swallow. But, that’s only if you insist on practicing Christian dogma rather than Jesus’s simple life philosophy.

Fact: just as he did not invent Christianity (Paul did), neither did Jesus invent a single bit of the mythology that says 1) he rose from the dead or 2) is coming back any time soon. Again, Paul the Apostle did all that. Paul never met Jesus (like has family had). He never heard Jesus teach. So, when Paul tried to hijack Jesus, Jesus’s family and followers objected. That’s why Paul took HIS version of Jesus — and the Jewish mythology that suggested Jesus was any sort of “messiah” — out to the Gentiles. They didn’t know Jesus either. And they had even less background in the Jewish mythology than former Jew Paul did. So, when Paul twisted the Jewish mythology around to meet his needs, no one objected because no one knew any better.

Judaism, by its nature, is relatively dogma-free. One can toss the whole religion and still be welcome as a Jew (that’s because Judaism is more than just a religion; fifteen years of isolation in Europe did turn Jews into a unique tribe with its own genetic disorder caused by in-breeding). The most dogmatic part of Judaism is its dietary laws and no one is obligated to follow them. It’s a choice. Christianity, on the other hand, is steeped in dogma — and you absolutely must buy the dogma if you want the Christian bone. And not a whit of Christian dogma has the least bit to do with anything Jesus said, thought or taught.

But then, Jesus was born, lived his entire life and died a Jew. He preached only to Jews about topics only Jews understood in a language that was uniquely theirs. IF Jesus were to miraculously rise from the dead and walk the earth again, the first thing he’d bump on is the staggering amount of hatred his followers feel toward his tribe. He’d be blown away by the number of Jews MURDERED by Christians for a reason that Jesus himself would insist was bullshit: that any Jew “killed him”.

On pure story logic, it makes zero sense. If the whole point of Jesus’s existence is to die for the sins of humanity so as to right the wrong Eve committed in the Garden of Eden, then it would not serve humanity if Jesus doesn’t get crucified and, say, lives to be a very old man who dies happy. For the mythology to work, Jesus must die at the hands of the Romans. If you look at the bigger picture — the one God’s working — Jesus MUST die. To Paul’s credit, his invention endures like few things have ever endured.

I don’t think that’s because the Christian message resonates with so many people, I think it’s because Paul cleverly added a new dimension to Yahweh — and having a deity that cared about humans because he created them was a game changer. Whereas polytheistic gods did very little for individual humans, Yahweh the monotheist deity supposedly cared about each and every human. But Paul improved on that idea of a personable god by having Yahweh offer up something every human wanted more than life itself: a way to defeat death.

That, really, is Paul’s sales pitch to Christians: “Believe in this version of Jesus I’m pitching to ya and, just like Jesus did, you, too, can defeat death!” Who wouldn’t want to live forever and be surrounded by the people and things you love?

The problem for Christianity is, most people have figured out that Christianity cannot possibly deliver on its promise of defeating death. Without that benefit, what’s the point? I mean, Jesus is a perfectly nice guy but so’s my nephew. Can Jesus cut video like my nephew can because otherwise he’s useless to me and probably everyone else. If it isn’t about following Jesus (or beating death) then what’s the point of Christianity for most Christians? This, I suspect, lies at the heart of the problem. The object of being a Christian is to keep Christian dogma in your prayers. You damn well better adhere to it — or stop calling yourself a “Christian”.

For the record? Followers of Jesus do not have the same issues.

Maybe the real problem is that it’s so easy to be (or at least call yourself) “a Christian” that any angry, racist jerk can join the club. When Christians proselytize, they honestly don’t care what you’re guilty of. As far as they’re concerned, once you’ve “bathed in the blood of Christ”, all your sins are forgiven — including the really ugly, violent ones you’re going to do at your church’s behest.

I take back what I said up top. Guys like Jerry Falwell, Jr and Kenneth Copeland don’t suck at being Christians. In fact, they’re great at it. It’s following Jesus where they completely fall down.

As if following Jesus mattered to them.

Do Religious People Believe “IN” God Or That They ARE “God”? I Suspect It’s Mostly The Latter…

Monotheism is dangerous — far more dangerous than polytheism — and far, FAR more dangerous than atheism. Let’s be clear: there have been atheistic despots (Pol Pot comes to mind). But, atheistic as they may have been, it was never their atheism driving their heinous cruelty because atheism doesn’t work like theism does inside our minds. For starters, atheism is entirely undogmatic. There’s no institution to create rules for adherents to follow — the whole basis for dogma. Simply put, there’s no institution and certainly no institution telling atheists how to think in order to demonstrate how “religiously” atheistic they are. Dogma is like a suit of armor around the religionista, protecting their delicate sensibilities from the harsh cruelties of the real world. Religion only works if a follower is willing to suspend all critical thinking; they must accept without question the institution’s interpretation of the world and human purpose within it. And all that purpose is directed, the religious believe, by an actual being named Yahweh.

Or do they? If you asked the average religionista how they feel about Yahweh and they’d stare back vaguely. How do they feel about who now? That’s because most religious people haven’t actually read any of the texts they supposedly base their lives on. They certainly haven’t approached their spirituality with an ounce of curiosity. That’s a large clue as to what they’re thinking. Or not thinking as is the case. In their defense, a lot of people cling to their religion because it was introduced to them when they were kids. The fear buttons pushed then to set the God hook deeply stayed pushed. Even rational people can be intensely irrational given a certain subject matter particular to them.

And what of the deity — or, rather the idea of “the deity” — that set in their heads when the idea was introduced to them in childhood? Even kids (like mine) raised in an entirely non-religious household have to confront religion because American society has been so “religionized” by the religionistas among us. This morning, for instance, a unanimous (but narrowly focused) decision allows Catholic Family Services of Philadelphia to continue discriminating against LGBTQ couples in its adoption business. The God of the Religious Right knows what he likes but even more what he hates apparently.

How exactly, I wonder, do the religious arrive at their conclusion that God doesn’t want them adopting children needing love and a family to loving families just because those families aren’t “traditional”? I suspect they pulled such a thing from their asses. The Jewish Pentateuch took more than a thousand years to come together; it memorialized longstanding tribal mythologies and beliefs. But, even as they practiced their faith, Jews questioned their faith because acceptance of dogmatism just isn’t how Jews roll. In point of fact, Jews are more a culture than a religion. We may have begun life as a religion but fifteen hundred years of forced isolation in Europe forced Jews to invent a culture unto themselves. That’s one reason why Jewish culture endures even as more Jews become less religious. Irreligion is not a deal breaker. You don’t stop being Jewish just because you practice another faith. Ask the rest of the world. They’ll tell you: once a Jew, always a Jew.

The religious put on quite a show when they want to demonstrate their fealty to Yahweh. That’s because Yahweh — Creator of the Whole Universe and Everything In It” demands fealty, neurotic psychopath that he is. In Yahweh’s defense, he’s not a terribly original creation and the first Jews didn’t really make Yahweh their one and only god for a long, long time. He probably had reason to feel defensive. Whoever the original Abraham character was — the tribal chieftain who migrated his extended family from modern day Iraq (where he came from — so the book says) to modern-day Israel where he and his family co-existed with the Canaanites whose god El, these transplants from the East seem to have liked. They must have liked El because they embedded El’s name in so many places that endured even after the Canaanites were long gone: Beth-EL for instance or IsraEL.

What it all demonstrates is who invented whom. Yahweh didn’t invent anyone. The Hebrews — borrowing from the Canaanites — invented Yahweh a/k/a “God”.

Now, keep in mind, almost no one who claims to believe in God knows anything about this. If you told them, they’d shake their head in disapproval. They’d insist that they know God exists because they have a personal relationship with him (in fact, they’re quite sure this cosmic force is a “him”). I bet it’s not too far removed from the personal relationship they have with the person who stares back at them from the bathroom mirror. I bet, if we could be there in the room there with most of them, they wouldn’t give Yahweh or God or anyone not there in the room with them the time of day. Much more real to them — the face staring back from the mirror.

And much more real? The voice that speaks as they gaze at themselves. That, really, is the “voice of God”. For some people, that would be a profoundly discomfiting revelation. For the deeply religious, it’s the voice’s “familiarity” that appeals. The voice of God sounds good in their heads. It won’t matter to them how it plays in our heads.

In fact, it won’t matter to them if it doesn’t.

Or, What If Putin Has Been Waging Cyber War Against Us The Whole Time And His Problem Is WE Finally Know It?

If ever a photo spoke volumes, it was the one taken as Donald Trump emerged from his sit-down with Vlad Putin in Oslo. The two men emerged from their meeting (no one on our side took notes) to speak to the press. They needn’t have said a word; their body language spoke every single truth they were about to deny. Donald Trump was and remains Vladimir Putin’s bitch. It’s that simple. Compromising greedy shitheads is “Intelligence Agency 101” type stuff. Whether it’s a honey pot or just plain old money, you dangle, they take and you own them. And then you own them MORE. Putin may have had his hooks set into Trump as early as the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow. From that point on — whenever it was — a project like Donald Trump is a long play. Putin didn’t know when he “recruited” Trump if this particular gamble would pay off but Trump could be useful to Putin in myriad other ways.

Except, with Donald Trump, Putin not only got lucky, he found a Trojan Horse — a guy with political ambitions who could be weaponized like few others because he already thought like a criminal. What caused Fusion GPS to sub-contract the Russian part of their oppo research on Trump (regardless of who was paying them at the time — as both sides did) to a Chris Steele (a man with a solid rep and great contacts inside Russia) — was the suspicion that Trump had used his bankrupt Atlantic City casinos to KNOWINGLY launder Russian mob money. Russian money has been there all along, backing Trump, cash flowing him. Hey, remember that wacky real estate deal where some “dumb Russian guy” paid Trump $95 for a house in Palm Beach he bought for $40? You don’t suppose “that” was dirty, do ya?

Putin, meanwhile, had infiltrated the Republican Party at pretty much every level — covering every angle they could. Russian money poured into the GOP via the NRA and by way of Russian emigres now living in America as Americans whose retirement checks got strange bumps that they paid forward — as if by design — to various Republican politicians. If you don’t look too closely, you’d never see the crime. That doesn’t mean it’s not a crime.

We know for a fact that Putin dreams of restoring Greater Russia to the world stage as a “playeh!” His problem, outside of oil and corruption, Russia doesn’t export anything of value. Unfortunately for them, both oil and corruption are facing difficult market headwinds. But, Putin’s quite good at playing a crap hand to maximum advantage — in large part because, being an intelligence officer by training, he doesn’t play at war with conventional rules. Being a spy, his idea of warfare is entirely asymmetrical.

Asymmetrical warfare relies on the two sides thinking of war differently.

One side waits for bombs and bullets to start flying before finally declaring war on the guy who’s attacking them. Except, what if one country declares war on another — with the very same intentions and goals — but plans to accomplish them without ever firing a shot? Does that mean it’s NOT warfare? Does that mean if one country figures out how to “trick” another country into losing a war then what the first country does is okie-dokie? Is that what we’re saying here? It better not be. Any country that thinks only bombs and bullets can win wars will lose every war it ever fights going forward. It doesn’t matter how big your army is or how large your stockpile of munitions if, while the other side celebrates, you — the loser — find yourself stumbling around in the dark, your power supply cut, your food chain disrupted and your sanitation suddenly backing up on you because the ransomware guys took the money and then screwed you over. If Russia hacked into our power grid & shut it down, we’d sue for peace tomorrow.

Total cost to Russia for the same desired result as a long, protracted, bloody land, air and sea war? Almost nothing beyond the care and feeding of a bunch of computer nerds. This is where we are now: you don’t have to physically bomb people into submission to make them submit.

If you’re the news media — stuck in past definitions like what “war” is — you’re going to be late to the party. Imagine for a moment if FDR had been a little more cautious after Pearl Harbor. Consider the advantage Japan had as they attacked under cover of dawn and surprise. They knew they were at war with us months before. The fact that we didn’t know it doesn’t change the fact that a state of war existed. The citizens, airmen, sailors and soldiers at Pearl Harbor died regardless of whether an actual “state of war” had been declared. The element of surprise made a huge difference.

Let’s do a little thought experiment. What if, after attacking Pearl Harbor — recognizing the advantage surprise played at Pearl Harbor and how they might improve on that advantage — the Japanese, instead of openly declaring war, went the opposite way. What if Japanese Prime Minister Tojo — before FDR gave his “Day of Infamy” speech before Congress on December 8, 1941 and declared war on Japan — got on the horn to FDR and said “We are soooooo sorry about this, Mr. President! Admiral Yamamoto went a little nuts and pulled a ‘Doctor Strangelove! Our bad! We swear it won’t happen again. We good now?” And what if FDR, not wanting to cause a world war or anything, said “Yeah, okay, Japan, but you better be damned careful from now on that such a thing never happens again!”

And what if Japan said “Promise!” but was lying because they were already in the process of surprise attacking The Philippines, Guam, Wake Islands, Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong and everywhere else the Imperial Fleet attacked that day and in the days and weeks that followed? And what if — each and every time, just like the first — FDR would threaten to declare war on Japan but Tojo would talk FDR from the ledge? Imagine if FDR had kept giving Japan the benefit of the doubt because they never formally declared war on us.

Our news media would run endlessly with this. It’s a rabbit hole they understand. If a state of war was never declared then how could it be “war”? Certainly, we wouldn’t call something “war” if it wasn’t, would we? See? Just like that, a state of war is normalized.

Watching the news conference taking place right now in Brussels as President Biden completes his first sit down with the other members of NATO, it’s shocking to think that none of the “journalists” in that room can imagine a framing where Donald Trump is a traitor and that’s why he behaved the way he did for four years. Not a hyperbolic traitor, a real one. They can switch from a story about Trump letting Vlad Putin humiliate him in public to a story about Trump running for POTUS again in 2024 as if those two events had nothing to do with each other. They can do a story about Republicans actively working to destroy every bit of our democratic system — starting with voting — then wonder aloud why Democrats won’t be all kumbaya-bi-partisan with the same people — as if, suddenly, their authoritarian stink was acceptable and their attempts to force permanent minority rule down the majority’s throat is just another “policy” they’re hawking.

What if this whole time, not only have we been under attack in a cyber war but the guy attacking us is getting copious help and assistance from one of our two political parties. And what if the big money behind this party KNEW for a fact what their political arm was doing — allying with a hostile foreign government despite the fact that it’s HIGHLY ILLEGAL? And what if that money did it anyway because their goal — an entirely white electorate — aligned with Putin’s goal — an America that won’t bother it while it finishes slitting democracy’s throat?

Our news media perceives that Putin is reacting differently to Biden than he did to Trump. Their explanations do everything but satisfy. They’re like a bunch of blind guys trying to make sense of an elephant for the first time when they’re neither blind nor unfamiliar with elephants. If the news media would just read its own reporting, it might be miles ahead of the story curve. That’s more painful than anything; it’s not that our news media haven’t reported this story — reported Trumpian treachery — it’s that they have but refuse to aggregate their own reporting into an ongoing, evolving, cohesive narrative that explains the story.

Look at Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s strange devotion to him (institutional Republicans) with a purely political lens — as our news media does — and all you can see is a bunch of politicians not wanting to lose elections. But see Trump and the GOP through a treason lens and suddenly the picture gets both more complex and more clear. If Republicans knew early on that Trump was compromised by Putin — and they knew what Putin was doing (even vaguely!) then they face very real legal jeopardy. They’re dictionary definition traitors.

If America doesn’t punish Trump and the GOP’s treason to the very fullest extent the law allows then we can start counting down to the moment Trumpism rises again and, this time, goes straight for democracy’s jugular. Down deep, every Republican knows the line they crossed. They know they’ve committed treason. They know there’s no going back now. The evidence is all around us as it always has been. It won’t be a matter of digging for it but accepting it for what it is.

Trumpian and Republican treason is as plain as the vagina on Donald Trump’s neck or the orange cast to his skin. Not only is this not normal, it’s not political either; Trump and the republicans have committed criminal acts for political purposes. America, in reacting to it, is NOT acting politically. We The People are the victims of a crime perpetrated upon us by the Republican Party. The relief we seek is both criminal in the short term — and we can’t do anything else until we stop this crime from continuing — but political in the long term: we need to legislate every way necessary to make sure that such a thing never happens again.

The GOP is terrified of being outed as traitors because they know what that’ll do to corporate money (even Chik-Fil-A can’t lie down with traitors). Even more, they’re terrified of going to prison. I bet more than a few of the upper tier of the GOP still thinks they can’t possibly be made to pay for what they’ve done. Getting away with things is a way of life. Putin also has counted on getting away with everything. With Trump, his asset, in the White House, America wasn’t going to lift a finger to stop Putin.

That’s all changed now. A skilled diplomat is now POTUS. A man with considerable foreign policy experience. A man with a conscience and a soul and who’s actually put skin in the patriotism game. That’s what worries Putin — and make no mistake he is worried.

Putin runs a glorified third world country. If not for his nuclear weapons, he’d be Kim Jong Il with borscht breath. He’s not a “head of state” the way we think of democratically elected heads of state. He’s a glorified mobster with a government at his corrupt disposal. He cares about power more than anything. Holding on to power demands having lots of money which means being super corrupt and super corrupting with that money. But Putin and his oligarch pals can’t bank their dirty money in Russia because they can’t trust the banks (which they own) because those banks are all corrupt. Consequently, Putin and his pals must do their banking here in the West.

That makes Putin incredibly vulnerable. Imagine if we went after every oligarch EXCEPT Putin. What if we made their lives a living hell by taking every asset they own? Before too long, these guys would all turn to Putin and demand he do something. If he can’t stop them from getting crushed, they will turn on Putin — just like that. Don’t think Putin knows it? Don’t think he doesn’t fear it?

Putin knows he’ll exit the world stage violently because that’s the only option corrupt leaders ever leave people. He fears that attack will come out of nowhere — like a surprise in the middle of the night.

Or on a quiet Sunday morning.

Ever Tried “Platforming” Your Cannabis?

Can we please, agree on one thing before we start: what THC does to our brains is entirely different from what alcohol does to them. It would be absurd to discuss ways drinking can improve your work product. While many famous drunks have produced much greatness, they all did that in spite of the alcohol that sustained them. I’ll produce my own lab data momentarily. Jazz was invented by musicians who knew that about alcohol — and yet invented one of the quintessential American idioms with more than a little THC in their blood. The THC helped where the alcohol couldn’t have — because the two chemicals work so differently inside our brains.

I have been hammered. I have been tipsy. I have been somewhere in between and sat down to write, thinking I was producing genius. I wasn’t. That happened one hundred percent of the time. By the same tokin’, I sit down to work every single day AFTER having lit up a bowl of my favorite sativa. People have paid me good money for that work — and been happy as hell with it, too. I could not have produces any of that work if I’d been drinking. Have I made my point yet?

Though I never set out to, I now use cannabis literally from the start of my day to the end of it. I have never been happier. I’ve never been more productive either.

One of the first things I learned — as my total ignorance waned — was that a thing called “sativas” exist and that they’re very different from indicas. Just as these two variations on cannabis grow a little differently (indicas tend to be stocky and bushlike while sativas tend to grow taller and get stalker, its leaves a lighter shade of green than indicas), so, too do their effects differ. Not completely, but significantly.

One of the things that separates the cannabis experience from the alcohol experience (in my personal experience) is the fact that it can be heady in the first place. Virtually all cannabis stokes my creativity. I can be well into my third bedtime indica hit (my night time regimen is three bowls to get my brain to slow the hell down) with sleep tugging at me when, suddenly, I’ll get a burst of creative energy. Words will spew onto a pad of paper (by then I’ve turned off the computer and, frankly, I like spewing in long hand). Fifteen minutes at the most and the spigot will suddenly run dry. Sleep will beckon and this time there’ll be no putting it off.

When I go back in the morning, nine times out of ten, it’s not only useable but, aside from typing it up? It’s ready to rock. That’s because cannabis doesn’t cloud the mind, it focuses it. And, it turns out, each sativa strain focuses your mind in its own particular way. The gold standard is Durban Poison, a landrace sativa from South Africa. The DP in your local dispensaries may differ in the exact amount of THC each has; that’s a product of the grower’s art. But the DP will have the same effect on your brain regardless: a distinct sense of focus. Some strains — Tangie Cookies for instance — produces a more energized focus. Thoughts don’t necessarily wait for you to “think them”. Tangie Cookie and The Fork (another racy sativa) can get you thinking a handful of thoughts all at the same time. For me? That’s the best ride in the amusement park.

While one can easily think about multiple things at the same time with a hit of Durban Poison, that would be you and not the DP driving the process — a subtle distinction to be sure but, inside one’s mind, a clear one. So, what happens if one, say, combines DP with a more vigorous sativa like The Fork? That’s when platforming happens: you get the benefit of both strains at the same time. To a large degree, growers already do this when they create new strains that combine the attributes of the parent strains. That process is painstaking and takes years. The same effect can be achieved just by opening two different strains and blending them before smoking them.

This morning, I put together an ass-kicking cannabis cocktail containing Lemon Sour Diesel, Pineapple Thai and Platinum Green Crack.. Smoked separately, the Lemon Sour Diesel would have produced a mellow focus, the Pineapple Thai a more energized high and the PGC a full-on wake-n-bake eye-opening. The resulting mix produced a sensational, productive buzz that lasted about an hour and a half. I wrote almost relentlessly and published it earlier today.

Cannabis continues to surprise me. It’s not one thing; never was. It’s a variety of things. It can make you super productive or deliver truly restful sleep (far more restful than any sleep you could get on alcohol or OTC sleep meds). It puts a remarkable amount of control into the user’s hands — and whatever piece they use to get that THC into their brains.

How Our DNA Echoes Across Time

For better or worse, we see our parents in our own faces. Or our grandparents in our children.

It’s proof the theory of genetics is on to something. We’re aware of the physical attributes that pass to us from previous generations. Why, they’re as plain as the noses on our faces. Other things pass down to us also. Less apparent but, often, more significant. Genetic diseases like Tay Sachs or sickle cell anemia pass silently from Jewish generation to Jewish generation and Black generation to Black generation. But, other subtle things pass down to us, too. Good things. Being the father of two young adults, I can see both my DNA’s past and I can glimpse into its future. We’ve learned that our DNA is more malleable than first thought. Data says that traumatic experiences like the Holocaust actually changes the experience-survivor’s DNA. So, experience (and the “memory” of it) can ride along from generation to generation. It turns out, ideas can, too. I am bearing witness in real time to an “idea” that stated itself plainly in one generation and — without being stated — has carried itself down through four succeeding generations virtually intact. It’s like a game of “telephone” where the message arrived unscathed.

For reference, I’m 62. Born in 1959. My father was born in 1929. I couldn’t tell you what year his father or mother were born for various reasons but I can tell you where. In the case of my father’s maternal grandfather (his mother’s father), Havis Cohen came from Vilnius, Lithuania sometime during the Great Migration in the 1890’s. I don’t know what Havis did for a living. I know he had a wife and three children. One became my grandmother Elinor, the mother of my father Jerel. After Havis and his family arrived, everyone hurried to become official Americans. There wasn’t much point to being here if you weren’t a citizen; my tribe learned that quickly.

But, while everyone around Havis became “American” as quickly as possible, Havis demurred. He was happy to be in America, but he was in no hurry to BE an American. As I can’t ask Havis directly WHY he didn’t want to become an American like the rest of his family, I’ll have to deduce it more from what my DNA tells me. Havis’ explanation was “I’m a citizen of the world”. Spoken like a true socialist which, I suspect, he was. Havis had three children — my grandmother Elinor, my aunt Jean and their brother Herman. Herman was a lawyer but never made much money because his passion was defending poor people. Herman also never married though he had a female “friend” from time to time. I suspect Herman was gay and the female friend was a beard. I know Herman was in fact a socialist because my father, who adored the man, told me he was.

As I said, my father adored his socialist uncle Herman. I think of it as a “genetic predisposition”.

My father was a general surgeon. He grew up in an upper middle class Jewish household in an upper middle class Jewish neighborhood in West Philly in the 1930’s. His father Simon was a dermatologist (Elinor did well for herself). Simon was a genuinely happy man without an ounce of ambition as far as I know. Elinor ruled their roost. Any ideas that became core values in that family came from her. Quick side note about my father’s family. Polio was a scourge when my dad was a kid. The search was on for a vaccine; the Salk vaccine was still a ways away. One of my grandparents’ social circle had created a vaccine and was testing it. Fearing polio more than the unknown, my grandmother insisted my father and his brother Horace get that vaccine. The live virus inside the vaccine their social friend was using gave both my father and his brother polio. In the current environment, that might sound like a cry against vaccines; it is not. My father went on to become a physician who religiously vaccinated himself and had his children vaccinated.

The idea of vaccination stands. That particular vaccine shouldn’t have. We need to differentiate.

Despite the cruel twist of fate that GAVE him a terrible disease (rather than him just “catching it” from someone else like most people did), my dad never displayed an ounce of anger or resentment toward what happened. Make no mistake: polio caused him physical pain every day of his life. When post-polio syndrome struck later in life, it ratcheted up the pain quotient exponentially. He didn’t keep the pain a secret, but he didn’t roll in it either. It just “was”. Like the polio that caused it, pain did not define my dad. I believe this, too, was Havis’ spirit. In my dad’s case, it saved his sanity.

Havis, it seems, has informed almost every blog post I’ve written here. I have never been happy sitting inside the box. Frankly, I’m not good at it. If the world does something one way, that makes me suspicious. Sure, sure — there might be a good reason, but, what if there was another, BETTER way — that required a bit of imagination and daring but would pay off massively.

My son’s about to graduate from UC Santa Cruz, a poli-sci major with a minor in a thing called “History Of Consciousness”. Tristan’s high school friends from the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles were a pretty outside-the-box group but even they couldn’t grasp what my son’s major was. Yet, my son just told us, with graduation approaching, that he loved his college experience and believe he found the perfect balance between partying and studying. He also found himself at Santa Cruz. Found his purpose.

Needless to say, my son won’t be dropping from college into any sort of 9-5 world. Even if that world was as prevalent now as it was when I graduated from college in 1981, Tristan wouldn’t be joining it — as I didn’t. As I couldn’t have and he (because of me and our genes) can’t.

Over the course of my working life, I’ve held a few “real jobs” on a temp basis. Knowing I was only visiting the 9-to-5 world and not moving in permanently saved my sanity. But, I loved visiting it. It’s like how I feel about weather. One of the great advantages to living in LA is that we only marginally have seasons. I mean, we DO. February and August are nothing alike. But it doesn’t snow here except very, VERY rarely. I could (in theory — which means traffic permitting) ski in the morning and surf in the very same afternoon. I can drive to seasons like I can drive to “entertainment”.

I had kids relatively late in life compared to most of my contemporaries and schoolmates. I have the luxury of added perspective. As I stare at that photo of Havis, I can’t help wondering which of the ideas floating around behind his eyes now float around behind mine. And which float behind my son’s and daughter’s.

Or, What If The Meeting Between Biden & Putin Is More Of A “Showdown”?

For four years, Vladimir Putin looked DOWN into Donald Trump’s eyes as Trump metaphorically serviced Vlad. As current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy knew a full month before the GOP nominated Trump to be POTUS, Putin owned him. As Kevin put it: “There’s two people I think Putin pays – Rohrbacher and Trump – swear to God!” Not much wriggle room there in retrospect. Kevin knew what he was talking about. That must have been the case because ever since, the GOP has done everything it could to keep America from connecting the Trump Dot to the Putin Dot to the Treason Dot. The undeniable fact is that but for Russia, Trump would NEVER have been president. Russia made Trump POTUS and, since, have done everything they could to keep him POTUS. Too bad for them the American electorate showed up en masse and got in Putin’s way. As the residents of Pearl Harbor can tell us, just because a war’s not declared doesn’t mean its bombs and bullets can’t kill you. In this instance, it’s our democracy that’s under surprise attack — by Russia AND by the Republican Party who sprung their surprise attack on our democracy with the assistance of Russia’s military intelligence. Or, as Republicans think of them, “oligarchs who like them”.

Joe Biden sat in on the meeting at the White House in September 2016 where President Obama wanted to inform the gang of eight — the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate — that our intelligence agencies were extremely confident that Russia was actively engaged in trying to make Trump president. Current minority leader Mitch McConnell got up on his treason turtle legs and warned Obama that if did such a dastardly thing — informing America that Russia was attacking us — he would insist that Obama was “politicizing the intelligence”. I wonder what Joe Biden looked like as he stared down Mitch McConnell that day. Unfortunately, Obama caved. He softened the message so completely that it went over everyone’s head — especially the news media’s.

They still believed “But Her Emails” was more important anyway. Ain’t retrospect a bitch?

Understanding how important our intelligence agencies are — and how to work with them — comes more naturally to Joe Biden (having done it for so much of his career in public service) than it did to Trump who was under investigation by those agencies (until Rod Rosenstein ended it). Democrats unfortunately still practice decorum. Were the treason shoe on the other foot, the Republicans probably would have hung people already. The rule of law can be frustrating to follow. Following the rule of law takes longer and demands more energy and attention than ignoring it or breaking it does. I bet Joe Biden knows things (having been briefed now by a rededicated, re-energized IC) about not only Donald Trump but plenty of Republican office holders that would curl our collective hair.

We’re just learning that Trump’s DoJ (by way of Sessions & Barr) went along with Trump’s demands to subpoena the metadata of his Democratic political enemies including Californian representatives Adam Schiff and Eric Swallwell. Every Trumpanista in the DoJ went along with this abuse of power (and violation of the law). Every Trumpanista in Congress feels fine with it. This plays at the same time that Republican lawmakers ramp up attempts to restrict voting to Republicans — all at the behest of Donald Trump who NEEDS Republicans to re-take power completely for one simple reason: otherwise, he’ll be prosecuted for money laundering, tax fraud, election fraud, obstruction of justice and treason. If the Republican Party could stop that from happening they absolutely would. Because they are tied to Trump’s criminality.

If Trump goes down, they’ll all go down. It’s just a stone cold fact. The Republican Party is now a package deal. Vote for them, you vote for Trump. Vote for Trump, you vote for the end of democracy and the beginning of white supremacist, minority rule authoritarianism. It’s not really as if America is facing a choice between the two. We aren’t. Most Americans are crystal clear which America they want — and it’s not the America the Republican party wants us to be. That’s why the GOP has turned to cheating in order to win. The majority wouldn’t vote for Republican ideas if their lives depended on it — which is the case.

Diplomatic principles will prevent Biden from speaking hard core truths to Putin. But, having just visited with our NATO allies — and reaffirmed our collective commitment to stop Putin in every way we can — Biden will speak for more than himself. That’s important when confronting a bully. Biden doesn’t have to threaten any sort of military action; that’d go after the wrong people with the wrong tool. Greed motivates Putin. Greed and Russian nationalism. If we want to pinch Putin hard enough to make him scream “ouch-ski!”, we’ll need to attack his most vulnerable organ: his wallet.

Putin, like all his oligarch pals (and you can’t be an oligarch in Putin’s Russia if Putin doesn’t want you to be one), must bank outside of Russia — mostly here in the West. They know they can’t trust Russian banks since they all own they and they KNOW how corrupt Russian banks are. The last place they’d put their own money is their corrupt banks. That means they need Western banking and investments to harbor their criminal gains. If we attack the gold seams that feed Putin and his pals, we’ll hurt them. Then, either we keep hurting them till they stop or we drain them dry of money. An oligarch without money is an oligarch without power. He’s a nobody.

On the one hand, Putin will savor the chaos yet to come — as prosecution of the insurrectionists begins and, increasingly, draws in Republican members of Congress who helped plan and execute the insurrection. But, it would be absurd to think Putin — with everything he’d done up to that point to make and keep Trump POTUS — that Putin had zero hand in the insurrection. Of course Putin had a hand in it. And those associations will find their way to the surface. Ironically, the insurrection may be the quickest way into prosecuting the entire GOP for treason. Once the idea of treason gets before a Grand Jury anywhere — and more than one traitor gets identified — we’ll have a treasonous conspiracy on our hands — with law enforcement pulling threads that seem to go everywhere.

Prosecuting and punishing every last Republican traitor (and if we don’t punish them or only punish a few, we’ll absolutely invite a repeat performance and soon) will focus the majority’s furor like few things could. Everyone hates being betrayed. Americans haven’t experienced betrayal this disruptive since the Civil War. And, hell — the majority of Americans were willing to take up arms and fight that betrayal.

Our news media — still wedded to framing every story from the Republican perspective — still have it in their heads (having normalized Trump) that his behavior on the world stage is “normal” for American presidents. They think it’s now “normal” for American presidents to have Vlad Putin’s dick in their mouths.

Putin will know — as he looks UP at Joe Biden — that he’ll be keeping his pecker in his pants. That goes for there in the room and outside it. Putin needs to be reminded that, except for its nuclear weapons, it’s a third world shit hole. It’s GDP is 24th in the world, about the same as Italy’s. Aside from crude oil, Russia produces nothing that anyone else wants (including their chaos).

This American leader will offer Putin a chance to get out of the rest of the world’s way. Either Putin will take it or he won’t. If Putin backs down, he’ll still end up sanctioned and his money targeted. But he’ll get to stay “President of Russia”. If Putin continues to be a pariah, he’ll be treated accordingly.

In the background meanwhile will be the ongoing investigation, prosecution and punishment of every American who conspired with Putin even unwittingly. The basic fact is this: Vladimir Putin cannot now or in the past have won an American election. If Putin did ANYTHING – big or small – to in any way “help” make Trump president then the whole enterprise of making Trump POTUS is corrupt and must be treated as such.

As Merrick Garland reminded us all just this morning: nothing is more important to the American democratic franchise than voting and the free and fair elections that make it possible for every eligible American to vote. The authority to govern Americans flows directly from those elections. If we did not elect you, you do not have that authority. We The People did not EVER elect Trump to be POTUS. If not for Russia literally MAKING Trump president, that scourge would NEVER have “taken over” the White House.

Our news media, dopy as ever, thinks this is about “deliverables”. It’s not. The meeting with Putin is very much about everything that precedes the meeting. That’s the context for the meeting. Whereas Trump would ditch our allies so he could openly fondle Putin in public, Biden has sat down with them first. Made peace and rekindled relationships. Then he will have turned to our collective enemy — knowing exactly what Putin has done to us and all our allies. And with THAT in his hand, he will reach toward Putin’s.

Sampling Cicadas Wouldn’t Be Hard – Hell, I’ve Tried CHICKEN SUSHI!*

I just saw on CNN how ~25% of Americans would consider sampling a cicada. That’s surprising. I’d have thought fewer Americans would be open to breaking down such a huge cultural barrier. If Americans had grown up eating bugs — as some other cultures do — we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Food and culture are inextricably linked. Americans like their protein big. We think “cow” or “pig” not “insect”. In time though, even a food we used to revile can become a luxury item. Take lobsters. Today, they’re expensive. They’re a treat for the wealthy. But, when Europeans first started arriving in North America, lobsters were so plentiful that “piles up to two feet high would wash ashore in Massachusetts Bay Colony.” They were used as fertilizer and to feed the poor. I mean, look at the damned things. They’re called “cockroaches of the sea” for a reason. While lobsters are only distantly related to cockroaches, they have enough in common to have made eating them that very first time likely an act of desperation or starvation. If you’d never eaten a lobster before that first time, would you really look at one and think “I gotta eat that!”?

Americans aren’t as obsessed with food’s freshness as other cultures are. The whole point of wet markets regardless of how we might feel about what’s being sold at them is the obvious freshness of the ingredients being sold. Pangolin lovers love their pangolin meat as fresh as they can get it. It’s why we love farmer’s markets. We love the idea that the food we’re eating today hung on a tree yesterday. Or walked around. We don’t need to know how it walked around or where, just that it did — somewhere in the abstract. I wonder how many of us would turn vegan overnight if we had to go out and kill our own food.

I still remember the first time I tried sushi — at a place in NYC in 1982. The whole idea was still incredibly novel; there weren’t more than a handful of sushi restaurants in all of America. Americans did not eat raw fish. That first piece of tuna stuck on my tongue and went to war with my gag reflex. Jump forward a year and I’m happily snarfing it down, eyeing the more adventurous parts of the sushi menu. I’m an adventurous eater by and large. My culinary mind’s open to a lot of things — to at least try once.

A few years ago, I did some consulting for Electronic Arts. I got hired by their studio in Vancouver, BC to help their game designers think more like storytellers. This particular studio was run by an innovative guy named Nilo Rodis. For about a year and a half, I worked on various projects with various teams. One cool project involved a completely reactive environment where the game player really could impact everything. If they blew up the room they were in, that room was going to really blow up — killing their character. Another project I worked on was a fighting game that originated in their Tokyo studio.

For about six months, I scripted the game and helped revise the story and characters in Vancouver while the game’s designers — in Tokyo — did their thing. Finally the project was nearly finished. EA sent me to Tokyo for a week. Nilo felt some face time with each other would speed us through the last phases of our work. And that’s pretty much what happened. We had a good week together.

When I arrived in Tokyo, Ken, my host at EA (and my boss — Ken is Japanese-Canadian) asked me, as we’d be dining together a lot during the week, if I had any likes or dislikes. The last thing Ken wanted to do was put us at a restaurant where there was nothing on the menu a fussy American could eat. Embarrassment is anathema to Japanese people. “I will eat whatever you eat,” I told Ken. “Great!” said Ken, pleased.

Over the course of the week, we ate in some very cool places. Remember the restaurant in Food where that huge fight scene happens? That’s a real place. I was taken there my first night. The sushi was awesome. The shootout was even better. Every meal was fantastic as far as I was concerned; I love Asian cuisine above all others, no matter which one. The week having been a raging success, Ken wanted to take the whole office out for a meal on my last night in Tokyo in order to celebrate.

Being a special occasion, Ken chose a restaurant close to the office that the whole group liked. In particular, they liked the restaurant’s specialty. They didn’t tell me what that specialty was. It was chicken sashimi.

We all arrive at the restaurant more or less together, remove our shoes of course, and follow our host to the private room reserved for us where we sit low to the ground on tatami mats. Food lands on the table immediately. Various innocuous Japanese starters. Ken — I’m sitting next to him — leans close and tells me that they’re about to serve the restaurant’s specialty. It’s why they came here; everyone in the office loves it! I look to the table as small dishes of what looks like pale yellow sushi are set down in front of everyone.

They all look jazzed. Some have already started eating as my sushi lands in front of me. Ken can hardly wait to tell me what a treat I’m in for: “It’s chicken sashimi,” he says as if that would explain everything.

I’m absolutely certain he’s kidding. What’s the course after that? Pork sushi? But Ken’s already got his chicken sashimi chop sticked and heading for his mouth. I glance at the table. My co-workers for the week are all eating it and loving it. They brought me here to share this thing they love with me, the gai-jin (outsider) they’ve been working with all week — the gai-jin they liked enough to bring here.

My next thought — okay, it’s Japan. They have all those wacky game shows. This one’s called “Prank The Gai-Jin” and I’m the gai-jin they’re pranking. While they all eat chicken sashimi made of marzipan, I’ve been served the real deal and the point is to fool me, the gai-jin, into eating it. Sensing my natural reluctance, Ken tells me quietly that the chickens are all grown on the property — no factory chickens. They’re grown here, hand-slaughtered here, processed here. That’s how we’ll know its safe to eat. I nod but not because the explanation satisfies.

As more and more of their eyes look to me — awaiting my reaction to the chicken sashimii, I begin to realize I have no choice here. I mean, sure — I could tell them they’re all crazy but I still have to work with these good people. I don’t want to insult them especially when I told them I’d eat anything they ate. I’ve set everyone up for failure… except I don’t have to “fail” everyone if I just… eat… the damned… sashimi.

I pick it up with my chopsticks and bring it first to my nose. This bird may have been raised like a prince but it still smells like raw chicken. Now I’m aware of Ken’s eager expression. His eyebrows, arching, are telling me: “Go on!”

Some of the others dipped theirs in soy sauce first. That will be my salvation. I practically swirl the sashimi in the little dish of soy sauce and, in one deft motion, pop it into my mouth. Immediately the “smell” of raw chicken hits the back of my throat. It takes everything I’ve got to keep my gag reflex in check. Instead, I chew — slowly — trying, with my tongue, to push the thing toward the back of my throat so I can just swallow it. And I smile all the way. “Mmmmmm-hmmmmm,” I say trying to will the thing down my gullet.

Still it clings to the inside of my mouth — like it wants to be there as long as possible. Like it’s found its new home. Chewing, even softly, releases more raw chicken essence into my mouth. I feel like I’ve gone for a swim in a lake filled with raw chicken. It’s like I never introduced it to the soy sauce.

Finally it slides down, more or less whole, the taste of raw chicken lingering.

My smile now approximates a death ricktus but my hosts buy it. More importantly, my boss beside me buys it. And, nodding happily at having found a convert, he starts on what will be my bigger problem than “Piece Of Chicken Sashimi #1”. Ken has piece number two between his chopsticks and heading for his mouth. So’s everyone else at the table. Again, I’m going to bring up the rear.

Let me tell ya, hard as the first piece of chicken sashimi was for this gai-jin to get down, “Chicken Sashimi Piece #2” was harder by a couple of multitudes. This time, I knew what was coming. So, in addition to the soy sauce coating my piece of chicken sashimi, now I also had dread.

That second piece of chicken sashimi has come to symbolize a certain kind of moment in my life — one where you know from personal experience how badly the shot that’s coming at you is going to hurt. The mere fact that shot number two exists makes shot number two worse.

There’s a terrific piece in a recent New Yorker about disgusting food. Writer Jiayang Fan captures both the squeamishness other peoples’ strange food can cause and the sense of communion food makes one feel toward one’s tribe (especially when your tribe’s food seems stranger to more people than yours does to them). One of the great points Fan makes is how adaptable our palettes can be if required. As Cervantes put it in Don Quixote, “Hunger makes the best sauce in the world”.

That means that given the proper incentive, and a little time, I could learn to love chicken sashimi.

*Sashimi actually but “sushi” is a funnier word.

Anthony Bourdain’s Passing – Three Years Ago Today – Reminds Us How Important Our Mental Health Is

Three days before Christmas 2016, I came within literal inches of killing myself. I was at the deepest point in a decade-long depression. I got lucky in the aftermath. I got well. But, even as I finally got my depression under control — the mood stabilizer I take moderates my emotions which allowed me to get to the root cause of my depression (I’d kept a secret from myself that I was sexually molested twice when I was fourteen by the religious director at the synagogue where my family belonged) — I understood that my darkness, though being kept at bay, always knew how to get to me. I feel a certain perverse kinship with others driven to such despair. The arguments inside their heads might not be the same as mine in their details, but thematically — we all sang the same song of self-loathing. Our darkness is wrong. It’s lying to us. It doesn’t care that our demise will be its demise. But then, no one ever said depression knew what it was doing.

Anthony Bourdain’s suicide came out of the blue for those of us outside his immediate sphere. I’m sure those closer had a different perspective. His past struggles aside, he was in the middle of shooting an episode for his CNN series when his darkness reached up from deep inside him and took him. That’s some potent darkness. It convinced a person that talented, that loved by other people, that on top of his game that he didn’t belong here anymore. You have to take that kind of persuasion seriously. Only Anthony Bourdain knew his demons the way he knew them. That’s true for all of us. But, we have to hold one essential fact about our demons above all others — whoever we are: our demons lie. Anthony Bourdain’s demons lied to him.

It’s just a stone cold fact: life is hard and living it is filled with hardships and pain. There is beauty, too. And joy. And bliss. I know this to be so because I now walk around in a state of perpetual bliss. Oh, I’m keenly aware of how dire our situation is. Read my blog? What makes my life blissful is knowing that I’ve freed myself from bullshit’s shackles. I call this blog “How To Live Bullshit Free” because that really is my mission in life. I do not want to live another moment in bullshit’s thrall. Other peoples’ bullshit is off limits to me. I only can worry about mine — because I’m really the only person who can call me out on it. Sure, other people can do it but, if you’re like me (and you are), you completely ignore when other people call you out on your bullshit.

There’s no one way to keep one’s demons at bay. Talking about them helps a lot. Medication can help — it can put “breathing room” between you and your emotions. Sometimes, that’s all one needs to begin healing. In my case, medication gave me the chance to confront a terrible truth I’d been denying. But that truth explained a lot of what happened to me — in particular why my bullshit had such a hold on me. Confronting what happened to me when I was fourteen was hard but I was never going to be happy unless I confronted it and stopped holding myself responsible for what an out of control adult did to me.

In the end (long story short), I came to understand Yehuda — my molester. I don’t forgive him. I will never do that. But I now see what he did in its proper context. Perspective. That’s the game changer. Gain it and you get healthier. Lose it and the opposite happens. It hurts when anybody leaves here before their time. It hurts a little bit more when super talented people go ahead of time. They still owed us the full benefit of their being here.

That’s how I feel about Anthony Bourdain. We had not yet gained the full benefit of his being here. We all got cheated. That’s why it’s incumbent on every one of us to live the fullest lives we can. It’s the only shot at cosmic revenge we’ll ever get. Sure, it’s good to live a long life (so long as you’re healthy), but it’s even better to live a rewarding life filled with purpose and passion.