Lady Justice: Blind Before, Now Whipped and Crucified

I’ve decided to cut my editorializing in half for the time being: Sundays only.  A certain project to which I’ve pledged myself is eating away large chunks of my writing time… and also, frankly, of my moral stamina.  I simply don’t have any enthusiasm or vitriol left over at the end of the day to aim in other directions.

Hopefully I can divulge the results of my labors in a couple of months.  For now, enough to say that I’m doing my microscopically little bit to publicize the case of a man who, I’m now fully convinced, is serving three life terms for crimes he didn’t commit.  The case is so replete with sloppy detective work, bullied witnesses, prosecutorial manipulation, and—above all—stupidity of analysis on the jury’s part that I end every day now feeling as though I’ve hauled away a dozen bodies to the cemetery after the hangman has done his work.

It just so happens that the news cycle is currently bursting with examples of how very unequal our judicial system is.  Mr. Mueller has gone at his task like a Gestapo officer with a blanket warrant, pressuring Mike Flynn (for instance) into a plea deal by threatening the man’s son.  Meanwhile, Jussie Smollett (never heard of him before, will never write his name again) seems to have played a get-out-of-jail-free card in Chicago after broadcasting a bogus incident that might have incited a deadly race riot.  Back to the Mueller Inquisition… an ambitious, semi-pixilated staffer has a conversation in a bar and is forced to cop a plea to a felony; a fully sober Adam Schiff has the same kind of conversation over the phone with a self-identified Russian national and, at this moment, continues to screech from the vanguard of the righteously indignant.

That’s politics, of course.  We like to believe that the rules are different in less public arenas… that the rules exist, and are mostly followed.  Yet I sometimes wonder if anyone ever goes to jail for a term commensurate to a crime actually committed.  Pandilleros looking to expand their illegal empire on American terrain bluff their way across the border with abused children whom they present as sons or daughters—then, as often as not, ship the children back south to do another “run” with one of their Hell-bait comrades.  They don’t even pay traffic fines.  The addresses they give are false, whatever licenses they have are forgeries, the court can’t find them when they skip out on the trial date, and they can’t be deported.  This is how our system rocks.

Now, I can see why a law-abiding Mexican might want to be long gone from Mexico.  The hundreds of protesters murdered in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in 1968 are apparently memorialized each year by socialist student organizations that commandeer local buses to converge upon the capital; and it was such a gang of students, annoying but wholly unarmed, that was cut down in Iguala five years ago as all branches of law enforcement and the military either turned the other way or pulled a helping trigger.  This is what I’ve learned so far from La Verdadera Noche de Iguala, by Anabel Hernand.  Mexico is in civil war, with the sides so indistinctly drawn that one bleeds constantly into the other (and I do mean “bleeds”).  Justice there is about two steps above the North Korean variety.

The rest of the “civilized” world isn’t doing a whole lot better, either.  In England, you can now be imprisoned for using the wrong gender pronoun in reference to… oh, anyone who chooses to make a stink about references.  In Germany, you can have your children taken away from you if you show resistance to a public school system that represents pederasty to pre-adolescents as a reasonable, respectable option.  (Why are these psychos talking about sex at all to eight-year-olds?)

In Portugal, you can apparently be detained all day for questioning without food or drink, then threatened with incarceration if you breathe a word about the proceedings to the press—although the constabulary can and will release any version of events it damn well pleases to every press outlet in Europe.  This is the sort of treatment to which the parents of Madeleine McCann were submitted.  The new Netflix documentary on the topic of the abducted, still-missing girl (I believe we’ve reached Year Twelve of her absence) is the best production of its sort that I’ve ever seen from the typically untrustworthy movie clearinghouse.  I probably shouldn’t have been watching it while also researching the case of a man tossed into a cotton-state oubliette and reading Anabel Hernand.

Will I be next?  Will you?  Will they find something irregular in our taxes?  Will they charge us with making an “insensitive” comment somewhere at some time—any time over the past fifty years?  Will they break down our door, confiscate our hardware, find a cookie connected to some porn site we accidentally clicked on, and give us a choice between a 100K fine and two years in the calaboose?

Who are “they”?  What world is this?  Are we being softened up for annexation to the People’s Republic of China, where you receive virtue-points now for self-lobotomy?

I’m in the home stretch of my race.  I sense more and more the presence of a higher reality that shoots crosswise through every millisecond of this one like a beam of sun penetrating to the floor of a rainforest.  I’m preparing for my exit.  I will embrace it when it comes.  But what of my son’s life?  What of the lives of those thousands of young people who passed through my classroom for more than thirty years?  Do they deserve this world?  No, of course not.  Are they strong enough to face it?  Do they even divine the approach, most of them, of the sticky, smelly, toxic cloud that’s about to smack them in the face?

Fire: The Rude, Wild Friend

The affect of a blazing fire on body and mind always amazes me.  You’ve seen campfires a million times on television—always very faked campfires; for a flame chewing through wood is a living animal, a carnivore at its meat.  On the first day of Spring this past week, we performed our third or fourth burn of brushwood since moving to 25 acres of wilderness last July.  The hilltop had been cleared years earlier for a domicile that was never built; and the result was that, robust trees having been bulldozed and piled into various remote corners, briar and vine and gnarly trees more akin to shrubs took over around the “compound”.  The piles of deadwood (for none was carted off) also became a breeding ground for unwholesome things.  Cedars are strangely dying hither and yon in the forest, and I have to wonder if one cause might be an imbalance in the ecosystem that unleashed some kind of boring beetle upon them.

I certainly can’t put all of that straight by slashing and burning my way through vines and wild blackberry… but I can protect, perhaps, the substantial parts of the old forest that remain.  I can also ensure that, in the catastrophic event of a local brushfire, my property isn’t a tenderbox just waiting to pass along the wall of flame in a grim relay race.

Just standing over the maw of the fire pit, however, you’re unaware of any long-term endeavor.  The effect of the sheet of warmth that comes flapping against your chest and face is hypnotic.  Sometimes, if the breeze abruptly shifts (as it’s wont to do around an open fire), a wreath of acrid smoke sends you running away in a crouch, your eyes wincing in tears.  Probably it was at one such time that my sweatshirt got singed by an ember.  I never noticed: my wife pointed the hole out to me when she was washing clothes.  When you try to make a pet of a big puma whose nature is to tear passing shoulders apart, you discover claw marks all over your hands and forearms after every “playtime”.

We had plenty of brush and deadwood to sunder and shift into the pit; but even without that activity, standing before the flames proves to be oddly exhausting.  You come away parched and worn out, as wrung of vital energy as a fruit of its juice after some gorilla hand has fingered it.  How firefighters work for days on end, sleeping a couple of hours here and there, during a major forest fire is a mystery I’ll never solve.

The trick with this or any controlled fire is to concentrate the flames.  A piece of paper or some pine needles will catch fire at once, but the flame will not endure.  The temperature must rise high enough to eat into the heart of a solid block of wood… and then you have a fire that won’t burn itself out for days, as long as new blocks are pressed into the coals.  On the day after a burn, if it hasn’t rained, you can toss a forgotten limb into the ashes—and within minutes you see an orange tongue lapping and a string of white smoke rising.  Even two days—even three days—after the burn, you can get the whole show started again by stirring a few fresh blocks and chips into the ashes.  The pit doesn’t go completely cold for perhaps five days.

I elected not to have a wood-burning fireplace in our house, merely because the scent of burnt wood often troubles my sinuses.  Now I feel that I blundered somewhat into a very wise decision.  The power of a genuine wood-fed fire is fearful.  If our slightly fraudulent gas-fed fire is ever hooked up, it will be immensely easier to tame and control.  Even if some sort of calamity cuts off all gas and electricity indefinitely, the fire pit forty feet from the house will be a rude, wild friend quite close enough for my taste.  We might want a large watchdog at some point, too—but we won’t keep him indoors.  Shuttling forty feet to and from the ashes with supper would not be an agonizing hardship; and ashes, by the way, are a fine stove.  Anything you shove well into them for five minutes, wrapped tightly in foil, is cooked through and through.

Everyone who hasn’t grown up in a cave is well aware in this nineteenth year of the new millennium that exhalations from human settlements into the atmosphere may give cause for concern.  When you’ve actually lived side by side with one of these “existential threats” as it snoozes in its lair, however, you acquire a less theatrical respect for it that more resembles a working relationship.  We can’t rid ourselves of carbon emissions any more than we can of solar radiation—and we don’t want to, if we intend to stay alive.  Plants need carbon dioxide; and my fire pit’s ash, finally cool, goes on the yard to give nourishing carbon in another form to my garden.  Amputation of any appendage is cultic lunacy.  You don’t eliminate threatening realities: you learn to live with them, and indeed through them.

Adapt and adjust—don’t eradicate.  The crematoria of Auschwitz were built by “visionaries” to purge with fire one of the human race’s “blemishes”.  All they did was char an entire civilization for as long as collective memory will endure.

Use fire, admire fire… but keep your distance from it, as from everything excessive by nature.

Garden of Weeds: The Undeclared War Suffocating Our Society

I don’t know the name of this tree.  I call it a Lazy Tree (among other things, most of which aren’t printable) because of the way it spreads.  First it starts sending branches out on one side; then it gradually declines to the other as if to balance the load.  Eventually it hits the dirt, rotting but sending its scion onward and upward by the dozen to become new Lazy Trees.  It can’t just drop seeds or shed spore like a normal tree.  Its theatrical collapse, instead, takes out everything below it for perhaps a couple of hundred square feet, leaving no competitors for its nasty offshoots.

And the offshoots similarly spread… until, within a few years, the forest is an unwholesome litter.  Other trees can’t grow.  Briar and vine proliferate.  The fauna are dominated by vermin, fire ants thrive, and the bird population thins out.  Man didn’t do any of this, except insofar as clearing ground will leave the margins free for the opportunistic lazy assassin; for while most other trees are highly sensitive to invasion, this one will practically grow under your feet.  Nature has an ugly side to her.  She doesn’t necessarily flower into Eden if left alone: she can also produce pestilential jungles capable of exterminating entire species.

Now follow me if you can… and if you dare.  Human society has its species of Lazy Tree.  It’s called the internationally organized gang: the cartel.  Its very dissolution in police raids and gunfights with rivals seems to nourish the growth of its tentacles from one location to another: that is, it spreads and spreads by dying, by giving death. Children are sucked into it and become bestial predators, no longer recognizable as human beings by the time they reach eighteen.  Young girls are kidnapped and forced into prostitution.  Journalists are bullied into silence or murdered.  Politicians and judges are paid off or blackmailed.  The forest becomes overgrown with life-throttling crimes of a vast diversity—but addressing any one of them here or there must prove fruitless as long as the mother-plant continues its suffocating collapse into every cleared area.

Gangs on the scale of Central American drug cartels are not urban crime such as West Side Story romanticized.  These aren’t kids stealing hubcaps.  This is civil war spreading across national boundaries.  In many cases, it has a political (or quasi-political) component—or perhaps I should write that the cartel’s activity clarifies how much politics has to do with wealth and power and how little with the governing of the polis.

In a war, we don’t treat our adversary as a citizen entitled to due process under the law.  He aims to kill us, so our first order of business is to kill him.  If he surrenders his arms, we put him it a cage somewhere and keep him there until the war is over.  He has no legal counsel; he receives no hearing.

This is how we should treat the threat posed to us by invading cartels: like the guerrilla war that it is.  Indeed, because our enemy declines to wear a uniform, he has no right even to the privileges guaranteed under the Geneva Convention.  We should bring our troops home from unending wars against other guerrilla outfits like the Taliban and array them along our southern border.  We should fire upon armed Humvees that trespass across our boundary; and if they fire upon us from the border’s other side, we should return fire, principle with interest.  We should oppose these murdering thugs until they lay down their weapons, or until they lie down and don’t get up.

Indeed, we should link arms with the Mexican government and pursue this rotting vegetation deep into its heartland until it is extirpated… but, of course, that will never happen, because the government of Mexico has long been thoroughly penetrated by the rot of the cartel at every level.  Judges dish out light sentences; prisoners are set free by their guards; villagers who “illegally” acquire self-defensive weapons and resist are disarmed by the police and sent to those cells newly emptied of murderers.

The corrupt Mexican system’s complicity in this social decay is but one reason why nothing I write will ever leave this page.  Obviously, we haven’t the stomach for doing the task at hand.  We prefer to give free medical exams (read “taxpayer-funded”) to border-hopping children, many of whom will be shuttled back south to pose again as the offspring of butchers who violate them or hold their family hostage.  “No, no, no… don’t say that, don’t see that!  La-la-la… we’re not listening, we’re not listening!”

And so we lose the war.  Or perhaps we finally engage at a point when it becomes truly bloody, and when those children about whom we advertise such concern become collateral damage by the tens of thousands.  Read Anabel Hernand’s La Verdadera Noche de Iguala (“The Truth About the Night of Iguala”) if you want a glimpse into the future of the United States.  I haven’t yet finished the introduction, and I’m already seething.  Hernand lost her father to cartel thugs, but she has chosen to continue his work.  In 2014, an extremely well-organized band of Zetas invaded her neighborhood posing as government agents and demanding that everybody stay quietly inside.  These men in black then proceeded to dismantle her own home’s security system and search it through and through for any sign of herself or her family.  Providentially, no one was there.  She adds the chilling detail that they took nothing—not a ring or a coin or a computer: nothing except the hard drives of the security cameras.

This is the expeditionary force of a rebel army—an army from hell.  On September 26 of 2014, forty-three children were kidnapped in a series of buses that were driven from Iguala to a site of execution… by cartel operatives.  The details of the massacre remain unclear—because, as Hernand has already stressed in her book, the Mexican government held its investigation very close to the vest.  That the children were murdered and then incinerated (or perhaps murdered by incineration) is uncontested.  The degree of government involvement in the atrocity, however, is shrouded in obscurity, though Iguala’s mayor was most certainly a participant and his wife, in fact, was the sister of two recently slain cartel officers.

We’re at war, and we don’t even know it.  We’re seeking out wars in Syria and Afghanistan as an already healthy flame spreads throughout our southwestern states.  Like Mexico, we are being betrayed by the very people whom we elected to defend us—and the Mexicans who are illegally fleeing the conflagration to our relative safety are simply a means, witting or unwitting, or carrying embers.

Tall briars, dense vines, sinister rustles in the brush… and no more birdsong.  No more grazing deer.  This is the Eden that our gardeners are fashioning for our children.

Babies in a Postmodern Whirlpool: Watch Out for Sharks

Last week I finished watching the Netflix series Traffickers.  The pickings are pretty lean on NF if you’ve had enough of cartels, kidnappings, poisoned food, piratical capitalism, criminal psychopaths, Wall Street rip-offs, and “tragic” Hollywood drug overdoses… and if you’re just not into dog shows or Spring Break “comedies”.  At least Nelufar Hedayat’s seven-part serial is factual, and features, indeed, a surprising amount of open-minded investigation.  I’m afraid that the winsome Nelufar, though always painfully in earnest (and often ready to burst into tears, as in exploring the insatiable Chinese appetite for pangolins), reminds me of all too many twenty-somethings around us who are going on twelve.  Her naïveté can border on obtuseness.  I’m glad she didn’t get herself killed in Cambodia or El Salvador.

The segment on adoption is the one that I’m using today as a springboard.  Having children has become critically problematic in many Western nations.  Feminists have convinced three generations of women now that they’re trash if they surrender themselves to marriage and childbearing at twenty-two.  Sexual experimentation and frequent abortions have often reduced fertility, even within that age bracket.  Then we have our toxic high-tech environment, awash in drugs, hormones, electricity, and stress: another few ticks up the infertility scale.  With the dating scene having grown so carnivorous, many young people who might otherwise nurture a keen interest in raising a family give up after a few years of emotional assault and battery.  I must wonder if the burgeoning business in dating sites really makes the game any safer.  All you know about a person in such impersonal circumstances comes from responses to a questionnaire, or perhaps from a few highly staged moments on a video.

These are my observations, not Hedayat’s.  I offer them as my own explanation of what’s fueling the tawdry market in international adoptions.  Most of Nelufar’s segment is devoted to the “legal kidnapping” of young children from living parents and then offering them to Western parents as orphans.  A lot of money is swirling around in this sewer, and most of it ends up in the hands of criminal middlemen, in the form of bribes and bounties. I applaud Hedayat for not making out the adoptive parents in these cases to be just another beachhead of “Western imperialism”; she understands, rather, that they are victims of another kind.  Were she to have dedicated an entire serial to the subject, she would have remarked, as well, that domestic adoptions for Westerners are a virtual impossibility.  That’s not just because of the many instances where the mother changes her mind at the last moment, having been bathed for nine months in an abject attention and queenly power of which her life had always been void before; nor is it because of further cases, also common, where the true father was incorrectly identified when papers were signed, and he decides to show up (after sowing wild oats in other places) and claim his right-by-DNA three years after the little one has settled into a loving adoptive home.

No, the main reason that Western parents can’t adopt from Western sources is abortion.  Well over half a million babies are terminated every year in the US before they can draw their first breath… and a few, apparently, just after they draw their first breath.

So here’s my solution.  Kidnapping is impermissible: Hedayat makes that poignantly clear, if it needed clarification.  But just as impermissible to our squeamish, highly evolved taste in the West is “buying a human being”: i.e., paying the mother of an unwanted child to surrender the infant at birth.  Is destroying the baby, however, less heinous than “buying” it?  I would think that any reasonable person would quickly come forth with a “no”: it is not better to suck the fetus’s brain out with a syringe than to let a loving couple carry it off to a waiting crib.  However, to volunteer this prima facie value judgment is to go wandering dangerously along the margin of various PC highways—and talk about “traffic”!  On these densely traveled ideological thoroughfares, the woman’s right to snuff out that creepy crawly bit of DNA within her must not be cast in doubt; so the “buying” option immediately runs into the Mack truck of a categorical moral assertion (the more categorical in that it tramples over moral common sense).

Now the “buyer” is put on the defensive and must plead his case as the more unsavory suitor.  “So you think you can buy my… my fetus, you stinking money-bags capitalist, just like you have bought off the rest of the world around you?  You think I’m for sale?  You think my body is a commodity at your meat market?  So… how much are you offering?”  For the truth is that a great many women would sell their “fetus” if the price were right: not for ten grand, maybe… but for forty or fifty, hell yeah!

To be sure, the option is sordid.  But the moral gymnastic that must be executed to exercise it is less a bending of consciousness in the buyer-seller dynamic than a warping of consciousness around the blunt fact that murder awaits the “unsold fetus”.  No, no, no: mustn’t say that, mustn’t go there.  We must have the buyer eat humble pie—and we must design the pay-off so that it more resembles an indemnity for hardship endured.  “Poor dear, you’re suffering so much!  Having this delivery will be painful, and it will also reduce your productivity on the job.  The pain and suffering alone are worth… shall we say, forty thou?”

No, the solution I propose is not morally immaculate.  It’s not even particularly clean.  But as the lifestyle we fashion for ourselves sinks deeper and deeper into the mire (and I sincerely look for avant-gardists to clamor—say, by 2024–for a mother’s right to euthanize her baby a year after birth), we have fewer and fewer clean choices left.  Moral survival nowadays is all about prioritizing dirty choices.

Tales From the Ivory Gutter

My last post (about panic attacks) was exhausting to me in ways that most of you wouldn’t believe, and that I myself hadn’t anticipated.  For that reason, and because I’m also uploading a new book to Amazon today–and, thirdly, because I want to write more about Eckhart Tolle but should wade deeper into his tendentious tome before doing so–I’m begging off a post today; or, rather… how about I just paste in a couple of excerpts from the new book’s preface?  It’s a collection of twenty-five short stories penned for the defunct journal Praesidium under the name of Ivor Davies.  All the stories address some aspect of academic life, most are humorous, and a few are admittedly a bit snide: don’t say you weren’t warned!  The title is Ivory Gutter Shining Bright: Two Decades of Stories About America’s Phoniest Institution.

If you’re interested, give the book a day to appear on Amazon.

A person who had spent three decades working in higher education, as I have done—teaching at seven different institutions, from junior college to private four-year school to state university with graduate program, over a range of four states—should have a thousand interesting stories to tell about life in the classroom.  I am not that person, and these are not those stories.  It isn’t within me, apparently, to recount with pathos the struggles of the dwarf girl who once took a writing class from me or the horrors of the day when a live shooter was thought to be on a rampage.  Mine are not narratives “from the files” of a seasoned academic (after the fashion of Forensic Files or Unsealed: Alien Files).  Maybe such a book would be more to the general public’s taste.  Alas, my abstention from writing that tome doesn’t signify a judgment call: I just can’t do it.  I am not a chronicler.

What drove me to write about academe, rather, was the same motive that has always driven my creative endeavors.  I am not stirred by the objective facts of situations: I am stirred by the subjective forces operative within them.  What influences battle for the soul of a typical academic?  What’s happening on the inside of those who have dedicated their public lives to service in such a very peculiar workplace?  I wished to locate and study the spiritual dwarves and giants (if there were any) on the scene.  I wished to pry into the daydreams of the dutiful hack who fantasized about blowing the boss’s office to smithereens.  What molds hearts and minds into odd shapes whose projection upon “objective reality” may be indetectible at any given moment?

I won’t make any bones about it: in my opinion, far and away the most animating force in academe is egotism.  The Ivory Tower is eaten up with it, like an old log by termites.  My personal experience (and hence almost every case highlighted in these stories) revolves narrowly around Humanities programs; and in such departments as English, History, and Foreign Language, especially, the professor usually earns much less than he or she might do in a more market-driven field.  The burden of relative poverty is somewhat compensated by the perk of occupying a lofty pedestal—or at least of supposing oneself, thanks to a fading but not defunct social convention, to be admired by all and sundry for one’s vast learning.

The very corridors of the more august campuses often glimmer with columns and architraves like the mythical halls of Mount Olympus.  The very forms of address—“Doctor” and “Professor”—carry an acknowledgment of superior status.  The very garb in which the assembled faculty processes to center stage on public occasions seems to combine Erasmus and Merlin (with a dash of Zoroaster).

Self-importance is always at least implicitly humorous.  The gap between the inflated fool’s estimate of himself and the humbling realities that sensible people know must qualify all human intellectual endeavor is as great as that separating a king from a toad.  Virtually all of these stories, therefore, offer a dark kind of humor to the spectator.  Even the characters who are most aware of their position’s fraud are powerless to fight it—for sustaining the fraud, the pose of high wisdom and moral enlightenment, is part of the job.  The public expects it, demands it; you don’t show up for the graduation of Mr. and Mrs. Albemarle’s beloved Wimberly wearing a sports coat and a striped tie.  If you don’t like posing for photos in your oppressive medieval regalia, find another line.

The profession certainly has had its share of lovable eccentrics until very recent times (though I fear that few sincere free spirits remain today among the host of exhibitionist iconoclasts). Besides Professor Sauter of “Third Degree”, specimens appear in “The Hemlock Society”, “Pomeroy’s Reign in the Days of Vast Decline”, and “The Steamrolled Kaleidoscope”. I confess a soft spot for those dusty profs who were retiring just as I was attempting to get started, and who, despite their stuffy views and bombastic speech, loved Dante, Shakespeare, and Milton with a passion. For crying out loud—they weren’t programming new generations of patriarchal racists! They were teaching young people that life is too complex for fist-shaking and “f” bombs.

My grief over the passing of such generous souls into extinction—and over the conditions that have produced this carnivorous purge of common decency—is such that I can’t help but grope after allegorical (if not metaphysical) dimensions when I portray the Ivory Gutter. My outrage is genuine, and the progressive betrayal of cultural and, indeed, broadly human values by our intelligentsia is real… so I would argue that I am in fact describing what’s right in front of us, though not right before our physical eye. Hell, I grant you, is a bit beyond the boundaries of the most flexible realism (not as much, however, as a time machine that transports twenty-first century talking heads from the tutelage of an Athenian sophist [“The Dogs Have Their Day”]).  I wonder: just how fanciful is my bicycling Don Quixote in “El Día de Hoy”, or the Sasquatch-chasing amoralist Spode of “Homo Superior Rises From the Muck”?  I’ve seen some pretty strange primates in the biz. Such creations are grotesque, yes… but a world as dominated by egotism as is academe, I’m telling you, is a veritable nursery of the grotesque!

I believe I may accurately summarize thus: this is a humorous book because it is an angry book. Humble nobodies like me have proved unable to oppose a system deeply embedded in generations of “members only” practice (despite the Sixties canard about breaking down barriers) and in sleazy political institutions that fund dubious research to launder ideology. What, then, can we do? We can steam ourselves into apoplexy… or we can deride the moral squalor of the whole arrangement….

P.S.  The book is dedicated to my friends Helen Andretta, Thomas Bertonneau, and Micheal Lythgoe, who worked with me closely on the journal for years.  I ventured to write in the dedication, “Where none dares whisper the truth, its sound peals like a bell.”

Panic Attacks: The Canary Stops Singing

Panic attacks, by definition, are irrational.  They tend to have a specific cause, at least at the beginning; but the element of panic becomes fully, painfully discernible when the merest mental movement in the direction of the “raw” area instantly elevates heart rate and sends up blood pressure.  Veins pound in the head, ears ring, breathing becomes almost as difficult as if one were suffocating… and perhaps the worst is the fear that lingers after the event passes; for, since the attack appeared from nowhere, it might reappear at any moment without notice.

These observations are not simply the fruit of browsing the Internet: they describe my own experience of attacks.  The odd thing is that I hadn’t suffered them for years… until the past couple of weeks.  They used to be almost crippling when, as an academic, I held tenure-track jobs and would grow aware (as I inevitably did, it seemed) that I was doomed to be turned out of house and home for causes over which I had no control.  (On two such occasions, for instance, I had rendered myself persona non grata unwittingly by publishing scholarly articles: small schools nourish large egos, and I had stolen a little sunlight from people who craved every beam.)

Why I should be revisiting this hellish terrain in retirement is somewhat mysterious to me.  I suppose the closest thing to a specific cause was my reflecting that I might be invited to jury duty one fine day—and then I would have to enter into elaborate and humiliating explanation of my inability to sit still for hours on end, thanks to a shrunken bladder.  (Yeah, I know: this is a natural part of aging—but I also tend to trace it to a period of overexposure to an ancient generation of computers that featured cathode ray tubes.  Those months catalyzed other nagging problems, as well, at which “medical professionals” sneered and scoffed… part of the reason why I stay away from doctors and treat myself with homeopathy.)

I don’t like being under the power of other people, for the very real reason that my experience of such relationships has taught me that they veer to the abusive, sooner or later.  I certainly see nothing in the world of politics that inclines me to reconsider my “problem with authority”.  Very nearly being saddled with a socialist governor last fall just after moving to the state of Georgia did nothing to calm my nerves; watching the movement to enfranchise masses of people who have entered the country illegally hasn’t pacified me; and trying in my own paltry way to assist a man serving three life sentences for crimes he didn’t commit has opened up a whole new vista of abused authority to me.

Add to that my ongoing battles to have FedEx, UPS, and the USPS deliver packages all the way to the end of my half-mile driveway… then the ever-present knowledge that my son now lives a thousand miles away in a city that wants to fund the heroin habit of its drug addicts… and, well, retirement hasn’t exactly been a bed of roses.  True, we can always find things to worry about; but when I was working, at least I had to ignore the horizon’s clouds for hours on end and address the tasks at hand.

I still have such tasks—and working on my garden or in my nascent orchard is, indeed, just what this doctor ordered.  As I lowered my shovel from an innovative type of raised garden bed yesterday, attracted by what I had long supposed to be turkey calls, I discovered a V of cranes making straight north… and then another.  The peace I felt at that moment utterly annihilated whatever serpentine shadows were coiling within me.  And even indoors, I can write, as I am doing now.

What I cannot do is, in a moment of foolish confidence, revisit the origins of the panic with a view to unraveling them rationally.  After every sequence of calm explanation and reasonable solution, a voice howls back, “But people are not reasonable!  Your behavioral autopsies have no relevance, no bite—people will do whatever their black hearts urge them to do!  Their hunger for power upon more power is insatiable, even to the point of self-destruction!”  And then another tailspin and another nosedive… all thanks to the attempt to be rational.

I understand why some sufferers cling to crosses.  I’ve tried that.  It may work a little bit for a while.  One really does have the sensation, you know, of fighting with the devil—with an assertive force of lunacy that wraps every effort at dispassionate analysis into an obscene adornment for his tail.  The Cross: “See this!  Stand back!”  It works better for hearts not so dominated by the mind as is mine.

At some point, my mind asked, “What does it work at all, even for a little?  What does the Cross represent that frightens this devil away?”  My son counseled me to live in the present moment and not allow questions about the invisible future to torment me.  He is all aglow with Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now (at least for now).  I began reading the book and, I confess, found myself immediately challenged to overcome the man’s aura of millenarian charism, his ecstatic “my light would transform the world if only the world could rend the veil before it”… his egotism.  At last, in a Tolle-like revelation, I toyed with the notion that living in the Now is precisely the wrong way to beat the devil—that the devil, in fact, enjoys the suffocating confines of Now and can cut the soul’s mooring very adroitly within them.  Or to say it from another angle: the true Now is Always.  The Cross is that Now, that Always within which a lifetime of struggles is but one moment.  To continue in the struggle, to insist upon the struggle’s purpose and ultimate success, to understand its victory as already secure merely by virtue of a struggle’s being made….  We win when we refuse to slide easily downstream.  We ride a rising tide that absorbs all streams into the great wide ocean.

Does Tolle reject that Now Is Always in his Always Now?  I’ll have to read the book through.  But the fact that my son has been able to allay his own devils with Mr. Tolle’s help advises me that young people in our aging and ailing society stand in grave need of a guru—a doctor who doesn’t simply laugh at their anguish and tell them that it’s imaginary.  To be sure, many gurus are false prophets: perhaps most.  Having such power over impressionable hearts is a heady drought, and few can resist its intoxicating effects.  None of that neutralizes the evidence that we were not made to lead the highly artificial lives that progressive technology has imposed upon us.  Though only two people in a hundred (according to Wikipedia) suffer panic attacks such as mine, I find it more than a little likely that our current political nuttiness is symptomatic of a collective panic.  What is the unhinged, hysterical insistence upon the planet’s impending meltdown if not the distorted cry of a generation cut off from its natural roots?

I wish these children of the iPod and iPhone were not so trusting of the very types whose lust for power could indeed render our lives unlivable—therein lies a major component of my own disposition to panic.  But I do understand the refrain of, “The sky is falling.”  Individually, we must strive to live in that completed moment when the sky has already fallen rather than, collectively, trying to build artificial staircases to the zenith.

 

The iChute to e-Slaughter: Come Right In

Fortunately, I was able both to have my ancient Mac resuscitated and to find a newer, refurbished model at a reasonable price (since I know that Old Nellie must expire of exhaustion eventually).  Yet the more recent model—and, being of 2016 vintage, it will already be viewed by some as a clunker—presents certain problems.  What bothers me most is that I cannot back up my files after doing a bit of writing or editing.  A thumb drive will not fit a Thunderbolt port; such a device requires (let me see if I can remember all this) a USB Type A female port.  Can I sue Apple for not creating gender-fluid ports, so that I needn’t spend anywhere from twenty to a hundred bucks on more hardware?

Well, no: Apple makes most of its money off of innumerable adapters that must be purchased along with every upgrade.  So I was told by a very helpful chap at Wal-Mart, after he apologized for his store’s not being licensed to market Apple products.  (I’m guessing that the Fruit people demand an exorbitant skim-off for every sale.)  My brain started spinning and spinning.  What to do… where to go?  Hey, what if I just email to myself each altered file as an attachment, then collect it on my old Mac and save to a back-up device?  Fine… except that the purchase of the new (or refurbished) Mac was intended to anticipate the day when the old model refuses to work.  Hmm.

I asked my son what he does in such cases.  Easy: he saves to “the Cloud”—to iCloud.  Pictures, videos… whatever he wants is secured out in cyberspace.  After a little further thought, however, I had another round of misgivings.  In the event of an Electro-Magnetic Pulse, the Cloud would probably be obliterated (and pardon my writer’s vanity: an EMP would destroy a lot more than my classic novels—I merely point out that one reason for backing up would be nullified).  Perhaps even more disturbing—for an EMP may at least be a simple natural occurrence—is the “i” in iCloud.  Yet another chunk of my life surrendered to the avuncular hands of Apple….  The big red Eden-spoiler already owns the means of my authorial production, and already bleeds me dry when these means spiral into their planned obsolescence.  Saving my work to iCloud will also place in its clutches my most intimate thoughts and painstaking creations.

Do I want that?  Do we?  Between the two of them, Apple and Microsoft (but especially the latter) have encroached upon governmental and educational services to the point that they nestle deep in our kitchens, our dens, our bedrooms, and our children’s lives.  They practically own us.  They are very near to crossing the line that separates a permitted monopoly from an arm of government.  What happens if the successors of Steve Jobs decide that my forthcoming short story collection expresses too many politically incorrect sentiments?  Might I attempt to access a saved file of my work from the Cloud one day only to find broad gray lacunae in the text where “naughty bits” have been purged by Super-Nanny?

It’s already happening on Twitter: the Gray Gap.  One sees it up and down the screen.  “This Tweet is no longer available,” “This Tweet contains sensitive content,” and so forth.  If the suppressed Tweet is accessible in such cases, I certainly don’t know how to reach it (and I admit to being a Twitter ingénue).  What I see is a lot of mutilated or truncated discussion whose thrust is no longer coherent.  Very clever: KGB-clever.  Neutralize the obnoxious opinion or sentiment by depriving it of any context, so that it becomes mere words in a vacuum.

Of course, Twitter has grown vastly more infamous (like the odious Facebook) for pulling its hair-trigger ban on contributors who are deemed by a logarithm to have uncooperative or disruptive principles.  The sort of operation going on here is itself the source of a rising controversy: viz., should a privately owned and operated platform for communication be allowed to refuse access to views repellent to its ownership?  Last night I heard an eloquent but Facebook-banned commentator (I can’t seem to retrieve his name: search “Tucker Carlson guests 4/5/2019” and you dredge up lots of invective against Tucker Carlson) explain that such media platforms have in fact ascended to their present position of exclusive influence thanks to government intervention.  I couldn’t follow the intricacies of the explanation, for it was hasty and forced into a very narrow window (as is typical of all communication nowadays); but I recognize the pattern.  The line between private and public sector, for all practical purposes, doesn’t exist in these cases.  It exists for display: it exists as part of the propagandistic delivery system.

My helpful friend at Wal-Mart sermonized that such is the capitalist mechanism: less and less consideration for the customer, more and more manipulation of the marketing process to squeeze out profit.  I remonstrated with him just a bit.  This is the mechanism of late capitalism as it dangerously veers into corporatism.  In the old days, free enterprise was precisely the engine that promoted courtesy to clients, individuation of product, respect for the patron’s tastes and privacy… and the forces that have hounded those benign small competitors off the evolutionary plain and left it to voracious predators mostly point back to government intrusion (often invited by the emerging monsters).

The text of my own sermon would be this, in a nutshell: you cannot oppose such abuses as the monopolizing of our means of communication by favoring more government, for government was the initial lubricant of these abuses.  An alien pair of eyes peering into your bedroom will not be chastened by a new pair of peering eyes—not just because the former is paid by a corporation and the latter by your taxes.  You are being watched and will be watched more in the future.  Insofar as it’s still possible, try to learn how to build a tent.