Difficult Times (an ode to my sister)

The following is a disjointed, rambling stream of conscious blog written in the early early hours of the day. I am jet-lagged and sleep deprived but I persist.

Half political, half sentimental follows.
I was on Facebook overnight unable to sleep and bored. It occurred to me how comforting that my sister hates trump. My whole family actually hates him. But my younger of two sisters I refer to has been the back-up matriarch of our family with her demand for control, her attention to detail and her love and affection. It is a bonus and I love that she is not only an extraordinary care-taker but frequently surpasses me, on social media, expressing her total disdain for trump and her admiration for progressive values.

I am the baby of a family of 4 siblings. I have had my challenges with each of my 2 sisters and one brother. I considered resigning from my family of origin at one time but ultimately decided that I belonged.

It is helpful that this sister has been the glue which was needed as my parents aged and died. I have seen memes for family members to show appreciation for each other but my sister deserves more than a meme.

When our parents pass it often leaves us children, despite being grown, feeling vulnerable and abandoned. It is my gift to be a member of a family that has a core of affection and cohesion which sheltered me from the ill-effects of parental loss.

I am mentioning this because I know so many families now torn by politics and many more who fight with each other over the late-life care and passing of their parents. My family has successfully navigated the loss of both parents and the election of trump. Two potential family crises.

My sister Karen was the rock during my mom’s final health crisis. I am spared long term guilt, about being a son so distant, about my mom’s care because my sister was ever attentive and present. I was constantly assured my mom was in good hands getting the best care.

I am the only tattooed, drug addict, gun toting Buddhist in my family. But no matter how strange and far I stray from my origins, I have never been shunned/rejected by my family. Sadly so many of my peers have not been so lucky.

Values are important to me. My 3 siblings all have humanistic, progressive values at their core. We don’t fight over gay rights or universal access to health care or civil rights for all. (They hate guns but none of us is as rabid as we used to be on the subject)
I don’t envy those that come home to visit a household airing Fox News.

May all families know the affection and respect of shared values. May all families navigate the loss of parents with dignity and love for each other. May all splintered families find healing when the dust of politics settles.

An open heart? A heavy heart!

I been trying to write this post. I have the feelings clear but have struggled days/hours for words. I discovered over the years that I had a secret from myself. Something strange happens to me constantly. I have an issue with empathy or in my case, maybe over empathy.

Years ago, when I was small, I knew a psychological and emotional pain deep down. I was afraid of my dad, of other kids, and of teachers. So early on I began to empathize with suffering. Around the age of 17, I began to fill out physically. And then I began to fight back. But it was mostly psychological.

If I see a dead animal by the side of the road, I imagine their death and I pray it was swift and painless. I see so many dead squirrels and rabbits on my bike rides. Also armadillos, and opossums. I hit an animal on the highway in Missouri at 70 mph and it messed up my mind for hours.

When I see films of animals in the wild being killed I feel empathy and pain (and change the channel). As a lawyer, when I lost clients’ cases I felt empathy and pain. If they went to prison, I tell you it felt like a part of me went too.

The world is now experiencing a series of crises. And I have trouble on a daily basis with the consternation and frustration that I am losing the world I seek to occupy. In its stead there is an ambiance of fear, anger and open hostility towards the values and communities that I hold dear.

I am not aligned with conservative values and ideology. But I never harbored such hostility towards the actions and speech of the conservative leaders. At the helm, is now Trump.

I have spent the past 10 years doing the Buddhist practice of generating loving/kindness, and the development of compassion. I made tremendous progress in the way I thought and acted. I learned to pause when agitated. I learned to think before I retaliated. Retaliated for some offense that often was merely my perception and not reality.

I do not hurt any living beings intentionally. I do not feel superior rights to the animal kingdom. I have not earned the right to practice dominion over the earth and all beings contained therein. I do not believe that my need for gasoline means I can justify or support the military actions against oil states. It can get murky at times. Do I have an open heart for terrorists, child abusers, opioid manufacturers?

The Buddhas did not seem to be too troubled by the bad actor. They would continue to have compassion for the evil, mean-spirited, the greedy and the profane. I am no Buddha but I can aspire to be like one.

I do not know how long I will aspire to an open heart. I was on a good run until recent political events. But the Buddhist vows I took, which I take seriously are as follows

To refrain taking life
To refrain from stealing, taking that which has not been freely given
To refrain from sexual misconduct
To refrain from lies or false speech and To refrain from taking intoxicating substances.

Buddhism is a very moral practice as is 12 steps. The Buddhist meditation is to develop wisdom and reflect on loving kindness which is designed to develop compassion.  I am committed to grow in a moral and compassionate manner. Very much like other moral dictates found in religions.

What is your practice? Are you Christian? Jewish? Do you Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  Do you ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

Do you exclude foreigners as “non-neighbors”? Do you exclude homosexuals? Do you exclude criminals?   “When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the LORD, am your God.”

Are you truly on the path? Do you know the path? 

The LORD said to Moses Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy.

 Each of you revere your mother and father, and keep my sabbaths. I, the LORD, am your God. Do not turn aside to idols, nor make molten gods for yourselves. I, the LORD, am your God.

When you sacrifice your communion sacrifice to the LORD, you shall sacrifice it so that it is acceptable on your behalf. It must be eaten on the day of your sacrifice or on the following day. Whatever is left over until the third day shall be burned in fire. If any of it is eaten on the third day, it will be a desecrated offering and not be accepted; whoever eats of it then shall bear the penalty for having profaned what is sacred to the LORD. Such a one shall be cut off from the people.

 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not be so thorough that you reap the field to its very edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.

Likewise, you shall not pick your vineyard bare, nor gather up the grapes that have fallen. These things you shall leave for the poor and the alien. I, the LORD, am your God.

 You shall not steal. You shall not deceive or speak falsely to one another. You shall not swear falsely by my name, thus profaning the name of your God.i I am the LORD. You shall not exploit your neighbor. You shall not commit robbery. You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your laborer. You shall not insult the deaf, or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but you shall fear your God. I am the LORD.

You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment. Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty, but judge your neighbor justly. You shall not go about spreading slander among your people; nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake. I am the LORD.

 You shall not hate any of your kindred in your heart. Reprove your neighbor openly so that you do not incur sin because of that person.

Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your own people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

Keep my statutes: do not breed any of your domestic animals with others of a different species; do not sow a field of yours with two different kinds of seed; and do not put on a garment woven with two different kinds of thread.

 If a man has sexual relations with a female slave who has been acquired by another man but has not yet been redeemed or given her freedom, an investigation shall be made. They shall not be put to death, because she has not been freed.   The man shall bring to the entrance of the tent of meeting as his reparation to the LORD a ram as a reparation offering.   With the ram of the reparation offering the priest shall make atonement before the LORD for the wrong the man has committed, so that he will be forgiven for the wrong he has committed.

When you come into the land and plant any fruit tree there, first look upon its fruit as if it were uncircumcised. For three years, it shall be uncircumcised for you; it may not be eaten.    In the fourth year, however, all of its fruit shall be dedicated to the LORD in joyous celebration. Not until the fifth year may you eat its fruit, to increase the yield for you. I, the LORD, am your God.

Do not eat anything with the blood still in it. Do not recite charms or practice soothsaying. Do not clip your hair at the temples, nor spoil the edges of your beard. Do not lacerate your bodies for the dead, and do not tattoo yourselves. I am the LORD.  You shall not degrade your daughter by making a prostitute of her; otherwise the land will prostitute itself and become full of lewdness. Keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary. I am the LORD.  

Do not turn to ghosts or consult spirits, by which you will be defiled. I, the LORD, am your God. Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the old, and fear your God. I am the LORD.

Do not act dishonestly in using measures of length or weight or capacity. You shall have a true scale and true weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. Be careful, then, to observe all my statutes and decrees. I am the LORD.

Look up Leviticus 19:9–18: if you need verification. Examine the 5 Book of Moses

I close as usual with blessings for all. May all beings be free from all harm. May all being live their lives free from danger and may they be safe and comfortable,  Free from disease, disaster and pain. May all who have physical and/or mental limitations be aided by those who do not.  May all who are lonely find companions. May those in areas of great turmoil, famine and terror find peace and comfort and may those who create conflict and suffering be transformed.

History repeated. Justice denied.

I have here updated and edited a Wikipedia post on the following event. Like acts of genocide, like the Holocaust, we need to remember. Remember so as to honor victims and to effect cultural change in the policies and training of police work.
20 years ago, In the early morning of February 4, 1999, Amadu Diallo, a Haitian immigrant, was returning from a meal as he approached his apartment building. At about 12:40 a.m., police officers Edward McMellon, Sean Carroll, Kenneth Boss and Richard Murphy, who were all in street clothes, entered the building vestibule that Amadu entered and testified that they loudly identified themselves as NYPD officers, and flashed their neck badges in the darkened hallway. The lightbulb was out and Diallo was backlit by the inside vestibule light, showing only a silhouette. Diallo then reached into his jacket and withdrew his wallet. The officers opened fire on Diallo, claiming that they believed he  had furtively gestured and was holding a gun. During the shooting, officer McMellon tripped backward off the front stairs, causing the other officers to believe he had been shot. The four officers continued until they had fired 41 shots with semi-automatic handguns. More than half the shots fired missed, but Diallo was hit 19 times.
An investigation found no weapon on or near Diallo; only his wallet. The internal affairs department ruled the officers had acted legally and within policy, based on what a reasonable police officer would have done in the same circumstances with the information they had.
On March 25, 1999, a Bronx grand jury indicted the four officers on charges of second-degree murder and reckless endangerment. On December 16, an appellate court ordered a change of venue to Albany, New York, based on pretrial publicity made a fair trial in New York City impossible. On February 25, 2000, a jury in Albany acquitted the officers of all charges. Officer Kenneth Boss had been previously involved in an incident where an unarmed black man, 22-year-old Patrick Bailey, died after Boss shot him on October 31, 1997. In 2012, Boss was the only remaining officer working for the NYPD. Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly restored Boss’ ability to carry a firearm and he received a promotion to sergeant despite objections from Diallo’s mother and civil rights activists.

Years later in Arizona an officer was acquitted of second-degree murder charges, and officials released graphic video showing Daniel Shaver crawling on his hands and knees and begging for his life in the moments before he was shot and killed by police in January 2016.  Shaver died in one of at least 963 fatal police shootings in 2016, according to a Washington Post database.

The shooting of Laquan McDonald took place in Chicago IL on October 20, 2014,  when the 17-year-old African American was fatally shot by Officer Jason Van Dyke. McDonald was reported to have been behaving erratically while walking down the street, and holding a folding knife with a three-inch blade. Initial police reports described the incident such that Van Dyke was not charged in the shooting at that time.

When the police released a dash cam video of the shooting thirteen months later, on November 24, 2015, it showed McDonald had been walking away from the police when he was shot. Officer Van Dyke was charged with murder and was released on bail on November 30. On October 5, 2018, Van Dyke was found guilty at trial of second degree murder, and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a handgun. He received a light prison sentence.

 

As Sonny and Cher sing,

Grandmas sit in chairs and reminisce
Boys keep chasing girls to get a kiss
The cars keep going faster all the time
Bums still cry, “Hey buddy, have you got a dime?”

And the beat goes on, the beat goes on
Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da

I grow weary of trying to stimulate the public into recognizing the deficiency of police training and policies and accountability. But cannot give up. Some shit is too important.

Debate is dead. Long live the King!

Let us no longer debate the merits of the trump presidency. The evidence of his lies is overwhelming and those of my friends who support him have not undertaken to challenge his integrity despite overwhelming evidence in the actual interview and tweets of his own making. You cannot ask of anyone, to hold Clinton or anyone else accountable as a substitute and diversion of trump’s lies. You embarrass yourselves to continue to defend the lies. Today, he claims $91 billion went to Puerto Rico relief. In fact, $11 billion has been sent to the island so far — far less than the more than $120 billion the federal government has spent (and continues to spend) in response to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
 
How can I defend or debate his presidency when not one of you will acknowledge a single lie much less the plethora of lies he drools out from his mouth. He sickens the populace that engages in fact checking.
 
I have been friends and colleagues with Puerto Ricans my entire life, unlike the president. I actually know where PR is and most important, I know what it is. A US territory. Not a separate country or place. https://www.politico.com/story/2019/04/02/gidley-puerto-rico-country-1249076
 
If you are going to remain unwilling to engage in a dialogue that recognizes and acknowledges his lies, there can be no debate. Debate at its finest is an educational process where viewpoints supported by facts are presented. The antithesis of debate is the reliance upon lies and character assassination to prevail. Thus since you will not resort to the legitimate tools of debate I must drown trump in invectives and vitriol.
 
Ultimately, my dear conservatives, issues like gun control will be implemented without your input because the decision-makers will find it fruitless to discuss an issue which is devoid of facts.
 
From the pro-trump conservative website The New American, “Trump has accused top FBI officials of “treason.” Among other individuals excoriated by Trump, former FBI boss James Comey was dubbed a “terrible guy,” and former CIA boss (and an admitted supporter of the Soviet-controlled Communist Party USA in the 1970s) John Brennan was slammed as a “sick person.” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, meanwhile, was slammed by Trump as a “criminal,” while the chorus in Congress and beyond demanding his resignation continues to grow. Trump has also lashed out repeatedly at what he calls the “criminal Deep State.”
 
Perhaps more importantly, following the end of Mueller’s investigation, Trump again said there was “treason” — potentially a capital offense — going on in what had transpired. “There are a lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things, very bad things — I would say treasonous things — against our country,” the president told reporters, without specifying exactly who he was talking about. “And hopefully people that have done such harm to our country — we’ve gone through a period of really bad things happening — those people will certainly be looked at. I’ve been looking at them for a long time.”
I wish I could be counted amongst the enemies of trump who will be investigated and denounced and perhaps tried for treason. I wish my voice were loud enough, influential enough to be a candidate for such an attack. I would welcome the forum of a trial where a jury of fellow citizens would be forced by oath to hear “FACTS” and dispense with prejudice and decide who has the greater credibility. I would prevail!.
Senator Joseph McCarthy tried to rid the country of his enemies andt opponents by red-baiting them.  He was initially embraced with enthusiasm by the small-minded. But eventually, enough Americans realized that efforts to purge/silence the country of its own neighbors was really an evil effort, lacking in morality and void of integrity. So too shall trump come to know that whatever blood he causes to be shed or persons to be harmed by neighbors or government, he himself will fall in the battle he wages against truth and justice.
King trump will continue to damage the very fabric of our culture and society. But ultimately if truth gets the final say, he will be exposed as the emperor without the clothes of decency and integrity and certainly and figuratively his presidency will bleed to death of a thousand cuts of his deceit.

Am I the purveyor of Vitriol.

Someone I am friends with accused or maybe simply observed that many of my Facebook posts are vitriolic, that is caustic and cruel criticisms. I think I replied by saying these posts reflect my observations but that I personally am not consumed with bitterness as I thought that was his suggestion. His response was multi-layered but what got to me was his statement that he was more concerned about my words effect on others.

I am concerned and it stimulated me to reflect on my activities. Here is my view point which I fantasize is a valid view point.

I declared on Facebook on many occasions that I was going to abstain from trump-centric posts. In fact after the election of 2016 I urged restraint and caution and giving trump an opportunity to demonstrate he had the right stuff. Alas, he failed every single time he opened his mouth. Every single time. So my hope to remain non-partisan quickly faded. And to remain silent in the face of his statements, policies and actions seemed like acquiescence and endorsement.

I read and watch the news daily for articles that might interest me. I am willing to read non-partisan editorials and articles and even a significant number of partisan, left and right. I read studies on subjects for the sole purpose of ascertaining the truth of the matter asserted. I read studies to determine my own opinions on issues. As a result, sometimes I abandon my position and other times I find I am bolstered by the empirical and anecdotal evidence.

Myself, my parents and siblings, nephews and nieces are Jewish. My siblings and I grew up in the aftermath of the Holocaust. We were introduced to the horrors at an early age, through, film, books and first person narratives. My Hebrew school teachers were Holocaust survivors. We can’t do anything about the Holocaust now. But we can be loud and resist any attempts to sow the seeds of hate of any religious, ethnic, or racial community. One thing that marks the early days of the Holocaust was the silence of the neighbors and countrymen of the Jews and even Jews themselves.

I grew up being called Kike and Christ killer and Yid and more. These are intended as hateful appellations for a Jew. It happened to me in my neighborhood, in my high schools and especially in the boarding school I was sent to in my early teens. I hear the slights in business by people saying well-meaning but prejudicial statements about Jewish business people.

“Never Again” means something special to Jews. It is a declaration that we will never be silent again and allow a holocaust. I should not think that we would remain silent when any minority is threatened. When I see the rise of White Nationalists/Supremacists (nazis), I get hostile. Even when I see these movements divert focus from their hate of Jews and attack people of color, gays, Muslims, I take it personally.

Do I slip into vitriol? Clearly I do. Must I? Yep! There are others I admire who can walk the line of dignity and diplomacy. They can use their oral and writing skills to persuade and/or object. I engaged in counseling with a Catholic priest in Chicago in 1983. He was a wise and sober man. We talked about my approach to counseling others and the way I spoke in personal relationships. He offered that my style was a gift of God in that my propensity for bluntness and unpleasant roughness was “God’s way of turning up the volume”. His opinion he explained was that what I say to people in earnest is something others have said to them before but may not have been heard. So I was God’s way of turning up the volume so that if something needed being said, it would be heard.

We were referencing my counseling style and personal including romantic relationships. But I found that even in my radio career and social media participation, my style also gives voice to many who agree with me but do not feel permission or comfortable expressing their feelings.

Is it un-Buddhist to say things that are not loving or kind? I do not purport that my caustic or sarcastic remarks are Buddha like. But I do state unequivocally that it does not reflect negatively on my Buddhist practice. Monks would possibly disappoint me if they were to behave as I do. On the other hand I know monks who dislike trump and the types of values he espouses.

Budgets express values. The trump budget is a values statement. Budgets require choices, and when something is funded rather than another thing we reveal the values that drive us. The new presidential budget may reflect trump’s values but it does not reflect mine. So I criticize. And to the extent that the burden is going to fall on the least able of our country, I rail against the allocations it calls for. I argue for the health, safety and welfare of the “us and the “them” instead of a border wall between us versus them.

So am I the purveyor of vitriol? I cannot deny it seems so. Am I guilty of harmful intent? Nope. Could I do better? Maybe. Do I believe as Buddha taught that speech should be true, necessary, kind and spoken at the right time? Absolutely. I promise true and always to be accurate. I think it necessary to criticize and resist when I see values taking hold in my country, state, community which I believe to be harmful, hateful or unwholesome. That to me is a form of kindness.

I ask, when is the right time to speak if I first pass the thresholds for right speech? No matter what I decide, it is a subjective standard. No one can say for me when. They can suggest based on their perception but it is just another subjective application.

I believe, the time to speak out against this administration, is now. Lest we forget and give their values space and time to take root and grow. I have never been driven to be so partisan before. I was raised a democrat but prided myself on being independent. A liberal who owned the gun range and advocated for gun owners right to carry and other gun rights. I advocated for responsible fiscal management. Now I am unable to straddle partisan lines as gun owner groups do not relinquish nor compromise in an effort to find reasonable regulations. Many fiscal conservatives now advocate the elimination of poverty programs and oft times the oppression and disenfranchisement of the vote of the have-nots.

I apologize that words which I find descriptive of my opinions are sometimes harsh, virulent, even mean-spirited and bitter. My bad!

 

Is integrity in trouble?

Abraham Lincoln’s reputation will endure the tides of time because he was consistently referred to as a man of integrity and intellect. He warned of a destructive force from within.

During a speech in 1838 he asked his listeners:
“Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.””he staked his career on the premise that reverence for the law should become the political religion of the nation.”

He warned that whenever the vicious portion of [our] population shall be permitted to gather in bands of hundreds and thousands, and burn churches, ravage and rob provision stores, throw printing-presses into rivers, shoot editors, and hang and burn obnoxious persons at pleasure and with impunity, depend upon it, this government cannot last. By such things the feelings of the best citizens will become more or less alienated from it, and thus it will be left without friends, or with too few, and those few too weak to make their friendship effectual.

Lincoln warned that a tyrant could overtake the U.S. political system from within. “Is it unreasonable, then, to expect that some man possessed of the loftiest genius, coupled with ambition sufficient to push it to its utmost stretch, will at some time spring up among us? And when such an one does, it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs. Distinction will be his paramount object, and although he would as willingly, perhaps more so, acquire it by doing good as harm, yet, that opportunity being past, and nothing left to be done in the way of building up, he would set boldly to the task of pulling down.”

The antidote, the prophylactic, there was a need to cultivate a “political religion” that emphasizes “reverence for the laws” and puts reliance on “reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason.”

Trump shall not his reputation endure well. He will be a moment of disgrace in a country long proud of its heritage as a union and as one bound together by laws. All the mistakes we have made as a country, under democrats and republicans will pale in comparison to the viciousness and pettiness of this president.Would that you could see ahead to the mistake we call trump and sadly,
” A fool too late bewares when all the peril is past.” Elizabeth I

Am I what they say I am.

When I was 14 years old I was beaten unconscious by a first generation 17 year old Palestinian boy in the swimming pool during swim class at South Shore High School. The reason I was beaten, the 6 Day War in Israel. Several Jewish boys watched as I was beaten. (I was 5′ tall and weighed 115 pounds) After I was resuscitated I approached the Jewish kids and stated as best I recall “I was beaten because I am Jewish and you didn’t help me. I hope they march you all to the ovens some day. I will take 6 of them before they get me.”
I was angry at those Jewish kids. I made a decision to be armed some day. I am not angry at Jews anymore, or Palestinians but I sure as hell am armed. I believed then that Anti-Semitism could get me killed. I believe it just as strongly today. The drums of hate are beating. The rhetoric of trump is the dog whistle to violent white nationalists. If they hate Blacks and Gays, They hate Jews.
What is my point? This is not a mere election between progressive vs conservative policies. This may be survival….. “ranging for revenge, with Ate by his side come hot from hell, shall in these confines with a Monarch’s voice cry ‘Havok!’ and let slip the dogs of war.” Shakespeare.
They are saying we are the violent ones and they are selling the story, quite successfully, that liberals are dangerous. I am mindful that fear has a similar effect on me as it does on the Right. I want to be secure in my home and community. I must balance my Buddhist sensibilities with history of resisting anti-Semitism, Racism, misogyny, and homophobia. The good people on the right are not coming to save us from the violent chants of white supremacists. No one in the republican congress is standing with us.
Tomorrow I may feel kinder and gentler. But trump praised a physical assault of a reporter and he is justifying the heinous torture/murder of a Middle Eastern man who lived amongst us. And his supporters laugh. He encourages violence against us. How do I wake up secure in home and country with this going on? How do I default to loving kindness and compassion when I feel the hot breath of hate on my neck?
Until I figure it out, I am prepared to take some with me when they come to march me to the figurative or literal ovens. Still gonna ride my bike, go to 12 step meetings and flirt with women. Live life yes. Am I going to be what they say I am? I cannot honestly say yet.