Bearing the Cross

October 19, 2016

Last week a minor news item prompted me to indulge (briefly) in a bit of structured reflection that surpassed mere musing.  And I suspect that this was precisely the result intended by the particular newsmaker in question.

Pope Francis on Wednesday reminded Catholics of the importance of putting up with annoying people as a spiritual work of mercy. “Show patience with troublesome people,” the pope said during a general audience at the Vatican.

“Troublesome people exist.  Be patient with them.  This [forbearance] may seem unimportant … but it contains a sentiment of deep charity. These are gestures of mercy, and what is done to one man is also done to Jesus,” Francis added.


I had been previously unaware that there are also six additional “spiritual works of mercy” expected of the faithful in their daily lives.  Musta never got the memo:

  • counsel the doubtful
  • instruct the ignorant
  • admonish sinners
  • forgive offenses willingly
  • comfort the afflicted
  • pray for the living and the dead

Here at Waking the Dragon we think we do a pretty good job with the first three items on this list: counseling, instructing and admonishing (although not necessarily in that order).  But when it comes to dealing with annoyances, Pope Francis and I probably have different ideas about who might actually qualify as a “troublesome person.”  He might be thinking of the daily throngs of tourists who crowd into the Vatican, hoping to bask in the reflected glory of the papal presence or yearning for a literal touch of the divine.  For me, troublesome people are the tireless complainers we often encounter in life, those who view the minor irritations of daily existence as unsupportable burdens that they alone are forced to shoulder.  Contrary to what Donald Trump would have you believe, they’re not mostly women.

That’s where the structured reflection comes in.  Many years ago, during a conversation with my insurance agent (I wasn’t the one complaining), I’d had a flash of insight.  In retrospect, maybe it’s blindingly obvious, but at the time it was new to me.  A complaint –or even a rant– often isn’t just an expression of irritation at particular circumstances or life experiences.  Instead, it is an indirect admission that the speaker feels a lack of personal agency or social power, and that this powerlessness is emotionally painful.  [Pause for Reader’s own reflection on this point.]

In many cases, the complaint is also a coded message communicating the anguished cry, “Nobody Loves Me!”.  It is a plea for love, endlessly ignored.  This, above all else, is the consummate tragedy of human existence.  In cases such as these, it’s clear that Spiritual Work of Mercy #1 (patience with troublesome people) isn’t enough.  Spiritual Work of Mercy #6 (comfort the afflicted) is definitely called for, and Spiritual Work of Mercy #7 (prayer for the living) might be an additional option chosen by those who believe in its actual efficacy.

So, here’s some career counsel for corporate employees in customer service departments everywhere:  at the very least, exhibit genuine patience with troublesome people … and truly comfort the afflicted.

Wait, There’s More

But my recent reflection on the topic of “troublesome people” also took note of a more pernicious specimen of humanity than the Category I victim of circumstance.  This is, of course, the other principal type of complainer: the supremely entitled person whose sense of self-importance becomes affronted when his whims are not immediately granted the precedence and top priority he feels they clearly require.  This guy (usually but not always a man) may employ bluster, “loud-talking” and intimidation at the time of the original “offense,” but also later reenacts his outrage and indignation in front of a third-party audience that he expects will validate his claims.  Indeed, from his point of view, they self-evidently should agree.

It’s much more difficult to have patience with the Category II complainer –and thus perhaps that much more meritorious in the eyes of heaven.  Let’s hope so anyway.  But mere patience won’t always be enough: it may be necessary to add some Spiritual Work of Mercy #3 (instruction of the ignorant) to the mix by gently pointing out that there are other things in this world beyond his personal priorities.  If that doesn’t work, I recommend a light cudgeling with a four-foot length of straight-grain 2×2 Douglas Fir.  Arms, legs and back only –no head shots!  Nothing to break any bones, just a few bruises to make a lasting impression.


Sorry, that was my inner mobster speaking out of turn.  Francis wouldn’t approve.  Forgive me Papa Francesco, I have digressed.  Here’s what I should have said, the whole point of this post: violence deployed in anger is a lazy expedient that gets rapid –but ephemeral– results.  The only reliable methods for effecting durable change in the world are tiny gestures, incrementally accumulated through tedious repetition.  Minor acts of kindness and mercy, one person at a time.  Start with yourself, and go from there.  You can thank me later.

Positively Forthright

October 13, 2016

Hooda thunkit?  Little Bobby Zimmerman as Nobel Lit Laureate?  Musta been some fine Owlsley blotter floating in Stockholm’s water supply.

I didn’t even bother to try predicting this year’s winner, much less spend any time rooting for the oddsmakers’ nominal favorite Haruki Murakami.  It has been abundantly clear this year that my few predictive “endorsements” have been far wide of the mark.  Donald Trump is still running for president of the United States.  Danilo Turk is headed home to Slovenia, and is not the world’s choice for Secretary-General of the United Nations.  Instead, Antonio Guterres will be dealing with even-greater numbers of refugees for years to come.  Would this be a good time to say that the Chicago Cubs look unbeatable this year?  Probably not.

So instead of prediction, I’m going to indulge in what might be termed prognostication’s little sister: fervent hope.  For once, readers of Waking the Dragon will find me rooting in favor of a possible FBI sting operation.  Here are the dots I may be straining credulity to connect:

  • September 22 2016: Millionaire real estate developers in Northern New Jersey formally ended their support for a November ballot initiative asking voters to approve casino gambling in the Meadowlands and Jersey City.  Polling data purportedly showed widespread public opposition to expansion of New Jersey’s gambling industry.

Jeff Gural, who owns the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, and Paul Fireman, who is the chairman of Fireman Capital Partners and developer of Jersey City’s Liberty National Golf Course  —two locations where the proposed casinos might be built—  cited a Rutgers-Eagleton poll that showed 58 percent of voters disapprove of the referendum, while 35 percent approve.”

  • September 28 2016: Steve Fulop, mayor of Bergen-by-the-Bay (Jersey City) announced that he would not run for governor in 2017 and urged fellow Democrats to unite behind Phil Murphy, a financier and former ambassador to Germany making his first run for office.

“Fulop told reporters outside city hall in Jersey City that he had seen speculation on the Internet that his reasons for not running included the Bridgegate case as well as his health, other legal issues, or his wife. ‘I’ve read on the Internet all sorts of theories, none of which are true,’ he said. ‘Rather, when I look at the [political] landscape today, understanding how the [New Jersey Democratic] party is fractured and my core beliefs on that, I ultimately don’t see any winners in [what would be] a very, very bloody primary,’ he said.”

  • October 7 2016: New Jersey State Senate President Steve Sweeney announced that he too would no longer seek the nomination of the Democratic Party in the 2017 gubernatorial election.  Sweeney (also an Ironworkers Union official) had been a sponsor of the casino referendum initiative, “arguing that the new casinos would initially create thousands of new construction jobs and would also eventually allow New Jersey to recapture some of the gambling revenue that had been lost when new casinos opened in neighboring states like New York and Pennsylvania.”

What and So What

Here’s the way it works: in New Jersey you can run the same script over and over again … and get the same results, because the illusion of impunity is so pervasive.  So, two nice Jewish boys tired of being shaken down by insatiably ravenous New Jersey politicians pay a visit to Rabbi Fishman, who graciously agrees to help.  Jeff, Paul, and Uncle Sam all ante into the pot to create an operating fund for a casino referendum initiative.  Some of the money inevitably must be spent on renting politicians whose influence is required to get the initiative on the statewide ballot.  Negotiations with those politicians must be duly recorded with miniaturized video/audio devices that Abscam operatives of the 1970s would have regarded with alternating envy and incredulity.  A gloating team of AUSAs at Centre Street and the Rodino Courthouse doggedly check off the boxes on their checklist of evidentiary elements to be included in the eventual (massive) indictment.

Timing is everything.  Including the timing of the tiny strategic leak that seeps out of the investigation to let the marks know that they’ve once again been had.  Because now it’s time to recruit cooperating witnesses, and the last one grasping at the gunwale of DOJ’s lifeboat will be left to swim with the fishes.  Gural-Fireman-Fishman: let’s call it Jerusa-scam.


Duty-Free Tour

September 29, 2016

America’s first line of defense: the homeless urban Dumpster-diver … and Egyptian tourists.

Lee Parker and Ivan White were out buying beer after watching Sunday football games on television. Parker, a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, wanted to celebrate his team’s 2-0 start to the NFL season.  He thought he was just extra lucky when he spotted a backpack on top of a garbage can, steps away from the Elizabeth train station.  “It was a nice one,” he said.

Parker is a 50-year-old lifetime resident of Elizabeth who spends his days not knowing where he’ll sleep at night, and as he emptied the contents of the 30-pound backpack, he knew something wasn’t right.  “It seemed odd,” Parker said. “At first I thought they were decorated candles, but no decorated candles have wires.  When we figured out what it was, Ivan made me aware of what’s been going on in different places,” Parker said. “So right there I knew that this was one of those incidents not to take lightly at all.”

Next stop, Elizabeth Po-leece Department.

Previously …

Surveillance video in New York City showed Ahmad Khan Rahami rolling a suitcase down a Manhattan street, then abandoning it on the sidewalk where an unexploded device was later found.  A few minutes later, two men passed by the luggage and appeared to admire it, police said. They then removed a pressure cooker from the suitcase, left it on the sidewalk and walked away with their new roller-bag. “They were more interested in the bag, not what they were taking out,” NYPD counterterrorism chief Jim Watters said, adding that they were “very, very lucky” the bomb didn’t explode.


Maybe not quite so lucky after all:

The two men have been identified as Egyptian tourists who have since returned home to Egypt. U.S. investigators have notified Egyptian authorities they want to question the men [as witnesses rather than suspects].  “They’re not in any jeopardy of being arrested,” Watters said last week, “We have no reason to believe they’re connected.”

Yeaaaaah, I have every confidence that NYPD is being totally forthcoming in this matter.  By the time the Egyptian police are done with these poor guys, they’ll be cursing that suitcase as an infernal lure of Satan, fiendishly disguised as a heaven-sent gift from Allah.  On the bright side, at least they’re not Saudis.  But then again, neither was Mohamed Atta.

Worst case scenario:  In Cairo, they run the video … in reverse.  It shows the two men place a pressure cooker device into the suitcase, close it, and push it against a wall.  Then they slowly back away, gesturing and admiring their handiwork.  Cut!  We’ve seen enough: guilty as charged.  Off with their heads!  Pharaonic justice, al-Sissi style.

Life as a homeless guy in Jersey suddenly looks a whole lot better.  Can I get an “Amen?”


Switchman Sleepin’

August 16, 2016

Way back in September of last year I made the seemingly rash prediction that “Donald Trump won’t be around at the end” of the 2016 presidential campaign.  Eleven months later, here on August 16th, it looks as though I might be right on track … to be completely wrong.  But wait, there’s more!  Two-and-a-half more months of plot twists and narrative turns still remaining in the cliffhanger screenplay, that is.  Thus it is that hope, which springs eternal in the longshot gambler’s breast, still holds forth the possibility of a scenario rarely seen in the annals of American politics: the reverse bait-and-switch.

The [function] of the bait-and-switch is to encourage [acceptance] of substituted goods, making consumers satisfied with the available stock offered, as an alternative to the disappointment or inconvenience of acquiring no goods at all.  The bait-and-switch ploy exploits the consumer’s perception of partial recovery of the sunk costs expended trying to obtain the bait.


In customary commercial practice, bait-and-switch operates by advertising an extremely desirable product, available for purchase at an extremely desirable price.  But when the customer becomes ravenously eager to buy, the product is suddenly “out of stock” or otherwise unavailable.  Instead, something “just as good” is offered in its place –of lower quality, higher price, or both.

The reverse bait-and-switch is an inventive wrinkle on the tried-and-true classic formula.  Both versions are undoubtedly inscribed in the 18th c. playbook of the usual suspects, but the reverse variant is deemed effective only when rarely used.  It is best employed only during highly unusual circumstances in conditions of scarcity.  Reverse bait-and-switch holds out an extremely undesirable and unacceptable product as the only product available:  the seller waits until the consumer has become adamant, almost violently irate, in her refusal to purchase the patently inferior product … and then suddenly offers an alternative (“this just in!”).  Low quality, overpriced, something the customer probably wouldn’t consider buying in everyday market conditions  –but marginally more acceptable than the woefully inadequate alternative.



By now it should be clear where I’m going with this, but to spell it out for the semi-literate, here’s what we might well see in the coming weeks:

  • Republican Party bigwigs/honchos/muckety-mucks will find a way (компромат) to force the Donald to renounce his hard-won GOP nomination and abandon his presidential campaign.
  • Huguenot hireling Paul Manafort will discover he has not been dealt the strong hand (main à fort) that he had thought, and that he’s trying to draw to an inside straight from a stacked deck.
  • A (comparatively) bland and innocuous substitute more-or-less untainted by Trump (Mike Pence, or someone else?) will step (or be thrust) into the breach.
  • Disaffected Republicans will be rallied around their new savior and champion, while disgruntled Trump partisans will grumble “anyone but Hillary” and (mostly) go along with the new program.  After all, they’re followers, not independent thinkers. Just about any fuhrer will do.
  • The Clinton campaign will be completely blindsided by this development, and having geared up to play a “No Trump” bid all the way to November, will flounder in its attempts to respond to the radically altered political environment.  It’s all about the OODA loop.
  • Best of all, I’ll have been proven correct in my offhand 2015 prediction: “Trump won’t be around at the end“.

Stay tuned: I’m guessing that the Koch-Murdoch timetable for action is probably around September 9th.  Nine/Nine, or nein-nein for you Deutsch sprechers.


Almost Heaven, West Slovenia

July 29, 2016

Near-term prospects may be improving for Danilo Turk –at least one potential veto voter seems to be hinting at a possible okey-doke:

Russian President Vladimir Putin will be visiting European Union and NATO-member Slovenia this weekend, signaling a bid to maintain ties amid simmering tensions between the Kremlin and the two Western-led blocs.  While in Slovenia –his only third visit to an EU-member country this year– Putin will attend a commemoration of the centenary of a chapel at Kranjska Gora, which was erected in the memory of dozens of Russian World War I prisoners of war who died in an avalanche while building a [road through a] mountain pass in the Julian Alps for the Austrian army.

Kranjska Gora_0

Putin will also unveil a memorial to Russian soldiers who died in World War II at the main cemetery in Ljubljana, and meet Slovenian officials. The memorial is made up of eight pillars symbolizing the eight-year duration of both world wars.  There is a crane atop each of the pillars and the names of 3,000 soldiers are embossed in marble. The memorial has been made by Russian sculptors and financed by Russia.

Russia is Slovenia’s top non-EU trading partner, but the trade between the two has dropped by nearly 30 percent since EU sanctions were imposed [following Russia’s 2014 Ukraine incursion].  Some media reports suggest that the United States had advised Slovenia against inviting Putin given the enduring tensions between Russia and NATO. [However,] Slovenian authorities have been emphasizing the ceremonial nature of Putin’s visit and the absence of formal talks.  Slovenia has supported EU and NATO policies with regard to Russia while also striving to push aside obstacles to relations, which are underpinned not only by trade but in particular by shared Slavic culture.


It’s pretty clear that Putin is (and has been) making a blatantly obvious point about the numerous Russian soldiers who have died on European soil during the past 100 years.  This is probably considered diplomatic subtlety by Russian standards of international relations, and people who “share Slavic culture” probably understand the message all too well.

So what might this mean for the Moldovan candidate?  I don’t know.  What does Auntie Sam have to say on this topic?


Head Caseworker

July 28, 2016

Back in the day, I and my colleagues used to amuse ourselves and our newly-recruited lunchtime companions with a simple, politically incorrect quiz game that had no hard-and-fast correct answers.  After a short preamble explaining that we the American people have coined numerous verbal expressions to describe (or label) out-group members of society, and noting that each of us often has a slightly different understanding of what these colloquial terms actually mean, we would pose the following short question:

In your opinion, which of these three informal expressions describes someone with the most serious mental illness?

We usually didn’t ask anyone to justify their choice, and on several occasions our respondents suggested that we add the term “head case” to the list –triggering discussion of whether (and in what way) a “head case” might be a more mild or severe form of mental illness than a “wacko” or a “nut job.”  Sometimes, one of the group might seek to illustrate his reasoning by adding a common verbal intensifier to the chosen term, attempting to argue that a “complete fuckin’ wacko” is clearly crazier than the guy who’s merely “looney tunes.”  This would give us the opportunity to demonstrate that you could add “complete(ly) fuckin'” to any of the original expressions to make it seem worse than those that lacked the intensifier.  But when each term is thus modified the effect is cancelled out:  A “complete fuckin’ wacko” is no better –or worse– than a “complete fuckin’ nut job.”

At the time, the main point of this frivolous exercise was to demonstrate that spoken language –especially colloquial speech– becomes an inexact tool for communication when the semantic linkage between concept and word is highly subjective, culturally specific, and somewhat variable.  What you think you said isn’t necessarily what I believe I heard.


Pivot to Present … and Future

Why bother to mention any of this?  Because modern-day regime preservation functionaries, their advisers and their media propaganda specialists have lately been uncertain about whether to describe the world’s recent crop of ‘lone wolf’ mass murderers as actual terrorists … or just plain crazy.

U.S. officials said they are investigating the role mental health issues may have played in the shooting of police in Baton Rouge and Dallas. In both attacks, the shooters had displayed signs of apparent mental illness and extreme views before their rampages. “When someone with mental health issues [finally] snaps, there usually is some external stimulus that also is involved and provides an organizing framework for the violent act,” noted Paul Pillar, a former senior CIA analyst.

[A half dozen American, British and French] counterterrorism officials told Reuters that the assailants in a recent spate of mass killings all had histories of apparent mental illness. They included the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida; the murder of a British parliamentarian in Northern England; the killings of police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Dallas, Texas; the Bastille Day truck attack in Nice, France; and Friday’s mass shooting at a German shopping mall.  [However,] existing systems for collecting intelligence on extremists are not set up to identify individuals with a history of mental illness who come into contact with people or propaganda that could incite them to engage in violence, the intelligence officials told Reuters.

Okay, so we have an intelligence gap big enough to drive a truck through.  On the bright side, at least the gaps are getting smaller: fifteen years ago you could fly four 747s through the FBI’s blind spots.  Nowadays, something as innocuous as this blog post won’t escape notice and might even trigger (intentional word choice) some petty, spiteful electronic harassment by aggrieved LE personnel or their minions.  But if our most vexing intell vulnerability really is the muttering madman loner, I think I can live with that: the odds are working in my favor (to clarify: as a potential victim, not as a perpetrator).

Unfortunately, the United States is also exposed to a much greater threat of politically-motivated mass violence on a much larger scale than any lone wolf terrorist/madman would be able to manage… and the probable perpetrators are hiding in plain sight.  Last year, Dutch sociologist Avram de Swaan described some of the indicators of incipient organized, large-scale atrocities perpetrated by armed political movements or government regimes:

the foundation for future atrocity is laid when latent social tensions are redefined by political actors to:

  • accentuate social differences and divisions,
  • demarcate boundaries of “compartmentalized” social categories,
  • enact physical/spatial separation of these newly defined social fragments,
  • and accelerate (individual) psychological processes of self-identification, projection, internalization, fervent “othering” (etc.) within increasing numbers of the citizenry.

Do these indicators sound familiar?  Copious open source reporting would seem to suggest so.   And yet this is a threat assessment that regime preservationists wouldn’t touch with the proverbial ten-foot pole. Perhaps because they believe that mass violence of this particular kind will actually preserve their regime rather than threaten it.  Perhaps we’ll see whether this is so.


John Hinckley Jr


July 19, 2016

Once again, “evidence” that Comrade Bear heeds the message of this blog (in some respects, at least):

The (Chabad Hasidic) Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia said in a statement Tuesday that it does not mind people playing “Pokemon Go” near synagogues and other cultural buildings …  as long as it is not disturbing the congregation.  Pokemon has prompted a mixed reaction [in Russian society].  While Russian airports and banks have endorsed the game, the Russian Orthodox Church and some Duma deputies have angrily complained that the Western-developed app [sic] has harmed Russia.

Those Russian nationalists would benefit from a basic geography lesson and a refresher course in late Imperial history:  Nintendo => Japan => East, not West.  Of course, their confused disorientation is entirely understandable … because everyone in Russia is a bit on edge, what with centenary “celebrations” of the October Revolution looming on the horizon.

There’s no actual cause for concern, however, because the next major nation to undergo a genuine social revolution (rather than a mere sham regime change) will have the opportunity to guide the course of world affairs for at least a century.  So rather than fear civic instability, true patriots (of whatever nationality) should embrace the possibility of dramatic change –in the interest of human survival and sustainable ecology.


Back From The Bulrushes

July 13, 2016

Surely I’m not the first to echo the historic words of Moishe the Egyptian from back in the day:

Let my people Go!



Dee Pelham Blues

July 11, 2016


“The problem is that you have people with great intentions but part of a bad organization that is corrupt.”

— barbershop owner Randall Vaughn


And in addition, you also have people with bad intentions who are the reason that an organization/ a society/ a culture is ‘bad’ and corrupt.  Everyone seems to have their own definition of which people are which.


Breaking Brad

June 22, 2016

I’ve been watching Copa America 2016 en espagnol.  Not just the USA matches, either.  But what I’ve seen of Team USA’s performances has been rather discouraging.  To my untutored eye, the core of the team’s weakness (but not its only one) is midfielder Michael Bradley.  Too much hesitation in choosing whether to pass or dribble; too many passes directly to an adversary’s boots when teammates are within reach; too many attempts to dribble past a defender with better ball-handling skills than he has, too many clearing kicks that a sprinting winger can’t reach.  At times he almost seemed to be playing (half-heartedly) for the opposing team.  If I were a betting man (I’m not), I’d be wondering who his bookie is.  Why is this guy team captain?  It’s a rhetorical question: I really don’t care enough to know. He’s probably a nice enough guy, but Leo (Durocher) had something to say about that in the context of sport.

So, unlike many Americans –who will only root for a winner– I’ll watch the Copa America consolation match for third place.  I want to see whether or not this pattern of behavior will continue to be evident in a match that doesn’t much matter.  Then I might be able to decide whether Bradley is a player whose cognitive processes and athletic skills begin to break down under psychological stress, or whether alternative hypotheses should be considered.  But I might not blog about my conclusions later.