Archive for October, 2016

Fame of the Human Name

October 25, 2016

Apparently there’s at least one place in the United States where New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is still popular:  Portland (Maine).  But maybe that’s because Maine’s own governor Paul LePage is widely regarded as someone firmly ensconced in an alternate universe somewhere between Loony Tunes and Wackoville.  Some might say he’s not alone:

A man dressed as a pine tree was arrested Monday afternoon in downtown Portland and charged with obstructing a public way.  Asher A. Woodworth, 30, of Portland, who was standing in traffic at High and Congress streets, was arrested after refusing police orders to leave the congested intersection.  Woodworth was taken to the Cumberland County Jail, where bail was set at $60 cash.  Obstructing a public way is a Class E (classy?) misdemeanor.

A friend of [Woodworth] said he was trying to study the city’s traffic patterns.


It’s pretty clear that the volume of road traffic in Portland ain’t quite what you’d see on the George Washington Bridge, but perhaps it’s the quality rather than the quantity that’s so worthy of research.  Or maybe it’s the location (location, location): Congress and High.

According to Portland police, “[Woodworth’s] motivation was to see how people would react to what he called his ‘performance’ and how he might impact ‘people’s natural choreography.’ ”

Sounds like this guy could be a student of André Lepecki and Jacques Rancière.  However, each of them would hasten to assure you that there’s nothing ‘natural’ about social choreography.


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.