Reality and the U.S.-Made Famine in Yemen

Photo by Gerry & Bonni | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Gerry & Bonni | CC BY 2.0

This week at the Voices for Creative Nonviolence office in Chicago, my colleague Sabia Rigby prepared a presentation for a local high school. She’ll team up with a young friend of ours, himself a refugee from Iraq, to talk about refugee crises driven by war. Sabia recently returned from Kabul where she helped document the young Afghan Peace Volunteers’ efforts to help bring warmth, food and education to internally displaced families living in makeshift camps, having fled the Afghan War when it raged near their former homes.

Last year Sabia had been visiting with refugees in “the Calais Jungle,” who were fleeing the Middle East and several African countries for Britain. Thwarted from crossing the English Channel, a large mass of people were stopped in this refugee camp in Calais, France, from which French authorities eventually evacuated them, defying their careful solidarity and burning their camp to the ground.

As part of her high school talk, Sabia prepared a handout to show where refugees are the most welcomed. One detail astonished her.

In FY 2016, the U.S. admitted 84,995 refugees, but Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world took in 117,000 new refugees and migrants in 2016, and hosts more than 255,000 refugees from Somalia. Yemen is now beginning to host the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. What’s more, the country is regularly targeted by Saudi and U.S. airstrikes.

Since we are also planning a week of fast and action related to the tragic circumstances Yemen faces, we were astounded when we realized Yemen is a path of escape for Somalis fleeing the Horn of Africa, refugees of one conflict, stranded in their flight, and trapped in a country where deadly conflict is precipitating into deadlier famine.

After years of U.S. support for dictator Ali Adullah Saleh, civil war has wracked Yemen since 2014. Its neighbor Saudi Arabia, itself among the region’s cruelest dictatorships and a staunch U.S. ally, became nervous in 2015 about the outcome and, with support from nine regional allies, began subjecting the country to a punishing barrage of airstrikes, and also imposed a blockade that ended the inflow of food and supplies to Yemen through a major port. This was accomplished with massive, ongoing weapons shipments from the U.S., which has also waged independent airstrikes that have killed dozens of civilians, including women and children.

Pummeled by airstrikes and fighting, facing economic collapse and on the brink of famine, how could this tiny, impoverished country absorb thousands upon thousands of desperate migrants?

Yemen imports 90% of its food. Because of the blockade, food and fuel prices are rising and scarcity is at crisis levels.

UNICEF estimates that more than 460,000 children in Yemen face severe malnutrition, and 3.3 million children and pregnant or lactating women suffer acute malnutrition. More than 10,000 people have been killed, including 1,564 children, and millions have been displaced from their homes, but worse is the groundwork laid for the far greater devastation of famine. Iona Craig, in the IRIN publication, recently wrote:

In the middle of a vast expanse of grey scrubland, a rapidly growing population of more than 120 families huddle under parched trees. Escaping the latest wave of conflict on Yemen’s Red Sea coast, they walked two days to get to this camp southwest of Taiz city.

But on arrival, the scores of women and children found nothing. No support from aid agencies. No food. No water. No shelter. The elderly talk of eating the trees to survive, while children beg for water from local farmers. A mother cradles her clearly malnourished baby in her arms.

Now comes word that on March 16th, forty-two Somali people were killed in sustained gunfire from the air as they set forth in a boat attempting to flee Yemen.

“I took cover in the belly of the ship,” said Ibrahim Ali Zeyad, a Somali who survived the attack. “People were falling left and right. Everyone kept screaming, ‘We are Somali! We are Somali!’”

But the shooting continued for what felt like half an hour.

The attack on Yemen traps both Yemenis and fleeing Somalis in the worst of four developing crises which collectively amount, one U.N. official warns, to the worst humanitarian crisis in the history of the U.N. As of this writing, no one has taken responsibility for the strike, but survivors say they were attacked by a helicopter gunship. The boat was carrying 140 people as it headed north off the coast of Yemen.

Meanwhile, US weapons makers, including General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin, profit massively from weapon sales to Saudi Arabia. In December, 2017, Medea Benjamin wrote: “Despite the repressive nature of the Saudi regime, U.S. governments have not only supported the Saudis on the diplomatic front, but militarily. Under the Obama administration, this has translated into massive weapons sales of $115 billion.”

At this critical juncture, all member states of the UN must call for an end to the blockade and airstrikes, a silencing of all guns, and a negotiated settlement to the war in Yemen. The worst malefactors, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, must abandon cynical maneuvering against rivals like Iran, in the face of such an unspeakable human cost as Yemen is being made to pay.

U.S. people bear responsibility to demand a radical departure from U.S. policy which exacerbates the deadly tragedy faced by people living in Yemen.

Choosing a path of clear opposition to U.S. policies toward Yemen, U.S. citizens should demand elected representatives stop all drone attacks and military “special operations” within Yemen, end all U.S. weapon sales and military aid to Saudi Arabia, and provide compensation to those who suffered losses caused by U.S. attacks.

Our group of activists long functioned under the name “Voices in the Wilderness,” a campaign to defy U.S. economic warfare against Iraq, a form of war through imposition of economic sanctions which directly contributed to the deaths of over 500,000 children. Lost in a culture of hostile unreality and unbearable silence concerning economic warfare, we were evoking, perhaps unconsciously, the plight of refugees seeking survival. We didn’t succeed in lifting the brutal economic sanctions against Iraq, but we surely learned harsh realities about how callous and reckless U.S. policy makers could be.

We must ground ourselves in reality and in solidarity with the greater part of the world’s people. As our neighbors around the world flee in desperation across borders or within the confines of their own countries, we must continually educate ourselves about the reality of what our nation’s actions mean to the world’s poor. Building toward a time when our voices may unite and be heard, we must raise them now in crying out for the people of Yemen.

Ending Our Secret Alliance with Victimhood: Toward an Adult Politics

Photo by Vikalpa | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Vikalpa | CC BY 2.0

In its most extreme form, our constitutional rights are reducible to the right not to have to love our neighbor.  The irony is that the more energetically we pursue our individual, socially isolated right to “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” the deader the social and natural worlds become.

Curtis White, The Spirit of Disobedience: An Invitation to Resistance (2006)

So much of what we muster excitement about in American politics, about which we feel passionate,  is based in feeling injured, slighted, left out, wronged. The historic struggle for rights is premised on having been denied them, or experiencing threats to them, or wishing to ally with those whose rights have been violated.   Now, perhaps because so much of what shapes our context is  far out of our control, perhaps for other reasons,  politics on the left has been reduced to precisely that, to identity politics.  One danger in fighting solely from the sense of injury to a group, is that it rests on an assumption that the humanity underneath is intact but for this injustice.  One can be opposing social wrongs and injuries and never look “underneath” to see if the human being is intact, if there even exists the community and life-sustaining culture that needs to be or is worthy of being defended.

Liberals, in particular, defend the rights of women for equal pay, of single mothers, of transgender and questioning people – all worthy and valid causes – without ever asking if the passionate defense of these “rights” comes at the expense of anything else perhaps more precious and threatened? What are the constituent elements of community?  Surely not only acceptance for difference, but also for critique of that acceptance.  For real community, both must be allowed. Trust must be allowed.  Like rightwing fundamentalists in this respect, secular humanists cannot tolerate genuine moral questioning, not because it risks condemning single mothers or homosexuals or divorce – though this is always possible – but because it asks people to think more deeply about the consequences to the community of our choices.  It poses the perspective of an adult against the perspective of the “siblings.”

For this reason I have long held back from that liberal tendency to engage in identity politics.  During college and graduate school in the 1970’s, I was greatly influenced by feminism which gave me for the first time a sense of purpose, of being an actor in history.  Not until one day, having brought my pathologically depressed self to a therapist’s office, realizing I was unable to answer a question about myself, but only about women as a group, did I begin to tear myself away from this identification with oppression and victimization that had been so positive for me.

Right on schedule, I was one of the  “me-centered” in the famous “me-decade” of the 80’s, participating in 12-step groups,  gaining a connection to spiritual reality, and then finding myself on an intense ride that could not be stopped at some point convenient to myself.  The ‘process’ turned out to be way more powerful than me,  terrifying, and in the end, and at points along the way, incredibly rewarding.  Call it “individuation” or “the soul’s journey” or what have you, I was brought into the “fire” of transformation which dominated my life in the 1990’s.  A point came when I  had no choice but to see it through; otherwise I’d end up institutionalized.  In so wrestling with a power ‘greater than myself,’ I was immersed in a health-bringing process; it made sense to me it was that which people have called God, or Nature, but the experience meant far more than the name.   I make no claims for my “sanity” now, but after this experience I could no longer identify myself as victim.  Although it felt – and still feels to me – completely audacious, I had to speak from the intact part of myself; only the writer, the creative part of me, was capable of this.

I have no choice as to what I will write about.  I envy the poets and the novelists their forms; I have just this one ‘song’ that may sound like something quite other than a song to others; it comes out of a deeper disturbance and a deeper alienation than secular left liberal American politics allows.  Indeed, it is akin to the valid experience brought to one through Buddhist practice, according to David Lopez, quoted in Curtis White’s We, Robots: “The goal of meditation is stress induction.  This stress is a product of extreme dissatisfaction with the world.  Rather than seeking a sense of peaceful satisfaction with the unfolding of experience, the goal of this practice is to produce a state of mind that is highly judgmental, indeed judging this world to be like a prison.”

I use this quote from a book (Lopez’s) I have not read for two reasons: first, it says of Buddhism what I have found to be true through my own “practice,” the writing I have kept at devotedly for close to 20 years.  Writing provides me access to “know what I know”and so is for me the way to be a free human being in this world; as a free human being, my art imposes upon me a duty that I address ‘the prison’ and critique it.  A moral perspective is built into the practice.

Second, the quotation points to one reason I speak of “religion” (and religiophobia) in my writing, rather than the more congenial “spirituality.”  To the extent that “spirituality” and spiritual practice are put to work for the world we have (i.e., to reduce stress, increase fitness, bring tranquility, etc,) rather than for the world we dream of and sacrifice for (i.e., thus inducing stress and knowing one’s profound alienation from this world), I tend toward  the less acceptable, more divisively connoted word.  It is more than possible when people say “I’m spiritual but not religious” that they are fully in the countercultural critique, but I cannot help being suspicious.  I sense a holdout, a bit of bargaining on behalf of the ego.

If one goes deep enough into the wilderness of the self, and many poets and artists can confirm, one reaches an experience – or a series of experiences – that is initiatory in the tribal sense.   Even for people who have that experience,  a choice remains as to how to make use of it in the world.  Perhaps due to my seminary training, of which I am no shining exemplar,  I understood I was called to address  the world in which the soul’s reality – the non-optional basis for our humanity – is consistently denied and violated. One source of damage to the soul is the loss of will to resist the colonization of communities and families by corporate reality so that they no longer consistently provide safety and protection for innocence, that is for the spiritual inner beings of children.  Liberal, “uninitiated” society is so polarized on its side of the battle lines defending group rights, it leaves the social structures that are supportive of humanity to fend for themselves.  In effect, it ensures an endless supply of victims.

This is why I am ambivalent toward politics which have passion exclusively for identity issues. Even now, when the winds of fascism are unnervingly blowing in America, or perhaps especially now, when we see the consequences of our reduced politics in a possible fascism, I appeal to a different perspective.

Martin Luther King, Jr., quoted in the film I’m Not Your Negro, said (paraphrase) “We have a right to sit wherever we want to sit [i.e., on the bus or at the lunch counter], and we have a duty to do so. “   With the  juxtaposition of those two words, he suggests this initiated perspective.  In speaking of rights, he addressed the injured and violated, in speaking of duty he addressed a community of adults prepared to assume a moral purpose, their purpose as human beings in the face of an immoral society.

More than ever, as Americans facing the nightmarish current reality, we need to include with our passion for defending rights the knowledge of our duty to be human beings, to serve a reality larger than the one that comforts the ego,  the deeper reality worthy of human beings and human becoming.  Rights is a popular word; duty, except among Marines and Boy Scouts, is not. But it is time, aside from defending victims,  we rallied around something more inclusive, more meaningful and more visionary than rights exclusively,  that comes from and speaks to the nobility, dignity, and strength inherent in whole human beings.

Profiling Islamophobes

Photo by Fibonacci Blue | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Fibonacci Blue | CC BY 2.0

Islamophobia in America is the fear and hatred of Islam and Muslims prevailing among Christian and Jewish Americans. (Atheists who question the very notion of religion are perhaps less likely to select Islam as a special target of disparagement.) A majority of American Christians and Jews do not fear or hate Islam or Muslims. In fact, many Christian and Jewish interfaith organizations are actively engaged in repelling Islamophobia. American Jews understand that they too will be a prime target, as recent cemetery vandalism and bomb threats demonstrate, if Islamophobia gains intensity and momentum. Likewise, Mormons, Hindus, Sikhs, and other minority religious groups living in America fear for their safety as the hatred of Islam sweeps the nation.

The ugliest American Islamophobes that occupy prominent social, political, and intellectual fields are well known to the world if not to the people of the United States: They are Steve Bannon (Irish Catholic), Robert Spencer (Greek Catholic), David Horowitz (Jewish), Pamela Geller (Jewish), David Yerushalmi (Jewish), Frank Gaffney (Irish Catholic), Steven Emerson (unknown heritage), Daniel Pipes (Jewish), Sean Hannity (Irish Catholic), and Bill O’Reilly (Irish Catholic). There are scores of other Islamophobes, less highflying but no less vicious, firmly occupying posts in the media, legislatures, television, and academia.

These garrulous Islamophobes write books, sponsor seminars, and write op-eds; some prompt states to enact anti-Sharia legislation, some finance anti-Islamic political movements in Europe and the United States, some provide radio and television commentaries sensationalizing the perils of Islam, and some outright advocate the persecution and expulsion of American Muslims.

A quick overview of the ugliest Islamophobes listed above demonstrates that they are mostly white males, and mostly Irish Catholic or Jewish. It is ironic how these ugliest Islamophobes conveniently forget that Jews, Catholics, and the Irish — their own communities — have experienced sorrowful histories of discrimination, prejudice, hatred, and refusal to enter the United States. Anti-Semitism is the fear and hatred of the Jews. Hibernophobia is the fear and hatred of the Irish. It is a question of psychiatry, if not psychosis, why the descendants of the victims of Anti-Semitism and Hibernophobia have turned into malicious Islamophobes.

Profiling is inherently obnoxious and a questionable generalization from both moral and empirical viewpoints. Profiling is stereotyping, maybe carrying a trace of truth but almost always over-inclusive – a fishing net catching the blameless and the blameworthy. Stereotypes such as African-Americans are violent, Native-Americans are alcoholics, and Muslims are terrorists – all are odious and wrong. To this questionable list of stereotypes, I am in no hurry to add Irish Catholics and Jews as Islamophobes.

But I wonder. When Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly fume against Islam or Muslims with the intent to poison hearts and minds of the FOX viewers, do they ever simultaneously think about the Irish, the Catholic, or the Irish Catholic communities? When Daniel Pipes and David Horowitz intellectualize hatred against Islam and Muslims, do they ever simultaneously think about similar intellectualization of hatred against the European Jews who faced expulsion and extermination? At this point, in a free flowing stream of consciousness, I am thinking of Ben Carson, an African-American, speaking in vivid delirium against Syrian refugees and discounting African slavery as a form of illegal immigration.

Producers of Islamophobia may be distinguished from consumers of Islamophobia. The producers are highly educated or highly power individuals, such as Steve Bannon. The individuals identified in this commentary are the producers of Islamophobia. For example, David Yerushalmi markets his Islamophobia to state legislatures, Sean Hannity to his television viewers. The consumers of Islamophobia are frequently less educated or less powerful, who can be easily swayed into hating Islam or Muslims. A person pulling the hijab off a Muslim woman walking in the street is a consumer of Islamophobia as is the person shooting “Iranians” (who were indeed Indians) in a Kansas bar. By every standard, the producers of hatred are worse foes of humanity than the consumers of hatred.

Over the centuries, Islamophobes have trashed Islam, persecuted and even killed Muslims. But there is a great irony in Islamic history. The Mongols destroyed Baghdad but their children embraced Islam. Even the Prophet’s own uncle (Abu Lahb) was a vicious Islamophobe, and Mecca, now the citadel of Islam, was once an Islamophobic city. American Islamophobes, the ugliest and the less ugly, need to know that American Muslims and their progeny, even if persecuted, will continue to contribute to the economic, social, moral, and intellectual good of America as they have in Malaysia and Indonesia, nations as far away from the Middle East as are the United States.

May Day: Seattle Educators Moving Closer to Strike

On Monday, March 13, the Seattle Educators Association (SEA) took a big step toward May 1 strike action in voting by an overwhelming majority in favor of a one-day strike at their Representative Assembly. The resolution will now require approval by the union’s full membership.

The vote was a response to more than a decade of unconstitutional underfunding of public education in Washington State. But it was also a part of a series of recent moves by Seattle unions preparing to take action on May Day against the vicious right-wing agenda of Donald Trump. In February, WFSE Local 304, representing workers at Seattle community colleges, passed a resolution supporting strike and protest action on May 1. The elected leadership of UAW 4121, representing graduate student workers at the University of Washington (UW), recently voted to hold a May 1 strike vote of its membership. The Martin Luther King County Labor Council passed a county-wide May Day resolution this week at its monthly delegate meeting at the Seattle Labor Temple.

Socialist Seattle City Councilmember, Kshama Sawant, who called for “100 Days of Resistance” from Trump’s inauguration leading up to May Day, is now calling for the city’s mayor, Ed Murray, to allow all city workers to take May 1 off without retaliation (Washington State law already allows all public employees to take 2 days off each year for reasons of conscience or religion).

All the developments around May 1 action in Seattle are important. But if the SEA membership approves the strike action, it will take things to another level. Because it would represent more than a symbolic resolution or call to action. It would mean 5,000 educators actually going on strike in a powerful defense of public education, and shutting down the Seattle school system for a day.

Educator Kit McCormick spoke about the mood at the SEA Representative Assembly: “What stood out to me is that people want to do something that will change the status quo. We have tried the same thing for years. We’ve been writing our legislators and we’ve been going to Olympia and it’s time to take a bigger step. People are excited about getting out there with a larger group and saying, ‘This will not stand!’”

The Washington State Supreme Court has repeatedly taken action against the State Legislature in Olympia for underfunding education in violation of the state constitution. In the Fall of 2015, Seattle educators went on strike during contract negotiations, demanding full funding for schools, racial equity teams, and cost of living wage increases. While the strike led to SEA winning a number of their demands and electrified working people across the city, public education remains grossly underfunded statewide. And now federally, education is under attack from the Trump administration.

“An injury to one is an injury to all,” said SEA teacher and Socialist Alternative member Justin Vinson. “We’re fed up. For years educators have been fighting to defend our schools and our students against illegal underfunding by the legislature, and now we have the Trump administration and Betsy DeVos setting their sights on major education cuts. But there is a larger principle at stake here as well, with Trump going after our immigrant sisters and brothers, women, Muslims and LGBTQ people. May 1st can be an important turning point by demonstrating that we can use our power as workers to shut down ‘business as usual’ and step up the resistance to Trump.”

May 1, or “May Day,” is historically a day of mass working class action and immigrant rights protests. With immigrants facing the worst brunt of Trump’s attacks and anti-union legislation coming down the pike, the need to return to May Day’s roots as a day of mass strike action has never been more relevant.

But there is nothing automatic about the upcoming vote by the full SEA membership. While the resolution passed with overwhelming approval, it did so in spite of the opposition of the union’s president and Executive Board. Executive Board members also increased the requirement for strike approval from the usual 50% threshold to a much higher 75%.

Winning the vote will require organizing. Members of Seattle Equality Educators, a left caucus within the union who led the way on the resolution, will help make the case within their schools for taking a stand on May 1. Parents, students and community members should weigh in as well, as all of us have a stake in taking action on these critical issues. Flyering and petitions in support of the educators could help move things in the direction of a successful vote.

SEA educators can take inspiration from what’s happening in California, where a coalition of SEIU United Service Workers West and workers center members (nearly 350,000 workers altogether!) are preparing to go on strike on May 1.

In Seattle, UAW’s resolution will also be going to a vote of its full membership in the coming weeks. If approved, the union’s 6,000 teaching and research assistants at the University of Washington will go on strike on May Day as well. Discussions have already begun, with UAW leading the way, about a campus-wide shutdown at this biggest university in the Northwest.

In Seattle and across the country, the mood is growing to fight back against Trump and big business, to defend education, other vital public services, and all those under attack. But it will require more than symbolic protest. We will need to stand together in solidarity and to take our power as working people into our own hands.

And that’s why what Seattle educators are doing is so important.

Jimmy Breslin on How to Impeach Trump

The last time a U.S. president faced a strong movement for impeachment for actual impeachable offenses, one of the major road blocks was fear that an unpopular vice president would take his place, and this road block was removed when Spiro Agnew resigned in the face of criminal charges of cheating on his taxes.

As every American is aware, including even those who have never heard of impeachment, the primary problem with impeaching Trump is the horror of a president Pence. For a long time I tried to explain to people that this was stupid. Pence is already running the show. Impeachment is about placing the executive branch under the rule of law, not about the trivial matter of what individual holds what office for a few years. A President Pence with a Congress that impeaches people would be better than King Donald with Congress acting as court jesters. Impeachment and removal from office are two different things. Et cetera. It doesn’t matter how many reasons you provide, the U.S. public mayl never support impeachment of Trump as long as Pence is vice president.

I recommend reading a book by Jimmy Breslin about the impeachment of Richard Nixon called How the Good Guys Finally Won. The book is a hagiographic account of then Majority Leader Tip O’Neill’s role in pushing the impeachment of Nixon through the Congress. O’Neill does deserve great praise, in fact. It’s impossible to imagine any member of Congress fulfilling their oath of office to the same extent today. While we all know that the impeachment of Bill Clinton was rammed through Congress against the will of the people by the House Republican leadership, it’s perhaps less known how the House Democratic leadership pushed for the impeachment of Nixon. Members of Congress who moved to impeach Nixon, including the leadership, moved in response to public pressure.

Breslin’s book removes activism from the picture and falsely claims that there were no activist rallies or demonstrations demanding Nixon’s impeachment. (There were demonstrations in front of the Capitol with something we seem to have lost along the way: nude streakers.) Breslin sees history as shaped by a few great men. But his book provides some tips and warnings to us, despite its author’s views. When Congressman Robert Drinan first introduced articles of impeachment against Nixon, his party leadership was against it. In Breslin’s account, they wanted to wait until momentum had built, in order to avoid badly losing a vote on the House floor, which they thought would set impeachment back. So, rather comically, the Speaker, the Majority Leader, and the Whip took turns guarding the House floor at all times in order to be ready to table Drinan’s bill should the Republicans call for a vote on it. They did this up until O’Neill asked Minority Leader Jerry Ford if the Republicans planed to ask for a vote, and Ford replied of course not. The Republicans wanted silence on impeachment, not votes on it. And Drinan’s effort helped move the issue forward.

Another thing that helped move impeachment forward against Nixon was the ACLU asking the House to proceed. Of course, today’s ACLU is not the same organization. Today the ACLU favors banning torture again and again and again, each time pretending that it wasn’t already a felony. But the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild, and a popular movement have called for impeachment, and who can say the ACLU won’t come around once impeachment appears likely?

It also helped that Judiciary Chair Peter Rodino issued a 718-page report on impeachment. Nixon’s goons went after Rodino and tried to tie him to the mafia. An early vote by Rodino’s Judiciary Committee authorized him to subpoena any agent of the government and that person’s papers, public or private. That’d quickly replace all the chatter about Trump’s tax returns with either Trump’s tax returns or a new impeachable offense. When Rodino was given that authority, almost all of Congress and even the public considered impeachment unlikely if not impossible.

Rodino hired John Doar as special counsel to work on the impeachment, intentionally choosing a well known and respected Republican. Then the House voted to give the Judiciary Committee a million dollars to spend on an investigation. The vote was 367-51. There were Republicans who saw no harm in an investigation, who thought impeachment wouldn’t get anywhere, who thought Nixon was innocent, but who thought Congress had a role to play in our system of government and a responsibility to fill out that role. They also were feeling pressure from their constituents to do their jobs in this matter.

Today the public pressure is there as well. But Trump’s guilt regarding emoluments is public knowledge (and unsubstantiated fantasies regarding Russia are supposed by Democrats to be public knowledge). But it would be helpful for the House to vote a fund for an “investigation,” because it would be part of the proper narrative. As Breslin stresses, facts and laws matter less than appearances.

It would also make sense to hire a special counsel. Doar found that when he looked closely at the information available on Nixon, nothing more was needed to prove his guilt. With regard to Trump, we already knows this. But who knows what an intense examination of the facts could turn up in the way of superfluous evidence? And the evidence isn’t the point. The point is political plausibility.

As soon as impeachment appeared at all plausible against Nixon, public pressure for impeachment – even in Breslin’s account – became intense, and Congress reacted to it. What helped tremendously was polling. The trick today is persuading the polling companies to do the polls, even for money. The few that have been done show the public about evenly spit on impeaching Trump, numbers almost certain to move in favor of impeaching Trump should members of Congress begin pursuing it.

Congress took Nixon to court for refusing to hand over audio tapes. In that case, a Supreme Court that could have been expected to back Nixon instead obeyed pressure from the public and the Congress. In Breslin’s account, however, Nixon would have been impeached whatever way the court ruled. The important thing was that the case was in court.

When the Republicans tried to censure Nixon instead of impeaching him, the Democrats said no. They knew that voters would not be satisfied with anything less than impeachment. That is true again already. Our job is to make Congress aware of it. As of now, unless a Trump offense can somehow be tied to Russia and to a claim that Hillary Clinton “really won,” Democrats in Washington will have no interest in it. Trump could in fact shoot someone on Fifth Avenue. It doesn’t matter. He will not be impeached.

Never mind the whole question of whether future presidents and vice presidents will be expected to obey any laws. It’s all about elections. The Democrats played this same game when Reagan was investigated in the Iran Contra scandal. The Democrats exercised restraint. In the end, they restrained themselves right into a defeat and created the Bush dynasty.

But things were handled differently in 1973. The Democrats made impeachment an issue. In fact, they made it THE issue. And the polls spoke loudly and clearly to Congress members of both parties. Some Democrats, such as Illinois Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, started out adamantly opposed to impeachment. But they were pretty easily brought around. The Majority Leader was a Democrat who saw being a Democrat as something noticeably different from being a Republican. Tip O’Neill’s role in the impeachment of Nixon is highlighted in Breslin’s book:

[O’Neill] came into this room in June with a new weapon, another mirror, a forty-page notebook put together by William Hamilton and Staff, pollsters, for William Welsh of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. The topic sentence of the report said, “In April our study shows 43 per cent will vote for a Congressman who is inclined to vote for impeachment; 29 per cent would vote for a Congressman who would not be so inclined and 28 per cent feel the Congressman’s stand on impeachment would make no difference at this time.”

A further interpretation of the figures showed that “50 per cent of Republican voters will vote against a Congressman who is inclined not to vote for impeachment, while only 7 per cent of Democrats will vote for a Congressman who is inclined to vote against impeachment.”

… O’Neill went right up to Rostenkowski, because Rostenkowski is Mayor Daley’s play caller with the Illinois Democrats in Congress. A word from Danny is a word from the Hall. Deviation? Try Russia, not Cook County.

“Danny, ol pal, did you see this poll yet?” Tip O’Neill said.

“What poll?” Rostenkowski grumbled. He despises polls, but he had to ask about a poll because he is in politics and he is supposed to ask about a poll.

“It shows here that we could pick up as many as eighty seats the way it’s going now,” O’Neill said.

“Whew.”

“And it shows here that there is no way for a Congressman in an urban district to win an election against anybody if he doesn’t vote for impeachment.”

“Where does it show that?”

“Here, look. Only seven percent of the Democrats will vote for a Congressman who is against impeachment. That means a Republican could beat a Democrat in a city if the Republican is for impeachment and the Democrat is against it. Can you imagine that? Say, that’s right. You represent a city, don’t you, Danny?”

O’Neill began to show the poll around. He told Thaddeus Dulski, who comes from upstate Erie County in New York, that the poll showed all rural votes being lost to a Congressman who is against impeachment. “But you don’t have any farms in your district,” he told Dulski. Dulski grumbled. He had a religious belief in the presidency. He also had a lot of farmers in his district. Out on the House floor, when O’Neill saw Angelo Roncallo, a Long Island Republican, he said, “Hey, Angie, old pal. Geez, but you really love it down here, don’t you? Angie, I want you to know something. My door is always open to you, as you know. And to show you how much I think of you, Angie, my door is still going to be open to you next year when you’re not going to be in Congress because of this impeachment.” O’Neill gave a great, fun laugh. Roncallo laughed with him but not as much.

Here’s the part where your history teacher says: Compare and Contrast.

The first thing you’ll notice is that it was all about the damn elections back then, just the same as it is now. But somehow the Democrats saw winning the elections as dependent on doing their jobs, and in fact they won the biggest victories in many years and have never done as well since.

The second thing you’ll notice is that just about everything else was completely different. Elections were losable for incumbents. The Democrats had started impeachment proceedings and made it an issue before the polls compelled them to. The media covered the story. The polling companies did the polls and published them. A labor union was pushing impeachment. And a Congressional leader was lobbying his colleagues in the direction of impeachment. Those six facts appear today to have come from some bizarre parallel universe.

Yet, if we are dedicated to saving this republic, we will endeavor to find a way to substitute for them. We will recruit pro-impeachment challengers to incumbents. We will use civil disobedience, media activism, and legal bribery to lobby Congress as hard as possible to take up impeachment. We will organize in swing districts and commission polls in them. We will report the results on progressive radio and the internet. If we lose now, the good guys won’t have won much forty years ago.

There Won’t Be Another Jimmy Breslin

There only was and only will be one Jimmy Breslin, and after his death last Sunday at 88, he is no more.

Funny, cranky and sometimes boorish, Breslin was a working class journalist who cared about the working class and the under and un-employed class and who, despite achieving wealth and pinnacles of journalistic success, from a Pulitzer and a Polk award to movie options and best-selling novels, never forgot his roots.

How many journalists have your read in a major newspaper or magazine, or heard bloviating on the air, young or old, who’ve had the courage and fortitude to do as Breslin did in his old age: finding a refrigerator box and setting himself up in the dead of winter on a heating grate on a New York City sidewalk alongside a bunch of other homeless people so he could write with real understanding about how they live? That was some column, and provided a jolting wake-up to New Yorkers who walk by those boxes every day, usually without a thought to who’s huddled inside them.

How many have had the courage to call out the likes of Hillary Clinton when she was a carpetbagger running for Senate from New York State, for having “blood on her hands” as she waved to the crowds?

How many have shared his outrage at learning how much money the Standard Oil Company paid to have a marketing company develop a new name and logo for the company, changing Esso to Exxon (that was one of the funniest of his columns I ever read, full of extraneous Xs whose value he placed at something like a million dollars per keystroke after learning what Exxon had paid a naming firm for its new corporate logo).

I’m pretty sure the answer to all these questions is the same: none.

Breslin did all that and much, much more.

But the problem isn’t, as most obit writers have been saying, that there aren’t journalists out there who have Breslin’s sensibility and sensitivity to wrongdoing, if not perhaps his unique gift for getting close to people who don’t normally open up to a reporter. There are. It isn’t that there aren’t journalists out there who are actually writing the kinds of incisive and eye-opening pieces that Breslin spent his life writing. There are. It isn’t even that there aren’t journalists with a similar literary talent. There are.

The problem is that there are no longer any newspapers whose publishers and senior editors are willing to run such gritty Establishment-demolishing and icon-attacking pieces in their columns and on their opinion pages.

Years ago, newspapers ran columns by the likes of Breslin, Anthony Lewis, Pete Hamill, Mike Royko, Molly Ivens and Joe Bageant — columns that could leave the reader fuming, racing for pen and paper or typewriter to knock off an angry letter to the paper or to a Congressperson, columns that would have you running to a friend or a spouse to read it aloud to them, columns that simply made you think about something or some people you hadn’t though of before. No more. It’s the rare column in a mainstream news outlet these days that can elicit outrage, make the blood boil, or even bring a tear to the eye.

Jimmy Breslin wrote those kinds of columns because he felt them, chased them down, and was able to write them, day in and day out, right through 2004, and even later, after a brief hiatus, into 2011/12, and he was able to do it because there were papers like the New York Post, the Daily News and Newsday, that let him do it.

Now newspapers are dumbed down, homogenized and busy seeking a higher-income, perhaps in the publishers’ minds more easily offended, or jaded, demographic, so they don’t want the old-style rabble-rousing columnists ruffling feathers and playing Charles Dickens.

Of course you can find those writers. They’re all over the internet. You’ll find them here at ThisCantBeHappening, at sites like Consortium News, Z Magazine, Counterpunch, and other sites. The problem is you have to go looking for them. The beauty of the old newspapers with their columnists like Jimmy Breslin was that everyone was confronted by a Breslin or a Royko or an Ivens when they opened their daily paper. There columnists were in you face. You couldn’t avoid them. And it made a difference. Breslin busted up a corrupt Democratic Party machine with his column. Most newspapers required an investigative team and a series of page one articles to accomplish something like that.. My late friend John Hess did the same kind of thing at the New York Times and later as a columnist for a local TV station and on Democracy Now! to the New York State nursing home industry.

It’s harder to do that type of writing when newspapers want to be safe, bland and “objective” on their opinion pages as well as their news pages, but that’s one of the prices of the consolidation of the news media.

I remember the day I got the explanation from the managing editor at the Daily News in Los Angeles, where I headed the bureau covering Los Angeles County government for why an investigative story I had done hadn’t run. I had put together a piece showing how the Los Angeles County employee pension fund was invested in all of the same companies that at the time students were the reason students were occupying state university administration buildings up and down the state. They were demanding that their universities’ endowment funds divest from the list of US companies being boycotted for supporting apartheid in South Africa. It was a powerful story because so many of the county’s employees were African American and supported that boycott, but didn’t know their own pension fund was violating it

I had initially been led to believe that my piece would be the front page banner story the next morning, but found it wasn’t even in the paper at all. This led to a series of efforts by the editor to change the tone of the piece, first of all from an enterprise report to one that attributed the story (falsely) to a county supervisor representing the largely black Watts area and South Los Angeles. When I complained about this, I was told that my articles were too “anti-business.”

I quit what became my last newspaper job, and began doing investigative pieces for a news program at KCET-TV, the local PBS affiliate.

For the last 20 years I’ve been living and working in the Philadelphia area. Over that time, I’ve submitted dozens of opinion pieces to the local paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer. If I remember right, two have been published over that period. I wouldn’t claim to be a Jimmy Breslin, but I know I write and report well. I also know that my submissions have been simply too much “out there” for the obsessively middle-of-the-road Inquirer to handle. Examples: A piece decrying the Pennsylvania Corrections Department’s ongoing and unconscionable refusal to provide proven treatments for a deadly Hep-C epidemic raging among the state’s incarcerated population, an article denouncing as a return to McCarthyism a list published initially in the Washington Post and then as a page-one story in the Inquirer labeling some 200 online US news sites as “purveyors of pro-Russian propaganda,” and an article saying that the establishment of a Pentagon drone-piloting station in suburban Horsham, outside Philadelphia, was, under the international laws of war, turning that community into a front-line war-zone and a legitimate target of those being targeted by drones.

I like to think these are the types of columns that Jimmy Breslin would have written had he been living down in Philadelphia, instead of in New York.

And I did get them published, but not in a mainstream newspaper. They ran on this site, ThisCantBeHappening!, and were picked up by many other online sites (some of them on that Washington Post/Inquirer hit list!).

I’m not sure what the answer is to the death of hard-hitting columnists like Breslin in the mainstream media. But let’s not attribute their absence the dying off of such impassioned and dedicated journalists. It’s the smarmy publishers and senior editors of the putrified and increasingly irrelevant corporate media who are at fault for their obsessive focus on ratings and “hits” and eyeballs, and their loss of any commitment to hiring the best journalists and letting them go at it.

Jimmy Breslin was a force of nature. I’m not sure an editor could have stopped him from doing anything. They could suspend him, as Newsday did when he unleashed a racist and sexist tirade against a Korean-American colleague when she criticized something he’d written, but they couldn’t really fire him. He had too big a following in his native city. But I suspect if he were a young journalist today trying to get himself a column, Breslin would fare no better than the rest of us.

RIP Jimmy Breslin…and the US mainstream media.

The Meaning of Life

Many people date the DNA revolution to the discovery of its structure by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953. But really it began thirty years before, conceived by the mind of John D Rockefeller, Sr. Thus it is fitting that DNA is named after him. DNA stands for DeoxyriboNucleic Acid and ribo stands for Rockefeller Institute of Biochemistry (now Rockefeller University) where the chemical composition of DNA was first discovered in the 1920s. The Rockefeller Foundation had become interested in DNA because its trustees feared a Bolshevik-style revolution. Intense public resentment had already compelled the break-up of their Standard oil Company in 1911; so the Foundation sought ways, said trustee Harry Pratt Judson in 1913, to “reinforce the police power of the state”. They intended to find the ultimate key to human behaviour which would allow the resentful and envious mobs to be effectively managed.

The Foundation had two strategies for management that were distinct but complementary: to control human behaviour at the level of social structures: family, work and emotions, which the Foundation referred to by names such as “psychobiology”; and to control human behaviour at the level of molecules.

The “science of man”

 

To develop methods of control at the societal level, the Foundation more-or-less founded the discipline of social science in the early 1900s.

Max Mason, appointed as the Foundation’s director in 1929, described this double focus as their “science of man” project:

“[It i]s directed to the general problem of human behavior, with the aim of control through understanding. The social sciences, for example, will concern themselves with the rationalization of social control; the medical and natural sciences propose a closely coordinated study of the sciences which underlie personal understanding and personal control” (quote from Lily Kay, The Molecular Vision of Life, 1993).

For the social science arm the Foundation sought to inculcate within the social science research community specific mechanistic habits of mind and an ethos conducive to this goal of control: “the validation of the findings of social science [must be] through effective social control,” wrote the Foundation’s head of Social Science, Edmund E. Day. According to Warren Weaver, then director of the Foundation, this meant the “recasting of prevailing ideas of human nature and conduct” in line with the “managerial needs” of industrialisation for characters such as timeliness and obedience.

The “restructuring of human relations in congruence with industrial capitalism” as Lily Kay, biographer of the Foundation described it, was an agenda that was quite widely understood in the 1930s—and widely disapproved of. One contemporary critic called the Foundation’s work “a thinly disguised capitalistic manipulation of the social order” (Kay, 1993).

The Rockefellers construct the gene

The second arm to the “science of man” strategy was seen as purely based on scientific rationality.

To the Rockefeller Foundation trustees, however, rationality meant eugenics. Eugenic theory, by definition, implies that humans contain hidden determinants for traits like civility, intelligence, and obedience. Logically, such determinants ought to be discoverable, reasoned the Foundation’s trustees. If science were able to peer deep enough it would discover those mechanisms and molecules that effected this ‘upward causation’ of behaviour. Once identified, such controlling elements—which were initially presumed to be proteins—could be understood and made use of.

However, to make such discoveries required a new science and a new concept: ‘molecular biology’. Molecular biology was a term the foundation invented for a reductionist “science of the very small” that was focused on discovering the nature of the gene.

The Foundation nevertheless did try out other—even nonreductionist—approaches to biology. It briefly supported the mathematical biologist Nicolas Rashevsky before finally dropping him (Abraham, 2004). Presumably, as a descriptive science, mathematical biology did not meet the Foundation’s desire to discover deterministic and controlling forces.

By testing out and sifting through distinct approaches, individuals, and institutions, the Foundation eventually developed a strategy to reinvent the science of biology that, by 1933, was fully elaborated. It concentrated on funding scientific cliques at a relatively small number of elite institutions (such as Caltech and the University of Chicago). These cliques trained up hundreds of scientists whose job was to find the molecules responsible for that upward causation; that is, to find the specific molecules and the specific mechanisms that determined the form and function of organisms. They would thus validate the Rockefeller eugenic thesis.

Institutionally, these efforts were extremely successful. After the search for these ‘master molecules’ had eventually narrowed to DNA, George Beadle, Nobel Laureate in physiology and Rockefeller insider, noted that all but one of the 18 Nobel prizes awarded for genetic science after 1953 had been awarded to current or former Rockefeller-funded scientists (Kay, 1993). By Beadle’s death in 1989, largely thanks to the Rockefeller Foundation, molecular biology had become the dominant approach to all of biology. That is, medicine, developmental biology, neurobiology, and agriculture.

Almost the whole world nowadays assumes the overwhelming emphasis of biological science on genetics and reductionism to be a logical and inevitable scientific one. But what the history of the Rockefeller Foundation shows is that the virtual wiping out of whole organism biology and the sidelining of diverse other approaches such as Rashevsky’s; of nutritional biology; and of environmental determinism, was a carefully planned coup d’état. It was an overt seizure of the scientific estate intended to substitute genetic determinism for competing ideas about causation in biology.

Genetic determinism is the idea that genes have a privileged level of causation and thus a special status in biology. As shown in the companion article Genetics Is Giving Way to a New Science of Life, the idea is clearly false. Causation in biology can take many forms and genetics is just one of them, but the robber barons who bought biology did so specifically in order to impose a genetic determinist paradigm.

A further consequence of their efforts was that they simultaneously seized and impoverished our idea of life. Thus, when Watson and Crick discovered the structure of DNA in 1953 they considered they had discovered “the secret of life“. The triumph of the Rockefeller Foundation was that no one contradicted them.

The origins of genetic determinism: Huxley and the Victorians

The fear of unruly mobs was not unique to leaders of the Rockefeller Foundation. Victorian reviewers of the books of Charles Darwin, fifty years earlier, also lived in a tumultuous age. The advent of new technologies like trains and telephones, the growth of cities, and the rise of a mercantile class that threatened to displace the nobility, were destabilising their world.

To add Darwinism to this ferment, feared those reviewers, would “shake society to its very foundations” (Desmond, 1998). These mid-Victorians feared Darwinism primarily because it provided a set of powerful ideas that profoundly undermined God and the Church, the two rocks on which their world was largely built.

More than that, evolution specifically threatened to destroy the ancient and sacred concepts of inherited wealth and inherited merit. To Victorians, these were virtually synonymous with the benefits of order and hierarchy.

Evolution even threatened to unleash social upheaval directly: to free the slaves, to liberate the workers, and emancipate the female population; and Thomas Huxley, the leading advocate of Darwinism, calculated he would widen popular support for science by promising as much. He told enthusiastic Victorian workers that the ascent of species showed the inevitability of social improvement.

Huxley, however, couldn’t go too far. Unlike all of his wealthy colleagues, he needed to make a living from science. But as Darwin’s de facto spokesperson, he was nevertheless in a unique position to shape the perception and interpretation of Darwinism.

Thus, in the presence of the dispossessed he emphasised science’s revolutionary qualities; but with the new industrialists he presented science as the driver of a new industrial era; and, for the stolid British establishment he emphasised that “Nature’s old salique law will not be repealed, and no change of dynasty will be effected”. Salique law was the ancient Frankish law ensuring inheritance only through the male line.

Huxley and his fellow scientists became adepts at such political manouevring. The key example, at least for genetics, was the taking of prescientific theories of inheritance, that were familiar to the establishment, such as salique law, and melding them with Darwinism. No evidence was available to anyone that the character traits prized by the establishment, such as intellect and social refinement, could be biologically inherited; and even if they could, it was surely unlikely to be only through the male line. Yet Huxley and his scientific fellows glossed over such inconsistencies so as to present evolution as minimally disturbing to the beliefs and values of the status quo. This required the nature of inherited traits to be essentially deterministic in nature. People did not acquire good characters, they were born with them.

Such interpretations meant that science thrived, but it was at the expense of undercutting Huxley’s earlier promises of greater freedom for the underclasses. Thus it was that the scientists used their positions as experts to bend the science and to knowingly take the side of the establishment in the struggle for social power that surrounded Victorian science (Desmond, 1998).

These interpretations were crucial to the future of biology. Inherited deterministic factors were based on what Huxley called “protoplasm” and protoplasm was a controller of human behaviour. Protoplasm is now accepted by many historians as the intellectual father of eugenic theory. It became the intellectual justification for the subsequent Rockefeller search for molecules of social control; but, as a theory constructed more for political than scientific reasons, it had feet of clay.

The entry of big tobacco

The railroading of biology away from the study of whole organisms by the Rockefeller Foundation (joined also by the Carnegie Foundation) proved relatively easy. Turning that understanding into social control was less so. The next stage required new impetus and even more money.

Starting in the 1950s the tobacco industry distributed $370 million among approximately 1,000 scientists in the US and British medical establishments. The long term plan was to construct another novel molecular science, that of human genetic variation (Wallace, 2009). The immediate goal was to attribute the diseases of smoking to genetic origins. The tobacco industry was determined to find “gene defects” that might lead to lung cancer and addiction. Tobacco executives thought—correctly—that finding even limited evidence would keep blame from being placed entirely on their products. Genetic determinism thus could be used to neutralise negative public, professional, and even legal, opinion (Gundle et al., 2010).

Tobacco funding never uncovered any compelling genetic determinants of cancer or addiction. But the strategy did shift public opinion. Genetic researchers were therefore encouraged by industries and governments to apply their methods to other physical illnesses (such as diabetes), and for the same reasons (Vrecko, 2008).

So although eugenics practitioners, such as Adolf Hitler, had made the word eugenics abhorrent to most people by the 1920s and 1930s, the genome sequencing bandwagon eventually convinced the public that DNA was a master molecule, a governor of health and behaviour, even down to one’s daily activities and decisions. The study of genes and genomes achieved acceptance of the eugenic premise through, as it were, the back door. The public was convinced to blame numerous illnesses and conditions, and not just lung cancer, on their own genetic ‘weaknesses’. Thus genetics was established as the presumptive primary cause of most human variation, chronic disease was normalised, and DNA was crowned “the King of molecules” by a Nobel Laureate (Mullis, 1997).

The ever-expanding domain of science

Thomas Huxley once declared, in an editorial of 1865, that science had no intention “of being content with anything short of absolute victory [over the Church] and uncontrolled domination over the whole realm of the intellect” (cited in Desmond, 1998). So while Charles Darwin initially refrained from publicly pursuing what he supposed to be the intellectual implications of his ideas, from fear that doing so would prevent them being accepted, his apostles rarely showed such restraint.

From Huxley and Herbert Spencer, via EO Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, and many others, the presumed properties of DNA have formed the basis of great edifices of implication. EO Wilson’s Sociobiology: The new synthesis (1975) and Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype (1982) extrapolated biology far beyond previously accepted domains of the physical body, to encompass human desires, human ‘misbehaviour’, human ethics, and human social structures. Relying on faint statistical associations between DNA genome markers and human traits, geneticists have claimed that hundreds of human attributes have genetic explanations, at least in significant part, including: sexual and religious orientation, voting preferences, sleepwalking, entrepreneurial behaviour, sexism, violence, and many others (e.g. Kales et al., 1980). These claims have provided a steady supply of juicy headlines to pronounce that genes play powerful deterministic roles in behaviour.

The failure of “master molecules” to explain life

In 2016, Gary Greenberg, Professor Emeritus at Wichita State University, Kansas, reviewed a book that he plainly considered to be unnecessary. The reviewed was titled How many nails does it take to seal the coffin? The coffin in question is the science of behavior genetics. He cited fellow gravedigger Richard Lerner of Tufts University describing the “counterfactual conceptualizations of the role of genes in behavior and development” (Lerner, 2007) and genetic mortician Douglas Wahlsten (2012) that “all hope has been lost” in the search for genetic effects on normal human behaviour (Greenberg, 2016).

The basic issue identified by Greenberg, Lerner, et al., is that, if several hundred billion dollars of searching finds no evidence for genetic influences (except for rare traits like Down syndrome), then the only reasonable conclusion is that genetic influences on those traits are absent or minutely small. Yet the genetic zombie, to their exasperation, lives on, and for the simple reason that it is lavishly funded.

It is not just the study of human behaviours for which the long-sought genetic evidence is chronically missing. In 2013, the head of the Broad Institute at MIT, which is the most prominent global institution in the study of human genetics, called genetic influence on human disease a “phantom” (Zuk et al., 2013). This U-turn followed a succession of compelling critiques that focused on 1) the lack of replicability of putative genetic predispositions in humans (Ioannidis, 2007); 2) lack of evidence of broad effects on health (Manolio et al., 2009; Dermitzakis and Clark, 2009); 3) lack of effect size of all except a very few individual genetic predispositions (Ioannidis and Panagiotou, 2011); and 4) a general lack of experimental rigour of genetic methods and hypotheses (Buchanan et al. 2006; Wallace, 2006; Charney and English, 2012).

The media (including the science media) has barely reported these critiques, but they have left the discipline of human genetics in turmoil. Interesting as it is to watch billions of dollars of medical research funding generate nothing but negative results, (see Manolio et al., 2009), the really big question is the one now hanging over the underlying master molecule idea, since genetic determinism has become the central paradigm of all biology.

The fundamental defects of this master molecule concept were summed up perhaps most succinctly by Richard C Strohman of UC Berkeley; in a 1997 article “The coming Kuhnian revolution in biology“:

“[W]e have taken a successful and extremely useful theory and paradigm of the gene and have illegitimately extended it as a paradigm of life”. But, Strohman wrote, the broader paradigm “has little power and must eventually fail”.

Interestingly, the same logical flaw was identified by Lily Kay in her Rockefeller Foundation biography of 1993. In concluding, she noted the self-limiting nature of its reductionist method. “By narrowing its epistemic domain, the new biology has bracketed out important animate phenomena from its discourse on life”.

That failure is now fully visible. Thanks to emerging research findings such as those described in Genetics Is Giving Way to a New Science of Life, it is now hard to overlook that genetic reductionism has failed to explain “important animate phenomena” like: growth, self-organisation, evolution, consciousness, learning, health, and disease. These are the key elements of life that a successful paradigm ought to explain but somehow genetic determinism never has.

Its emerging replacement is a vastly different paradigm of life, one that conceives living systems as cooperatives and not dictatorships. To be clear, some facts about DNA are not in dispute. DNA exists. The mutation or addition of genes can have profound effects on the properties of organisms; but this doesn’t make DNA special. The removal or addition (where possible) of most other components of organisms, such as RNA, or proteins, even water, has the same effect. Thus even the use of GMO crops, which might look like clear examples of upward causation, are consistent with the new paradigm because introduced transgenes are carefully designed to act as isolated modules, traits that operate independently of all the system level controls that organisms typically use to manage and integrate gene activity and biochemical function.

But what ultimately motivates this new paradigm is the lack of conceptual necessity for DNA to animate organisms. Molecular biologists routinely propose that DNA has properties of “expression”, of “control”, and of cellular governance, in some sense that other molecules do not. These are the properties that a master molecule paradigm requires, but asserting them does not rescue genetic determinism, it is merely prescientific vitalism.

What science is telling us, therefore, is that, in living systems, everything depends on everything else, and life bootstrapped itself out of the ooze. DNA did not lead the way.

The societal consequences of genetic determinism

Whether true or not, all belief systems have consequences. When news of Darwin’s evolutionary theory reached Germany in the 1860s, Ernst Haeckel, German prodigy biologist, constructed the first trees of life, with humans (for no scientific reason) at the apex of creation. Much like Huxley, Haeckel also stretched the implications of Darwinismus into a genetic determinist struggle, in this case one that drove “peoples irresistibly onward”. Darwinismus foretold, he said, a new Teutonic destiny.

As early as the death of Charles Darwin (1882) it was said that his thought (which for the most part meant Huxley’s interpretations) could be found “under a hundred disguises in works on law and history, in political speeches and religious discourses…if we try to think ourselves away from it we must think ourselves entirely away from our age” (John Morley, 1882, cited in Desmond 1998)

Thus the belief system that humans are controlled by an internal master molecule has become woven into myriad areas of social thought. It is far beyond the scope of this article to describe the consequences of genetic determinism at either the personal or the societal level (see instead The DNA Mystique), but the two world wars, the holocaust, racism, colonialism, eugenics, inequity, are each stronger as a consequence of, or might never have happened without, the idea of genetic determinism. The reason is that genetic determinism moulded “higher” and “lower”, “normal” and “abnormal”, into intrinsic and unmodifiable scientific properties of biological organisms and groups, rather than being what they were previously: questionable prejudices and dubious conceits.

Genetic determinism thus became the defining idea of the twentieth century. Nothing was unmoved by it. It drove biology, it even drove science itself.

It began with the ability of outside institutions to impose long-term and overarching agendas on science. This alone is a breathtaking observation, both disturbing and profound, that wholly contradicts our normal presumption that science is driven by brilliant individuals, technical innovations, and collective intellectual rigour. Instead, to understand what occurred to DNA is as simple as following the money.

Science, and therefore all of society, was lured into a very specific DNA-centric interpretation of life that was predicated on magical thinking about the properties of genes. Once the initial conditions were set up, however, a key observation is that biological research fostered genetic determinist social thought and genetic determinist thought in turn made genetically determinist science seem more valid and desirable. A self-sustaining feedback loop was thus created.

One example of how genetic determinism participated in that loop was laid out in a 1975 letter from prominent geneticists to the NY Review of Books. They were replying to an uncritical review of EO Wilson’s Sociobiology: a New Synthesis. The geneticists’ letter lays out a rationale for why a political establishment might fund sociobiology and genomics: to furnish interpretations of human activity that create and therefore determine behavioural and social norms. As the authors wrote: “for Wilson, what exists is adaptive, what is adaptive is good, therefore what exists is good.” The authors were pointing out, well before the tobacco industry strategy had been unmasked, that any scientific assertion that a societal aberration such as “war”, or an individual misbehaviour such as “violence”, has genetic roots makes it seem natural or normal. Thus, what appears to be a simple and apolitical scientific “finding”, say of a genetic predisposition to obesity, generates inferences that are highly valued by institutions (such as the food industry) that cause obesity but wish to resist pressure on them for social change.

It is scant wonder then that the publication of Sociobiology was followed by a funding boom in genetic research, in both the social and medical sciences. This boom happened even though human genetic research is rarely of value in the search for cures or the treatment of disease (Chaufan and Joseph, 2013). The bottom line is, even if genetic predispositions for obesity were to exist, everyone should exercise and not overeat.

Thus biological explanations have vastly expanded science’s intellectual realm, into the arenas of social affairs, economics, politics, religion, even philosophy and ethics. Bearing out the prediction of the NYRB letter, sociobiology has virtually driven out traditional academic interpretations of human activity, such as Marxism or Deconstructionism, that made life uncomfortable for the powers that be.

As Dorothy Nelkin and Susan Lindee observed for academia:

“In the last few decades many universities have ceased to offer the grand survey courses in Western civilization that once seemed to explain so much about human culture and the human past. Postcolonialism, postmodernism, literary theory, and other trends in academic life called into question the legitimacy of the grand narratives that were built into the notion of “Western civilization”. Many college students will never take such a course. But most will take introductory biology……introductory biology has become the cultural equivalent of the old Western civilization curriculum: explaining human culture and the human past, biological knowledge is seen as deeply relevant to social concerns, economic development, international relations, and ethical debates. Introductory biology is presented as a valid, truth-seeking endeavour, untainted by religious, political, or philosophical commitments. It places human beings in a meaningful universe, providing ways of understanding relationships between ethnic and racial groups and between identity and the body” (Preface to the second edition, The DNA Mystique: The gene as a cultural icon, 2004).

Anyone not knowing the strategies of the Rockefeller Foundation and the tobacco industry might well imagine sociobiology to be “valid” and “untainted”. Plainly though, given their history, and the new scientific revelations, genetic explanations are just ones whose political commitments are better concealed, and it becomes highly relevant that genetic explanations are being made in academia, in policy circles, and in the public arena by scientists whose funders (whether governments or corporations) benefit from this neutering of public discourse.

The end result of Huxley’s proposed intellectual expansion of biology is arguably already here. Students unversed in the history of thought and stewed in unsupported or unverifiable genetic explanations have become the intellectual core of a miseducated and compliant society. One that creatively participates in its own delusion by self-describing illnesses as “genetic”, even in cases where the only clear evidence of causation is environmental. A genetically determinist society is therefore one not capable of understanding itself as directly at risk from irresponsible corporate activities and government indifference. It is fundamentally defenceless against polluters, junk food marketers, community dislocation, and other threats to human integrity.

In a wider political frame, the history of the 20th Century shows that a genetic determinist society is also vulnerable to fascists, racists, dictators, and warmongers. All this too is the product of a century and a half of the manipulation of biological science.

Is it too strong to argue this? I do not think so. Consider, as a case study, Adolf Eichmann and the transportation of the Jews to the death camps during the second world war. The world mostly blamed Eichmann personally and Israel executed him. Hannah Arendt, however, famously attributed his crimes to a mystical “banality of evil”.

They were all wrong. Adolf Eichmann and his superiors were following the dictates, as they saw them, of science and genetics. Jews were, to them, a genetic problem of racial purity and the only solution to a genetic problem is extermination and the prevention of reproduction (see especially The War Against the Jews: 1933-194). Given the premises, the final solution was perfectly logical.

But the perfectly logical question for us (and the subject of The Meaning of Life Part II) is, why does hardly anyone see this? Why is it so hard to critique or challenge genetics? Not only do we attribute to genes a wholly unwarranted privileged level of causation in biology, we also give them a privileged level of discourse in society. The dominance of genetics is thus a phenomenon that does not originate in science.

In the last essay of this series I will elaborate on this by proposing a novel theory to explain the fascination of our society for genetic determinism and master molecules. This theory explains the iconic status and scientific attraction of DNA in terms of its metaphysical role as a representative of the universe. Like that other representative of the universe, the Judaeo-Christian God, DNA confers the properties of leadership and authority on disorderly nature. DNA, as the true meaning of life, thus legitimates authority in our scientific society. Therefore, the historical actors, such as the Rockefeller Foundation, who helped create this role for DNA, were, just like everyone else, in thrall to forces they didn’t fully understand.

This theory has quite a few important implications. It suggests that ever since genetic determinism became established in the public mind, that Western societies have become locked into a downward spiral of authoritarian politics and genetic determinist thought. This spiral is already imperilling the functioning of democracy. Unhalted, it may extinguish democratic values entirely. More optimistically, the theory offers a conceptually simple way to reverse the spiral. That way rests on pointing out that all organisms are systems and not dictatorships. It becomes necessary, for the very survival of democratic society, to confront these habits of genetic determinist thinking which, after all, have no basis in reality.

References

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Buchanan, AV, KM Weiss, and SM Fullerton. Dissecting Complex Disease: The Quest For the Philosopher’s Stone? International Journal of Epidemiology 35.3 (2006): 562-571.

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Gundle KR. Dingel, M and Barbara A. Koenig (2010) “To Prove This is the Industry’s Best Hope”: Big Tobacco’s Support of Research on the Genetics of Nicotine. Addiction. 105: 974–983. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.02940.x

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This essay originally appeared on Independent Science News.

Martin McGuinness: From “Super-Terrorist” to Super Statesman

Martin McGuinness followed along the familiar trail of so many enemies of Britain’s weary colonial history. A “super-terrorist” becomes a super-statesman. Jomo Kenyatta comes to mind. And Archbishop Makarios. And of course, Menachem Begin. With blood on their hands, they pass through that mist of nobility bestowed by colonial power and former rulers – and re-emerge as statesmen of compromise, eloquence, even humour.

I’ve never been sure they really changed that much. Begin blew up the King David Hotel, murdered two British army sergeants because the Brits were executing Irgun fighters, and became Prime Minister of Israel. He signed a peace agreement with Egypt, met Margaret Thatcher – then invaded Lebanon in 1982: 17,000 died.

In fact, most of these folk recalled their past with a certain amount of caution. “Father of the Nation”, they liked to be called – although that hardly applied to McGuinness. Michael Collins went through a similar transmogrification. There he was, killing Churchill’s Cairo Gang intelligence men in Dublin and then sitting in Downing Street with Lloyd George and Churchill himself, who told of meeting Collins whose hands had “touched directly the springs of terrible deeds”. Doubtless, he would have said the same of McGuinness.

In 1972 I saw him first, standing beside a table on the Creggan – already no-go Derry after Bloody Sunday – for a frantic press conference. They said he was the IRA commander in Derry (he was actually number two), but he was a rather frightening young man, 22 at the time, high cheekbones, fluffy, curly hair, red-faced, sharp, narrow eyes, unsmiling. A very dangerous man, I thought at the time – to his enemies, at least. There was a rifle in the room, though I don’t think he touched it. People later said it was a Kalashnikov, but there weren’t many AKs around at the time and I rather think it was an old American Garand.

The British were claiming at the time that McGuinness was the most wanted man in Derry or Northern Ireland or all of Ireland – but they did that on a regular basis to all their most tenacious enemies. That’s what they once called Begin. That’s what they said about Collins in the early 1920s, who passed through that infamous mist of nobility when he signed the grim Treaty which the Brits had prepared for him, Griffith and the others. It cost him his life, of course, so he never travelled to Buckingham Palace to meet the King. But Collins did meet James Craig, one of Northern Ireland’s most sectarian Protestant prime ministers, before he was killed by his own people. Avoiding assassination, McGuinness was to sit down with Ian Paisley and his cronies and become deputy minister of the state he tried so hard to destroy. That alone was worth a handshake from the British monarch.

 

But we should not be too romantic about violent men who pass through the archway of British political acceptance. Sadat was a German spy in Cairo in the Second World War. Then he became the beloved peace-maker. Nasser was at first greeted by Eden, who only later called him the Mussolini of the Nile, although Nasser did for the British Empire at Suez. Yasser Arafat was a “super-terrorist” when I first met him in Beirut in the 1980s, blathering on about the “Zionist military junta”; then he signed the Oslo agreement and became a “super-statesman” and shook hands with Bill Clinton and Yitzhak Rabin. Yet under the brutal Sharon, he reverted to “super-terrorist” status, up to and including his moment of death. What moral transformartions! His body must have been “spinning” even before it was put in the grave.

It’s a heady, giddy business to undergo these constant conversions. Saddam was our man when he sent his Iraqi legions into revolutionary Iran in 1980 but then became the Hitler of the Tigris when he invaded the wrong country (Kuwait) 10 years later and got bombed for it, and was then invaded in 2003 for the one crime he didn’t commit (9/11). Off with his head, we cried, and the noose surely strangled him. Then take Muammar Gaddafi, whose Libyan coup was at first welcomed by the Foreign Office. But then he went a bit mad, issuing Trump-like statements of mind-numbing inanity, and then tried to fix up McGuinness and his mates with explosives and organised a bomb in a Berlin nightclub where it killed an American serviceman – and then got bombed by Ronald Reagan who dubbed him the “Mad Dog of the Middle East”.

But the “Mad Dog” outlived Saddam and got slobbered over by the Brits for deconstructing nuclear weapons he never had, and Saint Tony bestowed a kiss upon him and all was well until the Libyans decided they’d had enough and the much-kissed Muammar was butchered by a mob. No wonder he had a strange, puzzled look in his eyes at the time. Then there was Bashar al-Assad, son of the ferocious Hafez, invited to Bastille Day but then – post-Arab Awakening – loathed by the French, whose foreign minister declared that he did not deserve to live “on this earth”. The Quai d’Orsay did not suggest which particular planet he should fly to. But reader alert: with the Europeans back-peddling on their demands for his overthrow and Putin welcoming him to the Kremlin, we may yet see Bashar back in the halls of western Europe.

McGuinness, of course, maintained his statesmanship to the end, seeing off the grousing old Paisley, watching Peter Robinson slip in the Unionist mire and then observing the Democratic Unionists swamped in financial scandal. A good time to go, you might say, and join all the other “most wanted men” in the sky. But one of them, we would do well to remember, had a wanted poster all his own more than 100 years ago, way back in the Boar War: his name was Winston Churchill. And much to talk about they’ll have, I’m sure.

Architect of Federal Fracking Loophole May Head Trump Environmental Council

Confidential sources have told Politico that Bill Cooper — current congressional staffer and former fossil fuel industry lobbyist and attorney — is under consideration to head President Donald Trump‘s White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

CEQ works to coordinate various federal agencies dealing with environmental and energy public policy issues and oversees the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process for proposed infrastructure projects.

Cooper served as legal counsel for the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee on what is today known as the “Halliburton Loophole,” a clause which exempts hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The Halliburton Loophole was slipped into the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and became law under President George W. Bush.

A 2005 newsletter published by the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) credits Cooper specifically for his work in getting the clause inserted into the bill.

“Cooper’s concerns about potential EPA regulation of fracking — as championed by Democrats several years earlier — piqued the interest of the Republican chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, as well as Joe Barton of Texas, the chairman of the subcommittee on air quality,” industry publication The Oil Daily furhter reported in December 2013. “Their mantra was ‘Let’s fix it, and let’s fix it right.’”

In a Truth in Testimony form Cooper submitted before testifying at a 2013 House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing, he also cited the central role he played in negotiating and writing the Energy Policy Acts of 2002 and 2003, both of which had Halliburton Loophole provisions. On that form, Cooper also listed his experience as an oil and gas industry attorney.

“Practiced law, serving clients in oil and gas exploration, development, production, including natural gas gathering, transmission, and distribution, provided counsel in the development of litigation, acquisition, and divestment strategies, personnel policies, regulatory compliance, and long-range initiatives,” reads the form. “Conducted due diligence for oil and gas exploration companies for acquisitions, divestitures, and litigation. Supervised survey crews, independent contractor drilling crews, well stimulation, geophysical, and completion crews for oil and gas wells. Prepared budgets and managed expenditures of all funds for the execution of drilling programs.”

Cooper presently serves as staff director for the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources and formerly was a lobbyist for the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas (CLNG), American Petroleum Institute (API), and Southern Company.

CLNG, where Cooper worked for nearly a decade before passing through the reverse revolving door and returning to work for Congress, was created by the American Petroleum Institute.

Industry-Sponsored Junkets

Cooper’s amicability toward the oil and gas industry was clear during his first stint working as a congressional staffer, before he became a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute.

For example, he attended the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) 2004 meeting in Oklahoma City — on the IOGCC dime — while working for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, according to congressional travel disclosure records reviewed by DeSmog. Sponsors of that meeting included BP, Chesapeake Energy, Devon Energy, Dominion Energy, Kerr-McGee (now Anadarko Petroleum), Williams Energy, and others.

IOGCC, a congressionally authorized, interstate quasi-government agency whose members are oil and gas industry state regulators, lobbyists, and executives, played a central role in advocating for the Halliburton Loophole.

“Thanks to the Halliburton Loophole, the oil and gas industry is the only industry in America that is allowed by EPA to inject known hazardous materials — unchecked — directly into or adjacent to underground drinking water supplies,” Jennifer Krill, Earthworks executive director, told DeSmog.

As a House Energy and Commerce staffer, Cooper traveled on numerous other industry-funded trips beyond IOGCC‘s 2004 meeting, according to congressional travel disclosure forms reviewed by DeSmog. Among the trips:

-A junket to the Alberta tar sands sponsored by Shell Oil to visit its Muskeg River site.

-A 2003 trip to discuss the Energy Policy Act of 2003 at a meeting of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (which today sponsors the influential fracking front group, Energy in Depth).

-An El Paso Corporation–funded 2002 paid speaking gig at the annual meeting of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States (IPAMS, now the Western Energy Alliance, or WEA).

-A BP-sponsored speaking appearance in 2004 in which Cooper discussed energy policy, according to his disclosure form, but was listed by BP as an “industry speaker.”

CEQ Climate Denial History Redux

George W. Bush’s CEQ chief of staff Phillip Cooney also was a former API lobbyist-turned-CEQ staffer. During his tenure at the council, Cooney doctored scientific reports about climate change written by U.S. government agencies and then left to become a lobbyist for ExxonMobil.

History could repeat itself, in a sense, if Cooper takes the helm at CEQ.

That’s because the Trump White House CEQ, according to a recent story by Bloomberg, may ax climate change impacts from consideration in National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) environmental reviews, a goal of API and CLNG for the past several years. President Barack Obama’s CEQ issued the guidance for government agenies to consider climate change in these reviews.

Cooper has publicly supported cutting climate change out of the NEPA process, and according to his bio for a recent speech at a Natural Gas Roundtable, he presently acts as a NEPA senior policy advisor for his Committee on Natural Resources job.

Without boxing ourselves in [we plan to] look at the CEQ‘s guide on [greenhouse gases] as a first step” toward streamlining the NEPA process, Cooper told Inside EPA in December 2016. “We think it’s an opportunity for us to correct a lot of wrongs, and that in and of itself should streamline the process.”

Some are concerned about such maneuvers espoused by Cooper, however.

The push for climate change’s non-inclusion in NEPA appraisals “puts our country, our communities, and our people at great risk,” Paul Getsos, national coordinator for the April 29 People’s Climate Movement march, told Bloomberg. “It also sends a dangerous message to the world that the United States does not care about climate change or protecting front-line communities.”

Cooper did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Grief, Loss and Losing a Father

Grief can be motivator and inhibitor. It buffers, even repels realities, supplanting them with flowing tears and shaking hale storms.  But it can also be acutely penetrating, insightfully unfurling truths as battle banners for veracity.

Within the shaking body and the unsettled mind, fires of acknowledgment can be lit, the sun peaking from behind the dark night which you believe eternal.  For here he was, a figure so powerful, robust, with turns of eccentric conservatism and irritating pedantry, touched by moments of enormous sweetness and generosity. He lay in a hospital shirt, lying in palliative care.  It would not be long now.

Initially, grief’s battle against the optimistic counter, the refrain of wisdom, is to assert its control.  Solemn King Grief battles the gangly and irritating Prince of Optimism.  Little wonder that death and grief are so fundamentally linked, twinned in roles of captivating, and sometimes paralysing, the human species. Little wonder, as well, that many organised religions offer the padding of an excuse, a reassurance that death is simply the other side of a badly minted coin.

When a close relative, or friend, takes his or her leave to the afterlife, or, perhaps more appropriately, the death domain, we are left as grievers in chief.  This comes in all forms.  In the case of sickened politics and tyranny, there are processes of competitive grieving, involving orgiastic rituals of emotive necrophilia for the deceased. At the death of North Korea’s Kim Jong-il in 2012, forced labour camps awaited some who did not put up a seriously grieving face with appropriately directed hysterics.

When it comes to father, to the paternal force who forged your life protectively through a form of guardianship both disciplining yet kind, grief gallops through the doors as his life makes a retreat. Firm support in your mind seems to slip.  Daddy is about to make an exit, so brace yourself.

The man who took your hand to lead you into the moon lit Danish country night to explain why haunted creatures were not going to do their worst lies before you, his face caged by an oxygen mask he detests, his body a medical receptacle for tubes and fluids.  True to mechanical irritation, the machine that blasts his face with oxygen is infuriatingly noisy, turning him into air-conditioned meat before strong hospital lights.  Wards, in such fashion, resemble shopping aisles.

Everything of the man was typical to the last. He desired his own hooks to use even in the oncology ward, an assertion of his own independence against both condition and staff.  Ever the enterprising figure, his Prussian blood acting like a throbbing source of inspiration, he conditioned the environment, disciplining it, bringing it within his domain of appreciation.  He still desired clocks to observe, as if feeling the passage of time as a navigator in open seas keen to absorb a journey into his inner self by digits, numbers and geography.

There was only one way of doing things, and he had, by some form of remarkable awareness, found it.  That, at least, was how he would express it.  He needed to order drawers in a particular way, to identify the appropriate bags to place in bags.  Symbolism here was undeniable: a protection afforded within a protection afforded within a protection, and so forth.

There would be, for instance, the “Basmati bag”, one formerly used to store rice long consumed, but now a spot of meeting for an assortment of other objects, all, in turn, kept in bags (sock, tote, plastic, netted, ribbed).  There was the “German bag”, another ideal repository for other objects that had their fate inked out in his mind, bags included.

He wished for a string to make knots, his strong, meaty fingers able to conjure tricks of strength and power. In an active, cerebral sense, he longed for poetry to be read to him by his family, listening to the soft cadences and articulations of his daughter.

He also thrilled reading himself in a fashion that could even be dogmatic, notably when it came to architectural history and art aesthetics. Voraciously, he would consume Von Christoph Wetzel’s Heiligenlegenden in der bildenden Kunst, then make his way through Alexander Pope’s “An Essay on Man”.

Then, the lungs began their journey into a painful oblivion, inflaming, tormenting and defeating sleep with a torturer’s dedication. His cell production inflicted their depositing terrors, these blast cells proving inadequate to sustain his body against the cruel curiosities of the Grim Reaper. They were, in fact, the GR’s front troops.

What mattered for him was to be with family, less to see them in grief than to see them in fruitful hope for him. For, in Emily Dickinson’s understanding,

‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all.

Grief can therefore come under control, be it through hope, even as it persists in a dying body. It can become a liquor to brave the soul and ready oneself, perhaps to even consider one’s own inevitable passing, the ebbing out into nature like a fretful journey that might, just might steady itself at some point.

As father’s eyes gradually moved into a state of unawareness, cheeks sinking, gauntness appearing, a toasted looking skin ravished by haematological terrorism lightening and thinning, he was still father, man to love, man of vitality.  His life force was simply displacing itself, moving out, through the fingers of those holding his firm hands, chest heaving and then suddenly still. He had only gone as a living person, but as father, he was still there, a man to remembered, loved and adored with devoted, cheery studiousness.