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Mere Anarchy Loosed Upon the World



“We would do well to disabuse ourselves of the notion that institutionalized violence creates order. It does not.”

This is a piece I wrote back in 2011. It is more relevant than ever now:

As I write this, my son is running around the house naked, even though I’ve asked him twice to put his clothes on. I can hear the bathroom sink swooshing on and off as he makes a swimming pool for his zoo animals. I weigh getting up and possibly waking his baby sister, who is sleeping on my chest, against the lesser likelihood that he will catch a cold from running around the house naked and wet. I decide to stay put. The swooshing continues.

I wonder how a man named Scott Oglesby would deal with my son’s exuberance, his lack of “respect for authority,” his occasional noisiness. Last December, Oglesby, a police officer, was at Stevenson Elementary School in Bloomington, Illinois, when he heard a seven-year-old special-needs boy having a seizure. Oglesby ran into the room where the boy was being restrained by a school psychologist, shouted “you’re giving me a headache!” and grabbed the boy by the throat, holding him up in the air until he turned red, before throwing him down in a chair. Oglesby is now on “restricted duty,” but no criminal charges will be filed against him.

I’d like to think that cases like Oglesby’s are rare exceptions. But every week there seems to be another story about someone being shot with a taser over a traffic violation, or for not responding the way the officer wanted them to. There was the paralyzed man thrown from his wheelchair by an officer in a Florida jail; the New York City cop who stopped a woman from driving her dying daughter to the hospital; the mentally handicapped teenager who was tasered to death after waving a stick around; and, in May of 2010, in another increasingly common militarized raid on a family’s home, the shooting death of seven-year-old Aiyana Jones as she lay sleeping next to her grandmother. (There is little doubt as to what happened because the 20 officers who burst into the girl’s home had brought with them a camera crew for a reality-TV show.)

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…”

When I first read Yeats’ “The Second Coming,” years ago, I saw in the first stanza a lament about the loss of a central authority, of political authority. Now I think he meant something else.

I have to believe that there was a time when people would have responded to the likes of Officer Oglesby by unceremoniously dipping him in tar, tossing a bucket of feathers over his head and casting him out from civilized society. Today he and his ilk are given “administrative leave” at best, and are soon back on the streets to endanger the rest of us. At the same time, more than half a million Americans sit in prison for the crime of using or selling substances the government disapproves of. Our nation has the highest per-capita prison population in the world by a very wide margin. Yet people like Officer Oglesby and the officers who killed Aiyana Jones do not count among the incarcerated. We are told that it is a punishable crime to ingest certain prohibited substances, a bigger crime to sell them. But, it is not a crime to shoot a seven-year-old girl in the head while she lies sleeping next to her grandmother. We have become deeply confused as to who the criminals are.


You can read the rest here.

And please check out "Why Peace?" the collection in which this essay first appeared. 




WTMWD #25: Why is the Attorney for Freedom so Optimistic?





My guest in this episode is not just any old guest. He was a student of my dad's, many years ago, and the way he tells it, my dad had a transformative influence on him and on the direction his life has taken. He is now (and has been for many years) a full-time liberty advocate, through his law firm "Attorneys for Freedom", and also through numerous other projects he has developed over the years. His latest being the "Live and Let Live" movement.

I talk with Marc Victor about my dad's influence on his thinking and his life, some of his latest lawsuits against tyrants, the Live and Let Live movement... and why he is optimistic about the future.

Live and Let

The website dedicated to my dad:

Marc's lawfirm: Attorneys for Freedom.


Thoughts on Masks: 1



Image: Public domain.


One more thought on the masks:

This is really such a brilliant tool (whether intentionally or not) for both controlling, and dividing people.

Because whatever your view of masks - useful, useless, symbol of obedience and oppression, or symbol of caring about others - you display that view every time you step outside of your home. You're either wearing a mask or you're not. And the people around you will judge you, based on THEIR views of what masks mean, just as you will judge them based on your views.

And that judgement starts to heat up - even more so if mandates are put in place, because then the people who don't believe masks are necessary blame those who DO for the mandates; and those who do believe the masks are necessary think that they must be EVEN MORE necessary if the government has gone so far as to mandate them...

And it just escalates. And both sides, the Maskers and the Anti-Maskers, start to revile each other. Those on each "side" start to have very strong opinions about those on the other "side": They are stupid, "sheeple", "Karens", or they are "heartless" and "selfish".

Which is just the way the people who are benefitting from all of this want it.

As long as we are all divided, as long as we have some big, contentious - and in this case, highly visible - thing about which we disagree, and feel threatened by, then our attention is on each other, and not on them.

It can be really hard to not have disdain, and even hatred, for the people you perceive to be a threat: Either to your freedom, or to your health. But fighting with each other is exactly what the people who want COMPLETE CONTROL over our lives (and that IS what they want) want us to do. It helps them SO MUCH.

Please don't help them.



The Life Force




I don't get out much. I joke that my husband and I have been "sheltering in place" for the past thirteen years, ever since our son was born. So it had been a while since I'd been out to a grocery store. Since the beginning of "all this", in fact. But this morning our daughter had a bad seizure,  we used our last Diastat on her, and I had to go to the pharmacy to get more. 

I was prepared for what I would see, but not for what I felt. Everyone was wearing masks–not like on the streets in our neighborhood–even in the parking lot, even in the afternoon heat. And when I walked inside, with mine around my neck, the woman stationed at the door called out to me and told me to put it up. I had already decided I wasn't going to argue with anyone or try to explain why it was stupid to wear one in this situation, so I just put it up and went in.

I'm not sure I can describe how being there made me feel. Isolated, maybe? Everyone walking around in these masks and staying apart from each other, and nobody having a clue how all the others feel about it, whether they are genuinely afraid of the virus and believe the mask will help protect them from it, or whether they think the whole thing is stupid but just needed some hamburger buns. Because of the masks, we can't read each others' expressions, but the overall impression is one of universal compliance, unquestioning obedience. Of course it is–you can't get in the store without a mask, so everyone inside is wearing a mask. I did it too.

Even knowing that, I found it hard not to judge the people around me–the ones who were doing exactly what I was doing. And I had to marvel at the almost brilliant efficacy of this scheme in creating yet another division to rip through society. Yet another way to divide people into "usses" and "thems". The Maskers, and the Anti-Maskers, and how we're all being pushed into taking sides.

Here we all are, just trying to go about our lives, and we suddenly have this new world thrust upon us: A world where a whole lot of people are scared to death of a virus, and if you're not also scared to death, then you are the enemy. You are as dangerous as the virus and are to be opposed. There are the state-imposed orders about social distancing, but there is also the genuine fear among a great many people. And it's hard to argue with fear.

I left the store feeling very heavy and very sad. Sad for what my society is becoming, sad for the people in the store, sad for me, and for my inability to do anything to change it. I guess this is why fear is such a very powerful tool, why it is over and over again the tool of choice for those who wish to wield power over others. Because when people are afraid enough, reason ceases to matter.

I can rattle off a long list of reasons, with sources to back them up, for why most people do not need to fear Covid-19; reasons (again with sources) why cloth masks aren't going to do much if anything to protect most people in most situations from becoming infected; and most importantly, reasons (with mountains of sources) why EVEN IF THIS WAS A TRULY DEADLY THREAT TO ALL OF US, government-dictated solutions are the absolute WORST response possible. We've seen this last part in bold, flashing, neon living color this time around, yet I doubt that very many have even grasped it, and I am certain that when a much worse virus appears, they will clamor for more of what has proved so completely disastrous this time.

They're afraid. And when people are afraid, they're not so good at thinking rationally. All they want is for Mommy and Daddy to save them, and for far too many people, Mommy and Daddy means the state.

So I'm not sure how to describe what I felt as I left the grocery store. I felt almost as if I was gasping in disbelief, as if I had witnessed something historic and significant, but like a time traveller who isn't allowed to change the course of history, all I could do was stand open-mouthed and watch in horror. No, not horror. Just sadness.

"You have to go down in order to go up." It's something an old ballet teacher of mine used to say. What she meant was that you can't jump very high from straight legs. You need to first bend your knees and plie down low, giving you the force to spring upwards. 

We are down very low now. We should be thinking very carefully about where we want this deep grand plie to take us.

The grocery store happened to be around the corner from the rehab facility where my father spent the last few months of his life. I used to drive down there nearly every day, and now even setting off on that path brings back those memories, so I try to avoid it. But today, sitting in my car, I felt an overwhelming urge to go there. Just to go sit in the parking lot for a few minutes. I felt that there would be some comfort there. And a very tiny piece of me still believes that if I were to go inside, I would find him there. Sitting up in his bed, watching an old movie or maybe talking with my sister or my mom.

So I drove there. And I parked in the lot, and I cried. I remembered my dad's last weeks and days there. There was one elderly lady in a wheelchair, who was always clutching a life-sized baby doll to her whenever I saw her. I wonder now if she is still there. And I wonder how many of the residents there don't understand why their people aren't coming to visit them anymore.

The costs of the crime that is being perpetrated on us are incalculable.

I started up the car again to go home, and found that that made me cry even harder. I was sobbing now, and driving, and I realized I had to go to my mom's house. So I drove there. I went up and knocked on the door, still sobbing. She opened the door and I told her where I had been. She hugged me and we stood there holding each other and my tears fell on her white hair.  We went inside–neither of us wearing masks–and talked about my dad. I could see the pain in her face, and for the first time ever her eyes reminded me of my grandmother's.

One of the last things my dad said to my youngest sister–but I think he meant it for all of us–was: "Whatever you do, do it for the life force."

Don't worry Daddy, we will.




A Young Girl Learns the Value of Questioning Authority


Cover-annabel small


Back in March, Kirkus Reviews had a profile of me, in which I discuss my writing, my life, and especially Annabel. You can check it out here.

From the profile:

In Annabel Pickering and the Sky Pirates: The Fantastical Contraption, 13-year-old Annabel, a latter-day Pippi Longstocking, gets ensnared in a battle between authoritarians and freedom fighters after her parents are kidnapped by the police, who turn out to be the bad guys. She finds herself assisted in her own escape by rebel pirates, who turn out to be the good guys.

Bretigne Shaffer, a journalist who has turned to full-time fiction writing, considers themes of betrayal in Annabel Pickering. The middle-grade adventure book follows Annabel’s steam-powered adventures, which transport her from an elite girls’ school to the rule-breaking world of buccaneers. Set in an alternate 19th-century England—illustrated via Florian Garbay’s black-and-white images—Shaffer explores Annabel’s psychological changes as she sees loved ones’ darker sides. Shaffer explains that she wanted to show children the “nature of empire and war, freedom of speech and thought, [and] how prohibition affects society.” She also, she admits, is interested in pirates, having briefly written about piracy in the South China Sea in her past life as a journalist.

In Shaffer’s novel, which Kirkus calls “an engaging introduction to a world of wonder and intrigue,” children are brought up to respect the queen and the near-autocratic rule she enforces over her kingdom. When Annabel’s parents are abducted, she manages to evade capture and takes refuge with eccentric spinster Miss Doubtweather. Eventually Annabel, Miss Doubtweather, and her niece escape with the band of ill-mannered, law-breaking, fabulously brave pirates. 

As Annabel’s understanding of the complexities of intellectual and social freedom evolve and she learns that her kidnapped parents were part of a secret society of freethinkers, she begins to view them as moral heroes. This is heady stuff for middle graders, but Shaffer makes it accessible and age-appropriate. It’s also, she believes, essential for younger readers, particularly American ones, to think about the price individuals and societies pay when respect for authority turns into reverence.



This Review Made Me Sad



I'm not complaining. Annabel has been getting mostly really great reviews (including the ones here and here.) But I saw a new review on Amazon a few days ago, and it just made me sad. When I was writing Annabel, I knew the book wasn't going to be for everyone. No book is. I knew that some would enjoy it and some would not, and even that it might piss a few people off. Some, I'm sure, won't even make it past the dedication.

But I wasn't expecting this. I wasn't expecting to feel that it had hurt anyone. Yet here this is:

Sad story-wasn't for me:

The main girl (Annabel) gets bullied by people she thinks are her friends. There are a couple other characters that are deemed "crazy" by everyone. Lots of bullying going on. Not a story my 11 year old daughter enjoyed.


All of these things are true, of course. But, at least in my mind (I know, I'm not the reader, so it doesn't really matter what I intended), they are laying the groundwork for the very positive things that come later. That doesn't matter though, because now I've made someone sad - and it looks like her 11-year-old daughter too. So now I'm sad.

I wasn't prepared for this.



The Implosion of the 'Coronavirus' Hysteria Smells A Lot Like 1989...



Image: Public Domain.


My piece, from yesterday, at the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity:

What it smelled like was this:

All of a sudden, anything at all was possible. All of a sudden, people realized that the chains that bound them weren't as real as they had always believed them to be. Of course, in China, as exhilarating as the demonstrations were, it did not end well. But for Eastern Europe, it was very different.

I remember seeing the images of the picnickers (and others) from Hungary hopping the fences into Austria. Just hopping what looked like two-foot high little wire fences. Like that was the only thing that had ever been holding them in. To me, those were the most moving images of all: People realizing that they were free.

By the time they started hammering away at the Berlin Wall, everything had already happened. It seemed like just the tearing down of a symbol at that point. I had visited Berlin, five years earlier, and I remember people telling me it would never come down. Everyone hated it, everyone wanted it down, but nobody knew how to do it, and there seemed to be a widespread acceptance that there was nothing they could do about it.

Until there was.


Read the rest here.



The Sidewalk Chalk Movement


Do you own yourself 1


My 84-year-old mom has started vandalizing the sidewalks of Burbank. In her defense, so have a lot of small children. Her messages are just a little bit more provocative. She writes:


Because there are so many out walking these days, our girls and I are writing in chalk on our sidewalks "Do You Own Yourself" in honor of Butler who would open each new property class with this question to students.

I would encourage anyone who agrees that it's a good question to ask ourselves, to get out the chalk and join us.



What do you think? Does anyone else have ideas for questions or statements or little tidbits of information that might be appropriate to put on sidewalks during these times? Please post them here! ...and get out there and put them on your sidewalks too.

And yes, my sisters and I are all now getting mailings from AARP, but she still calls us her "girls." 



Letter to Belmarsh



My letter, published on, to the staff of Belmarsh Prison:


A lot of other people are writing to politicians, elected representatives, celebrities, and other people who have “platforms” or “influence.” I’ve decided to write to you.


There is a long-standing tradition in Western culture of honoring disobedience to immoral laws. In my own country, this tradition was upheld by abolitionists who defied the Fugitive Slave Acts and helped escaped slaves get to freedom; It was upheld at the Nuremberg trials after World War II, when some German officers were hanged for obeying laws that violated more fundamental principles of human rights; And it is enshrined in something much older, known as the “Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates.”

This doctrine dates back to at least 39AD, and was formally articulated by Christian pastors in the Magdeberg Confession of 1550. It can be summed up as follows:

When those in high authority command that those beneath them enforce laws that are immoral or unjust, those authorities beneath them have a duty to refuse to enforce those laws, and if necessary to actively resist them.

The persecution of Julian Assange is a grotesque abomination of justice. And it represents a direct assault on our ability to hold our governments accountable for their actions. If the government of the United States succeeds in extraditing Julian Assange, or if he is allowed to die in prison in the UK, then we will have lost much more than the life of one man. We will have allowed the most powerful government on earth to cement its lawless rule over us all, to effectively prohibit free and open discourse about its actions in our societies.

So why am I writing to you? Because I don’t believe in politicians. I don’t believe that “elected representatives” really represent anyone other than themselves and the people who keep them in power. But, strangely, I do believe in people. Not all of them of course. There are good people and there are bad people. But I do believe, very strongly, that out of all the people who happen to work at Belmarsh prison, there are some good ones. How many, I don’t know. Maybe a hundred? Maybe thirty? A dozen? Three or four? Maybe just one.

However many of you there are, you are the ones I am speaking to. I believe that there is something you can do–one of you, some of you, all of you–although I can’t say for sure what it might be, to change how this story ends. I am writing to remind you of the Doctrine of Lesser Magistrates, and to urge you to do the right thing. Not only for Julian Assange, but for all of us. Our history is quite literally in your hands.


Read the whole thing here.




A Young Girl Learns the Value of Questioning Authority




Annabel (and also me) is featured on Kirkus Reviews today. Check it out here.

Bretigne Shaffer, a journalist who has turned to full-time fiction writing, considers themes of betrayal in Annabel Pickering. The middle-grade adventure book follows Annabel’s steam-powered adventures, which transport her from an elite girls’ school to the rule-breaking world of buccaneers. Set in an alternate 19th-century England—illustrated via Florian Garbay’s black-and-white images—Shaffer explores Annabel’s psychological changes as she sees loved ones’ darker sides. Shaffer explains that she wanted to show children the “nature of empire and war, freedom of speech and thought, [and] how prohibition affects society.” She also, she admits, is interested in pirates, having briefly written about piracy in the South China Sea in her past life as a journalist.



I Know You Mean Well, Trader Joe's...


TJs means well


...I do. But this is not helping people.

Here's the problem: You are artificially restricting (in a soft way, I know) what people buy. So at least some of them aren't going to be buying the full quantity that they want to. What that means is that you, the vendor, have NO IDEA what their actual demand is. You have shut off that signal.

If people were able to buy as much as they wanted to (or better yet, if prices could rise to reflect the scarcity), then you would know how much more to order, and the producers would know how much to produce, in order to meet the ACTUAL DEMAND of your customers.

But that is not happening now, because you have artificially curtailed how much they can buy, and therefore masked any demand signal you might have gotten from them. THERE IS NO SUPPLY PROBLEM right now - there is simply a sudden surge in demand. A surge that most producers are perfectly capable of handling - IF they have that information. If they know how much is actually being demanded.

There is no supply problem. But YOU have created one. You have imposed a (soft, I know) limit on what your customers can buy at any one time, thereby preventing both yourselves and the producers of these goods, from knowing how much is actually demanded. You have created a problem where there was none.

I hope you guys will re-think this.



Happy Things for the Crisis #1


Someone Tweeted yesterday that they know two people who had died of heart attacks in the previous five days. Of course this may have been completely unrelated to the current situation, and may have happened anyway. But we do know that nearly everyone is under a lot more stress than they were even a few weeks ago.

With that in mind, I am going to try to post something every day aimed at giving people tools to help them to deal with their stress in these times. Today, I have two:

1. Alternate-nostril breathing. It really helps. Try it.

2. This movie. 

You'll have to find it for yourself - I have it on DVD, but it may also be availble on Amazon Prime Video or iTunes or someplace. Maybe someone can let me know if they find it?

Anyway, this is one of the very best films ever made. And one of the funniest. It will make you laugh, and it might even help to restore some of your faith in humanity, and in our own power to overcome the things that seem impossible.

Please enjoy: Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald!





"The Nearly"–My Podcast Manifesto






People should be free.

People should be free to live their own lives. To decorate their homes as they choose, to plant their gardens, to run their own businesses. They should be free to read the books they want to and laugh at the jokes they want to. To grow their own food, to follow the recipes their grandmothers gave them, to eat and drink and smoke what they like. To choose for themselves what goes into their own bodies and those of their children–and what does not. To buy and sell what they like, and to trade with whomever they choose. They should be able to raise their children as they see fit, to wear the clothes that make them happy, and enjoy the quirky jokes and references that only they and their spouse, or their sister, or their best friend, get.

Every little bit of that is put in peril by the institution of the state.

Maybe not for your family, maybe not even in your neighborhood. But somewhere in the world, the government you think of as "yours" is terrorizing someone else's family. And somewhere, the state that rules over that family (if they don't live where you do) is terrorizing someone else's. Through war, or through economic sanctions, through laws that criminalize non-criminal actions, or just through brute force when they get in the way.

It's what states do.

This battle for civilization–to restore it, to preserve it, to try to make it so that our children and grandchildren get to live in peace–it is for the most part a battle between human beings and the institution of the state.

Words and ideas are some of the state's most powerful weapons, and it uses them against all of us. In the country where I live, it has done a phenomenal job of teaching nearly everyone from a very young age that the state is good and necessary. That policemen are your friends, that democratically elected politicians are your representatives, that sometimes markets "fail" and must be replaced by the state. Above all, it instills the belief that the state–some form of people ruling over other people–is necessary. That civilization could not flourish without it.

I almost wrote "teaching everyone." I had to go back and correct it. Because it's not "everyone." It's nearly everyone, but it is not everyone. And that is critical, because not only did not "everyone" go to their schools, even many of those who did go to their schools and take in their lessons, didn't properly assimilate all of the beliefs they were supposed to. 

It's the "nearly" that I'm interested in.

That–possibly very small, possibly not so small–number of people who can see and think for themselves. Who understand for themselves the difference between right and wrong, who don't need to have anyone else tell them that it is wrong to make another person your slave, or to lock another person in a cell when they have harmed no-one.

That's who I think of as the audience for my podcast ("What Then Must We Do?") You might call what I'm doing "preaching to the choir", but that's not it. I'm looking to reach the people who already recognize the problem, and who want to do something about it.

These are also the people I'll have on as guests. I'll be asking them about the things they are doing in the service of peaceful, civilized coexistence. We won't always agree on the solutions, and we probably won't even always see the problem in exactly the same way. But we all have a commitment to creating a world where people can just live in peace and freedom.

Maybe none of us is powerful enough to defeat the violence that is the state. Maybe even together we are not enough. But I am certain that if there is any hope for us at all, it lies entirely with this group of people.

Oh, and if I sound a little elitist, as if I think the "Non-Nearlys" are somehow inferior to the "Nearlys"… well, yes, I do. I do think that thinking for oneself is superior to not thinking for oneself. I also think that great masses of people who don't do much thinking for themselves, who don't have their own moral compasses, are one of the most deadly threats to all of humanity, and always have been. 

But here's the thing about being among the "Nearly" (or, as Albert Jay Nock called them, the Remnant): it is a choice. Anyone can choose to start questioning what they have been taught their whole life. Anyone can choose to listen to their own conscience over the values and opinions that are fed to them by the people and institutions around them. Anyone can do this. 

"What then must we do?" I honestly don't know. The forces arrayed against individual human beings just living their own lives as they choose seem more powerful and more entrenched than ever before. So, do I know how to change that? To defeat the people and institutions that wish to (and do) rule over us? No, I don't. But I do believe that between us–between all of the "Nearly"–we can figure this out.



Remembering my Father: Boundaries of Order Pilgrimage




My father passed away on December 29th of last year. He had been sick for a while, but none of us realized how sick he was until the day before he died. So it was a huge blow to all of us when he went. ...which of course it would have been even if we had known months ago. There is nothing good about death, and nothing good about losing a parent. I'll write more about him when I'm ready, but for now I'm just really sad and really exhausted and really missing him.

Which is why my birthday, which falls about a week after the day he passed away, could have been a really, really crappy day. Thankfully, I have two sisters who weren't about to let that happen.

Sister One arranged for celebrity birthday greetings from Oliver Phelps and Nicholas Brendon. Greetings for which I don't even have words. You'll just have to watch them yourselves.

And Sister Two accompanied me on the pilgrimage I had decided I would do that day. I knew that the only way I could make the day anything other than miserable was if I did something to honor my dad. I decided I would take a bunch of his books to all of the Little Free Libraries around town and deposit them. So, that's what we did. We found eight Little Free Libraries, deposited eight copies of his book Boundaries of Order.




That night, my husband, sister, and some of our kids went out for dinner at one of our favorite Japanese restaurants: Honda Ya. It was the last restaurant we had taken my dad out to, last spring, back when he was still able to get around easily.

Looking at this picture now, I feel so grateful that we took him out that night.
I am so grateful for so many of the things we did with him, and for him.
There are things that I can see clearly now, that I could not see until right after he died.
Things like:.
1. Before someone dies, it's so easy to think about all the "important" things you need to say to them, or do with them. And I'm so glad I did say the things that needed to be said. BUT: It's not the "important" things that necessarily matter the most. What matters most is just being with that person. Just hanging out with them, talking about anything at all. I don't really remember what I talked about with my dad that night at the Japanese restaurant. But it was one of the most important things I've ever done.
2. Re: Cultures that place a lot of value on "honoring your elders." From the outside, it would be easy to think that they do this for practical reasons: To encourage the preservation and appreciation of learning and wisdom, etc. Or even self-serving reasons on the part of the elderly themselves. But what is crystal clear to me now is that there is another reason. That honoring our parents in particular (not always an easy thing to do, I know) is not only for their benefit, but also for ours.
I could spend the rest of my life wallowing in the regrets I have about my dad: That I didn't spend enough time with him, didn't just go over and hang out very much, didn't take advantage of the fantastic opportunity I had to do that by living so close by. I could add to that all the ways I might have been able to help him survive his cancer if I had urged him to try something else earlier, if I had known what to urge him to try. The list could go on for a very long time, and I could really torment myself with it if I chose to.
But I also know that I did the best for him that I could figure out to do, once he was sick, that I was there for him in the ways that I thought he needed me to be, and I also know that he appreciated me for that, because he said he did. So, even with the regrets I have, I can have some peace. I'm not tormented by the thought that I wasn't there for him when he needed me to be. And I know now that I would have been, if I hadn't done the things I did.
So this whole "honoring your parents" thing - it's more than just a practical tool, or self-serving tradition. It comes from a recognition that the bond between parents and children is a real thing. It is a deep thing, and a meaningful thing. And if you betray it, you are hurting yourself. You are giving yourself a terrible burden to carry around for the rest of your life. I don't think I realized that before, but I do now.




I don't know if there is an afterlife. I think there probably is, but I can't say that I "believe" there is. I hope there is. And at times like this, I completely understand why - if there ISN'T - humanity has had to convince itself that there is. Because the thought that this loss is permanent is too hard to bear. So I don't know. But if there is, and if my dad is able to see us from there, I know he would be happy to know that just a few days after the Great Boundaries of Order Pilgrimage, my sister and I returned to three of the Little Free Libraries to find that two of his books had been taken.



Why "Joker" is a Disturbing Film, and Why that's Good



Image: J.W. Waterhouse, public domain.


I noticed the police officer standing just to the side of the young lady who scanned our tickets as my husband and I went to see “Joker” this past weekend. Part of me was glad for the extra security; another part recognized that “monopoly-police officer in cinema” does not necessarily equal “extra security”, and may in fact put us all in more danger; yet another part was just angry at our society’s normalization of violence and acceptance (and even ecstatic celebration) of more violence as a response, combined with a refusal to examine any of the real underlying causes of that violence. Still another part of me just thought “Oh, what a clever PR stunt!”

But that’s me: Lots of competing voices, often saying conflicting things, and all of us having to work it out in my head, sometimes with the help of my husband or someone else nearby, sometimes not. Which is a big part of why I’m thinking this film hit me so hard.

We got into the cinema in time for some of the trailers for films about how the good guys blow the heads off the bad guys with guns, although we missed out on the military-recruitment ad glorifying the use of guns and bombs and other weapons against masses of people in foreign countries who have never done anything to any of us, on behalf of the military-industrial complex.

Which was fine, because we were here to see the film that was “controversial.” The one that people were walking out of because it was “too violent.” The one that showed us a mentally ill man killing a handful of people rather than hundreds of villagers in some remote country. That film.

And I have to say, it was very hard to watch. But not for the reasons I’m hearing about. Not because it was “violent.” (Please. Did anyone get there in time for the military recruitment ads?) And not because of the “gun violence” (which, for some reason nobody ever explains, is worse than other forms of violence.) Because it was “realistic”? Yes, partly. It’s a lot easier to watch the Avengers battle it out because their world and the violence in it is far enough removed from our own. But that’s only part of the answer. 

I can only speak for myself, but I suspect that I’m not alone in my response. I was disturbed by this film, and it is still stuck in my head now, making little comments at me throughout the day, so much so that I can’t even get to the work I need to do, but have to write this instead. Here’s why I was disturbed by “Joker”: I saw myself in it.

I don’t mean that I’m afraid I might have it in me to go around killing innocent people (or, convincing myself that those people really aren’t innocent and that I should kill them). I know myself well enough by now to know that that’s not me, that I’m not mentally ill in the way that that character was, and don’t have the capacity for that kind of violence. But am I a little “off” sometimes? Could I ever be pushed to commit acts I don’t now approve of? Do I sometimes see the world in ways that the people around me don’t?

OK, that’s a silly question - of course I do, because the people around me are so very wrong so much of the time.

See what I mean?

What Joaquin Phoenix, (with the help of Todd Phillips and Scott Silver) accomplished here was something that probably every actor attempts to do with every role, but that I’ve never seen done to this extent before: He brought us inside the mind and the person of someone so far removed from who we are that we would have thought it impossible. He made us see ourselves in this most horrifying, broken, and reprehensible character. 

For me, it was the dancing. Sure, there were other things: The fantasizing about how others might see me, the inner anxiety and self torment, lots of the little details. But what got me was the dancing. As he begins to transform from a victim of violence into its perpetrator, he begins to dance. And as sickening as it is, it is also beautiful. 

It is beautiful because we are seeing this badly broken and twisted person who we have come to identify with, finally take some power over his life, finally refuse to be a victim, and not only “fight back” (I know, that’s not actually what he was doing except that one time) – but to dance! To make his life his own expression and not only a reaction to those who assault him. And it is also beautiful because we all do it too. Everyone has a dance inside of them, and we all do our little dances by ourselves, when we’re dong the laundry or fixing dinner. We all have our dances, and they all mean something. Even Arthur.

I KNOW. I know it’s twisted and wrong. I know he’s not heroic. And I don’t believe the film portrayed him as heroic. He is a tragedy, both for himself and everyone around him, and I do think that is the perspective of the filmmakers. But inside of that tragedy, inside this horrible, horrible story… a little piece of me was cheering for him when he started to dance. And I don’t think I was alone.

That’s disturbing.

That we – any of us – can see a bit of ourselves in this horrible, evil, twisted character, is disturbing. It is also necessary. Our culture is way too full of self-righteous shaming of everyone else, of being so quick to point out the tiniest of flaws or transgressions, as if the only choices in life are to live up to a perfectly pure standard of flawlessness, or to be dismissed as a degenerate. There is very little room for everyone in between (which is most of us), and so there is an awful lot of pretense and lying, and people pretending to be just like everyone else. We need very much to be able to see, and to admit, that we all have our dark corners.

I don’t pretend to know much about mental illness. I have read some of what Thomas Szasz has to say on the matter, and I think he’s right that we should be very skeptical of the psychiatric establishment, its diagnoses and it’s purported treatments. That said, I don’t go as far as Szazs in declaring that there is no such thing as mental illness. I do think such a thing exists, and I think the film “Joker” does a phenomenal job in portraying one example of what it can look like.

My own, completely non-professional and not especially informed, view on the topic is that mental illness has a spectrum. On one end, there are those like Arthur in “Joker”: Pushed by whatever combination of horrible circumstances, environment, and genetic proclivity, deeply into his own mind. So deeply that he cannot connect or relate very well to the world and the people around him. He is able to rationalize horrific deeds, and to imagine relationships that don’t exist, because his strongest point of reference is his own, damaged, mind.

At the other end of the spectrum are the people who don’t know their own minds at all. Maybe “mentally ill” is not the right term for them, but they are every bit as tragic, and every bit as dangerous as the Arthurs of the world. They are the ones who decide whether a thing is right or wrong based on how many people support it; they are the ones who blindly follow those in authority, and call for obedience to all laws, without ever running the legitimacy of that authority or those laws through their own moral center; they are the ones who sign up to “serve their country” after seeing those military recruitment ads in the cinema.

So why were so many people disturbed by this particular film? In a world overflowing with violent movies, violent heroes and heroines, and violent propaganda? Why this film? I think it’s for the same reason that I was disturbed by it. I think a lot of people saw themselves in it, and I think they didn’t like that. I think that people like to imagine themselves as being a certain way, “normal”, “reasonable”, not violent unless it’s really really justified–like in all those other movies. We want the people we identify with in films to be the good guys. We may not mind them being violent, but we want it to be righteous violence – we don’t want it to be vicious attacks on innocent people rationalized into righteousness by a twisted mind. 

And that’s precisely why this film is so important, and why it is so important that people see it. Because we all have somewhat twisted perceptions of reality, and of our own place in it. We all want to believe that we’re the good guys, and we all construct versions of reality in our own heads (sometimes with the active assistance of the entertainment industry and the culture around us) to make us believe that we are. But what if we’re not? Or what if sometimes we’re the good guys and sometimes we aren’t? We’ll never find out if we’re not willing to look into those dark corners. Sometimes we need to be disturbed.



The Assignment Was to Interview an Adult About a Memorable Presidential Election. My Niece Chose my Dad...


This is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, on so many levels:

Calista Madzar Presidential Memory Interview-1_edited-1



Here's the text: 

The Johnson-Goldwater Election of 1964 was most

memorable to my grandfather, Butler Shaffer, because it was

the election he was most directly involved in. At that time my

grandfather ran the Republican Party headquarters for the

state of Nebraska where he lived, and was also very much

involved with the campaign of Barry Goldwater. He was one of

Nebraska’s delegates to the National Republican Convention, in

San Francisco, which is a very exciting place to be during an

important period in his life. At the same time through these

experiences my grandfather was becoming very turned off to

politics. He had learned through his experiences that politics

is a very dishonest way of doing things, and this was the year

he finally turned his back on the whole political process. He

has not voted in an election since because, after

understanding how the political system works through his

experience with this election, he realized the dishonest

nature of politics (taking taxes, fighting wars, etc.) was not

the best way for people to live. After the election he went

home and quit his job and later became a law school professor

who always tried to help his students figure out how to think

about things like this by learning to ask more and more

questions instead of listening to someone else give an answer.