Saturday, July 25, 2020


After what people are accustomed to call “supper”, my brain is usually pretty burned out, so I watch streaming movies.  YouTube, Acorn, Netflix.  Netflix was pushing a new film about immortal heroes who could nevertheless feel pain.  If killed, they took a few gasping moments and then reassembled.  Until it didn’t work anymore.  But these days heroes work in teams.  New members appear.

Then I watched a three episode series documentary about the Mafia, things that happened when I was first in Browning and finally climaxing when I was in seminary.  These are the families and the structure that Trump came out of, the assumptions he learned as a young adult.  The film did not shrink from that, so his power must be weakening at last.  We saw the Trump Tower go up — we will see it come down.

“Fear City: The Mafia and New York City.”

Some commentators are treating this series as “just another crime film”, which it is not.  This is like testimony in court, vivid and ghastly.  The real focus is on the abstracts like the principles of the system that made the Mafia work, and how and why the FBI was pressed to figure it out and devise a counter plan that took the leaders to court — those who survived the summary judgement of death arrived at by their peers.  The RICO law is still in force.  Bugs are far more sophisticated and used by nations, even looking down from satellites.  When the Trump Tower comes down, we’ll find electronics by the handful — including direct access to Russia.

Most powerful of all is the internet that records transactions, conversations, agreements.  Cameras are everywhere and the pics are sent instantly to some safe place.  No angst over who has the negatives — the possibility now is thousands of viewers with a screen in their pocket.  Teenaged girls who think sex is everything discover this to their deep regret.  

One of the aspects of the original Mafia that helped the gangsters was their families, their children, and we’ve all seen how a Godfather who rules his nabe also goes home to a ’50’s style household.  He thinks small town thoughts from the prosperous post-war that was full of building.  Today “family” is challenged by kids in their bedrooms texting each other.  A tighter bond that working parents.

There’s no advantage to population density for work or the arts if gathering into an office or audience will kill a percentage of the people.  Working from home means strengthening the cell tower and wire systems.  But it means vulnerability to hackers around the globe who can shut down electricity or gas infrastructure, who are often young, and who think almost mechanically — not in terms of civilization as the Western World knows it.  Maybe a little more like China.  

Now Manhattan's island floods around the edges a dozen times a year.  I once read a book about how to deconstruct a skyscraper.  It was in the Seminary Co-op Bookstore at the height of the deconstruction craze and I can’t find it on the internet.  I wish I’d bought it, but at the time I was using all my power and money to understand the U of C Div School.

I was startled and pleased to see on the Economist an article about Franklin Zimring, though I can't read it because of the paywall.  During seminary I worked as a typist at the U of Chicago Law School which was a very different but equally intense sort of self-contained community.  (That’s where I learned about cappucinno.)  I learned as much from reading while I typed as I learned in classes.  I once subscribed to the Economist, since it is considered one of the most excellent of news sources, but I had to back off because there was too much to assimilate.  Thin paper, thick writing.

In those days (78-82) Zimring was having back trouble and was too liberal for some of the conservative profs, like Scalia.  When in recent past years I began to be interested in boys at risk, I contacted him and he sent me materials.  He believes in young people.  Contacts like this, almost random, are often key to lives.  Zimring’s habitat is southern California and the heart of the liberal humanists.  I should renew his specifics, checking Google, because his writing is strong resistance to those who want to control, to structure, and — secretly because they pretend to be liberal — to kill dissenters.

Getting back to the movie called "Fear City", telling the story of the Manhattan concrete-monopoly that was part of building the place is vital to understanding Trump.  He is a product.  But so is Mary Trump, whose education has clearly been a way to save her father, at least in memory, and which now aligns her with those who wish to save the nation and the whole premise of democracy.

When I was doing animal control, door-to-door ('73-'78) I always marveled at how people could “not know” things that were one block over.  Drug houses, fires, rogue animals, gang bangers — nice people coped by not-knowing.  Likewise, people in this village are very good at the strategy.  

I discover that they don’t know that Bob Scriver is dead and his little empire is entirely gone.  Eloise Cobell saw how to preserve his beloved ranch but the Montana Historical Society does not know what to do with his lifework.  And they get upset if one (like me) tries to tell them.  To them I am an ex-wife, a non-person.  In their papers I’m too old to exist.  In law terms, I have no “standing.”  

But they can’t keep me from writing any more than they can prevent Mary Trump’s book or mine (“Bronze Inside and Out”) or this blog or this movie called “Fear City”.  Sooner or later witnessing will break through the “not-knowing.”

People say to me when I tell them I’m a writer, “well, it’s good therapy.”  They say when I tell them I sometimes get 2,000 “hits” from around the planet in one day, “people want to know about America.”  They don’t register that the curiosity is prurient.  They guard their “not knowing” with the assumption that they are irreproachable.  A moral mistake that is costing hundreds of thousands of lives.

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