Swiftian Overload

“He has gone where savage indignation can lacerate his heart no more.”
—Jonathan Swift (1666-1747), his epitaph for himself, from the Latin

People listen to what they want to hear. What they want to hear is that they are righteous, they deserve what they take, they are free agents of independent mind, they are valued members of their group, their beliefs are justified, their actions are blameless, and they have no requirement to change. Prophets are doomed to exile accompanied by their insanity.


We huddle in our comfort groups, behind the circled wagons of our circular-logic orthodoxies, preserving the warm certainties of our virginal delusions against the hostile assaults of painful reality; our brave protectors sending out righteous fire onto a heathenish enemy intent on our dissolution. But God is on our side, because we created Him. He is our disembodied superiority, the source point of our primacy, the divine root of our power. So long as our circle remains unbroken, we bask in the certainty of this heavenly delusion, the Eden womb of ignorance. Truth is cold, knowledge is hell, awareness is exile.

This is why “under God” must stay in our loyalty prayer to our national flag; of course it is unconstitutional, but thank God our Supreme Court understands the will of the people is beyond constitution and law, and yearns most deeply for the one true faith to unite us all in one true state under one true God — unchallenged by the unthinkable.

Faith and religion must be crammed down the throats of non-believers because until all conform, believers insecure in their belief will agonize over their fears and doubts. People who have actually had a religious experience do not require anything of anyone else, at most they feel joy they may wish to share and a sense of compassion for the continued suffering of the unenlightened. Organized religion and dogmatic faith are impediments to actual religious experience. If you actually want to know God, you have to let go of religion. The burning bush of Moses, the blow that struck St. Paul off horseback, the fire that burned in St. Teresa’s heart are not for the weak, the self-satisfied, the fearful of denial being exposed; so instead, most choose to cling to religion. Religion is the great protector of prejudice, and our prejudices define the egos we cling to as self-definitions. How could we jeopardize THAT? How could we abandon ourselves to an overwhelming unknown that would burn all THAT away in a flash? And so the circles are drawn tight.

God, as the invention of war lords who justified their tyrannies by divine right descending from a remote Almighty above us, is very much the American God whose wrath falls on the poor of this earth, whom we war against for a greater good — to our benefit. This is why today even Salvadoran and Nicaraguan peasants, who may have lost family to the guns and machetes of our missionary wars, must surely feel some sadness as the most successful American fascist leader, Ronald Reagan, is laid to rest. Is not our glory worthy of such reverence? Do not our blessings from God deserve such honor? Surely, even those who may have felt the sting of actions by our freedom-loving agents and proxies, promoting the selfless civilizing efforts we make on behalf of world order, will understand the overriding benefits we have been empowered to provide. Surely, in time the world will be grateful, and God will bless us with the profits of that gratitude.

God, The Atheist

Are we alone in the universe? Will our rovers on Mars or our probes to the moons of Neptune and beyond ever find life? Instead of flinging ourselves into the cold, dark, near-vacuum vastness of space, seeking to answer “is there life in the universe?” (besides Earth), take a shortcut, go to the bathroom mirror and look at the universe to see the obvious: the universe is alive.

Imagine that our universe is just a fluke of randomness that clumped and rippled as it expanded away from the singularity of abstraction called the Big Bang — where nama and rupa, the names and forms carried by language can begin the illusion of containing the larger reality. Out of this, precipitated molecular fragments that settled as dusts and pooled as droplets drawn into the rocks and oceans of worlds drifting in space. In this one of uncountable and unknowable other worlds, conditions were just so that heat, light, water, minerals, organic molecular fragments, electricity and time could combine to produce DNA strands, and these in turn evolved with astonishing complexity and rapidity. A radiating cascade of energetics, flowing from the Big Bang through cosmogonic physics, material accretion during gravitational infall, radiochemical and thermo-electrochemical organosynthesis, biochemical elaboration, life, evolution, us.

If our science can dissect this process with sufficient precision, could we then produce life synthetically? Could we produce a sentient being directly from chemical elements, given sufficient energy, technology, and investment? Obviously, we can reproduce any living species — at least in theory — by modern artificial insemination, cloning and recombinant DNA methods. However, this is always never more than adjustments (of exceeding scientific refinement, to be sure) to existing natural biological systems of reproduction. To actually be God and create life, we would have to be able to do so from elements. We would synthesize our own DNA (which is routine today) and then build up our being from masses of basic synthetic organic material.

Our first synthetic beings were viruses, which were created by November 2003. Scientists in the United States assembled a bacteriophage — a virus which infects bacteria, not humans — by stitching together the more than 5,000 DNA building blocks of the organism, from pieces of DNA available commercially. It will be some time before American industry can synthesize a perfect butler, or a perfect prostitute.

A bacteriophage is certainly a being, but probably not one of significant consciousness. To prove to ourselves we are God, we would have to produce a creature of significant complexity and consciousness, like a hamster, or even synthetic soldiers for our military. Wouldn’t that prove we were God, and wouldn’t that prove there is no God? Then our Pledge of Allegiance could be corrected from “under God,” to “under Us,” note the capital U.

What the production of synthetic sentient life would prove is that sentience is an elemental embedded potentiality. Whether the chemist is cosmogonic, or geochemical, or a postdoctoral student in a laboratory, the yeast of sentience is intrinsic to the chemicals of life, and if the recipe is followed the hand of the maker is irrelevant. It is that intrinsic potentiality of sentience that is God. So we are God, inasmuch as we are no more than the dust and ooze of the universe and God suffuses it all, and we are not God in that we can never possess an exclusive unique power to create synthetic subservient life. Life we can create, and we may learn more ways to do so, but it will never be other than we ourselves are.

So the Almighty — God the Tory Lord — is a fiction. God is a communist and an atheist, and we are it! Tat vam asi — you are that.

Imagine the change in our politics if Americans could look into the mirror and see themselves as God, no different from looking into their neighbor’s eyes and seeing them as God, no different from looking into the beady little eyes of their child’s hamster and seeing it as God, and looking at news photos of Salvadoran and Nicaraguan peasants, and southeast Asian water buffalo boys, and seeing them as God as much as the viewers themselves. Our American God would die, his self-righteous empire would collapse, and with it the great weight of a bloody and godless idol would fall away.

East Of Eden

Jonathan Swift, the great satirist and champion of the Irish people against their oppression by his fellow Englishmen, went insane because he hated humanity but loved people. “His concern lay in his earnest, and as it happens his Christian, belief that mankind is not only susceptible to salvation but worthy of being saved.” Miriam Kosh Starkman continues, “Swift spoke meaningfully when he claimed to “hate and detest that animal called man,” but to “heartily love John, Peter, Thomas, and so forth;” for his professed hatred of the animal called man spells his dissatisfaction with mankind, and his love for the individual, his hope for mankind.” (1)

There are many Swifts in our modern day, railing against the follies and injustices of our time. Most are destined for obscurity, as American SUV excess lumbers blissfully on in our rapidly warming, desiccating world, which might snap into a mini Ice Age if the thermohaline cycle of ocean currents is diluted sufficiently by the melting of polar ice caps to change the planetary heat balance and with it world climates. Why worry, our SUVs will be perfect vehicles for cold, windy drought-parched land as long as we have…oops, no gas.

Today’s Swifts see the European tundra, the expanded American desert and the semi-arid savanna south of the Ohio River, the oil wars in the Persian Gulf, the Eastern Mediterranean and Southern Caribbean, the boat people from collapsed eco-systems landing on southern European and southern United States’ shores, the end of middle class comfort with the fading of oil-fired transportation and industry, the loss of carefree freedom with military needs never-ending in a world where survival is more difficult, living is more expensive, and life was never cheaper among its up to 8 billion people.

The Swifts of today know that if there is to be any equity, sanity, justice and peace in a climatically altered, largely oil-depleted world, in as soon as two decades, it will be that equity, sanity, justice and peace that carries forward from mechanisms that we form today and in these next few years. We will never adjust instantly, with grace and dignity, to the impact of abrupt climate change and significant oil depletion against our selfish and wasteful inertia.

The only certainty we have is that whatever changes occur, we will experience them together, locked on this island Earth. We have the wherewithal to “save ourselves” from what we can estimate might happen, if we get busy now, setting aside our petty penurious profiteering, and organize our use of resources for the best ends of society and for a planned transition to a sustainable national and world energetics.

Alas, the Swifts of today must go mad, because their messages violate every aspect of “what people like to hear.” It is the fate of most prophets to go insane to one degree or another. Driven by visions of a catastrophe they can see yet not prevent, they rail and become public nuisances, and must be forcibly silenced by stoning, or blocking with spam filters, and in any way possible sent off into a wilderness where their cries dissipate out of earshot from polite society. This time, our Titanic is the whole planet.

An American Prayer

God, let me experience life without thought of profit, preference or death. Let me know justice, by allowing me to experience the consequences of my acts as others experience them. Let me know You for what You are: the life in all, the knower, the known and the unknown. Let me be curious without fear of thought. Let me be expressive without thought of fear. Let me be forgiving, an instrument of compassion. Let me be alert, an instrument of knowledge. Let me be humane, an instrument of peace. Let me know truth. Let me be grateful.

1.  Gulliver’s Travels And Other Writings By Jonathan Swift, edited by Miriam Kosh Starkman, New York: Bantam Books, 1962, ISBN 0-553-21232-X


The above was originally published as:

Swiftian Overload
5 July 2004


My Pledge of Allegiance

I pledge allegiance to the flag
of the altered states in America,
and to the republic-of-dreams for which it stands,
one nation under the gods,
the goddesses, the spirits of the ancestors,
and the great unknowable void,
with liberty to imagine justice
for all.

28 June 2002


Climate Change, Life, Green Energy

(You can download the above JPEG image, for easy reference.)

>>> Earth will survive Climate Change, humanity may not. <<<

<> MG,Jr. on Climate Change  <>

In response to questions like: How do we know? See:
Climate and Carbon, Consensus and Contention
4 June 2007

In response to questions like: How do we know? See “Addendum” (at bottom of):
How Dangerous is Climate Change?, How Much Time Do We Have?
5 December 2015

In response to questions like: Is it even a major threat? See:
How Dangerous is Climate Change?, How Much Time Do We Have?
5 December 2015

In response to questions like: Exactly how do we cause global warming? See:
Closing the Cycle: Energy and Climate Change
25 January 2014

Life, From the Big Bang to the Climate Change Era:
Outline History of Life and Human Evolution
29 January 2017

<>  MG,Jr. on Renewable Energy <>

Of all the articles I have ever written, the one I most wish had gotten wide attention and actually affected public thinking and action, is linked below.
Energy for Society in Balance with Nature
8 June 2015

Renewable Energy (and war and peace):
Green Energy versus The Uncivil War
18 April 2017


Worst Disease and Best Health

Capitalism is the worst disease for a planet.
Addiction is the worst disease for a body.
Bigotry is the worst disease for a mind.
Greed is the worst disease for a soul.

Compassion is the best health for a soul.
Rationality is the best health for a mind.
Moderation is the best health for a body.
Socialism is the best health for a planet.


Green Energy versus The Uncivil War

Chris Hedges hosted the political writers Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton on his television program (yesterday, on the RT network/channel) for a discussion of the Syrian War, and its many current harmful impacts, as well as its possible grave future consequences for the Middle East, Europe, the United States, and the world. (That episode of Chris Hedges’ program is linked near the bottom.)

My reaction to that program follows.

The problem, as presented so compellingly by Chris Hedges, Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton, is of such large scope that it is difficult to see how any one nation – even the United States – could act alone to “solve it” (forever).

However, the recommendation that the U.S. stop funding destabilization groups in the Middle East (and everywhere), and that the U.S. “pull back” from or “pull out” of the Middle East, would be a very, very helpful step for the reduction of suffering in that region: for example reducing the incidence of wars and the displacements causing huge refugee streams. Such a change in US policy would also benefit the American people by freeing public money now absorbed by covert and overt militarism, to be used instead for much more domestic socialism (like Medicare-for-all, and free college for all).

However, even were such a change in US Middle East policy to occur, there would still be many evils in the region:
– authoritarian and oppressive regimes continuing to hurt the people under them,
– the export of Wahhabism from Saudi Arabia and Qatar,
– the regional Sunni-Shia proxy wars (basically, Saudi Arabia vs. Iran),
– the war by Israel against the Palestinians (who include Muslims and Christians),
– Israel’s agitation against Syria (for regime change, and to keep the Golan Heights),
– Israel’s agitation against Iran (which helps prop up Hezbollah in Lebanon),
– Israel’s agitation includes its own covert and overt military actions, as well as lobbying for the United States to make war against Israel’s designated enemies.

As an engineer without expertise on the Middle Eastern affairs, I have believed since 1973 that the best long-term plan for the U.S. to insulate itself from Middle Eastern turmoil would have been to use the U.S.’s vast fossil fuel resources (and even the nuclear ones) as a stop-gap energy source to power the building of a national solar (“green”) energy collection and distribution system.

That national green energy system would be made of many local solar energy networks interconnected into regional systems, which in turn would be interconnected into a national system. The local power sources would include:
– direct solar-collection to electrical-output arrays (solar panels),
– solar heat collection for boilers that power steam turbines cranking electric generators,
– river hydroelectric (the dams we already have),
– ocean-tidal hydroelectric,
– land-based wind-electric,
– offshore wind-electric,
– a few sites for solar-powered desalination for potable water,
– and solar-powered hydrogen recovery from water for H2-O2 fuel-cell propulsion for civilian aircraft, and road and rail transit.

Given real energy independence, the Unites States could stop funding and supporting Saudi Arabia and Israel (arming them to the teeth so extravagantly). I realize that defunding Israel would be harder to do regardless of circumstances, because of the metastasis of the Israel Lobby within the US body politic. But, if the U.S. could shut off its massive dollar streams currently paying for Middle East petroleum (and bribes to Egypt and Jordan to not annoy expansionist Israel), then many of the Middle East oppressor regimes would be weakened and likely overthrown by more popular and democratic alternatives, and the U.S. would be immune from blackmail by oil embargoes.

Also, a green national energy system for the U.S., replacing the 19th and 20th century fossil and fissile fuel system still in use, would offer a long term, sustainable and low-(no?)-pollution energy-flow for domestic consumption: it would not accelerate climate change.

Obviously, myopic greed such as by fossil and fissile fuel companies opposes such a strategy as they prefer to make private capital gains by extractive exploitation of Nature, and by setting off “pipeline wars” at public expense. The green energy vision and strategy described here is at its core socialist (it is best for the US commons), and it is also internationalist without being belligerent and interventionist, because by sharing such green energy technology internationally the U.S. would help boost the standard of living globally: the human development index (HDI) would increase everywhere, and poverty would decrease everywhere.

The Uncivil War, with Max Blumenthal & Ben Norton
16 April 2017

or, on YouTube:

Of all the articles I have ever written, the one I most wish had gotten wide attention and actually affected public thinking and action, is linked below.

Energy for Society in Balance with Nature


Dracula Dems and Neo-Nazi Rubes (a rant!)

Dracula Dems:

There are basically four groups of American voters:

1, Corporatist robbers (and associated wannabe flunkies);
2, Trump fans;
3, Hillary cultists; and
4, Bernie “berners.”

The Big Capitalists and corporatists are mainline Republicans and Democrats (1), who by and large voted for Hillary Clinton this last time because she was the current face of the money-grubbing robber elite (they vote for any Repub or Dem who is the current main front for the Big Money).

The Trump fans (2) are by and large poor dumb honest bigots, many down-and-out.

The Hillary cultists (3) are by and large pale-face suburban-type dishonest bigots (and their “poor relations,” the associated darker-skinned, poorer, Stockholm-Syndromed-to-Dems, wishing-and-hoping-in-vain, and reliably suckered “minority” voters).

The awakened multi-generational anti-corporate anti-neoliberal insurrectionists are Bernie people (4).

The election of 2016 was a battle between the American people and the corporations (the Big Money robber elite), and that election was lost by the American people in July 2016, when Hillary Clinton and the DNC influence-peddling mafia (including Obama) sidelined Bernie Sander’s campaign: the authentic will of the vast majority of the American people (to this day!). The Democratic Party has no continuing legitimacy ever (and the Repub Party, a wannabe-fascist national-robbery conspiracy, is only very slightly worse).

The contest in November 2016 was between two would-be figureheads fronting the Big Money management of the USG, and Trump won that contest because Hillary was odious to groups 2 and 4; and group 2 had no other option (as Bernie was out) for registering their just complaints (no jobs, no income, poisoned water, and government didn’t care about them), and Trump appeared sympathetic (e.g., anti-TPP) while Hillary was decidedly hostile to them (pro-TPP, “single-payer healthcare will never happen,” “[blue collar] jobs are never coming back,” “[you’re] irredeemables…deplorables”).

So, the real “civil war” and “economic war” in the US is between group 1 versus groups 2 and 4 (group 3 is/are the associated wannabe flunkies of group 1). It is imperative that Berners and Trump fans realize that they are fundamentally on the same side (except for the Group 2 bigotry). The most important force for revitalizing America, and kicking out the corruption eating it out, would be a strong coalition of groups 2 and 4 to become very active behind Bernie’s initiatives, AND for the dismissing of group 3 — to Mars if possible — the Hillary cultists, who are the single biggest impediment to any useful progress in America (the second biggest impediment is the obdurate bigotry of Trump fans of all colors).

Group 1 can never be dismissed (with anything less than 1793 French methods), but as in the F.D.Roosevelt administration, it can be regulated given enough popular pressure. Group 3 are deplorable parasitic airhead irredeemables. There is no reason to ever listen to, or pay attention to, or respect any irredeemable Hillary cultist. Theirs were the key votes for Trump, whose administration actually began on 25 July 2016. The Democratic Party, under the control of Hillarists and the DNC, is a political Dracula bloodsucking on the American people. It needs to be killed with a stake driven through its DNC heart, so it fades into dust blown away in the wind, and only then can a new and REAL DEMOCRATIC party, under Bernie and Berners be formed, and the 2+4 Coalition can begin putting some straitjackets on Group 1 for the good of the nation, and world.


Neo-Nazi Rubes:

Given the amount of ignorance, superstition, fear, bigotry and greed in the USA, it is no wonder that Donald Trump is president. He is a reflection, not an aberration.

I stand corrected (on my characterization of Trump fans in Dracula Dems): Trump voters were motivated by bigotry more than by economic hardships. From the article linked below:

“…whether it’s good politics to say so or not, the evidence from the 2016 election is very clear that attitudes about blacks, immigrants, and Muslims were a key component of Trump’s appeal,…

“Racial identity and attitudes have further displaced class (economics) as the central battleground of American politics,…

“Race trumped economics,…

“…evidence suggests that racial resentment is driving economic anxiety, not the other way around,…

“Always remember: You have to identify the disease before you can begin work on a cure. In the case of support for Donald Trump, the results are in: It isn’t the economy. It’s the racism, stupid.”

So, Trump really is the image of White (and anti-immigrant Black) America: racist to the core. See the article at this link:

Trump is Wall Street’s puppet whose strings are being pulled through his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Trump has kicked his Goebbels — Steve Bannon — into a corner, but Trump hasn’t had Bannon thrown out of Mister T’s clubhouse yet because Bannon is useful as a political mannequin to focus the attention of the Neo-Nazi rubes, and keep them attached to the Trump brand, as the most reliably conned component of Trump’s demographics.

Hear this slaves!: your bigotry is the slave-masters power over you.


A psychological disorder is:

“Any personal construction which is used repeatedly in spite of consistent invalidation.”
— George Alexander Kelly (1905-1967), http://oaks.nvg.org/george-kelly.html.

Kelly’s definition is the oldest likely source of the several quotes that have been blended into the well-known saying attributed to Albert Einstein (1879-1955): “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”


The Endless Reality Of The Imperfect Now

“If we can stop thinking about what the future might bring and embrace the present for what it is, we would be a lot better off,” reasons John Gray in his Christmas Day editorial posted on the Internet by the BBC News Magazine, A Point of View: The endless obsession with what might be.* Gray is an English political philosopher who compares the ideas of Francis Fukuyama and Arthur Koestler to develop his argument, and justify his conclusion:

“The task that faces us is no different from the one that has always faced human beings — renewing our lives in the face of recurring evils. Happily, the end never comes. Looking to an end-time is a way of failing to cherish the present — the only time that is truly our own.”

This is pure Zen. Also, it is exactly the perspective Raymond Aron gave in both The Opium of the Intellectuals (1955) and Politics and History (1978, especially the essay “Machiavelli and Marx”). Aron criticized the Christian-like historicism of Marxists, and said that “politics” not “revolution” would always be the order of the day, since people would perennially have to address the problems of the present rather than hoping for “salvation,” or waiting for a presumed historical inevitability to deliver “a revolution” that would produce Nirvana: an ideal society in perpetual stasis, the end of history, “heaven.”

The Machiavelli view (we avoid the pejorative “Machiavellian”) is that so long as human psychology remains unchanged (which seems true for the last 200,000 years of Homo sapiens) there will be human conflicts regardless of the specifics of the forms of government and relationships of power, economics, and social structures. Thus, compromises and consensus of any kind are always provisional and will always have to be revised, or even totally changed, “later.” In a nominally peaceful and well-managed society, this would be the day-to-day norm of managing collective life on every scale: local, state, regional, global.

From Carl G. Jung’s theory of personality types, “P” style people, who naturally deal with uncertainty, ambiguity, “sloppiness” and improvisation more easily than “J” type people, who like certainty, finality, “forms” and hierarchy, will more readily adapt to living in a situation of “managed fluidity” necessary for the continuing operation of a collective enterprise that involves groups with competing interests. The obsession with “the future” is very much a J characteristic (“getting things settled,” “getting things organized,” “nailing it down”). Jung made the point that the successful achievement of psychological maturity (physical development plus experience, by age 37 he estimated) led one to possess a balanced personality, one that incorporated both J and P styles of decision-making rather than being lopsided by remaining with one’s default strong suit from birth (“infantile behavior”).

Life — individual and collective — is a process, its only finality is death, the end of the conscious processes considered here. The Zen Buddhists say the past and future are illusions, you only actually breathe and can have awareness (the two indicators of life) in the present. To not be “in the moment” (which we interpret for practical political purposes as: in the social situations of current times) is to waste some of your limited time of aliveness to delusions, by distracting yourself with the unrecoverable (the past) or the unattainable (the distant “perfect” future).

Delusions of the future include the Christian heaven and the Marxist end-of-history with the triumph of historically inevitable socialism, a determinism set by the presumed inevitable collapse of capitalism due to its internal contradictions, and society’s rebirth by the ascendancy of the proletariat. Both of these cults of the future instill a passivity in their believers. For Christians, to not seek rewards “on Earth” but to accept temporal authority, keep the faith, and reap rewards in the afterlife. Marxists can be filled with smugness, from their belief that they know history’s script for the delivery of their heaven, and they need only await for history’s train to pull events past them till their boarding call is sounded and they can take their seating in the vanguard coach; no point wasting time in the here and now with “reformism” for a capitalist system that will only be swept away, and “soon.”

The managed fluidity I mentioned earlier is entirely the practice of karma yoga: the merging with (yoga) the consequences of our acts (karma). Once this is an established practice, we are simultaneously solving our legacy problems while preventing many new ones from arising, by anticipatory awareness. We accept that we will never have no problems, or that we can ever solve them all “for good.” We do what is possible at the moment to prevent creating lingering difficulties, and to minimize those we still have. This is the daily reality that will always be true. This reality can always be made worse by our collective obtuseness; but even if we manage the flow of our collective reality with collective elegance, we can be assured that so long as Earth harbors human life, the conflicts of maintaining our collectivity will never be eliminated.

Obsessing about the future, as discussed by John Gray, is simply an evasion from dealing with reality. The static Nirvana of political imagination is a delusion; the only possibly achievable Nirvana is an unending dynamic reformism.   <><><>

Gilles d’Aymery (30 June 1950 – 9 May 2015) pointed me to John Gray’s article, a thoughtful suggestion for which I thank him.   <><><>

A Point of View: The endless obsession with what might be
26 December 2011


The above was originally published as:

The Endless Reality Of The Imperfect Now
2 January 2012


For a closely related ramble see:



Honey And Pepper – A Cat Tale

I live in the hills just east of San Francisco Bay with my human family, and for some years with two feline brothers, neutered, who we purchased from the Feral Cat Foundation when they were kittens five months old. They were American Short Hair kittens that were just too cute to separate. “Honey” is a yellow tiger-striped with a white nose (to each side of the pink nose-pad), chin, chest, belly and paws; and “Pepper” was a speckled-striped charcoal-gray with white chin, chest, belly, legs, paws and a bit of the face, with an island of the gray pattern on his right foreleg. Pepper was sitting up in their cage at the pet adoption site, squeaking when approached, and Honey was laying down huddled up to Pepper, doe-eyed and seeming to seek protection under his brother’s forward stance. The people of the Feral Cat Foundation find cats and rehabilitate them to reintroduce them to domestication, by having them live in foster homes till their health and behavior are good and stable. Pepper was noted to be particular and preferred seeking out affection on his terms and timetable. Honey was always a willing sponge of affection, once he had approved of a human. (He’s yowling at the door now, must interrupt).

The first night, we kept them both in a bathroom with trays of dry food and kitty-litter (they had been trained in their foster home), and we all jammed in there and scrunched onto the floor so they could approach, then crawl all over us, eventually seeking to curl up and purr with their little vibrator motors on full throttle, suckling our fingers. As kittens, both had been very attached to suckling our fingers, and kneading us with their outstretched claws. Female cats must have insensate mammaries because kitten teeth and claws are sharp! Honey loved sucky-suck so much he would follow us and yowl for it till well over a year old. Pepper liked it too. Clearly, from the first night in the bathroom, we were the new mothers.

After probably two hours in the bathroom with them that first night, we left so they would sleep (babies of all types need plenty of sleep). The next day we let them explore bits of the house, and both quickly scooted off to find hiding places deep behind and under furniture. After extracting them (by moving a lot of stuff) and letting them unwind in their bathroom haven for a few days, they were ready for wider adventures, and soon explored every room. The Feral Cat Foundation people had urged us to keep them as indoor cats, but this house is too small for that and we live in a forest, which is too tempting for a cat not to explore. So, after about two months indoors we got body-harness leashes (kitten necks are too delicate to yank on) and let them out tethered, following their first furtive and excited forays around the house and property. They quickly discovered how to crawl under the house to hide.

Within about two weeks of their first tethered excursion, on a beautiful bright mid-summer day, we opened the door and they cautiously, curiously, and quite determinedly went out. They stayed near the house, and at even the hint of a twig snapping would make a mad dash under the house. For each of them on separate occasions, we had to wait one or two days before they would come out from hiding. A cold night alone outdoors without food can make anyone bolder the next day. Very quickly after these episodes, they gained the confidence to come and go; they had mapped their little domain.

By their first birthday, in October, they were ranging off into the woods past our property, and getting chased back by tomcats and older females. Over time they each became more confident, and fierce hunters. Up to this time, they had hunted indoors, consuming numerous spiders and moths. Once they began ranging outdoors, they became great hunters of field mice, deer mice, rats, moles, birds, and crickets. Honey is our ace hunter, and emerged as the alpha male.

Our young mature cats had it good: their own wooded hillside, comfortable safe billets and good grub. Sometimes Honey would reward us with a live mouse brought into the house, or perhaps a decapitated one. During any season they could decide to take off for a jaunt of two days, and come home quite self-assuredly looking just fine. A few times they came home with some battle scars, but it seems both had enough good sense to take flight before confrontations became too dangerous. They have each gotten skunked (very unpleasant), and they have each run into larger wildlife that lives here in the hills, like raccoons, opossum, foxes, skunks and deer; the raccoons are a danger to them (and they wreck havoc with the garbage cans; the deer eat the garden and drop nasty ticks).

It is interesting that my wife would always speak of cats as being female, and snakes as male (my pet snake, Beaujolais, was female). Somehow, in her mind Honey and Pepper were so ingratiating and yet childish that they were always “she” and “her.” After a while she’d witnessed enough brawls and began calling them affectionately her “brat boys,” and they love her as mommy number one. Perhaps the human female identification with cats is related to some Eve archetype deep in the psyche. It turns out that both my wife and I can think of all the other creatures living here, bugs, arachnids, snake, cats, child and each other as “the beasts,” and we are. Honey certainly also thinks so, when he jumps into a lap at dinner time and bends his nose down into a dinner plate hopefully, which he never stops trying despite always getting dumped for it. Brat.

Honey and Pepper get on quite well, and often groom each other (cat tongues are rasps, designed by nature to scrape flesh off bones). These wholesome scenes usually devolve into dominance games, with one or the other, most often Honey, straddling the other while biting the back of the neck or the throat. Cats are all fang and claw, even when they say “I love you” it’s a choke-hold short of murder. These dominance rituals can further devolve into furious balls-of-fur chase scenes punctuated by hiss standoffs with ears back, fur up and deep throaty yowls. This is usually the time to open the door to let one or both dash out and regain composure.

Since Pepper is the beta, he feels it necessary to establish his claim on the things he loves: a cozy carpeted corner, the laundry bag, the bathroom rugs, piles of clean laundry, our bed pillows, even our laps. Claims are marked by urinating with an additional discharge of pungent brown fluid from anal glands. I did not appreciate this behavior and thought to bisect Pepper with an axe, however my wife and daughter disagreed with this proposal. One learns to soak and sop up marked things quickly to minimize deep absorption that leads to lingering odors (and they do linger); also, bicarbonate of soda is a safe deodorizer to sprinkle directly onto the target zones. Naptha balls or flakes are much more effective, but release toxic vapor (a liquid form is used for “dry cleaning”). We learned of a pheromone-laced vaporizer that plugs into any household outlet; it is quite similar to other plug-in scent dispensers made for household use. The pheromone is a cat-calming chemical that “makes them feel good” and prompts them to groom themselves (a calming ritual for cats) and exhibit a more relaxed demeanor (and less fighting). So we got them a few dispensers to fill the main room of the house with vaporized feel-good drug (it doesn’t work on humans). Not cheap, but it beats getting your pillow pissed on.

A few years ago, one cat tussle resulted in a deeply bitten paw for Pepper. This became infected and swelled (big!), so we had to take him to the veterinarian. Pepper had not been to the vet since he was a kitten at the Feral Cat Foundation. He had put up such a furious resistance to being placed in the big cardboard “cat carrier” box when we tried taking him in for some shots, that I had given up, being badly bloodied with multiple claw scars (these hurt and itched for a while). One of my fingers remained painful and not completely usable for months. Again, the axe was deferred. So, it was only Honey who received further inoculations for the disease hazards of outdoor life. This time however, after about four days of infection, poor Pepper was so quiet and huddled and feverish and frail from not eating that he was easily “box-able”. My health insurance does not cover non-humanoid dependents (I noticed my 1040 tax form didn’t offer a deduction for them, either), and veterinary medical costs are non-trivial, so I began wondering if cat replacement was not a cheaper option to veterinary medical intervention. Pepper came home after a whole series of shots (deferred previously), with a drain tube in his newly bandaged paw, and a vial of antibiotic pills.

I had to pill the cat. The idea was to wrap some fish-laced paste around the pill (canned anchovies or sardines might work, and probably cost as much per unit of mass as these “pill pockets”), and then gingerly shove it down the cat’s throat with a finger, immediately stroking his throat to induce swallowing; the cat himself having previously been wrapped into a “cat burrito” with a towel, so as to control his motion and confine his claws. I got two pills in him the first two days, the treatment required daily doses for a week or two. By the third day home, he was recovered enough to resist swallowing anything he did not want to swallow (pill number two had almost been spit back out), or being bundled up into a cat burrito. Numerous pills shot back out, and my finger was too uncomfortably situated in relation to Pepper’s agitated dentation to proceed further. So I declared him cured, which he wholeheartedly agreed with, and proceeded to go outside against medical advice. Within another day or two he’d licked the bandage off and the drain tube out of his paw. Pepper liked eating the pill pockets out of a bowl, without pills in them, but only for a few days before they started to become rancid. The rest went into the garbage with the antibiotics.

I realized that it was impossible to explain to Pepper that the tube, bandage, pills and restrictions on his galavanting were for his own good — as we saw it. His view of his own good was quite different from ours; he wanted his freedom, and control of his life. After all, he would never know the difference between living for 3 years or 13 years, and he had no capacity to even conceive of such a choice. He was only concerned to live his present moment — and the continuous succession of such present moments traces out that period of time we call “always” — without restraints and without restrictions. It was his life, after all, and why should I presume to force him to live it other than he wished to? He obviously valued his independence quite highly, and more so than our efforts to restrict his life to extend it. So, we stopped patronizing him, and let him manage his own affairs. This would also be better for my fingers and everybody’s stress level. The vial of antibiotics was dumped. His paw healed perfectly and he went on to enjoy his excellent woodland cat life for quite some time.

Honey had grown somewhat larger than Pepper, and is a beautiful, athletic, quick, observant and exquisitely fit cat. Both have very fast reaction times, as we have observed dangling a mouse-sized soft lure on the end of a length of yarn tied to a rod. It is a mistake to use your hands to play with them by moving or snatching a lure away, they will always be quicker and you will always bleed. Both cats learned our work schedule, because they had to make a choice each morning on going out for the day or staying in, as we went off to work and school. They had to make their prognostications about the likely weather and decide between enduring a long boring day inside but with easy access to food bowls and water, or being outside with either balmy, dry and exciting hunting conditions, or a cold and rainy day without food and water. When we drove up to our parking spot after school and work, we would often find them waiting for us, like faithful dogs, ready to race to the house and dash in as the door opened, to dive into their food bowls. Honey is most vigilant for our return, and so he is our dog-cat. We’ve tried playing fetch with him, but he doesn’t return the lure, still he likes the game. Since he is such a vocal dog-cat, meowing and yowling for his many wants, and because of his yellow-orange coloring, I call him Old Yowler, recalling the canine hero of the Disney film Old Yeller, about a boy’s yellow dog whose barking helps save the day.

Honey uses his meowing and yowling to train us, these are his signals to induce us to do things for him: put fresh water in the water bowl, fill the food bowls as soon as the plastic bottoms become visible, open doors (for entry or exit), to drop something soft and fishy or meaty onto a bowl in the kitchen for a treat (an exceptionally bad habit, don’t start it), to wake up so he can go out at 5:30 AM, to wake up so he can come in a 1:00 AM, to get petted. If he can conceive of wanting it, he can yowl for it. When in bed we can try to pretend we are asleep and don’t hear him, but he has ways of creating a disturbance. He’ll jump up to a ledge or item of outdoor furniture near a bedroom window and paw it, dragging claws against the glass, or clawing and climbing on the screen (of which we now have fewer). He will also jump up and down repeatedly from such ledges near our sleeping selves, ensuring his full weight lands with a resounding thud, so one has the impression of a slow velvety jackhammer or pile driver working away in the not sufficiently far distance. Since these techniques have worked many times to gain him late night entry, he has cemented them into his memory. When he wishes to leave during our sleep, he paws the bedroom doors till one gives way and opens, or till a sleeper awakes and lets him out. If he was allowed into one particular bedroom to sleep on the covers, he likes to signal his readiness for a morning outing as the first bird starts to sing, by jumping up to a cabinet next to the bed, then pouncing down to the unwary sleeper below. Once he has access to your prone body, he sticks his wet nose in your face or paws your hair and cheeks. What a punk. His entire attitude is one of majestic entitlement; our little lion.

Pepper also squawks for what he wants, but is more reserved vocally. Both cats love to sharpen their claws by scraping down along exterior corners, and rough surfaces. One such favorite spot was my prized, large stereo speakers; the fronts are mats of cardboard covered with rough cloth, and the cabinets have a walnut finish. Scratching my speakers is an “ax-able” offense. We had water guns and spray bottles to deter speaker and screen clawing. Eventually the screen clawing subsided, because the favorite screens were wrecked (so I must rely on my spiders for some degree of indoor mosquito abatement), and because we trained each other to be more observant about each other’s signals: communication with alien life forms.

It happened I was making dinner late one balmy afternoon, and Pepper decided he’d saunter out. To signal his desire, he just displayed a favorite preparatory behavior, the sharpening of his claws before proceeding to the door. However, instead of using the cardboard clawing structure (another waste of money at the pet store) or a prominent jutting corner of the walls, which we’d relinquished to their clawing, Pepper just went over to the speaker and sunk in his fully outstretched front claws. I immediately threw the empty plastic salad spinner I had, which sailed from the kitchen, whisked by Pepper’s ear, and rebounded off the wall next to the speaker. He leaped straight up in a fright then shot away to hide behind a couch. I walked over and opened the door, pointed and said “out!” and he dashed out.

The next day, while making dinner, I heard a tinkle I couldn’t place, then noticed Pepper sitting right up against the door. I took it as a signal and immediately opened it for him. I thought “boy, that was quick training,” but later came to realize I, too, was being trained. It soon became clear that the tinkle was Pepper stretching up to claw the metal doorknob before sitting up against the door. To save my speaker, I was quick to open the door for Pepper whenever he presented himself before it. Within a few days, Honey mimicked this behavior, and my speakers are now infrequently assaulted (they are still brat cats). Honey has less patience than Pepper, so he almost immediately accompanied his door presentation with meowing and a bit of a walk around. Pepper just walks up to the door and waits for quick service, and Honey walks up to me and yowls; both cats and I know that I have been trained to be prompt, so most of their door-opening signals are directed at me. My sitting at a computer and writing is not seen as reason to deny prompt service, even if others are in the room. Similarly, late at night, the cats meow at a nearby window, and they know I can hear them, so more interruptions. (I just got a claw across the glass from outside, Honey wants in).

A few summers ago, Pepper developed some illness, which we couldn’t determine, but which seemed to leave him very fatigued. He stayed in his one little resting spot on the top of the back of a padded reclining chair (Honey just bugged me to go out. He’s coming in and out hoping to get “special food” of tuna or salmon, I’ll explain why in a bit). Pepper just seemed to get weaker and thinner, and even began to shiver a bit; he stayed put. Previously, he seemed to get over his little colds or other low energy spells after a day or two of sleep and relaxation indoors. This time it seemed he was getting much weaker and the spell was much longer. We kept Honey away from him because Pepper seemed less able to defend himself, and I began to consider a visit to the vet. I just had to wait till he was half-dead enough to box for the trip. Even in this state, he trotted off to his food and water bowls and visited the litter box when he needed. Honey had long ago adopted a purely outdoor policy for his toilet needs.

One day I came home to see Pepper hobbling with his right paw folded back, limp. I guessed it might be broken, perhaps he had gotten so frail it had broken on landing from a jump. He let me examine it and seemed very sad and pitiful, so I decided he was half-dead enough for a trip to the vet. I put a clean towel he knew into the cat carrier box, and then set him in without incident, he was nervous, but too worn out to actively protest, he immediately settled onto the comfort towel, and off we went.

The veterinarian office has two doctors, one male and one female, and a predominantly female staff of animal technicians and office staff. Many of these people take their dogs (and bird) to work, and some sat with their mistresses in the reception area. Our cats’ doctor is the woman (both are good vets). She pointed out that Pepper’s nose-pad was nearly white (a grayish white), as were his paw pads. This indicated loss of blood or a low red blood cell count. His paw had no sensation, demonstrated by pinching it with sufficient force that the old Pepper would have scratched your eyeballs out before putting up with it. They took a blood sample and had lab work done that day, which revealed that Pepper’s blood cell count was 6 on a scale where a normal feline level would be 30 to 40. The lab noted they had never measured such anemic feline blood. The limp paw was the result of a clot cutting off circulation. Subsequent blood tests eliminated a number of feline diseases that can result in low red blood counts; some kind of cancer was guessed at but testing shed no light on this conjecture. A transfusion was arranged for, with the donor being one of the doctor’s robust cats.

Pepper stayed at the clinic for two nights, first getting his transfusion and then building up strength and having periodic blood tests. The major fear was that the underlying disease (some type of feline leukemia?) might just eat up the newly transfused blood. So, “30 plus” weight blood went in, and after a few days Pepper’s count stabilized to about 10 or 12. Despite many blood tests and his examination, they could not diagnose the illness. We got several prescriptions for potential causes, as preventatives while analysis continued of his blood samples. The treatment avenues presented were: a biopsy to collect a bone marrow sample for analysis, and if diseased then consider a bone marrow transplant, or a painless termination; or wait and see. Pepper was in much better spirits after three days at the clinic, he was obviously feeling livelier with his richer blood, even if still at about a third of normal red cell count. He had always had an enlarged heart and very fast heart rate, and now we knew it was because he had to circulate far fewer oxygen carrying cells (blood is liquid rust) to convey the oxygen exchange his body mass required. The good sign was that his blood count, while in the low double digits, did not continue to drop. The clinic staff had lavished affection on him, and he had been treated to meals of tuna, which it was noted “he loves.” He came home less skittish about other people, and with a relatively mellower (but not actually mellow) disposition. Transfusion, plus lab work, plus overnight stays, plus drugs all came to a total of over $1000. So, we owned “The Thousand Dollar Cat” with the mystery disease, which we didn’t know if it had passed, or was cured, or in remission, or just getting started. The drugs proved useless, Pepper rejected the pills, which were very big, and the liquids whether shot into his mouth or mixed into food. We didn’t belabor this point.

Pepper was a nice affectionate little neurotic cat, but I began to think that cat replacement might be a more affordable expense to more treatment. I know cat lovers will say each cat has a unique personality, so the expense of saving any one cat is worth it. But, you can buy an awful lot of cat personality for a thousand bucks. I wonder if corporate executives for health insurance businesses and government policy-makers for healthcare think about human personalities in the same way? In any case, we decided to trust to luck, and asked Pepper’s vet what people did in the old days for conditions like Pepper’s. Wouldn’t you know: aspirin. The recommendation was to grind (use a mortar and pestle) an 81 milligram aspirin (the dose used for daily blood thinning to counteract hypertension in humans), and give one quarter of this powder to Pepper, mixed into a guaranteed swallow like tuna or salmon, every three or four days. Pepper took to this regimen, and looked forward to his soft “special food” fish treats. To hide the grit of the aspirin powder, a good amount of salmon or tuna was used, to the cat’s delight.

Naturally, Honey quickly learned that special food was available. He was always conscientious to give Pepper the mouth and butt smell check whenever Pepper came home, so as to divine what had gone in and come out. It became too difficult to divert Honey into going outside when Pepper was getting his aspiring-laced fish meals, so a parallel feeding became necessary. Anything Pepper failed to lap up Honey would devour. Since these delicious meals were only offered every three days, Honey has become a complete neurotic, an addict waiting his fix. He wanted to be sure he was in when the special meals happened, but he was uncertain when that was, and he also wanted to go out to play, so he can oscillate between in and out many times during the day if allowed (I’ve taken to not letting him in sometimes), and he yowls for the special food every time he comes in. I point to his bowl of “crunchies,” and he looks at me and yowls. Then he nibbles a few, wants out, and we continue to cycle.

Pepper steadily grew stronger and more active over the following weeks, and after about two months used his paw as before. However, he never completely recovered his original vitality. The veterinary clinic asked us to let them study Pepper at their expense, to learn what was going on. We declined the offer because it entailed boxing the cat for weekly trips to the clinic for the taking of blood samples and brief exams. I’d like to know, but we already had an understanding with Pepper about the whole question of mortality versus freedom. The vet was entirely amazed that any cat could live with a middling single digit red blood cell count, it was thought to be impossible. So, Pepper became our Miracle Cat.

About a year of happy cat routine followed. Then, over the course of several weeks, Pepper became increasingly forgetful and absent-minded even though he had regained the full use of his limbs, and had returned to daily outdoor activities. On a few occasions he has been away for one of two nights, and I wondered if he might not wander off and forget how to get back, or have a stroke or heart attack out in the woods and never return. He would huddle by his plastic cup of water in the bathroom-haven with the litter box, all day or all night, as if guarding his water from Honey or whoever. He had the blank look and slow mental processing of an aphasiac, or of geriatric or post-stroke dementia. He didn’t act oddly, just very little, as if confused about what to do next.

Honey, being a normal amoral feline alpha male would exert dominance over Pepper, and now, despite the feel-good drug, Pepper’s foggy little brain had found it necessary to mark his claims to favored spots. The vet recommend placing multiple litter boxes, and keeping them very fresh, so Pepper would find them inviting at all times. Maybe this helped, it’s hard to tell. Pepper would mark the piles of clean laundry, so we had to fold and/or sequester it immediately. One day with Honey out, Pepper spent the morning sleeping on the couch on top of a nice big towel, while I made good progress on a big article (for my fabulous Internet publishing career). After a productive and quiet period of hours spent in this manner, I heard running water and was horrified to see Pepper calmly urinating right over his resting spot. I rushed over to bunch the towel around the center of the spill, and when finally discharged I scooped up the towel with cat and tossed him outdoors (not roughly, he landed easily on his feet), closing the door after. He took a moment or two to get his bearings, then sauntered off down the hill, maybe under the house. I started a wash. We haven’t seen Pepper since. Maybe he decided this was Honey’s house and he was out of it. Maybe he burst an aneurysm. Maybe he didn’t even remember from one minute to the next. Having known older people with advancing dementia, I think this latter was the case.

So, that is the story of Old Yowler and The Demented Miracle Cat.

I can’t say if there is any significance to this story. It is about the big crises of little lives. Perhaps we are drawn to such animal stories because we sense our own stories are generally similar. What are for us major events are insignificant to the rest of humanity, and yet we ourselves are not insignificant because consciousness is a most remarkable phenomenon and always a unique experience. It is three years now since Pepper left, and I still find his grey-striped hairs on my jackets.

Memory is a practical and unsentimental things for cats, within a month Honey carried on happily without looking for his brother, and by then we had removed the kitty litter boxes and the second feeding station.

Honey is a jealous lover with a guilt-free Oedipus complex. A few weeks ago my daughter was away for the weekend, and my wife and I enjoyed each other’s company at home without any distractions or interruptions. Honey had gone out, and we did not bestir ourselves to open the door to let him in. Honey has had long practice in determining from outside the house where the people are in its interior. Eventually, Honey was yowling and pawing at the window nearest us, and gazing in with consternation to see that he was missing out on a pile-up in bed. From his first day in our home, Honey had learned that the body-piling he and Pepper had done as kittens in their birth den was also the practice here, which they could do together with the humans in those very ample and comfortable beds. On this occasion Honey’s pleas and protests were to no avail.

Later that day, we decided to dine out, and before dressing I opened the door to let Honey in. He entered yowling and seeking reassurance, which he got as usual: pets, freshened bowl of crunchies, and fresh water in his bowl (he also stalks our showers to jump in as soon as we emerge, and lap up fresh water). While dressing, I noticed that Honey was in one of his frisky moods, chasing imaginary mice in the house. My wife often plays with him, sometimes with the lure on the string tied to a rod, and sometimes hide-and-seek, which he loves and involves cycles of her chasing him and then he ambushing her feet. When frisky, Honey will usually wind himself up to such an excited state that I have to open the door so he can shoot out and “get that mouse!” as my wife will urge him. On this occasion he seemed to settle down to pacing about before finding a resting spot.

Ever vigilant for his true-love mama, he yowled at my wife as she positioned herself in front of a large mirror to dress, then suddenly pounced at her feet as if to start up their game anew. In another instant, Honey had circled her leg, rearing up on his hind legs against her calf, wrapping his front paws with claws outstretched around the calf and into her shin, and sinking his fangs into her calf. Just as quickly, he bounded off in a frisky frenzy. He had drawn blood, but neither the bite nor clawing were deep, they were the clasp of passionate cat love, not the death grip of the rat-killer that severs the spine at the base of the neck. Honey was jealous, and he wanted his true-love mama to pay attention to him! Since that day, Honey has spent numerous languorous hours sleeping in my wife’s lap while she read her book in her reclining chair.

Honey lives in magnificent little lion self assurance, hunting daily with great success (mice, rats, moles, birds), and yowling nightly to his true-love mommy for tuna, or leftover salmon, snapper or chicken. He feels happy and safe. Brat.


Originally published at:

Honey And Pepper, A Cat Tale
4 June 2012