And what a terrible morning it is. Where?—over in the Middle East. Oh no—you mean the Middle East is at it again? Yeah, they’re at it again. They don’t have enough intelligent people in the population over there on both sides of the border to get together? No, no, no-no. Well then how many of them have to die? Well, they don’t care if all of them die.
So how long is it going to take all you guys to kill each other? Somebody will fire on Israel, kill some people; Israel will fire back, and kill some people; back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth—here comes 2015—and forth—here comes 2020—and forth—here comes 2050—and forth–here comes—oh lord.
I have come to the conclusion—and nobody can talk me out of this one—that there is no answer. And that the killing will take place until there’s no . . . one . . . left.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I’ll tell you this: I feel sick to my stomach, when I see what is happening today.
It’s so sad. It is so sad. It is so sad. It . . .is . . . so . . . sad. Say it again, Mr. Taliaferro: it is so sad.
That’s Ray Taliaferro, dean of the Left Coast lefty AM-radio talk-show hosts. A native of San Francisco’s black Hunter’s Point district, he has for more than 40 years—the last 30 at KGO-AM, the highest-rated station in the state—raised high the roofbeams, from Canada to Mexico, with alternately caustic and ebullient late-night recusantations. Involved in lefty politics since Freedom Summer, Taliaferro consistently offers an openhearted, optimistic view of events: forever insisting that “good, decent Americans,” and “the beautiful people” of the rest of the world, are steadily and inexorably marching towards a new Eden. Rarely from Ray does one hear despair.
But when he signed on at 1 a.m. Monday morning, Ray was in despair. Not as low as he was during Katrina—”I don’t ever want to hear anyone,” he said then, “tell me there’s no racism in this country, ever again“—but definitely more bitter. Up to the teeth, spitting it: awash in acid.
In Mideast matters, Taliaferro, more often than not, is a fierce critic of Israel. Monday, however, he was mostly aflame over “how Hamas can be so damnably stupid as to start shooting rockets over into a country where they’ve got bigger rockets.” His entire first-hour monologue, from which the quotes in this diary are lifted, will be available, for the next seven days only, here . There is much there that will no doubt enrage or alienate partisans of either “side” in this conflict, particularly those drawn most towards the Palestinians. But I’m not, here, concerned with any “side.” What hooked me was the howl, the stubborn insistence on seeing the world whole. Which, pushing the parameters of fair use, I try to reproduce below.
I do not understand why the situation in the Middle East is the way that it is. Oh, I understand how it got there. But I don’t understand how it continues to this day. I don’t understand. Oh, I understand what Hamas is up to. I understand what all those idiots over there in the Middle East are up to: they want to continue this conflict over there—fighting fighting bloodshed bloodshed bloodshed bloodshed bloodshed bloodshed bloodshed—until somebody has spilled enough blood, they have bombed the hell out of each other enough, that they decide then: “Hey. Maybe, just maybe, we ought to learn how to live together. Maybe we ought to learn to live together, for goodness sake.
It’s taken all my lifetime to understand why people want to kill each other. And I still don’t understand it. I still don’t understand it. I . . . still . . . don’t . . . understand–I still don’t understand it. I still don’t understand it.
I don’t give a damn what the name of the “group” is. Because it seems to me that we’re all part of the human race. That’s the name of the group to me. That is the name of the group to me—we’re part of the human race. Supposed to be. But by God—I’ve been around long enough now; I’ve seen it—you’ve seen it! You’ve seen it. And it ain’t close to bein’ solved. And it’s not going to be solved by rockets, and jet planes flyin’ over, and bombin’ the hell out of you.
Folks, it’s time for us to live together. Otherwise, we’re going to die, together. That’s what I don’t understand. I mean, how long are we going to have to witness the insanity, that we’re witnessing now?
George Orwell, in what became the final years of his life, brooded often on what he considered to be the greatest challenge facing post-WWII homo sapiens: how to live and behave decently without the constraints previously imposed by the shibboleths of gods.
Hippies—now, as always, easily mocked—captured the answer, elegantly, in this gnomic couplet:
we are but a moment’s sunlight
fading in the grass
Taliaferro, Monday, offered an expression blunter, more crude:
What’s my religion? My religion: it’s nice to be nice. It’s not nice so you can get your ass into heaven. That’s not my religion. It’s nice to be nice—period. That’s all. There is no other reward.
When you understand that this one life is the be-all and end-all—nothing before, nothing after—it is less likely you will fall prey to charlatans and carny-barkers who would have you lay your life upon their altars. You, may, become free. Your soul, may, become as one with other souls:
A man has two legs. He’ll build a house—from cellar to rooftop, with his own hands. He’ll put seeds in the ground. He’ll watch the sun and the rain at work. He’ll take a woman to bed. He’ll find enough tenderness and love to get him through the day. You’d think that man deserved a little something. You’d think that man was worthy of a jot or two of sympathy and consideration. You’d think that maybe someone would say, Let’s just let him alone for a while, and see what he can do.
This house. Do you see this house?
It is a house where human beings live.
They deserve more than bloody kicks in the ass.
There is a strange dignity about them.
They are looking at you as I talk.
I want you to leave them alone.