.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

My Photo
Name:
Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Ain't Democracy Great?

So the "Russians" are responsible for hacking the "Democratic" National Committee's emails, as some would have us think. The emails, released by Wikileaks, show the DNC's bias during the presidential primary season, planting informants in the Bernie Sanders campaign, trying to dig up dirt on him, sundry other mischief. According to one writer, this revelation is bigger than Watergate. Worse for whom, one might ask. Worse for the Democratic" National Committee, we can assume. Worse for Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the departed chair of the DNC. Worse for Hillary Clinton, who is again shown to be untrustworthy.

But good for the rest of us. We are finding out on an almost daily basis how thoroughly corrupt and venal our political "leaders" are, and how the system is rigged for the wealthy and powerful. Perfect evidence of this is that the various "Democratic" offenders and fellow-travelers showed no contrition for rigging the nomination. Instead they tried to shift the attention to Russian president Vladimir Putin, ominously trying to build a case to take some action against him. Should Hillary Clinton become our next president, we can expect some kind of shenanigans to take place. Let's hope it's not World War III. She has never met a war she didn't like, including future wars.

Curiously, I was watching TV last Sunday evening, and PBS's Frontline aired a rerun of its expose on Putin. It's pretty damning, suggesting he is a thug and a tyrant, and likely came into power as a result of a burning of the Reichstag-type bombing of two apartment buildings. Frontline normally is not shown on Wisconsin Public Television on Sundays, but made an exception for the Putin rerun. I wonder what might have prompted PBS and WPT on the night before the "Democratic" party convention to show this condemnation of Russia's president. Could it be that someone wanted to pre-empt the email scandal by slamming Putin and setting the stage for blaming him for hacking the DNC? If so, it was a mighty weak attempt. Hardly anyone watches PBS on a Sunday evening, and few of those who do would not be inclined to watch a repeat of an old show, no matter how enticing.

Except me, apparently. Though I was hoping to see Austin City Limits, I kept watching while this program went through the litany of crimes supposedly committed by Putin. Maybe he is responsible for the apartment bombings of 1999. Maybe he has murdered dissidents and opponents, and committed other crimes. The "U.S." and European countries enacted economic sanctions against Russia in 2014 over its intervention in Ukraine. A writer in Slate claims that if Putin could design the perfect candidate to undermine American "interests" it would be Donald Trump.

Just for a little balance, the Bush criminal regime planned on invading and occupying Iraq since before the 2000 "election." All they needed was an excuse. Voila, "911." How handy.

The "Bigger than Watergate" writer in Salon claims the DNC hack puts our national sovereignty at stake, because a foreign power can influence the outcome of our 1% "election." Spare me. Our government and private individuals have never shown much respect for the sovereignty of other countries, so what's the big surprise when someone else doesn't respect ours?  And the rich in this country have never shown any hesitation to subvert and control the democratic process, bending it to their will with campaign donations, bribes, junkets and undermining of campaigns, such as that of Bernie Sanders.

I responded to the "Bigger than Watergate" claim thusly:

Try again. Worse than Watergate. Worse than Benedict Arnold. Worse than Alger Hiss. Worse than Aldrich Ames. The Rosenbergs. Robert Hanssen. John Wilkes Booth.

How about what's good for the goose is good for the gander? The "U.S." has been involved in the politics of other countries for at least my entire life, and for decades before. The war against Spain was an interference with the government of Cuba, colonial though it was. The Vietnam War was an interference in the government of Vietnam, which started with preventing elections by Dwight D. Eisenhower, and continued to the killing of 3 to 5 million people in three countries, and led to the killing fields of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, which wouldn't have even existed had we minded our own business.

There were smaller invasions and interferences, such as the invasions of Grenada and Panama, done for spurious reasons by Reagan and Bush I. There were assassinations, overthrows and impositions of dictatorships in such places as Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, pretty much all of South America, the Philippines, Iran, Iraq, and who knows where else in the Mideast. The various dictatorships in Egypt couldn't exist without "U.S." backing.

Then there is the fiasco in Libya. Another fiasco in Somalia. Yemen. Afghanistan. Iraq, again and again. The CIA had a hand in installing Saddam Hussain. Then he "went off the reservation," but assassinating and/or overthrowing him wasn't enough. We had to invade, occupy and decimate the country.

So the big bad Russians have hacked a political party's computers. Those big bad Russians. Who do they think they are? They are worse than Watergate.

Keep this guy in mind when you are in need of a propaganda lesson. What better place to plant a mole than Salon?
So what's a poor boy to do? Some Bernie delegates have decided they aren't going to take it, and have taken to the streets and to Twitter, with a new organization and hashtag, #Demexit. Maybe they'll make a difference. Maybe a big difference. They have nothing to lose. They already lost at the convention, having the presidential nomination swept out from under them by the "Democratic" party. Who needs the Russians when we can undermine ourselves and our democracy without any help from outside powers. Bernie delegates booed Senator Elizabeth Warren last week, yelling "We trusted you." They could say the same for Bernie Sanders.

I met Bernie Sanders once. It was right here in Madison, in 1995, at a small fundraiser for his campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives, hosted by Ed Garvey, longtime "Progressive" activist. Sanders has had "leftist" connections in Madison for decades. He was rude and abrupt. I was unimpressed, not knowing much about him. I voted for him in the Wisconsin primary this year, though. I liked his policy proposals and his courage in running, but still remembered his rudeness. I passed it off as his Brooklyn upbringing, but there was something crudely arrogant about his manner when I met him. I wasn't particularly surprised when he caved to the pressure from the DNC to back Hillary Clinton. Politics always makes strange bedfellows, and it is far easier for politicians to abandon their supporters than their careers.

So here we are, with the two putrid candidates the major parties have chosen for us. As for Trump, I believe, as has been reported, that he is in the early stage of dementia, and will drop out of the race before the election. My prediction is late August. If you look at what he is saying now and what it is likely to become in just a few weeks, he will not be able to maintain his composure or health much longer.

Look for Mike Pence to take over as nominee, with a new VP nominee appointed, ala Sargent Shriver. If this happens, Mike Pence will be our next president. Ain't democracy great?
____________________________________________

Here's a song. Here's another. And another. This too, for the umpteenth time. And, of course, this. I have avoided using this song, but it has come roaring back with new meaning.

This song by Iris Dement comes up for me from time-to-time.

Here's a song for Donald Trump when he quits. Here's one for him now.

This song is for #Demexit. Nonviolent of course. Here's another. This too. This song might provide a little inspiration.

Here's some more Peter Tosh. This too. Bob Marley. Another by Bob Marley. Still more Bob Marley. And this. One more from Peter Tosh. Here's the Neville Brothers.

Here's some news about #Demexit. As it turns out, the DNC paid people to fill seats at the convention, in lieu of Bernie Sanders delegates.

Here's a little more information about "U.S."  involvement in the Mideast. This is a list of "U.S." involvement in Latin America. Also this. And this map of "U.S." Latin America interventions.

Hint: If you click on any of the Salon links, it might crash your browser. Salon has become a clickbait site, jam-packed with enticements to look at the ten-best of something or other, famous people who have disappeared, former stars who don't look so good now. You may have to have an ad-block app installed, or do a reader view.
____________________________________________

At Ed Garvey's victory party in 1998. He may not have won the election, but he won the battle of integrity.I should elaborate a bit on when I met Bernie Sanders. It was in November 1995, and the fundraiser was at the home of Ed Garvey, local Madison attorney and "Progressive," "Liberal," and/or "leftist" activist of many years standing. He had been the executive director of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), guiding the organization through two strikes during his twelve year tenure.

Garvey's home was in the Shorewood Hills neighborhood of Madison, the wealthiest and most exclusive part of the city, being 91% "white." The village has its own police force. I was invited to the fundraiser likely because I had donated money (in extremely small amounts) to the Senate campaign of Russ Feingold and to the mayoral campaign of Paul Soglin. You get on mailing lists when you donate to politicians. I donated $25 to Bernie Sanders, which got me in the door.

Madison's "leftist" establishment was at this gathering, and the hobnobbing was intense and pecking-ordered. I was a complete unknown, not even in the pecking-order, and only one person would talk to me - Madison's long-serving state senator Fred Risser. He was very gracious and humble, unlike everyone else at the meeting. Jerks. I crossed paths with Bernie Sanders passing between rooms. I shook hands with him and wished him luck in his run for the U.S. Congress.

He couldn't be bothered, and was both unfriendly and dismissive, couldn't get away from me fast enough. In fairness to all these jerks, they may have thought I was a "Republican" "mole." I had only lived in Madison for two years at the time, and was not involved in politics or a member of any of their toothless organizations. I still am not a member of any of their toothless organizations, though I was a member of the local chapter of Veterans for Peace for a couple of meaningless years (Organize a bunch of men who have one thing in common - military service - and put it in Madison, Wisconsin, and, heh, you get Life of Brian on steroids. Or, more accurately, drink.).

That was it, my encounter with Bernie Sanders, man of the people, though not of the person. He did some good with his run for the presidency, and I voted for him in the primary election, but I didn't expect much. His explanation of his opposition to gun control was pretty lame, and he sounded naive about foreign affairs, advocating, among other things, "destroying" "ISIS." He laid a groundwork for the next un-corporate candidate, though, and deserves the nation and the world's gratitude. Maybe I'll get a chance to meet him again. I might be abrupt and dismissive.
____________________________________________

Something else I should mention about the Bernie Sanders fundraiser is that the only women present were Ed Garvey's wife and adult daughter. So it was a guys party. I would say "the old boys' network," except the only office-holder was Fred Risser. It was basically hangers-on, the kind of people who loiter on the fringes of political activities and events, keeping themselves noticed and available, should a campaign need some hangers-on.

One of the hangers-on was a guy who pops up on local TV and radio from time-to-time, an "outsider" historian of Madison - in the sense of outsider art - someone not academically credentialed, but, hey, how hard is it to write about Madison?  Even this guy, who has a penchant for running against Fred Risser in primary elections, didn't see me as worthy of the pecking order. I enjoyed voting against him, and likely will enjoy it again.
____________________________________________

Here's something insightful from former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.
____________________________________________

Update, August 5: I started a hashtag for Trump dropping out of the "race" - #Trumpexit . Feel free use it and spread it around.

Here's something new about our sleaze "Democratic" candidate and her propaganda battle with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Here's an update on Trump's mental state.
____________________________________________

Update, August 6: I should have made the hashtag #Trexit. Here's a song for a couple of manly bureaucrats at the Madison Public Library. Here's another.
I found a new band, The Deep Dark Woods.

I thought I invented the hashtag #Trumpexit. I didn't. This morning I realized #Trexit would be much better. Someone else came up with that too. Then it occurred to me that #Hilexit would be a good one. Someone else beat me to that too. There is nothing new under the Sun.
____________________________________________

Update, August 10: Calls for a factual report on Donald Trump's medical condition are increasing.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

We Shouldn't Be Surprised

We shouldn't be surprised about anything in the news. Doing next-to-nothing about fossil fuel emissions, we passively watch the results of rapid climate change.

We shouldn't be surprised when we invade countries and occupy them, and worldwide terrorism results.

We shouldn't be surprised when we oppress a perceived "racial" minority for centuries and some of them behave badly.

We shouldn't be surprised when soldiers come home from our endless wars damaged and angry, and some behave as horrifically as the terrorists we inspire in other countries.

We shouldn't be surprised when we enable the most angry and disturbed among us to buy all the weaponry and ammunition they can get their hands on, and they use these implements of mass destruction on the masses.

We shouldn't be surprised when our major political parties offer putrid candidates, and things get worse, maybe catastrophically worse. Our next president could be our last.

We shouldn't be surprised when we rig the economic system for the wealthy few, and the many suffer. The economy suffers when reward is skewed to the rich, but the rich don't care. They own the system. Own the system and you own the people, just like slavery.

We shouldn't be surprised when we trust that our infinite-growth economic system will grow infinitely, and find out it isn't so infinite after all. We will be. We are surprised about everything else, so why not this?
______________________________________________

Here's a song. Here's another. This too, for the umpteenth time. Here's another. YouTube pulled the Beatles versions.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Freedom to Kill

When I heard the news of the shooting in Florida I reached for my Rand McNally atlas to see where the pertinent cities - Orlando, Fort Pierce and Port St. Lucie are located. I have never been to Florida, and am unfamiliar with the state's urban layout.

What stood out was that Florida is jam-packed with cities and large towns. Its population for 2016 is estimated at 20.28 million people. It has a land area of 65,755 square miles, giving it a population density of 353.4 people per square mile. It is the eighth-densest state in the nation, behind the states on the Northeast Corridor that extends from Washington, D.C. to Boston.

Though Florida isn't the country's most crowded state, it is pretty crowded. The "U.S." as a whole is pretty crowded, with a population of 323,625,762 and 90.6 people per square mile. It is a lot less crowded than "China," though, which has a population of 1,376,049,000 people, with 373 people per square mile. China as a whole is actually not much more crowded than Florida.

Why is this pertinent? Because the more people are crowded together the more they tend to get into conflicts. These conflicts often result in violence. The "U.S." ranks 182nd in population density, but first in gun crime, according to one survey. China ranked 97th. The New York Times did a comparison of gun homicides in the U.S. with other countries around the world. We didn't fare so well. Better than some, but worse than most.

What could be the reason for this disparity? Are we a nation of killers? Well, yes. We kill people in other countries with near-reckless abandon. We kill each other similarly. In both cases we have one distinct advantage, or disadvantage, depending on one's point of view: superior weaponry.

Because of our military weaponry we are the "world's only superpower," and can invade at will. Because of our civilian weaponry we are the world's gun nut.

Me in Heidelberg, summer 1970There have been a couple of times in my life when I was willing to shoot another human being with a gun. One was while I was serving in the Army in Heidelberg, Germany in 1970. My unit was on riot alert on July 4 because over 1,000 African American soldiers - U.S. citizens serving their country - congregated in Heidelberg to have a rally at the University of Heidelberg. They were invited by students at the university. For some reason Army higher-ups expected them to riot, and we were told we would be using live ammunition that day instead of the usual sheathed bayonets. I wrote about the experience here.

The other time was when I was in graduate school, when I kept a shotgun in my apartment. My dad had given it to me to hunt with. It was during the Nixon era, and I was engaged in some minor acts of dissent - writing a few things here and there, bringing in three radical speakers when I served on the Graduate Student Council. I had become friends with fellow-graduate students from Iran. They were engaged in anti-Shah activities, and I wrote a couple of letters to the school newspaper for them.

It was totally paranoid and stupid to keep a loaded shotgun in my apartment. My intention was for protection against home invasion, pretty commonplace these days, but not in my upbringing. My parents came down for my graduation - the day Nixon resigned in disgrace, August 9, 1974. My dad noticed the loaded shotgun in a closet, and took it back. I was glad to be rid of it. I haven't possessed a gun of any kind since.

One thing I learned from these two experiences was that the key factor in gun violence is the gun itself. When I was on riot alert it would not have occurred to me to shoot another human being, except we were told that was what we were getting ready to do.

I wouldn't have thought about shooting someone with my shotgun if I didn't have a shotgun. I don't think about shooting anyone at all nowadays. The issue doesn't come up, because I don't have anything to shoot with. No antecedent, no consequence.

There are 270 million privately owned guns in the U.S., with the average number of guns per owner at 8.1, and 89 guns per 100 residents. That's a lot of people thinking about shooting someone. Not every gun owner thinks about shooting other people, but it is safe to say that most of them do.

So, duh, the obvious way to reduce gun violence is to reduce the number of people who are thinking about shooting someone else, and the best way to do that is to have fewer people owning guns. Gun control. The NRA's worst fear.

The place to start is to enforce the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which states "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." In order to possess a gun, at least by "right," one has to be a member of a well-regulated militia. Nowadays that is known as the National Guard. Join up, get a gun, though it may be locked-up an arms room at one's unit headquarters.

In other words, there is no real right of people to possess guns. It can be legal, but that is up to what the people decide on a national, state and local level, just like owning explosives, military vehicles, drones and dangerous chemicals. Gun permits can be issued similarly to drivers licenses. Here in Wisconsin the "Republicans" have made it harder to register to vote for some people than to buy a gun. They have their priorities.

So the problem can be solved, or at least greatly mitigated. It takes willingness. Do we, as a nation, want to stop thinking about killing other people? Then stop having guns.

The U.S. military budget for fiscal year 2015 is $598.5 billion. That's a lot of thought about killing other people. How about reducing it by half? That would mean reducing the thought of killing other people around the planet by half. We would save money, and would perhaps save our almighty (so we think) souls. Or at least be on the way.



Or, we can keep doing what we are doing, whinging about the latest gun massacre while calling for more violence here and elsewhere as a solution. Meanwhile, as I am wont to remind, the Polar ice caps are melting. We aren't doing much about that either. We are nothing if not consistent.
________________________________________

Here's our national anthem. Or maybe this. Or this.

How about this for the national anthem? Steve Miller is playing in Madison July 1 at Breese Stevens Field, a renovated high school football stadium on the near-east side of town. Here's another of his songs. Some people call me Maurice.

Here's a song for all the gun nuts out there. Here's another.

Here's a song for the NRA. The song in this delightful instructional video goes out to the NRA as well. Here's the original. It will be time better-spent learning this song than pretending to be a good guy with a gun.

Here's one for the arms merchants.

A song for all of us. This too.

This song needs no explaining.

This song is for the victims of the Orlando shooting. This too.

Here's a couple of singers from Illinois. Shawn Colvin grew up in Carbondale, got her musical start singing in the bars, mostly Joni Mitchell songs. I knew she would make it big when she started writing her own music. She has won three Grammys. She is currently touring with Steve Earle. Here's a sample.

Alison Krauss grew up in Champaign. She has won twenty-seven Grammys, tied for the second-highest total with Quincy Jones, who is from Chicago. The most Grammy awards, thirty-two, were awarded to Georg Solti, long-time music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Here's Steve Earle's best song.

Los Lobos.

Jimi Hendrix. I bought Band of Gypsys when I was in the Army in Germany - at the Heidelberg PX, for $2.50. Things were so subversive in those days, we could get just about any music we wanted - Hair, the Fugs, Country Joe & the Fish, Janis, Jefferson Airplane...They even sold water pipes, though they weren't very good, just kind of ornamental. Worth a try, though, for about $3.00. Band of Gypsys came out after Hendrix died, at least at the PX. Words cannot express what that album meant for GIs not particularly with the program.

Here's the national anthem. Or maybe this is our national anthem.

Here's a song for the U.S. Army.

Dick Gregory was one of the speakers I was able to bring to SIU to speak. He was named outstanding athlete of the year there in 1953. It was his first time back to the campus since then.

Here's Dick Gregory in 1967 announcing his fast to protest the Vietnam war. Here's something more recent. He hasn't mellowed a bit. He has always been a conspiracy theorist, but seems to have reached a new level, or sunk to a new depth. A lifetime of bitterness can wear on the soul.

Another guest speaker I managed to bring was Scott Camil of the Gainesville Eight Vietnam Veterans Against the War trial. The third speaker I got funding for was Shahin Fatemi, then the chairman of the Economics Department at the University of Akron.

Here's a song about Scott Camil by Graham Nash. Here he is in more recent times.

A story about the Gainesville Eight appeared in Rolling Stone in February 1974. It is not an easy read.

U.S. gun sales set a new record last year. We have a huge weapons industry. selling $36.2 billion worth of armaments around the world in 2014. If we are to stop thinking about killing each other we will have to reverse this trend.

I wrote about gun fanaticism last July, after a horrendous shooting in Louisiana. One would think that things would have improved by now. Part of the problem is that our politicians, especially, but not exclusively "Republicans," are psychopaths and sociopaths. I have written about this numerous times, most recently two weeks ago.

Frontline showed a repeat of its investigation of the NRA on June 14.
________________________________________

Update, June 19: Investigators are saying Omar Mateen, the Orlando killer, showed little evidence of radicalization, and fits the profile of a typical mass shooter.

For a detailed discussion of the hoax of the Second Amendment, this segment of On the Media provides great insight. The writer interviewed, Dahlia Lithwick, elaborates further in her article in Slate.

Update, June 20: Salon has an article debunking the myth of "militias" today.

Update, June 21: Meanwhile, in the "American" Southwest, Mother Nature has her own priorities, which seem to involve getting rid of us.

Five hundred people were shot in the "U.S." in the week after the Orlando shooting, two-hundred-twenty-eight of them fatally.

Update, June 22: David Byrne, former singer and guitarist for the legendary Talking Heads, says we are at war with gun-nuttery. He didn't actually use the term gun-nuttery, but it will suffice. He also says guns are a public health hazard. Read about it here. This calls for a Talking Heads song, my favorite. Here's another.

Update, June 26: Here's a story about men with guns.

Not all men are irresponsible with guns, as this story from On The Media explains.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

A Change Whose Time Has Come

A couple of weeks ago Madison's "leftist" radio station, WORT, held its annual block party. WORT calls itself "community radio," but its community is of those living outside the mainstream of "American" society, and its message to that community is one of advocacy of "leftist" beliefs and causes. The event was a mixture of music, speeches, information booths of various kinds, products for sale, food, drink, body painting, and some free-lance performance art.

The block party finished with a performance by a local favorite, the Rousers. A "fifties" rock-and-roll band, they were competent, but I found them boring and anachronistic. The fifties were a long time ago, and rock-and-roll is the music of youth, rebellion and sexual energy. This band is neither youthful, rebellious or exuding of sexual energy.

As it turned out, the event had little youth, rebellion or energy of any kind. The attendees were mostly older people, with a lot of long-haired men, beards, tie-died shirts, and even sandals. It made me feel old and tired. I bought a few used CDs that were on sale, walked around a bit, and went home.

This event turned out to be a good metaphor for the futility and tiredness of what remains of the "movement" of the 1960s. Madison has long fashioned itself as one of the country's main bastions of the strident "left" - activists of issues and a wide range of peace, justice, environment and a fair and distributive economic system. All worthy causes, but the identity with the direction left has become tiresome and ineffective. It inevitably became something narrow, insular, resentful and largely ignored.

I used to identify with the "left." As time passed I got to know many "leftists," and found most of them to be insufferable: obnoxious, ego-centered, arrogant, posturing and seeking of attention. And, most importantly, powerless.

Except, of course, within the peer group, which is an arena of constant bickering, jealousy, infighting, conniving and ostracism. It depends on the group, of course, but the more overtly political the organization, the more the discord.

This year it might appear that the "left" identity has gotten a new lease on life with the candidacy of Bernie Sanders for president. His life and his advocacies over the years would seem to place him squarely in the "leftist" camp. Looking a little deeper, though, reveals that Sanders's appeal is mainly to young people, who are worried about their futures and frustrated by the lack of opportunity that they are facing in this brave new world of globalization and neoliberalism. They aren't wearing tie-dyes, head bands, bangles or sandals, except maybe incidentally - not for group conformity of worship of the past. Or of worship of the "old guard" as their revered elders.

This is encouraging. We are at the end of something old and the beginning of something new. There is wisdom of the past for the young to make use of, but they would do well to pursue their dreams free of the limits of directionality. There is no good reason that political alliance and beliefs have to be organized according to a linear abstraction - a model of reality that presupposes that people exist along a horizontal spectrum that runs from left to right along a continuum. For any particular person or belief, there is a slightly different person or belief just to the left and just to the right. Then another just to the left or just to the right of the first person. Than another, until some linear limit of extreme "right" and extreme "left" is reached. It's like space, though, where there is no limit. One could keep going "left" or "right" into infinity. The farther in one direction or another determines whether one is a "moderate," "extremist" or "centrist." As if all these things are "isms.

A better way has been needed for a long time. I have been writing for years that developmental psychology rather than political ideology is the more meaningful approach to human social interaction. The Abraham Maslow hierarchy of needs in particular does more to describe human levels of being and aspiration than the arbitrary and fictitious linear spectrum from left to right. The ideological approach inevitably leads to polarization, to an "us" versus "them" divide, where the "us" is always superior to and threatened by the "them."

A perfect example of the binary approach of ideology is the weekday talk show on WORT called A Public Affair. There is a different host each weekday, and guests are interviewed, sometimes in person, but mostly by phone. The guests are researchers, authors, activists and journalists, and are experts in their areas of study and activity, and the conversations are informative. And forgettable. They go nowhere. The segments invariably end with some variant of "We're out of time," and then on to another show. Listeners are left hanging. URLs are often given so those interested in further information can gain access, but there is rarely a suggestion of what listeners can do with what they have learned. You're on your own.

Mostly what is discussed on A Public Affair are variations on the themness of the "right wing" and its bad behavior around the world. Most attention is on the "right wing" of the "U.S." - a catchall grab bag of religious crackpots, gun nuts, "white" supremacists, survivalists, police, Wall Street bankers, Corporate America, the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson.  Foreign entanglements of the "U.S." government are also covered on the program, and fit under the umbrella of the "right wing."

The guests tend to be miles above the local show hosts in terms of knowledge, intelligence, experience, and discernment, and also tend to be less ideological, more focused on the problem or issue at hand. The show hosts exhibit varying degrees of paranoia and victimization, weaving together a worldwide web, so to speak, of THE "right wing."

The broad-brush inclusion of so many disparate individuals and groups into the "right wing" renders the ascription without much meaning. What is really meant by the attribution is not "us." I called in to one of the segments years ago, and because I disagreed with the show host I was accused of being a "right winger." The accuser still hosts one of these weekday shows, and hasn't mellowed a bit.

The reptilian brain, home of “right-wingers”In my experience, most people who are labeled "right wing" can be more accurately described as being dominated by the reptilian brain, a condition described by neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean as characterized by aggression, dominance over others, territoriality and ritual displays. It's the tribal mentality. A perfect example is the Ku Klux Klan, but you can find this condition among "leftists" as well. "Us" versus "them."

The psychological approach is especially pertinent when it comes to politicians. What I have observed over the years is that most politicians don't have any real beliefs other than their own advancement. They can change parties, change alliances and change stances on issues depending on which way the political winds blow.

Many politicians are psychopaths and/or sociopaths. One of the entertaining aspects of this election season is the way "Republicans" have condemned Donald Trump, then supported him when they thought it was in their best interest, then condemning him again when he makes his latest outrageous statement. None of them are truly "right wing," except to the degree that it suits their narcissistic purposes. Indeed, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is common to almost all politicians, almost as if by definition. "Right wing" is not a mental condition. Narcissism is.

WORT is having one of its quarterly "pledge drives," where they harangue listeners to donate money. The station is listener-supported rather than commercial-driven, so these two-week marathons are what keeps it on the air. I still listen to some of the programs, and it appears they are having more difficulty than usual getting people to part with their money.

I wish WORT would have an easier time getting donations. Its left-right binary obsession is wearying, but the station still provides a valuable service. The mainstream corporate media are little more than propaganda vehicles for the powers-that-be, whether governmental, corporate or individual. Even under the illusory "left" umbrella one is still likely to get a more truthful and accurate understanding of what is going on in the world. It just doesn't go anywhere. The "left" is impotent, existing on the margins, the fringe of society. It is not a threat to the dominant social order. If WORT were a real threat to the ruling elite it would soon be off the air.

WORT can serve as a hologram for what is failing in the effort to create a meaningful and sustainable human civilization. Back in the 1990s the station carried a nationally syndicated program New Dimensions Radio, which featured interviews with pioneering thinkers and practitioners in the fields of consciousness, healing, agriculture, business, the arts and spirituality. There was even a Public Affair segment devoted to the same topics. Both shows were dropped when the station took a "leftist" turn, or at least a more exclusively "leftist" turn.

The planet is in ferment. Change is on the way. Only the corrupt, the fanatical and the crazed believe we are not in the throes of an ever-worsening climate change. The dominant economic system, corporate capitalism, has just about run its course, due to its gross inequity, unsustainability and environmental destruction. Human civilization is at a precipice, about to fall into an abyss that may result in the species homo sapiens going extinct.

We can avoid extinction, and may be able to create a sustainable, equitable civilization. It isn't likely, but with a change in approach it is possible. Another way of describing a change in approach is paradigm shift, employing a different way of looking at phenomena and existence. This happened before in my lifetime, during the 1960s and '70s. It was called "The Revolution," the "Hippie Movement," and to some "The New Renaissance." It petered out, lost in an excess of drugs, extremism and burnout. Many died, many went to prison, some joined the mainstream, some divided-off into specialties like organic agriculture, natural healing, arts and crafts, and spiritual pursuits.

And some became "leftists." It is the most binary choice, a militant stance that defines itself largely as not everyone else. I might add that it is a militant stance that is not much more than a stance, similar to the "People's Front of Judea" in Monty Python's Life of Brian.

As the ferment of change intensifies, "leftist" media like WORT are likely to be left out in the cold, so to speak. Or, they can change as the world changes. If they do, so much the better. If they don't, something will arise to replace them. I'm optimistic.
__________________________________________

Here's an example of the Rousers from twenty-six years ago.

Here's how to be an old band. Here's the chords and lyrics. Old rockers can always be inspired by younger artists.

You can watch some videos from New Dimensions Radio here.

There is a time to every purpose. Maybe that time has come today. There is no time left for hackneyed old ways. The new way will be the time of our lives, as long as we face the strange changes. We can ring out the old, ring in the new, though some would like to save time in a bottle. Maybe this should be our national anthem.

When I was accused of being a "right winger" it was almost comedic. A few years later comedian Will Ferrell did a parody of W. Bush, in which he kept adding people and countries to the Axis of Evil. It had a similar feel. I was added to the Axis of "right wing."

Here's another great scene from Life of Brian.  And this, another meeting of the People's Front of Judea.

Update, June 7: NPR aired a short analysis of dimensionality today, concluding that we are all stuck in three dimensions. All, except those stuck in one dimension - horizontal.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Surreality on Steroids

Frontline on PBS aired a new segment Tuesday night, The Secret History of ISIS. It isn't so secret. It has been pretty common knowledge that the "Islamic State" had its beginnings in the aftermath of the invasion and occupation of "Iraq." An upstart terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, organized displaced members of Saddam Hussein's army and Ba'ath Party.

After a number of horrific terrorist attacks in "Iraq," the Bush criminal regime devised a new plan, the "Surge," in 2007. Millions of dollars in payoffs were made to Sunni tribal leaders to keep them from attacking "American" troops, and in the process fending off the "Al Qaeda in Iraq" insurgency that morphed into "ISIS." Al Zarqawi was assassinated, and a new leader emerged, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He had been a "U.S." prisoner at Camp Bucca in "Iraq" in 2004. It was there that he gathered a following that led to ISIS being formed.

Bush after “choking on a pretzel”Frontline went into enough detail to show that ISIS is the result of the invasion and occupation of "Iraq," but left it to viewers to draw their own conclusions about culpability. I can fill it in. George W. Bush was in-effect appointed to the presidency of the "U.S." in 2000 by the Supreme Court. He and his partners in crime had planned to invade "Iraq" before the "election." His father had previously invaded "Iraq," on cooked-up "evidence" in 1990. Like father, like son

We could have had another Bush presidency this year, but thanks to blowhard Donald Trump we have been saved from that possibility. Trump is good for something. He out-faked and out-blustered all of his opponents. It will likely be him against Hillary Clinton this fall. What a choice.

This was all inevitable. It shows the fundamental weakness of a mass society. One way or another, whether by dictatorship or "democracy," power is concentrated in the hands of the few over the many. In true Orwellian fashion even dictatorships refer to themselves as democratic, and in a republic like we have in the "U.S.," whatever democratic institutions that do exist are diminished by corruption.

A good example is the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts. He was part of the legal team that engineered disenfranchisement of Florida voters, and then stifled the recount. His reward was appointment by George W. Bush to the nation's highest judicial office.

This criminal sequence is a perfect example of the vulnerability of mass systems. The psychopathic and sociopathic few pursue control the many, and they use the energy and resources of the many to commit mayhem, enrich themselves and their cronies, and ultimately threaten not just the lives of the many, but all life.

Is there a way out? "Leftists" would say organize, organize, organize. Good luck with that. The closest thing we have to organizing against the machine is Bernie Sanders. He's fighting a courageous battle, but it is doomed to failure. He almost certainly will not be the "Democratic" nominee, and if he is, the vote will be rigged in much easier fashion than what happened in 2000.

I suspect we are going to have President Donald Trump. The kept news media are already softening to him, changing their coverage to something more accepting and friendly. As actor Johnny Depp has put it, he will be our last president. I suspect he is right.

There is a beauty to this. A corrupt, technologically "advanced" mass society, with the largest and most sophisticated military power in human history falls victim to the buffoonery of a completely phony grandstander. There is mounting evidence that he is mentally impaired. That will be surreality on steroids. A mentally impaired chief executive of the largest economic and military power ever at a time when human civilization is at stake. If this were a novel, no one would buy it.

It is still a long time until the "election." Almost six months. A lot will happen between now and then. I'm sure there will be plenty of surprises. Trump might come down with a mysterious illness. Hillary Clinton might get indicted. We will end up with a new president one way or another. Whomever it is, we face enormous challenges. The likelihood is that we will choose badly, and  might not be choosing anyway. No matter who is "elected," our troubles are only beginning.

____________________________________________

Here's a song. Here's another. And another, my favorite. This Beatles song fits. This is a good song to sing along with.

This song is worth a listen. Here's another oldie.

We're all just trying to make it real. Maybe we just live in our own lands of make-believe.

In 2007 I did a photo essay of the Bush II presidency. It was the most difficult blog post I ever did, and I was physically ill afterwards. I have never hated Bush, but have not risen above revulsion.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Non-Duality

PBS replayed its "The National Parks: America's Best Idea" film last week, a monumental history of the parks, covering the political squabbles, "discoveries," advocates, detractors, and panoramic scenes.

The six episode series was a production from filmmaker Ken Burns, who has also made documentaries about the Civil War, baseball, Jackie Robinson, World War II, The Roosevelts, Prohibition, the Dust Bowl, the Lewis and Clark expedition, and many others.

Burns's movies are broad, comprehensive stories of important facets of "American" life and history, and are told in a steady mix of visual and narrative exposition that bring the stories to life.

I have one complaint, though. Burns employs a method of what I call the disembodied interview, in which various writers, historians, witnesses and other commenters expound on some topic or other, speaking to some unknown listener who is off-camera and anonymous. One annoying historian makes it even worse by turning his head from side-to-side so he can look at the anonymous interviewer out of the corners of his eyes. Someone else is being addressed instead of me, the audience on TV, and this someone else is faced sideways every few seconds.

Other than the disembodied interviews, though, the films are well-worth the time spent to watch them. In the case of the National Parks series, I was reminded of my own National Park experiences, and inspired to visit more of them.

My memories are different, though, from what several of the disembodied interviewees related. They consistently referred to being "humbled" by the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier and Denali, overwhelmed by something greater than themselves.

I wonder what exalted lives they lead that it takes visiting the Grand Canyon for them to be "humbled." Everything outside one's body is physically greater than oneself. By that definition my bathroom is "greater" than me, but I don't feel humbled every time I enter it.

What I experienced in the National Parks was   expansiveness. Most of my park visits were in one sojourn, in 1997. I quit my job, moved out of my apartment and headed West. After a few days doing sweat lodge ceremonies on the Rosebud Lakota reservation in South Dakota, I went to the BadlandsYellowstone, the Tetons, Craters of the Moon, some U.S. Forest Service sites in Oregon, the Redwoods in California, a state park in Big Sur, then the Grand Canyon. I also hiked the Boynton Canyon Trail outside Sedona, Arizona, and camped in not-too-distant Oak Creek Canyon.

By the time I reached the Grand Canyon I was satiated with beauty, so I was less overwhelmed than I was by Yellowstone and the other parks. It was still a great experience, and the most relaxed camping of the entire sojourn. What I remember from then, and from every place I visited along the way, was a sense of unity. Not "oneness," but non-duality, what is known in Vedanta as Advaita. It can be seen as a semantic parsing of words to non-duality as, hmm, different from oneness, but in my understanding of Advaita, there is no plural to be one from.

Or, from the lore of my guru-following days, Sarvam Shiva Mayam - everything is Shiva, the Supreme consciousness. In Buddhism, we are all of Buddha nature, and only need to awaken in order to realize Nirvana, a state of non-duality, among other aspects.

I could have visited even more national parks on this trip than I did, but what I saw was enough. It took a month, and  by the time I came back I was both tired of travel and rejuvenated. My allergies were gone - for the time being at least. I lost about ten pounds.  I eventually returned to the job I quit, something I wouldn't have predicted, but it was my best choice. A change of perspective can work wonders.

What, one might wonder, does an experience of non-duality have to do with ordinary mundane life? It has a lot to do with everything we do, individually and as a society. The modern Western view of reality is of things, a discrete and complex network of individual parts. Or, as physicist Fritjof Capra puts it, we have a mechanistic view of the Universe.

This mechanistic view gets in the way of understanding reality as it is, and it results in bad responses to challenges. People are things in the mechanistic view, and they are fair game for any level of abuse, exploitation, neglect, and of course killing.

A good example is our ruling elite's response to "ISIS." This organization came about as a result of our invasion and occupation of "Iraq," Over time, as the outrages of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and other loci of abuse accumulated, the ranks of the disaffected grew. The leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was tortured as a prisoner at Camp Bucca, another of our infamous detention sites. Now ISIS is essentially a large criminal gang, and the "official" solution is to kill them all.

Presidential candidates are climbing over each other to denounce and threaten to destroy ISIS. Donald Trump says the U.S. should send 20,000 to 30,000 troops to the Mideast, and bring back waterboarding. He also says we should kill their families. Erstwhile candidate Ted Cruz wants to "carpet bomb" ISIS with nuclear weapons.

These are the kinds of things sociopaths fantasize about when they see other people as mere things. Indeed, psychopath or sociopath is a personality disorder that is uniquely suited to the mechanistic, reductionist mind of the modern industrial human being. Everyone is the "other." Especially if there is self-promotion propaganda value in thinking of them that way.

Donald Trump is only the most blatant example of seeing everyone else as the "other." Obama does it too. With one major difference. He kills people whom he sees as different with his criminal drone strikes. Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill describe Obama's assassination program in their new book The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program. They cite evidence from leaked government documents to show how widespread and irresponsible Obama's drone attacks have been. They talked about it on Tuesday's Democracy Now.

Maybe Obama should visit a National Park. It would be nice if it were that simple. I was primed for moments of non-duality by many years of meditation, yoga, tai chi, and life experience that guided me to a different way of being. This is not exaltation, or being "better" than anyone - which would set me up for "humbling" experiences. It's more of an opening, or, as the Buddha put it, awakening. I have attained little in life. When I'm gone few will notice. But I'm glad I never became president. It matters that you kill people. And when you kill wantonly it matters greatly. No amount of exaltation, or "legacy" can make up for one "accidental" drone strike or attack on a hospital.

The false perception of duality isn't confined to politics, sad to say. We wouldn't have craven politicians if we didn't have an ample supply of craven people. Duality goes hand-in-hand with the mass industrial culture, so it is a constant struggle to keep one's head above the metaphoric water. If we don't rise above pathological duality soon we will be struggling to keep our heads above water literally. Some already are.
__________________________________________

Here's some music of non-duality.

Here's some more. This too.

Here's some traveling music. Alternate version. More traveling music. Even more. And, of course, this. And this. John DenverLittle FeatHank SnowThis is what I felt like when my travels were over. One more.

This was my attitude towards many jobs I have had. Most of them deserved it. Thankfully, the one I went back to wasn't one of them. I did go back for one season after retiring, and it had become like most others. I'm lucky that I don't have to go back.

This is a decent rendition of the Guru Gita. It was not usually done solo, but in ashram groups, sometimes numbering over 1,000 people. Though I no longer follow the path of guru veneration, when I hear this chant it is as if I never left. Thankfully, as if is not the same as still being there. I described the experience in this post in 2006.

You can watch the PBS National Parks series on YouTube starting with this video. 

The Natural Resource Defense Council has some suggestions to prepare for climate change.

R.I.P. Daniel Berrigan. While I was "serving" in the Army his opposition to the war in "Vietnam" gave me great encouragement.