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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.

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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.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Not Knowing How to Ask a Question

There are a lot of areas of critical concern to discuss, like climate change, our unsustainable economy, pathological inequality, endless war, corporate excess, rampant corruption, media manipulation and depletion and defilement of our resource base. Somehow in this milieu of crises we seem to get bogged down in trivialities and proxy arguments.

Such as religion. A perfect example is a week ago, where TV comedian/pundit Bill Marr, er, Maher engaged in an argument with movie actor Ben Affleck. The distraction topic at hand, surprise, surprise, was religion. Marr, er, Maher calls himself an "atheist." He had a partner "atheist," someone named Sam Harris, supposedly a great thinker atheist. Both "atheists" attacked Islam as a inherently violent religion, to which Affleck argued is bigotry.  I didn't watch the show, not having cable or interest. I can't stomach Bill Marr, er, Maher.

The argument has transferred to the Web. In today's Salon Muslim scholar and author Reza Aslan was interviewed about the controversy, calling Marr, er, Maher's stance "frank bigotry." Which it is, but to me saying this doesn't get to the heart of the matter. A comedian/pundit, which they all seem to be on cable TV, at least so I hear in snippets and read about, can come up with any number of faux arguments about anything, getting nowhere for nobody, except to get people riled up.

Frustrated by the meaninglessness of media grandstand arguments, I replied to the Aslan interview thusly:

This discussion is progress. It can be taken farther. The supposed "atheist" movement - a for without, and theism for belief in a deity or deities - is actually not a anything, but anti-religion. In the case of Bill Marr, er, Maher, his du jour religion to be anti is Islam. His protestations of being a "liberal" aside, the overall gestalt of his trashing of the Muslim faith is bullying a minority in this country that is culturally perceived as "inferior."

One way around this silliness is to get "atheists" back to talking about how there is no "God." That is not the same as trashing religion. The truly courageous among "atheists" take on the much harder task of proving there is no "God," or at least making a plausible argument that we have no way of knowing for sure.

There is an easy way around arguments for or against religion and/or the existence of "god." Find out for yourself. You can practice a faith and see if it brings you to "God." Of course in the Western view one lifetime is all we get, so it's somewhat of a gamble that most only take once. A casual view of fervent pursuers of religion that I have known hints that they tend not to get very far.

A better way to experiment on the existence of "God" is the experiential approach, found mainly in Eastern traditions like Buddhism, Taoism and the yogic practices that parallel what is known as Hinduism. From this perspective, the level of being we call "God" lies within each and every one of us, and can be reached through meditation, contemplation, selfless service, healthy living, physical disciplines like yoga and Tai Chi Ch'uan, chanting divine names, and so on.

Attaining higher levels of consciousness isn't confined to Eastern approaches. In tribes of the Amazon rainforest ingestion of the Ayahuasca plant brew is done ritualistically, and is reputed to take those who participate to transcendent realms. In indigenous "American" tribes the peyote cactus is ingested in a similar manner, though reputedly with less intense results.

What the experiential approach points to is the futility of what Immanuel Kant called the Ontological Argument. He resolved the argument by concluding that you can't determine the existence of something outside your mind from inside your mind.

From the meditative approach, the Atman, Nirvana, Satori or the Beatific Vision is beyond the mind. It is also beyond the trash talking of Bill Marr, er, Maher, comedian, "liberal," television performer. The "God" that he and his fellow-trash talkers are "a" is a setup God that is of their own mental construct. If you create something in your mind you also can easily destroy it with your own arguments against it. Only if "God" really exists can you honestly argue that "he" doesn't exist. It is a beautiful contradiction. Don't expect Bill Marr, er, Maher to touch this conundrum with a proverbial ten foot pole. He is more interested in strutting and fretting his hour upon the stage, extending it for as long as possible before being heard no more.
This perspective can be used as a hologram for just about any "issue" we face. The fundamental problem is not knowing how to ask a question. Is there a "God?" It depends on what you mean by God. I know from experience that there is a higher level of being, but I also know it is something that glimpses of do not mean attainment of. Even the language we use at this level is inadequate - He, She, It, That. The guru path I used to follow had the slogans "I am That" and "God dwells within you as you." That's (in both senses) a lot better than "My God's better than yours," or "There is no God."

Anyway, subject covered. Maybe some day we can quit quibbling about what we don't know and do something about what we do know. We do know that the Polar ice caps are melting.

Here's a bit of followup from Common Dreams.

Iris Dement is best known for this very pertinent song.

Here's a great Beatles song. Here's another. And this. One more.

John Lennon. More John Lennon. Even more John Lennon. This too.

This Donovan song has roots in Zen Buddhism. An elaboration.

Here's some Sufi chanting. Here's some more.

For some ancient Vedic chants, click here.

Tibetan monks chanting.

Indigenous "North American" chant.

Shamanic drumming.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Hawaiian chant.

Hebrew chanting, much to choose from.

Gregorian chant, plenty of choices.

Islamic chant, numerous.

Here's a Grateful Dead song.  And another, my favorite. Here's one from the "Old Testament."

Jimi Hendrix, my favorite.

The Doors.

Stevie Wonder. Here's one for all the know-it-alls in this world, my favorite.

The Carter Family.

Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson.

The Byrds.

The Moody Blues.

Quicksilver Messenger Service.

Finishing up with Steely Dan.

Here's a song for Edward Snowden, whose girlfriend joined him in "Russia." This calls for an encore.

Salon has an update about the atheists versus religionists argument.

Here's another.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Let's Do Something Stupid

Mr. BillLet's invade "Iraq" again.

Let's invade "Syria."

Let's invade "Iran."

Let's invade "Russia."

Let's invade "North Korea."

Let's invade "China."

Let's invade "Vietnam."

Let's attack more countries with drones.

Let's give "Israel" more money than they ever dreamed of. While we're at it, let's give them a few tankerloads of weapons.

Let's build another prison in some other country.

Let's torture the people we imprison there.

Let's keep them there forever.

Let's overthrow a democracy.

Let's plausibly deny something.

Let's categorically deny something else.

Let's speak to reporters on background, revealing selected classified information.

Let's make all information classified.

Let's shoot some descendents of slaves.

Let's shoot people who look vaguely like descendents of slaves.

Let's reserve all the jobs for "white" people.

Let's reserve all the decent housing for "white" people.

Let's shoot immigrants.

Let's shoot children, especially immigrant children.

Let's shoot women, especially when they speak or get abortions.

Let's have another TV network of liars who try to get people enraged about what they lie about.

Let's have more radio networks who do the same thing.

Let's tell some lies ourselves, especially about important matters that concern us.

Let's elect a bunch of psychopaths to public office - national, state, and local. Let's give them a lot of money.

Let's make sure banks and corporations have complete freedom to do whatever they want.

Let's make the tax system more regressive, so that poor people bear a greater burden than they do now.

Let's find ways to make the already rich even richer.

Let's name a football team "The Darkies." Let's put it in the nation's Capital.

Let's put all the reservation land up for sale.

Let's sell the national parks.

Let's clearcut all the forests.

Let's have a big oil spill.

Let's cut off all the mountaintops.

Let's build the Keystone XL pipeline. Let's make sure it leaks.

Let's have a huge oil train derailment.

Let's do fracking in every state. The more earthquakes the better. 

Let's forget about climate change. Start by taking all those scientists' jobs away.

Let's legalize the importation of ivory and rhinoceros horns. 

Let's kill all the sharks for their fins.

Let's kill all the whales, for no particular reason.

Let's raise the weight limit on our crumbling infrastructure.

Let's repeal the Bill of Rights. Except, of course, the Second Amendment.

Let's abolish all workers' rights.

Let's spy on everyone everywhere. Let's blackmail people with the information we get.

Let's make everyone on  the planet become "Christians." Let's burn those who refuse at the stake.

Let's have more sex and violence on TV.

Let's have more violent video games.

Let's put more people in jail.

Let's make more things criminal so we can put more people in jail.

Let's abolish public schools. If kids want to learn they can pay for it.

Let's sell off all our highways and city streets to private job creators. People can pay to ride.

Let's privatize city water, sewer and garbage collection.

Let's privatize all health care.

Let's privatize police and fire departments.

Let's act like jerks out on the highways.

Let's be cruel to animals, especially the ones we plan to eat.

Let's destroy some wildlife habitat.

Let's spill some chemicals.

Let's steal from future generations.

Let's turn the entire planet into manufactured products.

Let's make sure those manufactured products are shoddy and harmful.

Let's laugh all the way to the bank.

Let's bring back Bush and Cheney to run things again.


All this stupidity is enough to make one scream and cry.

I've linked to this song before. It keeps coming back.

We've heard this song before. It's like déjà vu.

Let's do something stupid, set to music.

I saw Jimmy Buffett do this song many years ago. It was an underwhelming experience.

For  a full movie on stupidity, click here.

Some might remember The Fugs. Another Fugs song. And another Fugs song.

This is the stupidity that got me started on this rant. You have to wait a few seconds for the comment to appear. It was preceded by this.

I started a hashtag: #LetsDoSomethingStupid . It was already taken. This might work: #Let'sDoSomethingStupid .

On the positive side, there are many people dedicating their lives to making things better. One of them is Robert Pierce, an organic farmer in Madison. He is featured in the groundbreaking (pun not exactly intended) documentary Food Patriots.

The picture is from the South Madison Farmers Market, an affiliate of a national organization, Growing Power, based in Milwaukee.

We aren't doomed to stupidity. As painful as it might be for some, we can learn a lot from people who descended from slaves. It might save our dying civilization.

Here's an update on the value and need for organic agriculture.

This update on the Senate Torture Report is worth reading.

NPR has an update about justice, or lack of same, at the Guantanamo prison camp.

Here's an update about our client state "Israel."

In another startling update, it turns out that Jesus, the inspiration for countless attempts to force people to believe this or that, may never have existed. In some places one could still get burned at the stake for saying this. This calls for another look at Life of Brian. ______________________________________________________

This song is due for a revisit. This too.

I have my own update in regard to ISIS/ISIL/The Islamic State. Here's my update about "Russia," "Ukraine," "NATO" and the "U.S."

Some might remember Bobby Darin. I'm pretty sure this was his biggest hit.

Here's Tom Paxton. 

Friday, August 15, 2014


It seems almost pointless to write anything about what is going on between "Israel" and the "Palestinians." It is a tragedy of human failure, that in this technologically "advanced" era the species homo sapiens can do no better than bombing masses of children, old people and other non-combatants. What could I write that would make anything better? Would the killing stop?

Hardly. "Israel" has eased up on the missile and other attacks, mainly due to worldwide revulsion. Its prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed regret for the casualties, but placed the entire responsibility on Hamas, the governing body of "Gaza." "Hamas" of course blames "Israel."

Thanks goes to both of them for nothing from the rest of life on this planet. It's all O.K. as long as you have someone else to blame. I suppose this is what is known as a zero sum game. Zero sum, that is, if you count two hundred or so "Palestinians" equal to one "Israeli." When "Israel" launches one of its periodic assaults on "Gaza" they call it "mowing the lawn."

For what it is worth, I did write something a couple of weeks ago about the situation in "Gaza," a comment to a review of a TV series on NPR:

I don't have cable or dish, but am glad this series is airing. It may be in the collective unconsciousness by now, or the volksgeist/zeitgeist of the times, but I have come to the view of the situation in the "Holy Land," as an allegory for human interaction.
The key element in conflict is identity. The more extreme the identity, the more violent the expressions of that identity. If Jews weren't so self-identified before World War II, they certainly became so afterward, especially the ones who migrated to "Zion."
The "Palestinians" were not such a cohesive identity before the creation of "Israel," but they became so afterward. There is nothing like displacement and mistreatment to create a bond among people treated so.
The greatest absurdity of all, though, is the endless reward to "Israel" from the "U.S." government in money and weaponry for whatever mass atrocities they commit. No "side" in this conflict is "better" than the other, but the phoniness of "U.S." carte blanche only serves to make it worse. Our power structure couldn't care less about either "side," but domestic political concerns dictate that "we" keep the money and arms flowing. Death and destruction indefinitely into the future, all for political careers. The blame lies largely here. We are a nation run by cowards.
Identity is one of the strangest aspects of human consciousness. It enables people to kill each other, to force people to believe in something - or else, to create self-myths, rituals, culture and myths about "others" who are not part of one's identity. It may succeed in annihilation of the human species, should we continue in our pathological ways.

All this is happening, of course in context with global climate change. The news gets worse every day, it seems. So far, the industrial world has done next-to-nothing about it when measured against what needs to be done. The predicament is so enormous that the easy was to deal with it is to deny it exists, especially if one's short-term interests - like wealth, power, privilege and comfort - can have influence similar to drug addiction.

Then there is identity. Here in the "U.S." we have a combination of fundamentalist Christian identity working in tandem with "right wing" paranoia. I only use the term "right wing" because so many believe there is such a thing, an "ideology" along an imaginary horizontal spectrum, with a philosophy of "free enterprise," limited government, low taxes and a strong work ethic. This is the periphery, or facade. What "right wing" actually is is a mix of bigotry, intolerance, parasitism, xenophobia, scapegoating, vitriol and empire. There are variations, but the essence is a mental/emotional state of reptilian brain paranoia.

I have been writing about this for years, approaching the subject of our collapsing civilization from a perspective of moving from lower consciousness to higher consciousness. This avoids the duality of "left" versus "right," and thus is despised by those who consider themselves "leftists." Those who consider themselves "rightists" of course have no use for this view either. Both "sides" are addicted to duking it out in the forum of ideas, or lack of same.

Both sides are identified with their stances. It is the same as being identified with "Israeli-ness" or "Palestinian-ness." Or "American-ness." "Ukraine-ness." "Russian-ness." Adherent protestations notwithstanding, there is nothing inherent in any identity. There is no more substance to any identity than to being a fan of a sports team.

Or rock 'n roll band. I went to a few Grateful Dead shows, six to be exact. There was a certain snobbiness or a kind of hippie-elitism to think of oneself as a "Deadhead" - a dedicated aficionado of the band. As much as I liked the band and its music, I just couldn't get into the identity of being a Deadhead. The absurdity of such an identity was to me surreal. Most surreal were some of the people I would identify with were I to find Deadhead-ness meaningful.

Time of course is running out, but there is still a possibility of changing course. If we start to recognize the emptiness of paranoia, regardless of stance. Likely the best organization working to increase awareness of climate change is 350.org, yet it falls neatly into the trap of duality, and as a result is not having much effect.

In Buddhist practice it is said in various ways that through meditation, study, good works and helping others people can aid in the liberation of all sentient beings. Central to Buddhist awareness is the concept of Emptiness, that all independent existence is illusory. In other words, identity with some group as separate, unique, superior and deserving of special treatment is without substance - empty. Killing people to assert that an identity without substance is beyond criminal. It is stupid. Stupidity tends to result in a balancing, commonly known as reaping what you sow. The sooner we recognize this relationship between cause and effect, the sooner we can save our civilization. We "Americans" can start by ceasing to fund and protect the criminal occupation of "Palestine" by "Israel." The sooner the better.

I should add that our current power structure does not allow for defunding of "Israel." We can replace the power structure voluntarily, or we can wait for the system to collapse, and our lives along with it. We have a choice.

Here's an old song. Here's another. This too. Here's a song by Steve Earle.

For those interested in Buddhist practice there are many opportunities. The World Buddhist Directory is a comprehensive listing of temples, sanghas and study groups around the planet.

For another journey into the surreal, this story about militarization of police should suffice.

R.I.P. Robin Williams.  If there is one thing we can learn from his passing it is that we are all in the same boat. Every day is a gift and an opportunity, and we are challenged to make sense of our lives no matter who we are. We cannot afford to think of ourselves as separate beings.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

We Have Met the Enemy

Recently I was informed that a high school friend's father raped his own granddaughter when she was about eight years old. Catholic high school, it should be noted. This was shocking, even though the guy was a roundly disliked local businessman. No one suspected how well-founded their dislike for him was. I remember honking and giving him the finger once when he was pulling out of a shopping center, attempting to cut me off. Fond memory. Stopped him in his tracks. I had recently gotten out of the Army, filled with anger, well-off guy in his big car a perfect foil.

When I was told about the molestation I said the guy probably raped his daughter too, the girl's mother. I knew her. She was a decent person, but lived a troubled life. I never thought about it in high school or the years afterward, but of all my high school cronies, the friend whose father raped his granddaughter never had any of us over to his house. Not once.

I would never have written about this, but it fits with what I have been thinking about lately. We have been conditioned to think of the criminals among us as "others," as if we live in some binary divide between the law-abiding and the lower elements. The easy calculus is that the better-off - the well-dressed, better-looking and well-housed - are just plain better than everyone else.

This of course has always been pure bull manure. The rich have been as criminal as anyone else, and the richer, the more criminal. Gandhi took the extreme view, stating "If I take anything that I do not need for my own immediate use, and keep it, I thieve it from somebody else." I'm not so extreme, but there's no question that the income and wealth disparity in this country is criminal in nature. It is also institutionally protected. Our three branches of government - executive, legislative and judicial - have become a self-rewarding, self-perpetuating legal infrastructure that secures the skewing of the reward system to the already too-well rewarded.

When I was a graduate student in Economics it was a heady thing to be a "Marxist." It was easy. Karl Marx had an analytical approach, showed how Capitalism contained the seeds of its own ruin, that over time labor would be displaced at an increasing rate, that capital would become increasingly concentrated, and that profits would eventually disappear.

Marx's predictions after the fall of Capitalism were less interesting, so one could call oneself a Marxist without being a "Communist." I had varying views, but eventually found the entire study of Economics, with its emphasis on infinite growth, to be a complete waste of my time. I gave the field up when I graduated with a master's degree, though I returned to teach a couple of dismal times.

Nowadays I am more interested in the psychological aspects of mass societies. When the Bush regime was foisting its mayhem on the planet I didn't get pulled in to the "ideological" debate. It didn't seem ideological to me at all, except as a way of disguising what was really going on - a criminal operation. An organization of people doesn't steal an election, enable the worst attacks in the nation's history, deceive the country into two wars - yes, two - and usher in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression because of ideology. They do it because they are sociopathic criminals. Every one of them.

One of the difficulties of applying the terms psychopath and sociopath to the criminality of the rich and those in power is that the definitions are ambiguous, and biased in favor of the powerful.  Here's an example. George W. Bush doesn't quite fit the given definitions, but both psychopath and sociopath apply to him. Narcissist, remorseless, manipulative, amoral, ill-tempered, violent, addictive, irresponsible. Obama doesn't fare much better, with his drone attacks, more deportations than all previous presidents combined, prosecution of whistleblowers, enabling of Wall Street banksters, special ops secret wars and more. His response to the killing of children in "Gaza" by "Israel" is that "Israel" has the right to defend itself.

What may be the most important question of our time is how prevalent psychopaths/sociopaths are among us. Estimates vary from 3% to 8%. I suspect it is much higher. What is more important, I believe, is how prevalent these antisocial personality types are among politicians, CEOs, police, judges, the clergy, and others in prominent positions. Is there something about this kind of system that produces amoral, narcissistic leaders? Does power corrupt to the degree that it turns people into sociopaths, or are they beforehand?

This way of looking at mass society of course deviates drastically from "leftist" orthodoxy. According to the official "left" perspective all evil rests in the dynamic of capitalism. Any evils of other systems are because of various forms of "counterrevolution." The analysis goes nowhere, because it is more about rhetorical stance and peer group status than actually solving problems.

The psychological approach might lead to results. The sociopathy of power in mass society is common to capitalist, communist, socialist and mixed systems. It is the single factor that prevents us from having a distributive system, and also prevents us from dealing with the threats of climate change, empire, overpopulation, crime and social paranoia.

Maybe it isn't the mass system that produces psychopathy/sociopathy. It might just be the human condition. We are supposedly at the top of the evolutionary hierarchy. So superior that we have the capacity to destroy ourselves and all other life on this planet. They way we are going, we'll achieve our goal relatively soon.

Here's a song. Here's another. This too.

For an update on what is behind the mass immigration of children from Central America ("U.S." meddling), click here. A similar explanation can be found here. Jon Stewart had this to say. Stephen Colbert also had something to say.

Here's an example of how interested our corporate media are in telling the truth. Here's another example.

How long can "Israel" continue killing the "Palestinians?" I offered this prediction in a comment on National Public Radio. It ruffled a few feathers. Here's another view from the New York Times. The New York Times is not above spinning the "Israeli" invasion, though, as this story makes note.

On the bright side, there is a grassroots revolution taking place. This documentary describes one part of it.

R.I.P. James Garner. Here's a song. Here's a clip with Clint Eastwood.

Friday, June 13, 2014

One Man's Deserter, Another Man's Hero

The day I was inducted into the Army, July 26, 1968, was one of those pivotal experiences where the past is left behind and I stepped into the unknown. After a few tests, an in-processing physical exam and swearing-in at the Chicago military induction center, a busload of us was taken to O'Hare airport for a flight to St. Louis, enroute to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri for basic training. While we were standing around at O'Hare waiting one of my fellow inductees told me he was tempted to catch a plane for "Canada." He wasn't just musing about it. He was very serious, was opposed to the war in "Vietnam," and wanted no part of the military. He saw me as a kindred spirit, since I had relatively long hair, not quite the length the Beatles had in their "Rubber Soul" phase.

I was mildly tempted, but wasn't against the war enough to desert the Army right after joining. I was eager to get through basic training and start the projector repair school I enlisted for. I never forgot that guy, though, and after that day I never saw him again. He may or may not have deserted, but I have no way of knowing other than never seeing him again.

Some of the trainees in my basic training class. I'm in the exact middle picture.During basic training a lot of my fellow trainees were having difficulty adjusting to military life, especially the ones who were married. They feared they would lose their wives, and the drill sergeants reminded them continually with call-and-response cadence calls about a mythical character "Jodie" who was fooling around with their wives and girlfriends. Some guys, married and not, cracked under the pressure of basic training. One guy went AWOL (absent without leave), another guy went catatonic, and others broke down in smaller ways. The guy in the bunk next to mine was a young lower-middle-class type from St. Louis who missed his wife dearly. He stopped following orders one day, and the drill sergeant for our platoon shifted into a mode where the situation was escalating towards MPs (military police) being called to take him away. He eventually gave in, and completed basic training with the rest of us.

I had my own situation where I refused to follow orders. One morning the company of about 160 trainees was "fallen out" with rifles and steel pots - helmets - at 3 a.m. to run in formation for about an hour, singing "I want to be an airborne ranger, live that life of death and danger." We completely soaked our fatigues in sweat, and then were marched to the air-conditioned mess hall for breakfast. After that we had a pretty easy day of doing makework tasks, but I started feeling weak.

By evening I had a fever, and was fading fast. We were all supposed to be cleaning our rifles and getting ready for the following day's inspection, but I went to bed. The trainee "platoon guide" and squad leader tried to order me to get back to work, but I told them I wasn't doing anything, and that I should see a doctor. They threatened me with "jail," as if they had the power to do anything beyond saying "left-face" or "right face," but I was too weak to get out of bed. They found a drill sergeant from another company to come in, and he put his hand on my forehead, then yelled at them to call an ambulance or they were going to jail. I had a temperature of 104 degrees, and spent the next three days in the Fort Leonard Wood hospital. Patients were required to sweep and mop their rooms and the hallway.

My proudest diploma
Projector repair school was pretty uneventful, at least as far as AWOL or desertion were concerned. The guys in my barracks were all opposed to the war, and they were like me in enlisting for an extra year in order to choose an electronics school of one sort or another, as a way of avoiding being in the infantry. When the eleven week school ended four of us from my class were sent to "Germany."

It was certainly better to be sent to "Germany" than "Vietnam," but it was a surreal place. Because of World War II and NATO there was a massive "U.S." military presence there. It's smaller now, but still huge. Military installations were former German army and air force (Luftwaffe) barracks, and had a kind of concentration camp character, with barbed wire fencing on curved concrete posts ala Dachau and Auschwitz to prevent unauthorized entry and exit.

The Army itself was a lot sleazier than what I had experienced in training. Petty harassment, "pulling rank," a lot of makework, tedious inspections all made for a tense and unfriendly atmosphere. Terrible food too, sometimes rancid. The animosity between "first-termers" - draftees and draft-induced enlistees - and "lifers" - career Army NCOs (non-commissioned officers - sergeants) - was palpable, and over time got worse. In "Vietnam" troops were killing their sergeants and officers by "fragging" - rigging or throwing fragmentation grenades at them.

Then there was desertion. For my first nine months in Germany I was stationed near the town of Kaiserslautern, a depressing place. Guys who were "short" - short-timers who were getting out soon - would fill out calendars to mark off the days they had left. Someone had made a mimeograph stencil of a short timer's calendar in the shape of a Playboy bunny with a grid drawn for 210 days to mark off. I had 1050 days left, which would have taken five calendars. It was so depressing to mark off days that I quit after about a week.

I had a monthly crisis where I felt I had to get away. I considered going to "Sweden," but that wasn't a very attractive prospect either. Though I hated the Army, going to "Sweden" would have been a very difficult step to take. It would be a crossing of the Rubicon of sorts, with no turning back. At least that's the way it looked. I trudged through, and after nine months got "levied" to Heidelberg to work as a projectionist in the conference room of the Commander in Chief, U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR). My projector repair MOS saved me.

Me in Heidelberg, summer 1970While I was in Kaiserslautern my office-mate and bunk-mate did desert. He went home on 30-day leave, and didn't return. I never heard from him, but was told he went to "Canada." He gave no warning about his intentions, but he hated being in the Army more than I did. Plus, he enlisted at the age of 17, most likely given the choice of the Army or jail for a marijuana arrest. He was from California, and a study of desertions would for sure indicate a higher desertion rate from there than other states.

Others deserted on their way to "Vietnam" after being "levied" from "Germany." Though it was reputed that many deserted by going to "Sweden," I don't remember anyone I knew or knew about going there. Desertions were rampant in the Army overall, though, especially "stateside," and mostly soldiers going to "Canada," which at the time welcomed them. The "Vietnam" war was unpopular all over the world, but our government pushed on.

The reason I am mentioning all this about desertion is of course the case of Bowe Bergdahl, the Army sergeant who may or may not have deserted his unit in "Afghanistan," was captured by the Taliban, and freed in a trade for five Taliban prisoners at the Guantanamo prison our government operates in "Cuba" against the wishes of just about the whole world, not the least of which is the government of "Cuba," on whose land the prison was built. You can't make this stuff up.

I have an easy answer to the questions raised about Bowe Bergdahl. If he deserted, he deserted from an illegal occupation of "Afghanistan" waged by Air Force National Guard deserter George W. Bush. We never had any legitimate business there. The "911" attacks would not have happened if it weren't for the ACTIVE negligence of the deserter Bush and his cronies in crime. The supposed purpose of the invasion of  "Afghanistan" was to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, but the effort to do that was minor compared to the overall obliteration of the Taliban, and the capturing and whisking away to Guantanamo of who knows how many.

Iraqi girl killed during the “Shock and Awe” campaign in 2003. This picture could be used to accurately depict what is going on in “Afghanistan” today.Then the deserter Bush ginned up the invasion and occupation of "Iraq," lying about Saddam Hussain's possession of weapons of mass destruction in order to justify his "Shock and Awe" invasion. About a million people are now dead because of the actions of the deserter Bush. And, of course, we are now seeing the inevitable result of the deserter Bush's phony war.

Bush showing his true colorsSo, should Bowe Bergdahl be prosecuted as a deserter? Hardly. We have yet to hold the deserter Bush responsible for his many murderous crimes, so to prosecute a troubled young soldier for walking away would bring hypocrisy to a new level.

Convicting him would be highly unlikely anyway. All we know is that he left his unit. At most that was AWOL. Technically, desertion is when a soldier doesn't return after thirty days of being missing. Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban before he had a chance to return, so his five years in captivity wouldn't count as time of desertion. He could always say he intended to come back, but couldn't.

More important than the fate of Bowe Bergdahl is the way the circumstances of his freedom are being portrayed in the news media, particularly in the "right wing" hate-o-sphere. The five Taliban prisoners he was traded for are depicted as the worst of the worst, more dangerous than humanly possible, likely to go back to "terrorism" against NATO forces, i.e., us.

In fact, the Taliban prisoners have been tortured for about thirteen years. They likely were "waterboarded" hundreds of times, forced to stand for days at a time, beaten, hung on hooks, had electric shocks applied to their genitals, had their fingernails and toenails pulled out, sodomized with broomsticks, whipped, flogged, put in stress positions, stretched, burned, and God knows what else. They would be of little use in leadership, planning or executing  "terrorism" against "U.S." forces. They won't even be released from detention in "Qatar" for another year. By that time "we" should be long gone.

Cheney being himselfWhat we could do to correct the wrongs of the past decade-or-so is to put the real criminals on trial: the deserter Bush, his henchman Dick Cheney (draft dodger), Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Ricardo Gonzales (remember him?), Paul Wolfowitz, Karl Rove, and numerous others. There would have been no invasions and occupations of "Afghanistan" and "Iraq" if they hadn't cooked up their evil plans. Had the 2000 presidential election not been stolen there would have been no attacks of September 11, 2001. No one was held responsible for that crime either, and in fact the theft was enabled by the "U.S." Supreme Court. We can hold them responsible now.

This of course won't happen. Our "leaders" are too big to fail. Too big, at least, for themselves, which is all that effectively matters. Our ruling class does not hold itself responsible for anything. To do so would make their entire house of cards fall down.

It is falling down anyway, an unsustainable overstructure of wealth, greed, environmental destruction, increasing inequality, worker displacement and obsolescence, massive incarceration, bigotry and purveying of violence. Its days are numbered. We should be planning for its replacement.

Other Army stories can be seen here, here, here, here, and here.

Here's an appropriate song. This too. Here's a song from Jesse Winchester, who went to "Canada" rather than submit to being impressed into military service. Arlo Guthrie sang this classic about the draft. And of course, veteran Country Joe McDonald. Phil Ochs. The Chad Mitchell Trio. Graham Nash. Bob Marley. Here's a song for the best day of the year.

I've been writing a bit here and there about the VA waiting list scandal. Here's a version that got published locally. I take no responsibility for some of the edits. I elaborated in a comment to a local story on the issue, and to a National Public Radio story.

On the most recent All Things Considered on NPR, the criminality of the invasion of "Iraq" is suggested.  A similar suggestion was made on PBS's News Hour.

Robert Fisk provides a good analysis of the "Iraq" situation here.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


Common Dreams Week in Review
Every Saturday I get a "Your week in review" email from Common Dreams, a "leftist" news website. It has links to their top stories of the past seven days, though they call it my week in review. Even if I don't read all the stories I appreciate getting the email, because the summary itself gives a pretty good overview of what is happening in the world.

Of particular interest this week is a commentary by Chris Hedges, formerly of the New York Times, titled The Post-Constitutional Era. In it he argues that the steady erosion of our civil liberties has reduced the "U.S." to a fascist state. In particular he cites the refusal of the "U.S." Supreme Court to hear arguments in a suit of which he is the principal litigant, Hedges V. Obama, in regard to excesses of Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The provision permits the military to seize U.S. citizens and hold them indefinitely in military detention centers without due process.

Hedges goes on to say that the control by large corporations over the three branches of government - legislative, judicial and executive - have made our democracy a thing of the past. Regarding President Obama, he doesn't waste words:

President Obama once promised the American people that his administration would be the most transparent in history, but after years of fights with civil libertarians trying to obtain legal memos used to justify the president's overseas assassination program, an unprecedented pattern of prosecuting government whistleblowers, the targeting of journalists, and all the secrecy and obfuscation related to the NSA's mass surviellance programs made public by Edward Snowden, that claim is now met with near universal laughter, if not scorn, by critics.
Hurricane Sandy from space
At the top of the list of the Week in Review is "Screwed?" US Climate Report says Era of "Normal" Over, referring to the government's National Climate Assessment. The article's author, Lauren McCauley, summed up the report's findings thusly:

As a consequence of the nearly two degree Fahrenheit rise which occurred throughout the country over the past century, the report says, Americans are experiencing water scarcity in dry regions, increasing torrential rains in wet ones, increasingly severe heat waves, worsening wildfires, and the death of forests as a result of heat-loving invasive insect species.

And all of this is likely to worsen as average temperatures continue to increase. The authors, who were solicited by the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee, estimate that global warming could exceed 10 degrees Fahrenheit in the United States by the end of this century.
Occupy activist Cecily McMillan
These articles, along with the others in the list, form a pattern, or gestalt. The game is up. The civilization we thought we had is over. Except for the shouting, that is. And there will be plenty of that. How is it that effectively an entire society is unable to get itself out of this fix? As the Outrage and Protests Follow Guilty Verdict for OWS Activist story indicates, protest is futile. The powers that be will tolerate mild dissent, but when it gets serious, all bets are off.

It would seem that the power structure would be doing everything in its power to deal with climate change, but it is doing next-to-nothing, which is effectively nothing. Part of the reason for this, of course, is that the power structure is context-specific, and the context is that which keeps the power structure in place, which doesn't include protecting the environment.

The other factor, though, and more difficult to contend with, is that we are in a mass system, and in a mass system people function in organizations. No single individual matters independent of an organization or collection of organizations. Barack Obama may individually be the president, but he was elected and operates through a large infrastructure of committees, bureaus, administrations, agencies and departments. In other words, bureaucracies. He is attacked by posturing opponents in Congress and on television, as if he were a single operator. It's all for fun and games, diversion from what is really going on.

At best, it's just a desperate attempt to buy time. As climate change gets more serious the system will disintegrate. The overstructure will do whatever it can to remain in control, but it will eventually fail. It's not a pretty picture. The failure of the mass socioeconomic system may be a positive and necessary step in the progress of the human species, but it will be met with great pain and suffering. We should be able to do better. Maybe when the system starts breaking down we will collectively see the light. That's our best hope at this point. It's not much, but it is what we should prepare for.

Wherever a man goes, men will pursue him and paw him with their dirty institutions, and, if they can, constrain him to belong to their desperate oddfellow society - Thoreau, The Village

Political cartoonist and writer Ted Rall offers a similar analysis.

For the Democracy Now report about Occupy activist Cecily McMillan click here.

Here's an update on our liberation of "Afghanistan."

Sometimes a musical gestalt can do what mere words can't:
Here's a great song. Brewer and Shipley. More Brewer and Shipley. The Reverend Gary Davis. The Grateful Dead. Richie Havens. George Harrison. The Beatles. More The Beatles. Even more The Beatles. Another Beatles. John Lennon. More John Lennon. John Denver. More John Denver. John Prine. More John Prine. John Denver doing the same song. Dwight Yoakam. Canned Heat. More Canned Heat. Bryan Ferry. Wilbert Harrison. Guess Who. Who. Hedgehoppers Anonymous. The Temptations. The Waterboys. Air from Hair. Walking in Space. Prince. Creedence Clearwater Revival. More Creedence. Even more Creedence. Dee Clark. Gene Kelly. B.J. Thomas. The Grateful Dead. More The Grateful Dead. Bob Dylan. Bryan Ferry. Joan Baez. Edie Brickell and New Bohemians. Leon Russell. Bob Dylan. James Taylor. Bob Dylan. Dave Van RonkAdele. Arthur Brown. The Grateful Dead. Alicia Keys and ft Maxwell. Johnny Cash. Ed Sheeran. Simon and Garfunkel. A Bolivian version. The Byrds. More Byrds. Jackson Browne. More Jackson Browne. John Gorka. Talking Heads. More Talking Heads. The Pretenders. Cream. Blind Faith. Jimi. More Jimi. Another Jimi. Still another Jimi. Rainy Day, Dream Away. One more Jimi, my favorite. The Doors. More The Doors. Bob Seger. Merle Haggard. Los Lobos. The Neville Brothers. Alternate version. The Rolling Stones. More Rolling Stones. Even more Rolling Stones. Still more Rolling Stones. The Grateful Dead. More the Grateful Dead. The Kinks. Donovan. Another Donovan. More Donovan. Even more Donovan. Buffy Sainte-Marie. More Buffy Sainte-Marie. One more from Donovan. The Allman Brothers. More Allman Brothers. Little Village. Bob Marley. Peter Tosh. More Peter Tosh.  Jimmy Cliff. The Jerry Garcia Band. Johnny Nash. The Grateful Dead. More Grateful Dead. Stevie Wonder. More Stevie Wonder, my favorite. One more from Stevie Wonder. Gil Scott-Heron. Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five. Iris Dement. More Iris Dement. Merle Haggard. This Merle song fits. As Joseph Campbell put it, it's all metaphor. Stretching the metaphor. Here's a nice song from Willie Nelson and Leon Russell. More Willie Nelson. Even More Willie Nelson, another ominous metaphor. Patsy Cline. Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson. George Harrison. Johnny Cash. Same song, done gratefullyThis Johnny Cash song is getting new meaning. Eddie Rabbitt. Elvis. Roger Miller. Ry Cooder. More Ry Cooder. Randy Newman. More Randy Newman. Still more Randy Newman. Stan Rogers. Garnet Rogers. And one more from the Waterboys. Procol Harum. It must be the season of the witch. After the Rain by McKinley Morganfield. The Reverend Gary Davis. The Grateful Dead. More the Grateful Dead. Quicksilver Messenger Service. The Traveling Wilburys. The Doors. More The Doors. Peggy Lee. Blood, Sweat and Tears. Finally, the Waterboys, a perfect song to end with.

This may be the greatest movie ever made. Even a renowned theologian loves it. George Harrison plays a small role.

Here's an update from the May 12 NewsHour  on income inequality. And this about how the melting ice cap in Antarctica is past the point of no return.

Here's the latest Edward Snowden update.

Glenn Greenwald was interviewed on Democracy Now about NSA spying. Like he said recently, he's saving the best for last.

This Frontline 2-part program is a must-see for anyone on this planet who values their privacy and freedom from government intrusion. Part 2 airs May 20.

Here's an interview with Glenn Greenwald on NPR's Fresh Air by Terry Gross from May 14. He was also interviewed by Margaret Warner on PBS's NewsHour on May 15. Both are excellent. Underpaid women are turning out to be our best journalists.

Here's something curious.

This week we found out that the Antarctic ice melt is unstoppable. We had our chance to stop it, but that was likely decades ago. Our government is now likely spying on the scientists who wrote the report. It is all they seem capable of doing. Maybe they'll send a drone.

Update, May 17:
I had to answer this New York Times story about the Koch brothers. You have to wait a minute-or-so for my comment to load, depending on your computer.

On a similar theme, Huffington Post leads with this story.

Some former generals are saying that climate change is posing a national security risk. Being military men, I wonder what they recommend doing about it.

Salon adds this analysis, not an optimistic assessment. In the coming days we will be seeing more of this. Our power and money elite will become more desperate to do NOTHING, except maybe establish some kind of censorship. Our system has become fascist, after all, as explained above. Lying is a disease with those in power. They can't be trusted to speak the truth about anything, except, as all good liars know, to run interference for the next lie.

Updates, May 19:
Cecily McMillan has been sentenced to 90 days in prison.

In sort of news, a bill is being mulled over to put the NSA under surveillance, er, legal limits.

Here's an update about Cecily McMillan.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Facing the Future

Last Saturday some local businesses and advocacy organizations got together for an Earth Day-related "Isthmus Green Day" at Madison's Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Monona Terrace. With over eighty exhibitors, a keynote speaker, and eighteen other presenters, the event had something for everyone interested in living in harmony with the environment.

There was something for everyone, including free samples of products, drawings to enter, and even free chair massages. Given the increased urgency of climate change and related environmental problems, and the location in Madison, Wisconsin, one would think that that thousands would attend.

It was more like hundreds. Or A hundred.  Though most exhibitors put on a cheerful exterior, I detected a sense of unease. It could have been from the low turnout, but a question I asked of the keynote speaker, Shalini Kantayya, led me to believe otherwise. She showed her movie A Drop of Life, then talked with what seemed to be forced enthusiasm about water issues and prospects for the future. At the end of her talk she asked if there were any questions, and I asked her if she believed economic growth could continue indefinitely, and if she thought the projections of population growth she mentioned were an unchangeable given.

Almost everyone I have asked these questions has dodged them, and Shalini Kantayya was no exception. She answered the question about economic growth by saying that it could continue with green products. This was after misinterpreting what I was asking and even trying to change the question. I repeated the questions with greater emphasis on the word growth so there would be no misunderstanding.

Her reply to the question about population growth was basically a non-answer, that growth projections are accurate. I suppose it's beyond the bounds of thinkable thought that some event or circumstance could interfere with mankind's zeal for populating the Earth.

But there is something that will interfere with both growth of output and growth of population: climate change. As its effects become more serious the Earth will become less habitable. Less habitable means it will be harder for the planet to support human life. That means fewer people. It is too late to stop this encroaching reality. Growth of population will cease, and indeed will likely go in reverse.

The same goes for economic growth. In an increasingly uninhabitable planet unending growth in economic output will be a thing of the past. A steady state will be the best we can hope for. Few want to consider this, for various reasons, mostly having to do with how vastly different such a system would be. It's so unthinkable, let's not think about it.

We'll be thinking about it soon enough. When climate change really kicks in, we will have no choice but to think about how we will organize our economic activity. We will see some hints in the coming days. Tornado season has started, soon to be followed by flood, drought, forest fire and hurricane seasons, then next winter. It is likely to be more serious this year than last, followed by a more serious round the next year.

Our political and corporate overstructure will attempt to avoid dealing with this reality for as long as possible. Drunk on power and money, they eventually will have to hit a bottom, just like drunks of another kind. They will try everything they can to keep drinking from the trough of power and money. The day will come, one way or another, where all the king's horses and all the king's men will not be able to keep Humpty Dumpty together. Change is on the way. We can speed up the process by our actions. Don't give power and don't give money to those whose interest is in their own power and money.

I get calls from the "Democratic" party every month, rain or shine, asking for money. I don't give them any. I get appeals from the "Democratic" candidate for governor, and just got a repeat mailing from "Ready for Hillary." No money for them either. Some recorded voice calls me every other day, saying "If this is James, please press 2." I hang up, not being "James," but would hang up even if I were "James."

Decorporatizing my buying habits is a little more difficult, but I've been at it for decades. I get my food through a food coop, local farmers' markets, a Community Supported Agriculture farmer, and a small amount through a regional grocery chain. I don't eat meat. I ride a bicycle most of the time, and go to free events around town, including yoga and meditation classes. I don't subscribe to cable or dish, finding plenty of TV to watch with a converter box. I have never owned a cell phone or texting device. I built almost all my furniture. For movies I go to the cheapie theater when they are about a month or two old. Sometimes I check out a DVD from the public library.  I get my health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Instead of a bank, I use a credit union.

With all the money-saving and non-corporate buying habits I have practiced, I still live at a higher level than about 99% or more of the people on this planet. It's a struggle for almost anyone to make ends meet, but it's easier with simple needs. In regard to the rich and powerful, I have never started a war, never killed anyone, haven't ordered a drone strike on ordinary civilians, haven't dumped oil in the ocean, contaminated a water supply, caused cancer, or used greed to make myself rich while others got poor. It's been an imperfect life, but a simple life. It's what we'll all be doing very soon.

It might be time to stop observing Earth Day. Here's why.

Here's some IZ.

This Moody Blues album is worth a listen or two.

I heard Doris Day say in a recent interview that she hates this song. Maybe the future IS ours to see.

Leonard Cohen has a vision of the future. He also makes this prediction.

Here's a song for our wealthy 1%.

If you're wondering where to lend a hand, here's a bit of advice on what to avoid.

Here's some futuristic music.

I almost forgot about this Neil Young song. Then of course there's this, a foreboding from long ago.

R.I.P. Jesse Winchester. He did a brave thing long ago, something I sometimes wish I had done. I only knew this song as done by Brewer and Shipley, but Jesse Winchester wrote it. Allen Toussaint performed a tribute to him last fall. Here's a nice song.

Here's a not-so-encouraging update about wildfire season.

Here's an update about the supposed negative view of the future. This link takes you to the New York Times article referred to. And, of course, this song.