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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.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Power of Myth

Today is a football game day for the University of Wisconsin, so there's a lot of red being worn around town, especially around campus. Saturday is also farmers market day at the State Capitol Square, so there was plenty of red there too.

I normally don't pay the sea of red much mind, but allegiance has been prominent in the country this week, with the pope's visit to Washington and the United Nations. Pope Francis met with President Obama at the White House, and most significantly gave a speech to a joint session of Congress. He spoke softly and eloquently about caring for the poor, for immigrants, for the environment, for refugees from war, for ending the death penalty, and about the evils of capitalism. We can hope it didn't fall on deaf ears.

The pope's speech was one of the best I ever heard, touching on the critical issues we are all dealing with. I was very moved by this humble, soft-spoken but formidable man of faith, the faith I grew up with but left decades ago.

This was my First Holy Communion, at Blessed Sacrament School, Lincoln, Nebraska, April, 1953As powerful as his speech was, I felt no inclination to return to Catholicism. After 17 years of Catholic education I have too much experience of the Church as a corrupt institution, its clergy as terribly flawed, its liturgy as boring and tedious, and its theology as unconvincing and enforced by authoritarianism.

Ann Arbor Siddha Yoga group, 1977Years later I became a follower of an Indian guru, Swami Muktananda, and lived in ashrams - semi-monastic dwellings focused on meditation, chanting and study - in Ann Arbor, Houston, the Catskills, Honolulu and India. I felt more connected to the chanting and other rituals, the theology of Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism, the Indian music and to the guru than I ever did with Catholicism.

I left that too. After eight years I grew tired of the dysfunction in the organization - "Siddha Yoga" - and convincing reports appeared alleging the guru was molesting a number of women, especially twelve-year-old girls. The allegations were consistent with anomalies I noticed when I was a staff plumber in the SYDA ashram in South Fallsburg, NY from 1981 to 1983.  It was harder to give Siddha Yoga up than Catholicism, but I managed. I wrote about it here and here.

Around the time I left Siddha Yoga I became familiar with the work of legendary scholar of mythology Joseph Campbell, especially through his interviews with Bill Moyers. Campbell explained that throughout human history societies have created mythologies - collections of stories and traditions that provide a basis of identity, origin, cosmology, and transcendence that hold societies together and give them meaning.

I found Campbell to be a fascinating and engaging explorer of the human psyche, and he has been one of the most influential people in my life. It took me a while to fully imbibe what he was saying, but over time I have become adept at recognizing the common mythological basis of not just religious groups, but allegiance to sports teams, political parties and movements, ethnic identities, places of employment, fraternities, the military, patriotic organizations, musical groups, movies, TV shows and really any way that people form into groups.

Such as fan identity with sports teams, most prominently where I live with the University of Wisconsin "Badgers" and the Green Bay "Packers" professional football team - a business. It can get pretty fanatical. All the local news providers devote much attention to the fortunes of the Badgers and Packers, and to a lesser degree to the Milwaukee "Brewers" baseball team. Most annoyingly, they also devote considerable time to the fortunes of stock car driver Matt Kenseth, because he is from nearby Cambridge, Wisconsin. You will reach new depths of boredom when you see an interview with Matt Kenseth. He apparently provides myth for some people.

So we live with competing and complementary myths. Sometimes they are combined. The University of Notre Dame (the "Fighting Irish") has its "Touchdown Jesus," a mural of the mythical son of God on a building behind one of the stadium's end zones.

Sacrilege and disrespect are common in team names, mascots and various creations by fans. A devoted fan of the Green Bay "Packers" dresses up in an imitation Catholic Bishop's vestments, complete with mitre hat that says "Saint Vince," with a picture of legendary "Packer" coach Vince Lombardi.

The Washington pro football team still calls itself "The Redskins," an insult identity with Native American fighters against the onslaught of European invaders in the centuries following "discovery" of the continent. The New Orleans football team is known as "The Saints." The team name for the College of Holy Cross football team is "The Crusaders." Here are some others, including my alma mater, St. Thomas.

People get into fights and sometimes kill each other over identities with various mythologies. A San Francisco "Giants" baseball fan was beaten nearly to death in 2011 by fans of the Los Angeles "Dodgers." Arrests for fighting are common at pro football games. When the "Packers" play the Chicago "Bears" it is a handy excuse for mayhem.

We can see how important myth and identity are in adding meaning to people's lives, and how the most trivial mythic identities can be life and death matters. In mass systems such as we have throughout most of the planet, the search for meaning can reach levels of desperation and fanaticism that are mind-boggling. As a result of the Bush criminal regime's invasions of "Afghanistan" and "Iraq," religious fanaticism has reached new depths throughout the Mideast and elsewhere. Some discredit should go to the Reagan and Bush I criminal regimes for organizing the insurgency in "Afghanistan," and for the first invasion of "Iraq."

The most alarming and dangerous mythological phenomenon on the planet, though, is what is known as "Conservatism." It consists of an unholy mixture of "Christian" religious fanatics, anti-government zealots, racists, xenophobes, gun nuts, climate change deniers, sociopathic capitalists, various media agitators, politicians and opportunists. There is a strong intersect among many of these various extremists, with some identifying with several or even all of the "right wing" opportunities.

The reptilian brain, home of “right-wingers”The one thing they all have in common is reptilian brain predisposition - by the most ancient part of all human brains, related to instinctual behaviors, tribal identity, territoriality, aggression, dominance and ritual displays. When a person is most heavily controlled by the reptilian brain there isn't much difference between wearing a "St. Vince" mitre and a Ku Klux Klan hood. The identity state is the same, the difference being the object of identity.

This should be instructive for "leftists," but almost certainly won't be. They have their own myths and identities to contend with, and getting past the "us versus them" fixation of the reptilian brain is beyond the comprehension and willingness of almost everyone. The human species is stuck in binary identity: the "good guys" versus the "bad guys." Soldiers, police, and of course politicians routinely refer to chosen "others" as the "bad guys," whether they are bad or not.

So here we are in the days before climate change takes off,  obstructed in our efforts to change our ways of being on this planet, particularly in reducing our carbon dioxide emissions. We are impeded by human psychology - subservience to the reptilian brain.

It is supposedly counterproductive to keep showing pictures of threatened polar bears, but for me they serve as the hologram for our future. I could just as easily use the forest fires in California, hurricanes here and there, floods, tornadoes, blizzards, droughts, oil spills, befouled air, deteriorating reefs, and any number of other disasters, but the polar bears will do. We reptilians are on a path to ruin, and our likely response, based on past behavior, is to become even more reptilian. Go Badgers!

Here's some mythic music. Here's more. And this. This too. Can't forget this song. One more.

Here's some Indian mythical music from the movie Gandhi. Here's some more. This is a mantra we used to chant almost daily when I was involved with the Siddha Yoga cult.

For more videos of Joseph Campbell click here.

Here's something that might inspire some change. First we need some environmental myth.

 An example of the exact wrong attitude towards the insurgent "right wing" mythology can be seen in today's Salon. If this is the best "leftists" can come up with we really are doomed.

Here are some more Bill Moyers interviews with Joseph Campbell.

Update, October 10: PBS aired a special with biologist E.O. Wilson this week, Of Ants and Men. He discusses social organization among ants and other species, including humans, and how the need for cooperation is what makes these societies work. He used the example of the University of Alabama football team as a metaphor for tribal identity.

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Clear and Present Danger

It has become almost a chiché that the "Republican" presidential campaign looks like a circus clown car. Yesterday the presumptive nominee Jeb Bush (his full name is John Ellis Bush, hence "Jeb") said if president he wouldn't rule out anything, including torture, which he euphemistically calls "enhanced interrogation." When asked at an event in Iowa if waterboarding is torture Bush said "There’s a difference between enhanced interrogation techniques and torture. Torture’s - America doesn’t do torture." Another Bush sociopath. Is there any other kind?

The clown of clowns, of course, is rich guy Donald Trump. He announced his campaign in June by insulting immigrants from Mexico, saying "When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."

Trump has done a lot more insulting since then, and his overall rudeness has made him the "front-runner" among "Republican" candidates. Of course, the "Republican" nominating convention isn't until next July, and the "election" isn't until November 8 next year. Many things can and will change between now and then.

Patrick L. Smith, writing in Salon, says the rot in the "Republican" party is so deep that it is a danger to the country. He describes the affect of today's "Republicans" as an extension of the Jacksonian type of "American" that began in the 1820s - "Aggressive, uncompromising, masculine in the traditional manner, suspicious of intellect and sympathy, given to swift action and simple justice."

So be it. The "Republican" party has become desperate and fanatical. I could go on and on with analysis and insight about how sociopathic they are, how absurd their arguments and posturing are. A few pictures tell a better story. I stopped by the annual Block Party at Madison's Catholic Multicultural Center last Saturday and took some pictures of groups doing traditional Mexican dances. These are the people Donald Trump calls drug dealers and rapists.


Los Lobos at the Further Festival in Alpine Valley, Wisconsin, 1996Here's a great Los Lobos album to listen to while looking at the pictures. They are best known for this song. Here's the original, with Richard Valenzeula, known to the rock 'n roll world as Ritchie Valens. And here's 60s folk duo Bud and Travis doing the original acoustic version of the song from "Mexico." Here's some more Bud and Travis.

This is Los Lobos's second-most known song.

Here are some songs from the Texas Tornadoes.

Freddy Fender, Mexican-American country-western star.

Los Lonely Boys.

Trini Lopez, from when I was young.

It would be difficult to pick a best performance from the Woodstock Music Festival, but this tune by Santana is the choice of many. This is Santana's best album.

This song fits. The most predominant characteristic of what is known as "right wing" fanaticism in this country is fear.

There are alternatives to the "Republican" clown car. Here's one.

Clear and present danger is a longstanding principle for limiting freedom of speech.  It hasn't been applied to an entire political party yet. At least not in court. We haven't had a major political party that represents a clear and present danger before.

Update, August 16:

Madison has numerous ethnic and international fests throughout the year. I happened across two of them yesterday. One was a celebration of India's 69th anniversary of independence from British rule. It was held downtown. I missed most of it, so only got a few pictures.

Africa Fest was held a mile or so east of the Capitol. Because Madison is a university town there are students and faculty from all over the world, including the entire African continent. Donald Trump would find much to insult here.


Malian musician and current Madison resident Tani Diakite played at Africa Fest.

Bassekou Kouyate, also from Mali, was the headliner of the fest.

R.I.P. Julian Bond.

Update, August 20:

The corporate news media don't tell us about Trump's shady dealings. Democracy Now interviewed investigative reporter David Cay Johnston yesterday, and he had much to reveal. The interview was based on his recent article 21 Questions for Donald Trump.

Update, September 24: Noam Chomsky believes the "Republican" party is now an insurgency rather than a political party. It's another way of saying clear and present danger. I still believe criminal organization is more accurate, based on their obeisance to Wall Street bankers and large corporations, and their money and power interests in doing so.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Gun Fanaticism 101

A copy of American Rifleman, the magazine of the National Rifle Association, came my way recently, and I thumbed through it to see what might be interesting. There is much. The magazine, like the organization, is a combination of  surreality, theater of the absurd and parallel universe. Gun extremists are a breed apart. I have written in the past about gun-nuttery, and don't have a lot to add, except to note that there was another mass shooting, this time in a theater in Lafayette, Louisiana. The shooter this time appears to have been an angry "right wing" gun nut, as well as a religious nut who hated women.

The best way to get a sense of the surreality of the NRA and its magazine is to see some scans I made of selected pages. My favorite is the "Chuck Norris Tribute Pistol." Chuck Norris is a karate-chopping movie and TV star, or was. He is now 75 years old, and of late has busied himself in "right wing" politics. And gun advocacy. He advocates that you buy his tribute pistol. It is a fancied-up .45 Automatic, with gold and nickel plating, engraved likenesses of Chuck Norris, and a trite quote: "To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe." The price for such engraved words of wisdom is a mere $1995.

My dad had a .45 Automatic, a souvenir from his service in World War II. It is a fearsome weapon, known as "the man-stopper" for its effectiveness in close combat when an enemy soldier is running towards one. It would certainly appeal to masculinity-deficient males, especially those who wish to be like karate champion "true American" Chuck Norris. My dad traded his .45 to someone for a .22 Automatic, which was more suitable for target practice.

The magazine is filled with advertising for all kinds of guns - big, small, rifles, pistols, with scope and without - and various items of shooting paraphernalia.The NRA even offers its own gun, a 24-karat gold plated Ruger Blackhawk .44 Magnum six shot revolver. It has inscriptions - "Molon Labe" and "The Second Amendment Protects the Rest." Molon Labe is inscribed in the original Greek lettering, and means "Come and take it," a dare to anyone who would attempt to seize the possessor's beloved gun, or guns.

No price is mentioned for the NRA Revolver, so I looked on the website listed, AmericanLegacyFirearms.com. They are on sale for $2495, a bit less than I expected. Sales apparently aren't as hot for the item as was planned.  The Chuck Norris Tribute Pistol is likely within the budget most gun zealots.

Every brave defender of his right to keep and bear arms needs a proper holster to hold his favorite gun. Blackhawk offers one that promotes "Life, liberty and the pursuit of any maggot who threatens them." Because, as we all know, there is a maggot under every rock threatening life and liberty. The model in the photo is of a guy in full battle regalia, ready for a maggot attack. In pursuing any maggot, the well-armed defender, or exterminator, apparently needs to have his gun mounted on his chest for quick draw. Plenty of spare magazines are needed too, since maggots rarely threaten life and liberty by themselves. Or maybe they're hard to hit. You can't make this stuff up.

Having a gun with ammo and shooting paraphernalia isn't enough, though. How about some cigars? American Rifleman has a deal too good to pass up. Eight cigars for $10. Not just any old cigars either. You get a first-class premium cigar sampler - eight different cigars to correct any shooter's phallic deficiencies. If you get $100 dollars worth you could puff away while shooting for a whole season, and give some to friends. Maybe I'm a bit less-than-manly, but I have always found the smell of cigar smoke to be revolting, and people who smoke them not so appealing either. The appeal, I suspect, is symbolic, a projection of sexual power. The obvious question, of course, is why one would need such a symbol.

After a day of defiant shooting a man needs to relax. Returning to his lair, he might surround himself with hunting trophies, stuffed animals, maybe a tiger-skin pelt or bear rug, (or rabbit and squirrel pelts for lower-budget hunters), and a target or two on the wall. To complete the picture, the "John Wayne Cold-Cast Bronze Masterpiece Sculpture" would be a perfect addition to the decor. It has leather reins to give it "realism." And, it's only $149.95. John Wayne, movie star, played a long list of tough guys, from war heroes to cowboys to police detectives. He also was a "Conservative," and believed in "white" supremacy.

If you have any money left after all your gun purchases, NRA membership dues, trips to the shooting range and cigars, don't forget to remember the NRA in your will. Not some half-baked will, but a well-crafted will - the wellness, obviously dependent on how much is left to the NRA. With more money, specifically more of YOUR money, the National Rifle Association can secure the Second Amendment rights of future generations in perpetuity. And, in so doing, also secure the wealth of NRA executives. This really isn't any different that what other organizations do, from environmental groups to hunger relief to refugee aid. I wonder how many people actually leave part or all of their estates to a gun zealotry organization.

Another way of leaving a legacy is to send a teenager to the Ronald Reagan Ranch High School Conference. There the young "Conservative" can be indoctrinated into the fundamentals of the faith. Ronald Reagan is something of a patron saint of "Conservatives." Like John Wayne, he was a movie actor, and when his acting career ended he served a couple of terms as governor of California, and beginning in 1981, eight years as President of the United States.

He was a terrible president, engaging in union-busting, a phony invasion, and secretly funding a terrorist group.  Every year at the conference there are famous "Conservative" speakers. Former Virginia senator George Allen, of  "macaca" fame, spoke at this year's event. Also a former football coach. It only cost $175 per student, so if you couldn't afford the Chuck Norris pistol or the NRA revolver you could sponsor the future of "America." Except it is too late. The event happened in June. I'm sure they had plenty of indoctrinees.

For the reader who might be confused about why he should join the National Rifle Association, there are little reminders posted throughout the magazine, each one highlighting a reason. Freedom, family, community, country and your future are all taken care of just by joining the NRA. The magazine is for members, so presumably those who receive it already know why they are members. It may be the case that for one reason or other people let their memberships lapse, so keeping the dues coming in is a top priority.

In a crescendo of sorts, the American Rifleman celebrated the national meeting(s?) and exhibits that were held in, of all places, Nashville, in April. Featured personages included "Conservative" comedian Jeff Foxworthy and county-western performer Alan Jackson, who may or may not be a "Conservative," but presumably is a gun advocate. As part of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action Leadership Forum, the top "Republican" candidates for president gave speeches. Among them were Donald Trump and Wisconsin's governor Scott Walker.

The meeting (or meetings) sounded the drum beat of paranoia about "the government" taking everyone's guns. The magazine article put it this way:  "The message was simple: Responsible gun owners don't want more government limitations on our right to bear arms, and we need pro-gun political leadership."

The NRA's outgoing president James W. Porter II (not Junior) gave an outgoing speech, part of which is quoted in the article: "When it comes to those elitists looking down their noses and telling us how to live, it's time they got the message loud and clear. You elitists live however you want. But when it comes to us, get your hands off our freedom and leave us the hell alone."

The exhibits, likely guns and gun paraphernalia, were from over 550 companies. I suppose that means 551 companies, but over 550 sounds more expansive. There were seminars covering, surprise, surprise, firearms, but also preparing wild game. And, curiously, the Falklands War.  It isn't clear why a gun ownership organization would find the Falklands War worthy of a seminar. It might have something to do with the opposing sides: "Great Britain" and "Argentina." One side represents the Anglo-Saxon or whatever pure roots of "America," while the other represents people south of the border.  Kind of like the mythical "Aryans" that Hitler fantasized were the "true Germans."

The NRA didn't used to be a gun nut organization. It started out as a group to promote marksmanship in 1871. In the mid-1970s the NRA changed emphasis, with Second Amendment rights being the new priority. For the unaware, the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states states that "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."

The meaning of the amendment is a bit ambiguous, with gun rights advocates stressing the right to keep and bear arms, while the advocates of limits to those rights stress the well regulated militia aspect. And n'er the twain shall meet, it seems.

'Counting coup' on the NRAThere was a time in my life when I was a gun enthusiast. It wasn't an enthusiasm for gun ownership or rights, but of shooting guns. I learned to shoot a rifle in Boy Scout camp, and even have an NRA marksmanship certificate for my efforts. I didn't do much rifle shooting until I went into the Army, and even then it was just in basic training. where I earned a sharpshooter medal for marksmanship.

I grew up on hunting, and used mainly shotguns. It's a different kind of shooting than rifle shooting, typically at moving targets (birds). You don't "aim" a shotgun, but point it at the moving target, moving as the animal moves. I got pretty good at it, even worked at a trap and skeet range for a while. I gave it up as an adult when I became a vegetarian and moved into an ashram. I read a quote around that time that was attributed to Gandhi that said a gun changes a house and its occupant. I found it to be true, but I prefer the converse - not having a gun changes the house and its occupant.

In a post to this blog nine years ago I wrote about the NRA, and about some early gun rights zealots, one of whom became threatening to the owner of the trap and skeet range one night - over trap shooting championship points, so almighty important. The guy turned out to have been a wife-beater, and when she left him he shot himself, ending his life. No more gun rights for him.

So now we have a new gun rights enthusiast, who was so enthusiastic about his rights that he shot up a movie theater, killing two people, Mayci Breaux and Jillian Johnson, and wounding nine others. Much is said about the shooter being "mentally ill." While it seems painfully obvious the guy wasn't "normal" mentally, he wasn't much different from the NRA gun nuts. The difference is of degree, not kind. It is safe to say that he was influenced by NRA noise about gun rights, noise which didn't exist before about 1975.

In today's Salon, writer Sean Illing argues that the Second Amendment must go. He also despairs that anything will be done. I'm not so pessimistic. There was a time before NRA gun fanaticism. There will be a time after. Power today is not power tomorrow.

I believe the NRA is going to see a mass exodus. It's a cult. I know about cults. I was in one. Two if you count Catholicism. The NRA is a cult. The pattern, or gestalt that emerges from its magazine American Rifleman reveals its cultic nature: paranoia, mythology and ritual, symbolic attire, talismanic artifacts, revered heroes, a sense of embattlement, accursed enemies (i.e., Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton). Here are some more characteristics of cults.

The difference with the NRA cult is that is that its focus is on the shooting of other people. In response to the Sandy Hook shooting deaths of 23 children, the NRA's executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."  It almost goes without saying that if your meditation is on killing other people, you are more likely to do so. Lafayette shooter John Houser was a gun "enthusiast" who meditated on killing other people. Dylann Roof, the Charleston shooter, also meditated on killing other people. Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter, meditated on killing people. All the notorious mass killers meditated on killing other people.

Change is in the air. Obama is finally doing some things that are worthwhile, like making peace with "Iran" and "Cuba." The "Republicans" are apoplectic. Their star is fading. Since 1980 they have been ascending, using paranoia, scapegoating, lying, hysteria and criminality to seize power. The result is what we now have - near chaos, hateful people shooting at random and almost random. There are now 16 "Republican" candidates for president. They ALL are part of the malaise in which we find ourselves. They ALL are already bad for the country, and if one of them is elected - or appointed, as in 2000 - it will be a disaster.

I don't believe it will happen. Their time has passed. Their sugar daddy, or at least one of them - the NRA - is headed for decline. The Polar ice caps are melting. The economy is unsustainable. We need solutions, not grandstanding. Think positive. Or positively, for the grammarians among us.

I wrote about gun-related topics in other posts here, here, here and here.

Frontline offered this report about the NRA and its influence. 

Here's a song. Here's another.  And another. And this, for the pursuers of maggots. When confronted by a pursuer of maggots, this song might help.

A writer in Slate explores the possible connection between the attitude of the Lafayette shooter's attitude towards women and the movie he chose for his shooting spree. The Washington Post delves into his hatred of women in this article.

Here's a story about the victims of the Lafayette shooting.

On a slightly different topic, there is another way to recall Wisconsin's crony capitalist governor. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Legacy of Shame

A guy was arrested in Madison a week ago after assaulting a woman who was walking along a bike path. It didn't take long to catch him, since he was easily identified by a tattoo on his face that surrounds his right eye. He also was caught on camera in the area around the time of the attack.

It seems almost comical that someone would commit any crime when he has such an identifying characteristic, but it's pretty obvious criminals don't think that way. They think they are going to get away with whatever crime they are committing. The attacker in Madison is an extreme example, but maybe not as extreme as we might think. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and the rest of their gang lied the country into one war for sure, and likely the one previous. We know they lied about their claims that "Iraq" had weapons of mass destruction. They also lied about torturing prisoners. They thought they would get away with their crimes, and they did.

It can be said from this comparison that the Bush criminal organization is far more sophisticated than Donovan Stone, and also that it had and still has considerable power to fend off investigations of its criminal activities. Everyone in the Bush gang is as easy to identify as Donovan Stone, the tattooed attacker in Madison. Holding public office is like a big facial tattoo when one is committing crimes. All it takes is a justice system that actually prosecutes such criminals. We don't have one. They're too big to fail.

There is much to be learned from this. Similar to the impunity of banksters and the top 1% of income and wealth accumulators, the very top in terms of power and position in politics/government can get away with just about anything - mass murder, kidnapping, torture, indefinite detention, large-scale destruction, theft of resources, government overthrow, poisoning of environments, spying on citizens, and creating a national security state to, among other things, insure their impunity.

Bush is only the most recent and flagrant of political criminals. Ever since the crimes of Richard Nixon and associates the "Republican" party has engaged, through enactment of laws and in various executive and judicial actions to accumulate power and wealth to the already wealthy, to establish a worldwide military and economic empire, and to insure that those at the top are never held responsible for their crimes.

An article in yesterday's Salon explains how voter suppression is a key strategy in securing "Republican" hold on power. Another article in Salon yesterday describes how mythmaking has been used since the time of Nixon to combine lying with dire warnings of apocalyptic doom. Absent in any of their strategies is the intention to do anything to help ordinary people or to make the country a better place to live. Instead, what we have been given are Nixon, Reagan, Bush I and Bush II. Four terrible presidents. The terrible Supreme Court and Federal Court appointments during their presidencies include Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito. "Republican" majorities in Congress have done their own damage, supporting these terrible presidents in their various criminal schemes. Had Richard Nixon had majorities in both houses of Congress he wouldn't have been removed from office.

I don't mean to exalt the "Democrats." They are as dependent on bribes, er, campaign donations from corporations and Wall Street bankers as are "Republicans." Bill Clinton gave us NAFTA, CAFTA, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the extension of the sanctions against "Iraq," including extensive bombing, welfare "reform" and triangulation - standing for nothing - as a way of winning elections. He wasn't all bad, and certainly not as bad as any of the "Republicans," but he did much harm. Jimmy Carter supported the brutal Shah in "Iran" when he was about to be overthrown. Obama has his drone attacks.

How much harm has the Bush regime done? If the 2000 election hadn't been stolen there would have been no President Bush II, no active negligence that enabled the September 11 attacks, no invasions and occupations of "Afghanistan" and "Iraq," no kidnapping, torture, Guantanamo, drones, and likely no economic collapse of 2008, and no too big to fail banks.

And no ISIS. The gutting and disorder that resulted from the invasion and occupation of "Iraq" inspired the "insurgency," which then branched off into the "Islamic State."

There also may not have been the shooting in Chattanooga last week, except that may have had more to do with our support of "Israel" than the fiasco in "Iraq." Maybe it was the overall debacle in the Mideast. The shooter, Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, was depressed. He had recently visited "Jordan," and may have become radicalized there. He had been treated for depression since age 13, and it may have been at least partly due to "American" xenophobia of Muslims and people from Arabic countries. One can only wonder how different his life might have been if there were no Bush presidency, I or II.

Had there been no Nixon presidency with his "Southern Strategy," and the Reagan, Bush I and Bush II presidencies, there is a good likelihood that the shooting deaths in Charleston, South Carolina last month also would not have happened. All of these presidents played on racial tensions and animosities by employing their own versions of the Southern Strategy. One of the effects of this enabling of racism was to perpetuate and validate attitudes and behavior toward African Americans that have persisted since the days of slavery.

Now that the supposed Confederate flag has been removed from the South Carolina State Capitol we can take some satisfaction that decades of intransigence in the American South has been broken. It is unfortunate it had to be after such a tragic shooting. It could have happened a lot sooner had there not been these "Republican" presidents with their Southern Strategies.

The effects of race-based political strategies on society as a whole are worthy of mention. In racist-friendly social context the vast majority of people gravitate towards the mean, or most conventional norms of society. If you look at the whole society in terms of a normal curve, 95% of people live within two standard deviations of the mean. The more alienated from the mainstream people are the farther from the mean they exist. Out in the "tails" of the population distribution are various malcontents, eccentrics, nonconformists, and in some cases religious fanatics and extremists of various kinds, including religious warriors and supremacists of one kind or another.

In the case of Dylann Roof, the Charleston shooter, he appears to be mentally unstable, another subset of the population who is fair game for extremist organizers. Various arguments have been presented about whether he is mentally ill or is a white supremacist hate criminal, as if he has to be one or the other. He's the guy who killed nine people in a church. He doesn't have to fit into our preconceived, binary categories. Indeed, it can be argued that anyone who wants to start a race war is mentally unstable. A question worth asking is how much he was influenced by race-based "Republican" strategies to win public office.

A different approach is called for. Change the entire probability distribution - the normal curve of society. The mean we have settled on accepts institutional racism, the prison industrial complex, empire, doing nothing about climate change, a near-completely corrupt political system, a corporatocracy that gives impunity to criminals who do murderous harm here and elsewhere around the planet, and a cultural orthodoxy that makes the bread and circuses of the Roman Empire look bland by comparison. The extremes we see are the extremes of THIS distribution of society. We can insist on battling and/or eliminating every extreme that presents itself, or, we can change our vast mainstream of society. It is more likely to reap positive results, but takes a deeper look. Part of our malaise is the inability to take a deeper look.

We can start by removing as many "Republicans" from public office as possible, and not electing any new ones. They not only enable racism, but are obstructionist about anything that is good for the general public. It is also no coincidence that "Republicans" are giving support to climate change deniers, and are indeed the loudest voices in pretending it is all a hoax. As we have seen with their emotion-based, race-baiting, corporate-impunity scheming, there is a power gathering criminality to their intentions. They have become a scourge upon the land.

While we're at it, we might want to take away their impunity.

R.I.P. Omar Sharif. Here's his most iconic scene.

R.I.P. E.L. Doctorow. Great guy. Great writer. Ragtime is one of my favorite books (and movies). He was very eloquent in his opposition to the Bush criminal regime. Here's an interview with him on NPR's Fresh Air from 1989.

R.I.P Theodore Bikel.  When I first became interested in folk music he was was on shows like Hootenanny and others I can't remember the names of. He sang folk songs from around the world, in their own languages.

Here's a song (words and chords here).  Here's another (words and chords here).  And another (words and chords here).

Sean Illing of Salon believes we should shut down the "Republican" party, calling it deeply unserious.

"Republican" presidential candidate Donald Trump is in the news a lot these days, insulting everyone from immigrants to other "Republicans." My view of his antics are summed up in the following comment to this article.

Heh. The "Republicans" are being hoisted on their own petard. They have benefited from trash talkers like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly for decades. In 2004 they took it a step farther with the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth," who lied about John Kerry's war record in the presidential race, damaging him enough that it likely cost him the presidency.

Trump is taking it another step farther - attacking "Republicans." He is appealing to the same element that Fox, Limbaugh and others have been doing. The way the "Republicans" respond will be instructive about their character and fitness to be president, but they all know that trash talking is what keeps the "Republican" party viable. This "race" is getting more fun every day.

And, regarding McCain, he did something heroic in surviving five years as a prisoner of war. Heroism is momentary. It is not a permanent status. Nobody gets to be a hero for life. His performance in the U.S. Senate certainly hasn't been heroic. He did something unheroic in the Keating Five scandal. Wouldn't that make him an unhero for life?

As for Trump, he never served his country. He's a huckster. Huckster is not a qualification for the presidency. A huckster who never served his country and disrespects the service of a combat veteran is unqualified to be Commander in Chief.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Living for the City

When I read about the incident at the pool party in the Dallas suburb last week I was reminded of the two summers I spent in Dallas when I was 14 and 15. It was in the pre-Kennedy assassination era, and pre-most of the Civil Rights Movement, 1959-60. Relatives had moved there, and rented a house in Highland Park, Dallas's ritziest suburb. My relatives weren't ritzy. I think my uncle's company may have provided the house to get him to move there. They only stayed a few years.

I grew up mostly in northern Illinois, and though it wasn't a racial Mecca, the bigotry wasn't as blatant and official as it was in Texas. My brother, sister and I were relative innocents. Not long after our arrival we took a city bus to downtown Dallas to see a movie. We piled into the bus and raced for the back seats, where kids could goof off far from the driver's attention. We didn't know that the back of the bus was reserved for African Americans. Our cousins sat in front and pretended they didn't know us. They had learned the rules quickly. We stayed in the back. We didn't care. The back was more fun, and the company was better.

Entrance to the MidwayOne night we went to the "Midway," the amusement park where the Texas State Fair is held, located next to the Cotton Bowl. The most popular attraction was the dunk tank, where you could throw baseballs at a target to knock a person on a perched chair into the water. They had two tanks to accommodate the lines of eager throwers.

Why, one might ask, was this attraction so popular? Surprise, surprise, the guys in the tanks were black. White guy after white guy would try his skill and fail. Young guys, muscle-y guys, it didn't matter.

I put down a quarter to give it a try, and was given three baseballs. On the second or third try I hit the target, and into the water went the guy in the tank. I was just 14 and had the glee of a kid who could throw. Grown men around me were slapping me on the back and shaking my hand, shouting praise. I couldn't believe it. They were treating me like I was the great white hope.

Idiots. It is likely that this kind of thing went on all around the South in those days, and in earlier times there were far nastier forms of entertainment - as far north as Duluth, Minnesota, shown in the picture above.

The funny thing about this is that part of the shtick the guys in the tank did was to taunt the crowd, daring them to throw at them, kind of like baseball chatter. They couldn't go too far, it being Dallas, but it was enough to get all those Texas tough guys rattled. They were easy marks, and kept coming back for more. I wonder how many of them were cops.

Things apparently haven't changed much in Dallas. African Americans can sit in the front of buses, but they apparently aren't so welcome at public swimming pools. In all the time we went swimming at the Highland Park pool not one African American was seen there. Now they can swim in public pools, but that doesn't mean they are welcome.

Things are different, though. One thing we learned from this incident is that African American girls wear bikinis. We also learned that African American kids go swimming. Even in Illinois when I was a kid we only saw four African Americans, once, at the public pool where we swam, and they were all together. I can still remember them, walking tenuously and looking around. They were bigger than almost everyone else at the pool, and nobody messed with them. If I remember right, the pool emptied of swimmers when they dove in.

Another mark of change is that the "white" people in the neighborhood didn't have their way. They may have called in a phony 911 report, but the end result was one police officer resigning from his career, and lawsuits are likely in the offings. These privileged "white" people could lose their houses. They might have to live in Section 8 housing.

More information about lynching can be seen here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

This interview on NPR's Fresh Air last month covers the history of how racial ghettos were created with government help.

A review of a book about what slavery was really like can be seen here. The author wrote a synopsis that appears in Salon.

Here's a song. I saw these guys play in Minneapolis a long time ago in a seedy bar called The Triangle. It was triangle-shaped, on the corner of a sharp-angled street. Here's some history.

 Here's another song.

And another.

This too.

And this.

Here's one of my theme songs. There are many ways to stir it up. Here's a nice variation that is good to practice to.

Can't leave James Brown out.

Or Curtis Mayfield.

More Curtis Mayfield.

The Impressions.

The great Sam Cooke.

Marvin Gaye.

Nina Simone

More Nina Simone.

Billie Holiday.

The Neville Brothers. Alternate version.

The Staples Singers. (not Staple)

Here's something more recent.

And this, from the first Hip-Hop superstar, one of my favorites.

Sly and the Family Stone.

Pete Seeger.

John Fogerty.

Here's our new national anthem. 

The New York Times gives some background on Charleston, South Carolina, the city where nine African American church congregants were murdered Wednesday night. Here's some more history of Charleston. Even more history here. For a rundown on recent violence against African Americans, click here.