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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.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

We Shouldn't Be Surprised

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We shouldn't be surprised when we trust that our infinite-growth economic system will grow infinitely, and find out it isn't so infinite after all. We will be. We are surprised about everything else, so why not this?
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Here's a song. Here's another. This too, for the umpteenth time. Here's another. YouTube pulled the Beatles versions.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Freedom to Kill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Here's one for the arms merchants.

A song for all of us. This too.

This song needs no explaining.

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

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

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

Here's Steve Earle's best song.

Los Lobos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frontline showed a repeat of its investigation of the NRA on June 14.
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Update, June 19: Investigators are saying Omar Mateen, the Orlando killer, showed little evidence of radicalization, and fits the profile of a typical mass shooter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 05, 2016

A Change Whose Time Has Come

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the ferment of change intensifies, "leftist" media like WORT are likely to be left out in the cold, so to speak. Or, they can change as the world changes. If they do, so much the better. If they don't, something will arise to replace them. I'm optimistic.
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Here's an example of the Rousers from twenty-six years ago.

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

You can watch some videos from New Dimensions Radio here.

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Surreality on Steroids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Non-Duality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's some more. This too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 25, 2016

If Only...

Like millions around the world, I was stunned and saddened by the unexpected death of the popular musician Prince on Thursday. He was a force, both of personality and music, and appealed to likely the widest range of people that any performer has.

I first became aware of his talent when I heard the song "Purple Rain" in a bar full of U.S. Marines in Kailua, Hawaii, in 1984. It was a pretty unlikely place, but there I was in the Marine hangout, feeling completely alien until "Purple Rain" played over the sound system. The Marines sang along with it, turning it into a rousing drinking song. It was bizarre, but the song was so good that all sense of isolation departed. The Marines were from the nearby Kaneohe Marine Base, and they seemed to recreate en masse rather than dispersively.

Several years later I went to see the concert movie "Sign o' the Times," with Prince and Sheila E. doing some of the best rock 'n roll I have ever seen. He had it all - voice, guitar virtuoso, rhythm, personality, dance moves, and a sense of humor. I expected more of the same from him over the years, but have had a pretty passive approach, letting it come to me rather than pursuing it. My music tastes are more rootsy, by-and-large, and Prince's music tended in a more pop direction.

Then came the Superbowl Halftime Show in 2007. I generally don't watch the Super Bowl, having a growing revulsion for pro-football. The Chicago Bears were playing in the game, so I had some mild interest, still only watched about 10 minutes. But the halftime show with Prince, that was a must.

And he delivered. In a rain storm. These performances have grown into crass spectacles, but Prince went beyond spectacle, bringing it in, but transcending. The stage was wet with rain, and the downpour made playing an electric guitar a risky endeavor. Prince brought the rain in, and it became the backdrop of a blazing version of Purple Rain to finish with. I was in awe, witnessing on TV the most intense, sincere, and humble, really, performance I had ever seen. He poured his heart into that 12 minutes. It seems trite to say we will never see the like again, but I can't imagine anyone topping what Prince did that day.

Now he's dead. Reports are coming out about how he had overdosed on the pain-killer Percocet. He apparently was suffering from pain in one of his hips. He also had stayed awake for 154 hours before his death, which is curious, given that painkillers are sleep-inducing.

We will find out more in the coming days. Some are arguing that the media hysteria over Prince's death has gone too far, losing all sense of priority and proportion. There are many people drowning in the Mediterranean, desperate to escape war and poverty. Bombs are killing innocent people all over the Mideast. Terrorism is a looming threat. The Zika virus threatens us all. Climate change might render the human species extinct.

It will pass. The mass information media do what they do. Hyperbole, from which we get the word hype, is their stock-in-trade. In the case of Prince, there had to be hype, almost as if this were his final, over-the-top performance. We need our mythological heroes, and in an age where a crude rabble-rouser like Donald Trump is the most popular candidate for the presidency, attention to the legacy of Prince provides a healthy counterbalance.

Something we might want to consider, though, is the influence that pharmaceutical pain killers have on our society, and the role that pharmaceuticals in general play in our lives. PBS's Frontline aired a segment in February which showed death rates from opioid addiction are over 27,000 per year, 40% more than are killed in car accidents.

We are all at risk. I have had a few near-death experiences just from taking "normal" pharmaceuticals. As doctors are wont to say, they ALL have side-effects, and if you take too much of one, too little, or in combination with something that interacts negatively, you could suffer severe illness or death, and in a short time.

Luckily, I no longer have to take Warfarin, a blood-thinner that interacts badly with just about everything. I also no longer take Simvastatin, a cholesterol drug that I didn't need in the first place, and which caused a severe reaction that took a couple of years to recover from. It was horrendous. I was in intense pain from head to toe - joint and muscle.

I gradually healed from the Simvastatin episode by doing dietary changes recommended by a naturopathic physician, along with taking various supplements, doing yoga exercises, and use of a homeopathic cream called The Rub. Along with many other natural health products, it is available at Madison's Community Pharmacy. Other natural healing substances can be found at Willy St. Coop, so between the two of them I am able to minimize the use of pharmaceuticals. Meditation is also helpful.

A couple of months ago I had some dental surgery done that required, supposedly, that I take a series of antibiotics and a pain medicine, hydrocodone - one of the opioids that is killing so many people. The overuse of antibiotics in our food and in medical practice is reaching a crisis, as was depicted in a Frontline episode almost two years ago.

The oral surgeon who operated prescribed both of these medicines without pause or warning. It is standard practice, and until directed from above - licensing authorities, the Food and Drug Admininstration, the Centers for Disease Control, etc. - it will remain standard practice.

I took neither medicine. Trusting what I learned from naturopaths and other holistic care practitioners, and from my own experience, I reduced the pain by consuming moderate amounts of turmeric, a spice from a plant root that reduces inflammation. Instead of taking antibiotics I prepared my own concoction of raw onion and garlic, topped with olive oil in a piece of pita bread. I was out of pain in one day, and had no infection.

Back in the 1990s a primary care practitioner told me I had a condition known as acid reflux disease, or GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease). It's another way of saying chronic heartburn, but a fancy disease name makes it more official-sounding. And more inviting to pharmaceutical intervention. I was prescribed Lansoprazole, a protein pump inhibitor. This was followed over the years by other "prazoles" of various names. They all worked. At least if "worked" means they eliminated excess stomach acid. They eliminated ALL stomach acid.

Then I found out that these drugs are not particularly good for one's health if taken for extended periods. The body needs stomach acid. I changed my diet and stopped taking prazoles. A company named Urban Moonshine offers a selection of digestive bitters that help prevent heartburn. Another company, Enzymatic Therapy, offers deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) in tablets, which also helps with digestion. Other brands also offer this remedy. This just happens to be the brand that I have.

Better than these supplements, though, is organic apple cider vinegar. A small amount can stop acid reflux, and taking it before going to bed prevents it. Sometimes, if I eat something with extreme digestive challenges, I take all three remedies.

From the perspective of official medicine and its chief sponsor - the pharmaceutical industry - this approach is anathema. There isn't big money to be made from natural treatment of illness. The established, credible, approved, official world is the world to be believed in and obeyed.

Prince, for all his freedom of expression and pioneering artistry, apparently believed in the official approach to pain management. He might have had other things going on, like addiction and recklessness, but I can't help thinking that if he had tried a few natural treatments for his pain he would still be with us. A lot of us are angry about Prince's death. A good place to direct it is the amoral pharmaceutical industry. From there we can look at the panoply of other official myths that pass for truth these days. Like this.
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Here is a series of Prince songs.

We are all flirting with the Apocalypse.

Here's an old song.

This song is by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, something we all wish Prince had done.

April 27 update: Here's an example of what Prince meant to other musicians.

May 4 update: There is another problem caused by our obsession with pharmaceuticals. When they leave our bodies they don't just disappear into the atmosphere. They get ingested by every form of life that is "downstream."

Prince apparently was scheduled to meet with a doctor who specialized in treating addiction the day after he died. Here's more info.

Prince also gave tens of thousands of dollars to an organization that works with orphans in Afghanistan, of which there are many, thanks to our "leaders."

Update, June 5: An article in Salon describes how overprescription of antibiotics is putting us all at risk. You may find Salon to be problematic. It has become a click-bait site, and will crash any browser. Some users seem to be able to navigate the site without problem by installing an ad blocker.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

After the Fall

As we have long suspected in Wisconsin, the real purpose of the voter ID law enacted by the "Republicans" in the state legislature is to suppress the vote. A former "Republican" legislative aide said so publicly last week, describing a planning meeting where one state senator said that all he cared about was winning elections regardless of the negative effects. A former state senator, who is now serving in the House of Representatives in Washington, let it slip that the intention of the law is to elect "Republicans." The Congressman, Glenn Grothman, also said "I think Hillary Clinton is about the weakest candidate the Democrats have ever put up. And now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID is going to make a little bit of a difference as well."

The same is true nationwide. Legislatures dominated by "Republicans" have introduced voter ID laws in 41 states since 2011, and 18 of them have been successfully enacted. A Frontline investigation in 2014 revealed how the laws are not about voter fraud, but to restrict voting.

Given the putrid candidates the "Republicans" are offering for president this year, the voter ID laws likely won't be enough to ensure victory. Still, they are confident that they can prevent Obama's Supreme Court nominee from being confirmed long enough for their presumed "Republican" president can nominate someone more to their liking, i.e., a "Conservative" sociopath.

What, I wonder, makes them so confident? What do they know that the rest of us don't know? Given that they have no qualms about suppressing the vote, and stole the 2000 and 2004 elections, it is an easy conclusion that they have something up their individual and collective sleeve(s).

It's not the end of the world. Donald Trump is right: the system is rigged. In a likely contest of Hillary Clinton versus whomever non-Trump candidate the "Republicans" come up with it will truly be a choice between the lesser of two evils. She will be a terrible president, as will be Cruz, Trump or Kasich. None of them will do anything that needs to be done, and all of them would do things that are harmful to people and the planet.

The "Republicans," of course, will be worse. The political parties are essentially criminal organizations, but they exist along a continuum. It is not the continuum of "left" to "right," but of perfidy and evil. What they have in common is the burning need to win elections. The "Democrats" rely on fooling the less-well-off and more-civilized, while the "Republicans" are more about crony capitalism, xenophobia and scapegoating. The lines of division between and among them are not drawn in stone, so there is plenty of crony capitalism and xenophobia on the "Democratic" side and plenty of fooling the less-well-off and more-civilized among the "Republicans."

Given the the two major parties are criminal and/or do-next-to-nothing parties, and that drastic climate change is encroaching, as well as the impending collapse of our infinite-growth economic system, one can easily conclude that they are speeding up the process of their own demise. The challenge for the rest of us is to find ways to prevent them from taking us with them.

How about another party? Today I attended the state convention of the Wisconsin Green Party. There were few attendees, and not much of significance went on. It's a party that has struggled for attention and impact over the years, reaching its pinnacle of sorts when Ralph Nader was its candidate for president in 1996 and 2000. Some still blame him for the "defeat" of Al Gore in Florida in 2000, when the real culprit was the "Republican" party, which suppressed the vote through various forms of chicanery, blocking people from voting, purging voter registrations, sending people to the wrong polling places, and various other methods of election fraud.

They had their chance. More than a chance. An abundance of chances. They squandered their opportunities, all in the name of petty narcissism and outright sociopathy. Their time is up. Let's get rid of them. The Green Party is small and ineffective now, but when people have had enough of the greater or lesser of two evils, they (we) might start looking elsewhere. The Green Party in Germany actually has people holding public office, with 63 representatives in the Bundestag, the national legislature.

Polar bears taking a break. They depend on our good will for their survivalIt isn't much, but it's a start. With increasing drought, forest fires, floods, storms, hurricanes, tornadoes,  rising sea levels, crop failures, species decline, the spread of disease, and worldwide economic collapse, something new will take the place of the old. Necessity is the mother of invention, and just as throughout history when circumstances converge, change takes place. The Green Party of the United States can be a catalyst and focal point for that change. On November 8 we "choose" a new president. On November 9 we can start planning for real change.
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Here's a song. Here's another. And another. This too. And this.

R.I.P. Merle Haggard. This is my favorite of his songs. This is my second-favorite. Here's an alternate version. This was one of my mother's favorite songs. Alternate version. They even did this Merle song with the Beach Boys. Who'da thunk?


Update April 22 : Here's something we won't be seeing a movie about any time soon. It wouldn't conform with the manufacture of consent, which dictates the bounds of thinkable thought.

Meanwhile, back at the Great Barrier Reef.