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

Here's a song. Here's another.  And another. And this, for the pursuers of maggots.

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.

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.
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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.
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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 Staple Singers.

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. 
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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.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Matter of Trust

This week we found out that  the Obama Administration's account of the killing of Osama bin Laden was a fabrication. Or at least we re-found it out. This week's re-finding out was slightly more mainstream, from the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) weekly investigative program Frontline. In Tuesday's segment, titled Secrets, Politics and Torture, the main focus was on the CIA's secret "enhanced interrogation" methods.

The report began with a brief description of the Hollywood movie Zero Dark Thirty, which was largely based on information given to the movie-makers by the CIA. It turns out, surprise of surprises, the CIA lied. The most significant of the lies the movie promoted was that bin Laden's whereabouts were revealed through torture.

A week previous the London Review of Books published a lengthy excerpt of a pending book by New Yorker investigative reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner Seymour Hersh, where he recounted facts he gleaned from high-level sources that bin Laden had actually been held in house arrest at the residence in Abbottabad, Pakistan by the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) since 2006, and was killed in a fake raid. Bin Laden was apparently in poor health at the time of the "raid," and was unable to defend himself.

Hersh also was told that the CIA learned bin Laden's whereabouts from a Pakistani intelligence official in exchange for $25 million. The raid in which bin Laden was killed was done with full-knowledge of the Pakistani army and ISI. The story about him being buried at sea was also false. Body parts were apparently scattered over the Hindu Kush mountains in Pakistan, but even that is not certain. It seems likely that at least some parts of bin Laden's body are interred in a CIA vault somewhere, if for no other reason than to use it for DNA identification of relatives.

What was our government's response to these revelations? Easy. Counter with more lies. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a batch of documents it says were seized in the raid. In a battle of public perception, counter bad propaganda with favorable propaganda. All that matters is fooling the public, and the public is easily fooled. Marcy Wheeler, writing in Salon, showed that the supposed bin Laden library is a sloppy attempt to back up a false story with another false story.

One thing clearly established from these revelations is that Obama, like Bush before him, is a pathological liar. This should come as no surprise, since virtually all politicians are liars. It matters to know this, though, as more lies are presented as truth.

Such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), Obama's trade deal, which curiously has more support from "Republicans" than "Democrats." The bill giving the president unlimited authority to negotiate trade agreements just passed the Senate, and moves on to the House of Representatives, where if approved will become the law of the land . Obama claimed it is good for the country, which, since we now know he is a liar, makes it bad for the country. Here's a deeper explanation. This analysis by CNN gives a pretty good summary of the issues involved.

The interesting thing to me in all the conflicting accounts, fabrications, movies and various other propaganda is the underlying psychology. For example, torture. The Bush criminal regime was told in advance of initiating its torture program that it wouldn't work, and that it was illegal. They disregarded the warnings and went ahead full steam with kidnappings ("extraordinary rendition"), secret "black" sites, torture and murder. As the Frontline story showed, the psychologists who advised the program made $180 million.

Jose Padilla being escorted to a dental appointmentTorture of course had been used prior to the rendition program, at Abu Ghraib prison in "Iraq" and with "American" citizen José Padilla, who was unlucky enough to be picked as the domestic terrorist du jour following the "911" attacks. And, of course, the torture training facility for Latin American dictatorships at Fort Benning Georgia, known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly the School of the Americas.

Given the Bush regime's active negligence in advance of the "911" attacks and the theft of the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, its two phony wars, its war crimes, including torture, it can safely be said that the prime motivating factor in all its behavior was criminal and sociopathic. Torturers don't torture to get information. As FBI interrogator Ali Soufan explained in the Frontline investigation, more and better information is gleaned by gaining the trust of the person being questioned.

Torture is done for the pleasure of life-and-death power over another human being, for the power to inflict horrible suffering, to terrorize, to dominate, to humiliate and to make dependent. In shamanic terms this is known as soul theft, and it carries severe consequences. In the case of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al., torture also had the benefit of internal and external propaganda - that by torturing they are showing how badly they want to "get the bad guys," when it was actually they who were the bad guys. They could disguise their culpability in allowing the September 11 attacks to happen, and deflect negative public attention from themselves and towards their trumped-up wars. It was most egregious in the "Shock and Awe" invasion of "Iraq" and the subsequent occupation, which by some estimates resulted in the deaths of over a million people.

So the "War on Terror" has been a scam from day one, and really before. People who believe it was all planned in advance are dismissed as "conspiracy theorists." My answer to that is it matters little what planning or ineptitude took place before the September 11 attacks.

What does matter is that the Bush regime committed crimes - many of them - and they were crimes of the most serious kind: negligence in the face of dire warnings of impending attacks, lying the country into war, illegal occupations of two countries; murders of many thousands of innocent civilians; kidnapping of at least 136 innocent people in the extraordinary rendition program; establishment of an illegal prison on foreign soil in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where additional kidnapped prisoners were detained, and which is still in operation; fake prosecutions of  "American" citizens in showcase FBI entrapments; unwarranted spying on "American" citizens; and last but not least, lying about all these activities.

Equally important to the crimes of the Bush regime is that they got away with it. We have a system of impunity for those at the top, whether it is in government or business. The current presidential regime is better only by degree, not kind.

What can the average citizen do in the face of such criminality at the top? It's a daunting task, but a good place to start is to not believe a word they say - not one word - about anything. They may tell the truth on occasion, but it is only to serve a bigger lie. Obama is now saying that climate change is a national security imperative, which of course it is, but what does it mean at this point in his presidency? He has a year-and-a-half left in office. The time to call it a national security imperative was on January 20, 2009, in his inauguration speech. He's too late with too little, and he can't be trusted to actually do anything.

So we are on our own. We have to do it ourselves. We are heading into another of our slapstick comedies known as the presidential election. The professed candidates are all clowns, likely sociopaths, except Bernie Sanders. I'm waiting for Jim Webb to announce his candidacy. He's not a sociopath, and he is a man of integrity. He also stands little chance of winning, but if people get fed up enough with the current crop of candidates, maybe that will change.

In the largest sense, though, what happens on this planet is infinitesimally small in the grand scheme of things. When all seems hopeless at the most superficial level I ultimately refer back to the spiritual, and trust that the fate of the Universe is following along a path of higher consciousness, as has been told by countless enlightened beings throughout history.

From this perspective it is absurd to think that the future of humankind can be determined or made extinct by the likes of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney or Barack Obama (or any number of lesser personages on the national and world scene, too many to name). The mere fact that such people squander such an opportunity as "the most powerful man on Earth" is actually evidence of their weakness, not their strength. Understanding their crimes as weakness should give us strength, and serve as a guide in our daily activities.
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Here's a song. Here's another. And this. Here's one for the makers of Zero Dark Thirty. You can play along with the chords and lyrics. This is the original. Here's a guitar lesson.

Here's an update about the TPP, where a senator explains what is harmful about the deal.

Journalist and former Carter Administration official Hodding Carter has announced his support for Edward Snowden and his exposure of government secrets.

Here's a list of the items in Osama bin Laden's "bookshelf." It reads like a dream sheet of people the CIA would like to torture. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Midas Touch in Reverse

One thing that can be said for sure of the times that we are in is that old traditions are giving way to new. Our democracy is giving way to plutocracy. Our economy is giving way to the same plutocracy. Our previously hidden foreign policy of empire is out in the open, now that the empire in its decline and fall phase. That part is not completely obvious yet, but in the Mideast we now seem to have the Midas touch in reverse. Everything we touch turns to excrement.

In the social sphere, states are coming under increasing pressure to legalize marijuana, both for medical and recreational purposes. Police are coming under increasing pressure to cease their practices of wantonly beating and killing African American and other minorities, homeless people and the mentally ill. In the military and on our college campuses women are organizing to create accountability for sexual assault.

Most prominently in the news these days is the push for legalization of same-sex marriage. To me it is a misnomer. It should be called same gender marriage. Same sex marriage would be a story of boring bedroom intimacy of one tedious method over the duration of marital life. State after state is changing its laws, and the U.S. Supreme Court is set to begin hearing arguments on whether the Constitution includes a right to same gender marriage.

What everyone seems to be talking about, though, is the interview on  the ABC News show 20/20 last Friday with former Olympic decathlon champion Bruce Jenner, where he declared that he is a woman. I watched about the last twenty minutes of the show, which were likely the most crucial. That was when he made his declaration of womanhood, which I figured was something of a no-brainer. He has been undergoing plastic surgery to make him look more like a woman for years. The whole interview was predicated on this announcement.

Two things struck me about the interview. One was that he seemed to be putting on an air of sophistication, of trying to talk about his transition as if it were some kind of ponderous intellectual exercise. For someone who is going through such a physical and emotional upheaval as a gender change it seemed a bit pretentious.

The other thing that struck me was that he said that he had simple goals, like "To be able to have my nail polish on long enough that it actually chips off!" Changing gender identity is a lot to go through for such a simple goal. One of his ex-wives wrote about her experience of Jenner's identity challenges in Huffington Post, saying he "came out" to her in 1985. They divorced a year later. I offered this observation:

Well-written, probably better as a book. I watched part of the interview on Friday, and the thing that struck me was when he said he looks forward to wearing fingernail polish. Men do that already, especially college basketball players, who paint (Or painted. I remember Kansas players doing it a few years ago. UNC too.) their nails with school colors.

I don't understand gender identity. I identify as me, with gender being a matter of practicality. In public using a "men's" room, wearing pants, shaving, finding women attractive, men largely oafs. The surface attributes of women's behavior - longer hair, wearing makeup, dresses, lingerie, earrings, are in my view extensions not so much of identity as personal projection to the world.

They also are practical, natural projections of hormonal secretions that regulate physiology and behavior. Not absolutely necessary, but handy for self-esteem and social interaction. The fact that dresses have been worn by women in almost every culture on the planet is in my understanding a practical result of physiology. They make elimination of waste and childbirth less cumbersome. Men don't give birth and can pee standing up, so wearing a dress isn't as functional.

If a person identifies with the opposite gender to his or her physical body and hormonal balance, then it is psychological. That doesn't mean it is "curable," though it could be changed. The key, as I understand it, is identity. If gender identity is paramount, then it is more important than other facets of one's life.

Identifying only as me, and not as part of some category, and of conformity to what others believe that category to be, I am more free to pursue my deeper self, what in yogic terms is known as the Atman, or simply the Self. In Buddhism it is known as the Void, beyond Nirvana. In Christianity - at least some Christianity - it is known as the Beatific Vision. At least from my perspective it is a lot more interesting than gender identity, and a lot less painful and troublesome. Here's a song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFsbAuX9P4w
In the grand scheme of things a famous guy who wants to be a woman is not a big deal. It is a field day for the news media, of course, but hardly as significant as the earthquake in Nepal, or just about anything else in the events of the day. I wish him well. He is going through something very difficult, and for all the world to see. He at least has the advantage of significant wealth and a level of celebrity that grants privilege few others can even imagine.

Such as people who live in areas where our government is dropping bombs in a heartless and reckless fashion, its protestations of innocence notwithstanding. President Obama admitted last Thursday that a drone strike in Pakistan in January killed an "American" and an "Italian" hostage that were being held prisoner along with presumed al Qaeda militants. We found out Sunday that Obama relaxed rules that required evidence of an immanent threat before launching drone attacks, which made the deaths of the hostages more likely (read more here).

The wisdom, or lack of same, in secret drone strikes was discussed on Monday's OnPoint on National Public Radio. The discussion was pretty empty, talking mostly about the quality of the intelligence and how effective the strikes are. I again put in my two cents:

Unsaid in this discussion is the meta-level arrogance of "the world's only superpower." The presumed overseership over Planet Earth began with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Coincidentally, 1991 was the year we conquered Iraq. Or half-conquered. In 2003 we sort of completed the conquer.

Or so we thought. We're still there. Our CIA helped the Ba'ath party and Saddam Hussain overthrow the existing government in 1968, after the original overthrow of the monarchy in 1959. We had assumed overseership in the Mideast for many years already, starting in 1918 with the end of the Ottoman Empire, then amping-up after World War II.

The CIA was instrumental in forming both the Taliban in Afghanistan and al-Qaeda, arming the precursors of both in their fight against the Russians. Al-Qaeda morphed into an anti-U.S. terrorist group as a result of the U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia (itself an artifice held up by U.S. and European, mainly British overseership) starting with the first war against Saddam Hussain. The roots of the Taliban were in the Mujahedeen, which gradually transformed into the entity we know today.

In concert with all this meddling was the overthrow of the elected prime minister of Iran and installation of the brutal Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi by the CIA and the British in 1953. Had this not happened it would have been unlikely that Iran would be aiding the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Assad regime in Syria. Of course, this also assumes that we would not have given many billions of dollars to Israel to oppress and kill the Palestinians and invade their neighbors.

So what we call terrorism is a direct result of our overseership of the Mideast. Each new permutation brings on a new strategy to overthrow some group or another, which then results in some new permutation of terrorist groups. The weakness in this discussion is that it takes the drone strikes completely out of their historical context, reducing them to a reptilian brain analysis: Ugh! Terrorists moving about in signature fashion! Send in the drones! Ugh! Civilians hit? They were terrorists, because drones attack terrorists! Ugh! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triune_brain
In the larger context of decline and fall of the empire, the drone attacks can be seen as acts of desperation. Everything we do in the Mideast and really everywhere else has the Midas Touch in reverse effect, but the power to kill people has an addictive quality that can be intoxicating. Drone strikes will hasten the decline, but our "leaders" don't seem to know of anything else to do.

Meanwhile, the Polar ice caps continue to melt, as I mention at every opportunity. The habitability of the planet should be everyone's number one concern. Instead, our Midas touch in reverse ruling elite - both governmental and corporate - is hastening the day that our declining empire will be fully declined.
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Here's some background on the Baltimore riots.

Here's a song. Here's another. And another. Here's an old gem I had to scour my memory for. I found this by accident, a case of protesting too much. Here's a great Dylan song. I like this version better. This Dylan song fits. You can paint your fingernails to this song. Here's an identity song. This Beatles song pertains.

Here are a few Grateful Dead songs that fit: Ship of Fools, Brokedown Palace, Throwing Stones/Not Fade Away (with a familiar face helping with the rhythm) U.S. Blues, Man Smart, Woman Smarter (great alternate version), Eyes of the World. Here's the original of Man Smart, Woman Smarter.

Here's a Hollies song I never heard or heard of before. There are even definitions of Reverse Midas Touch online. This one will do.

This Dylan song fits, a bit too well. Here's Tracy Chapman doing a great version of a timeless Dylan tune. Here she is singing Ben E. King's Stand By Me.

Is there a way out? The Beatles have an answer. John Lennon takes it a little deeper.

Here's a short history of the decline and fall of the fall of the Roman Empire, for compare and contrast purposes. Here's another view. And another. Here are some quotes from Gore Vidal's book on the decline and fall of the American Empire. Even Forbes got involved in the decline and fall premonition business.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich says the 1% began rigging the redistribution of income to themselves fifty years ago. 

R.I.P. Percy Sledge. He appeared at the Enlisted Men's Club where I was stationed in Heidelberg, Germany in 1971. I didn't go, wish I had. It would have cost about $5. Here's his best-known song. This song is pretty great too.