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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.

My Photo
Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

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

Friday, April 24, 2015

Maybe We Can

We are entering the final phase of the Obama presidency. The surreal Obama presidency. Elected on the vague promise of “Yes We Can,” he has had some successes, some failures, and presided over some actions that would arouse interest at the Hague, were the International Criminal Court something other than a prosecutor of the small and convenient. In the remaining months of his tenure he hopes to make peace with "Iran" and "Cuba." Maybe he can make more peace.

Working against Obama is a cacophony of grandstanders, demagogues, "right wing" zealots, religious zealots, media rabble-rousers and any number of the mentally deranged. These categories are not mutually exclusive, so a person in any one of them can be identified with a few or all subgroups. Especially the mentally deranged category. Grandstander and demagogue are nearly the same, except the grandstander gets more attention.

Life is getting harder for media grandstanding demagogues. Fox News show host Bill O'Reilly has been exposed as a liar. Duh. He lies all the time, but his big lies about being in combat have finally caught up with him. Sean Hannity, also on Fox, has long been exposed as a liar, but he is finding the lying life frustrating.

Popular astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has been busy lately exposing the dishonesty of "Republican" climate change deniers. He believes that politicians denying science is the beginning of the end of democracy. Not surprisingly, he has been a target of personal attack on Fox News. Grandstanding "Republican" presidential candidate Ted Cruz is also a serial liar. Another candidate, Rand Paul, joins the serial liar cast.  Wisconsin's own Scott Walker rounds out the presidential candidate liar list.

Another presidential candidate, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, said last week that we don't know who President Obama is, or if he cares about the "U.S." This is the guy who ordered lane closures on a major transport link between New York City and the State of New Jersey to "teach a lesson" to a political opponent.

What, we might wonder, is going on? Is it just anything goes when it comes to politics?  Maybe. Is the desperation to win trumping all other considerations? It would seem. Has everyone gone mad?

I think I can provide an explanation. It isn't a simple one, but it isn't hard to understand. I take a psychological approach, using a mix of different perspectives. Most politicians, and especially "Republicans," are a mix of psychopath/sociopath, narcissism, reptilian brain domination, paranoid personality disorder, the low end of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, and a psychosis of pretend and escape. These factors all blend together in a toxic stew, poisonous in the critical times in which we live.

The reptilian brain, home of “right-wingers”Holding all these psychopathologies together, it seems, is addiction. It is the glue that unifies escapism, pretend, deficiency needs, narcissism, psychopathy/sociopathy and the reptilian brain. It doesn't have to be alcohol or drugs. In the politico-economic sphere it is power and money, and by implication sex, which accrues to power and money.

It may seem needless to say that our toxic mix of political actors is characterized by psychopathology, but no one else is looking at them this way. It is all in terms of outrage, ridicule, debunking, faux ideological analyses and arguments, and "organizing" to overcome them. Good luck.

Polar bears taking a break. They depend on our good will for their survivalMaybe a little psychological reverse engineering might help. The Polar ice caps are melting and our unsustainable infinite-growth economic system is fast approaching the day when it will fail irreparably. Since our political overstructure is avoiding both these realities, it is pretending that another reality is the only reality. All the psychotic noise that we're hearing is cover for the pretend. You can't "organize" around psychotic noise. What we can do is understand. When we understand we can respond appropriately. Maybe.

Drones are in the news again. Two Westerners, including one "American," were killed in a drone attack in "Pakistan" in January, and the president apologized for it yesterday. Actually, two "Americans" were killed, but one of them was designated as a member of al Qaeda. The drone program drones on.

Lest we forget, al Qaeda began with CIA funding during the "Soviet" invasion and occupation of "Afghanistan," from 1979 to 1989. It was known as Operation Cyclone, and resulted in the ascension of both the Taliban and al Qaeda.

A new term has been introduced: Signature drone strikes. A "signature" apparently is some activity that can be construed as al Qaeda-like, and therefore justifies a drone attack. Since weddings, family gatherings, farmers in fields, pedestrians and donkeys have been targeted, they must have been doing something al Qaeda-like. Like breathing. Embracing. Walking. Saying "Allahu Akbar." Or "As-salamu Alaykum." Or, in a donkey's case, hee-haw.

Here's a song.

Here's another. Maybe you remember it. You might remember this too.

This fits. And this. Also this.

I heard this on the radio a couple of weeks ago. Great version. It can mean whatever you want it to mean. Her distant cousin was referred to by FDR as the "Father of the United Nations."

Here's Neil deGrasse Tyson on the Daily Show.

Update, April 26: Scott Walker is being challenged by the Milwaukee District Attorney about his lying.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

The Agenda Behind the Grandstanding

Wisconsin's governor Scott Walker is in the news again, putting his foot in his mouth. At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) convention Thursday he compared union protesters to ISIL, saying "I want a commander-in-chief who will do everything in their power to ensure that the threats from radical Islamic terrorists do not wash up on American soil." He followed with "We need a leader with that kind of confidence. If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world."

Walker got resounding cheers for this boast, but soon realized comparing union protesters to terrorists would not play well outside the convention. He quickly backtracked, saying he wasn't comparing protesters to terrorists when he was comparing protesters to terrorists, and that the media are responsible for the confusion.

Such are the perils of grandstanding. At a conference of grandstanders one has to out-grandstand the competition. This wasn't a meeting for reasoned dialogue. The audience was made up of the most extreme elements of the "Republican" base, the supposed "Tea Party" activists, religious zealots, and "Libertarians." The intersect among these populations is high, so many are identified in several extreme groups.

One question raised by Walker's remarks was in the Washington Post, in an article Friday, observing that Walker reveals a weakness all the likely presidential candidates have - a lack of foreign policy experience. The idea that "taking on" protesters qualifies one for dealing with worldwide terrorism shows a complete misunderstanding of both protest and terrorism, and on its face Walker's contention disqualifies him for the presidency.

Deputies for Democracy
What wasn't said in the reactions to Walker's speech was that he was lying. He didn't "take on" ANY protesters. The 100,000 who came to the Capitol on Saturday, March 12, 2011 were not "taken on" at all by anyone. Walker was nowhere in sight. During the entire occupation of the Capitol during the months of February and March of that year Walker was nowhere to be seen. He used police escorts and underground tunnels to avoid being visible or confronted on weekdays, but on weekends he was elsewhere. A better idea of what was going on at the Capitol during those months can be seen in three posts of pictures I made to this blog: This, this and this.

What also wasn't said was that the protests that Walker compared to ISIS were because he was pushing a new law through the state legislature that would severely limit the bargaining ability of public sector unions, reduce benefits, and curtail many state programs. The law eventually passed, and resulted in recall elections of several senators, and Walker himself. He won his recall election, opposed by not-so-union-friendly mayor of Milwaukee Tom Barrett. I predicted Barrett's defeat three weeks before the election in this letter to a local newspaper (and in Madison's other paper). It of course was unheeded.

Now the state legislature is ramming through a right-to-work law. For the uninformed, the term right-to-work is a euphemism, disguising its real meaning - right to receive the benefits of being a union member without being a dues-paying union member, or paying dues under a union contract while not being a union member. Right-to-work laws are meant to remove the power of unions to collect dues, without which they cannot operate, and thus can't exist. With no unions in existence, there will be no block of union voters for "Democrats."

A recent article by Nicholas Kristof on the New York Times discusses the perils of a decline in unions. He argues that unions have done a lot to sustain middle-class life, and that the decline of unions may account for as much as one third of the inequality among American men. In other words, unions are good for the country. Efforts to eliminate them are for political gain.

Another part of Walker's agenda is to gut public education. In his latest budget proposal he unveiled his plan to reduce funding to the University of Wisconsin system, along with turning it into a large trade school. Read about it here

I got into an exchange with someone a couple of weeks ago about whether Walker's assault on the University of Wisconsin is "ideological" or that he is a sociopath. My response sums up my attitude towards Walker, as well as "Republicans" in general:

Wall Street caused economic collapseI wouldn't call it ideological. That would be giving Walker credit for having an ideology. Like many, if not most politicians, Walker is a sociopath, and politics is a means of personal aggrandizement, power and wealth. 

He has a pattern of behavior: engaging in slippery methods to get elected, using government workers on government time for campaign work, weakening unions as a way of weakening opposition, making it harder for poor people and students to vote, since they would tend to vote against him, privatizing schools as a way of further weakening opposition among teachers, who would tend to vote against him, transferring other state functions to private "interests," which would eliminate more opposition, and now, attempting to gut the University of Wisconsin and turn it into a trade school.

This would serve to eliminate an entire block of opposition voters: intellectuals. It also would eliminate expert academic criticism of his various schemes. For some the entire Universe is necessarily seen from the perspective of ideology, because they are themselves ideologues.

The world is a battle of ideologies from this perspective, so everything has to be put in an ideological box when much simpler, but not simplistic, explanations yield greater truth and are more likely to lead to solutions.

In Walker's case, attempting to communicate his, mm, fascism, or right-wingness isn't likely to get very far outside the city limits of Madison. Like it or not, it will take communicating beyond the city limits of Madison to get rid of him. He should be in jail, but not for his "ideology." He should be in jail for crimes against democracy.

Unions built AmericaSo the real problem facing this country is communication. Fascism is the effect of what "Republicans" are foisting on the country, but the motivation is criminal - total political control. Greed for power, and, of course, its fuel, money. The method is to divide and conquer, as Matt Taibbi writes in Rolling Stone. It worked in Wisconsin. Will it work nationwide? Let's hope not.

Meanwhile, the climate has its own agenda

Let's not forget the crony capitalism aspect of the "Republican" agenda. 

Here's what our "Republican" dominated Supreme Court is up to these days.

Eric Margolis writes about how fascism is coming alive again in this post.

An explanation of fascist theory and practice can be seen here. Lawrence W. Britt explains fascism further at the Information Clearing House.

This calls for a song. And another. And another. This song never fails. Here's some Bruce Springsteen. Billy Bragg is always worth a listen.

Here's an example of one of the things Walker had in mind to "take on" the union protesters.

Here's some video footage of the rally Walker claims to have "taken on." Here are some pictures of the rally, set to music. Here's some more footage. Some drummers showed up to support the rally. Here's some footage of an earlier protest. Here's another. Here's one from inside the Capitol. People called in pizza donations to the protests from all over the world. Madison firefighters joined the protests. This video helps to understand the concerns of union workers. Here's a musical performance in the Capitol Rotunda. Here's some music outside.

This video is from the pre-recall rally in 2012.  Here's another version. The Brother Ali riff is still awe-inspiring. Here's a news story about the rally.

R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Energy Shift

American Sniper picture with snark comments
The controversy over "American Sniper" appears to be intensifying. For those who dare to criticize the movie's veracity, its implied political message, or its callousness, a bombardment of attack can ensue. Such as what happened to Sophia McClennen at Salon, where she wrote an article critical of the movie. She was attacked by email, Twitter, and in the comments section, with vitriolic, obscene and hateful remarks. I had this response (linked here):

I get my health care at the VA. My primary care physician is female, the best ever. She followed up on something no one else would, even though it is life-threatening. The clinic I was referred to is headed by a female, and the doctor who treats my condition is a female from Pakistan, i.e., a Muslim. The pharmacists I deal with are female. Some of the specialists I see are men, and one M.D. recently is the son of Vietnamese immigrants. My dentist is female. Every so often I see a female chiropractor. When I get my hair cut it is usually by a female.

I write this just to point out that the snark attack seems to largely from emasculated men. I suspect that some claiming to be vets never served a day in their lives, particularly the one who claimed to be crying. Americans live in fantasy, which is why "American Sniper" is packing them in to the tune of $250,000,000 and counting. It's a short excursion from the video game to a sniper movie, and you don't have to enlist. You can even pretend the score, 160.

There is a difference I have noticed, though, between veterans of the Bush era wars and previous conflicts. There is an aggressiveness about having served the country, not the service itself, but the personal self-esteem that accrues, and an aggressive patriotism that is less love of country than an ego-enhanced projection of superiority over others. This goes hand-in-hand with callousness about the "enemy," which is, as the movie shows, the "savages" who live where we invade.

Unlike the draft military of the Vietnam and earlier wars and pseudo-wars, the modern military is all-volunteer. Because of this there is a certain self-selection of a narrower demographic, less of a cross-section of the population.

More significantly is that the military has a freer hand in conditioning its members into a cult-like conformity and submission, a groupthink that is comprehensive and rigidly enforced. Regardless of rank, members would refer to their fellow-troops as "my soldiers," or "my Marines." The perceived enemy is referred to as "bad guys." Iraq is "Eye-rack." The "bad guys" also get called "Hajis." You don't get sent anywhere. You get deployed. Often repeatedly.

Because of this successful conditioning, relatively few of the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts question the wisdom or morality of these intrusions. Part of this is due to the lower recruitment pool, but it is the conditioning that plays the larger part.

This is something we should be aware of as the empire moves into its decline and fall phase. There's still a lot of money to be made diddling around the planet starting wars. We have a ruling elite that would enjoy using the military to "enforce domestic tranquility." They have the ready force. All that is needed is an excuse, and excuses are easy to come by.

Here's something that may be our next diddle: http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/02/14/putin-did-it-conspiracy-theory
My projector repair diploma
I have an advantage when it comes to manhood issues. I served in the U.S. Army during one of its phony wars - Vietnam. I knew it was phony before enlisting, but compromised with my father, who wanted me to be an officer. I enlisted for a school that would keep me from killing anyone - projector repair (41F20). I consider my choice a far better one than letting the government turn me into a killer. Where's my movie? American Projector Repairman. It would be a short movie. I didn't fix 160 projectors. I didn't fix any. No projector count. I was sent to Germany after graduation, and the unit I was assigned to didn't have an authorization for a projector repairman. I became a clerk-typist, 71 Bravo. C'est la vie.

In Army basic training I did well, better at physical training tests than most of my fellow trainees. I was a good enough shot with a rifle to be awarded a medal for sharpshooter.

My high school football statsBefore the Army I played sports in high school, one of the checklist items on the way to "manhood." I wasn't very good, but I played. Track was my main sport, but I also played football. The best experience was on a Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball team when I was a senior. We didn't even have uniforms, but beat everyone in the league except for one. I was the team's top defensive player, could block shots, rebound, and steal passes. I got a friend who was a former local high school star to play on the team. He was six-foot-six, agile and aggressive, and scored at will, sometimes as high as 56 points. We had great fun, beating teams with fancy uniforms and warmup drills. I held the league's leading scorer at the time pointless, with Gary C having one of his 56 point games. He was stuffing them in from above his elbow (that gym was in a grade school, and had 9' 6" rims).

My dad was an avid hunter and fisherman, so I learned both growing up, mostly hunting. I gave it up in the 1970s, the thrill being gone. Spiritual life was my main interest in life by that time.

In 2012 I won third place for my age group in the 100 meter dash at the Wisconsin Senior Games. It wasn't a big deal. I just wanted to see what I could do. I was a fast runner in high school, but ran the mile instead. I was inspired by the first four-minute miler, Roger Bannister, and wanted to be like him. When I was a freshman I ran the mile in 4 minutes, 55 seconds. I got steadily worse every year after that, my motivation declining along with my performance.

De nada. I played sports, just wasn't great. I didn't feel less "manly," just as the few and far between successes didn't make me feel more "manly." Throughout my life I have had dealings with men who have had manhood deficiencies. They have been large, small, "gay," "straight," young, old, dumb, smart, poor, rich, famous and infamous.

The Campus Inn, Ann Arbor
One of the famous was Bo Schembechler, football coach at the University of Michigan. In 1978 I worked at the hotel where he kept the football team on the nights before home games. He would come in on Sundays for breakfast with a couple of his assistant coaches. One Sunday he came in after parking in the hotel's parking tunnel, which was for picking up and dropping off guests.

As Bo was coming in the door I told him he couldn't park in the tunnel because it was a fire lane. He was the only person who left his car in the tunnel in the time I worked there. When I told him he couldn't park there he walked right past me without saying a word, and proceeded to the unwalled restaurant facing the street.

Bo's table was near the front desk, so I stood there for a minute badmouthing him, telling the front desk clerk "He can't even win a bowl game, but he thinks he can do whatever he wants." He finished his breakfast, left, and never came in again. He eventually won five bowl games out of the seventeen he coached at Michigan.

This was pretty typical of my experience with "manly" men.  They would do something to "out-man" me, and I would do something to reverse the momentum. I did this kind of thing time and again, innocently, but with intention. With workplace bullies it was the most fun, because standing up to them would start a process that would end with them looking for work elsewhere. One guy ended up killing himself after a long decline that began with him trying to get me fired for standing up to him. He was big too, about six-foot-three, solid-built. I don't gloat over this, and wish it had turned out differently, but he had an opportunity every step of the way to change his ways. Ego can be more important than life.

Joe Don Looney article in People MagazineThough I have had difficulties with fake tough guys throughout my life, I have always gotten along with real tough guys. Pro football bad boy Joe Don Looney was one of them. I knew him in my guru-following days, when he was a fellow-devotee of Swami Muktananda. He was a pretty angry guy, but I managed to communicate with him on an easy level. We played on the same side in an ashram touch football game one Sunday, and after I got hit in the eye by an opposing player he pummeled the guy for the rest of the game. That was his way of showing his kinship.

The Hells Angels guy from my unit in GermanyWhen I was in the Army one of the jobs I had was as a company clerk. I was not a gung-ho troop, and helped guys out of trouble on a routine basis. Some of them were bikers in civilian life, including one California Hells Angel. He was a national guardsman who got put on active duty for missing meetings. He was a drug-addict and a thief, stealing my field jacket and my roommate's watch, but he also was someone who would die for his friends. I wasn't exactly a friend, but he kept me out of harm's way more than once.

My desk in the Orderly Room, 503d Transportation Company, Heidelberg, GermanyAnother of the bikers was a Vietnam combat vet who was a member of The Outlaws in Detroit. He was more of a friend, as it turned out, and I put myself at some risk to help him out of trouble. He had beaten-up a Yugoslav immigrant worker at the Heidelberg Bahnhof (train station), and I wrote a letter for him that bought him some time before he ETSed (got out of the Army). I also guided him to the person who got his orders rescinded when our first sergeant had him transferred to a unit about 60 miles away.

The toughest of anyone I have ever known, though, was my roommate (when rank qualified me for a two-man room), Mitch R, from Greensboro, North Carolina. He was a combat veteran, serving in the 199th Infantry Brigade in Vietnam. In the barroom fights the guys in my unit got into he could take 5 men at a time, using only his fists. He wasn't a biker.

It's been an interesting life dealing with gender permutations of various kinds. My father was an FACS surgeon, but most of the doctors in my home town were crooks, fee splitters, some calling themselves surgeons when they hadn't even completed a residency. I prefer female doctors. They tend to be easier about who they are, are better listeners, and have a better overall manner. This isn't always the case, but it is for the most part.

Men are troubled in this country. Actually, men are troubled worldwide in various degrees, but it is in America where it is most convoluted, with violence and vicarious violence practically worshiped like a religion. Indeed, some combine religion and violence, attacking women's health clinics that perform abortions, and occasionally killing people who work there. We have an entire news network that promotes hatred and violence, with its on-air personalities telling any lie that will feed their propaganda needs. One of them, Bill O'Reilly, has been exposed for lying about being in combat, but it doesn't affect his status with the network. His response was that the author of the story deserves to be in "the kill zone."

The 64 hexagrams
Where is this all headed, one might ask. It's hard to say. If we look at faux-masculinity as a trend, then projecting the trend into the future is not a cause for optimism. I prefer what happened when I threw the I Ching a few decades ago. The I Ching, or Book of Changes, is a divination method, where a question is asked, and hexagrams are formed by throwing small sticks or coins, like throwing dice. The results are compared to descriptions of 64 hexagrams in an I Ching book.

Yin and Yang explained
I forget the exact question I asked, but it had something to do with the direction of the human species. The answer I got was that there is an excess of Yang, or masculine energy in the world, that this has been going on for a long time, but is about to reach its peak, and will begin a long process of shifting to Yin, or female energy.

Male enhancement info from WebMDIn this light there is cause for optimism. If the changes in the medical profession are any indication, the shift has already begun. This could also explain why so many men are having trouble with their "manhood." Ads are all over on television about erectile dysfunction cures, sexual enhancements, medicines that may cause erections that last over four hours, and even for the removal of body hair. Apparently there is money to be made convincing men that they would be more manly if they had hairless bodies. Maybe this is to make tattoos more visible. Or possibly to be smoother when all-greased-down. The mind boggles.

If planetary energies are shifting it can't be a moment too soon. The Polar ice caps are melting, our "leaders" are brewing up another war or two, and the world economy teeters on collapse. If a small country like Greece, by resisting being bullied by the European Union, can cause panic among the powerful, then the powerful are walking on very thin ice. Maybe they'll fall in.

I did a bit of computation on the popularity of American Sniper. The latest figures show that it has earned $312,677,000 at the box office. The average movie ticket price is $8.17. This means that 37,047,368.421 people have seen the movie. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the country's population as of Jan 1 was 320,090,857.

Dividing the number of people who have seen the movie by total population  yields 11.574% of all Americans who have seen the movie. Some have probably seen the movie two or more times, so the actual percentage is even lower. As of last May the popularity of the "Tea Party" had dwindled to 15%, so the percentage of Americans who have seen American Sniper is slightly lower than the size of the "Tea Party."

The reptilian brain, home of “right-wingers”Given that the "Tea Party" represents the element in this country that is dominated by the reptilian brain, I think it is safe to say that American Sniper hasn't exactly become their rallying cry. Of course, the numbers have some obvious flaws. Part of the U.S. population is incarcerated, in nursing homes, living on the streets, poor, too young to see the movie, elderly and not likely to see it, and waiting for it to come out on Netflix or DVD. Whatever the case, the country isn't likely to be swayed into another gung-ho war based on this deeply flawed movie. Sadly, it could be swayed by other means, which are always at work.

Here's a recent fact check of American Sniper.

Here's a song about manhood. Here's another, about taking a shortcut to being a man. Here's Muddy Waters, about two years before I saw him, same guitar. Maybe a man is just a man. Here's The Yardbirds. Chicago Transit Authority. The Beatles wanted to be men. Hank Snow was a traveling man. Here's a job a man can still do. Roy Orbison worked for the man. Here's Ginger Baker's Air Force. Leadbelly. Jimi Hendrix, a different kind of man. Here's the type of man Jimi Hendrix would have turned to be, had he lived long enough. This is still another way to be a man. If more men felt this way we wouldn't need to have sniper movies. Here's a story about how I came close to killing another man.

Here's a song that settles an old question.

With planetary energies shifting, here's something we all need to do.

Here's an example of what the Hells Angels are like. The guy from my unit is on the stage holding equipment. He looks pretty mellow. He wasn't. He is almost certainly dead by now, as is the biker from Detroit I knew. The way they lived did not make for longevity.

The quote about warfare in this post from 2007 is worth re-reading, or reading for the first time.

R.I.P. Louis Jordan. He fought in the French Resistance in World War II before becoming an actor. Here he is in Gigi.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Hollywood Scientist

Below is a short photo essay of the leading spokesperson in "America" for the anti-vaccinating of children campaign. Here is a story on other celebrity scientists.


You can see more pictures of the leading spokesperson for anti-vaccination if you wish, at your own expense. Before she became famous she tended bar while in school at one of my alma-maters, long after I left.

Here's what anti-vaccinators are saying about the measles outbreak.

This calls for a song. Another song. And another. And another. And another. In the same vein, so to speak. In a different vein. Some traveling music. Some medicinal music. Few know that Hoyt Axton wrote this song. Here's the better-known version. In a similar theme.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Hollywood Sniper

In a measure of the silliness of the times in which we live, a movie about a psychopath is standing in as the symbol of truth, justice and the American way. The movie, American Sniper, was directed by movie violence grand master Clint Eastwood, who ignored the real-life sniper Chris Kyle's pathological attitude towards people he saw as "other," his inflated stories about his extracurricular killing, and his unambiguous support for our country's misadventures in the Mideast.

At least that's what various commenters have said about the movie. I haven't seen it, and likely won't, unless it comes around to the cheapie theater. I don't think it's necessary to see the movie to muse about it's meaning and impact as a cultural phenomenon. I'm not a movie critic, though I commented a couple of times with my feet. I walked out on The Money Pit and Fatal Attraction - both in the 1980s. I turn off movies on TV on a regular basis.

I don't plan on giving American Sniper to opportunity to be walked-out-on. Even at $2.50 at the cheapie theater, it would just be a Hollywood story about a guy who shoots people from a great distance. If "Americans" are flocking to theaters to see ANY movie, it is because of cheap thrills. There could be sequels. I offered a few possibilities to the PBS NewsHour:

Maybe someone will make a movie from another perspective, "Iraqi Sniper." Or "Afghan Sniper (alt: Taliban Sniper)." How about "ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State Sniper?" "Israeli Sniper?" Or, for the privatizers among us, "Blackwater Sniper?" "Halliburton Sniper?" Is there a unique story to be told from the sniper's point of view? We could broaden the perspective to other forms of premeditated killing. "IED Planter." "American Drone Pilot." "American President Who Lies the Country Into War." Or "American President Who Looked the Other Way When the Country Was Being Attacked." The possibilities are endless. Clint Eastwood could be busy for decades.

I followed up with this:
I have a couple more. "Saudi Flogger" and "Saudi Beheader." Or the other famed beheader.

This is a funny juxtaposition. A psychopath sniper's self-inflated story mixes with a Hollywood legend, and both mix with the need of "Americans" to feel powerful, good, better than everyone else, and above all, victorious. What better choice to make such a movie than Clint Eastwood, who has spent most of his life starring in, directing and producing some of the most violent movies in the history of cinema?

It's a sad end for Clint Eastwood, our masculine archetype. I enjoyed some of his movies, like "Pink Cadillac," the orangutan movies, and "Pale Rider" is one of my all-time favorites. In pondering what to write about "American Sniper" it occurred to me that it is really just a retread of "Pale Rider," with its lone hero who saves the community from the evil oppressor, except for one thing. "Iraq" is not the old West, and its citizens are not automatically part of our self-defined evil. We had no business invading them either of the two times we did it, and neither president George Bush was an "American" masculine archetype. The archetype is a fantasy, and no Clint Eastwood movie can make it real.

There is another "American" sniper story that appeared yesterday in Salon, from another veteran who served in "Iraq." The author, Garett Reppenhagen, served as an Army sniper in Diyala Province in "Iraq" in 2004. His account of his experience is more nuanced and ambiguous, and thus not good material for a movie. At least not for a Clint Eastwood movie. He didn't see the "Iraqis" as savages, respected their culture, and didn't hate them. Because of this he chose his sniper targets very carefully, and of course didn't become the most lethal soldier in "U.S." history. His own words are the perfect blasphemy against the Hollywood dream machine:
Unlike Chris Kyle, who claimed his PTSD came from the inability to save more service members, most of the damage to my mental health was what I call “moral injury,” which is becoming a popular term in many veteran circles.

As a sniper I was not usually the victim of a traumatic event, but the perpetrator of violence and death. My actions in combat would have been more acceptable to me if I could cloak myself in the belief that the whole mission was for a greater good. Instead, I watched as the purpose of the mission slowly unraveled.

I served in Iraq from 2004 to 2005. During that time, we started to realize there were no weapons of mass destruction, the 9/11 commission report determined that Iraq was not involved in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, false sovereignty was given to Iraq by Paul Bremer, the atrocities at Abu Ghraib were exposed, and the Battle of Fallujah was waged.

The destruction I took part in suddenly intersected with news that our reasons for waging war were untrue. The despicable conduct of those at Abu Ghraib was made more unforgivable by the honorable interactions I had with Iraqi civilians, and, together, it fueled the post-traumatic stress I struggle with today.

My war was completely different than Chris Kyle’s war. That doesn’t mean his war is wrong, and mine was right. But it does mean that no one experience is definitive.

The movie depicts compounded action scenes with very little political and regional context. It was a conscious decision by Clint Eastwood, apparently, to leave out the cause of the U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. It was a conscious decision, apparently, for multiple characters to describe the Iraqis as “savages” and never show any alternative. When I heard of the bigoted reaction some Americans had after watching the film, I was disgusted, but not surprised. Audience members are mistaking Chris Kyle’s view of the war as "the" story about the war. No wonder someone tweeted that the movie made them "want to go kill some ragheads." It’s sad that such a nearsighted portrayal of Iraqis has caused more people to fear Arabs and glorify violence against them.
This story makes too much sense for most "Americans," who want easy answers and easy kills. "American Sniper" gives them both, and is setting box office records. It might even inspire our "leaders" or "leader" wanna-bes to gin-up another war. So many countries, so little time.

I posted this comment to Reppenhagen's story.

Here's another myth about the lone hero who fights the never-ending battle for truth, justice and the "American" way.

WBUR radio station in Boston compiled this list of references about moral injury.

Here's a list of characteristics of a sociopath.

For an explanation of the practice of beheading in "Saudi Arabia," click here.

I wrote about masculinity in a previous post. In another post I explored the topic of becoming more masculine. In still another post I wrote about men shooting other men.

In an ironic twist, I received an email yesterday from Paul Rieckhoff, Founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), inviting me to attend a screening of "American Sniper" with "others like you." I donated a little money to the group in its infancy, and receive emails from time-to-time. The invitation starts with this:

American Sniper is getting a lot of attention, earning over $200 million at the box office so far. It might even win an Oscar. As the number one film in America for weeks now, this movie could very well shape the public's opinion of our service for years to come.

It's important that our community get out to see this movie. If you haven't seen it, we recommend you go with other vets. I, for one, was glad to be in a theater with fellow veterans--who could understand the film like I do. If you have seen it, maybe you'd like to see it again with other vets.
I declined, saying that there aren't any others like me, and that when a movie is made of Garett Reppenhagen's story I would go see it. It turns out that Paul Rieckhoff may have some ulterior motives at work. Here's one view. Here's a review of IAVA.

This calls for a song. And another. One more for good measure. What the heck, one more.

This works. 

Larry Wilmore reminds us that the actual theater of war is very different than watching a film about war in a theater.

I have an idea for a new Clint Eastwood movie: "American Projector Repairman."

Here's Matt Taibbi's take on American Sniper in Rolling Stone.

Noam Chomsky also.

For an "Arab" perspective, click here.

Update, February 4: Today's Salon has a great report of an interview with Garett Reppenhagen.

Update, February 5: This too.

Update, February 7: Another veteran has challenged the truthfulness of "American Sniper."

Update, February 10: I forgot to include this earlier.

I forgot to add this too, a comment I made to a recent Salon article:

...As for Bradley Cooper, he was on the Charlie Rose gravitas show in December talking about American Sniper and his current play on Broadway, where he played "Elephant Man" John Merrick. In describing how everyone who was anyone was coming to see the show he blurted out "...and there in the front row was David Gregory." Low standards, it would seem, are, if nothing else, consistent.
Here's another view, from Alternet.

Update, February 12: Though we shouldn't go around the planet willy-nilly invading people, we should not put the burden on those who serve. I wrote an article for a local newspaper last year about the scandal over waiting lists at VA hospitals.

Now Wisconsin has its own VA scandal, involving overprescribing of opiates, resulting in deaths of at leas two veterans. I wrote an analysis of the overall context of the VA health care system, with a recommendation for preventing similar things happening in the future.

Update, February 13: Voila!

Update, February 14: Here's another opportunity for a Clint Eastwood movie. This would make a good movie.

Update, February 19: I didn't know about this article on Chris Kyle in the New Yorker until today. I found out about it from this Salon article.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Proxy Warfare

Now that the killers in Paris have themselves been killed, we can take a step back and look at the event in a larger perspective. The standard theme here in the “U.S.” is that the terrorists must be stopped. It will take greater effort than ever before. More spending on “homeland security.” More surveillance. More drone attacks. More air strikes. More scapegoating. More demagoguery. More shouting.

A good example is a recent segment of the Charlie Rose TV show, where he interviewed John Miller, Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism at the New York Police Department. It was typical Charlie Rose, uncritical questioning, pretending to be a "player," with his guest Miller talking about the various tough-guy measures that can be taken to ferret out the mythical "bad guys," wherever they may be.

Charlie Rose is only one of the more "dignified" propaganda purveyors. On such bluster outlets as Fox News and the panoply of hate radio the message is more blunt, but it is essentially the same: Get the "bad guys." The "bad guys" of course are as we define them. If you were paying attention after "911," the bad guys ranged from Osama bin Laden to "Democrats" serving in the Congress. There was a frenzy of calling people "terrorists."

This is of course a simplistic and stupid approach. It doesn't work, as we should know by now, and only makes things worse. Unfortunately, given the way our system has evolved, it is the ONLY approach that can even be considered. With our political system being corrupt, combine it with tough guy silliness and you get the invasions of "Afghanistan" and "Iraq," Guantanamo, torture, rigged prosecutions of "sleeper cells," the "Patriot" Act, the Department of Homeland Security, the NSA out of control. All these things add up to a ton of money spent to make things worse. Now we will spend more tons of money, with a likely even worse result.

We can at least talk about a different approach. A good place to start is to look the Paris attacks away from the standard theme of fanatical Islamists having no respect for our cherished freedom of speech, and look at their acts in a broader context. Such as below, my response to a segment of the radio show OnPoint:

Religion is somewhat a proxy in this ongoing conflict. It started long ago with the Crusades - Europeans laying siege in Arab homelands. Then came the colonial era with its subjugation and atrocities. After World War II the West tried to divvy-up the Mideast, using the newly created "Israel" as a military wedge to keep Arab regimes at bay. Add in a little assassination and overthrow over the years, and all was supposed to be well.
The two invasions of "Iraq," intended to solidify "U.S." and European hegemony over the Mideast, actually lit a tinderbox of instability, terrorism and fanaticism. During this entire era of empire building many millions of emigres from subject countries descended on their European (and "American") dominant countries, taking advantage of their membership in the empires, or as refugees. In the case of "Germany," millions of men from "Turkey," "Yugoslavia" and other countries were invited in as workers to fill the shortage created by World War II. Thanks, Hitler, the ungift that keeps on ungiving.
This is a situation that will play out over a long period of time. As it plays out, there certainly is a place for satire. It should be done wisely. If it is just trashing other people, or ridiculing their mythical hero, it is as natural as the Sun rising that eventually someone or a group of someones is going to retaliate. Any population can be seen as existing in a normal curve, with the majority concentrated around the mean, attempting to live ordinary lives. Out in the tails of the distribution are the extremes, a relatively small number, but always there, and always an unstable element. All they need is an excuse.
The best satire I have ever seen is Monty Python's Life of Brian, still my favorite movie of all time. Though they were pretty obviously spoofing Christian fanaticism, it was Jews who took the most offense, because of the setting in ancient Judea. It was brilliant satire, done with great fun, and didn't trash anyone. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MwJOnleriM
So what we have in the official world - the world of "white" people, those of Europe and European derivation - is a wrongheaded understanding of the problem and a wrongheaded way of trying to solve it. Fanatical terrorists are attempting to destroy our civilization. Let's get them. We make the rules, and we decide what is and isn't on this planet. Everyone else conforms or else we will kill them. In fact, we might just kill them anyway. When you're making an omelet you have to crack some eggs.

For those of us who don't see the world the official way, we have to find a way of not going along with the plan, individually and/or collectively. The plan will fail anyway, but we can at least minimize the damage and cost by thwarting it. I will say this every time: the Polar Ice Caps are melting. We need to put our resources into stopping this process of catastrophic climate change. We can't do it if we're using them up fighting a phony and futile war on terror.

For some other very pertinent views, Chris Floyd is a worthy read. Juan Cole too. This, from Elias Isquith, is also excellent. And Tom Englehardt.

Here's PBS's attempt to make the story about freedom of expression. They know how to keep the funding coming in.

Here's a followup about climate change.

Here's what the Wisconsin state legislature is spending its time on.  This is a hologram for legislatures nationwide, including at the national level. For example.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Sony Hacking in Larger Context

It now seems all the media hysteria about "North Korea" hacking Sony's Internal files is much ado about not much. According to Common Dreams, experts on Internet security are saying that it was likely an inside job, with easily transparent attempts to make it look like the chicanery emanated from "North Korea." The New York Times was the source of the Common Dreams report.

Skepticism is mounting. CNN is joining the mounting chorus of doubters.  Who will be next? It doesn't particularly matter. What is becoming clear is that our national "security" apparatus cannot be trusted. They lie us into war, repeatedly. They torture people, pretending that they don't, for nefarious purposes, then claim it "works." They spy uncontrollably on "American" citizens. They spy on Congress. They gather scarce resources to themselves, using fear as a bludgeon to get what they want. They act with impunity, absolving themselves of all responsibility for what they do.

The question at this point is why the FBI (and president) would claim to have clear evidence that "North Korea" is behind the hack attack, when it very likely isn't. Is war being planned, looking for an excuse? Not likely. "China" is next door to "North Korea," and any incursion in its neighborhood is a non-starter. Unless, that is, our national security apparatus is desirous of thermonuclear war.

It wouldn't be the first time. During the "Cuban" Missile Crisis, President Kennedy single-handedly prevented the chorus of war mongerers (not mongers) from attacking "Cuba" with nuclear weapons. When a bureaucratic infrastructure gets itself into a syndrome of self-perpetuating myths and delusions, it can get desperate if reality doesn't share in its falsehoods. The hack on Sony, in this context, is too great an opportunity to pass up. Now "North Korea" is upping the ante, accusing the "U.S." of causing its Internet outages, and calling President Obama a monkey.

It's hard to tell what is really going on, but it likely has something to do with the national security budget. In these stingy economic times, the fires of fear need to be fueled for that extra edge in muscling ahead of competing interests in government spending.

Other questions about the Sony hack are being raised. The absurdity of a nation threatening retaliation against another nation for a corporate security breach is new and ominous in international relations, as David Atkins explores in this insightful analysis in Alternet. In this modern world of increasing corporate dominance of public and private life, skewing of economic reward to the relative few, and the gradual disappearance of middle class employment, the melding of corporate interests with national security interests is a natural progression.

For me, the media frenzy about the hacking was the first thing that aroused suspicion. A movie about assassinating a reigning foreign leader, no matter how bad we think he is, is an exercise in bad taste at best, and sets a dangerous precedent for "artistic" expression. Heads of other states are apparently fair game for comedic ho, ho, hee, hee, hoo, hoo, hah, hah, let's all have a big laugh about killing this guy who we have heard bad things about and whom we don't like. It's our "civil right" to joke about assassinating foreign leaders. We're "Americans." We make the rules for everyone.

Where does it stop? Various fulminaters are calling our president a "traitor" for changing policy about "Cuba." They have been slandering him for years about everything he has done and for things they imagine he has done or will do. Could a movie be next? A comedy?

Polar bears taking a break. They depend on our good will for their survivalAnd, of course, putting it all in context, we are in a condition of increasingly troublesome effects of global climate change. Our infinite-growth mass industrial economic system is very near its limit to growth. The planet is near its man-made carrying capacity, if not past it already. All the king's horses and all the king's national security apparatus won't be able to put this Humpty Dumpty together again. Something new is coming, whether we like it or not. We should be preparing for the inevitable change in the way we inhabit this Earth. Time waits for no one.

President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation regarding the presence of "Russian" missiles in "Cuba" on October 22, 1962. I was a senior in high school, and watched it on TV. It was the first time I heard the word clandestine being used. I remember having complete trust in Kennedy, having no inkling of how alone he was in opposing a nuclear attack on "Cuba." He was killed a year later, supposedly by a "lone gunman." If you believe that, I have some land in Arizona you might be interested in.

Here's a story of the "Cuban" Missile Crisis.

Eckhart Tolle has some words of wisdom about our obsession with "security."

Here's a bit of info on the weaponization of Hollywood. The power of entertainment media to control mass perception is too tempting to pass up. Abraham Lincoln believed that you can't fool all the people all the time. He was a bit short-sighted. All that is necessary is to fool enough of the people all the time. Time-and-again our image-makers show how easy it is. It is known as perception management.

Here's a song from seemingly innocent times. Here's another tune from those days.

Here's the trailer from the original hacking movie. It would be the greatest irony if it had been made by Sony, but United Artists was the production company.

For a full movie about surviving a thermonuclear war, click here.

The best movie of all time about the aftermath of thermonuclear war is On the Beach, from 1959. Here's a clip, perhaps Fred Astaire's greatest role.

This bears repeating.  This too.

Here's a song for our president, the national security establishment, and our entire ruling elite. Here's another.

R.I.P. Joe Cocker. Here's his best known song, a Beatles cover. This is my favorite, a Traffic cover. He also did a great cover of this Randy Newman song. Another Beatles song. This song was Joe Cocker's favorite. It applies to a number of people I know.

Here's a timely update for the new year.

Here's another.