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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.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Living for the City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Here's another song.

And another.

This too.

And this.

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

Can't leave James Brown out.

Or Curtis Mayfield.

More Curtis Mayfield.

The Impressions.

The great Sam Cooke.

Marvin Gaye.

Nina Simone

More Nina Simone.

Billie Holiday.

The Neville Brothers. Alternate version.

The 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. 

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.

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.

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.

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:

I 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.