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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.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Enhancing your virility

'Counting coup' on the NRAI went to the mall yesterday after work to buy a pair of glasses. I had a shimmy in my car's steering, so I got my tires balanced at the same national retailer where I bought the glasses. It took a couple of hours, so I wandered around the mall, bought a slice of pizza, and headed back to the large retailer to wait for my car.

This particular large retailer has fallen on hard times, the most recent humiliation being its purchase by another failing retailer. The declining fortunes certainly show in their automotive department. The only reason I let them touch my car is that I have to do some highway driving, and can't take time off from work to have my regular mechanics do the work.

It is always an adventure dealing with this formerly world-class retailer. I bought tires from them back in the 90s, and it took about 5 tries before they could put tires on that were not "out of round." I kept at it, much to the chagrin of the auto department manager, and finally got decent tires.

The turnover in the auto department is high, with new people replacing old on a regular basis. It hasn't made for improvement. The problem yesterday was the front desk manager, an all-too-tightly wound guy who couln't communicate very well, and got hyper-impatient when I asked him to clarify. When he finally told me my car was ready, he tried to charge me for someone else's car. His high-strung embarassment and apology were something I could have done without. He seemed ready to lose it at any moment.

But the interesting thing about this experience was while I was sitting in the large retailer's waiting room. There was hardly anything to read except NRA (National Rifle Association) magazines. I found this kind of weird, but paged through the magazines to see what the gun-nuts are up to. (Sorry to any gun-nuts who read this, but if you are associated with the NRA, you are a gun-nut. Read on for why. I know of whence I speak.)

I gleaned several pieces of knowledge from reading the NRA magazines. One is that gun owners feel besieged. They are at a fever pitch of paranoia about evil forces getting ready to take their guns.

Chief among those evil forces is the United Nations. That's right, the same United Nations that can't stop the Bush crime family, that can't stop the genocide in "Darfur," couldn't stop the destruction of "Lebanon," and couldn't stop the genocide in "Rwanda." But somehow they have the power to rob every gun-nut in the U.S. of his (mostly) "rights."

Another revelation, which should have been no surprise, but was, is that the NRA's hatred of Bill Clinton is boundless. I'm not particularly fond of Bill Clinton either, but I'm not outraged at the mere thought of him.

Derivative of the NRA's hatred of Bill Clinton is it's hatred of Hillary Clinton. They can still cook up a lot of frenzy about Bill, but he's past tense. Hillary is the future, as far as they are concerned. I didn't read the articles to find out why the NRAers hate the Clintons so much, but I suspect it has something to do with guns. Or at least that's the hook. More likely, there are a few ulterior motives lurking beneath the surface. Like corporate money.

Another thing I learned is that some famous people sit on the board of directors of the NRA. Tom Selleck, Ted Nugent, Oliver North, Grover Norquist, and someone else whose name I forgot. Strange bedfellows. Not because they are together in the NRA. They're just strange.

To top it all off, on the last pages of the NRA magazines there were full-page ads for "Excite-o-derm," or "Erect-o-derm," or some such lotion you can buy to enhance your virility. P.T. Barnum must be rolling in laughter somewhere.

And on the final page, a full-page advertisement for boxes of cigars. How fitting. After getting all the vicarious masculinity you can get from fondling and reading about guns, then rubbing yourself with some Excite-o-derm and becoming really virile, you can smoke a box of cigars. Ain't "America" great?

One question that came to mind was how the NRA magazines found their way to the large retailer's waiting room. They would be right at home at the VA, but one would think that a retailer, especially a suffering retailer, would be more careful about offending customers. The address labels had been cut from the covers, so the subscriber was a mystery. But knowing what I know about gun-nuts, the too-tightly-wound front desk manager is the prime candidate. It would be easy to picture him with his guns, erect-o-derm, and box of cigars.

My familiarity with gun-nuts goes back a long way. I was raised on hunting and shooting, my dad being an avid fisherman, hunter, and trap and skeet shooter. He studied the lore of hunting, became a championship-class duck caller, and raised German Shorthaired Pointer hunting dogs. He also reloaded his own shotgun shells, and became an expert in gun technology. I didn't learn any of these things to the degree that my dad did, and gave up hunting thirty years ago, but I saw and learned a lot.

One summer while I was in college I worked at a trap and skeet range near where we lived. The owner of the "club" was a paraplegic, having fallen out of a Jeep on a hunting trip, breaking his back. he needed someone to load the clay "birds" or "pigeons" into the machines, and do a number of other tasks that he couln't do. It was a pretty easy job, and I got to do a lot of shooting, and got fairly good at both trap and skeet. I could consistently hit 23 out of 25 in skeet, and 24 in trap. That may look pretty good, but 98 to 99 out of 100 is considered competition level. My dad and sister could still beat me in skeet shooting, but I became almost as good as my dad in trap shooting. I knew the machines well enough to know the direction they would fire the birds, and that gave me some advantage. Not enough, though. Timing the machines only went so far, and out of 25 birds in a round of trap shooting, I was certain to be wrong at least once. Shooting with my dad, once was all it took.

Another thing I learned while working at the trap and skeet range was that my dad was not the typical shooter. He did it for the enjoyment, and to sharpen his shooting skills for hunting. There were others like him, but the largest source of revenue for the range was the league shooters. Similar to bowling leagues, teams of shooters formed, and there were regular league nights several times a week.

In one of the leagues there was a guy who I went to grade and high school with. He was a year behind me, so I didn't know him very well, but he was one of the people who got lost in the shuffle of high school caste formation. In the shooting leagues, he was a dominant force, continually making trouble about everything imaginable - the cost, the way championships were awarded, prizes, scoring - anything. On one night in particular, he got into a heated argument with the paraplegic owner, and the situation got pretty ominous. A hothead with a gun is not a safe person to be around. If I remember right, he was banned from the club that night. A few years later, he killed himself - with a gun, of course. Domestic problems. Again, if I remember right, his wife left him after years of abuse.

That was only an extreme example of the danger of gun meditation. Another thing I became aware of during that time was the subculture of gun-nuts - people who identify with gun ownership as a way of being, and as a way of seeing themselves as different from other people. In other words, as a touchstone for paranoia.

The paranoid shooters would say "Guns don't kill people - people kill people," like a mantra. Another was "The first thing the Nazis did when they took over a country was to collect all the guns." Another was "Gun registration is the first step to taking them away." Their conversations were not meant to convey any real information, but to establish solidarity and a kind of one-upping "knowledge reinforcement."

My dad thought they were all idiots, and would hardly speak to them. He didn't see gun registration as any threat, and didn't feel the need to go to the skeet range for anything but shooting. He made friends with an "African-American" guy who shot there, a big guy named Joe Hardy, which didn't endear him to the paranoiacs. My dad was no crusader, but he liked who he liked, and loved to stick it to those he didn't.

This was all shotgun culture. Rifle culture is a different animal by many degrees. My dad did rifle hunting, but not often, and only in places like Montana and Wyoming. I never hunted with a rifle. Rifle hunting is different. The game (prey) is usually farther away, larger, the gun is more powerful, and the shooting is more cold and calculating, zeroing in on an animal that is not moving. With a shotgun, you point the gun at what you are shooting, usually a fast-moving bird. With a rifle you carefully take aim.

Where the differences between these two cultures became clear was when I went to a rifle range with a cousin to "sight-in" his rifle. It was one of the most bizarre scenes I have ever been in. Men walking around in various bastardized military outfits, some with web belts, canteens, and magazine pouches (A "magazine"in this case is a clip that contains the bullets that are loaded into the rifle.). The vibration of the place was even weirder. Creepy. Ominous. Troubled men with guns. Men parading themselves in an overmasculinized manner, acting tough, mean, dangerous. I thought it was a big joke, but now it doesn't seem as funny. It's still funny, though, just not as much.

Not long after that I enlisted in the Army. I wrote about my Army experience earlier in this blog, in "Army stories," "I love a parade," and "Similarities." (also Good enough to kill and die in 2006 and Secret Societies in 2007) In the three years I spent in the Army I didn't run across even one gun-nut. For a while, I ran around with a pretty rough bunch - combat veterans, bikers, including one real California Hell's Angel ( Monterey) - but none of them were gun-nuts. That's a story for another day. In a nutshell, I helped them out of legal troubles with the Army and German authorities, giving me the status of a mouse pulling a thorn from a lion's paw. Several lions' paws.

In 1976 I gave up hunting and moved into an ashram, beginning a long path of meditative practices. I didn't have anything having to do with guns or hunting for over twenty years, except for comparing old stories with my dad. But in 1998 I encountered a number of gun-nuts in a most surprising way.

In 1998, a low year for machine Democrats, "progressive" Madison lawyer Ed Garvey won the nomination to unseat perennial Republican powerhouse Tommy Thompson for governor of Wisconsin. Some readers will remember Garvey as the executive director of the National Foolball Leage Players Association, guiding the union through two strikes, and gaining many victories and benefits for the membership.

Garvey got little backing from the entrenched Democratic leadership, thwarted by then power broker and now prisoner Chuck Chvala. Rarely do I get involved in politics beyond voting, but I did some calling for Garvey during the campaign. He was very low-budget, receiving no party help, and his base of support was the trade unions, especially AFSCME (the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees). They set up a mini-call center at the AFSCME headquarters, and I went in a few times to help.

At Ed Garvey's victory party. He may not have won the election, but he won the battle of integrity.I usually get the creeps around political crowds, but there was none of that energy in the Garvey campaign. It was just a lot of nice people working in a futile campaign. Garvey destroyed Thompson in a couple of televised debates that weren't carried on the networks, but his lack of an advertising budget spelled doom for his campaign. He lost the election by a 60% - 39% margin.

Two things stand out in my memory of calling voters. One is the incredible ignorance and stupidity of the average person. I would hear things like "Isn't he in favor of that partial-birth abortion?" and questions about flag burning. The Republican spin machine, fueled by its huge TV advertising budget, was very successful in confusing the easily confused public.

The other thing that stood out was the surprising number of men who would say that Garvey was going to take their guns away. The anger they expressed bordered on threatening. They were true paranoids, and it seemed that about one out of every five persons I talked to was a gun-nut.

After a while I saw a pattern forming, and told one of the campaign supervisors about it. She told me to just say that Ed Garvey supports the Second Amendment to the Constitution, and nothing more. Gun control was not part of Garvey's agenda, and was only a hysteria cooked up by Republicans, and with likely assistance from a certain national organization of gun fanatics.

Ed Garvey would have been a great governor, certainly better than the corrupt corporate enabler Tommy Thompson, and a good deal better than our current bland Democratic governor, Jim Doyle. He has in recent years won a suit against the state to end the extreme cruelty in Wisconsin's supermax prison, and won numerous cases in defense of the environment. Thanks for nothing, gun-nuts. Go smoke a cigar. And be sure to rub yourselves silly with erect-o-derm while you fondle your precious guns. I'd just like to rub this in: It will not give you any "manhood." Nothing can give you "manhood." You are who you are. Don't worry about it.

This is all pretty crazy, but put in a wider context it is even crazier. We have a full-blown mafia organization running the country. This organization came to power through manipulation, support of major corporations, paranoia generated by fanatical religious groups and in no small part from the NRA, and of course election fraud. Since coming into power our country has been devastated by the worst terrorist attack in the nation's history, we have been lied into a war that has turned into a fiasco, one of our grandest cities has been destroyed, largely because of government negligence, the polar ice caps are melting, and our economy is on the verge of collapse.

That last note alone should be enough to put everything else in perspective. False fanaticisms (I know, a tautology) like gun-nuttery and religious fundamentalism are essentially escapes. Proxy hysterias. Pretend consciousness. It's like kids playing "house" or "cowboys and Indians," or whatever kids play these days. Whole bodies of thought, elaborate theories, and "scriptures" have been developed to provide plausible realities for what are essentially diversions, distractions, and confidence games.

For a number of reasons, our economy will collapse. The greed and environmental irresponsibility of a corporate oligarchy would eventually cause any economy to collapse. Add in the sociopathic lust for power and rapaciousness of the Bush crime family, and the process is accelerated. The fact that our system is intrinsically an infinite growth of output system on a finite planet, and a pressure-cooker factor is added to the mix. Top it all off with worldwide dependency on nonrenewable fossil fuels, and you have the combined problems of the gradual disappearance of the most important input base and Global Warming. Who wouldn't want to escape?

So rock on, escapists. Like the escapes of drug addiction and alcoholism, the escapes of gun-nuttery and religious fanaticism will soon hit bottom. And like drug addicts and alcoholics, some will choose to recover and some will stay at the bottom. Let's hope they all choose recovery. For what lies ahead, we will need all the help we can get. This is where real manhood and womanhood will be found.

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