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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.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

As above, so below

George Ryan at his press conference before heading for prison, November 6, 2007It's been an interesting week in the realm of crime in high places. The Bush criminal regime's Attorney General nominee, Michael Mukasey, has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate, despite his refusal to recognize that waterboarding is torture.

Former Illinois governor George Ryan reported to prison with a clear conscience. Here's some pictures.

"Republican" presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani's former police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, was indicted, and entered a not guilty plea.

And internationally, Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, declared a state of emergency, closed all independent TV stations, stopped phone service in the capital, and arrested the country's supreme court. Since then many have been arrested, with protesters beaten and clubbed.

In other news, a Wisconsin judge ruled that a boy who was tortured and witnessed the murder of his mother will not have to testify against the accused.

And in Missouri, the stepfather of a murdered nine-year-old girl has been arrested as a suspect in the killing.

And for added perspective, our economy is collapsing.

Illinois Central train station, Kankakee, Illinois, 1972 Photo credit: John HamiltonI wasn't expecting to hear about George Ryan this week, but it was a perfect week for such news, because his story is an allegory for all the others. I wrote about Ryan in 2003, not long after he commuted all the death sentences of condemned prisoners in Illinois. From the age of ten I grew up in Kankakee, Illinois, where Ryan and his brother Tom were the proprietors of several pharmacies in town.

They were somewhat innovative, with modern looking stores. One of them was near where I lived, in the Meadowview Shopping Center, and we used to hang out there on the way home from high school. The store had a soda fountain and grill, and they played the latest rock 'n roll hits.

The Ryans were pioneers of sorts, hiring an "African-American" man as their delivery driver. In truly "racist" Kankakee, this was a bold move. Part of his delivery area was in the adjoining town, Bradley, which was even more baldly "racist," with not one "African-American" living in the entire village. I can only imagine what it must have been like for "J.D." to make deliveries there.

State of Illinois highway maps with George Ryan's name on them. If I live long enough, I can bring them to “Antiques Road Show”Tom became the mayor, and George was elected to the county board, and then the state legislature in the early 70s, both as "Republicans." Tom was considered the more powerful of the two, winning the mayoralty time after time, with a political machine that was a mini version of the huge Richard J. Daley juggernaut in Chicago. Corrupt to the core, Tom Ryan finally lost in the late 80s, and George rose to prominence, first as state House Speaker, and then as Secretary of State. This is an office with power rivaling that of the governor, and has had a history of corruption.

Ryan was no exception. He built a powerful network of campaign workers in the Secretary of State bureaucracy, where the resources of the office were employed to ensure his reelection. The principle method used was to give drivers licenses to people who were unqualified to drive in exchange for campaign donations.

I experienced the long reach of Ryan's organization when I was living in Kankakee in the early 90s. The "Democratic" party in the county was undergoing a resurgence, and had regained the state representative seat from the district, with reelection of the incumbent, Phil Novak, appearing likely.

I got a "push poll" call one night from one of Ryan's campaign workers, where the caller posed as an independent pollster. The first question was "If you knew that Phil Novak was controlled by the Chicago Democratic machine, would you still vote for him?" I answered gingerly, "That depends on what you mean by the Chicago Democratic machine, because the Chicago Democratic machine isn't what it used to be, just like the Kankakee Republican machine isn't what it used to be." There was an "ulp," and then on to the next question, "Are you pro-choice or pro-life?" I said "That's easy - both." Another "ulp." The "interview" ended shortly afterward.

On election day I was met at the polling place by Ryan campaign workers, an entirely illegal act. I said good morning, and walked past them without hesitation, and went inside to vote for Phil Novak, who won handily. The thing I remember most about the incident was the cockiness, the smugness of the campaign workers. They were friendly, but had an air of smart-alecky above-the-lawness. I wonder what they are doing now.

Legendary consciousness adventurer Ram Dass and me at the Omega Institute, July 1993Not long after that I left Kankakee, landing a job at the Omega Institute, a holistic studes center in Rhinebeck, New York. It was like being rescued from the bottomless pit. The institute provided the staff with free classes in such things as Tai Chi, meditation, African drumming, shamanism, a variety of natural healing therapies, drawing, poetry writing, Hatha Yoga, and even heretic Catholic theologian Matthew Fox.

A free drum jam with Arthur Hull at the Omega Institute, 1993. Photo credit: John Hamilton
When the workshop season at Omega ended I wanted to settle in a place that would make it easiest to study the kinds of things I was exposed to at Omega. The most compatible place seemed to be Madison, and here I have been since 1993.

But I digress. What, one might ask, does the criminality of George Ryan have to do with the criminality of others in high places? And what does their criminality have to do with that of people who torture and kill children and kill their parents in front of them?

What all these criminals have in common is their complete disregard for the lives of the people who are affected by their crimes. Like the most prominent criminal of our time, George W. Bush, they are afflicted with a form of sociopathy. George Ryan actually did some good in the world, showing clemency to convicted murderers. He also met with Cuban president Fidel Castro, and arranged for humanitarian aid to Cuba. But he still refuses to accept responsibility for the deaths caused by his corruption of the Secretary of State office.

When there is criminality at the top of the social structure, it drags the whole society down. As the great mystic Gurdjieff said in another context, as above, so below. Disrespect for law and the common good at the highest levels sets the standard for the rest of society, and at the bottom level, this disrespect naturally takes on a grisly character. It's no grislier than what George W. Bush has wrought around the world, with his "shock and awe," occupation, kidnapping, false imprisonment, torture, threats, and criminal negligence.

In my last time around in graduate school I worked in a student job as the projectionist in the auditorium classroom at the School of Business. One of the classes that met there was for a management course, and something the professor repeatedly said is worth repeating here: "The pace of an organization is set by the person at the top."

The person at the top of the "United States of America" is George W. Bush, criminal sociopath. All who support him - voters, media, corporations, "evangelists" - are supporters of heinous crime. They are the enablers who make his crimes possible, and are thus criminals themselves. Thanks, jerks. You have strutted and fretted your hour upon the stage, and will soon be heard no more. On to the next incarnation.

For the rest of us, we have the task of cleanup. Clean up the environment, clean up the economic system, clean up the government at all levels, clean up our relationships with the rest of the planet, clean up ourselves. We can do it. If you are wondering how, you might want to try a bit of holistic study.

Here's something I wrote on a related topic.

Here's a bit of traveling music. My grandfather was a conductor on that train.


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