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While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

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

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Secret societies

Second grade class, Blessed Sacrament grade school, Lincoln Nebraska, May 1953One of the more curious elements of my education in "Catholic" schools was the oft-repeated warning not to join any "secret societies." You would be excommuni- cated from the Church if you did so. The nuns that told us this didn't have a lot to say on the subject, except that these secret societies were not part of the "Catholic" Church, that they had practices and beliefs that were outside the Church's teachings, and that they were a threat to Catholics.

It turned out that this papal prohibition was directed mainly at the Freemasons, or Masons, as they are commonly known. Without going into a long discussion of Freemasonry, it is worth pointing out that Hitler had 80,000 to 200,000 of them killed during World War II.

I never gave the warnings about secret societies much thought until my father told me that my grandfather was a Mason. He showed me the Mason's ring my grandfather wore. My grandfather was even a Knight Templar, a high level in the Masons. I told my dad about how Masonry was forbidden, and he explained that my grandfather was not a "Catholic", but a "Baptist." The Hamilton side of his family was from "Scotland," emigrating to "Northern Ireland" and then the "U.S" in the mid 1800s, settling in Ohio. Some of them fought in the Civil War, and then moved farther west, becoming farmers in Illinois. As people have done since there were people, my grandfather fell in love with and married someone outside his native group, in his case an "Irish" "Catholic" woman, my grandmother, and their children were raised as "Catholics."

Secret societies external to Catholicism may be forbidden, but American Catholic men have their own secret society to join, the Knights of Columbus. By one of the definitions in the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia (I love spelling this word out. Remember Jiminy Cricket?), "Today, we understand by a secret society, a society with secrets, having a ritual demanding an oath of allegiance and secrecy, prescribing ceremonies of a religious character, such as the use of the Bible, either by extracts therefrom or by its being placed an altar within a lodge-room, by the use of prayers, of hymns, of religious signs and symbols, special funeral services, etc."

The Knights of Columbus may not be quite so secret as the Masons or other organizations, but it is an organization that has a certain exclusivity (male Catholic men), has a hierarchy, rituals, and symbols that are similar to secret societies everywhere. I happened across a darkly fascinating paranoid website about secret societies that implicates the K of C in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Nowadays the Catholic Church has an even more secret and extreme organization, Opus Dei. "Conservative" would be a conservative description of this group, which supported Mussolini, Franco, and Pinochet. Its founder, Josemaría Escrivá, is alleged to be an admirer of Adolf Hitler. The current pope has high praise for Opus Dei.

When the subject of secret societies aroused my curiosity I began to realize that I have been a member of many secret societies in my life. The first that I can remember was a club I started with neighborhood kids when I was nine years old. The house we lived in had an old barn in the back yard, and with about eight boys I hung out with I came up with the idea of a club that would meet in the barn loft. We had no idea of what the club was for or what we would do, except for one rule: no girls allowed.

This gave us exclusivity, but not much else. We met in the barn loft a couple of times, but couldn't think of anything we wanted to do, so the club disbanded. I fell out of the barn loft one day, and though not hurt badly, the barn was torn down shortly afterward.

A few years later a couple of other secret societies became available to me: being an altar boy, and joining the patrol boys, students who would stop traffic before and after school, guiding other students across nearby streets. I didn't get very far in the altar boys, for which I am ever thankful. As we have found out in recent years, it is the altar boys whom are the prime targets of pedophile priests. I marched in a few processions, "served" in some kind of ceremony, but never did the full altar boy ritual of "serving mass."

The boys who were full-fledged altar boys behaved as if they were special, that their membership in the exclusive group gave them high status, an elite among the other students. I can't remember why I quit being an aspiring altar boy, but I think it was mostly that I didn't think there was anything special about it, and I had a healthy wariness of priests from an early age.

I was a patrol boy for only about a semester, and lost interest. We had your own patrol belts, similar to a military web belt, with a strap that went over one shoulder. We got to leave class early to man, er, boy our positions. If you goofed off in class, your patrol boy privilege was rescinded, and your corner, in the nuns' infinite wisdom, was left unattended. I almost got run over one day by a car I was trying to stop, and that was the end of that gig.

Citizenship of Nation merit badgeThen came the Boy Scouts. I had been a Cub Scout when I lived in Nebraska, and joined the Boy Scouts when I was eleven. I loved the scouts. We learned all kinds of neat things about nature, skills like cooking, canoeing, and shooting a rifle, and spent a couple of weeks in the summer at the area boy scout camp. Our troop always stayed at the same cabin, "Trapper's Lodge," and we competed with other troops in neatness of the campsite, marching, swimming, archery, marksmanship, knot-tying, and other skills. I was our troop's only contestant in knot-tying, because I was the only one who knew all the knots, but I finished in last place. I was a slow knot-tier. I was a good swimmer, though, and anchored the relay team, bringing our team from last to second place.

Order of the Arrow sash & badgesThe Boy Scouts have their own secret society, the Order of the Arrow. It is an honor society of scouts who " best exemplify the Boy Scout Oath and Scout Law in their daily lives." I was elected when I was thirteen, largely because I was a senior scout, having been to scout camp three years running.

The elections are by secret ballot, and the new members are selected in a faux-Native American ritual around a bonfire, with an older scout playing the role of the great chief Allowat Sakima tapping the inductees on the shoulder from behind. The new inductees are whisked away, taken to a secluded spot to sleep in the wild alone, and then spend three days in silence and "arduous toil," after which they are inducted into full membership, given an Order of the Arrow sash, a patch to be worn on their uniform pocket, and a membership card.

My Order of the Arrow ID cardLike the Masons and the Knights of Columbus, the Order of the Arrow has ascending degrees of membership. The first level is "Ordeal" membership, which you get after passing the "ordeal" - the night in the woods and the three days of silence and arduous toil. The next level is "Brotherhood," which I didn't bother to take, and the highest level is "Vigil." Not having ascended to anything higher than "Ordeal," I don't know or remember anything about what those levels mean. Like deeper levels of any "secret" organization, they are gained by time "served," passing tests of one kind or another, and induction rituals.

In high school there were a number of clubs to join, but the only one that mattered to boys was the Lettermen's Club. You gained membership by earning a varsity letter in one of the four sports the school offered: football, basketball, baseball, and track. I lettered in football, though I mostly sat the bench, and in track, in which I had some success as a mile runner. The only distinction of club membership was that you went through the initiation ceremony, mostly consisting of having "red hot" salve rubbed all over you, along with lard and some other substances that had a pungent smell like garbage. The club never met, never did anything except pose for a yearbook picture. It was secret only in the sense that the initiation was secret, exclusive to club members.

Inns of Court certificateWhen I was in college I joined one of the two fraternities on campus, the "Inns of Court," nominally a pre-law/political science fraternity. It was in practice a social fraternity, and served mainly to have parties. We had a room in the basement of the student center, which served as a daily meeting place in lieu of having a house.

The group met on a monthly basis, had typical fraternity initiations with lots of hazing of "pledges," some secret rituals, and sponsored a concert every year. The ones I remember were pianist Peter Nero and folk group the Chad Mitchell Trio. There were occasional law-related activities, like serving on mock juries at the nearby William Mitchell Law School, and visiting speakers were brought in on occasion. In an attempt to have a "Greek" posture the fraternity took on an alternate name, Iota Omega Chi, signifying the letters of the name Inns of Court, and even had sweatshirts, beer mugs, fraternity pins, and other paraphernalia made up as souvenirs. I still have the beer mug stashed away somewhere.

Patton Barracks, Heidelberg, Germany. The 503d Trans Co. is on the right. My room is on the second floor.I wrote in previous posts about how I ran around with a rough crowd in one of the units I served with in the Army - combat veterans, bikers, various anti-army, anti-war types. They were consistently getting in trouble - getting in fights in downtown Heidelberg, Germany, where I was stationed, being AWOL, using drugs, etc. A couple of soldiers from the 503d Trans Co. 4th Platoon - 5 ton truck drivers. Of Mexican ancestry, the C.O. tried to forbid them from speaking Spanish It was 1970. Members of the unit I was assigned to, the 503d Transportation Company, hung out at a bar in downtown Heidelberg called "The Ponderosa." Fights broke out there on a regular basis - with GIs from other units, local Germans, Turkish and Yugoslav immigrant workers, and sometimes with MPs who were called in to break up the fights.

The Orderly Room of the infamous 503dI was an "Orderly room" clerk for the 503d, and by various means was able to minimize the punishment of GIs in trouble, or find ways of outsmarting the Army authorities.

One of the bikers was a member of the Hells Angels chapter in Monterey, California. He was in the National Guard, and was placed on active duty for missing meetings. Before being activated he was part of the stage "security" at the infamous Altamont concert in 1969 (read about it here).

Monterey Hells Angel guy at Altamont. His name will remain a secret.The Hells Angel guy was a remote character, pretty much living in his own world - addicted to morphine and other drugs, a vicious fighter, ready for battle at all times. He was untrustworthy - stole my Army field jacket and my roommate's watch to sell for drugs. He was not without his human qualities, though, and fixed my car for free a couple of times. I knew him well enough to see him in his weaker moments, where he was embarrassed about being a drug addict, and said he wanted to go to "Vietnam" to "serve my country."

Close-up of Monterey Hells Angel guyLike many Hells Angels, as documented by Hunter Thompson (Or was it Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test?), he was an "Okie," a product of the Dust Bowl migration of Oklahoma farmers and others forced to move west to find work in the 1930s. The novel by John Steinbeck, "Grapes of Wrath," and the movie of the same name chronicle the struggle of the migrants.

Another of the bikers was a member of the Outlaws, in Detroit. He was also a combat veteran, wounded in "Vietnam." Our first sergeant hated him, mainly because the biker backed him down. The first sergeant tried to have the Detroit guy shipped out to a Signal unit, in Kaiserslautern, of all places - I had been stationed there, and hated the place. The Detroit guy would be climbing utility poles, repairing phone lines. He had fallen out of a helicopter in "Vietnam," hurting his back, and had a "medical profile" that said he could do no driving or any other strenuous activity. He came to me with his orders, almost in tears. I told him to take his profile and his orders to Spec 5 S*#%e in S-1 (Personnel), and tell him that I sent him. He got his orders rescinded. The first sergeant came in a few minutes later, and he was almost in tears. I had to do some fast talking, feigning outrage. &%*$#*#@ told me that night, "Hams, you made this the happiest day of my life!" No one has ever said that to me before or since, so it was a pretty good day for me too. No one else has ever called me "Hams" either.

I liked the Detroit guy better than the Hells Angel, though I still look back on those days with more than a bit of horror. He was a character, funny, lively, and a better fighter than the Hells Angel - beat him up one night after an all-day session of drinking "double bocks" - a dark German beer that was 38% alcohol. It took him about three seconds to have the Hells Angel on the ground. Afterwards they were all sorrowful, making up. It was totally weird. The Detroit guy had a personality like rocker Ted Nugent, but Ted Nugent would be no match for &%*$#*#@.

The Detroit Outlaw entertained everyone with his "Vietnam" derived skills in shotgunning, which he did with a coat sleeve, and in his own concoction, the "Heidelberger" - a huge, cigar+ shaped mixture of tobacco and other natural agricultural products, which caused some to reach new heights of universal peace and brotherhood of mankind.

Bikers like to mess with each other. I'll never forget the night he and another Harley-type were going at it in the hallway of the barracks. The other guy, a big biker from Needles, California, was wielding a huge knife he had made, while the Detroit guy had a bullwhip. I kept trying to settle them down, but when that energy gets going, it's hard to stop. They each had to have their fun, but the Detroit guy enjoyed it more. He could break a beer bottle and stick it in someone's face without hesitation. The Hell's Angel guy's favorite weapon was a straight razor. They didn't play around in fights.

The best fighter of them all was my good friend Mitch, from Greensboro, North Carolina. He was not a biker, but a veteran of the 199th Infantry Brigade, a unit that suffered some of the heaviest casualties in "Vietnam." If you put "Platoon," "Full Metal Jacket," and "Apocalypse Now" together, you would have a sense of the combat he went through. He just happened to be around for one of the fights in the Ponderosa, and the biker from Detroit mistakenly hit him across the face with a bar stool, breaking his lip wide open. It didn't slow him down a bit. He fought five guys at a time and beat them all. His only weapons were his fists. He also was not a criminal, which distinguished him from the bikers.

One of the things I remember Mitch saying about combat was "I don't care who you are. When you get into your first firefight, you shit your pants." Another was "We had whole companies wiped out." The toughest person I have ever known in my life, he felt bad about having killed people. A friend from his home town got him assigned to the 503d to finish out his time in the Army, and he became an orderly room clerk. We had some wild times, both at work and at various haunts around Heidelberg. We went out one night to a "German" restaurant ("Gasthaus"), and it was priceless to hear him order in his southern drawl, "Swai schnitzel," holding up two fingers. The grin on his face was even more priceless. He eventually got a three-month "early out" to start a business selling worms for fish bait. It qualified as seasonal employment, enough of a ruse to get him out of the Army. As with all the great people I have known in my life, we'll meet again in the Great Beyond.

My friendships with these various tough guys came in handy for me. I had a protected status, and was able to do my "underground" activities with relative safety. To them I was from the realm of literacy, unawed by the authority and power of the Army command structure. I found ways to outsmart the NCOs and officers of my unit without them knowing it, and even turned down an "Article 15" ordered by a full colonel, and won, a story for another time. I actually felt sorry for the "C.O." when I told him I wouldn't sign the Article 15. It was like hitting him in the stomach.

U.S. Army Specialist 5 patchI stayed out of trouble, and even made rank, advancing to E5 (Specialist 5, or "Spec 5"), which qualified me for a two man room. It became a gathering place for my biker friends and a few others. Our sergeants ("lifers") got drunk at the NCO club every day after work, and didn't dare enter the barracks after duty hours, so we were free to relax as we saw fit, enjoying various exotic imports from "Turkey," "Lebanon," and "Morocco."

Lest anyone think that we were lawless miscreants who were a plague on our fine military, I should say a word about the context in which we served. Our nation's ruling elite was embroiled in an illegal and immoral intervention in a small but resource rich country in southeast Asia. The most heinous forms of mass murder and torture known to man, except nuclear weapons, were inflicted on this poor country, all in the name of "stopping Communism." Estimates are as high as 5.1 million people killed in this endeavor.

A corrupt war like this inevitably has corrupting effects on the military. In the 503d Transportation Company, for instance, the first sergeant was running a used car business out of the company motor pool. Army mechanics were forced to work on salvage cars the first sergeant was able to procure with the assistance of the local military police unit. I witnessed sales being arranged in the company orderly room, where members of the unit were offered promotions if they bought cars, often cars they repaired themselves. Once they bought the cars, the promotions never materialized. The first sergeant was a total crook, and ran the company entirely on the basis of favoritism, threats and intimidation. I got along with him because he was semi-literate, and I did part of his job for him, like making out the duty roster, a chart of who was assigned to what duties on a daily basis. Anything that required the intelligent use of the written declarative sentence, I did for him.

Everyone I served with performed their jobs at a high level of dedication and skill. At least all the "first-termers" - draftees and enlistees. The "lifers" were another story. Among the NCO corps, they were almost universally in the advanced stages of alcoholism, red-faced, out of shape, semi-literate, and barely able to perform. It may have been different in the "combat arms" - Infantry, Artillary, and Armor - but in the rear-echelon branches that I served in, the career military was a joke.

The bikers were not such great soldiers. The Hells Angel was a drug addict, and he got worse as time went on. Eventually he was transferred to a company that had a "goon platoon" - washouts, mentally ill soldiers, people that were pending medical or less than honorable discharges. They were given menial janitorial and grounds maintenance tasks to do. Every morning they would be in "formation" with their mops, brooms, and shovels. It was pretty demeaning, but the military is not exactly a system for heightened levels of human interaction.

I suppose there is some poetic justice in putting a habitual criminal in such company, but it was a sad thing to see for all of them. One pathetic character from the 503d, "Hoss," was put in the "goon platoon" for being a screwup. He joined the Army at 17 to avoid going to prison for marijuana possession - should never have been in the Army. There were thousands like him during the "Vietnam" war.

The Hells Angels and similar motorcycle gangs are another form of secret society, with their own rituals, practices, symbols, hierarchy, and sense of being "special," an "elite." They are apolitical, except for issues related to motorcycle riding, and are mainly known for drug related crimes and violence. They are similar to groups like the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Brotherhood, the Posse Comitatus, and other white supremacist organizations in their lower-class roots, but they identify themselves as social outcasts, one-percenters, outlaws.

Ann Arbor Siddha Yoga group, 1977In 1976 I moved into the Siddha Yoga ashram of Swami Muktananda in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I thought I had finally found a true path in life - a sadguru (true guru), a community of fellow seekers, and a structure of spiritual practices that would lead to enlightenment, or self-realization, the term used by the group. Very soon it became clear that there was an inner circle of people that met in secret all the time with the local underguru, Russell Kruckman, then known as Shankar, soon to be anointed as Swami Shankarananda.

Swami Muktananda teaching in Ganeshpuri, India, around 1981 or 1982I eventually winged a job as an electrician and later a plumber at the main Siddha Yoga ashram in the Catskill Mountains of New York. Swami Muktananda, known affectionately as Baba, was the guru, the supposed enlightened one, and the inner circle around him was larger and even more exclusive than what I had seen in Ann Arbor. Palace intrigue was rampant, and proximity to the guru was measured by how much "secret" inside information one was privy to.

This is the South Fallsburg ashram as it looked in 1982. It is the former Gilbert's Hotel. The circled area is the floor where the young girls were housed. The are below it was Muktananda's living quarters.I wasn't privy to any inside information. Shortly before Muktananda died in 1982, a scandal broke out about his sexual abuse of a number of young girls. At the former Borscht Belt hotel that was the Siddha Yoga ashram, much of the second floor wing above Muktananda's quarters was reserved for about ten-or-so girls aged twelve to fourteen. One day during the summer of 1982 I was sent up there to retrieve a gold chain and locket from the bathroom sink drain in one of the rooms. I removed the sink trap, and there the chain and locket was. I gave it to the pretty 12 year old girl who owned it. She was ungrateful, and when I asked her how she got such a beautiful piece of jewelry, she arrogantly said, "Baba gave it to me."

The Secret life of Swami Muktananda, The Coevolution Quarterly, Winter 1983Naive me, I thought little of the episode. Some time later I mentioned to the woman who worked in the plumbing shop office how curious it was that so many young teenage girls all lived in the same wing of the ashram. She coyly replied, "Those are Baba's princesses." I asked her what she meant, and she would say no more. Just a smirky grin. It was special knowledge that was not meant for me. I was not an insider. The special knowledge was that these girls were being molested. A secret shared among the pretenders to power. If you knew "Baba" was molesting pubescent girls, then you were "close to the guru." For some - actually more than some - a whiff of power was enough to fool them into thinking they were someone special. Maybe even "self-realized."

More of the secret life of Swami MuktanandaDumb me, I believed Muktananda's denials, at least until I did my own research on the subject. Eventually the exposé in Coevolution Quarterly reached me, and I began to have doubts.

I stayed involved with the Siddha Yoga organization for a couple of years after he died, but gradually became disenchanted, and by 1985 was completely disinvolved. SYDA was a positive experience for me overall, grounding me in meditative practice and attitude. It also gave me an easy way to pull up stakes and move to such places as Michigan, India, Texas, New York, and Hawaii.

I was lucky not to have been corrupted by the temptations of power and prestige. I also was lucky to know when it was time to leave. For those still seeking of power and prestige in the Siddha Foundation, I can only say good luck. See what it gets you.

What all these organizations have in common is that they are groups that set themselves apart from society at large, identifying themselves as some kind of elite. They are either groups within groups - like Opus Dei or the Wahhabi Muslims - or groups within society as a whole, like the Masons or the Ku Klux Klan. Al Qaida, such as it really exists, is another secret society, with its roots in "Wahhabism," and developed under the tutelage of the "CIA" to conduct guerrilla actions against the "Soviet" invaders in "Afghanistan" in the 1980s.

Playing war hero againOr the Project for the New American Century. Or, for that matter, the Bush criminal regime. The best way, I believe, to understand the Bush criminal regime is to see it as a secret society, not vastly different from Skull and Bones, the Yale secret organization Bush belonged to during his college days. Unmoved by public opinion, Bush and his minions are pushing the country headlong into another foolish war. They see themselves as an elite, knowing better than the rest of us, having secret "knowledge" that qualifies them to start wars, and justifies them in their criminal plans and activities. It matters not a whit to them that their secret "knowledge" is fake and criminal. Its very secrecy gives it an aura of power and truth, as far as the BCF is concerned.

There is no question that the Bush regime is obsessed with secrecy. It has resisted investigations into its behavior related to the attacks of September 11, 2001, to the intelligence that "justified" the invasion and occupation of "Iraq," to the torture at the Abu Ghraib prison, Guantanamo, to extraordinary rendition, to the spying on American citizens, to the corruption of the Department of Justice, to the negligence related to Hurricane Katrina, and now to the plans for starting a war with "Iran."

I can say from experience that it is natural for people to form secret societies, to form special groups within groups, and to find ways of establishing elites of various kinds. The Army has its airborne, rangers, airborne rangers ("I wanna be an airborne ranger..live that life of death and danger...airborne...all the way...up the hill...over the hill"), the Delta Force, and of course the Special Forces. The Navy has its Seals. The Marines already consider themselves an elite force, and the Air Force doesn't seem to need one, though Christian fundamentalism has made inroads into the Air Force command structure.

I felt like a member of an elite when I was studying the manly art of projector repair target="_blank", finessing the Army out of turning me into a killer (or a kilee). My fellow projector repair students quashed that notion. They were some of the most unremarkable people I have ever known (Except one guy - David Benally, a Navajo from Arizona, who competed in the All Indian Rodeo Cowboys Association (AIRCA). He was pretty quiet, but a good guy. After Christmas leave I asked him what he did when he was home. He said he got on a horse and rode into the mountains. On projector repair graduation night a bunch of us went out drinking. One of the fellow graduates called him a drunken Indian, and ended up on the floor in a split second. I don't remember where Benally was sent, but it wasn't Germany. He probably remained stateside). Two of my fellow graduates cried on the plane ride to "Germany." Crying, because they were being sent to "Germany." The fact that fortune shined on them, that they weren't being sent to "Vietnam" was completely beyond their infantile range of vision. We made for a pretty feckless elite, and had no secrets to conceal.

The Bush criminal regime, though, is not a harmless elite. They are a world-threatening elite. A secret society of sociopaths, they mean harm for you and me, and for the rest of the planet as well. Their wars do no one any good, including themselves, but they are locked on a course of criminality in the manner of a Ponzi scheme, hoping to cover the previous crime with the next.

It would seem that the Bush criminal operation can't be stopped, but I beg to differ. The support structure for the Bush criminal regime - the corporations and news media - is entrenched, and they amount to secret societies of their own. They have hierarchies, rituals (office parties, conferences, meetings, presentations, memos, awards banquets, press releases, PR campaigns, marketing strategies, etc.), and secrets. Fake tough guys like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity play a psychotic game of posturing as macho men, and I think that they look at themselves as self-identified members of their own secret society - the pretend Hell's Angels of broadcast media - Fox News.

I believe that something will happen to stop the Bush criminal regime in its tracks before it is able to launch an attack against "Iran." The "eliteness" of the Bush regime is mighty fragile, depending on the fellow-corruption of the entire U.S. military command, and on the corruption of all the intelligence agencies. I suspect that these various public servants have all had enough of Bush and his putrid little gang.

A real tough guy. No one to mess with. A fire breather. Muy hombre. A man to be reckoned with. A man's man. A straight shooter. Hmm. Maybe we should forget the straight shooter part. Better yet, let's forget Cheney altogether, once he is whisked away to an undisclosed maximum security prison location.This time around, all it will take is relentless pressure. It all depends on the health of Dick Cheney, and he does not have infinite strength. He is old, has a bad heart, and the cumulative effect of a life of crime has to be weighing on him. Bush appears to be reverting to his addictive ways, his speech often slurring badly, and his incoherence is becoming more severe. They are known liars and manipulators, and their efforts to create a propaganda momentum are continually being thwarted.

A scene we'd like to seePut another way, these people are just men (and a couple of women), and not very good ones. They are not elite, not masterminds, and not a force for good. They do have secrets, but these can be found out once their criminal plans are foiled. Then we can go about the business of inducting them into a new secret society - that of the international maximum security prisoner. The possibilities for ritual abound.

Here's some California Okie music: Click, click, click, and click.

Here's some California USA music: Click, click, and click.

One more for good measure: Click.

And one more for the Bush crime family to watch: Click.

This song comes up often when I think of those Army days.

One more for the road: Click.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Baselines for meaningful dialogue

A slight pause in reading 'My Pet Goat'
Every so often I feel the need to reiterate that the main purpose of writing this blog is to raise the level of dialogue on this planet. A lofty goal. Quixotic, some may say. Still, I prefer optimism to pessimism or passivity.

The first step in raising the level of dialogue is to tell the truth. For instance, the Bush regime is, by all evidence, a criminal organization. It sponsors mass murder, kidnapping, false imprisonment, torture, criminal negligence, illegal war and occupation, vote fraud, corruption of the justice system, treasonous exposure of an intelligence officer, spying on ordinary citizens, environmental destruction, theft, corporate cronyism, government by deceit and secrecy, and suppression of dissent.

Recognizing and referring to the Bush regime as a criminal organization is a baseline, a minimum level of genuineness for any meaningful dialogue about solving the nation's and the planet's problems. Bush is a sociopath. A liar, a war mongerer (Not monger. Mongererer. Monger is a verb. Someone who mongers is a mongerer.), a kidnapper, a torturer, a vote fraudster, a corrupter of the justice system, a traitor, a voyeur, a corporate cronyist, a ruler by deceit and secrecy, a suppressor of dissent. (For a photo montage of the Bush criminal regime, click here. You may have to load it twice.)

And he lied the country into invading, destroying, and occupying "Iraq," an ongoing felony of historical proportions. (For a photo montage of the Bush criminal regime, click here. You may have to load it twice.)

The members of Bush's gang are equally criminal.

Pursuant to raising the level of dialogue is to promote rational, civilized response to this minimal level of truth. For instance, Juan Cole wrote an article in Salon about the collapse of Bush's foreign policy, to which I responded thusly:

It's time for good riddance

The most curious aspect of this insightful commentary is that it is in Salon, rather than the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, or Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, or even the TV networks. Time and again Salon scoops the "major media," yet they seem unable to learn, unable to rise to the challenge. Juan Cole does appear on PBS's News Hour occasionally, but he doesn't get seen or heard otherwise (I could be wrong about this. Having worked in the TV cable industry, I will not pay for cable. I heard about Novak et. al. on the Stephanie Miller Show).

It doesn't take a genius to figure this stuff out. All it takes are eyes and/or ears. On Fox, they're busy trying to discredit Valerie Plame, with Robert Novak, among others, claiming she wasn't "covert," wasn't an "agent."

Meanwhile, California is on fire, the southeastern "U.S." is in a drought, oil prices are going up, the economy is teetering on collapse, and we have a gang of criminal sociopaths "running" the country.

And, of course, there's the Mideast. By the time Bush's tenure is over, we might want to consider handing him over to an international tribunal for criminal prosecution for his many crimes. If we do this, we might regain some of our lost prestige and influence on the world stage. We should also hand over the Bush gang's media enablers as co-conspirators.

Though Abu Ghraib would be a fitting place for them, a more appropriate incarceration would be someplace isolated, preferably in northern Sweden or Norway. Some place where they would be forgotten. No media, no interviews, no memoirs, no reinvention of history. Just good riddance.

In other words, the only real question in regard to the Bush criminal regime is where the best location is for its imprisonment. If the Bush regime is a gang of international criminals, its minions should all be in jail. All other arguments - "standing up to him," overcoming his vetos, challenging his "Iraq" policy, demanding full disclosure of "secret" documents - are pretty meaningless if Bush and his gang are treated with legitimacy. If they are legitimate, then the crimes they commit are also legitimate. They get a free pass, and the attempts by the "Democrats" to affect "policy" are for naught.

Another example of a baseline of truth is the behavior of "right wing" hate mongerer Ann Coulter. She is granted legitimacy by the pretense that she has a position, a point of view, that merits attention. I wrote a comment to a recent Leonard Pitts column that I think raises a question about Ann Coulter that no one seems to be asking:


I don't consider myself a "member" of any religion, but Buddhism is nearest to what I find resonant. It is more about practice than belief. In my experience, there are two main practices: compassion and being in the present moment. Meditation could be considered a third, but it can also be seen as another word for being in the present moment.

I also have a Buddhist view of Ann Coulter. It is the view of impermanence. A few years ago the name Ann Coulter was unknown outside a small circle of supposed knowers. She will be unknown again. It is the nature of not just fame, but of all phenomena. Fame is just a more obvious temporary condition.

Since we are all living in the present moment, though, it might be worth considering just what "Christianity" Ann Coulter practices. If she is a follower of "Jesus," who was actually called Yaheshua, then one would expect that she might emulate him in some way. She would inculcate the qualities of kindness, humility, forgiveness, generosity, healing, peacefulness, and love.

Alas, if she has taken on these qualities, she keeps them well hidden. If "Christianity" means following the teachings of Yaheshua, then Ann Coulter is actually an anti-Christian. As such, she is anti-Christ. It would exalt her to say that she is the antichrist. She has too much company to be given that distinction.

I also wrote this letter to the Madison Capital Times, hoping to raise awareness about how the growth imperative of our economic system is a forbidden topic, and that it is the underlying reason that we will be an extinct species if we continue to pretend that we can grow forever. A better version of the letter was submitted to the Wisconsin State Journal, but it didn't make it into print. You can read it here:

Much ado

The supposed uproar over the mayor's appointment of the director of a city department is a bit of a tempest in a teapot.

For one thing, if members of the Madison Economic Development Commission resign because things don't go their way over a job appointment, it is in the realm of palace intrigue, or political infighting, unless some overriding issue or scandal is involved. If the mayor is legally authorized to choose who will serve as director of Madison's combined economic and community development office, then it is his choice. Whoever is the "best" candidate is a value judgement, a matter of opinion. A more accurate term would be most "suitable" candidate, and the mayor chose the candidate who is most suitable to him.

As far as it being "up to the mayor and his appointee, Bill Clingan, to repair the damage by proving that job creation on their agenda has a high priority on their agenda," the "proof" is in the pudding, so to speak. "Job creation" is an amorphous term. "What job creation?", one might ask. Environmental restoration and protection? "High" tech? "Low" tech? Urban renewal? Factories? Public works? How about a modern-day Works Progress Administration (WPA)? Land could be set aside for community supported agriculture. Jobs could be created to clean up Madison's lakes. How about a CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps )-type camp for ex-convicts?

What really is worthy of question is just what the "economic vision" of Madison is to be. The "business community" in Madison consists of several elements: the various governmental bodies - Federal, state, county, and city, the University of Wisconsin, small manufacturers, landlords, realtors and property developers, retailers, and other service providers. These various elements don't necessarily have the same or harmonious interests, or interests that are beneficial to the general public. And the interests of the non-human life in the area, or of the planet in general tend to take a back seat.

What few are willing to recognize is that human systems are impositions on the land, and that they can deviate from the ecology of the planet only so far. Human induced climate change is recognized as a problem to be solved, but not if it risks the growth of the human imposition. Economic growth always comes first, last, and only. If you ask any economist at any of the institutions of higher education in this town, they will all tell you that, yes, we can grow forever, because it is religious dogma. The Freedom from Religion Foundation should look into this.

So the "issue" of the "best" choice for the economic development director is much ado about not much. No matter who the director is, he or she will be working under the same assumption that policy makers at every level pay homage: that growth is imperative, and can go on forever. We can infinitely convert the Earth into finished products with no slowing down - indeed at an increasing rate. At a minimum "healthy" level of growth of two percent annually, economic output would double in thirty-six years. Good luck, Homo Sapiens, to say nothing of all other life as we think we know it.

John Hamilton

Back in July I submitted the following letter to the Capital Times, which they printed in an edited version.


Tuesday's column by John Nichols, "Bush badly botches Mideast conflict," is something he could have written in his sleep. It is good writing, and is factually correct, but it goes nowhere. It's just more chatter, and to the degree that it is read, it gets filed away with the rest of the chatter.

One key phrase is a hologram for the whole article, and is the key factor in why the piece is almost irrelevant: "Bush's failed Mideast policies."

Policies. The Bush regime has policies.

The Bush regime does not have policies! (Think Jim Morrison shouting "You can not petition the Lord with prayer!") It is a criminal organization. Not a legitimate political organization that advocates solutions to problems. They only have schemes. Everything they do is with criminal intent, from the rigging of the 2000 election, the active negligence in advance of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the lying to get the country riled up for the invasion of Iraq, the rigging of the 2004 election, the active negligence in advance of and after Hurricane Katrina, kidnapping and torture worldwide, spying and developing databases on citizens within our borders, treason in the exposure of an intelligence officer, to the firings of honorable U.S. Attorneys, who were replaced not by mere political hacks, but criminal operatives with the purpose of prosecuting opponents.

This is an important distinction. If you just talk about this regime's failed "policies," the argument goes nowhere. If you call it what it is, a criminal gang, you change the dialogue, and the likelihood of actually doing something about this regime is greatly enhanced.

The reasons for not referring to the criminal Bush regime as criminal are twofold: It is beyond the bounds of thinkable thought, and of "polite" conversation. It's a self-fulfilling fallacy, because it is only because the "intelligentsia" will not call this regime a criminal gang that it is beyond the bounds of thinkable thought.

The second reason is derivative of the first: Career survival and advancement. If it is conventional wisdom that Bush is incompetent but well-intentioned, then he can be criticized in endless op-eds, editorials, books, and radio and TV commentaries. It all goes nowhere. Bush continues with his criminal schemes, and the news media can do fluff coverage of the presidential "horse race."

Meanwhile, the country continues to sink, having no direction, and little sense of how close we are to collapse as a functioning social system. Chatter, anyone?

John Hamilton

What all of these writings have in common is that they establish a baseline for raised levels of dialogue. You can't talk about proper response to the Bush regime unless you first recognize its criminality. You can't challenge its "policies" in a meaningful way unless you first recognize that its "policies" are not policies at all. They are schemes. You can't challenge hate mongerer Ann Coulter's rhetoric if you first do not recognize that her profession of "Christianity" is fake, not the least bit "Christian." You cannot begin to address the problem of climate change, global warming, environmental destruction, or whatever you want to call our ecological breakdown unless you first recognize the built-in assumption of infinite growth of output of industrial economic systems.

If you have read this far, and find yourself in agreement or disagreement with what I have written about these baselines, I suggest testing this hypothesis. Go out and try to establish these baselines in discussing the important issues of the day. It is almost impossible, but you will find out one very important fact: people are frozen in their conceptions, their entire ego structures embedded in the false and weak assumptions that their perspectives are built upon.

This includes "leftists." I've written exhaustively about the folly of believing the imaginary "spectrum" of "left" to "right" is smoke and mirrors at best. The identity of "leftist" is both to an ideology of polarization and to a mutually identified cohort group. To paraphrase Lily Tomlin, the "left" identity is a collective hunch. It is a hunch that the "left" actually exists. It must, otherwise there could be no "right." And, as any "leftist" worth his Phil Ochs recordings will tell you, the "right" not only exists, but is out to get us.

That, of course, is a baseline that few would want to touch.

So here we are, in the year 2007, yammering back and forth about the state of the world, but speaking in altered perspectives about pretend realities, assuming things that don't exist, assuming legitimacy where it doesn't exist, and expecting that our talk is going to solve problems. Meanwhile, California is on fire, the southeastern "United States" is in a serious long-term drought, our economy is on the verge of collapse, and the Bush criminal organization is planning another war.

Perhaps, while we still have time, we can go back to the fundamentals, taking a look at our basic assumptions.

Here are a few tunes to accompany the search for truth: Johnny Cash, Johnny Lennon, Johnny Fogerty, and Johnny Prine.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Archbishop Desmond Tutu with the Dalai LamaLife is often serendipitous, where seemingly magical things happen to us as if from some otherworldly place. A good example was on October 4, when I read Juan Cole's Informed Comment. He wrote about the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul cancelling the appearance of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Archbishop Tutu was accused of comparing "Israel" to the Nazis, and this supposedly was the reason for the cancellation.

I read with surprise and the familar déjà vu, because St. Thomas is my Alma Mater, the place where I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Economics. I wasted no time in posting a comment to the story, sharing a bit of history of free speech at St. Thomas:

At 8:47 PM, John Hamilton said...

I graduated from the University of St. Thomas when it was the College of St. Thomas. In the spring of 1964 about 200 students got sick from the dormitory food, and a food riot erupted. Four students were expelled for posing in front of the stone school name monument with a sign that said "We've been poisoned." A picture of the students appeared on the front page of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

St. Thomas, being a Catholic institution, has its own filtered version of free speech. The school's hierarchy, though they would not admit it, almost certainly views Archbishop Tutu as a heretic. Though Vatican II loosened the Church's view of other religion, there is still a pining for the old days of the "Holy Roman Empire." The current pope is a throwback to those days, rekindling the view that the only way to get to "Heaven" is through the Catholic Church.

St. Thomas has experienced exponential growth in the past few decades, and has caught itself in a bind. By adding curricula and expanding its enrollment beyond the strictly male Catholic population, the school has invited the inevitable conflict between open dialog and Church authoritarianism.

As this latest embarrassment plays out, I can't help looking back fondly at the hanging-in-effigy of the food service director in 1964. It was dissent unheard of at St. Thomas, and likely at any other Catholic institution of higher education. I was one of the poisoned students, and was sought out to lead the food riot, because I had vomited outside the dining hall. I declined, not believing the violent expelling of tainted food to be a qualification for leadership. I did attend the riot, and it was a riot to see priests in long dress-like black outfits running around trying to catch students. A great time was had by all - a bonfire, effigy burning, a makeshift folk group, lots of noise, and the truly classic chasing scene. Monty Python couldn't have done it better. It was the birth of free speech at St. Thomas. Now it is time for a rebirth.

For those unfamiliar with Catholicism, Archbishop Tutu would be considered a heretic because he is an Episcopalian. This is the "Church of England," also known as the Anglican Communion. It is a breakaway church from Catholicism, and also can be referred to as a schism.

It turns out I had the year of the food riot wrong. It was 1965. My mistake became clear when I thought about another bishop, the former president of St. Thomas, James P. Shannon. He led the school for my first year and a half there, a kindly presence on campus, and was an inspiration wherever he went. He marched in Selma with Martin Luther King, was part of Vatican II, opposed the "Vietnam" "war," and supported birth control. By the time of the food riot he was gone from St. Thomas, busy with his new duties as a bishop.

Bishop Shannon was literally the fair-haired boy of "American" Catholicism. He had red hair, good looks, charisma, a PhD from Yale, and was an eloquent speaker. Talk flourished about him becoming the first "American" pope.

Reluctant Dissenter, the autobiography of Bishop James P. ShannonHe even was featured on the cover of Time magazine, on February 23, 1970, but it was not for rising in the Church hierarchy. Bishop Shannon resigned from his position because of his differences with the pope over birth control and his isolation from the other bishops because of his progressive views. He was banished to teach at a college in New Mexico. Not long after his banishment he stunned the hierarchy further by getting married. For this he was "excommunicated." He wrote a book about his journey of faith, Reluctant Dissenter, and founded the James P. Shannon Leadership Institute.

What is truly serendipitous about the current situation is the compare and contrast of Bishop Shannon, Archbishop Tutu, and the current president of St. Thomas, the Reverend Dennis Dease. On the one hand, a former president of St. Thomas marched with Martin Luther King and resigned over principle, a world renowned scheduled speaker is disinvited, and the current president is now famous, or infamous, for being the disinviter.

Pope Benedict XVIHow could he be so dumb, one might ask. I think the answer is easy. We've come a long way from the heady days of the civil rights movement and "liberalization" of the Catholic Church. A former member of Hitler Youth is now the pope. Departing drastically from the ecumenicism of Vatican II, he recently declared that Roman Catholicism is the only true religion.

Another sign of the retreat from expanded consciousness in Catholicism is the growing influence of an organization within the Church called Opus Dei. As groups within groups tend to be, Opus Dei takes Catholicism a step farther, advocating extreme practices and observances. It also has delved into the world of politics, supporting the likes of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, Benito Mussolini, and Augusto Pinochet. The organization's founder, Josemaría Escrivá, spoke fondly of Adolf Hitler. I suspect he wasn't the only member of Opus Dei who admired Hitler. They likely have some new heroes, such as a certain brain-damaged, drug and alcohol addicted, military deserting, war mongering sociopath who claims "God" tells him what to do.

Thanks to the Desmond Tutu fiasco my Alma Mater is becoming known to the world. Notorious might be a better term. Archbishop Tutu will still be speaking in St. Paul, just not at St. Thomas. It will be amusing to watch how things develop between now and then. I am hopeful. As is happening nationwide, the actions of "conservatives" among the various "Christian" leaders are coming under scrutiny. In the ebb and flow of life - the waxing and waning, high tide and low tide, yin and yang - change is on the way.

Writing this qualifies me as a heretic, I suppose. I don't consider "Catholicism" an organization that one needs to be a "member" of, or not a "member" of, so "excommunication" is in the mind of the beholder. I freely enter "Catholic" churches for weddings and funerals, and if blessings are offered, I accept them. One of the things I've always felt is so lame is that if one doesn't take "Communion," that means one is in a state of "mortal sin." Thusly one invites the disapproval of the community, and the stares of condemnation. "Look at the sinner! I wonder what he (or she) did!" Not wanting to look like a sinner, all one has to do is get in line.

I now feel a kinship with Galileo, Giordano Bruno, and the thousands of others who have run afoul of Church orthodoxy. To them I have one thing to say: I want to thank you for lettin' me be myself, again. Thanks go especially to the Great Spirit, the Supreme Being, Allah, Krishna, Shiva, the Buddha, Kwan Yin, and The Tao, that I was born in the Twentieth Century.

Update: Reverend Dennis Dease, the president of St. Thomas, has reinvited Archbishop Tutu to speak at St. Thomas. Read about it here. This is a good result for everyone involved, not the least of whom is Dennis Dease. (In fairness to Father Dease, I must add that he denounced the appearance of "right wing" hatist Ann Coulter at St. Thomas in 2005.) Most of all, it is good for the University of St. Thomas, long a force for good in the state of Minnesota, nationally, and internationally. Eugene McCarthy was on the faculty before he became a senator. Many current and former legislators, judges, government officials, doctors, lawyers, coaches, and citizens of high esteem nationwide are graduates of St. Thomas. In my own graduating class a few names are worthy of mention: Tom Sheran, John Hottinger, Ed Ross, Jerry Steffen, Nick Lapentti, Richard Volinkaty, Rich Kallok, and Jim Dunn.

Get down!