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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, September 06, 2008

Idiot's delight

Standoff at the John Ireland BridgeIt was a strange week, with "Hurricane Gustav" juxtaposing with the "Republican" convention, the president "supervising" rescue efforts, and the vice president doing his war-mongering thing in "Georgia" and other places.

The convention itself was strange, with pathetic, empty speeches by a series of pathetic, empty political hacks, mouthing words to hateful themes of war, making the rich richer, destroying the environment, and pumping up fear and paranoia.

Drill, baby, drillThe main event of the week was the speech by candidate McCain's surprise running mate, "Alaska" governor Sarah Palin (Here's an example of what Palin advocates). A nasty, contentless diatribe against McCain's opponent Barack Obama, Palin's speech ignited the dormant "Republican" masses, rousing them into a mob-like frenzy. The crowd responded several times with shouts of "USA! USA! USA!" and "Drill, baby drill!" It was idiot's delight, on prime-time TV.

As a sideshow to the convention, hundreds of protesters were arrested and roughed-up by local police, who were managed by agents of the "FBI" and "Secret Service." Journalists covering the protests were also arrested, including preemptive raids on houses where journalists were planning their coverage.

If Federal agents were on the scene directing the raids, then they were ordered to be there by higher-ups in the Bush criminal regime, but another in the long list of misdeeds by this scourge on humanity.

I first became aware of the preemptive raids last Saturday when I read Glenn Greenwald's column in Salon, complete with video. It was surreal watching the video, because the neighborhood looked familiar. It turned out that it was on a street where I lived when I was a student in St. Paul, Iglehart Avenue. It was blocks away from where I lived, but it was a weird connection.

As the week progressed, the arrests continued, including the taking into custody of the producers and show host of radio and TV program "Democracy Now."

St. Paul police chief John Harrington and Minneapolis police chief Tim DolanIt started to get surreal at that point. When St. Paul police chief John Harrington held a press conference on Tuesday, I had another sense of the familiar. As it turns out, both he and Minneapolis police chief Tim Dolan are graduates of my alma mater, the University of St. Thomas. They were key players in the arrests, though the major role was played by Ramsey County sheriff Bob Fletcher.

Protester Mick Kelly showing wound where he was hit by police projectile Thursday night. Photo by Jim Mone, APLawsuits will be in abundance over police spying, false arrests, prisoner abuse, and other civil rights violations, but as far as the planners for the crackdown are concerned, it was mission accomplished. More infrastructure for police state was put in place, and more experience was gained. More propaganda was also gleaned from the police festivities, making protesters look like a fringe element, outsiders, crazies, not "real" "Americans."

I have mixed feelings. It was surreal enough that fellow graduates of the school I attended for four years were overseeing the abuses. Amy Goodman, the "Democracy Now" show host who was arrested, is a prominent figure in Madison, visiting here to speak several times a year. I don't particularly like her, finding her to be a bit self-possessed, self-congratulatory, and arrogant. She also skews her reporting beyond bias to a posturing advocacy that I find annoying. Still, her show is one of the best sources of information anywhere. I listen to it on the radio whenever I can.

Members of the Madison chapter of Veterans for Peace, February 1, 2003. The guy with the blue hat was a bombardier in the firebombing of Tokyo in World War II. The guy with the “No war” sign was a combat journalist in “Vietnam.” The guy with the beard, holding the corner of the banner was an artilleryman in “Vietnam.” Photo credit: John HamiltonI could easily have gone to the Twin Cities to do some protesting, but chose not to. When the invasion of "Iraq" was brewing I joined the Madison Chapter of Veterans for Peace, and marched a few times. I hated it. I don't like being on display, and I don't like putting myself in a role of being anyone special, especially some kind of "hero." I said to myself, "I ain't marchin' anymore," and eventually quit the group.

Protester on the final night of the “Republican” convention, facing down police lineI also knew it was going to be a bad scene. Ever since the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999 there has been a steady progression of confrontation, police infiltration, arrests, violence, and polarization between protesters and the police element in various cities around the country. Ne'er the twain shall meet, so to speak, with protesters on one side, and law enforcement on the other.

It's easy to stereotype the other "side," and both "sides" do it. It's silly. On the police side, it's easy to see that cracking down on protesters suits them just fine. They get to try out all their new technology and tactics, and they get to have some fun beating people with sticks, tear gassing them, shooting them with rubber bullets, and throwing percussion grenades at them.

I put a greater onus on the protesters. They could easily defuse these confrontations in advance by doing some self-policing. One of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. In city after city, peaceful protesters allow themselves to be used by supposed "anarchists," who are likely to be the most police-infiltrated and provocateured, er, organization, in the entire country. The "anarchists" commit acts of vandalism time and again, all to the delight of the police, who then have an excuse to wade in with the nightsticks and other implements of harm.

They also could have had meetings with the police in advance. If the Federal government is exerting influence on local police forces, it could be prevented from doing so by better communication, whether through mass media, elected officials, or the local police forces.

Protesters could do a little homework. Instead of seeing the police as "the enemy," they could make an attempt to understand how a modern-day police force operates, and what life is like for the individual police officer.

I can give a few examples. One day last fall as I was driving on Madison's version of a freeway, the "Beltline," I ran out of gas. I thought I was going to miss at least an hour of work, to say nothing of the aggravation and inconvenience. As fortune would have it, a Wisconsin state policeman arrived on the scene about a minute after I pulled my car to the side of the road. I was already outside, opening the trunk to find my emergency gas can.

The state cop offered to help, and went back to his squad car to call in to report what he was doing. I wanted to tell him something, and walked over to his car to say whatever it was. He furiously waved me off, and I went back to my car. I realized quickly that I had violated some rule of police procedure, unbeknownst to me.

After a couple of minutes the state cop got out of his car, and told me he would take me to a gas station to get some gas. I thought it would be a long ride, but he took the first exit, went in the opposite direction, and found a gas station within about two blocks. After getting gas, he then circled back around to the Beltline, and I was pouring gas into my car within minutes.

A county sheriff's deputy showed up while I was pouring gas, and shielded me from the traffic, an act which probably saved my life. He did this without fanfare, as if it was normal routine, second nature.

I was back on the road in another couple of minutes, and ended up being only seven minutes late for work.

I learned a lot from this simple experience. Police are there to help, and do so cheerfully without hesitation. The one thing you have to know is that they do it according to procedure, a very strict set of guidelines that is rigid and unbending. If you move outside of those guidelines, then the situation changes immediately.

These procedures have developed over many years of experience, and are designed to keep the officers safe and in control. When their control and safety are jeopardized or threatened, then they go into a different mode.

About a month after this experience I got stopped for speeding on the same stretch of the Beltline, by a Madison police officer. He was all business, but eased up a bit, and asked me if I had seen him coming. I said I did when I changed lanes, and that I was late for work and was trying to make up for lost time. I let him be in complete control, didn't try to argue with him, and was prepared to accept my fate.

He let me go without a ticket. I was surprised, but elated, and went on my way to work. I think the thing that got me through was that I surrendered control. Without any pressure from me, he felt free to make an independent judgement.

A similar thing happened on a state/"U.S." highway about a month ago, late at night. I alternate Obama and Nader bumper stickers in my back window, and get tailgated on a regular basis. I have my own way of dealing with it, what I call the introduction to one's ancestors protocol, but this night when someone came too close I decided to speed up. I don't know if it was the same guy, but it was a county deputy. I was stopped, and told him my story.

I really expected to get a ticket this time, but he let me go. This situation was a little more interactive, but again I didn't argue, and gave the deputy complete control of the situation. It's an attitude thing, not smarting-off, not trying a con, just leaving it up to the cop to make his own decision.

I would keep this reality in mind if I were planning to mount a major protest in some city around the country. Rather than seeing the police as "fascists," "Darth Vader," or instruments of oppression, it would be better to see them as human beings, with families, bills to pay, and a difficult job. They get into life-threatening situations on an intermittent basis, making them kind of binary about confrontation. If you are party to turning the switch to action mode, then you can expect difficulty.

In a past entry in this blog I wrote about an experience I had when I was on riot alert when I was in the Army in Germany in 1970. It didn't take long in that situation to see the defined "other" as a threat, and if my unit had actually been sent out, it would likely have been an ugly scene. It's something I have never forgotten, and I learn from it on a regular basis.

One thing I learned is that to only see your own point of view is stupid, and also dangerous. If you have no sense or respect for what someone else is experiencing, or for the person at all, then you are asking for trouble. If you only behave for internal group reinforcement and position within the group, then you are just playing ego-enhancement games, and not doing the world any good.

The "Republicans" couldn't care less about what any protesters think, and the "Democrats," don't care much. Shouting during their conventions just makes them hate you more, and, as evidenced by the cheering when protesters were beaten in St. Paul, they hate you pretty much anyway.

Enough said. We are entering an age where our entire civilization is at stake. We can choose to foster civilization, or we can choose to foster division. Time will tell what choice we make.
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More information on the convention can be found at Twin Cities Indymedia.

For more pictures of the final day of the convention protests, click here.

Here's something new.

Salon's coverage of Sarah Palin can be found here.

Here's a little free advice from the Beatles. This will help if you want to sing and play along.

Some may remember the late, great Phil Ochs. Lyrics.

Here's some vintage Rolling Stones.Here's the lyrics. Chords & tab.

Can't leave Dylan out. Here's the lyrics, with tab and chords. Here's another. Click here to sing and play along.

Here's another Dylan classic, not my favorite, but pertinent to the predicament (Amen!). Here are the lyrics and chords.

Buffalo Springfield.

Some might remember Barry McGuire, half of the legendary McGuinn and McGuire. The song was written by P.F. Sloan, who is rarely mentioned.

And, to close the circle, the Grateful Dead. This Bob Weir version is a little clearer, sans Jerry, sadly. Here's the lyrics.

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