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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, November 10, 2009

Military madness

Ann Arbor Siddha Yoga group, 1977
I moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1976 to live in an ashram, a residential center for the pursuit of meditation and other yogic practices. It was something of an idyllic life at first. There was a sense of community, a guru who we believed was an enlightened being, several chanting and meditation sessions every day, and low rent for room and board.

University Hospital ID
It was necessary to work outside the ashram in order to pay the rent, and the favored place for ashamites to find employment was the University of Michigan Hospital. After a stint of taxi driving I was hired as a temporary replacement as a clerk in the anesthesiology department of "U Hospital." When that ended I found another temp job as a custodian on several of the medical units. After a trip to "India" in 1977 I returned to Ann Arbor, and got hired again at University Hospital as a custodian in the Neuropsychiatric Institute (NPI).

I didn't like working at NPI very much. There were three inpatient psychiatric units in the main hospital building. One was for people with various depression problems and eating disorders. Another was for teenagers with psychiatric illnesses of one kind or another. The lore of that unit was that the patients were children of Detroit auto company executives who had them committed as punishment, and to get rid of them. There was a floor for adult patients with serious mental illnesses - schizophrenia and other psychoses. The most heartbreaking was the children's psychiatric hospital. It was in a separate building, housing about 15 children who ranged in age from around five years old to about ten. They tended to be victims of various kinds of parental abuse, but some were diagnosed as behaviorally disordered independent of any abuse histories.

A murder took place at NPI while I worked there. It happened on a Sunday, July 30, 1978, a day when I was working, but I managed to miss all the commotion. I think I was in the children's unit at the time, or had already gone home. The chief administrator of NPI was shot six times by a subordinate, apparently the result of a poor evaluation.

I remember feeling at the time that the murder seemed to be almost inevitable at NPI. The vibration of the place was totally weird. I could feel the difference as soon as I walked into the NPI area at the back of the main hospital building. Each unit had its own strange vibration. The depressed floor was the easiest place to work. The patients were all quiet, and posed no threat. The teenage section was more difficult, because there was so much emotional upheaval going on. The children's unit was heartbreaking, but an easy place to work. The floor with the adults with serious mental illness was the hardest one to work in, because there was an element of danger there, and the cleaning tasks were sometimes distasteful and difficult. I often had to clean feces off the walls, floors, and bathtubs in the men's bathroom.

One of the patients in the adult psychosis unit was a middle-aged woman who was a psychiatrist on the faculty of the university. She had a complete mental breakdown of some kind, and had a private room, if I remember right. It was pretty sad, because she seemed to be a pretty decent person, but just could not function. One day when I was cleaning her room there were several psychiatric journals in the trash. I think I turned them in at the nurse's station, or whatever the unit duty station was called.

Working at NPI was a strain, but was just a weekend job, and I lasted until the following spring. About the time I couldn't stand working there any longer I applied for a union job as a maintenance worker at one of the student dormitories, and got hired. After a few months there I quit, moving to the main Siddha Yoga ashram in the Catskill mountains of New York.

The job at the Neuropsychiatric Institute would have remained a vague memory if it weren't for the shooting tragedy at Fort Hood. When I heard it was a psychiatrist who did the killing, the memories started flooding back. I recalled the weird vibration at NPI and the murder that took place while I worked there. What was most prominent in my memory, though, was the psychiatrist who had the breakdown. There were a number of psychologists involved in Siddha Yoga, and in conversations they would tell me that doing therapy was hazardous work, because they would take on so much of their clients' pain that they could get overloaded with misery, and run the risk of having a breakdown themselves. One psychologist who was part of the ashram community did have breakdowns, a couple of times a year. For some strange reason it didn't occur to her to change to a different line of work.

I haven't thought about working at NPI for a long time, but the shootings at Fort Hood brought the memories back. We don't know the reason or reasons for the killing spree, but the nature of the psychiatric profession has to be a major factor. It is likely that most people who go into the mental health professions are healthy, well-integrated individuals who can absorb and release the pain and dissonance they take in, but there are inevitably some who can't. I can say from experience that the atmosphere in a psychiatric unit is one of mental disturbance, and has a built in stress. As the shooting in Ann Arbor seemed to suggest, one need not work in the presence of the patients to be affected by the vibrational field.

Another factor that almost certainly contributed to the shooter's motivation at Fort Hood is the heated atmosphere in the military because of two "wars" being waged against Muslim "nations," "Afghanistan" and "Iraq." Technically they aren't wars. They are military occupations in the aftermath of invasions authorized by Congress as "Operation Enduring Freedom" and "Operation Iraqi Freedom."

I wrote a comment to an article in Salon last Thursday that explores some of the greater context of the shootings:

What's motive behind Fort Hood shooting?

Anger (duh)

Mark Benjamin has done some great writing in Salon, but "What's motive behind Fort Hood shooting?" is a pretty lame headline. I guess it's in lieu of something like "(Eleven or)Twelve dead in Ft. Hood shooting! Killer was base psychiatrist."

But since you asked, I can provide some insight, though not a perfect answer. The quick answer would seem to be anger. That would be a pretty obvious motivation for shooting eleven people.

A better answer is to look at the overall context. The motivation to wreak havoc on "Iraq" and "Afghanistan" was officially to capture and/or kill Osama bin Laden and his cohorts, to stop Saddam Hussein from attacking "America," and to bring "democracy" to the "Middle East" and other places as "we" see fit.

It was all bullshit. The gods of war were unleashed by a cheap gang of criminals, and after eight years what was unleashed is coming back with a vengeance, literally.

I can tell you from experience that the military is an unfriendly, crude institution even in "peaceful" times. When a war is started, it ups the ante for violence throughout the military. The mayhem is mostly in bar fights, but as can be seen in the latest issue of Rolling Stone, returning soldiers can commit unspeakable crimes.

It doesn't require being "in theater," or what during the "Vietnam" debacle was called "in country." War generates a madness that, over time, seeps into the unconscious of the entire armed forces. If the war or wars are bogus, then the madness is amplified.

The civilian society is not insulated from this breakdown. Most veterans complete their commitments, and "ETS" - get out. Many never readjust to normal life, and some get involved in crime, substance abuse, and crackpot causes. Remember Timothy McVeigh?

This brief analysis may not answer the question that substitutes for a news headline, but it might help broaden the dialogue.

— HappyJack   Read HappyJack's other letters

Me in Heidelberg, summer, 1970
My best example of how the madness of war pervades the military is from a previous post on this blog, Similarities, written in March of 2006. On July 4, 1970 my Army unit in Germany was on riot alert all day, with the expectation that we would be using live ammunition against our own fellow-soldiers. For no good reason, I might add.

Army Major Nidal Malik HasanMajor Nidal Malik Hasan may have had terrorist or "jihadist" intentions, he may have been harassed and called names, and he may have been a "loner," short, pudgy, a failed romancer, a "loser," and have delusions of grandeur. Higher-ups are looking for someone to blame, and avoiding blame. But I believe the shootings at Fort Hood would not have taken place if it were not for the combination of mental health work and the spreading madness of war. Had we not waged these phony campaigns in the first place, there would likely be thirteen people among the living who are no longer.

Here's a tune that fits the times. YouTube pulled the Graham Nash-Steve Stills video. For the chords and lyrics, click here.

Update: This post from Dahr Jamail's Mideast Dispatches gives more background on the Fort Hood shooting, as well as some analysis of soldier suicides and other problems at Army bases in general.

This article in Salon critiques the media frenzy about the tragedy.

Seymour Hersh's latest revelation in the New Yorker is a must read for anyone who cares about the future of the planet.

Here's a little something to read about our budget deficit.

Click here for a report on how our soldiers in "Afghanistan" feel about what they are doing.

I submit a few comments on sites around the Web. President Obama was in Madison last week, and gave a speech about education. This comment was in response to an article about teacher test scores in the Wisconsin State Journal, but also about what Obama said about his "Race to the top" scheme:

State schools boards group against using tests scores in teacher evaluations

One would think that teachers just walk in off the street and get hired based on their good looks. Actually, the process of getting certified to teach involves a fairly rigorous series of required courses and much - surprise, surprise - testing. State tests, nationally standardized tests, and the many tests they are required to take to pass their coursework.

A question no one seems to be asking is how it is that we once had a highly functioning school system that produced literate, competent citizens that were prepared for adulthood, and now is failing. Our higher education system used to be the envy of the the rest of the planet. Actually, it still is, though it is threatened.

In truth, there are not great masses of incompetent teachers. We're trying to do it on the cheap, the schools are too big, the classes are too large, and the problems students bring with them to school are making the task of teaching almost impossible.

We have a culture of complainers and blamers. It's the laziest and emptiest way of solving problems, and of living a meaningful life, but it's reaching a crescendo level in current times. President Obama is no help. Not knowing anything about what he is talking about, he thinks that a slogan, "Race to the top" has some magic that will solve our education woes. It's about as likely to succeed as his escalation of the occupation of "Afghanistan" and his watered-down health care "reform." He will likely be a one-term president.

This one was submitted to The Daily Beast:

Oh, those dirty Taliban!! Or is it "The" dirty Taliban. One of the things I've noticed in the various Defense/military/administration propaganda campaigns is the techniques of Fox News: Some people say, it is feared (by someone), some are concerned. Though the risk of rising addiction is real, the interpretation of the data, if there is any, is what matters. If you don't want soldiers succumbing to addiction in a war zone, you might want to consider not invading people willy-nilly. In a poor "country" like "Afghanistan," people desperately need money for basic subsistence, and might just turn to drug dealing when an endless occupation by foreigners with plenty of legal tender presents itself. Or, we can just say, "Oh, those dirty Taliban and Al Qaeda!!"

1:30 pm, Oct 19, 2009

Again, on the subject of "Afghanistan," this comment to the NPR program OnPoint:

Any defense of staying in "Afghanistan," and/or of escalating "U.S." involvement there rest on some weak assumptions.

To begin with, it is assumed that "we" invaded there in 2001 to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and his band of merry men. If that were the intention, then “we” would have competently done so.

In fact, all the available evidence indicates that the Bush regime was a criminal operation. The 2000 election was clearly stolen. The active negligence in advance of the September 2001 attacks suggests that there may have been a reason (or two) for making the attacks possible.

The fact that the September 11 attacks and the ensuing hysteria they generated were used as excuses to invade "Iraq" suggest that there was an agenda in place before the attacks took place. Given the stolen election, the plan was probably in place beforehand.

Now our president finds himself painted into a corner, brush in hand. He campaigned on the basis that "Afghanistan" was the "country" where we need to escalate our involvement. As we are now seeing, Mr. Obama says what he thinks will work with the audience at hand. You play, you pay.

We risk not just heating up the tensions and violence in the region of "Afghanistan" and "Pakistan," but having the conflict spread to a much wider sphere. One never knows. One of the lessons of World War II should have been that willy-nilly invading people can have unforeseen consequences, far beyond the imaginations of typical "players."

Posted by John Hamilton, on September 8th, 2009 at 7:50 pm EDT

This comment was made to the NPR show Fresh Air:

Jane Mayer: The Risks Of A Remote-Controlled War

John Hamilton (HappyJack) wrote:

Hmm. I spotted some man talk in comments below. I have an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army, which qualifies me for the manly man club. We don't have a military to justify killing people in vengeance or prevengeance for killing members of our military. Someone did a poll, in the 80s, if I remember right, which found that a majority of "American" youth believed the reason for the "Vietnam" "war" was to rescue the POWs.

Jane Mayer touched on something even more serious than willy-nilly international murder. It's what I call the baloon-boy syndrome. We have entered an age where there is little remaining of moral standards, of ethical considerations, and of impulse control, self-restraint, and scruple. The best examples of this are Fox News,the "Republican" party, and what is known as the religious "right." In all three cases, what matter are hysterical accusations, condemnation of opponents and invented grievances and victimization.

This syndrome kicked into overdrive with the "election" of George W. Bush. As a result of his criminal negligence the attacks of September 11, 2001 were enabled. Had he been doing his job competently, there would be no reason to invade "Afghanistan." Then there was the hoax invasion of "Iraq."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009 9:16:04 PM

This comment was to Bill Moyers Journal:

How Much Can the Government Do?

I don't identify as either a "liberal" or "conservative," but did find James Galbraith to be a breath of fresh air. I didn't see this show as a point-counterpoint, so much as a recommendation for some solutions to our economic woes followed by some platitudes.

In the case of Richard Brookhiser, he didn't go beyond "Ugh! Government bad!" Similar to the hosannas conjured up after the Reagan debacle, he predicted that George W. Bush would eventually be seen as a great president. This shows the complete bankruptcy of "conservatism." George W. Bush, omnicriminal, is what passes for greatness. One need only ask, what is the greatness of George W. Bush? Was it his desertion of, not the active duty military, but the National Guard? Was it the 2000 "election?" Was it the 2004 "election?" Was it his negligence before the attacks of September 11, 2001? Was it his lying the country into attacking "Iraq?" Was it "Mission Accomplished?" Was it Hurricane Katrina? Was it the near-collapse of our economy? Was it the revelation of the identity of an intelligence officer? Was it torture? Was it Guantanamo? Was it the "patriot" act? Was it spying on citizens?

There is a certain perfection in this futile assertion. George W. Bush as the latest excuse for greatness points out the complete emptiness of "conservatism." It is a philsophy and movement without substance. The only thing it stands to conserve is the wealth, power, and privilege of the already wealthy, powerful, and privileged. There is no solution proposed for the problem of climate change, no solution for the economy, no solution for our health care crisis, and no solution for "terrorism." It isn't "government" that "conservatives" oppose, but problem solving. In this light, what they are "conserving" is impotence.

Posted by: John Hamilton | October 31, 2009

And, the most fun of all, this letter to NPR:

I'm a little late getting around to this, but the interview with Michael Specter about his book is worthy of comment. I'm sure many have already commented, but I have a slightly different take.

One way of telling the quality of a person's ideas is the sound of his voice, which is perfectly supplied on radio. Mr. Specter sounded arrogant, bitter and angry, which was cause for immediate suspicion.

Then, of course, there was the substance. Organic food is bad because chemically enhanced food "saves lives." Saved, it would seem, in the great bank of human compound interest. What Mr. Specter conveniently ignores is that merely increasing crop yields mainly saves the lives of those who profit from the abundance. If world population is even more free to grow exponentially without any prospect for increasing well-being, then the "savings" is actually a curse.

Then, or course, there are the changes wrought by increasingly technological agriculture: monoculture, poisons in food, erosion, water and air pollution, increased cancer rates, and the destruction of agricultural communities worldwide.

For all his arrogance, bitterness and anger, Mr. Specter likely will find that pimping his book on NPR will be about as successful as was a similar attempt by his interviewer.