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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.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Heretical thoughts

Some of my greatest enjoyment in writing is when I respond to some item in the news, or some online appeal. Today I received an appeal from the long distance phone company Credo to petition Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to apologize to his former aide Anita Hill. Hill testified against Thomas in his confirmation hearing, accusing him of crude sexual harassment and intimidation. (You can see a video of her testimony here) Thomas played victim, accusing the "Democrats" of a "high-tech lynching."

It worked. He succeeded in "playing the race card," and avoided the humiliation of being rejected for the nation's highest court. Anita Hill fell into obscurity, her reputation tarnished. As even the most casual observers know, Thomas's wife Virginia left a message on Hill's voicemail at Brandeis University, where she teaches, on October 16, asking Hill to apologize for hurting her husband.

Hill not only did not apologize, but turned the message over to campus police. She said she has nothing to apologize for, because her testimony was truthful.

The plot thickened later last week when a former girlfriend of Thomas, Lilian McEwen, said publicly that Thomas was obsessed with pornography.

I didn't expect to make any comment about the situation, the fortunes of a "right wing" Supreme Court justice not ranking high on my list of priorities. But when the invitation came to send the petition, I couldn't refuse. Along with signing the petition, you get to add a paragraph of your own, which I did:

If ever there were a bogus Supreme Court justice, it is you. Because you perjured yourself in your testimony before the Senate, you are morally and ethically unfit to sit on the nation's highest court. Well beyond Anita Hill, you should resign, and apologize to the American people. You should also apologize for the many dishonest and nasty decisions you have made. It would be your only genuine public service in a lifetime of disservice.

Teenage war criminal Omar KhadrThat was fun. Once I get in gear for such antics, it's hard to resist another. Fortuitously, another weird item appeared in the news. Today it was revealed that after all these years of kidnapping, torture, incommunicado, secrecy and delay, our Keystone Kops military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have finally produced a conviction. It was a guilty plea by Omar Khadr, who was accused of throwing a grenade at a "U.S." soldier in "Afghanistan" when he was fifteen years old.

It is not clear that Khadr is actually guilty of anything, or what he pleaded guilty to, but the idea of throwing a grenade in a war or pseudo-war situation constituting a war crime is a bit of a stretch. Especially when you consider that the war may have been contrived for other reasons by the Bush criminal regime, just like they concocted evidence to justify invading "Iraq."

I responded to the National Public Radio story about the guilty plea thusly:

One would think that there would be embarrassment over this conviction, but there isn't. This indicates how far we have fallen in our feeble attempts at empire. For our military "tribunal," they needed a conviction so badly that they would be proud of this one, a fifteen year old, tortured, charged with a "war crime," and held incommunicado for years in our impunicious semi-secret prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba - on the land of another sovereign country.

What this reveals is the way individuals subsume their ethics, morality, sense of decency, judgement and individuality to their place in the machinery of mass civilization (or lack of same). Personal scruples or independence of thought and action are constricted in favor of conformity, career, and cheap thrills.

I wonder if the various prosecutorial players in this drama think they have scored a major victory over "terrorism." I suspect they do. That's how far the subsuming of self can go. Of course, it may just be a pretend way of saving face. For all the millions (or more) that have been spent on Guantanamo they had better get at least one conviction. Way to go, boys!! We have taught a lesson to the fifteen year olds of the world!! Now, for the sixteen year olds.
Mon Oct 25 2010 21:27:46 GMT-0500 (Central Daylight Time)
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My comment to a CNN article about the firing of NPR “Senior News Analyst” Juan WilliamsI've been on kind of a roll the past couple of days. Again, as anyone paying any attention at all knows, NPR fired "news analyst" Juan Williams last week over remarks he made on "right wing" Fox News know-it-all Bill O'Reilly's show. Williams said he gets nervous and worried in airports when he sees people dressed in "Muslim garb." This was too good to pass up, and I wrote a comment to a CNN story about the firing:

It was really sporting of Juan Williams to acknowledge that there are good Muslims. He should have added that some of his best friends are Muslims. One thing left out of this deep analysis is the question of what constitutes "Muslim garb." Maybe it's a suit, bow tie, and closely cropped hair. Or the casual clothes of the "911" attackers. Or the uniform of any of our various college and professional sports teams. Or dressed like Bill O'Reilly, or Juan Williams.

There's not much to this story. Juan Williams is a hack journalist, but smart enough to finagle a salary out of Fox worth several millions. Pretty nice work. He made Roger Ailes of Fox look pretty dumb.

I don't think Juan Williams is so much a bigot as someone who fashions what he says to fit the venue. He fits right in at Fox, but it likely will not give them much, if any, of a ratings boost.

As for NPR, the firing was bungled. It's more a sign of the times than anything "liberal." Managers tend to be cowards, no matter what business. Williams should have been yanked long ago, but no one had the intestinal fortitude to confront him. We're all in the same boat.

In what was likely my most pertinent and valuable comment I responded to an interview on Wisconsin Public Radio this morning with these remarks:

It is an ongoing weakness of this segment that it is confined to the varying fortunes of the two leading political parties, as if there were some intrinsic meaning in the who's up - who's downness of the "Democrats" or the "Republicans."

At some point you might want to ask if these parties are bad for the country, and bad for the planet. They exist for themselves, and the American people are mere props in their theater of the absurd. For example, the planet is heating up to a degree that our survival as a species is in jeopardy. Neither of these parties have done anything to address this very serious problem.

Our economic system will collapse if it doesn't grow as what is known as a secular trend, and it therefore must grow forever. Planet Earth will not support infinite growth of output. The political parties are impotent in dealing with this reality.

Continuous growth of population will cause increasing levels of starvation, disease, poverty and depletion of resources. Our only solutions to this are war, building prisons, and making a lot of noise about "illegal" immigrants. These nonsolutions are what the political parties have to offer.

In other words, the political parties, entities unto themselves, are a detriment to the planet and the people who live on it. Those who promote this entitiy unto themselvesness do so for spurious reasons, having to do with their own entity unto themselvesness - ego, career, mutuality of conventional wisdom, pretend consciousness, and the like.

NPR's midday program Talk of the Nation had a forum last week on the role of teachers in education reform. I managed to provide a bit of heresy to the mix:
John Hamilton (HappyJack) wrote:

I was a plumber for years, and one of my favorite things was fixing toilets. The mechanics of how they work borders on genius. I had a simple approach, which was to ask three questions: what does it do when it is working properly, what is it doing now, and what can I do to return it to its normal level of functioning?

One thing we might want to ask is if we ever had a high functioning school system, what is different now, and what could be done to return to that high functioning level.

I also was a teacher for a number of years, mostly as a substitute, but also in a community college. What I found were the biggest problems were influences outside the classroom. Chief among them was the home situation - number of parents, family income, and quality of parenting. Another factor is the synergy created by the cultural milieu of the students. That is, for example, if you have a school, or school district where the students are predominantly from single-parent households with low income and poor parenting, then the individual student will be reinforced for failure by his or her peers.

It can truly be said that our political, business (corporate & banking), and cultural infrastructure has no intention of changing this dynamic.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010 4:17:46 PM
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Hardly anyone reads these comments, but they get read, and I can repost them here. If I can think differently, other people can too. All it takes is seeing an example. That's what started me in an independent direction. My father was the same way, and I grew up witnessing his various musings of a heretical nature. He also was a heretic in his profession, surgery, refusing to participate in fee splitting, much to his financial detriment.

I sharpened my heretical sword in Catholic schools, which were abundant with opportunities. I became a class clown, ala George Carlin, all the way through high school. When I continued my studies at a Catholic college I became more critical, but less comedic.

My greatest writing influences are Bob Dylan and former Chicago Tribune and Daily News columnist Mike Royko. Both were inspiring in their irreverence, sharpness of mind, and searing satire.

There are many others, and not necessarily writers. I still get inspired almost every day. When I see a baby I am inspired to do what I can to make sure there is an ecosystem for it to have a decent life on this planet. I said hello to a homeless guy the other day, who was sitting in front of the post office, trying to hide his bags of possessions. He looked pretty new to the predicament, an intelligent-looking, self respecting "Hispanic" man. I'd like to see a different system in this country, where people don't find themselves in this situation through no fault of their own, and on such a mass scale.

Heresy is my greatest contribution, so I hope to keep doing it as long as there are conventional truths to be debunked.

Update: One of the great heretics of modern times, Julian Assange, was interviewed on Democracy Now. Here's a description of how his heresy is being received by the Pentagon and "U.S." news media. Foreign media, such as the Guardian, don't have the conformity and propaganda needs that media here do.

Here's a good background song for thinking heretical thoughts. This too. And this. And, of course, this, one of my theme songs.

Here's a clip of one of the great heretics of all time.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Michael Franti on stage in Madison with his band Spearhead, October 9, 2010Every so often I have an experience that renews my zest for life and can even be transformative. We all get into ruts - work, driving to and from work, preparing meals, doing dishes and other housework tasks, mild entertainment like TV or radio, sleep, and for me some Web surfing and writing.

The Dalai Lama, Capitol Theater, Madison, Wisconsin, May 16, 2010I've been pretty lucky this year getting out of ruts at the Capitol Theater in Madison, going to events there that were either free or so well worth the price that the expense was trivial. When the Dalai Lama appeared there in May I was the last person to get in without a ticket (Here's a story about the appearance. Here's another). I was in the fourteenth row, dead center. NPR news anchor Michele Norris spoke there on September 29, and again I was among the last people to get in before it was full.

Surprisingly, the best event there was this past Saturday, when I went to a concert by rock/reggae/hip-hop artist Michael Franti and his band Spearhead. The rock station I listen to, WMMM, gave his song Say Hey (I love you) a lot of play, and I wanted to see him do it live.

The concert started off at a pretty energetic level, but I was bored. I was thinking I was getting too old for this kind of thing, and didn't feel like being there. Then it kicked into high gear. The band was pretty animated, with members going out into the audience to play, and Franti disappearing, then reappearing in the balcony. He invited a couple of pretty heavy women onto the stage at one point to dance along with him as he sang. It was pretty amazing. I captured most of it with my little digital camera turned to video, but so far it is unplayable. It was the first time I made a video of anything, and I learned one little lesson: Stop between songs, or you get a huge file that is near-impossible to play back. (Any tips on how to resolve this are welcome).

At one point Michael Franti started a song with a few lines from the Grateful Dead's Casey Jones. Lest anyone think it is a pro-drug song, it's just metaphor, like all great songs. It was a strange coincidence for me, because I had been working on the song to do in my next attempt at Gomeroke.

During another song I was thinking how much his voice sounds like reggae legend Peter Tosh. A few tunes later he invited the opening act, Tamarama, to come out and help him with the song Tosh dueted with Mick Jagger, Walk & Don't Look Back. (Here's a video of a previous performance.)

Franti introduced a new song he has been working on, a testament to the varieties of love experienced by people. He talked about being part Irish, German, French, African-American, and Seminole. He also spoke about being given up for adoption, and how he enjoyed coming to Wisconsin because it is where his adoptive parents are from.

He performed his summertime hit, The Sound of Sunshine, to great audience delight.

He didn't take a break, and when it finally came time for the concert to end, I began to wonder if he was going to do Say Hey. Then I reverted to my stock answer about concerts. You pay your money down and take what you get. It's all good, so stay in the present, not second-guessing about how you want it to be.

His second encore song, the finale, was Say Hey (I love you). It was a slow lead-in, and the energy was building up like a thunder cloud. As he started going into the song he invited all children six years old and under onto the stage. That was pretty neat, I thought, as the stage filled up with little kids.

Then he called for everyone over sixty to come onstage. I thought, urk, I don't want to do this, but it would have been more embarrassing not to go up, so up I went, and soon was dancing on stage with a bunch of kids, some people my age, and Michael Franti and his band.

It was surreal. Michael Franti is six foot-six, and towered over everyone else on stage. He was really gracious, and at one point turned around and asked my how old I am. I told him sixty-five, which he repeated, and he then asked a couple of other people. One person was sixty-six, so I wasn't the oldest.

His bass player scooted in front of me, and was also very gracious. I had to put Kleenex in my ears, it was so loud. Everyone in the house was singing and dancing along with the music, and the energy in the building was incredible.

Then it was over. His piano player came over to me to thank me for coming up on stage. I was pretty stunned, and told him this was better than a Grateful Dead show. They are from San Francisco, and he was thankful. A woman hugged me on the way out.

"Wicked" was getting out at the main theater of the Overture Center at the same time the concert ended, so there was a contrast between the high-brow and low-brow audiences. I think we got the better of the deal.

I feel like I'm a different person. Concerts tend to be uplifting for me, as I wrote about in Altered States a few years ago. This was on a different level, taking me out of myself, out of my safety zone more than before. Hmm. I've gone out of my safety zone my whole life, but this was different. I've done a lot of risky things, some that almost cost me my life, but dancing and singing on stage in front of a crowd of people is beyond anything I ever would have attempted on my own.

We are fortunate to have these transformative experiences. I'm still reeling from the concert (and my ears are still ringing), and looking to move forward with what I learned from this. I took a class many years ago with the great Dick Olney called "Thinking in other categories." This was truly in a different category. Go see Michael Franti if you get a chance. You might get called on stage.

To view the video Michael Franti made after the show, click here.

This is one of the songs perfromed at the concert.

He did this song too. It's best with headphones. Two lead guitars! Here's another version. Then there's this acoustic version.

Here's an acoustic version of Say hey (I love you).

This video shows Michael Franti doing Walk and Don't Look Back, medleying into Casey Jones in a concert in 2009. Here's a version with "Counting Crows."

He did Say Hey last year in Santa Fe with kids on stage. See it here.

Here's a YouTube list of other Michael Franti songs.

For the words to Say Hey (I love you) click here. These guitar chords work. It seems to hint at capoing up one fret.

Michael Franti performing “Say Hey (I Love You)” at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, June 10, 2010Here's a great live version of The Sound of Sunshine. And this, at the same concert, the 2010 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Tennessee. Here's an NPR story about Michael Franti at the Bonnaroo Festival, including the audio of the entire performance.

This is my favorite Peter Tosh song. In 1980 I lived in a house with the minions of Greenpeace Great Lakes in Ann Arbor. One of them had Peter Tosh's album "Mystic Man," and it played for many hours, kind of theme music for the group as they planned their latest shenanigans. They pulled a lot of stunts, going to Toronto to "jump the fence" at a nuclear plant, climbing a cooling tower at a huge coal plant in Hammond, Indiana (if I remember right), and something or other at a nuclear plant in legendary Rocky Flats, Colorado. Here's my second favorite Peter Tosh song.

This site links to a lot of transcripts of Dick Olney's workshops.

R.I.P. Solomon Burke. I wrote a little something about him here. For a more primordial version, click here.