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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.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Brokeback barracks

James Amos describing the size of something or otherA story aired on NPR last Thursday, Veterans Day, about how a Pentagon survey indicates that the impact of rescinding the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy on homosexuals in the military would be minimal. They referred to a report in the Washington Post about the study that appeared the same day.

The various admirals and generals in the Joint Chiefs of Staff are compliant with the change, except for one: James Amos, the Commandant of the Marine Corps. He believes having "gays" serve in the Marines would be harmful. The New York Times quotes him thusly:

In comments to reporters in California this weekend, General Amos said that ending the ban in the middle of two wars would involve “risk” for Marines, who, unlike other service members who generally have private quarters, share rooms to promote unity. “There is nothing more intimate than young men and young women — and when you talk of infantry, we’re talking our young men — laying out, sleeping alongside of one another and sharing death, fear and loss of brothers,” said General Amos, 63. “I don’t know what the effect of that will be on cohesion. I mean, that’s what we’re looking at. It’s unit cohesion, it’s combat effectiveness.”

There may be another concern in the Marine Corps. I posted a comment about that possible concern to the NPR story, which was removed by their censors for violating their discussion standards. But, as Bob Marley so wisely put it, when one door is closed, another door will open. I can post it here:

I think I can shed a little light on why the Marine Corps commandant is uniquely opposed to homosexuals serving in the military. In the fall of 1968 I began my Army AIT at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, where I studied the manly art of projector repair. Among my ten or twelve classmates were two Marines, one a corporal, and the other a staff sergeant.

The sergeant was a "lifer," a pretty dumb guy, and we didn't have much to do with him. The corporal was a one-termer, finishing his four year commitment. He didn't have much to do with the staff sergeant either, and hung out with the rest of the class during breaks.

One day the corporal told us a story about his time in Vietnam, when a member of his platoon was discovered to be homosexual. He was forced to perform a well-known act on his knees for the entire platoon, which lined up for the fun. I asked him if he took part in the festivities, and he said yes, and something like, "Why not? It was a chance to get my d*#k s&%@&d."

The rest of us were pretty shocked and disgusted by this, and glad that we weren't Marines.

There have always been "gay" soldiers. Here's an example, from my basic training yearbook.

This is a completely ignored aspect to the "issue" of "gays" in the military. War is a crime against humanity. Men behave in depraved, horrific ways during war. Their lives are being threatened and taken on a regular and intense manner. The presence of homosexuals in their units would be the least among their concerns.

The real danger is to the homosexuals themselves. If found out, they could end up like the Marine in Vietnam, or worse. The idea of a Marine Corps commandant worrying about the comfort of his troops is pretty ludicrous. He's worried about his Marines turning into homosexuals.

Military training, especially in the Marines, is pretty close to being a big homosexual dance. In my Army basic training our drill sergeants would repeatedly yell things like "I want to see every swingin' dick outside of that barracks in two minutes," and calling people "dickhead," "dick," and "pussy." Why, I wondered, would a drill sergeant want to see every swingin' dick? What if they weren't swingin'? Would the drill sergeants still want to see them? I didn't bother to ask.

When our training company lined up for meals outside the "mess hall," we were standing at a variation of parade rest, and our belt buckles had to be touching the man in front of us. In other words, your stomach would be pressed against the rear end of the man in front of you. It was totally weird.

In the Marines, it is more extreme, and the esprit de corps and proximity to other troops is more intense. They also have the reputation of being "cannon fodder," of taking the worst and most dangerous combat challenges, and dying at higher rates than the other services.

Adding homosexuals to that mix might turn them all into "gays." Or at least that is what is feared, I suspect. What we read and hear from the news media about any issue tends to be on a superficial level, confining the discussion to concerns that disguise what is really at issue. Politicians and pundits complain that soldiers in "foxholes" would feel uncomfortable if they knew the other person in the foxhole was "gay."

Soldiers don't fight in "foxholes" anymore. In "Vietnam" the fighting was done on patrols, "search and destroy" missions, and defending "firebases" against attack. And, of course, no fighting at all, but bombing civilian targets in "North Vietnam." In "Iraq" and "Afghanistan" the fighting is done largely while on patrols. The "predator drones," of course, involve no fighting. "Gays" can locate remote targets as well as "straights."

I heard about one little incident, from one of the two Marines I came in cotact with in my entire three years in the Army. It is likely that there were far more incidents like this in the time our military was in "Vietnam," to say nothing about other wars, and in peacetime as well.

I have a simple solution to that problem: abolish the Marine Corps. If they can't be trusted to accept all legal citizens, then they are by definition un-American. They are a redundant force anyway, performing a task that is done by the Army, and at a far lower level of personal degradation and cult identity.

Our economy is collapsing. We don't have the luxury of going around the planet invading countries willy-nilly. We can't afford our bloated Defense budget. We don't need even half the amount of men and women in uniform we have now. Rather than reduce the number of service members by attrition or piecemeal, eliminating the Marines would accomplish the task in one quick gesture. They can live on in history.

Update, December 3, 2010: This didn't fit into the story, but another thing the Marines at Fort Monmouth told me about were the "submariner" bars in San Diego - taverns frequented by Navy submarine crews, whom they said were all "queer." They described the bars as being for "gays" only, and that even Marines didn't dare enter them.

In a curious coincidence of sorts, a few months later when I graduated from projector repair school I was sent to "Germany." Along with other soldiers on the flight to "Germany" was a submarine crew. They didn't do anything that appeared to be "gay" behavior, but the togetherness they exhibited was remarkable. They were very close-knit, and I remember them being cheerful, and often referred to the "XO" - the executive officer - in a friendly and admiring manner, something of an equal.

Strange bedfellowsI actually was a bit envious of their esprit de corps, but remembered what the Marines told me. Could it be that the nuclear submarines that protect our shores and spend six months at a time under the Polar ice caps are manned by homosexuals? What would Fred Phelps think of this? Or John McCain, Navy veteran and anti-"gay" activist?

I thought I invented the term "Brokeback Barracks," but it has been used before, most amusingly here.

The day after I submitted this post the Washington Times published an op-ed titled Obama's Brokeback barracks. I responed thusy, under a new alias, New User 3C467:

It's a bit curious that the day after I submitted a post to my blog, While we still have time, with the title "Brokeback Barracks," that the same title would appear at the Washington Times. Maybe it's one of those meaningful coincidences Carl Gustav Jung wrote about. Could there be a synchronicity of ideas here? Maybe if we examined our military training a little closer, we might see that the barracks of the various services are a tad more "brokeback" than we'd care to admit.

More curious pictures of military deserter George W. Bush can be seen here.

Here's a brief video update on the proposed extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich.

This Michael Franti song doesn't say it all, but it says enough.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Hyping the apocalypse

NFL Pregame panel of expertsWhen I arrived at work on Sunday I walked past a cacophony of shouting and laughter emanating from the big screen TV in the break room. It was the NFL pregame show, and I was far enough away that all I could hear was hyped-up excitement from the usual panel of hyped-up excited football commentators.

I don't watch pro football. To me it is boring, brutal, and an opiate of the masses, replacing religion for millions of people. I grew up loving the game, and one of my father's best friends played center for the Chicago Bears. He was a colorful character, played college ball at Notre Dame, and in mythical "Irish" Catholic fashion, had a family of nine children. Their back yard had no grass.
The Mount Carmel 1934 football team. My dad is in the top row, at the extreme rightMy dad played quarterback for legendary Chicago high school power Mount Carmel. My own football career was a tad less exalted, but I played.

After Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus professional football became redundant and uninteresting, and it looked to me that it had to become increasingly violent and hystericized (a new word I just invented).

Mentioning pro football hype seems itself to be boring and redundant, but it makes for a perfect metaphor for our times. The NFL is a business, and now generates billions of dollars in revenue. Fan interest is critical, and hype is necessary to keep them at a high level of excitement about the game.

The same can be said for TV in general, and for our pop culture, dominated as it is by our various forms of electronic media.

And, sad to say, for our economic system. I could take any industry as an example. The pharmaceutical industry will do. It's not enough to generate new medicines to cure or mitigate disease. People have to be "pitched," to be made excited about the promise of new drugs. Men are now plagued with "erectile dysfunction," in what used to be a normal part of aging. Women are offered new "cures" for obesity. Statin drugs, of which I have some serious negative experience, are promoted as necessary treatments for cholesterol.

It goes on and on. In order to stay in business the pharmaceutical companies have to generate ever greater revenues. Many, if not most, of the drugs they sell have serious side effects, which can themselves cause great harm. That doesn't slow them down a bit. The need for growth requires a multi-faceted approach that includes paying elected officials for legislation they propose (campaign donations), paying doctors with golf vacations, money, free samples, restaurant meals, etc., and funding compliant university research.

And multimedia advertising, especially on television, hyping it with a combination of fear-mongering and great promise. If you have erectile dysfunction you aren't quite a man. In a mixed media of hype, some of the ads show groups of men watching pro football, implying the man watching pro football who has "ED" is faking it, not a real man.

There is no hype for eating a good diet, getting plenty of exercise, meditating and doing other practices like hatha yoga, tai chi, qigong, herbs, dietary supplements, and living a good life. Or avoiding motorcycles, which make men impotent, in one of the more amusing ironies of modern times.

Another product that is hyped more than any other is politics. Thanks to the emergence of the blowhard punditocracy, we now have a public forum of ideas that focuses on character assassination, fear-mongering, fake issues like the "ground zero mosque," lying, and, of course, hype.

Our economy is collapsing. We have an infinite growth economic system on a finite planet. Our system of reward and taxation is biased toward the already wealthy. Our productive system is destroying the ecosystem. Our political system is, in effect, a mafia, where the various actors are either controlled by payoffs from bankers and corporations, or appointed by those who are.

We have just had a shameful election, where an estimated four billion dollars was spent by the various candidates for office, or by their proxies. With that amount of money spent, it is safe to say that the election was bought, and bought by the rich. It is also safe to say that because the election was bought by the rich, the problems of our economy will not be solved, that things will get worse, and that they will get worse faster than before.

At some point reality will set in drastically. The weather disturbances we have been experiencing will get worse. The depletion and pollution of the oceans will get worse. The extinction of species will get worse. Unemployment will get worse. Our government will continue its aggressive interventions in other countries, apparently with "Iran" and "Yemen" being the next targets.

The synergy of these factors spells collapse. Sooner than we would believe could happen. I have long seen this coming. We don't have a forum of ideas that includes facing reality, so our paid-for intelligentsia will continue talking about side issues, non-issues and fake issues. I wonder what the NFL pregame shows will be like when it all comes down. One thing can be said for sure: Erectile dysfunction isn't going to matter much, except as a metaphor.

I received a copy of True Enough in the mail yesterday, a "premium" for renewing my subscription to Salon. It is subtitled "Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society." It's a variation of the theme of this post.

Here's a tune for the times.

Click here for some Gale Sayers highlights. Here's some footage of Dick Butkus. Though he single-handedly raised the level of brutality in pro football, he was a pure athlete. I saw him play in his senior year a the University of Illinois when they played Minnesota. Butkus played center on offense as well as middle linebacker on defense. He opened holes three players wide. It was pretty unbelievable. Here's a pretty good highlights video of both players.

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Update, January 30, 2010: Sunday, Jan 30, 2011 15:03 ET
The NFL: An indictment of America goes into greater depth about our national obsession with football.