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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.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Different Strokes for Different Folks

There was a "Guns Across America" rally yesterday at the Wisconsin State Capitol, similar to rallies at other state capitals. It wasn't very big compared to past rallies in Madison, probably about two hundred people, maybe as many as three hundred.

I was in the area doing errands, and stopped by to take a few pictures. I didn't stay long. It was a pretty angry crowd, angrier than any other that I've been among, and some of them were armed. It was also 100% "white," almost all male, and from their looks, not the most well-off or highly educated among us. There were more "Don't Tread on Me" flags than I've seen in the past, raising the question of who might be "treading" on so many people, and why. There were signs referring to Hitler, Chairman Mao, and, most bizarrely, psychiatrist Thomas Szasz.

Just as strange were the "leftists" who showed up, the usual suspects, but also much fewer of them than what one would see at "Tea Party" and other "right wing" rallies. There must have been about eight of them, no young people among them. One woman paraded around with a sign that said "Guns do not replace a penis." I'm no expert on these things, but in my experience this falls under the general category of looking for trouble. Arguments ensued, resolving nothing.

If this crowd is any indication, fervor one way or another about gun control is not the highest priority for the vast majority of people. There are 72 counties in Wisconsin. Even granting a high estimate of 300 people at the rally, that works out to 4.1666 people per county was represented at the event. For sure the number of extreme gun enthusiasts (read: gun nuts) is higher than four per county, but it is hardly a majority.

All in all, it was just another Saturday in Madison. My own view on guns is their appeal is to our lower nature, but the challenge in reducing shooting deaths is in creating a society that is supportive of our higher natures. We can start with progressive taxation, minimum and maximum income, a thriving public school system, and a de-empireization of our relationship with the rest of the planet. As it is now, we roll in violence like dogs on s#!t. When the smell is no longer attractive, we will find something else to roll in. Let's hope it smells good.

It helps to look at things within their broader context. I only stuck around the rally long enough to take some pictures, then went to the Walgreens across the street to buy some kleenex (not Kleenex) and other knick-knacks. I cruised by the magazine rack, hoping to find a Rolling Stone to browse through. I didn't see any, but did see plenty of what "Americans" are really concerned about: their bodies. Or, more accurately, their dream bodies. Wisconsin, known as the Dairy State, has a high rate of obesity, but by no means the highest rate in the country. We have a fat country. People are obsessed about their weight, but not to the degree to which they translate obsession into results.

There are other obsessions. Continuing my travels, I rode by Monona Bay, where the usual crowd of ice fishermen was tempting fate in their endless quest for mercury-laden fish. All it takes is a whisper of ice to get people out in their shanties, plastic buckets, or nothing - just standing there fishing.The temperature yesterday reached a high of 45 degrees Farenheit, making ice fishing a risky endeavor. It must be worth it. They are out there every day, as long as the ice will support them.

Different strokes for different folks, as the saying goes. We all have interests that seem crazy to other people. I followed a guru and lived in ashrams for about eight years. When I get my health care at the VA, my interest in holistic health is met with derision and/or condescension, though not as much as in the past. My advocacy of a zero-gowth "Steady State" economy is heresy in the Economics profession, but that is changing. We are in a time of ferment. We would do well to have a sense of proportion and balance about our various likes and dislikes. The Sun comes up every morning. It shines on all of us.

Here's one of the gun rallies, this time in Albany, the Capital of New York State.

We're all just everyday people, thankfully letting ourselves be ourselves (again).

Here's a little sunrise music. Happiness is a warm gun, except when it is being pried from your cold, dead fingers. Life goes on.

 Some gun "enthusiasts" haven't learned the basics of safety.

There are other things to be concerned about.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Bureaucratic Truth

A popular local musician was killed by a police officer last November under highly suspicious circumstances. The man, Paul "Paulie" Heenan, had been out at one of the local nightspots, and on the way home entered a neighbor's house, believing it was where he lived. Police were called, and the one police officer who entered the house shot Heenan after a short confrontation.

This happens from time-to-time in Madison. Typically it is a "mentally ill" person who gets shot, and the police story is pretty stock: the suspect reached for the officer's gun, and feeling his life was in danger, the officer engaged his weapon. Or some such.

It was different this time, because Paulie Heenan was a much loved local rock musician and sound engineer, and his family and friends are not happy with the official version of what happened. Heenan had no criminal record, and no history of violence or threatening behavior.

Further complicating the matter, the man whose house was entered disputes the official police story, but was ignored. Indeed, in today's Wisconsin State Journal the City Attorney of Madison claims that an "independent" investigation has already been conducted, and it supports the previous finding that the officer, Stephen Heimsness, was not at fault.

Even the Attorney General of the State of Wisconsin has gotten involved, and - surprise of surprises - cleared Heimsness of any wrongdoing.

Who knows for sure what happened? One thing I can say from personal experience is that a bureaucracy NEVER finds against itself. NEVER. The fact that other bureaucracies support the bureaucracy of the Madison Police Department just means that similar bureaucracies unite when faced with a common adversary. In this case the common adversary is the general public.

Bureaucracies, as I have written before, are about themselves. Individuals within bureaucracies exist on favorable terms as long as they are loyal to the bureaucracy. They rise through the ranks to the degree that they conform to bureaucratic norms and dictates. Members of police forces can kill with impunity if they are getting along in the department, subservient to bureaucratic power structures, and do not dissent or reveal department practices to outsiders.

I wrote previously about recent encounters I had with police, in which all went well as long as I was behaving within police guidelines. Deviate in the slightest from their rules and the situation will rapidly deteriorate. The problem for most people is that the internal rules by which police operate are known only to them.

The number one thing citizens should be aware of about modern policing is that officers' own concerns about themselves and their safety have top priority. If a citizen fails to understand this, and deviates from police internal rules to the degree where the officer pull his or her gun out and shoots, it is to kill. Gone are the days where subduing a suspect, or in Paulie Heenan's case, just an inebriated neighbor, is an option. Police do have tasers, but Stephen Heimsness for some reason entered the house alone and killed Paul Heenan before any backup could arrive to back him up.

So Paulie Heenan is dead, killed for the crime of thinking he was home when he wasn't. If you find yourself in a similar predicament, good luck. To avoid getting yourself killed, I recommend two steps. First, get a second opinion. Make doubly sure that you are indeed home. The second thing is when a police officer arrives, do whatever he says. I do mean "he" here. It is unlikely that a female officer would enter a house alone on an emergency call. It isn't that she would be afraid, though she might be. A female police officer would be more likely to follow police procedures. For some reason, Stephen Heimsness didn't. But in the system of police bureaucracy it didn't matter. The bureaucracy protects its own.

Paul Heenan's father was interviewed on a local television program today.

Madison's WKOW covered last Saturday's rally at the City-County Building.

Here's some more TV, this time about the "independent" investigation. Madison's NBC affiliate has some update information here, including some video.

This link is to a site with letters you can send demanding an independent investigation.

The Madison Police Department has gone to great lengths to exonerate Stephen Heimsness. They even made a video reenactment. It occurs at 0:17:47. Here's the official denial on the City of Madison website.

This song is for the family and friends of Paulie Heenan. Hang in there.

For some background on Paul Heenan's music career, click here

Here's a song for Stephen Heimsness (click here for tabs, lyrics, chords). Here's another song that fits. This too. He has a history. Here's some of his handiwork. His prior suspension is described here. A pattern is beginning to emerge.

What professions do psychopaths gravitate towards? Click here to find out.There's a book on the subject, which you can get here. For further research, click here.

I first saw the term bureaucratic truth in a book by John Kenneth Galbraith titled "Who Needs the Democrats" many years ago. I don't have the book anymore, but remember bureaucratic truth. I encounter it frequently. You probably do too. Here's an example.

A similar police shooting happened in Kenosha on the same day of the year, November 9, except in 2004. The shooting victim's father has been placing ads on Madison TV stations, using the money he won in a lawsuit over his son's death. He compares the two killings, and calls for an independent investigation. Here's his website. He is renting billboards too.

There's a meeting next week to discuss the incident. If you are interested, click here.

Here's a transcript of the police report. 

The chief of police held a long press conference on January 9. Click here to watch it. Of particular interest is at 18:28, where the questioning of witness Kevin O'Malley is itself questionable.

Update, January 24:  Here's an interesting development. Former Madison police chief David Couper is questioning current police practices.

Update, January 25: Here's a way you can help.

Update, January 30: A community meeting was held in Madison last night, with a panel headed by the chief of police answering questions. Nothing was resolved.

Update, January 31: The "U.S." Department of Justice will "review the shooting," it was announced today, to see if there was a violation of Paulie Heenan's civil rights. In the arcane world of bureaucratic truth, shooting an unarmed man and killing him is reduced to a possible civil rights violation, which a team of bureaucrat lawyers will "review."

Update, February 2: The effort to have an independent investigation has grown exponentially, beyond anything Madison has ever seen, according to Madison.com.

Update, February 6: Here's a little something from the New York Times, a story about why police lie under oath.

Update, February 12: An explanation of why we don't have good data on police use of force. Why police are rarely prosecuted. Why firing a bad cop is near impossible. And how Officer Heimsness is receiving overtime pay while on administrative leave.

Update, February 16: Salon adds to the mix with this story about police impunity and self-prioritizing. Most pertinent is this paragraph: "That innocent people get shot by cops who think their own safety is paramount, whose actions show they value their own lives more than those of people they are sworn to protect, is part of a major problem in America that has not abated much despite decades of efforts to make policing more professional and less brutish. It is the policy of police departments that police cannot kill innocents to save themselves, in effect, that sometimes your sworn duty is to die. But, on the streets, it is far too often another story entirely."

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Full Circle

Likely the most misunderstood concept from Eastern spiritual traditions is the Law of Karma. Westerners tend to interpret it in terms they understand - retribution from "God" for misdeeds. What Karma actually means is cause and effect, no wrath of "God" needed. Consequence depends entirely on antecedent.

It took a couple of days after the Sandy Hook School shooting for the notion of Karma to sink in. I was grieving deeply for the people murdered, and the senselessness of it boggled my mind, like it did for most other people. Though the news media botched the story at almost every turn, a picture started emerging of a dysfunctional family that combined divorce, isolation, mental "illness" and assault weapons in what turned out to be a deadly mix.

A guy at the Guardian says that Nancy Lanza, the killer's mother, is a "scapegoat," but I'm not buying it. Owning an assault rifle is an irresponsible act regardless of the circumstances. Assault weapons by definition are for assaulting. While humans may hunt wild animals, they assault other humans. The only reason to buy an assault weapon is for the purpose of assaulting people. I've been searching the Web for a quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, but can't find it. Supposedly he said a gun changes the home and its occupant.

Whether Gandhi said this or not, I have found it to be true. When I was growing up guns were always present in the home - for hunting and sport shooting. The ideas of home invasion or second amendment "rights" were unheard of in those days.

For a few months while I was in my late 20s I kept a shotgun in my apartment for hunting and self-protection. Life had gotten serious, and for a while I felt a need to be prepared for trouble. It became a burden, and I eventually gave the shotgun back to my dad, glad to be rid of it. I haven't had a gun since, and I feel safer than I did when I had one. More accurately, I don't feel safe or unsafe. I'm free of the possibility of using a gun to harm or kill another person, which would more likely than not be under regrettable circumstances.

Assault weapons were unheard of in those days, but gradually have encroached on "American" consciousness since then. Though "we" may have "lost" the "Vietnam" war, it has left a lasting legacy. Kill people. Make up a reason, any reason. Just kill. Enjoy it or don't, it doesn't matter. Just kill.

"We," as a people, invaded "Iraq" twice, finding useful enough reasons both times. Many children died both times, and our "sanctions" between invasions ensured the deaths of an estimated 500,000 children. "We" have also invaded "Afghanistan," again with a useful enough reason at the time, though the "mission" was quickly abandoned. "We" are still there, for different reasons, mostly, it seems, to postpone the embarrassment of the carnage that will follow "our" exit.

Karma works in mysterious ways, but I think it is safe to say that a casualness about killing people elsewhere will inevitably find its way home. I served in the U.S. Army during the "Vietnam" war, and though I "served" mostly in "Germany," I heard countless stories of casual brutality, sadism, random killing, and destruction of villages, crops, forests and countryside in "Vietnam." Committing such crimes was bad for the soldiers involved, for their commanders, and for the lying politicians who concocted the "incursion." But it was worse for the country as a whole. A culture of killing was spawned, and is now in full bloom in "America."

What do our high priests of public discourse have to say about this? A perfect example is Joe Klein, Time Magazine columnist, who said in a recent interview defending indiscriminate drone attacks, "the bottom line in the end is - whose 4-year-old get(s) killed? What we're doing is limiting the possibility that 4-year-olds here will get killed by indiscriminate acts of terror." Thanks Joe, Oracle at Delphi, er, Washington, D.C.

I suppose we could redefine the killings in Sandy Hook as indiscriminate acts of mental illness, but the effect has certainly been to terrorize, more so than the "911" attacks. This type of mayhem comes from "us," and "we" don't know who will be next or where.

Recently on Democracy Now a "Canadian" physician, Gabor Maté, was interviewed about the great unhappiness that has beset modern civilization. Dr. Maté's work is focused on drug addiction, but his findings are pertinent for society as a whole. He described the his findings on brain development to show host Amy Goodman:

...the human brain, unlike any other mammal, for the most part develops under the influence of the environment. And that’s because, from the evolutionary point of view, we developed these large heads, large fore-brains, and to walk on two legs we have a narrow pelvis. That means - large head, narrow pelvis - we have to be born prematurely. Otherwise, we would never get born. The head already is the biggest part of the body. Now, the horse can run on the first day of life. Human beings aren’t that developed for two years. That means much of our brain development, that in other animals occurs safely in the uterus, for us has to occur out there in the environment. And which circuits develop and which don’t depend very much on environmental input. When people are mistreated, stressed or abused, their brains don’t develop the way they ought to. It’s that simple. And unfortunately, my profession, the medical profession, puts all the emphasis on genetics rather than on the environment, which, of course, is a simple explanation. It also takes everybody off the hook.
It is safe to say, I believe, that something went wrong in Adam Lanza's brain development. Somewhere along the line he wasn't getting the attention and nurturing that humans need to grow into responsible, sane citizens. It might have had something to do with his parents' zeal for becoming rich, which seems to have held top priority in their lives.

And owning assault weapons. At least in his mother's case. We have come full circle. Casual assassinations, coups d'état, invasions, incursions, kidnappings, extraordinary renditions, torturings, indefinite detentions, drone attacks, no fly zones, bombings, napalmings, and on and on and on - they have come home with a vengeance. It was dumb to foment violence around the planet and not expect it to come back to haunt us. Now that we're haunted, maybe "we" will think twice about the next drone attack or rendition for torture.

Not likely. As in "our" response to climate change, connecting the dots of antecedent to consequence is beyond our collective intelligence. There are some encouraging signs, as in the scorn that is being heaped on National Rifle Association (NRA) CEO Wayne LaPierre. Momentum is building for enactment of some law or laws controlling the sale of assault weapons. The political and economic priorities of the wealthy are under increased scrutiny.

Still, there is no hint that our "leaders," have any intention of changing the way we behave towards the rest of the world. Or towards ourselves. We have the highest rate of imprisonment of any country on the planet. Why, one might ask, does a people so zealously want to put its fellow citizens in prison, where they will be mistreated, by and large, and have their lives ruined? It bespeaks an attitude towards our fellow-man and woman, and ultimately ourselves.

We can't go on forever like this. We will have another Newtown, maybe this year. We will have pictures like these to grieve over again. We don't grieve over the children of "Iraq" and "Afghanistan." Joe Klein speaks for us on this matter. When we speak for ourselves, and render the callousness of Joe Klein to the proverbial dustbin of history, maybe we can save our civilization. Otherwise, we might ourselves end up in the proverbial dustbin of history, like so many empires before us. The warning signs are abundant.

I'm optimistic. We have a dysfunctional political establishment. The "Republican" party is little more than a criminal organization, and the "Democrats" aren't much better, both obsessed with plotting each other's defeat, and gathering "power" to themselves. A slow awakening is taking place. People are starting to see our power structure for what it is - craven, self-rewarding, murderous, greedy, sociopathic. It's a house of cards. Strong winds are blowing. They will most certainly blow away our power structure. Let's hope they don't blow us all away too.

I wrote about guns and hunting in previous posts, here, here and here. I wrote about mass shootings herehere, here and here. One would think that one has covered the subject by now, but each new incident brings out new explorations. I should reread them to make sure I'm being consistent and not repeating myself. There's only so much time in the day. There are some things to link to at the bottom of these posts.

Here's a song from Steve Miller. I bought the album when I was a soldier (in a PX, yuk, yuk), and never forgot it. Here's another, from a different album. This is some of the music that got me through the Army.

Dylan had a song about reaping many years ago. He predicted climate change too.

Bill Moyers had a bit to say this week about the NRA, and its money interest in gun sales.

For some good technical info and myth debunking about assault weapons, gun ownership and the NRA, click here.

Slate posted a history of school shootings.

The Daily Kos made note of the racial disparity in news coverage of gun deaths.

On another, but not completely unrelated topic, I managed to get the last comment in on this New York Times article. As the unsustainability of our infinite growth economic system becomes more problematic we can expect more chaos, and, given our national proclivity for violence, more shootings.

Here's a Gabor Maté video.  You can read more about his work at this site. This site also. Here too.

This video is of someone I used to know. He pursued inner peace heroically, and died in a motorcycle accident not long after this video was shot.

R.I.P. Ravi Shankar. I saw him perform twice, in 1972 (New Harmony, Indiana, of all places, at a pathetic rock fest. He was great, far more gracious than the event deserved.) and 2007 (Madison, with his daughter Anoushka. He was better in 1972.).Here's an example from the first of his albums that I owned. The tune, or raga, is titled Raga Multani. For a story on his memorial service, click here. Here are a couple of Beatles songs he influenced: Norwegian Wood and Within You and Without You.

The Beatles delved into the topic of guns in this song. It is from the legendary White Album.

Update, January 9: Jon Stewart talks about gun control.

Curiously, there haven't been any mass shootings by females. Maybe this is why. For the full show, better quality, click here.The pertinent song is at 1:12:10. If you want to play along, it's only two chords, B and E, barred at the 7th fret. Here's the words. Enjoy!

Update, January 11: It turns out the "right wing" claim that Adolph Hitler was a gun control enthusiast is false. Read about it here.

Not to be outdone, a group of Sandy Hook "truthers," who believe reports of the shooting are part of a big hoax, has emerged from the woodwork. 

Live by the sword...

January 13: Here's a surprise. Miss "America" venturing out of her safe zone, and winning.

Here's another surprise. The NRA grip on politicians is weakening.

The PBS show Religion & Ethics Newsweekly discussed the proliferation of prisons for profit. It is known as the Prison Industrial Complex.

January 15: Sandy Hook "truthers" have reached a new low, harassing people in Newtown.

Families in Sandy Hook have started an organization they named Sandy Hook Promise. The goal of the organization is to make communities safe from gun violence.

January 16: Salon has a great story today about the long history of conspiracy theorists in the "U.S."

January 28: Here's something about our Karma from the "Vietnam" war. It turns out the slaughter of civilians was pretty routine. Jounalist Stanley Karnow died Sunday at age 87. He told the truth about what we were doing in "Vietnam" decades ago. Here's an interview from 1989.