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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, 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.
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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.

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