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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, August 31, 2013

Chemical Warfare

In the latest installment of the Empire Strikes Again, our President says he is going to attack "Syria" in the name of all that is good and decent, and, most importantly, "American." The rationale for attacking is that "Syria" used chemical weapons against "its own" people. Maybe, maybe not. That someone used chemical weapons is pretty clear. Just who, not so clear. It could have been the "rebels," some of their helpers, or even a renegade general in the "Syrian" command structure.

There are plenty of good reasons not to attack, as Ted Rall details in this article in Smirking Chimp. Juan Cole writes about opposition from European governments. It's a dumb idea. We of course haven't had such qualms about the use of chemical weapons in the past. The napalm and Agent Orange we used in "Vietnam" wreaked havoc, and still cause problems in that country. Our use of white phosphorous and depleted uranium in "Iraq" and "Afghanistan" is well-documented. Obama seems determined and undeterred, though, and has painted himself into a proverbial corner with his threats.

I have a slightly different response to the furor over chemical weapons. What intrigued me about this latest attack-mongering was the semantics, the use of words and their meaning. Chemical weapons. Weapons made of chemicals. Are chemicals only bad when they are used as weapons, but benign when used otherwise? If a person dies as a result of exposure to chemicals should someone be attacked? Just what are the criteria?

Vastly more people are killed every year through chemical warfare waged on the planet by the likes of Dow, DuPont and Monsanto, to name the most serious offenders. Some of us remember Union Carbide (now a part of DuPont), whose chemicals killed an estimated 16,000 in Bhopal, India in 1984 (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhopal_disaster) No one was bombed afterwards, and no one from Union Carbide served any jail time (a few of their "Indian" executives were convicted, but were released on bail).

A typical worker from “Mexico.” If he were paid a decent wage, would 'Americans' do the work instead?Indeed, it can truthfully be said that millions around the planet have died untimely deaths from cancer and other diseases as a result of chemical exposure. No one as yet has been bombed to avenge these deaths or to prevent further carnage. No "red line" has ever been crossed, because none has ever existed.

What is the difference with Syria, one might ask. The difference, I suspect, is that Syria has not ante-ed up. If you want to poison people with chemicals you have to pay to play. It matters not whether it is involved in conflict or profit. What matters is the bribe. Pay someone off and you can pretty much do what you want.

Partners in crime. Or is it strange bedfellows? To read about Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein, go to this URL: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB82/index.htmSaddam paid us in cheap oil. He was our friend, and gassed his own people, with our help. Then he got uppity, wanted a bigger share for himself and his country. It took a couple of invasions, but his demise was meant more as a warning to others.

Why, one might ask, would Obama be so keen to attack another country, given recent history?  I think the answer involves great complexity. His advisers, tough guys, are telling him to attack. Tough guys always want to attack. His "red line" was crossed. He wants to project "American," and by derivation his, power. He needs a "success," given recent "defeats." He doesn't want to be called "weak." It's good for momentum in getting other things done. He will get a lot of media attention. It changes the subject from other unpleasant topics, like the economy, global warming, NSA domestic spying, "gridlock" in the Congress, his "legacy," etc.

It's a dumb idea. The likelihood is it will do more harm than good, if any. Maybe our bought, "do-nothing" Congress will stop him. I wouldn't count on it. They are bought and do nothing. We're dying of stupidity.

I linked to this song previously. It still comes to mind whenever I hear Obama or Kerry speak.

Here's an example of the harm done by chemicals. Here's another. This article gives some advice about chemical exposure. Here's a video of the most notorious napalming in "Vietnam."

For some info from National Public Radio on how "we" helped Saddam Hussein gas the "Iranian" army, click here.

Here's an old song from Woodstock. Here's another by the same guy.

Here's an update about Agent Orange in "Vietnam."

For a little perspective, this.

In case you were distracted by the shiny keys of war-mongering, here's a reminder of what the shiny keys are meant to distract you FROM.

In addition to chemical and atomic weapons, our "leaders" have had no qualms about using cluster bombs in our various wars and incursions around the planet.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dream or Fantasy?

Today being the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, observances took place in many "U.S." cities. President Obama spoke in Washington at the site of the March, saying his usual blah, blah, blah. It all seems so pro-forma, boring rhetoric about recommitting ourselves to Dr. Martin Luther King's goals of freedom and justice.

I was eighteen years old when I watched the original "march" on TV in 1963. There was a march, but most of it was speeches at the Lincoln Memorial, most famously King's "I Have a Dream" speech. I had only a passing interest in the Civil Rights Movement in those days, but was more interested in folk music, and read that Peter, Paul and Mary, Odetta, Joan Baez, and an upstart named Bob Dylan would be appearing there, so I had the television set on for the whole array of speeches and performances. It was an amazing day.

I remember Martin Luther King's speech, and was moved by it, but didn't fully appreciate his greatness until a few years later. He appeared on a late-night talk show in Chicago in 1967, and spoke in profound terms of his opposition to the Vietnam war. I remember being in absolute awe at his depth, eloquence and pure understanding of why the war was such folly. I wish I could see that show again. I wonder what he would say today.

What I find most frustrating about the commemorations is not how boring the rhetoric is, but how frozen the conversation is. In 1963 there was a clear "racial" divide, with bigotry and violence against people with dark skin. Great progress has been made since then, but King's dream of people being judged not by the color of their skin but the content of their character is sill largely a fantasy.

I could rail on about the "right wing," the "Bible belt," the corporatocracy, the Koch brothers, ALEC, the "Tea Party," Fox News, and whatever other forces of darkness exist in "America." It would be as boring as today's speeches. And wouldn't move the conversation.

What would move the conversation is for those advocating change to change the way they look at and talk about the problems we face. When Martin Luther King talked about not judging people by the color of their skin he inspired a new way of looking at people. Look at the person first. It takes a change in perception. It isn't easy, because even "blacks" refer to themselves as "blacks" and "African Americans." If you identify yourself by skin color, then that is your criterion for how you present yourself to the world. Even Obama calls himself "black," though as a politician he does it for reasons other than identity.

Barack Obama in PhotoshopI did a color study in "Photoshop" way back in 2007, and found Barack Obama's skin color to be closest to "burlywood," "rosy brown," "tan," and "peru" (see Words). "Racially," he is mixed. That is assuming you believe there is such a thing as "race." Scientific research indicates that "race" is a myth. There is no such thing as "race," but almost everyone is fixated on the erroneous belief that it exists.

Here in Madison there is a "leftist" radio station that I listen to from time-to-time, but only a fraction of what I used to. I got tired of the rigid, politically correct language and the stifling conversations that go nowhere, and continue to this day. Code words and terms, like "racism" and "people of color" predefine who can join the conversation. And typically on their noontime public affairs show, that conversation is limited to the same five or six people who call in every day. These people don't have anything to offer, but spout-off in the same self-focused manner as the day previous.

Typical of that limited conversation is the ongoing singalong at the Wisconsin State Capitol, where protesters arrive at noon every weekday to sing labor songs and other little ditties making fun of the governor. Police are arresting the protest singers, and behaving with an increasingly heavy hand

The cops of course are behaving like jerks, but that's what cops do. Police brutality is, sadly, part of their culture. In an uncompromising standoff with police, they will inevitably resort to brute force. Of course, the governor and his hand-picked chief of the Capitol Police play a huge role, but the singalongs are obnoxious, self-aggrandizing and don't communicate a goal or plan to the general population.

This is where it stands in "America," as we gallop to extinction. A lot of chest-beating, but little real conversation. Each "side" is absolutely right and the other "side" is absolutely wrong. N'er the twain shall meet. At least not in time to avoid catastrophe.

Here's the I Have a Dream speech.

Here's Bob Dylan and Joan Baez at the March on Washington. Here's Peter, Paul and Mary. I thought Dylan did this song too, but couldn't find the performance. This compilation of performances fills in the blanks. This fills in a few more blanks.

Here's a song that fits.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Macho Men

One of the best things about my involvement with the Siddha Yoga organization was that they had ashrams around the world, and I could move to a new city and have a place to stay. The rent was cheap in those days, and included meals. I lived in ashrams in Ann Arbor, New York, Houston, Honolulu and Ganeshpuri, India.

When I would arrive as a new person in an ashram it was always a curious experience whom I would meet, and who would befriend me. It was a mixed bag. Some were genuinely gracious and welcoming. Some were phony and predatory. The best example was when I moved to Hawaii in 1983. I had been on staff as a plumber at the main Siddha Yoga ashram outside India in the Catskill mountains of upstate New York, and a friend told me there were good opportunities for construction work in Hawaii.

As it turned out, there were few opportunities for construction work in Hawaii, but I eventually found a job as a plumber and general maintenance worker at Hickam Air Force Base, next to Pearl Harbor on Oahu.

I still remember my first day at the ashram in Honolulu. After the evening meal people hung out on the front veranda, known as a lanai, and I was approached by a guy from the "community" - a nonresident participant in the chanting and meditation programs. When I told him I moved there to do construction work he was very interested, and he also shared my interest in paradigm shift, especially Steady State Economics.

This is my ID card for when I worked at Hickam Air Force Base in HawaiiIt took a couple of months to find the job at Hickam. In the meantime I would go to the Vet Center in Honolulu to do job hunting. I worked for a day breaking ice at the Blaisdell Arena after the Ice Capades came to town and left. Mostly I went to hotels on Waikiki and submitted applications.

After a few weeks at the ashram a "devotee" from Maui showed up, and he was doing a home addition near Haleiwa on Oahu's North Shore. The North Shore is where the famous surfing beaches are - Sunset Beach, the "Banzai Pipeline," known there simply as Pipeline, and Rocky Point, which was exactly where the house being remodeled was.

The Maui contractor hired me to do the plumbing on the job, and hired the guy who befriended me to be his helper. It was a pretty straightforward job. Two brothers from Maui owned the house, and their plan was to rent the existing part of it out, and build a raised platform house behind it for themselves. I had much experience with repair plumbing, but welcomed the challenge of lining out and completing a new job. It was relatively easy. Codes are pretty easy to follow. I ran copper supply lines, plastic (ABS) drains, and installed kitchen and bathroom fixtures. After a day's work, which I think amounted to about three days, we would swim in the ocean. I almost drowned on the last day when a huge swell came up and pulled me out to sea. I managed to swim for my life and barely got back to shore.

A comical thing about the experience was on the first day, when the guy I knew from the ashram, whom I'll call "David" (His name may or may not have been David, I can't remember), showed up wearing a complete rig of brand new carpenter's gear - a double-leather nail pouch tool belt, complete with suspenders, hammer in its slot, steel measuring tape, speed square, snap line, plumb bob, hard hat and work boots. He also had a new power drill and circular saw. He looked like one of the Village People.

The job turned out to be pretty weird. The Maui guy was not fully functional, and he was doing the job on the cheap. The platform was about eight feet off the ground, and was supported with two-by-four stilts at the four corners. I knew from my studies of stresses, and just common sense that two-by-fours were woefully inadequate to support the structure, and expressed my doubts to the Maui guy. He just blew it off, saying it would be fine. Because the North Shore is where the winds first hit Oahu, as well as the weight that the two-by-fours would be bearing, I had visions of the house blowing over with the two brothers in it.

I told them about this, and they had the Maui guy add reinforcement - doubling the two-by-fours - still inadequate, but better. The job was completed, and I made enough money to tide me over for a while. I wonder if that house is still standing.

Punahou School on OahuAnother incident with "David" came up a few months later. He invited me to join him and another ashramite in a pickup basketball group that played in the parking lot of nearby Punahou School, whose most renowned graduate is Barack Obama. I thought O.K, it would be nice to shoot some baskets. I played a few times with "the crew" at the ashram in New York, and it would be good to get some exercise.

David was a dirty player. Some guys play pretty aggressively, but dirty is a degree of difference - flagrant fouls, blocking, tripping, really trying to harm other players - very few people play like this. David was one of them. At one point I got frustrated and threw the ball at him. It was totally weird. Play stopped, and he quietly called me aside, and told me about how someone threw a basketball at him one time before, and he "really hurt" the guy. I left. Too weird. The guy invites me to play a friendly game and then plays dirty. This is the kind of thing a psychopath would do.

Not long after that David announced to people at the ashram that he was starting a new job in "Naval Intelligence." It was so secret he couldn't say where or what he would be doing. He had been a librarian at one of the small colleges on Oahu, and apparently this qualified him for intelligence work. A few weeks after he started the job he bragged to people at the ashram that he knew all about all of them, a sinister taunt that, looking back on it, was pretty creepy. I moved out of the ashram around that time, finally having had enough of Siddha Yoga, its gurus, and its strange followers.

I wouldn't have given the memories of "David" much worth, until recently at least. The juxtaposition of Hawaii, spying on "American" citizens, and trust have been much in the news lately. The President, his various Homeland Security bureaucrats, Congress, and the corporate news media have all been feverishly trying to reassure us that all is well, and that we can trust them with our secrets.

We of course can't trust them. David is the only person I have known who was a civilian working in intelligence, so I have a 100% example that these people can't be trusted. When J. Edgar Hoover was head of the FBI, president after president wanted to fire him, but couldn't, because they knew he held secret information about them that he would reveal. This also was the way he was able to increase the FBI budget.

21st Support Command Patch, the overall command for the 1st Support Brigade, which was the next level up for the 66th Maintenance BattalionWhen I was in the Army in "Germany" in 1969 I worked for about six months in a battalion headquarters as a personnel clerk. This was in an office known as S-1. Each department had an S designation, with S-2 being Intelligence, S-3 Operations, and S-4 Supply or Logistics. I still remember the guy in charge of S-2, Staff Sergeant Underwood. He was a totally weird guy, paranoid, saw threats everywhere, holed up in his office with a steel door like a vault for hours on end.

A new guy in our unit was a refugee from "Hungary" who had been drafted into the Army, and SSG Underwood suggested that we keep an eye on him, lest he be a spy from the "Communists." As if we were doing anything the "Communists" couldn't find out with ease, had they cared. We were a maintenance support unit that repaired tanks, trucks, jeeps and other vehicles. I suppose that maybe the "Communists" might have wanted to know if we were doing shoddy work, but it wasn't likely.

That's my 100% experience from the Army. I can only imagine what Edward Snowden encountered when he was in Hawaii. He was one of the sane ones, which is why the powers-that-be so furiously want to get their hands on him. The fact that "U.S." authorities promised the "Russians" that they wouldn't torture or kill him if they would just give them Snowden tells us that is exactly what they plan to do with him. Promises like this are meaningless, as the "Russians" well know. Were they to give him up, Edward Snowden would in all likelihood be the most tortured "American" in history, worse even than José Padilla.

The saga of spying on "Americans" will continue for as long as we live. The technology allows prying into our whereabouts, our spending habits, our phone conversations, our Internet use, our friends, our habits, our religious and political affiliations, our medical history, and our use of such things as the public library and recreational activities.

Does it do any good? For the "National Security" industry, yes. For the powerful, yes. It keeps them in power. The trick is to be the spyor rather than the spyee.

The justification for domestic spying is the supposed "terrorist threat." It's a scam.

Here's a song. Here's another. Of course this. Here's a type of ashram.

Here's some Iz. More Iz. Hokule'a. Here's some Gabby. One more.

This song is worth repeating. I bought a cassette of this album at the Ala Moana Center in 1983. It got me through some dark times. I still have it.

The first time I ever heard this song was at the Honolulu ashram. The words came in handy more than once when I was a substitute teacher, a story for another day.

Madison has its own challenges with macho men.

Here are a few tips for discovering the psychopaths among us.

Update, August 13: Here's a further indication that our spying "authorities" can't be trusted.

Here's something that might help.