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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.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

It's a Bit Late In the Day

Yesterday was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. In seeming tribute, a barge in the Houston Ship Channel collided with a ship Saturday, spilling 900,000 gallons of oil. Also on Saturday, a mud slide in Washington caused at least 14 deaths, with 176 people missing. The mudslide smothered the town of Oso, and it is highly suspected that clearcutting of the forest above the town was a contributing factor.

We also have had recent contaminations of water supplies in North Carolina and West Virginia in advance of the anniversary. A spill from a crude oil pipeline on March 17 spewed 20,000 gallons into a nature reserve in Ohio. On March 20 a broken oil pipeline spilled 34,000 gallons in North Dakota. On a smaller scale, 500 gallons of oil spilled into Lake Michigan yesterday from a BP refinery in Indiana.

All these disasters are happening in tandem with the coldest and stormiest winter in recent times, a result of weather patterns being upset by carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. All credible scientific study indicates that unless humankind reduces its dependence on fossil fuels these kinds of events will increase in severity and frequency, eventually threatening the survival of most species.

It doesn't matter. At least not to our major institutions of government, business, education and even religion. Their focus is on the priorities of infinite growth of our mass industrial economy. Everything else is subsumed under this imperative. An article in Salon this past Sunday describes this institutional failure

I used to be a believer in "activism" - the individual and collective effort to promote change in policies, practices and perceptions. I tried being involved in various groups advocating this or that - peace, care of the ecosystem, human rights of various kinds, recalling the governor. None of my efforts amounted to much, and mostly soured me on the idea of collective action. A veterans peace group I joined turned into a farce, with jealousy, animosity, power plays and even violence rendering its peace efforts hypocritical and surreal.

It's a bit late in the day anyway to be turning back the clock on global climate change and environmental degradation. The momentum of the system is fixed on its present course, and it would cause major disruptions if the industrial world all of a sudden became prudent with resources, pollution and output of goods and services. It will change against its will when a critical mass of CO2 in the atmosphere is reached.

I'd like to be more optimistic, but it has been too many years of too much observation and experience for that. I'm resigned to a more apocalyptic future. Of course, I'm older, so it's easy for me to accept finality. But I ache for future generations. They won't have even the meager wealth and luxuries that I have experienced.

Looking on the bright side, civilizations have died out before and humankind has still survived, even flourished. It will be different this time. Since the mass industrial system is worldwide,. its collapse will be worldwide. Still, this planet has been around a long time, and it is likely to be around a long time more. Something will replace this mass silliness, and it won't be what we are doing now. Let's hope it is better. Meanwhile, let's meditate.

Here's a song. And a medley of songs.

Here's another song that I heard today for the first time.

Maybe it's closing time for the human species. We'll find out soon enough.

It turns out that the BP Lake Michigan oil spill was twice as big as originally reported.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Look Behind the Curtain

On tonight's NewsHour on PBS there was a segment about how rising sea level is causing problems in Miami. The political process was mentioned as the main reason these problems are getting worse, and that they will likely end up in disaster.

It doesn't have to be this way. We can act in our own self-interest as a species instead of self-destructing with narrow self-interest. The place to start is to improve our communication. The idea I had when I started this blog was to raise the level of dialogue. First, though, we need to stop pretending. For too long we have had a national pretense that "Conservatism" is an "ideology" worthy of serious discussion, and indeed implementation. Because of this pretense "Conservatism" has been the dominant theme of government since 1981, when Ronald Reagan, movie actor, became president.

A comment I posted on Salon last week sums up my view of "Conservatism," and what to do about it:

This is another example of the movement known as "Conservatism" being a fake movement. There is no question that bureaucracies, such as the NSA, can be intrusive and self-serving. I find it necessary to contend with the VA bureaucracy from time-to-time. Still, the idea that in ALL cases, privatizing government activities is an absolute benefit for society with no cost is not just silly, but completely dishonest. It isn't "ideology," but fakery with suspicious motivation.

For example, I live in Wisconsin. Our current governor, Scott Walker, ran for office promising to create 250,000 jobs. This was a total pretense. Politicians don't "create jobs," unless of course the transfer of public sector employment to private counts as job creation. Indeed, part of Walker's plan is to privatize as many schools as possible, awarding the contracts to cronies who have donated to his campaign coffers. Given the history of such crony capitalism, there is also very likely money changing hands in more surreptitious and illegal ways.

The main activity of Wisconsin's "Republican" controlled legislature this week has been to find ways to make its new voter ID law secure against constitutional challenges. This is what our "elected" officials believe is the work of the people, heh, heh.

This fakery had its heyday from 1981 to 2009, bookended by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. It was fake from beginning to end, and is now in decline, though various ALEC-devised schemes have resulted in gerrymandered election victories and a slew of phony laws.

The problem for all these fake "Conservatives" is that their schemes are destroying our democracy, making every problem they address worse, and causing great suffering. As a time variable, making the rich richer and the poor poorer while gutting the middle class will tend to make "Republicans" less popular. Though they have figured out ways to hack election results in their favor, eventually their fakery will catch up with them. A society that becomes completely fake will implode.

Continuing this view of "Conservatism," I offered this comment to a segment of OnPoint:

The discussion is focused on periphery. What is really taking place is the predominance of a movement of ill will towards others, euphemistically called "Conservatism." This movement has grown over the decades by masking its essential ill will in a fake ideology of small government, low taxes, extreme law enforcement, laxity in regulating business, low environmental standards, and thinly veiled racial supremacy.

"Democrats" aren't very good at opposing this ill will movement because they are addicted to "playing" politics, which means maneuvering within existing circumstances to maximize their position in the "game."

This won't last forever. The "game" will change with global climate change and the encroachment of the unsustainability of our economic system. Ill will can only get you so far. When suffering starts to seriously effect those who have ill will towards others, they might start looking for actual solutions to problems rather than demagoguery. We'll see. This is a critical test for our society. Do we, as a people, have the wherewithal to rise above ill will.

Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman wrote a criticism of "Conservative" congressman Paul Ryan for inappropriate remarks in his New York Times op-ed column. I responded with  this:

This makes for good copy, with an easy target who never fails to display his ignorance, mean-spiritedness and bigotry. This could go on forever, theoretically at least. As long as it is an acceptable "debate" between the acceptable "right" and quasi-acceptable "left."

The reason we don't have forever to "debate" "left" versus "right" is that the problems that are "debated" have to be solved. They can't be solved because the "debate" is fake. "Right wing" isn't an ideology. It's a smoke screen. Set up a fake argument with ridiculous premises, claim some semi-divine guru like Ayn Rand, and the game is on.

Opponents give the arguments credibility by "debating," in person and in print. The President of the United States appears in an interview with fake journalist from fake TV news network before the "Super Bowl."

Meanwhile, corporations and Wall Street bankers are laughing all the way to the bank, or, in the bankers' case, in place. They buy effectively ALL the Congress, so the "debate" can go on and on as long as they are free to make effectively ALL the money. Some crumbs are left to keep enough of the people silenced, and enough is all that matters.

How long will this go on? Not forever. It will go on until it implodes, which could come very soon. Falsehood as a way of life has its limits. The perfect example is climate change. We don't have much longer to lie about it. It can't be pretended away.

That about covers the subject. It's pretty amazing that the "Conservative" movement has ascended (or descended) to such power. The appeal is to people's lower nature: fear, anger, jealousy, greed, avarice, deceit. In the difficult days to come we could go even lower. Let's hope we go in the other direction. We can start by calling this movement for what it is: fake.

Here's an old song. I used to know how to play it. It's kind of easy, so maybe I'll do some work on it. This is my favorite Kinks song. Followed closely by this.

Here's what happens when you look behind the curtain.

Fakery doesn't change my world. Here's a song for holding onto your dreams. This song is a result of the scene in the previous song.

Here's something new. You have to wait for it to fully load in order to see my comment.

R.I.P. Lawrence Walsh. He investigated fakers. They had too much power, got away clean.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Exaggerated Crisis

The emergency du jour these days is the "Russian" incursion into "Crimea," formerly known as "The Crimea." The region, or district, is legally part of "Ukraine," formerly known as "The Ukraine." The "right-wing" noise-o-sphere is blaming the crisis on Obama, seizing the opportunity to compare his "manhood" with that of "Russian" president Vladimir Putin.

Of course it is always serious when one "country" invades, occupies, or makes a military presence in another "country." They differ in severity and intention, and by historical standards this show of force is pretty mild. "Ukraine" lies between "Russia" and Eastern "Europe," and is strategic for both "Russia" and the "European" countries for trade and military alliances, and perceived security interests.

Still, from the great distance of Madison, Wisconsin, I am free to look at the "Ukraine/Crimea/Russia/U.S." crisis as less than a crisis, but more about the egos of men. The NPR program OnPoint had a segment this past Monday on the situation, to which I had this response:

Pretty good discussion for the most part, given the establishmentarian perspective. If you take a less institutional approach, though, the "crisis" seems more about face-saving and who makes who blink.

The principal nations involved - "Russia," "Ukraine," "Crimea," and of course, the world's only superpower, the "U.S." - are all presumed to be living beings, when they are collections of living beings, presided over by "leaders" of one sort or another, in this case all known as "presidents."

So "Crimea" is both a place and a collection of people. The same for "Ukraine," "Russia" and the "U.S." "Russia" has entered "Crimea" with a military presence, asserting its dominance. The "U.S." is threatening economic sanctions against "Russia" - the place and its people.

These divisions of lands and peoples into political entities are pretty arbitrary if you take the perspective of the ecosphere. It knows no national boundaries. The various machinations of governments matter to the ecosphere only to the degree of the environmental damage or benefit they cause.

The facedown with "Russia" is something of a Déjà vu experience. For decades we had the "Cold War," an ongoing struggle that spread worldwide, as countries were coaxed or forced to be on one "side" or the other. "Russia" was the center of the "Soviet Union," and the "U.S." was the center of the "free world."

Wars were waged, such as in "Vietnam" and "Korea" over this arbitrary division of "communism" versus "freedom." Governments were overthrown, such as in "Indonesia" and "Chile." We came close to thermonuclear war at least once that we know of. If there had been a thermonuclear war, none of us would be here today.

So how will this "crisis" turn out? One way or another. Power gravitates to the already powerful, mitigated by a variety of forces.There are "Russians" living in "Ukraine" and in "Crimea." A lot of them. "Russia" is in physical proximity to both places. We aren't. Obama and his hapless emissary John Kerry would do well to keep this in mind.
There isn't much I can add to this. One thing is that the "U.S." Secretary of State John Kerry sounded kind of lame when he said "You just don’t invade another country on phony pretext in order to assert your interests." He conveniently disremembered the invasion and occupation of "Iraq."

The perceived weakness of Obama and his hapless secretary of state may be a symptom of declining world empires, so eloquently described by Tom Englehardt. As this situation develops we would do well to look with skepticism at the grand pronouncements by grand pronouncers in Washington and elsewhere. Global climate change is far more serious than this minor "crisis."

Here's a song. Here's another. There's even an entire album of déjà vu.

The Daily Beast has this update comparing Obama with Dwight Eisenhower.