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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.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Facing the Future

Last Saturday some local businesses and advocacy organizations got together for an Earth Day-related "Isthmus Green Day" at Madison's Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Monona Terrace. With over eighty exhibitors, a keynote speaker, and eighteen other presenters, the event had something for everyone interested in living in harmony with the environment.

There was something for everyone, including free samples of products, drawings to enter, and even free chair massages. Given the increased urgency of climate change and related environmental problems, and the location in Madison, Wisconsin, one would think that that thousands would attend.

It was more like hundreds. Or A hundred.  Though most exhibitors put on a cheerful exterior, I detected a sense of unease. It could have been from the low turnout, but a question I asked of the keynote speaker, Shalini Kantayya, led me to believe otherwise. She showed her movie A Drop of Life, then talked with what seemed to be forced enthusiasm about water issues and prospects for the future. At the end of her talk she asked if there were any questions, and I asked her if she believed economic growth could continue indefinitely, and if she thought the projections of population growth she mentioned were an unchangeable given.

Almost everyone I have asked these questions has dodged them, and Shalini Kantayya was no exception. She answered the question about economic growth by saying that it could continue with green products. This was after misinterpreting what I was asking and even trying to change the question. I repeated the questions with greater emphasis on the word growth so there would be no misunderstanding.

Her reply to the question about population growth was basically a non-answer, that growth projections are accurate. I suppose it's beyond the bounds of thinkable thought that some event or circumstance could interfere with mankind's zeal for populating the Earth.

But there is something that will interfere with both growth of output and growth of population: climate change. As its effects become more serious the Earth will become less habitable. Less habitable means it will be harder for the planet to support human life. That means fewer people. It is too late to stop this encroaching reality. Growth of population will cease, and indeed will likely go in reverse.

The same goes for economic growth. In an increasingly uninhabitable planet unending growth in economic output will be a thing of the past. A steady state will be the best we can hope for. Few want to consider this, for various reasons, mostly having to do with how vastly different such a system would be. It's so unthinkable, let's not think about it.

We'll be thinking about it soon enough. When climate change really kicks in, we will have no choice but to think about how we will organize our economic activity. We will see some hints in the coming days. Tornado season has started, soon to be followed by flood, drought, forest fire and hurricane seasons, then next winter. It is likely to be more serious this year than last, followed by a more serious round the next year.

Our political and corporate overstructure will attempt to avoid dealing with this reality for as long as possible. Drunk on power and money, they eventually will have to hit a bottom, just like drunks of another kind. They will try everything they can to keep drinking from the trough of power and money. The day will come, one way or another, where all the king's horses and all the king's men will not be able to keep Humpty Dumpty together. Change is on the way. We can speed up the process by our actions. Don't give power and don't give money to those whose interest is in their own power and money.

I get calls from the "Democratic" party every month, rain or shine, asking for money. I don't give them any. I get appeals from the "Democratic" candidate for governor, and just got a repeat mailing from "Ready for Hillary." No money for them either. Some recorded voice calls me every other day, saying "If this is James, please press 2." I hang up, not being "James," but would hang up even if I were "James."

Decorporatizing my buying habits is a little more difficult, but I've been at it for decades. I get my food through a food coop, local farmers' markets, a Community Supported Agriculture farmer, and a small amount through a regional grocery chain. I don't eat meat. I ride a bicycle most of the time, and go to free events around town, including yoga and meditation classes. I don't subscribe to cable or dish, finding plenty of TV to watch with a converter box. I have never owned a cell phone or texting device. I built almost all my furniture. For movies I go to the cheapie theater when they are about a month or two old. Sometimes I check out a DVD from the public library.  I get my health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Instead of a bank, I use a credit union.

With all the money-saving and non-corporate buying habits I have practiced, I still live at a higher level than about 99% or more of the people on this planet. It's a struggle for almost anyone to make ends meet, but it's easier with simple needs. In regard to the rich and powerful, I have never started a war, never killed anyone, haven't ordered a drone strike on ordinary civilians, haven't dumped oil in the ocean, contaminated a water supply, caused cancer, or used greed to make myself rich while others got poor. It's been an imperfect life, but a simple life. It's what we'll all be doing very soon.

It might be time to stop observing Earth Day. Here's why.

Here's some IZ.

This Moody Blues album is worth a listen or two.

I heard Doris Day say in a recent interview that she hates this song. Maybe the future IS ours to see.

Leonard Cohen has a vision of the future. He also makes this prediction.

Here's a song for our wealthy 1%.

If you're wondering where to lend a hand, here's a bit of advice on what to avoid.

Here's some futuristic music.

I almost forgot about this Neil Young song. Then of course there's this, a foreboding from long ago.

R.I.P. Jesse Winchester. He did a brave thing long ago, something I sometimes wish I had done. I only knew this song as done by Brewer and Shipley, but Jesse Winchester wrote it. Allen Toussaint performed a tribute to him last fall. Here's a nice song.

Here's a not-so-encouraging update about wildfire season.

Here's an update about the supposed negative view of the future. This link takes you to the New York Times article referred to. And, of course, this song.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Have a Better Story

The Boston Marathon was held today after much pre-race hype - endless stories about the attacks last year, the survivors, the security precautions for this year, and the ritualization of "Boston Strong" as some kind of show of strength against "the terrorists," - a nebulous body of practitioners of frightening "America," it would seem. Over 36,000 people ran the race.

It's hard to fathom why this country responds to events the way it does. The best I can come up with is that there has to be an official unifying narrative that creates a sense of togetherness. A year ago two people on the fringe of society exploded a couple of pressure cookers near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Somehow this was a vastly greater crime than the routine murders that take place every day all over the country in cities large and small, in rural areas, in bodies of water, and sometimes in the air.

Last Tuesday Boston's radio station WBUR aired a segment The Boston Marathon Bombing And America’s Terror Threat Now, exploring the threat of terrorism today and security measures to prevent it. It was a pretty pro-forma discussion, and I had this response:

In the modern mass system we depend on bureaucracies to make and implement policy. This hour was a good example. Focusing on the Boston Marathon, various bureaucracies involved are busy preparing for last year's attack, as if somehow it can be prevented this year.

The problem with this approach is that last year's attack happened last year. The perpetrators of that attack didn't plan for a previous attack that would be easier to stop. Instead, they planned for something new that would be more likely to succeed.

I remember during the Vietnam war that after 1968 preparations were made every spring for the Tet Offensive, as if a one-time assault campaign was going to happen every year because it was done once. Bureaucracies are good at projecting trends far into the future.

What doesn't occur to bureaucracies, because it can't, is that the best way to prevent terrorism is to avoid diddling around the planet starting wars, kidnapping people, torturing, imprisoning, attacking civilians with drones, and scapegoating a specific religious belief. We live in a world where vast numbers of people are afflicted with a variety of mental disorders. If you add a context of perceived religious persecution to a mix of mentally unstable population you increase the likelihood of some of them planning terrorist attacks.

If you add to this predicament a largely irresponsible mass information media industry that chooses to foment the prejudices that inflame the situation, some people will be driven even farther over the edge.

There very likely won't be another attack at the Boston Marathon. There will be another attack somewhere else, though, one of these days. It will be the one that we aren't preparing for.
The race was run without incident, with much hoopla over the first "American" winner in thirty-one years, Meb Keflezighi, a naturalized citizen born in "Eritrea." CNN calls his victory "triumphant in a storied race that has become a national symbol of resiliency and determination." In Los Angeles he is praised as a "Californian."

Meanwhile, on the diddling around front, fifty-five people have been killed in "U.S." drone strikes in "Yemen," and according to our leaders, ALL are of course "Al Qaeda." Maybe, maybe not. We'll have to see how this plays out. One man's "Al Qaeda" is another man's unlucky civilian. There has been so much deceit from high places over the past many years that it's hard to tell what to believe.

The conquering heroFor most of us, the dual triumphs of the Boston Strong Marathon and the bombing of the maybe, maybe not "AQAP" base in "Yemen" are good enough. We'll take our triumphs where we can get them. When the Bush criminal regime invaded "Iraq" it did so with 90% public support.

There's just one problem with a populace so easily swayed. It can be easily swayed in any direction. A society so needful of reassurance is fair game for manipulation. All that is required of manipulators is the ability to tell a good story. If metaphor and myth can be evoked, hearts and minds will follow.

Maybe this is a lesson for "leftists" and others who advocate for change. Have a better story. If George W. Bush could avoid responsibility for the worst domestic attack in "American" history, invade two countries, and usher in the most serious economic decline since the Great Depression, maybe he knew something about mythmaking. It's grating to think that he had any skill at anything, but his farcical presidency was skillfully criminal. It would have failed without effective storytelling. Just for a little compare and contrast, imagine somber John Kerry presiding over the "911" attacks, the invasions of "Iraq" and "Afghanistan" and the meltdown of the economy. He'd be tarred and feathered.

As suspected, the triumphant bombing of "Al Qaeda" "leaders" turned out to be less than what was bragged about.

Here's a song that fits. Here's another. This too.

For an update on diddling around the planet, click here

Here's an update on the nature of our government's torture, kidnapping, assassination and whatnot infrastructure.

Here's a variation on a theme. Time is running out. The U.N. report on climate change hints that this could be the last time for saving our species.

More people are thinking this way, though they may not look the part.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Pardon Leonard Peltier Now

I was saddened to hear yesterday of the death of author Peter Matthiessen. I met him once, here in Madison, after a talk he gave. I wrote about it in a comment to a story about him on National Public Radio:
I went to a talk he gave at a campus church in the 1990s. Afterwards there was a reception at the Memorial Union. In the walk to the Union I got to talk with him a bit. He was very gracious, down to earth, engaging. 

The subject of his talk was the imprisonment of Native activist Leonard Peltier. It was my introduction to Madison's posturing "left." Instead of asking questions or contributing to the conversation, one person after another stood up to brag about how "I was there when...!" or "I'm the editor of the Progressive, and...!" or some such. It was pretty incredible - a one-upping fest.

Matthiessen handled it deftly and with mirth, but he eventually tired of the onslaught. He finally had said all he had to say, and ended the contest. He was focused on his purpose for being there - to talk about the imprisonment of Leonard Peltier and the context in which it took place. Having accomplished that, he called it a night and left.

R.I.P. We cherish these examples of how to live our lives. If we're lucky we can pass it on to others.
PBS's NewsHour had a nice remembrance today.

Maybe as a tribute to Matthiessen the president could give Leonard Peltier a pardon. Actions speak louder than apologies. Here's a hashtag: #PardonLeonardPeltierNow.

For an explanation of why Leonard Peltier should be pardoned, click here.

You can sign a petition to pardon Leonard Peltier here

Robert Redford is also campaigning for a pardon for Leonard Peltier.

The title of Peter Matthiessen's book about Leonard Peltier is In the Spirit of Crazy Horse.

In Open Salon you can read Heidi Herron's story about Leonard Peltier. 

Here's a song by Leonard Peltier's friend and colleague John Trudell.

This is from Brewer and Shipley. Here's the original Jim Pepper version.

Here's some Native music.

Here's Johnny Cash singing the Ballad of Ira Hayes.

Here's an album with Native flute player R. Carlos Nakai. Playing with him is Nawang Khechog, a Tibetan flute and didgeridoo player. I worked with him at the Omega Institute in 1993. When he came to Madison a few years later he arranged an introduction to the Dalai Lama's friend and teacher Geshe Sopa at nearby Deer Park Monastery. I still have the piece of PVC pipe he gave me in a didgeridoo class he taught at Omega. Unfortunately, it's too late in the game for me to try to play again. Circular breathing would probably result in no breathing.

Here's an interview with Geshe Sopa.

NPR did an interview yesterday with a woman who was sexually assaulted at Amherst College and has gone public with her story. I posted this comment, and a few others in response to some dumb other comments. It led to another comment in the Harvard Crimson.

R.I.P. also to Mickey Rooney. He wasn't exactly my all-time favorite actor, but he had his moments, especially The Black Stallion. He was a trooper, acting until his death. His last movie, Night at the Museum 3, will be out this year.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Let's Get Unstuck

The biggest stories in yesterday's (and today's) news were the "U.S." Supreme Court decision to allow unlimited spending in political campaigns and a second shooting at Fort Hood Army base in Texas. In the discrete world of Western thought these two events would seem to be unrelated, but in the world where we actually live, everything relates to everything else. I will explain.

In 2000 Al Gore won the majority of votes nationwide in the presidential election. In Florida a massive level of fraud kept thousands of people from voting through various means long practiced in southern states. On election day the reported lead went back and forth in Florida between Gore and George W. Bush, the "Republican" candidate. Television networks projected Gore as the winner based on exit polls, but Bush strategist Karl Rove knew better. He called the networks, telling them to hold off on declaring Gore the winner. It is highly suspected that the reason he was so confident is that he knew how the votes were being counted, particularly the votes cast by computer.

The “Republican thugs” engaging in the “Brooks Brothers Riot”, November 19, 2000, intimidating the ballot recounters in FloridaThe vote was so close that a recount was requested. This brought in the phase of resistance to the recount by "Republicans," eventually being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, which sided with the "Republicans." With the recount stopped, Bush was declared the winner, and the rest, as we have seen so unhappily, is history.

Not long after Bush took office his active negligence paved the way for the attacks of September 11, 2011. These attacks were followed by the invasion of "Afghanistan," and then "Iraq." From my perspective these invasions were meant to deflect criticism - and investigation - of the Bush regime's culpability for the "911" attacks. We have not had a credible investigation of the attacks to this date, and likely won't for a long, long time. A future historian will have to do it when is far too late to do any good.

As anyone who has served in the military knows, waging war involves costs that will be paid for a long time and in tragic ways. When the wars waged are largely for public relations purposes and reward to cronies, the costs borne by the public can be especially painful.

With the ascendancy of George W. Bush we not only had the "911" attacks and two invasions of other countries, but the replacement of two Supreme Court Justices. One of them, John Roberts, received a direct appointment to be Chief Justice. He was a legal adviser to the administration of Florida governor Jeb Bush in its recount strategy. He must have given good advice, because the recount was stopped and George Bush became president.

As a reward for his efforts in stopping the recall John Roberts was given the Chief Justice appointment. In true spirit of reciprocity, he has rewarded back, making it easier for "Republicans" to amass huge "war chests" for future elections, rendering our democracy a moot facade. First there was the Citizens United decision, decided by one vote. Then yesterday's decision, completing the government for sale trajectory.

With government for sale made much easier it will also be easier for bought politicians to start wars. Bush depended on mass hysteria over the September 11 attacks to get his invasions. With both houses of Congress completely bought, future presidents will have an easier time to engage in international mischief. They also will have an easier time engaging in domestic mischief.

So we have another attack at Fort Hood, the largest military base on Planet Earth. Just in terms of probability, it is more likely for trouble to take place where the numbers are higher. Still, two deadly attacks at the same base raise some questions about Fort Hood. The more important question, though, is whether the rash of suicides and shootings at military bases would be occurring if there we hadn't invaded and occupied "Afghanistan" and "Iraq," to say nothing of numerous other military activities around the planet.

If we reverse engineer yesterday's headline news, would there have been a Supreme Court decision to enable government for sale if the Florida recount were allowed to proceed? Would there have been the "911" attacks and the catastrophic invasions of "Afghanistan" and "Iraq?"  Would there have been the meltdown of the economy in 2008?

I think it is safe to say that none of these things would have happened. Of course, this presumes that the momentum of human presence on this planet would move in the direction of peace, prosperity, and clean government. As we have seen over the history of human existence, the will for doing horrible and sadistic things to other humans holds great sway. It could have been worse.

Regardless of how we got to the point where we have government for sale and soldiers killing fellow soldiers, we can correct the errors that got us to our present circumstances. We can send George W. Bush and his regime to The Hague for war crimes. We can remove John Roberts from the Supreme Court, along with his fellow Bush appointee Samuel Alito.

If we were to fully examine the "elections" of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, we would likely find election chicanery that would render their Supreme Court appointments moot, enabling the removal of Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Anthony Kennedy. All these men were appointed by presidents who were not legitimate. Ronald Reagan, movie actor, had his "October Surprise" and involvement in the Iran-Contra Affair. George H.W. Bush had his Willie Horton gimmick, and his own involvement in Iran-Contra. George W. Bush had his fake "compassionate conservatism," desertion from the Texas National Guard, and the Florida recount decision - made by Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy, Reagan appointee Sandra Day O'Connor, and Nixon appointee William Rehnquist. Nixon of course was "elected" on the basis of his fake claim to have a "secret plan" to end the Vietnam war. Then there was Watergate.

That's a lot of reverse engineering. Who knows where we would be today if the four presidents mentioned had never been "elected." It's hard to say, but we would still be on a course of exponential economic growth and corporate irresponsibility. So in the long run there are certain inevitabilities that will happen no matter who is president. Our unsustainable economic system would still be doing whatever possible to keep growing. We would still be doing next to nothing about climate change. "Istrael" would still be receiving massive amounts of aid, killing "Palestinians," and settling in "Palestinian" areas. We would still be giving huge amounts of military aid to "Egypt."

In spite of the overall trajectory of our mass industrial system, I can't help but conclude that in the immediate we would be better off had there been no "elections" of Nixon, Reagan, Bush 1, and Bush 2. We wouldn't have had these terrible Supreme Court decisions, the September 11 attacks, two wars, and the repercussions of those wars. We might even have an elevated level of dialogue about the problems we face. Instead, we're stuck with what we have. Let's get unstuck.

I created a hashtag for this: #ImpeachTheRobertsCourt . This might be a better one: #ImpeachTheRobertsFive

 Here's a song of inspiration from David Bowie. Here's another. Here's a song from Woodstock. Can't leave the Stones out. Or the Beatles. Also slow Beatles. Tracy Chapman. Gil Scott-Heron. Bob Marley. Peter Tosh. Sly. Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions. Bob Dylan

Here's a link from years ago in case you could use a reminder.

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich offers this analysis of the Supreme Court decision.

The kids they dance and shake their bones. He invited people sixty and over onstage when he was in Madison a few years ago. I ruined the video I made of it. It was great fun, same song. Encore. Here's some more kids who dance and shake their bones. Here's a song about dancing from my youth.

In the realm of the absurd, NPR is running a story on the art of George W. Bush. It's worth keeping in mind that such a story would never have appeared if the votes in Florida were accurately counted in 2000. He could be painting his childish portraits in the obscurity he so richly deserves.

Thom Hartmann says that no "Republican" president since Eisenhower has been legitimately elected. And I thought I was the first to figure this out. Maybe I was. It doesn't matter. The important thing is that the word spreads.