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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, April 28, 2015

Midas Touch in Reverse

One thing that can be said for sure of the times that we are in is that old traditions are giving way to new. Our democracy is giving way to plutocracy. Our economy is giving way to the same plutocracy. Our previously hidden foreign policy of empire is out in the open, now that the empire in its decline and fall phase. That part is not completely obvious yet, but in the Mideast we now seem to have the Midas touch in reverse. Everything we touch turns to excrement.

In the social sphere, states are coming under increasing pressure to legalize marijuana, both for medical and recreational purposes. Police are coming under increasing pressure to cease their practices of wantonly beating and killing African American and other minorities, homeless people and the mentally ill. In the military and on our college campuses women are organizing to create accountability for sexual assault.

Most prominently in the news these days is the push for legalization of same-sex marriage. To me it is a misnomer. It should be called same gender marriage. Same sex marriage would be a story of boring bedroom intimacy of one tedious method over the duration of marital life. State after state is changing its laws, and the U.S. Supreme Court is set to begin hearing arguments on whether the Constitution includes a right to same gender marriage.

What everyone seems to be talking about, though, is the interview on  the ABC News show 20/20 last Friday with former Olympic decathlon champion Bruce Jenner, where he declared that he is a woman. I watched about the last twenty minutes of the show, which were likely the most crucial. That was when he made his declaration of womanhood, which I figured was something of a no-brainer. He has been undergoing plastic surgery to make him look more like a woman for years. The whole interview was predicated on this announcement.

Two things struck me about the interview. One was that he seemed to be putting on an air of sophistication, of trying to talk about his transition as if it were some kind of ponderous intellectual exercise. For someone who is going through such a physical and emotional upheaval as a gender change it seemed a bit pretentious.

The other thing that struck me was that he said that he had simple goals, like "To be able to have my nail polish on long enough that it actually chips off!" Changing gender identity is a lot to go through for such a simple goal. One of his ex-wives wrote about her experience of Jenner's identity challenges in Huffington Post, saying he "came out" to her in 1985. They divorced a year later. I offered this observation:

Well-written, probably better as a book. I watched part of the interview on Friday, and the thing that struck me was when he said he looks forward to wearing fingernail polish. Men do that already, especially college basketball players, who paint (Or painted. I remember Kansas players doing it a few years ago. UNC too.) their nails with school colors.

I don't understand gender identity. I identify as me, with gender being a matter of practicality. In public using a "men's" room, wearing pants, shaving, finding women attractive, men largely oafs. The surface attributes of women's behavior - longer hair, wearing makeup, dresses, lingerie, earrings, are in my view extensions not so much of identity as personal projection to the world.

They also are practical, natural projections of hormonal secretions that regulate physiology and behavior. Not absolutely necessary, but handy for self-esteem and social interaction. The fact that dresses have been worn by women in almost every culture on the planet is in my understanding a practical result of physiology. They make elimination of waste and childbirth less cumbersome. Men don't give birth and can pee standing up, so wearing a dress isn't as functional.

If a person identifies with the opposite gender to his or her physical body and hormonal balance, then it is psychological. That doesn't mean it is "curable," though it could be changed. The key, as I understand it, is identity. If gender identity is paramount, then it is more important than other facets of one's life.

Identifying only as me, and not as part of some category, and of conformity to what others believe that category to be, I am more free to pursue my deeper self, what in yogic terms is known as the Atman, or simply the Self. In Buddhism it is known as the Void, beyond Nirvana. In Christianity - at least some Christianity - it is known as the Beatific Vision. At least from my perspective it is a lot more interesting than gender identity, and a lot less painful and troublesome. Here's a song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFsbAuX9P4w
In the grand scheme of things a famous guy who wants to be a woman is not a big deal. It is a field day for the news media, of course, but hardly as significant as the earthquake in Nepal, or just about anything else in the events of the day. I wish him well. He is going through something very difficult, and for all the world to see. He at least has the advantage of significant wealth and a level of celebrity that grants privilege few others can even imagine.

Such as people who live in areas where our government is dropping bombs in a heartless and reckless fashion, its protestations of innocence notwithstanding. President Obama admitted last Thursday that a drone strike in Pakistan in January killed an "American" and an "Italian" hostage that were being held prisoner along with presumed al Qaeda militants. We found out Sunday that Obama relaxed rules that required evidence of an immanent threat before launching drone attacks, which made the deaths of the hostages more likely (read more here).

The wisdom, or lack of same, in secret drone strikes was discussed on Monday's OnPoint on National Public Radio. The discussion was pretty empty, talking mostly about the quality of the intelligence and how effective the strikes are. I again put in my two cents:

Unsaid in this discussion is the meta-level arrogance of "the world's only superpower." The presumed overseership over Planet Earth began with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Coincidentally, 1991 was the year we conquered Iraq. Or half-conquered. In 2003 we sort of completed the conquer.

Or so we thought. We're still there. Our CIA helped the Ba'ath party and Saddam Hussain overthrow the existing government in 1968, after the original overthrow of the monarchy in 1959. We had assumed overseership in the Mideast for many years already, starting in 1918 with the end of the Ottoman Empire, then amping-up after World War II.

The CIA was instrumental in forming both the Taliban in Afghanistan and al-Qaeda, arming the precursors of both in their fight against the Russians. Al-Qaeda morphed into an anti-U.S. terrorist group as a result of the U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia (itself an artifice held up by U.S. and European, mainly British overseership) starting with the first war against Saddam Hussain. The roots of the Taliban were in the Mujahedeen, which gradually transformed into the entity we know today.

In concert with all this meddling was the overthrow of the elected prime minister of Iran and installation of the brutal Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi by the CIA and the British in 1953. Had this not happened it would have been unlikely that Iran would be aiding the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Assad regime in Syria. Of course, this also assumes that we would not have given many billions of dollars to Israel to oppress and kill the Palestinians and invade their neighbors.

So what we call terrorism is a direct result of our overseership of the Mideast. Each new permutation brings on a new strategy to overthrow some group or another, which then results in some new permutation of terrorist groups. The weakness in this discussion is that it takes the drone strikes completely out of their historical context, reducing them to a reptilian brain analysis: Ugh! Terrorists moving about in signature fashion! Send in the drones! Ugh! Civilians hit? They were terrorists, because drones attack terrorists! Ugh! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triune_brain
In the larger context of decline and fall of the empire, the drone attacks can be seen as acts of desperation. Everything we do in the Mideast and really everywhere else has the Midas Touch in reverse effect, but the power to kill people has an addictive quality that can be intoxicating. Drone strikes will hasten the decline, but our "leaders" don't seem to know of anything else to do.

Meanwhile, the Polar ice caps continue to melt, as I mention at every opportunity. The habitability of the planet should be everyone's number one concern. Instead, our Midas touch in reverse ruling elite - both governmental and corporate - is hastening the day that our declining empire will be fully declined.

Here's some background on the Baltimore riots.

Here's a song. Here's another. And another. Here's an old gem I had to scour my memory for. I found this by accident, a case of protesting too much. Here's a great Dylan song. I like this version better. This Dylan song fits. You can paint your fingernails to this song. Here's an identity song. This Beatles song pertains.

Here are a few Grateful Dead songs that fit: Ship of Fools, Brokedown Palace, Throwing Stones/Not Fade Away (with a familiar face helping with the rhythm) U.S. Blues, Man Smart, Woman Smarter (great alternate version), Eyes of the World. Here's the original of Man Smart, Woman Smarter.

Here's a Hollies song I never heard or heard of before. There are even definitions of Reverse Midas Touch online. This one will do.

This Dylan song fits, a bit too well. Here's Tracy Chapman doing a great version of a timeless Dylan tune. Here she is singing Ben E. King's Stand By Me.

Is there a way out? The Beatles have an answer. John Lennon takes it a little deeper.

Here's a short history of the decline and fall of the fall of the Roman Empire, for compare and contrast purposes. Here's another view. And another. Here are some quotes from Gore Vidal's book on the decline and fall of the American Empire. Even Forbes got involved in the decline and fall premonition business.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich says the 1% began rigging the redistribution of income to themselves fifty years ago. 

R.I.P. Percy Sledge. He appeared at the Enlisted Men's Club where I was stationed in Heidelberg, Germany in 1971. I didn't go, wish I had. It would have cost about $5. Here's his best-known song. This song is pretty great too.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Maybe We Can

We are entering the final phase of the Obama presidency. The surreal Obama presidency. Elected on the vague promise of “Yes We Can,” he has had some successes, some failures, and presided over some actions that would arouse interest at the Hague, were the International Criminal Court something other than a prosecutor of the small and convenient. In the remaining months of his tenure he hopes to make peace with "Iran" and "Cuba." Maybe he can make more peace.

Working against Obama is a cacophony of grandstanders, demagogues, "right wing" zealots, religious zealots, media rabble-rousers and any number of the mentally deranged. These categories are not mutually exclusive, so a person in any one of them can be identified with a few or all subgroups. Especially the mentally deranged category. Grandstander and demagogue are nearly the same, except the grandstander gets more attention.

Life is getting harder for media grandstanding demagogues. Fox News show host Bill O'Reilly has been exposed as a liar. Duh. He lies all the time, but his big lies about being in combat have finally caught up with him. Sean Hannity, also on Fox, has long been exposed as a liar, but he is finding the lying life frustrating.

Popular astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has been busy lately exposing the dishonesty of "Republican" climate change deniers. He believes that politicians denying science is the beginning of the end of democracy. Not surprisingly, he has been a target of personal attack on Fox News. Grandstanding "Republican" presidential candidate Ted Cruz is also a serial liar. Another candidate, Rand Paul, joins the serial liar cast.  Wisconsin's own Scott Walker rounds out the presidential candidate liar list.

Another presidential candidate, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, said last week that we don't know who President Obama is, or if he cares about the "U.S." This is the guy who ordered lane closures on a major transport link between New York City and the State of New Jersey to "teach a lesson" to a political opponent.

What, we might wonder, is going on? Is it just anything goes when it comes to politics?  Maybe. Is the desperation to win trumping all other considerations? It would seem. Has everyone gone mad?

I think I can provide an explanation. It isn't a simple one, but it isn't hard to understand. I take a psychological approach, using a mix of different perspectives. Most politicians, and especially "Republicans," are a mix of psychopath/sociopath, narcissism, reptilian brain domination, paranoid personality disorder, the low end of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, and a psychosis of pretend and escape. These factors all blend together in a toxic stew, poisonous in the critical times in which we live.

The reptilian brain, home of “right-wingers”Holding all these psychopathologies together, it seems, is addiction. It is the glue that unifies escapism, pretend, deficiency needs, narcissism, psychopathy/sociopathy and the reptilian brain. It doesn't have to be alcohol or drugs. In the politico-economic sphere it is power and money, and by implication sex, which accrues to power and money.

It may seem needless to say that our toxic mix of political actors is characterized by psychopathology, but no one else is looking at them this way. It is all in terms of outrage, ridicule, debunking, faux ideological analyses and arguments, and "organizing" to overcome them. Good luck.

Polar bears taking a break. They depend on our good will for their survivalMaybe a little psychological reverse engineering might help. The Polar ice caps are melting and our unsustainable infinite-growth economic system is fast approaching the day when it will fail irreparably. Since our political overstructure is avoiding both these realities, it is pretending that another reality is the only reality. All the psychotic noise that we're hearing is cover for the pretend. You can't "organize" around psychotic noise. What we can do is understand. When we understand we can respond appropriately. Maybe.

Drones are in the news again. Two Westerners, including one "American," were killed in a drone attack in "Pakistan" in January, and the president apologized for it yesterday. Actually, two "Americans" were killed, but one of them was designated as a member of al Qaeda. The drone program drones on.

Lest we forget, al Qaeda began with CIA funding during the "Soviet" invasion and occupation of "Afghanistan," from 1979 to 1989. It was known as Operation Cyclone, and resulted in the ascension of both the Taliban and al Qaeda.

A new term has been introduced: Signature drone strikes. A "signature" apparently is some activity that can be construed as al Qaeda-like, and therefore justifies a drone attack. Since weddings, family gatherings, farmers in fields, pedestrians and donkeys have been targeted, they must have been doing something al Qaeda-like. Like breathing. Embracing. Walking. Saying "Allahu Akbar." Or "As-salamu Alaykum." Or, in a donkey's case, hee-haw.

Here's a song.

Here's another. Maybe you remember it. You might remember this too.

This fits. And this. Also this.

I heard this on the radio a couple of weeks ago. Great version. It can mean whatever you want it to mean. Her distant cousin was referred to by FDR as the "Father of the United Nations."

Here's Neil deGrasse Tyson on the Daily Show.

Update, April 26: Scott Walker is being challenged by the Milwaukee District Attorney about his lying.