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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.


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