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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, July 25, 2015

Gun Fanaticism 101

A copy of American Rifleman, the magazine of the National Rifle Association, came my way recently, and I thumbed through it to see what might be interesting. There is much. The magazine, like the organization, is a combination of  surreality, theater of the absurd and parallel universe. Gun extremists are a breed apart. I have written in the past about gun-nuttery, and don't have a lot to add, except to note that there was another mass shooting, this time in a theater in Lafayette, Louisiana. The shooter this time appears to have been an angry "right wing" gun nut, as well as a religious nut who hated women.

The best way to get a sense of the surreality of the NRA and its magazine is to see some scans I made of selected pages. My favorite is the "Chuck Norris Tribute Pistol." Chuck Norris is a karate-chopping movie and TV star, or was. He is now 75 years old, and of late has busied himself in "right wing" politics. And gun advocacy. He advocates that you buy his tribute pistol. It is a fancied-up .45 Automatic, with gold and nickel plating, engraved likenesses of Chuck Norris, and a trite quote: "To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe." The price for such engraved words of wisdom is a mere $1995.

My dad had a .45 Automatic, a souvenir from his service in World War II. It is a fearsome weapon, known as "the man-stopper" for its effectiveness in close combat when an enemy soldier is running towards one. It would certainly appeal to masculinity-deficient males, especially those who wish to be like karate champion "true American" Chuck Norris. My dad traded his .45 to someone for a .22 Automatic, which was more suitable for target practice.

The magazine is filled with advertising for all kinds of guns - big, small, rifles, pistols, with scope and without - and various items of shooting paraphernalia.The NRA even offers its own gun, a 24-karat gold plated Ruger Blackhawk .44 Magnum six shot revolver. It has inscriptions - "Molon Labe" and "The Second Amendment Protects the Rest." Molon Labe is inscribed in the original Greek lettering, and means "Come and take it," a dare to anyone who would attempt to seize the possessor's beloved gun, or guns.

No price is mentioned for the NRA Revolver, so I looked on the website listed, AmericanLegacyFirearms.com. They are on sale for $2495, a bit less than I expected. Sales apparently aren't as hot for the item as was planned.  The Chuck Norris Tribute Pistol is likely within the budget most gun zealots.

Every brave defender of his right to keep and bear arms needs a proper holster to hold his favorite gun. Blackhawk offers one that promotes "Life, liberty and the pursuit of any maggot who threatens them." Because, as we all know, there is a maggot under every rock threatening life and liberty. The model in the photo is of a guy in full battle regalia, ready for a maggot attack. In pursuing any maggot, the well-armed defender, or exterminator, apparently needs to have his gun mounted on his chest for quick draw. Plenty of spare magazines are needed too, since maggots rarely threaten life and liberty by themselves. Or maybe they're hard to hit. You can't make this stuff up.

Having a gun with ammo and shooting paraphernalia isn't enough, though. How about some cigars? American Rifleman has a deal too good to pass up. Eight cigars for $10. Not just any old cigars either. You get a first-class premium cigar sampler - eight different cigars to correct any shooter's phallic deficiencies. If you get $100 dollars worth you could puff away while shooting for a whole season, and give some to friends. Maybe I'm a bit less-than-manly, but I have always found the smell of cigar smoke to be revolting, and people who smoke them not so appealing either. The appeal, I suspect, is symbolic, a projection of sexual power. The obvious question, of course, is why one would need such a symbol.

After a day of defiant shooting a man needs to relax. Returning to his lair, he might surround himself with hunting trophies, stuffed animals, maybe a tiger-skin pelt or bear rug, (or rabbit and squirrel pelts for lower-budget hunters), and a target or two on the wall. To complete the picture, the "John Wayne Cold-Cast Bronze Masterpiece Sculpture" would be a perfect addition to the decor. It has leather reins to give it "realism." And, it's only $149.95. John Wayne, movie star, played a long list of tough guys, from war heroes to cowboys to police detectives. He also was a "Conservative," and believed in "white" supremacy.

If you have any money left after all your gun purchases, NRA membership dues, trips to the shooting range and cigars, don't forget to remember the NRA in your will. Not some half-baked will, but a well-crafted will - the wellness, obviously dependent on how much is left to the NRA. With more money, specifically more of YOUR money, the National Rifle Association can secure the Second Amendment rights of future generations in perpetuity. And, in so doing, also secure the wealth of NRA executives. This really isn't any different that what other organizations do, from environmental groups to hunger relief to refugee aid. I wonder how many people actually leave part or all of their estates to a gun zealotry organization.

Another way of leaving a legacy is to send a teenager to the Ronald Reagan Ranch High School Conference. There the young "Conservative" can be indoctrinated into the fundamentals of the faith. Ronald Reagan is something of a patron saint of "Conservatives." Like John Wayne, he was a movie actor, and when his acting career ended he served a couple of terms as governor of California, and beginning in 1981, eight years as President of the United States.

He was a terrible president, engaging in union-busting, a phony invasion, and secretly funding a terrorist group.  Every year at the conference there are famous "Conservative" speakers. Former Virginia senator George Allen, of  "macaca" fame, spoke at this year's event. Also a former football coach. It only cost $175 per student, so if you couldn't afford the Chuck Norris pistol or the NRA revolver you could sponsor the future of "America." Except it is too late. The event happened in June. I'm sure they had plenty of indoctrinees.

For the reader who might be confused about why he should join the National Rifle Association, there are little reminders posted throughout the magazine, each one highlighting a reason. Freedom, family, community, country and your future are all taken care of just by joining the NRA. The magazine is for members, so presumably those who receive it already know why they are members. It may be the case that for one reason or other people let their memberships lapse, so keeping the dues coming in is a top priority.

In a crescendo of sorts, the American Rifleman celebrated the national meeting(s?) and exhibits that were held in, of all places, Nashville, in April. Featured personages included "Conservative" comedian Jeff Foxworthy and county-western performer Alan Jackson, who may or may not be a "Conservative," but presumably is a gun advocate. As part of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action Leadership Forum, the top "Republican" candidates for president gave speeches. Among them were Donald Trump and Wisconsin's governor Scott Walker.

The meeting (or meetings) sounded the drum beat of paranoia about "the government" taking everyone's guns. The magazine article put it this way:  "The message was simple: Responsible gun owners don't want more government limitations on our right to bear arms, and we need pro-gun political leadership."

The NRA's outgoing president James W. Porter II (not Junior) gave an outgoing speech, part of which is quoted in the article: "When it comes to those elitists looking down their noses and telling us how to live, it's time they got the message loud and clear. You elitists live however you want. But when it comes to us, get your hands off our freedom and leave us the hell alone."

The exhibits, likely guns and gun paraphernalia, were from over 550 companies. I suppose that means 551 companies, but over 550 sounds more expansive. There were seminars covering, surprise, surprise, firearms, but also preparing wild game. And, curiously, the Falklands War.  It isn't clear why a gun ownership organization would find the Falklands War worthy of a seminar. It might have something to do with the opposing sides: "Great Britain" and "Argentina." One side represents the Anglo-Saxon or whatever pure roots of "America," while the other represents people south of the border.  Kind of like the mythical "Aryans" that Hitler fantasized were the "true Germans."

The NRA didn't used to be a gun nut organization. It started out as a group to promote marksmanship in 1871. In the mid-1970s the NRA changed emphasis, with Second Amendment rights being the new priority. For the unaware, the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states states that "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

The meaning of the amendment is a bit ambiguous, with gun rights advocates stressing the right to keep and bear arms, while the advocates of limits to those rights stress the well regulated militia aspect. And n'er the twain shall meet, it seems.

'Counting coup' on the NRAThere was a time in my life when I was a gun enthusiast. It wasn't an enthusiasm for gun ownership or rights, but of shooting guns. I learned to shoot a rifle in Boy Scout camp, and even have an NRA marksmanship certificate for my efforts. I didn't do much rifle shooting until I went into the Army, and even then it was just in basic training. where I earned a sharpshooter medal for marksmanship.

I grew up on hunting, and used mainly shotguns. It's a different kind of shooting than rifle shooting, typically at moving targets (birds). You don't "aim" a shotgun, but point it at the moving target, moving as the animal moves. I got pretty good at it, even worked at a trap and skeet range for a while. I gave it up as an adult when I became a vegetarian and moved into an ashram. I read a quote around that time that was attributed to Gandhi that said a gun changes a house and its occupant. I found it to be true, but I prefer the converse - not having a gun changes the house and its occupant.

In a post to this blog nine years ago I wrote about the NRA, and about some early gun rights zealots, one of whom became threatening to the owner of the trap and skeet range one night - over trap shooting championship points, so almighty important. The guy turned out to have been a wife-beater, and when she left him he shot himself, ending his life. No more gun rights for him.

So now we have a new gun rights enthusiast, who was so enthusiastic about his rights that he shot up a movie theater, killing two people, Mayci Breaux and Jillian Johnson, and wounding nine others. Much is said about the shooter being "mentally ill." While it seems painfully obvious the guy wasn't "normal" mentally, he wasn't much different from the NRA gun nuts. The difference is of degree, not kind. It is safe to say that he was influenced by NRA noise about gun rights, noise which didn't exist before about 1975.

In today's Salon, writer Sean Illing argues that the Second Amendment must go. He also despairs that anything will be done. I'm not so pessimistic. There was a time before NRA gun fanaticism. There will be a time after. Power today is not power tomorrow.

I believe the NRA is going to see a mass exodus. It's a cult. I know about cults. I was in one. Two if you count Catholicism. The NRA is a cult. The pattern, or gestalt that emerges from its magazine American Rifleman reveals its cultic nature: paranoia, mythology and ritual, symbolic attire, talismanic artifacts, revered heroes, a sense of embattlement, accursed enemies (i.e., Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton). Here are some more characteristics of cults.

The difference with the NRA cult is that is that its focus is on the shooting of other people. In response to the Sandy Hook shooting deaths of 23 children, the NRA's executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."  It almost goes without saying that if your meditation is on killing other people, you are more likely to do so. Lafayette shooter John Houser was a gun "enthusiast" who meditated on killing other people. Dylann Roof, the Charleston shooter, also meditated on killing other people. Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter, meditated on killing people. All the notorious mass killers meditated on killing other people.

Change is in the air. Obama is finally doing some things that are worthwhile, like making peace with "Iran" and "Cuba." The "Republicans" are apoplectic. Their star is fading. Since 1980 they have been ascending, using paranoia, scapegoating, lying, hysteria and criminality to seize power. The result is what we now have - near chaos, hateful people shooting at random and almost random. There are now 16 "Republican" candidates for president. They ALL are part of the malaise in which we find ourselves. They ALL are already bad for the country, and if one of them is elected - or appointed, as in 2000 - it will be a disaster.

I don't believe it will happen. Their time has passed. Their sugar daddy, or at least one of them - the NRA - is headed for decline. The Polar ice caps are melting. The economy is unsustainable. We need solutions, not grandstanding. Think positive. Or positively, for the grammarians among us.

I wrote about gun-related topics in other posts here, here, here and here.

Frontline offered this report about the NRA and its influence. 

Here's a song. Here's another.  And another. And this, for the pursuers of maggots. When confronted by a pursuer of maggots, this song might help.

A writer in Slate explores the possible connection between the attitude of the Lafayette shooter's attitude towards women and the movie he chose for his shooting spree. The Washington Post delves into his hatred of women in this article.

Here's a story about the victims of the Lafayette shooting.

On a slightly different topic, there is another way to recall Wisconsin's crony capitalist governor. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Legacy of Shame

A guy was arrested in Madison a week ago after assaulting a woman who was walking along a bike path. It didn't take long to catch him, since he was easily identified by a tattoo on his face that surrounds his right eye. He also was caught on camera in the area around the time of the attack.

It seems almost comical that someone would commit any crime when he has such an identifying characteristic, but it's pretty obvious criminals don't think that way. They think they are going to get away with whatever crime they are committing. The attacker in Madison is an extreme example, but maybe not as extreme as we might think. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and the rest of their gang lied the country into one war for sure, and likely the one previous. We know they lied about their claims that "Iraq" had weapons of mass destruction. They also lied about torturing prisoners. They thought they would get away with their crimes, and they did.

It can be said from this comparison that the Bush criminal organization is far more sophisticated than Donovan Stone, and also that it had and still has considerable power to fend off investigations of its criminal activities. Everyone in the Bush gang is as easy to identify as Donovan Stone, the tattooed attacker in Madison. Holding public office is like a big facial tattoo when one is committing crimes. All it takes is a justice system that actually prosecutes such criminals. We don't have one. They're too big to fail.

There is much to be learned from this. Similar to the impunity of banksters and the top 1% of income and wealth accumulators, the very top in terms of power and position in politics/government can get away with just about anything - mass murder, kidnapping, torture, indefinite detention, large-scale destruction, theft of resources, government overthrow, poisoning of environments, spying on citizens, and creating a national security state to, among other things, insure their impunity.

Bush is only the most recent and flagrant of political criminals. Ever since the crimes of Richard Nixon and associates the "Republican" party has engaged, through enactment of laws and in various executive and judicial actions to accumulate power and wealth to the already wealthy, to establish a worldwide military and economic empire, and to insure that those at the top are never held responsible for their crimes.

An article in yesterday's Salon explains how voter suppression is a key strategy in securing "Republican" hold on power. Another article in Salon yesterday describes how mythmaking has been used since the time of Nixon to combine lying with dire warnings of apocalyptic doom. Absent in any of their strategies is the intention to do anything to help ordinary people or to make the country a better place to live. Instead, what we have been given are Nixon, Reagan, Bush I and Bush II. Four terrible presidents. The terrible Supreme Court and Federal Court appointments during their presidencies include Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito. "Republican" majorities in Congress have done their own damage, supporting these terrible presidents in their various criminal schemes. Had Richard Nixon had majorities in both houses of Congress he wouldn't have been removed from office.

I don't mean to exalt the "Democrats." They are as dependent on bribes, er, campaign donations from corporations and Wall Street bankers as are "Republicans." Bill Clinton gave us NAFTA, CAFTA, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the extension of the sanctions against "Iraq," including extensive bombing, welfare "reform" and triangulation - standing for nothing - as a way of winning elections. He wasn't all bad, and certainly not as bad as any of the "Republicans," but he did much harm. Jimmy Carter supported the brutal Shah in "Iran" when he was about to be overthrown. Obama has his drone attacks.

How much harm has the Bush regime done? If the 2000 election hadn't been stolen there would have been no President Bush II, no active negligence that enabled the September 11 attacks, no invasions and occupations of "Afghanistan" and "Iraq," no kidnapping, torture, Guantanamo, drones, and likely no economic collapse of 2008, and no too big to fail banks.

And no ISIS. The gutting and disorder that resulted from the invasion and occupation of "Iraq" inspired the "insurgency," which then branched off into the "Islamic State."

There also may not have been the shooting in Chattanooga last week, except that may have had more to do with our support of "Israel" than the fiasco in "Iraq." Maybe it was the overall debacle in the Mideast. The shooter, Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, was depressed. He had recently visited "Jordan," and may have become radicalized there. He had been treated for depression since age 13, and it may have been at least partly due to "American" xenophobia of Muslims and people from Arabic countries. One can only wonder how different his life might have been if there were no Bush presidency, I or II.

Had there been no Nixon presidency with his "Southern Strategy," and the Reagan, Bush I and Bush II presidencies, there is a good likelihood that the shooting deaths in Charleston, South Carolina last month also would not have happened. All of these presidents played on racial tensions and animosities by employing their own versions of the Southern Strategy. One of the effects of this enabling of racism was to perpetuate and validate attitudes and behavior toward African Americans that have persisted since the days of slavery.

Now that the supposed Confederate flag has been removed from the South Carolina State Capitol we can take some satisfaction that decades of intransigence in the American South has been broken. It is unfortunate it had to be after such a tragic shooting. It could have happened a lot sooner had there not been these "Republican" presidents with their Southern Strategies.

The effects of race-based political strategies on society as a whole are worthy of mention. In racist-friendly social context the vast majority of people gravitate towards the mean, or most conventional norms of society. If you look at the whole society in terms of a normal curve, 95% of people live within two standard deviations of the mean. The more alienated from the mainstream people are the farther from the mean they exist. Out in the "tails" of the population distribution are various malcontents, eccentrics, nonconformists, and in some cases religious fanatics and extremists of various kinds, including religious warriors and supremacists of one kind or another.

In the case of Dylann Roof, the Charleston shooter, he appears to be mentally unstable, another subset of the population who is fair game for extremist organizers. Various arguments have been presented about whether he is mentally ill or is a white supremacist hate criminal, as if he has to be one or the other. He's the guy who killed nine people in a church. He doesn't have to fit into our preconceived, binary categories. Indeed, it can be argued that anyone who wants to start a race war is mentally unstable. A question worth asking is how much he was influenced by race-based "Republican" strategies to win public office.

A different approach is called for. Change the entire probability distribution - the normal curve of society. The mean we have settled on accepts institutional racism, the prison industrial complex, empire, doing nothing about climate change, a near-completely corrupt political system, a corporatocracy that gives impunity to criminals who do murderous harm here and elsewhere around the planet, and a cultural orthodoxy that makes the bread and circuses of the Roman Empire look bland by comparison. The extremes we see are the extremes of THIS distribution of society. We can insist on battling and/or eliminating every extreme that presents itself, or, we can change our vast mainstream of society. It is more likely to reap positive results, but takes a deeper look. Part of our malaise is the inability to take a deeper look.

We can start by removing as many "Republicans" from public office as possible, and not electing any new ones. They not only enable racism, but are obstructionist about anything that is good for the general public. It is also no coincidence that "Republicans" are giving support to climate change deniers, and are indeed the loudest voices in pretending it is all a hoax. As we have seen with their emotion-based, race-baiting, corporate-impunity scheming, there is a power gathering criminality to their intentions. They have become a scourge upon the land.

While we're at it, we might want to take away their impunity.

R.I.P. Omar Sharif. Here's his most iconic scene.

R.I.P. E.L. Doctorow. Great guy. Great writer. Ragtime is one of my favorite books (and movies). He was very eloquent in his opposition to the Bush criminal regime. Here's an interview with him on NPR's Fresh Air from 1989.

R.I.P Theodore Bikel.  When I first became interested in folk music he was was on shows like Hootenanny and others I can't remember the names of. He sang folk songs from around the world, in their own languages.

Here's a song (words and chords here).  Here's another (words and chords here).  And another (words and chords here).

Sean Illing of Salon believes we should shut down the "Republican" party, calling it deeply unserious.

"Republican" presidential candidate Donald Trump is in the news a lot these days, insulting everyone from immigrants to other "Republicans." My view of his antics are summed up in the following comment to this article.

Heh. The "Republicans" are being hoisted on their own petard. They have benefited from trash talkers like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly for decades. In 2004 they took it a step farther with the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth," who lied about John Kerry's war record in the presidential race, damaging him enough that it likely cost him the presidency.

Trump is taking it another step farther - attacking "Republicans." He is appealing to the same element that Fox, Limbaugh and others have been doing. The way the "Republicans" respond will be instructive about their character and fitness to be president, but they all know that trash talking is what keeps the "Republican" party viable. This "race" is getting more fun every day.

And, regarding McCain, he did something heroic in surviving five years as a prisoner of war. Heroism is momentary. It is not a permanent status. Nobody gets to be a hero for life. His performance in the U.S. Senate certainly hasn't been heroic. He did something unheroic in the Keating Five scandal. Wouldn't that make him an unhero for life?

As for Trump, he never served his country. He's a huckster. Huckster is not a qualification for the presidency. A huckster who never served his country and disrespects the service of a combat veteran is unqualified to be Commander in Chief.