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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, February 21, 2015

Energy Shift

American Sniper picture with snark comments
The controversy over "American Sniper" appears to be intensifying. For those who dare to criticize the movie's veracity, its implied political message, or its callousness, a bombardment of attack can ensue. Such as what happened to Sophia McClennen at Salon, where she wrote an article critical of the movie. She was attacked by email, Twitter, and in the comments section, with vitriolic, obscene and hateful remarks. I had this response (linked here):

I get my health care at the VA. My primary care physician is female, the best ever. She followed up on something no one else would, even though it is life-threatening. The clinic I was referred to is headed by a female, and the doctor who treats my condition is a female from Pakistan, i.e., a Muslim. The pharmacists I deal with are female. Some of the specialists I see are men, and one M.D. recently is the son of Vietnamese immigrants. My dentist is female. Every so often I see a female chiropractor. When I get my hair cut it is usually by a female.

I write this just to point out that the snark attack seems to largely from emasculated men. I suspect that some claiming to be vets never served a day in their lives, particularly the one who claimed to be crying. Americans live in fantasy, which is why "American Sniper" is packing them in to the tune of $250,000,000 and counting. It's a short excursion from the video game to a sniper movie, and you don't have to enlist. You can even pretend the score, 160.

There is a difference I have noticed, though, between veterans of the Bush era wars and previous conflicts. There is an aggressiveness about having served the country, not the service itself, but the personal self-esteem that accrues, and an aggressive patriotism that is less love of country than an ego-enhanced projection of superiority over others. This goes hand-in-hand with callousness about the "enemy," which is, as the movie shows, the "savages" who live where we invade.

Unlike the draft military of the Vietnam and earlier wars and pseudo-wars, the modern military is all-volunteer. Because of this there is a certain self-selection of a narrower demographic, less of a cross-section of the population.

More significantly is that the military has a freer hand in conditioning its members into a cult-like conformity and submission, a groupthink that is comprehensive and rigidly enforced. Regardless of rank, members would refer to their fellow-troops as "my soldiers," or "my Marines." The perceived enemy is referred to as "bad guys." Iraq is "Eye-rack." The "bad guys" also get called "Hajis." You don't get sent anywhere. You get deployed. Often repeatedly.

Because of this successful conditioning, relatively few of the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts question the wisdom or morality of these intrusions. Part of this is due to the lower recruitment pool, but it is the conditioning that plays the larger part.

This is something we should be aware of as the empire moves into its decline and fall phase. There's still a lot of money to be made diddling around the planet starting wars. We have a ruling elite that would enjoy using the military to "enforce domestic tranquility." They have the ready force. All that is needed is an excuse, and excuses are easy to come by.

Here's something that may be our next diddle: http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/02/14/putin-did-it-conspiracy-theory
My projector repair diploma
I have an advantage when it comes to manhood issues. I served in the U.S. Army during one of its phony wars - Vietnam. I knew it was phony before enlisting, but compromised with my father, who wanted me to be an officer. I enlisted for a school that would keep me from killing anyone - projector repair (41F20). I consider my choice a far better one than letting the government turn me into a killer. Where's my movie? American Projector Repairman. It would be a short movie. I didn't fix 160 projectors. I didn't fix any. No projector count. I was sent to Germany after graduation, and the unit I was assigned to didn't have an authorization for a projector repairman. I became a clerk-typist, 71 Bravo. C'est la vie.

In Army basic training I did well, better at physical training tests than most of my fellow trainees. I was a good enough shot with a rifle to be awarded a medal for sharpshooter.

My high school football statsBefore the Army I played sports in high school, one of the checklist items on the way to "manhood." I wasn't very good, but I played. Track was my main sport, but I also played football. The best experience was on a Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball team when I was a senior. We didn't even have uniforms, but beat everyone in the league except for one. I was the team's top defensive player, could block shots, rebound, and steal passes. I got a friend who was a former local high school star to play on the team. He was six-foot-six, agile and aggressive, and scored at will, sometimes as high as 56 points. We had great fun, beating teams with fancy uniforms and warmup drills. I held the league's leading scorer at the time pointless, with Gary C having one of his 56 point games. He was stuffing them in from above his elbow (that gym was in a grade school, and had 9' 6" rims).

My dad was an avid hunter and fisherman, so I learned both growing up, mostly hunting. I gave it up in the 1970s, the thrill being gone. Spiritual life was my main interest in life by that time.

In 2012 I won third place for my age group in the 100 meter dash at the Wisconsin Senior Games. It wasn't a big deal. I just wanted to see what I could do. I was a fast runner in high school, but ran the mile instead. I was inspired by the first four-minute miler, Roger Bannister, and wanted to be like him. When I was a freshman I ran the mile in 4 minutes, 55 seconds. I got steadily worse every year after that, my motivation declining along with my performance.

De nada. I played sports, just wasn't great. I didn't feel less "manly," just as the few and far between successes didn't make me feel more "manly." Throughout my life I have had dealings with men who have had manhood deficiencies. They have been large, small, "gay," "straight," young, old, dumb, smart, poor, rich, famous and infamous.

The Campus Inn, Ann Arbor
One of the famous was Bo Schembechler, football coach at the University of Michigan. In 1978 I worked at the hotel where he kept the football team on the nights before home games. He would come in on Sundays for breakfast with a couple of his assistant coaches. One Sunday he came in after parking in the hotel's parking tunnel, which was for picking up and dropping off guests.

As Bo was coming in the door I told him he couldn't park in the tunnel because it was a fire lane. He was the only person who left his car in the tunnel in the time I worked there. When I told him he couldn't park there he walked right past me without saying a word, and proceeded to the unwalled restaurant facing the street.

Bo's table was near the front desk, so I stood there for a minute badmouthing him, telling the front desk clerk "He can't even win a bowl game, but he thinks he can do whatever he wants." He finished his breakfast, left, and never came in again. He eventually won five bowl games out of the seventeen he coached at Michigan.

This was pretty typical of my experience with "manly" men.  They would do something to "out-man" me, and I would do something to reverse the momentum. I did this kind of thing time and again, innocently, but with intention. With workplace bullies it was the most fun, because standing up to them would start a process that would end with them looking for work elsewhere. One guy ended up killing himself after a long decline that began with him trying to get me fired for standing up to him. He was big too, about six-foot-three, solid-built. I don't gloat over this, and wish it had turned out differently, but he had an opportunity every step of the way to change his ways. Ego can be more important than life.

Joe Don Looney article in People MagazineThough I have had difficulties with fake tough guys throughout my life, I have always gotten along with real tough guys. Pro football bad boy Joe Don Looney was one of them. I knew him in my guru-following days, when he was a fellow-devotee of Swami Muktananda. He was a pretty angry guy, but I managed to communicate with him on an easy level. We played on the same side in an ashram touch football game one Sunday, and after I got hit in the eye by an opposing player he pummeled the guy for the rest of the game. That was his way of showing his kinship.

The Hells Angels guy from my unit in GermanyWhen I was in the Army one of the jobs I had was as a company clerk. I was not a gung-ho troop, and helped guys out of trouble on a routine basis. Some of them were bikers in civilian life, including one California Hells Angel. He was a national guardsman who got put on active duty for missing meetings. He was a drug-addict and a thief, stealing my field jacket and my roommate's watch, but he also was someone who would die for his friends. I wasn't exactly a friend, but he kept me out of harm's way more than once.

My desk in the Orderly Room, 503d Transportation Company, Heidelberg, GermanyAnother of the bikers was a Vietnam combat vet who was a member of The Outlaws in Detroit. He was more of a friend, as it turned out, and I put myself at some risk to help him out of trouble. He had beaten-up a Yugoslav immigrant worker at the Heidelberg Bahnhof (train station), and I wrote a letter for him that bought him some time before he ETSed (got out of the Army). I also guided him to the person who got his orders rescinded when our first sergeant had him transferred to a unit about 60 miles away.

The toughest of anyone I have ever known, though, was my roommate (when rank qualified me for a two-man room), Mitch R, from Greensboro, North Carolina. He was a combat veteran, serving in the 199th Infantry Brigade in Vietnam. In the barroom fights the guys in my unit got into he could take 5 men at a time, using only his fists. He wasn't a biker.

It's been an interesting life dealing with gender permutations of various kinds. My father was an FACS surgeon, but most of the doctors in my home town were crooks, fee splitters, some calling themselves surgeons when they hadn't even completed a residency. I prefer female doctors. They tend to be easier about who they are, are better listeners, and have a better overall manner. This isn't always the case, but it is for the most part.

Men are troubled in this country. Actually, men are troubled worldwide in various degrees, but it is in America where it is most convoluted, with violence and vicarious violence practically worshiped like a religion. Indeed, some combine religion and violence, attacking women's health clinics that perform abortions, and occasionally killing people who work there. We have an entire news network that promotes hatred and violence, with its on-air personalities telling any lie that will feed their propaganda needs. One of them, Bill O'Reilly, has been exposed for lying about being in combat, but it doesn't affect his status with the network. His response was that the author of the story deserves to be in "the kill zone."

The 64 hexagrams
Where is this all headed, one might ask. It's hard to say. If we look at faux-masculinity as a trend, then projecting the trend into the future is not a cause for optimism. I prefer what happened when I threw the I Ching a few decades ago. The I Ching, or Book of Changes, is a divination method, where a question is asked, and hexagrams are formed by throwing small sticks or coins, like throwing dice. The results are compared to descriptions of 64 hexagrams in an I Ching book.

Yin and Yang explained
I forget the exact question I asked, but it had something to do with the direction of the human species. The answer I got was that there is an excess of Yang, or masculine energy in the world, that this has been going on for a long time, but is about to reach its peak, and will begin a long process of shifting to Yin, or female energy.

Male enhancement info from WebMDIn this light there is cause for optimism. If the changes in the medical profession are any indication, the shift has already begun. This could also explain why so many men are having trouble with their "manhood." Ads are all over on television about erectile dysfunction cures, sexual enhancements, medicines that may cause erections that last over four hours, and even for the removal of body hair. Apparently there is money to be made convincing men that they would be more manly if they had hairless bodies. Maybe this is to make tattoos more visible. Or possibly to be smoother when all-greased-down. The mind boggles.

If planetary energies are shifting it can't be a moment too soon. The Polar ice caps are melting, our "leaders" are brewing up another war or two, and the world economy teeters on collapse. If a small country like Greece, by resisting being bullied by the European Union, can cause panic among the powerful, then the powerful are walking on very thin ice. Maybe they'll fall in.

I did a bit of computation on the popularity of American Sniper. The latest figures show that it has earned $312,677,000 at the box office. The average movie ticket price is $8.17. This means that 37,047,368.421 people have seen the movie. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the country's population as of Jan 1 was 320,090,857.

Dividing the number of people who have seen the movie by total population  yields 11.574% of all Americans who have seen the movie. Some have probably seen the movie two or more times, so the actual percentage is even lower. As of last May the popularity of the "Tea Party" had dwindled to 15%, so the percentage of Americans who have seen American Sniper is slightly lower than the size of the "Tea Party."

The reptilian brain, home of “right-wingers”Given that the "Tea Party" represents the element in this country that is dominated by the reptilian brain, I think it is safe to say that American Sniper hasn't exactly become their rallying cry. Of course, the numbers have some obvious flaws. Part of the U.S. population is incarcerated, in nursing homes, living on the streets, poor, too young to see the movie, elderly and not likely to see it, and waiting for it to come out on Netflix or DVD. Whatever the case, the country isn't likely to be swayed into another gung-ho war based on this deeply flawed movie. Sadly, it could be swayed by other means, which are always at work.

Here's a recent fact check of American Sniper.

Here's a song about manhood. Here's another, about taking a shortcut to being a man. Here's Muddy Waters, about two years before I saw him, same guitar. Maybe a man is just a man. Here's The Yardbirds. Chicago Transit Authority. The Beatles wanted to be men. Hank Snow was a traveling man. Here's a job a man can still do. Roy Orbison worked for the man. Here's Ginger Baker's Air Force. Leadbelly. Jimi Hendrix, a different kind of man. Here's the type of man Jimi Hendrix would have turned to be, had he lived long enough. This is still another way to be a man. If more men felt this way we wouldn't need to have sniper movies. Here's a story about how I came close to killing another man.

Here's a song that settles an old question.

With planetary energies shifting, here's something we all need to do.

Here's an example of what the Hells Angels are like. The guy from my unit is on the stage holding equipment. He looks pretty mellow. He wasn't. He is almost certainly dead by now, as is the biker from Detroit I knew. The way they lived did not make for longevity.

The quote about warfare in this post from 2007 is worth re-reading, or reading for the first time.

R.I.P. Louis Jordan. He fought in the French Resistance in World War II before becoming an actor. Here he is in Gigi.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Hollywood Scientist

Below is a short photo essay of the leading spokesperson in "America" for the anti-vaccinating of children campaign. Here is a story on other celebrity scientists.


You can see more pictures of the leading spokesperson for anti-vaccination if you wish, at your own expense. Before she became famous she tended bar while in school at one of my alma-maters, long after I left.

Here's what anti-vaccinators are saying about the measles outbreak.

This calls for a song. Another song. And another. And another. And another. In the same vein, so to speak. In a different vein. Some traveling music. Some medicinal music. Few know that Hoyt Axton wrote this song. Here's the better-known version. In a similar theme.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Hollywood Sniper

In a measure of the silliness of the times in which we live, a movie about a psychopath is standing in as the symbol of truth, justice and the American way. The movie, American Sniper, was directed by movie violence grand master Clint Eastwood, who ignored the real-life sniper Chris Kyle's pathological attitude towards people he saw as "other," his inflated stories about his extracurricular killing, and his unambiguous support for our country's misadventures in the Mideast.

At least that's what various commenters have said about the movie. I haven't seen it, and likely won't, unless it comes around to the cheapie theater. I don't think it's necessary to see the movie to muse about it's meaning and impact as a cultural phenomenon. I'm not a movie critic, though I commented a couple of times with my feet. I walked out on The Money Pit and Fatal Attraction - both in the 1980s. I turn off movies on TV on a regular basis.

I don't plan on giving American Sniper to opportunity to be walked-out-on. Even at $2.50 at the cheapie theater, it would just be a Hollywood story about a guy who shoots people from a great distance. If "Americans" are flocking to theaters to see ANY movie, it is because of cheap thrills. There could be sequels. I offered a few possibilities to the PBS NewsHour:

Maybe someone will make a movie from another perspective, "Iraqi Sniper." Or "Afghan Sniper (alt: Taliban Sniper)." How about "ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State Sniper?" "Israeli Sniper?" Or, for the privatizers among us, "Blackwater Sniper?" "Halliburton Sniper?" Is there a unique story to be told from the sniper's point of view? We could broaden the perspective to other forms of premeditated killing. "IED Planter." "American Drone Pilot." "American President Who Lies the Country Into War." Or "American President Who Looked the Other Way When the Country Was Being Attacked." The possibilities are endless. Clint Eastwood could be busy for decades.

I followed up with this:
I have a couple more. "Saudi Flogger" and "Saudi Beheader." Or the other famed beheader.

This is a funny juxtaposition. A psychopath sniper's self-inflated story mixes with a Hollywood legend, and both mix with the need of "Americans" to feel powerful, good, better than everyone else, and above all, victorious. What better choice to make such a movie than Clint Eastwood, who has spent most of his life starring in, directing and producing some of the most violent movies in the history of cinema?

It's a sad end for Clint Eastwood, our masculine archetype. I enjoyed some of his movies, like "Pink Cadillac," the orangutan movies, and "Pale Rider" is one of my all-time favorites. In pondering what to write about "American Sniper" it occurred to me that it is really just a retread of "Pale Rider," with its lone hero who saves the community from the evil oppressor, except for one thing. "Iraq" is not the old West, and its citizens are not automatically part of our self-defined evil. We had no business invading them either of the two times we did it, and neither president George Bush was an "American" masculine archetype. The archetype is a fantasy, and no Clint Eastwood movie can make it real.

There is another "American" sniper story that appeared yesterday in Salon, from another veteran who served in "Iraq." The author, Garett Reppenhagen, served as an Army sniper in Diyala Province in "Iraq" in 2004. His account of his experience is more nuanced and ambiguous, and thus not good material for a movie. At least not for a Clint Eastwood movie. He didn't see the "Iraqis" as savages, respected their culture, and didn't hate them. Because of this he chose his sniper targets very carefully, and of course didn't become the most lethal soldier in "U.S." history. His own words are the perfect blasphemy against the Hollywood dream machine:
Unlike Chris Kyle, who claimed his PTSD came from the inability to save more service members, most of the damage to my mental health was what I call “moral injury,” which is becoming a popular term in many veteran circles.

As a sniper I was not usually the victim of a traumatic event, but the perpetrator of violence and death. My actions in combat would have been more acceptable to me if I could cloak myself in the belief that the whole mission was for a greater good. Instead, I watched as the purpose of the mission slowly unraveled.

I served in Iraq from 2004 to 2005. During that time, we started to realize there were no weapons of mass destruction, the 9/11 commission report determined that Iraq was not involved in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, false sovereignty was given to Iraq by Paul Bremer, the atrocities at Abu Ghraib were exposed, and the Battle of Fallujah was waged.

The destruction I took part in suddenly intersected with news that our reasons for waging war were untrue. The despicable conduct of those at Abu Ghraib was made more unforgivable by the honorable interactions I had with Iraqi civilians, and, together, it fueled the post-traumatic stress I struggle with today.

My war was completely different than Chris Kyle’s war. That doesn’t mean his war is wrong, and mine was right. But it does mean that no one experience is definitive.

The movie depicts compounded action scenes with very little political and regional context. It was a conscious decision by Clint Eastwood, apparently, to leave out the cause of the U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. It was a conscious decision, apparently, for multiple characters to describe the Iraqis as “savages” and never show any alternative. When I heard of the bigoted reaction some Americans had after watching the film, I was disgusted, but not surprised. Audience members are mistaking Chris Kyle’s view of the war as "the" story about the war. No wonder someone tweeted that the movie made them "want to go kill some ragheads." It’s sad that such a nearsighted portrayal of Iraqis has caused more people to fear Arabs and glorify violence against them.
This story makes too much sense for most "Americans," who want easy answers and easy kills. "American Sniper" gives them both, and is setting box office records. It might even inspire our "leaders" or "leader" wanna-bes to gin-up another war. So many countries, so little time.

I posted this comment to Reppenhagen's story.

Here's another myth about the lone hero who fights the never-ending battle for truth, justice and the "American" way.

WBUR radio station in Boston compiled this list of references about moral injury.

Here's a list of characteristics of a sociopath.

For an explanation of the practice of beheading in "Saudi Arabia," click here.

I wrote about masculinity in a previous post. In another post I explored the topic of becoming more masculine. In still another post I wrote about men shooting other men.

In an ironic twist, I received an email yesterday from Paul Rieckhoff, Founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), inviting me to attend a screening of "American Sniper" with "others like you." I donated a little money to the group in its infancy, and receive emails from time-to-time. The invitation starts with this:

American Sniper is getting a lot of attention, earning over $200 million at the box office so far. It might even win an Oscar. As the number one film in America for weeks now, this movie could very well shape the public's opinion of our service for years to come.

It's important that our community get out to see this movie. If you haven't seen it, we recommend you go with other vets. I, for one, was glad to be in a theater with fellow veterans--who could understand the film like I do. If you have seen it, maybe you'd like to see it again with other vets.
I declined, saying that there aren't any others like me, and that when a movie is made of Garett Reppenhagen's story I would go see it. It turns out that Paul Rieckhoff may have some ulterior motives at work. Here's one view. Here's a review of IAVA.

This calls for a song. And another. One more for good measure. What the heck, one more.

This works. 

Larry Wilmore reminds us that the actual theater of war is very different than watching a film about war in a theater.

I have an idea for a new Clint Eastwood movie: "American Projector Repairman."

Here's Matt Taibbi's take on American Sniper in Rolling Stone.

Noam Chomsky also.

For an "Arab" perspective, click here.

Update, February 4: Today's Salon has a great report of an interview with Garett Reppenhagen.

Update, February 5: This too.

Update, February 7: Another veteran has challenged the truthfulness of "American Sniper."

Update, February 10: I forgot to include this earlier.

I forgot to add this too, a comment I made to a recent Salon article:

...As for Bradley Cooper, he was on the Charlie Rose gravitas show in December talking about American Sniper and his current play on Broadway, where he played "Elephant Man" John Merrick. In describing how everyone who was anyone was coming to see the show he blurted out "...and there in the front row was David Gregory." Low standards, it would seem, are, if nothing else, consistent.
Here's another view, from Alternet.

Update, February 12: Though we shouldn't go around the planet willy-nilly invading people, we should not put the burden on those who serve. I wrote an article for a local newspaper last year about the scandal over waiting lists at VA hospitals.

Now Wisconsin has its own VA scandal, involving overprescribing of opiates, resulting in deaths of at leas two veterans. I wrote an analysis of the overall context of the VA health care system, with a recommendation for preventing similar things happening in the future.

Update, February 13: Voila!

Update, February 14: Here's another opportunity for a Clint Eastwood movie. This would make a good movie.

Update, February 19: I didn't know about this article on Chris Kyle in the New Yorker until today. I found out about it from this Salon article.

Bradley Cooper gets partial redemption for this.