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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.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Freedom to Kill

When I heard the news of the shooting in Florida I reached for my Rand McNally atlas to see where the pertinent cities - Orlando, Fort Pierce and Port St. Lucie are located. I have never been to Florida, and am unfamiliar with the state's urban layout.

What stood out was that Florida is jam-packed with cities and large towns. Its population for 2016 is estimated at 20.28 million people. It has a land area of 65,755 square miles, giving it a population density of 353.4 people per square mile. It is the eighth-densest state in the nation, behind the states on the Northeast Corridor that extends from Washington, D.C. to Boston.

Though Florida isn't the country's most crowded state, it is pretty crowded. The "U.S." as a whole is pretty crowded, with a population of 323,625,762 and 90.6 people per square mile. It is a lot less crowded than "China," though, which has a population of 1,376,049,000 people, with 373 people per square mile. China as a whole is actually not much more crowded than Florida.

Why is this pertinent? Because the more people are crowded together the more they tend to get into conflicts. These conflicts often result in violence. The "U.S." ranks 182nd in population density, but first in gun crime, according to one survey. China ranked 97th. The New York Times did a comparison of gun homicides in the U.S. with other countries around the world. We didn't fare so well. Better than some, but worse than most.

What could be the reason for this disparity? Are we a nation of killers? Well, yes. We kill people in other countries with near-reckless abandon. We kill each other similarly. In both cases we have one distinct advantage, or disadvantage, depending on one's point of view: superior weaponry.

Because of our military weaponry we are the "world's only superpower," and can invade at will. Because of our civilian weaponry we are the world's gun nut.

Me in Heidelberg, summer 1970There have been a couple of times in my life when I was willing to shoot another human being with a gun. One was while I was serving in the Army in Heidelberg, Germany in 1970. My unit was on riot alert on July 4 because over 1,000 African American soldiers - U.S. citizens serving their country - congregated in Heidelberg to have a rally at the University of Heidelberg. They were invited by students at the university. For some reason Army higher-ups expected them to riot, and we were told we would be using live ammunition that day instead of the usual sheathed bayonets. I wrote about the experience here.

The other time was when I was in graduate school, when I kept a shotgun in my apartment. My dad had given it to me to hunt with. It was during the Nixon era, and I was engaged in some minor acts of dissent - writing a few things here and there, bringing in three radical speakers when I served on the Graduate Student Council. I had become friends with fellow-graduate students from Iran. They were engaged in anti-Shah activities, and I wrote a couple of letters to the school newspaper for them.

It was totally paranoid and stupid to keep a loaded shotgun in my apartment. My intention was for protection against home invasion, pretty commonplace these days, but not in my upbringing. My parents came down for my graduation - the day Nixon resigned in disgrace, August 9, 1974. My dad noticed the loaded shotgun in a closet, and took it back. I was glad to be rid of it. I haven't possessed a gun of any kind since.

One thing I learned from these two experiences was that the key factor in gun violence is the gun itself. When I was on riot alert it would not have occurred to me to shoot another human being, except we were told that was what we were getting ready to do.

I wouldn't have thought about shooting someone with my shotgun if I didn't have a shotgun. I don't think about shooting anyone at all nowadays. The issue doesn't come up, because I don't have anything to shoot with. No antecedent, no consequence.

There are 270 million privately owned guns in the U.S., with the average number of guns per owner at 8.1, and 89 guns per 100 residents. That's a lot of people thinking about shooting someone. Not every gun owner thinks about shooting other people, but it is safe to say that most of them do.

So, duh, the obvious way to reduce gun violence is to reduce the number of people who are thinking about shooting someone else, and the best way to do that is to have fewer people owning guns. Gun control. The NRA's worst fear.

The place to start is to enforce the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which states "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." In order to possess a gun, at least by "right," one has to be a member of a well-regulated militia. Nowadays that is known as the National Guard. Join up, get a gun, though it may be locked-up an arms room at one's unit headquarters.

In other words, there is no real right of people to possess guns. It can be legal, but that is up to what the people decide on a national, state and local level, just like owning explosives, military vehicles, drones and dangerous chemicals. Gun permits can be issued similarly to drivers licenses. Here in Wisconsin the "Republicans" have made it harder to register to vote for some people than to buy a gun. They have their priorities.

So the problem can be solved, or at least greatly mitigated. It takes willingness. Do we, as a nation, want to stop thinking about killing other people? Then stop having guns.

The U.S. military budget for fiscal year 2015 is $598.5 billion. That's a lot of thought about killing other people. How about reducing it by half? That would mean reducing the thought of killing other people around the planet by half. We would save money, and would perhaps save our almighty (so we think) souls. Or at least be on the way.

Or, we can keep doing what we are doing, whinging about the latest gun massacre while calling for more violence here and elsewhere as a solution. Meanwhile, as I am wont to remind, the Polar ice caps are melting. We aren't doing much about that either. We are nothing if not consistent.

Here's our national anthem. Or maybe this. Or this.

How about this for the national anthem? Steve Miller is playing in Madison July 1 at Breese Stevens Field, a renovated high school football stadium on the near-east side of town. Here's another of his songs. Some people call me Maurice.

Here's a song for all the gun nuts out there. Here's another.

Here's a song for the NRA. The song in this delightful instructional video goes out to the NRA as well. Here's the original. It will be time better-spent learning this song than pretending to be a good guy with a gun.

Here's one for the arms merchants.

A song for all of us. This too.

This song needs no explaining.

This song is for the victims of the Orlando shooting. This too.

Here's a couple of singers from Illinois. Shawn Colvin grew up in Carbondale, got her musical start singing in the bars, mostly Joni Mitchell songs. I knew she would make it big when she started writing her own music. She has won three Grammys. She is currently touring with Steve Earle. Here's a sample.

Alison Krauss grew up in Champaign. She has won twenty-seven Grammys, tied for the second-highest total with Quincy Jones, who is from Chicago. The most Grammy awards, thirty-two, were awarded to Georg Solti, long-time music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Here's Steve Earle's best song.

Los Lobos.

Jimi Hendrix. I bought Band of Gypsys when I was in the Army in Germany - at the Heidelberg PX, for $2.50. Things were so subversive in those days, we could get just about any music we wanted - Hair, the Fugs, Country Joe & the Fish, Janis, Jefferson Airplane...They even sold water pipes, though they weren't very good, just kind of ornamental. Worth a try, though, for about $3.00. Band of Gypsys came out after Hendrix died, at least at the PX. Words cannot express what that album meant for GIs not particularly with the program.

Here's the national anthem. Or maybe this is our national anthem.

Here's a song for the U.S. Army.

Dick Gregory was one of the speakers I was able to bring to SIU to speak. He was named outstanding athlete of the year there in 1953. It was his first time back to the campus since then.

Here's Dick Gregory in 1967 announcing his fast to protest the Vietnam war. Here's something more recent. He hasn't mellowed a bit. He has always been a conspiracy theorist, but seems to have reached a new level, or sunk to a new depth. A lifetime of bitterness can wear on the soul.

Another guest speaker I managed to bring was Scott Camil of the Gainesville Eight Vietnam Veterans Against the War trial. The third speaker I got funding for was Shahin Fatemi, then the chairman of the Economics Department at the University of Akron.

Here's a song about Scott Camil by Graham Nash. Here he is in more recent times.

A story about the Gainesville Eight appeared in Rolling Stone in February 1974. It is not an easy read.

U.S. gun sales set a new record last year. We have a huge weapons industry. selling $36.2 billion worth of armaments around the world in 2014. If we are to stop thinking about killing each other we will have to reverse this trend.

I wrote about gun fanaticism last July, after a horrendous shooting in Louisiana. One would think that things would have improved by now. Part of the problem is that our politicians, especially, but not exclusively "Republicans," are psychopaths and sociopaths. I have written about this numerous times, most recently two weeks ago.

Frontline showed a repeat of its investigation of the NRA on June 14.

Update, June 19: Investigators are saying Omar Mateen, the Orlando killer, showed little evidence of radicalization, and fits the profile of a typical mass shooter.

For a detailed discussion of the hoax of the Second Amendment, this segment of On the Media provides great insight. The writer interviewed, Dahlia Lithwick, elaborates further in her article in Slate.

Update, June 20: Salon has an article debunking the myth of "militias" today.

Update, June 21: Meanwhile, in the "American" Southwest, Mother Nature has her own priorities, which seem to involve getting rid of us.

Five hundred people were shot in the "U.S." in the week after the Orlando shooting, two-hundred-twenty-eight of them fatally.

Update, June 22: David Byrne, former singer and guitarist for the legendary Talking Heads, says we are at war with gun-nuttery. He didn't actually use the term gun-nuttery, but it will suffice. He also says guns are a public health hazard. Read about it here. This calls for a Talking Heads song, my favorite. Here's another.

Update, June 26: Here's a story about men with guns.

Not all men are irresponsible with guns, as this story from On The Media explains.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

A Change Whose Time Has Come

A couple of weeks ago Madison's "leftist" radio station, WORT, held its annual block party. WORT calls itself "community radio," but its community is of those living outside the mainstream of "American" society, and its message to that community is one of advocacy of "leftist" beliefs and causes. The event was a mixture of music, speeches, information booths of various kinds, products for sale, food, drink, body painting, and some free-lance performance art.

The block party finished with a performance by a local favorite, the Rousers. A "fifties" rock-and-roll band, they were competent, but I found them boring and anachronistic. The fifties were a long time ago, and rock-and-roll is the music of youth, rebellion and sexual energy. This band is neither youthful, rebellious or exuding of sexual energy.

As it turned out, the event had little youth, rebellion or energy of any kind. The attendees were mostly older people, with a lot of long-haired men, beards, tie-died shirts, and even sandals. It made me feel old and tired. I bought a few used CDs that were on sale, walked around a bit, and went home.

This event turned out to be a good metaphor for the futility and tiredness of what remains of the "movement" of the 1960s. Madison has long fashioned itself as one of the country's main bastions of the strident "left" - activists of issues and a wide range of peace, justice, environment and a fair and distributive economic system. All worthy causes, but the identity with the direction left has become tiresome and ineffective. It inevitably became something narrow, insular, resentful and largely ignored.

I used to identify with the "left." As time passed I got to know many "leftists," and found most of them to be insufferable: obnoxious, ego-centered, arrogant, posturing and seeking of attention. And, most importantly, powerless.

Except, of course, within the peer group, which is an arena of constant bickering, jealousy, infighting, conniving and ostracism. It depends on the group, of course, but the more overtly political the organization, the more the discord.

This year it might appear that the "left" identity has gotten a new lease on life with the candidacy of Bernie Sanders for president. His life and his advocacies over the years would seem to place him squarely in the "leftist" camp. Looking a little deeper, though, reveals that Sanders's appeal is mainly to young people, who are worried about their futures and frustrated by the lack of opportunity that they are facing in this brave new world of globalization and neoliberalism. They aren't wearing tie-dyes, head bands, bangles or sandals, except maybe incidentally - not for group conformity of worship of the past. Or of worship of the "old guard" as their revered elders.

This is encouraging. We are at the end of something old and the beginning of something new. There is wisdom of the past for the young to make use of, but they would do well to pursue their dreams free of the limits of directionality. There is no good reason that political alliance and beliefs have to be organized according to a linear abstraction - a model of reality that presupposes that people exist along a horizontal spectrum that runs from left to right along a continuum. For any particular person or belief, there is a slightly different person or belief just to the left and just to the right. Then another just to the left or just to the right of the first person. Than another, until some linear limit of extreme "right" and extreme "left" is reached. It's like space, though, where there is no limit. One could keep going "left" or "right" into infinity. The farther in one direction or another determines whether one is a "moderate," "extremist" or "centrist." As if all these things are "isms.

A better way has been needed for a long time. I have been writing for years that developmental psychology rather than political ideology is the more meaningful approach to human social interaction. The Abraham Maslow hierarchy of needs in particular does more to describe human levels of being and aspiration than the arbitrary and fictitious linear spectrum from left to right. The ideological approach inevitably leads to polarization, to an "us" versus "them" divide, where the "us" is always superior to and threatened by the "them."

A perfect example of the binary approach of ideology is the weekday talk show on WORT called A Public Affair. There is a different host each weekday, and guests are interviewed, sometimes in person, but mostly by phone. The guests are researchers, authors, activists and journalists, and are experts in their areas of study and activity, and the conversations are informative. And forgettable. They go nowhere. The segments invariably end with some variant of "We're out of time," and then on to another show. Listeners are left hanging. URLs are often given so those interested in further information can gain access, but there is rarely a suggestion of what listeners can do with what they have learned. You're on your own.

Mostly what is discussed on A Public Affair are variations on the themness of the "right wing" and its bad behavior around the world. Most attention is on the "right wing" of the "U.S." - a catchall grab bag of religious crackpots, gun nuts, "white" supremacists, survivalists, police, Wall Street bankers, Corporate America, the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson.  Foreign entanglements of the "U.S." government are also covered on the program, and fit under the umbrella of the "right wing."

The guests tend to be miles above the local show hosts in terms of knowledge, intelligence, experience, and discernment, and also tend to be less ideological, more focused on the problem or issue at hand. The show hosts exhibit varying degrees of paranoia and victimization, weaving together a worldwide web, so to speak, of THE "right wing."

The broad-brush inclusion of so many disparate individuals and groups into the "right wing" renders the ascription without much meaning. What is really meant by the attribution is not "us." I called in to one of the segments years ago, and because I disagreed with the show host I was accused of being a "right winger." The accuser still hosts one of these weekday shows, and hasn't mellowed a bit.

The reptilian brain, home of “right-wingers”In my experience, most people who are labeled "right wing" can be more accurately described as being dominated by the reptilian brain, a condition described by neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean as characterized by aggression, dominance over others, territoriality and ritual displays. It's the tribal mentality. A perfect example is the Ku Klux Klan, but you can find this condition among "leftists" as well. "Us" versus "them."

The psychological approach is especially pertinent when it comes to politicians. What I have observed over the years is that most politicians don't have any real beliefs other than their own advancement. They can change parties, change alliances and change stances on issues depending on which way the political winds blow.

Many politicians are psychopaths and/or sociopaths. One of the entertaining aspects of this election season is the way "Republicans" have condemned Donald Trump, then supported him when they thought it was in their best interest, then condemning him again when he makes his latest outrageous statement. None of them are truly "right wing," except to the degree that it suits their narcissistic purposes. Indeed, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is common to almost all politicians, almost as if by definition. "Right wing" is not a mental condition. Narcissism is.

WORT is having one of its quarterly "pledge drives," where they harangue listeners to donate money. The station is listener-supported rather than commercial-driven, so these two-week marathons are what keeps it on the air. I still listen to some of the programs, and it appears they are having more difficulty than usual getting people to part with their money.

I wish WORT would have an easier time getting donations. Its left-right binary obsession is wearying, but the station still provides a valuable service. The mainstream corporate media are little more than propaganda vehicles for the powers-that-be, whether governmental, corporate or individual. Even under the illusory "left" umbrella one is still likely to get a more truthful and accurate understanding of what is going on in the world. It just doesn't go anywhere. The "left" is impotent, existing on the margins, the fringe of society. It is not a threat to the dominant social order. If WORT were a real threat to the ruling elite it would soon be off the air.

WORT can serve as a hologram for what is failing in the effort to create a meaningful and sustainable human civilization. Back in the 1990s the station carried a nationally syndicated program New Dimensions Radio, which featured interviews with pioneering thinkers and practitioners in the fields of consciousness, healing, agriculture, business, the arts and spirituality. There was even a Public Affair segment devoted to the same topics. Both shows were dropped when the station took a "leftist" turn, or at least a more exclusively "leftist" turn.

The planet is in ferment. Change is on the way. Only the corrupt, the fanatical and the crazed believe we are not in the throes of an ever-worsening climate change. The dominant economic system, corporate capitalism, has just about run its course, due to its gross inequity, unsustainability and environmental destruction. Human civilization is at a precipice, about to fall into an abyss that may result in the species homo sapiens going extinct.

We can avoid extinction, and may be able to create a sustainable, equitable civilization. It isn't likely, but with a change in approach it is possible. Another way of describing a change in approach is paradigm shift, employing a different way of looking at phenomena and existence. This happened before in my lifetime, during the 1960s and '70s. It was called "The Revolution," the "Hippie Movement," and to some "The New Renaissance." It petered out, lost in an excess of drugs, extremism and burnout. Many died, many went to prison, some joined the mainstream, some divided-off into specialties like organic agriculture, natural healing, arts and crafts, and spiritual pursuits.

And some became "leftists." It is the most binary choice, a militant stance that defines itself largely as not everyone else. I might add that it is a militant stance that is not much more than a stance, similar to the "People's Front of Judea" in Monty Python's Life of Brian.

As the ferment of change intensifies, "leftist" media like WORT are likely to be left out in the cold, so to speak. Or, they can change as the world changes. If they do, so much the better. If they don't, something will arise to replace them. I'm optimistic.

Here's an example of the Rousers from twenty-six years ago.

Here's how to be an old band. Here's the chords and lyrics. Old rockers can always be inspired by younger artists.

You can watch some videos from New Dimensions Radio here.

There is a time to every purpose. Maybe that time has come today. There is no time left for hackneyed old ways. The new way will be the time of our lives, as long as we face the strange changes. We can ring out the old, ring in the new, though some would like to save time in a bottle. Maybe this should be our national anthem.

When I was accused of being a "right winger" it was almost comedic. A few years later comedian Will Ferrell did a parody of W. Bush, in which he kept adding people and countries to the Axis of Evil. It had a similar feel. I was added to the Axis of "right wing."

Here's another great scene from Life of Brian.  And this, another meeting of the People's Front of Judea.

Update, June 7: NPR aired a short analysis of dimensionality today, concluding that we are all stuck in three dimensions. All, except those stuck in one dimension - horizontal.