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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.


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