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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, November 19, 2016


A couple of members of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot were in town for an appearance at the University of Wisconsin Student Union Thursday (read about it here). One of them, Masha Alekhina (Мария Алехина, @MashaAlekhina), showed up at Friday's Solidarity Singalong at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. More people came to the singalong than usual, including me. I'm not much for singalongs, and didn't sing along with this one, though I have in the past. I prefer to keep whatever solidarity I have to myself, for the most part.

Pussy Riot is an all-girl band that has staged a number of outlandish stunts in Moscow, most notably in 2012, when five of them, including Мария Алехина (Masha Alekhina), appeared at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Protesting the church's support for Russian president Vladimir Putin, they tried to perform a song, but were thwarted by security personnel. A video of the stunt can be seen here. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Masha (Maria) Alyokhina were arrested, tried, and both spent 21 months in prison for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred."

Now they are worldwide folk heroes, and are traveling around planet to spread their message of freedom and resistance. Hence the visit to Madison.

I was inspired, and came up with the idea of a worldwide general strike on Inauguration Day. I tried out the hashtag #GeneralStrikeJan20 on Twitter today, and sure enough, someone else had already come up with the idea. Not to worry. I don't need "credit." It would be a great response to the phony Trump election, and would give notice to him and his henchpersons that the world does not accept them as legitimate rulers of the U.S. Federal Government in any way, shape or form, that we mean what we say, and that we can make their occupation of office a painful tenure.

The Trump regime is already an awful gang of low-level human beings, so they deserve nothing but disdain and opposition. A general strike of one day would serve notice. Should it last longer, they would be served more than notice. A week's-long general strike, and there would be no more Donald J. Trump regime. They will cave.

Here's a song. I haven't thought of this song in a while. The Who.  Here's a Redemption Song. Ashes, ashes, all fall down. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. It will take volunteers. We can create a better world. Trying to make it realThe cast of "Hamilton" didn't throw away their shot last night. Here's a song to sing while we wait for the Trump volcano to blow.

Here's Pussy Riot at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior Cathedral. This video shows the Solidarity Singalong in Madison on Friday with Мария Алехина. Here's another news story about her appearance. And another video.

Thursday, November 17, 2016


Donald Trump is a criminal sociopath. Or at best, a criminal psychopath. This has been clearly documented by a number of keen observers, most notably George Packer and David Cay Johnston. If he shows up for the Inauguration, he will be President of the United States on January 20. More than 60,000,000 "Americans" voted for him.

This says something about how easy many of us are to fool. I wrote about the inundation of scams in this country in a previous post, and there wouldn't be so many of them if they didn't work. I get scam calls every day. Some of them, to save money, are recordings, offering a "back brace" that I supposedly requested, anonymous offers to update my credit card security, and so on. A foreign guy called me the other day with a warning about my Internet connection, claiming to be from Microsoft. I don’t have an Internet connection. I do all my online activity in libraries.

Trump, one of human history’s great scammers, won't last. Though he may be a criminal sociopath, he is also a mortal human being. I believe he is in the early stage of dementia, and that declining health will force him from office before he does much harm. Michael Moore also believes Trump won't complete his term in office, but his reasoning is that Trump will do something criminal and get impeached. The only question is which will come first – mental incompetence or criminality. Bookies should be taking bets.

Trump may not have been elected anyway. Convincing evidence is gathering that voter suppression by “Republicans” may have reduced “Democratic” votes by enough to flip the results in North Carolina, Wisconsin, and of course, the reliably corrupt Florida. Hillary Clinton beat him by over 1,000,000 votes by people who cast a ballot that was counted. By the time the nationwide tally is complete she may end up winning the popular vote by over 2,000,000 votes. Trump "won" by leveraging the obsolescent “Electoral College,” which gives relatively greater weight to states with lower population.

So here we are, stuck, seemingly, with this terrible human being and his wrecking crew of bad people behind him. We likely won’t be stuck for long, but it will be bad for this country and the rest of the planet for as long as he remains in office. If he assumes office, that is, a prospect that is still not 100% certain.

On the bright side, Trump’s "election" is a call to action. A larger majority of people who have been silent as this debacle has been pending are now awakened, and an awakened populace is the first requisite for change. Great evil calls for its opposite, and Donald J. Trump is a great evil.

This awakening can be squandered, though, and if it is left to "the left," it almost certainly will be. I can say this from long years of experience, and from my understanding of human psychology. For the uninitiated, the terms "left"and "right" refer to supposedly opposite ends of a mythical spectrum of political belief, cohort and, most importantly, cliché. The "spectrum" doesn’t exist in physical reality, but that means nothing to those who believe in it with religious fervor. Humans need religion. When deity-based religious fervor no longer suffices, a material-based one takes its place. One opiate of the masses in exchange for another.

Once a person has identified with the mythical "left," some tenets of the myth need to be established. First and foremost, you’re either with "us" or against "us" – the binary divide. Shirts versus skins. “Packers” versus “Bears.” “Raiders” versus “Redskins.” Hmm. I wonder why there isn’t a pro football team named “The Cavalry.” How about “The 7th Cavalry?” An industry that allows a team to call itself “The Redskins” would, it seems, be open to balancing that disrespect with a team named “The 7th Cavalry.” Or, more symmetrically, "The Custer’s Last Standers."

But I digress. In an "us" versus "them" environment, identity is defined as much by who one is against as much as – if not more than – who one is for. In the case of “leftists,” it’s the “right wing,” an undefined broad-brush of individuals, groups and beliefs. “They” are pronounced as “ists” of one kind or another: racist, sexist, misogynist (which is an extreme form of sexist), fascist, ageist, classist, nativist and even speciesist. There’s also xenophobe, but that doesn’t end in ist, so it’s usually applied when a greater ego-sense of sophistication is needed.

Making homophobia into an ism would be awkward without a new term for bigotry against homosexuality, but someone should come up with one. In Latin, homo is the word for man, and phobia comes from the Greek word for fear, phobos. Fear of man, or men, would more commonly be experienced by women, though men by and large have good reason to fear other men. Fear of, or more accurately, prejudice against homosexuals and homosexuality, should have a name that is more precise, but it will likely be a long wait before homophobia is replaced in popular speech.

Donald Trump is of course the handiest of bugaboos, and can be called all these names, though the only real, consistent belief he has exhibited is in his own ego-aggrandizement. The state of being is known as narcissism. Hmm. An ism. A person with such a personality is known as a narcissist. And, or course, sociopath/psychopath. All these terms describe a mental state more than a belief system.

So how is it that the "world’s only superpower" has elected a criminal sociopath to its highest office? The reasons are sundry, as I have written before, but psychic resonance has to be a big part of it. A big guy was trying to taunt me in downtown Madison the other day, hovering towards me while whistling "God Bless America." I ignored him, so he was reduced to saying "hi." I said "hi" back to him, and continued on my way. He looked like the guy leaning on the guard rail in the picture at right, but as a prototype rather than the exact person. It may well have been the exact person.

Much worse than whistling "God Bless America" is going on around the country, with verbal and physical assaults taking place in several cities. While these people may have beliefs that could be called "right wing," their behavior is more accurately described in psychological terms, such as antisocial personality disorder, paranoia, authoritarian personality disorder and emotionally stunted. There is also, as described in a recent Salon article, the Dunning-Kruger effect, where stupid people don't know they are stupid. They have a metacognitive inability to recognize their ineptitude. While this portrayal may apply to "right-wingers," it certainly isn't limited to them alone. Many, many people in this country think they are the smartest of the smart, when the exact opposite is true.

If "right wing" is more a mental state or condition, what about the supposed "left wing?" Is "left wing" an ideological cohort or a mental condition? In my experience and understanding, mental state precedes ideology. Since the election accusations are flying by "leftists" that Trump and his inner circle are racists (or R-R-RACISTS!), sexists, misogynists and homophobes, as if these epithets convince people of something, or inspire them to action. Or, more accurately, reinforce “solidarity.”

Bandy these terms about, and add sprinkles of people of color and democracy and you build coherence in the cohort, where a hopefully widening matrix of people speaking in the same memes builds to a "progressive" crescendo that overpowers the fascists. Progressive is another meme word. Here in Madison it is progressive, progressive, progressive, progressive, in between racist and people of color redundancies.

Barack Obama in PhotoshopPeople of color is a hackneyed "leftist" meme, an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation (Urban Dictionary). It is in-talk, a term that identifies the user as a "member" of the non-racist intelligentsia. Grammatically it is meaningless. Of is a preposition that means from or away from, by or coming from (Random House Dictionary). People are not from or away from color. They (we - all of us) have skin, and our skin has color, no matter who we are. We are not our skin color, and are certainly not "from" our skin color. I am not white or "a" "white," or from white. The term people of color came into vogue gradually, starting as far back as the 1970s, a heady and pretentious expression of solidarity with people from non-European ancestry. Say it enough and you gain credence, or at least the illusion of credence, with other "leftists."

During the day I usually listen to Wisconsin Public Radio while doing other things, but sometimes tune in to Madison’s leftist station WORT, especially Friday’s bluegrass show, but also its weekdays-at-noon public affairs show. I can only stand a few minutes of this, as it is usually an hour of whinging about Governor Scott Walker, ALEC, the Koch Brothers, and related issues and people. And now, President-elect Trump. It isn’t simple whinging, but a feigned intellectual sophistication combined with arrogance that creates an air of aboveness, that, though "we" are powerless on the "left," we are better people, and "we" volunteer pundits are more pundity than the pundits who make millions on TV.

Hardly anyone listens to these shows, and the same people call in every day. The station manager used to call in from another room in the building as an anonymous listener, and the pundit of the day would answer, referring to the well-known manager as "Caller." These conversations of course go absolutely nowhere. There is some useful information to be gleaned, depending on the guest, but listeners are left hanging about what to do with that information. I take it in, let it merge with everything else I have taken in over a lifetime, and the ongoing synthesis emerges sometimes in what I write, sometimes in dialogue, sometimes in support for a cause, and sometimes in a change of behavior.

It is frustrating, though, realizing that these shows aren’t much help in moving the dialogue, but serve mainly to reinforce the egos of the show hosts. It’s frustrating for some of the show hosts too. The station has fund-drives every few months, and one of the public affairs hosts was practically begging people to call in and "pledge" a donation. No one did, and she soon left the show and moved to Texas (she may have been moving anyway. I didn't get the details). Show hosts appeal for people to call-in, especially new callers, but it is usually the same few people every day, and sometimes no one at all.

Necessity is the mother of invention. The country – and the world – need an elevated level of dialogue, something I have been stressing since I started this blog, and indeed  it is the stated purpose for publishing it. Now that we are entering the Trump era, assuming he actually shows up for the job, a higher level of communication is vital for the survival of human civilization. We are at an existential crossroads.

I’m optimistic. Trump is like homeopathic medicine – a strong dose of the symptom of the disease stimulates the cure, or healing. We have had a long descent of human interaction and communication since the emergence of Ronald Reagan as a political force. His ascension ushered in an era of scapegoating, invective, deceit, bullying, marginalization of declared out-groups, condemnation and disenfranchisement. An entire "news" network is dedicated to these low-level forms of communication. The highly paid "stars" on this network are welcomed on more mainstream commercial networks as legitimate celebrities in our fame-obsessed pop culture. It's all showbiz.

Thanks to Trump, the entire apple cart has been upset. He is a total wild card, and if he is, as I suspect, afflicted with serious mental and/or physical health difficulties, great instability lies in our future, even if he doesn't assume office. Add-in the unsustainability of our infinite-growth economic system along with increasing severity of the effects of climate change, and far worse than instability looms. Complete breakdown and chaos may ensue. Out of chaos comes opportunity. We can seize the opportunity or we can squander it. I am confident that when push comes to shove for the survival of the species - and of all life on this planet – we will choose to seize.

Here's an appropriate song for the times in which we live. Here's another. And another. John Prine. Bob Dylan. Liam Clancy. Utah Phillips. The Mothers of Invention. Some classic Frank Zappa. One of my favorite Frank Zappa tunes.

Update, November 21: Here's a story that gives more detail about how the "Republicans" stole the election.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

These Are the Good Old Days

In 2011 I retired from my job as a “Customer Care Representative” for a well-known Wisconsin-based company that sells clothing, bed and bath items, and luggage through its catalogs and website. When I started working there in the mid-1990s it was unique – in my experience at least – in its dedication to serving the customer, and to its supportive attitude toward employees. The company’s founder had a simple approach: “Take care of the customers, take care of the employees, and everything else will take care of itself.” Another of his principles was to provide quality merchandise at a reasonable price. The company had a folksy, middle-American feel, proud of its lore that many employees came to work after milking cows on their family dairy farms. I was stunned when the CEO handed me a Christmas bonus of two weeks' pay after working there for only two months.

Over the years these principles became eroded, especially in the taking care of the employees part. Because of "competitive pressures," fewer products were made in the U.S., and employees were obliged to up-sell customers through a variety of means. Fewer workers were given full benefits, and those with health insurance were pressured to use their health benefits less often. Hours of work were reduced as Internet sales gradually took over the sales function. The great employee-friendly CEO was fired in 1998. For many years the company was the sole sponsor of Garrison Keillor's radio show A Prairie Home Companion. That ended in 2005, as Keillor became more outspokenly political on the air.

When the founder of the company sold it to a corporate behemoth in 2002 these trends accelerated, and in 2005 the call center where I worked closed. Nearly everyone at the center lost their jobs – almost 400 in total company-wide – and we were told we could be hired as temporary help at the company’s  farther-away main headquarters for the Christmas season. Very few chose to do this, but I did. I worked there for the next six years as a “flexible part-time” employee. Eventually I became eligible for limited benefits, and signed up for the reduced 401K retirement program.

By 2011 I couldn’t stand the increased pressure to sell more and do other things to hustle customers. A new approach was instituted, called “performance metrics,” where everything possible to measure employee behavior is turned into numbers that can be graded. We were all instantly not good enough, and some people felt so insulted that they quit or retired. The company backtracked somewhat, being slightly less stringent with its scoring system, but the metrics approach remained.

Retirement was an immediate drop in my income, so I needed something to supplement my meager Social Security and IRA payouts. I did a couple of short teaching stints, and in 2014 I returned to my old job. Because I had been gone for three years, I was hired as a new employee at the lowest pay rate.

It was worse than when I had left, far fewer workers, and most of them relegated to taking calls for the parent company’s rewards program. There was an air of depression pervading the building, with everyone, including supervisors, wondering how long their jobs would last. It was like a ghost town - or a graveyard - with most of the seats empty.

One thing that stood out when I was rehired was that I was told that because of “Obamacare,” no one is allowed to work more than 29 hours under any circumstances. If you signed-up for extra shifts and your weekly total went over 29 hours you would be terminated (fired). The reason for this restriction is that under the rules of the Affordable Care Act employers are required to provide health insurance for all employees who work 30 or more hours a week. Thirty hours is the official dividing line between part and full-time work. In order to be unequivocally in the part-time range, no one - under any circumstances - would be allowed to work more than 29 hours.

I was surprised at how casual the company was to blame Obamacare for this situation, but let it pass. I needed the job. I lasted through the Christmas season, and when I was offered the opportunity to stay as a continuing employee, I declined. It wasn’t worth the money or the stress. I was invited back for last year’s Christmas season, I declined, saying “This is the best job I ever had. I want to keep it that way.” I was invited back again this year, but didn’t bother to reply.

Nowadays I just live more frugally. I canceled my Internet connection, trimmed other expenses, and learned to avail myself to things that are either free or inexpensive. I get a discount at the food coop and other businesses for riding my bike and wearing a helmet. I can get double dollars at the farmers market that I go to. I take free yoga and meditation classes. My health care at the VA is free because of my income level. The one expense that I can’t control is dental care, so I have to be diligent in flossing and eliminating sweets.

My situation is far from unique in this country, and, while difficult, is far better than conditions that face the vast majority of people on this planet. I’m lucky compared to my former coworkers. The anxiety, fear and resentment that they feel about their jobs and their future is something I barely escaped. They have families that depend on them to provide a decent level of subsistence, and that subsistence has become more precarious every passing day.

Among the things that came to mind when pondering the extremely unlikely election of Donald Trump was that this feeling of unease is likely shared among most people in this country, and that it is also likely that it is what made the difference in this election. We are a country of unhappy people. The American Dream is over. It will never come back.

Trump promises to bring the American Dream back with his “Make America Great Again” slogan, but he will not only fail, he will fail miserably. He has no intention whatsoever to increase employment, job security, pay, benefits or working conditions. His plan to end trade agreements will not bring jobs back. He likely won’t end the agreements anyway.

What he will do is create a crony system, where those who pay – whether with money, fealty or compliance – gain advantage. He will not behave any differently as president than he has in his business and personal life. Our already corrupt system will become even more corrupt by several degrees of magnitude. His Supreme Court appointments will be cronies. His Attorney General will be a crony. His EPA Administrator will be a crony. His Secretary of the Treasury will be a crony. All of his department heads will be cronies.

Obamacare will very likely be repealed. Uninsured workers will then be able to work more than 29 hours, but it will matter very little. At best it will mean more hours for fewer workers. It likely won’t even mean that. With Obamacare repealed, it is unlikely that those with increased hours will be able to afford the health care that is no longer covered by insurance.

Melting at the northern Polar ice capThere is a saving grace of sorts. As I have written many times before, our failure to deal meaningfully with climate change will be our undoing. Our twin failure to deal with the unsustainability of our infinite-growth economic system will accelerate our undoing. With Donald Trump as president this undoing will happen sooner than it would otherwise. A completely corrupt system will self-destruct quickly under corrupt circumstances.

So maybe it is better that Donald Trump is our next president. His failure in office will be almost immediate. His bluster, arrogance and bullying will not be much help when the effects of climate change go into overdrive. They won’t be much help when the economy drops. They won’t be much help when the anxious and fearful people who supported him become more intensely anxious and fearful. When they turn on him he will not have the personal strength to keep them in line. We may think that his supporters are an unruly bunch now, but wait a year or two. Unruly will seem like the good old days.

Here's a song.  Here's another. And this. Another by Richie Havens. And, of course, this. And this. Here's one for the incoming Trump Administration. Here's a song I heard today for the first time. This CSN&Y song keeps coming up. Neil Young. Leonard CohenAnother Leonard Cohen. And this, which I listened to many times in my Army days.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

A Sign of the Times

Madison was in turmoil this past week about someone wearing an Obama-in-a-noose costume at last weekend's University of Wisconsin football game. The so-far unidentified Halloween reveler seems to have been largely ignored by the crowd, but the offending costume didn't escape the notice of local and national news media.

The incident has resulted in outcry from various members of the community, and criticism of university leadership, which is reviewing its policy on freedom of speech. Athletic director Barry Alvarez announced that stadium policies will change before the next home game, but he hasn't specified what those changes might be.

It's a sign of the times. Who would have guessed that a president with African heritage would cause so much hatred and animosity? I have written before about the illusion of skin color, and it bears repeating. No one is "black" or "white," and no one has black or white skin. Those of us with entirely European genetic background have variations of off-white, peach, ecru or ivory. Here's a list of variations.

Since I don't believe there is such a thing as race, I don't jump at the opportunity to call people racists. To believe in "racism," as it is understood, is to believe that people operate on the basis of intellectual positions, and that some of them have an ideological, or system of intellectual concepts that affirm the belief that one nonexistent "race" is superior to another, presumed inferior, though equally nonexistent "race."

What I see in the picture of the guy in the Obama-in-a-noose costume is someone with a psychological pathology. It can safely be assumed that he is a bigot, believing in racial superiority, but bigotry is a psychological condition, intellectual only as cover for mental disease. We have been hearing a lot in recent months about the narcissism of Donald Trump, but he is only the latest and most blatant example of pathological self-obsession. It could be that the "American" form of mass industrial fragmentation and marginalization produces narcissists as a survival response.

We have seen in recent years entire television and radio networks dedicated to what is known as Sophistry - the deliberate use of fallacious reasoning, intellectual charlatanism and moral unscrupulousness. Heavy on ego, bluster, fakery and scapegoating, these networks promote the paranoid rantings of "right-wing" demagogues. It should be no surprise that there are wanna-be self-promoters among the masses.

The reptilian brain, home of “right-wingers”Again, as I have written before, these propagandists aim for the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain. For those among us who are tribally-oriented, aggressive, territorial and prone to ritual masculinity, the amygdala is easily aroused. It has been concluded by neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean that they haven't evolved past the reptilian brain. MacLean referred to species-specific instinctual behaviors such as aggression and tribalism as rooted in the basal ganglia at the root of the forebrain, what he called the R-complex or reptilian brain.

Rather than have an "ideological" divide in this country, we have a psychological divide. Another way of describing this divide is, as I also have mentioned previously, is through the hierarchy of needs that was authored by developmental psychologist Abraham Maslow. The lower, or deficiency needs of power, money, sex and safety are where supposed "right-wingers" are self-confined. The reptilian brain-dominated "right-wing" contingent is one not so much of belief as psychopathology.

If this is our predicament, what do we do about it? How do we get out of it? Is it the inevitable result of mass industrial capitalism? Would socialism do any better?

Only time will tell. We haven't experienced the full effects of climate change yet. Our infinite-growth economic system hasn't reached its limit to growth yet. It will, and likely within the next ten years - or less. When these twin inevitabilities take place, all bets are off. The ego-aggrandizement of right-wingness won't mean much when your house floats away in a storm or burns up in a massive wildfire, and there are no jobs.

The end of growth will be disaster enough, but in concert with rampant effects of climate change there won't be much point in being a narcissistic,  paranoid, amygdalian, reptilian bigot and xenophobe. Nothing lasts forever, including our current absurd and stupid predicament.

R.I.P. Tom Hayden.

 Here's a song for Trump. Here's another. And this. This too. One more.

Update, November 8: The University of Wisconsin revoked the season football tickets of the fans who were involved in the Obama-in-a-noose costume.