Saturday, December 31, 2011

Holy Daze


This is an abbreviated version of my annual holiday note to friends with a pic of me around 13 (that would be 1957) - so cool (there's a white beetle painted on the left pocket - a few friends & I called ourselves The Beetles!):

Holydays:

During 2011 I finished putting simple recordings of the songs in my Songbook, 1969-2009 on youtube, so anyone with a book can search my name & a song title to see how it goes. Now I’m in process of recording them again in more finished versions, relative of course - they’re still demos compared to professional recordings. But it is such fun to lay down a track with guitar & vocals as a guide, add bass, drums, maybe piano, almost always lead guitar and do final versions of vocals, sometimes adding harmony. For this purpose I’ve gotten a bass guitar, mac-mini for recording & coordinated my P.A. equipment to put the sound into and out of the computer. I plan to put the songs on-line, in batches, like CD releases, designing a cover for each batch. When I figure out how to upload them: thinkspeak.bandcamp.com This extends my archiving project which is essentially complete regarding painting and cartoons. A memoir is in the works too, now about 180 pages but keeps expanding. The only readers I envision for this project are daughter Kallio (but she’s only a maybe) and me.

The six books I’ve published over the last year or two are available as downloads or hardcopy (includes the crime fiction novel Arrival): search my name at lulu.com The 15-song free download collaboration with KVpop is still available with links on my blog & painting website www.thinkspeak.net

Wednesday evenings I jam with a group in Inman Park where I first started fooling around with bass. They also have a drum set I sit down at sometimes. I created a drum out of a sheetrock mud container, painting it up with anti-war messages, for use at demonstrations since the illegal Iraq invasion, so have developed some limited drumming skill – cut broom-handle drumsticks. I’ve been to some of the OccupyAtlanta gatherings and am heartened by this way-overdue movement to question who rules for whose benefit. I’ve read Naomi Klein’s expose, Shock Doctrine, on this question as well as Ralph Nader’s profile of corporate CEOs. Currently reading The Smartest Guys in the Room, about the Enron fiasco. I usually review this kind of stuff on my blog. Been reading Swedish crime fiction lately and some Brits, Peter Robinson, John Harvey and rereading George V. Higgins. In a book club, we mostly read contemporary fiction. Of course I read some of the incredible volume of stuff I encounter on-line, about nukes, corporate crime, injustice, environmental degradation etc; democracynow.org, fair.org, commondreams.org, zmag.org, counterpunch.org, likethedew.org (which publishes my rants & drawings). I have to say, music is what pro-occupies me centrally these days, jamming whenever opportunity arises and doing my recording project, some new songs.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Head Trip

oil painting, Out of the Blue, Tom Ferguson

I just remembered this morning that phrase, haven’t heard or thought it in years. Someone on a head trip might be someone who is out of touch, distant, insensitive to others, preoccupied with ideas.
Under the influence of psychedelics people in the timeframe I’m thinking of were subject to vibrations - music could send you into near ecstasy and a hug could feel soooo good. In the same way criticism or threats could bring scary waves of paranoia. Another drug term, mind-fucker, would be someone who exploited that vulnerability as a put-down artist, sadistically playing on people’s insecurities in order to feel a warped sense of superiority.
Psychedelics would somehow jerk you into the present with a raw intensity where, seeing things for the first time, the world was a marvelous place indeed, full of absolute wonder and delight. And threats. Beauty was very much magnified or rather, the world was seen as it is, a wondrous miracle including the realization of one’s own being in it. One’s psychology was magnified, and being shaped by a dysfunctional society that experience was not always pleasant. If your self-esteem was low, whether behind the mask of arrogance or the mask of shyness, one could be subject to fear, paranoia and panic.
I can now see the head trip, thanks to the clarifying work of a lot of writers, particularly Eckhart Tolle, as referring to the ego, created by the cultural belief that we are separate vulnerable entities, thus mired in alienation and fear. The feeling of bliss reported by many, however temporary, challenges that existential view with an insight into the interconnectedness of all things. Feeling this interconnectedness accounts for the bliss or what Tolle calls enlightenment. The ego though, so established and dominating but threatened by consciousness, and dependent on a belief in separation, can intrude into well-being, distracting one from the interconnection conviction, sowing doubt and fear.
An artificial altered state amplifies it but the same process is at work in one’s daily psychology. Just this morning I was in bed, waking up, realizing I was thinking thinking thinking and breathing very shallow, even holding my breath as I thought. At one point I noticed I was reliving a pleasant memory and feeling mellow then became aware of holding my breath, took a breath, became present, yes, then lost it, started thinking again, this time remembering a social blunder and exchanging mellow for guilt, embarrassment, self-attack and the physical pain accompanying such thoughts. Who is the attacker I thought? Ego. Be the observer I said, and say.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

An Impeachable Offense

"I guess I find that judgemental, yr honor."

Government Officials take oaths to defend and protect the Constitution. Violation of that oath is, or ought to be, an impeachable offense. Take for example the recent Supreme Court ruling asserting that corporations are persons with all the rights and privileges thereof, particularly free speech, which they can of course, given their resources, more easily exercise than “real” persons. This would be less treasonous if the intent were not crafting seductive messages designed to legitimize anti-democratic hierarchy and funnel power and money ever upward. Since corporations are about, and only about, profits such messages please stockholders and CEOs but deliberately undermine democracy, which, if memory serves, is what the Constitution is about. The ideological Right confuses freedom with unimpeded business activity (the “free market”), just as it defines the pursuit of happiness. A close reading of the Constitution offers little support for this degrading notion.

Legislating other laws and pursuing policies that favor corporations over the people (we the people) also qualify as impeachable offenses. We are laying down the law here. Trade agreements such as NAFTA and GATT, for example. And policies of the foreign variety, which serve the same masters. Aren’t they too violations of an oath that pledges fealty to the welfare of the people, hardly served by extending ruthless corporate hegemony and trashing the life system?

It is disheartening to review accounts of police and military blatantly siding with owners against workers during early union struggles. Today we aren’t too surprised at Egyptian or Syrian violent reactions to awakening democracy but police oppression here of peaceful demonstrators flies in the face of our indoctrination (unless we’ve been paying attention). The latest impeachable offense has been committed by the senate when it overwhelmingly, 93-7 (who are those 7?), passed SB 1867, granting the military the power to indefinitely detain any U.S. citizen. That’s indefinite as in forever! No habeus corpus, no trial. This purports to be aimed at terrorists, of course, but the 1% are feeling exposed, getting nervous. Their minions in the Senate thus pass this reactionary bill, responding to the stirring of democracy begun in the Arab Spring, as manifest here in the plutocracy-exposing Occupy Wall Street movement. Off with their heads is perhaps too harsh but impeachment seems an appropriate response to the anti-democratic beast.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Hinson & Haze, episode 18.


wherein a geyser turns back on itself

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Hinson & Haze, episode 17.


wherein the patriarchal indictment is read

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hinson & Haze, episode 16.

wherein Feminism meets the Continental Divide

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hinson & Haze, episode 15.


wherein Haze inquires into thick steak stakes

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Hinson & Haze, episode 14.


wherein da duo adopt a trucker guru

Monday, November 7, 2011

Vets Occupy Washington (1932)


The Bonus Army, 20,000 strong, converged on D.C., set up a shanty-town, seeking relief from the horrific conditions of the Great Depression. These WW I. veterans and their families demanded promised bonuses. They were tolerated for a time but then those-who-follow-orders, including such luminaries as General MacArthur, Major Eisenhower and his aid, George Patton, were sent to disperse the “insubordinate” vets, leaving three dead and more than a thousand injured. This was under President Hoover who was villified when hordes of homeless victims of Laisse Faire capitalism named their make-shift villages Hooverville. Later when vets marched on Washington President Roosevelt personally greeted them, serving coffee. You can imagine the response, had Fox Faux News been around at the time. So far, L.A. has the only city council to recognize the Hoovervilles of our time by endorsing their (our) Occupation.

Naomi Klein points out in her book, Shock Doctrine, that the Great Depression came out of policies very like those being pushed today by the corporate-owned, two-factioned Republicratic Party – privatization, consolidation of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, retrenchment of hard-won programs that benefit the average citizen, fanatical belief in a mythical “free market” whose Darwinian-Draconian rules, under close scrutiny, turn out to only apply to the 99%.

Howard Zinn, in his People’s History of the U.S., itemizes many a discouraging outcome for people in that Depression organizing against the pirateers but not all efforts were defeated. The 40 hour week was attained by commited activists. A banner in my home town still expresses another: Unions, the people who brought you weekends. The 1% have always recognized that a certain share of the spoils must be allocated to a malleable fraction of the population, call it middle class, to serve as a buffer against the rabble, the discontented. They have argued however, among themselves, just how big this buffer need be and we can see since Reagan that those who favor the smaller buffer have been dominating the argument. When the disconted population reaches a certain mass we get “unrest”, Occupiers in the town squares. We are then offered the Hoover response, guns and clubs, teargas, or the Roosevelt response, placation, expand the buffer. Fine if you’re in the expansion, not so fine if you ain’t. Maybe we can do better. Maybe we have to.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Hinson & Haze, episode 13.


wherein the cuddly couple examine things grandly ordinary

Monday, October 31, 2011

Illegal Entry



Our corporate-owned government seems variously intolerant of U.S. citizens utilizing their own parks in order to exercise first amendment rights to assemble to reddress grievances, yet nary a peep do we hear from same regarding a major foreign-owned propaganda campaign set up in the heart of our publicly-owned broadcast sector (this refers to the obvious fact that Fox –Faux- News is a transparently biased, pro-corporate misinformation operation).

Another parallel we could draw is that great resources are spent to prevent entry or expel poor foreigners (illegals? aliens?) from our nation yet, nary a peep again, when a foreign billionaire saunters in and commandeers a major media outlet, fanning ignorance and bigotry and distorting our political process. I think there might be some peeping if the foreign association were, rather than a pro-capitalist ideologue, a more or less objective presence (compared to U.S. media) such as say, Al-jazeera or perhaps Britain’s The Guardian.

The slogan 1% and 99% is imperfect since it is actually the ideologue-faction of the top 20% and their deluded co-conspirators coopting our Democracy. But it is brilliant short-hand for discussing and highlighting just how important and “classified” class is in the U.S. To raise questions about equity and fairness, distribution of wealth and political influence is to set off a knee-jerk chorus of “class warfare” from the ubiquitous brownshirt punditry. But the short-hand finesses the usual media censorship-by-omission, reaching many who know in their hearts but rarely find pundit confirmation that the game is rigged by… the 1%.

I know a guy who stands on Peachtree Street sometimes, holding up signs that if you could leisurely read, and have him explain, you still might not get. I’ve tried to refer him to the useful word succinct but he just looks at me, as perplexed as I am about his message. Now I’ve got an example of how to reach people driving by at 30mph, a sign that even Faux News can’t completely ignore nor effectively mock. Madison Avenue is envious of a movement that came up with a slogan that just might nudge the conscience, or self-interest, of elected officials who otherwise routinely succumb to the seemingly omnipotent campaign dollar. Until we institute public financing of elections, we the 99% can only hope.

wherein Hinson & Haze regard the afterlife

Monday, October 24, 2011

Opiate of Empire




William Manchester’s book title, A World Lit Only By Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance, Portrait of an Age, doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Well worth the read, despite it’s awkward title. Published in 1992 the book is timeless in that it portrays human dysfunction and folly as they constantly triumph over reason and compassion. This is certainly at odds with popular notions of religion and European conquest. Manchester comments that, Christianity survived despite medieval Christians, not because of them. If this book were more widely read, that might not hold true, Christianity might not survive.

This is for many of the same reasons that Richard Dawkins raises in his book The God Delusion. The whole enterprise is made up of insupportable beliefs, superstition in a word, and when people become aware that what they believe is in error it is hard to not have the belief evaporate. Of course the option is always there to deny the information, certainly the course embraced by the medieval mind - and with a vengeance. Manchester documents how the “Holy Roman Empire” was corrupt and venal, little above the Roman orgy and bloody pastime of execution and coup. When the Reformation arrived in reaction it was in true reaction – dogma shifted only slightly, as evidenced by the Puritanism still plaguing our shores. But the penalty for doctrinal deviance remained the fiery stake - most of the fun was gone. One can gain an appreciation for what is meant by “freedom and democracy”, flawed and limited as it is in our world, and threatened ever as it is by the constant resurgence of the medieval mind, whether that manifests in whatever religion or whatever political ideology arising out of the great dysfunction of ego.

The brutality of the age is relieved by the incredible beauty and majesty of Renaissance art, ironically created under the patronage of the most avaricious and ruthless of princes, kings and popes, otherwise seemingly fiercely competing with each other for the prize of most depraved. This mentality of course had to be exported. And exported it was, to regions not always but sometimes, quite advanced in their humanitarianism. The Portugese found their way around the horn of Africa to the riches of the east. The Spanish, English and French elected to squabble over as much as they could reach to the west. It is almost funny to imagine the armor-clad representative of a King stepping on the shores of a continent larger than the home country, planting a flag and claiming the whole shebang for his Sovereign. I was unaware of the voyage of Magellan, leaving Spain with a convoy of five ships and arriving back in Seville three years later, having circumnavigated the globe. Of the 265 person crew, only 18 survived, Magellan not among them, having perished in a fit of fundamental religious foolishness. This could be a metaphor for our own time, where superstitious beliefs in a “free market” and borders and races and scarcity carry us down the rapids to the rocks below the falls.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Hinson & Haze, episode 11.


wherein Haze, once again, challenges the status quo

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hinson & Haze, episode 10.

wherein our trendy tourists visit the Salt Palace

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Hinson & Haze, episode 9.


wherein the Cucumber factor is elucidated

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Hinson & Haze, episode 8.


Wherein Hinson & Haze encounter the cucumber factor

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Hinson & Haze, episode 7.


wherein the new age duo are back on the road

Monday, September 12, 2011

Privileging Prominent Predators


Some persons would like to view the U.S. government as a protector of workers and the average citizen against the excesses of predatory capitalism. Predators however view the U.S. government as their employee, a potential adversary who must be constantly reminded who they work for. This element also highly covets the government, with its taxation powers and consequent bulging treasury, as a target for voracious clandestine raids – if it can just get its hands on the keys, which it usually accomplishes by forcing selective legislation, judicious interpretation of same and favorable administrative policy. In other words legislators needing huge outlays for their campaigns trade campaign contributions for access, influence over legislation and vote-casting – sometimes legislators and staff are saved the bother of having to write the desired legislation by being handed an industry-written, ready-to-go bill, all the I-s dotted, all the T-s crossed.

At the presidential level, campaign contributions accomplish much the same agenda-shaping. The judicial branch is appointed by these same beholden public officials so naturally candidates reflect the values of the chief contributors - corporations and wealthy individuals, almost always drawn in fact from their ranks. Clearly public financing of elections would shift the dynamic toward Democracy. Legislators would be beholden to the taxpayers rather than corporations. Corruption is another matter but certainly could be dealt with like any other law enforcement issue. Speaking of corruption, a closely related issue is ownership of the media. Today the mainstream media is corporate-owned thus, like the corporate-owned legislature, corporate-domination narrows perception of possible courses of action, inculcating the average citizen with one-sided propaganda, in effect marginalizing citizens and any alternative political stance.

So the task for those who prefer Democracy to Plutocracy would seem to be to democratize the three branches of government and de-person-ize corporations before the consequences of their current behavior renders the planet uninhabitable.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Hinson & Haze, episode 4.

In which Haze has her recurring nuke dream and advises Hinson on things cosmic.
(click on image for larger view)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hinson & Haze


These two characters hitch-hike around, platonically plodding after whatever comes their way. Hinson’s a book-ish intellectual, Haze a more earthy feminist. Their quest begins in Southern California where they encounter Rhinestone, country music star. I intend to run all 35 episodes (running two per means half that many posts). I leave it to Hinson & Haze to examine received wisdom for this period.





Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mystery

Humboldt Avenue, oil on canvas, 1970, Tom Ferguson

Imagine waking delighted to a place of astonishing beauty and vast complexity, of infinite micro and macro magnitude gifted with a cosmic capacity to replicate itself, slightly modified, every instant. This would be an impressive locale to visit and of course that is what we are doing, visiting here. Or it could be argued that we are not tourists at all but are intricately woven into a metaphoric tapestry of magnificent interconnection. Here is the root of polarization: the Visiting faction thinks it is separate, the Abiding faction feels interconnection.

The Visitor experiences frightening emotions and responds with safety-seeking behavior, attempting to accumulate a protective buffer of power, money, prestige… safety, for since s/he sees/thinks herself alien s/he sees/thinks himself vulnerable. In a word, identifying with the separate entity s/he conceptualizes her/himself to be that entity is subject to slings and arrows, the nets of chance. Since no amount of safety will ever be enough in a world of relentless change, an obsession develops which precludes noticing the world as described in the first sentence above, except in odd unguarded moments, facilitated by alcohol et al, or perhaps art.

One could look at the Abiding faction as the advanced guard of an awakening, one anticipated intuitively by historical figures of religion, philosophy and art. An awakening whose trajectory hopefully intersects such that their (our) frantic destructive behavior over these millennia will survive only in the embarrassed annals of an infant species, while the awakening one blossoms into full consciousness and the harmony native to that state - justice, empathy and environmental balance.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Most Dangerous Moment in History


During the Cuban Missile Crisis U.S. destroyers attacked a Russian submarine. The submarine was given orders to launch its nuclear warheads against the U.S. This would have certainly precipitated a full retaliatory exchange and we would most likely not be here to discuss it. The submarine commander refused the order. I had never heard this story until I read it in one of Noam Chomsky’s articles. Though civilization was spared, the mind-set that brought us to that moment is alive and well. That mind-set is the subject of most of Chomsky’s books.

Interventions is a collection of short essays aimed at a broad readership, commissioned by the New York Times Syndicate after Noam Chomsky’s 2001 best seller 9 – 11. One of the author’s central claims is that the mainstream media confines debate to a narrow status quo, roughly Hysterical Right to Middle Conservative with few exceptions. As if to confirm Chomsky’s thesis the syndicate distributed the essays abroad but nary a one found its way into the U.S., neither in the New York Times, Washington Post, L.A. Times etc;

Iraq is the primary topic, not surprising given the essays were written during what Chomsky calls a criminal invasion. He exposes administration lies about WMD, Al Queda/Saddam ties and involvement in 911, deconstructing U.S. claims to be promoting democracy - it being true when you take into account that in their minds democracy = plutocracy, being demonstrably false when you use a non-Orwellian definition. One example: polls showed that 90% of Turks opposed allowing the U.S. to invade Iraq through Turkey. The administration ferociously berated the Turkish military and government for following the wishes of the people.

Chomsky lays out an analysis of what’s going on that stands the mainstream propaganda machine on its head. U.S. intentions in Iraq are to set up a permanent military base in the center of the richest oil reserves area on the planet. Israel is a U.S. aircraft carrier maintained to aid the imperial quest (in return Israel gets the U.S. veto at the U.N.). U.S. policy toward Serbia/Kosovo and Cuba (well, the world really) is to vigorously discourage independence from U.S. centered Corporate rule or as they like to call it, the “free market”. In the history of this movement it came very close to triumph but was thwarted, partially and only temporarily by the election of Theodore Roosevelt. Laboring mightily since that defeat they now sense victory and are straining at the fetters of democracy, yearning to throw off at long last and forever that notion of equality that stands in the way of their absolute superiority.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Pickpockets at PSC



This is my public comment made 7/6/11 to the GA. Public Service Commission on the occasion of their consideration of Georgia Power's request for yet another raid on the public treasury in the form of rate hikes to cover anticipated cost over-runs for their nuclear fantasies. They already were granted rate hikes to cover building the new reactors and an additional amount to cover the loss in credit ratings due to pursuing dangerous nuclear technology. You have to hand it to them, they've got gall.

Mulling over what to say for this meeting it occurred to me that the creators of this Commission did not choose GPC - Georgia Power Commission. Words have meaning so I was happy to notice what PSC stands for until I remembered George Orwell and how political bodies sometimes engage a practice that has come to be dubbed Orwellian.

Barbara Tuchman, in her book The March of Folly, defines folly as acting against one’s own self-interest. The business and government officials who decided to build sixty nuclear plants on an earth-quake fault don’t necessarily fit the definition. By now those leaders are probably living on nice pensions far from Fukushima so their personal interests could be said to have been served. But I think we would have to conclude that Orwell had been at work, that Public Service was really not what they were about.

Which brings me to argue that the public is not served by granting profit-seeking companies pickpocket access to the public treasury. It is even less served when those companies pursue the folly of dangerous nuclear power. I hope it doesn’t require any more Fukushimas for us to realize that when the nuclear industry chants its mantra of “safe and clean” it is committing high Orwellian-speak. Nuclear technology is expensive, risky, cumbersome, polluting and yes, dangerous. It is time to give serious consideration to NOT dangerous alternatives, which are showing themselves more competitive and benign with each passing year. I speak of Solar, Wind and Conservation.

In this new climate - I would say post-Fukushima but that disaster still bubbles ominously to our west – I refer you to the website of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, IEER.org where you can download their Roadmap for a U.S. Energy Future, a roadmap that persuasively excludes coal and nuclear, both proven truly dangerous to the health of life on this planet. When you enable an alcoholic you do neither the addict nor the public a service.

As a post script I would like to add that Germany, Switzerland and Italy have all recently made the sensible commitment to eliminating nuclear power, turning to alternatives, in which they already are far ahead of the U.S. And as we speak two nuclear reactors in Nebraska are threatened by flooding, a not unpredictable event given that reactors must be located near and are dependent on large volumes of water.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Commonist Nostalgia



Michael Parenti’s book Superpatriotism is an excellent deconstruction of “free market” ideology. He claims that the people of Eastern Europe and Russia had guaranteed jobs, health care, housing, education etc; With the fall of the USSR they entertained visions of suburban McMansion, two car garage etc; but what they got is shit and corruption: gangsters running things in collaboration with dictators, no real political input, more or less fake elections like here, malnutrition, no work, no food, no suburbia.... they become third world… and they wish they had back what they had before the fall. They aren’t idealizing it, they definitely lacked political freedom, due process etc; but they had the basics and the basics are pretty important – try going without’em. The comparison isn't of "freedom and tyranny but of having the basics and of not.

Noam Chomsky has also pointed out, in his curtain-lifting books, that in the Soviet domains of Cold War days the people had the bare necessities - even high government officials lived in modest apartments - whereas in the U.S. domains, Central and South America, Indonesia, etc; a tiny wealthy elite were maintained (so long as they served U.S. corporate interests) while the majority population endured deprivation, malnutrition, poverty and were threatened by accusations of "Communist!", which made them targets of death squads, if they tried to organize to improve their lot. The U.S. provided much of the means for this oppression via “foreign aid”, CIA intervention, military training and arms – funded by U.S. taxpayers of course. So the bottom people of an affluent nation fund the oppression of bottomers of another nation. As the observation goes, the wealth is created by the workers and divided among the owners. The owners own/control the media so we get ministers of misinformation like Rush Limbo, O’reilly etc; keeping us distracted from the exquisite scam by demonizing immigrants, Islam, the homeless, dark-skinned people, gays, women… whatever works. This history is shameless and disturbing enough but as the logic of the elite notion of globalization plays out our capacity to rationalize injustice will be challenged as it encroaches upon our personal space.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fear of Sharing



Just finished The Big Rich by Bryan Burrough. One of the things that struck me about the Texas oil-millionaires, aside from their often ostentatious and outrageous consumption, was that many, despite immense wealth freeing them from the necessity to work for a living, continued to go into the office six days a week like any other working stiff. Roy Cullen even drove a cheap Chevrolet and brown bagged his lunch. Since they were basically workaholics, why were they so concerned about “big spending liberals” taxing them to death? They could have simply paid the tax owed, say 40% or whatever it was, and still had way more than they knew what to do with. They certainly weren’t working for their salaries, struggling to meet the mortgage, pay the bills.

Unfortunately these very wealthy individuals were mostly extremist conservatives who shifted the country rightward with their undemocratic money influence. Cullen even seriously argued for the idea of one dollar one vote. They funded McCarthy, William F. Buckley, John Birch Society, KKK etc; right wing radio and newspapers and supported politicians who would do their bidding and went after those who wouldn’t with Swiftboat type campaigns, funding their opponents, and not just in Texas. They funded the Contra terrorists in Nicaragua, fully buying into the hysterical religion of anti-communism. Of course not every oil millionaire fits the profile. Some became world-class partiers, some collected art and enjoyed high culture, donated to worthy causes. Cullen, again, gave away over 90% of his fortune to hospitals and universities while otherwise completely embracing the right wing stereotype.

This kind of concentrated wealth has repercussions. When workaholics are out there feeding their addiction and are willing to use their influence to grease government wheels in order to pull off deals that include harmful environmental and social costs then we all lose, enabling a dysfunctional class. Cullen’s one dollar one vote philosophy isn’t that far off as embodied in our political system where politicians must raise huge sums to finance their campaigns. As Molly Ivins, a Texan of a different stripe, used to say, “You dance with who brung ya.” If the public finances elections then it is the public who brung the politicians so it is the public, not the corporations and wealthy class, who they owe, who they represent. The health care debate, military spending, corporate tax policy, the whole range of issues would be a whole different discussion under those circumstances. That class would still own the media and thus limit if not control debate but there might be something we could do about that too.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Nuclear Power After Fukushima



Journalist Stephanie Cooke was at the Carter Center June 7 to promote her book, In Mortal Hands, a Cautionary History of the Nuclear Age. Her talk emphasized the Fukushima disaster and drew from history to support her anti-nuke view. The industry, for example, consistently underplays accidents, waiting until things have cooled off, when people have lost interest, assumed it’s all over, on to other things, when they finally admit the true figures of radiation releases, extent of damage etc; Even then they hedge with comforting denials of long-term effects, in language that may be technically correct but misleading. This could describe precisely corporate/government PR strategy around the BP oil spill, the Valdez disaster, Katrina, Chernobyl, conditions for cleanup crews at ground zero…. doesn’t seem to matter, those invested in the irresponsible continue to claim, and may even believe, that it’s all safe, under control, no problem. If belief, it’s belief of convenience. When your livelihood depends on believing something chances are you will talk yourself into it. Or at least you will keep your mouth shut. Due to this delay strategy fewer citizens are aware that three of the Fukushima reactors experienced full melt-down and that high levels of radiation are contaminating land and sea. The situation is an on-going catastrophe which, hopefully can be contained. Cooke informs us that contamination from this accident will be around for the rest of our lives. How many of these assaults can our life system withstand, do ya think?

Ms. Cooke was interviewed on nation-wide radio within hours of the Fukushima accident. The show also had a pro-nuker who assured listeners that the accident was low severity, it would all pass, a minor situation etc; Locally a Georgia Tech Professor did the same. The Japanese utility, TEPCO, several years before the current accident, was caught falsifying data (confirming that utilities tend to view safety as a public relations problem). The CEO was fired/resigned but shortly after hired as a high-paid “advisor” in the same company. Cooke claims that the Japanese squelched opposition to nuclear plants by creating a tax, which was showered on those who lived in the rural areas selected for plant location. The U.S. encouraged nuclear development in Japan, as in other nations, as part of its Peaceful Atoms project, which really amounted to a propaganda campaign behind which nuclear weapons could be pursued. The sad truth is that whatever nuclear proponents might claim in the “safe and clean” department, their real project is a major raid on the U.S. treasury and utility ratepayers with the macho side-benefit of Weapons of Mass Destruction. They make the Mafia seem like stumbling amateurs.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Energy Roadmap



Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free, a Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy

The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) offers the book as a free download on its website (www.ieer.org). It is a product of IEER and the Nuclear Policy Research Institute. Its author, Dr. Arjun Makhijani, had to be talked into doing the book by S. David Freeman and Dr. Helen Caldicott. He had been so pre-occupied with research on the environmental and health affects of nuclear testing and processing that he was unaware of the advances in technology that had occurred during those years. Thus his skepticism and reluctance were jettisoned by the virtual revolution he discovered when he finally agreed to take on the research.

The book addresses the crisis represented by severe climate disruption, oil insecurity and nuclear proliferation. Makhijani set out to answer the question: is it possible to eliminate CO2 emissions from the U.S. energy sector without resort to nuclear power, without purchasing off-sets and at reasonable cost? His book answers in the affirmative, and provides a roadmap to get us there in 30 to 50 years.

The prime alternatives in Arjun’s scenario are wind and solar, augmented by hydropower, compressed air and back-up natural gas. Developments in hybrids and batteries make feasible a situation where parked cars could either feed or draw from the grid as needed.
U.S. electrical consumption could be more than met by wind generation in 12 Midwestern and Rocky Mountain states. Just the parking lots and rooftops in the U.S. could provide, via solar installations, most U.S. electricity needs. The Roadmap could be created with existing technology, requiring no miracle break-through, although of course developments in all areas would only shorten the timeline and/or reduce cost.

The political will to pursue this roadmap of course is the rub. Entrenched interests have the ear of policy makers. For example, a Blue Ribbon commission was appointed by the President to study the future of nukes in the U.S. Neither Dave Freeman, Dr. Caldicott or Makhijani were invited despite their knowledge and credentials, presumably because their opposition to nuclear power might skewer the pro-nuke conclusions presumably wished for, presumably due to ideology and industry campaign contributions. It has always been thus, folly will triumph unless its only effective adversary, an informed democracy, is mobilized.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (review)


Dawkins seems to belong to a small “sect” which includes Christopher Hitchens, the former Nation correspondent who capitulated to the war-hawks but retains a totally imcompatible (with most war hawks) point of view on religion, expressed in his provocative title, God Is Not Great. I think both books are great fun in their merciless unmasking of those who, with a solemn and perfectly straight face, embrace perfectly nonsensical ideas. They do not spare the “respectable” middle of the road church-goer their mocking analysis as they challenge societal assumptions about belief. Dawkins is particularly annoyed at the near-requirement that we must “respect” those who “faithfully” refuse to question whomever reaches them first, the religion they’re raised under. He even suggests that to indoctrinate children into religious belief is a form of abuse.

I get frequent emails from “faith-based” groups requesting signatures for anti-war petitions, which I sign with some trepidation since I have zero faith, in the sense that the “faithful” seem to embrace. I agree with Dawkins’ question, why should believing nonsense without question give more weight to my opinion?

Politicians are frequently pressured by fundamentalists to throw them a bone, like the “under God” addition to the pledge of allegiance, or the movement to “put God back in our schools” – meaning, force all students to endure religious indoctrination. I always try to point out to those who complain that we can no longer pray in school that any student can pray anytime they want to, they just can’t force everyone else to join them. And that is the point Dawkins gets most agitated about, the forcing of unquestioned “faith” that he sees as extremely tiresome, yes, but also dangerous, as illustrated by doctor-killing anti-abortion fanatics (I won’t accede to their propaganda brigade by calling their position pro-life) and of course the jihadist, if that’s what they’re called, martyrs of 911. Dawkins sees this refusal to question, faith, as at the center of what the church teaches, needs to teach to perpetuate itself – otherwise it would become science, but which prepares the ground nicely for the scourge of demagoguery and war. I don’t think Dawkins has the whole picture here but he’s got a good bit of it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Arrival: Crime Fiction set in Atlanta


This is a promo of my first crime-fiction novel:

Whatever brought musician/artist Mellifluous LaRue fleeing south, alone and embittered, involved heavy drugs. Observing a transaction in a greasy spoon, the Tater Haus, she offers her free-lance services to the police. Betrayed immediately by a bent cop, a serendipitous conversation brings the now gun-shy entrepreneur to Pete Malvasio, an honest Atlanta narcotics officer. Mell begins to bring in those elusive bucks.

The chief villain, Jaime Montecarlos, oversees a small illegal-substance importing operation. A local Capo from the New York Mafia, already frustrated by his failure to collect a percentage of BMF (Black Mafia Family) income, demands a cut of Jaime’s. The bought cop, he who betrayed Mell earlier, precariously balances loyalty to the Mafia with a side relationship to the Latino faction.

Jaime seriously wounds Pete’s spouse Leigh in his first attempt on Mell, finding her through the bent cop. Mell and Pete, seeking revenge on a rainy night stumble upon plans for a large pending shipment that will lead to the book’s climax.

So the tale of Mell’s unconventional career move is interwoven with her European travel stories, songs, a comic strip with a political angle (Hinson & Haze - two characters who live on the road, she a feminist, he a bookish intellectual), as well as the story of a tragically interrupted relationship in the hill country of eastern Kentucky that drove her to the dubious sanctuary of Atlanta.

http://stores.lulu.com/store.php?fAcctID=3066130
or search tom ferguson http://www.lulu.com

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Folly part 2. Obama's War

Parts four and five of Barbara Tuchman’s March of Folly deal with British folly leading up to and through the U.S. Revolution and U.S. folly leading up to and through the Vietnam War. The cases are, folly-wise, very similar. In both instances there were those pointing out that costs would far outweigh any possible gains and that the justifications for policy were specious. Some of those pointing this out still supported the folly, in Britain’s case refusing to allow democracy in the colonies and going to war and in the U.S. instance, well… the same.

In the U.S. case public rhetoric was of the “freedom and democracy” line we all know so well when in fact democracy was thwarted at every turn, from rigging elections, coups and murder to ignoring overwhelming Vietnamese desire for an end to war regardless of which party would be the victor (see Daniel Ellsberg’s memoir, Secrets). Johnson would proclaim on national television, in his best Texas accent, “We’re not goin to turn tail and run.” Well “we” eventually did but way too many lives later, way too many barrels of agent orange and land mines, still plaguing the country I understand. According to The Pentagon Papers, released by the true patriot Ellsberg, the country was temporarily divided into north and south after the French defeat. The Geneva Accords called for elections to unify the country but since the U.S. didn’t approve of the most popular candidate, Ho Chi Mihn, elections were scuttled. So the “democracy” we were supposedly fighting for was at hand from day one. It wasn’t the evil Communists who scuttled it but those speaking most loudly, out of both sides of their mouths, about falling dominoes and the threat of tyranny etc;

Apparently the Obama Administration read neither The Pentagon Papers nor The March of Folly for in the very first meeting to discuss Afghanistan, according to Woodward’s book, Obama’s War, the President opened the meeting with the question, “Does anyone want to get out? (of Afghanistan)” Silence. Obama’s next comment was, “So, we’re done with that.” Even if you didn’t agree that we should get out (turn tail and run?) you would think it deserved a little more discussion that that. But then that’s how folly marches on.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Eternal Vigilance


The price of liberty? According to Thomas Jefferson, that goes under the heading. eternal vigilance, probably the exact opposite of patriotism, or, depending on definitions, the exact same thing. When President Richard Nixon was getting vigilated he tried to change the subject by using the phrase, “Let’s talk about what’s right with America.” Another phrase comes to mind in response, Patriotism, the last refuge of a scoundrel.

If we-the-people were to take Jefferson’s admonition serious how would we protect liberty? Would we accept our government:

* Curtailing liberty in the form of the Orwellian-named Patriot Act?

* Granting “socialist” bail-outs to Wall Street banks, the very entities that have vigorously opposed “socialism” for the people?

* Consistently supporting anti-democratic elites abroad behind a wall of patriotic and fear-based rhetoric?

* Using military power and illegal war to dominate other nations?

* Establishing a judiciary that increasingly empowers anti-democratic forces at home?

* Allowing same anti-democratic forces to increasingly control the media and educational
institutions?

* Allowing same anti-democratic forces to undermine and dominate the political process through campaign contributions and “dirty tricks” – to include vulnerable-to-hacking electronic voting machines?

* Prioritizing profit for the few over citizen well-being and environmental health?

* Opening the U.S. Treasury as a virtual ATM machine to defense contractors and other elite campaign contributors?

* Promoting expensive, vulnerable and dangerous nuclear power over benign alternatives?

* Continuing suicidal policies around nuclear weapons, such as launch-on-warning, and their proliferation?

* And that ain’t all!

Or would we apply a little vigilance, and a little resistance?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Ego and the Nation State


Eckhart Tolle uses the word Ego to describe a conceptual identity, created in the mind and maintained there by a more or less constant stream of thought, thoughts about past and future events, mundane or extraordinary, triumph and defeat and the positive/negative emotions accompanying them. This is what many people see as themselves, the Ego passing through time grasping for pleasure, attention, praise, acknowledgement, success, fame, money, power, safety, refuge domination and above all thinking thinking thinking.

Parallel and complementary to this conceptual identity is the Nation-State. We are encouraged to identify with an entity that may exist geographically but is more a communal mental construct marked by a flag, national anthem, economic theory, a story – founding fathers, defining wars of defense or liberation, evolving values etc;

Both of these interacting conceptual identities, to perpetuate themselves, are invested in convincing you that they ARE you. Tolle claims that this is the heart of dysfunction, luring us down a path toward extinction. The Ego is a short-term thinker, interested only in its own immediate maintenance, safety and glory. Consequences beyond the short term are not relevant, thus the life system is a dumping ground for poisonous chemicals, the population grows without regard to sustainability, fairness and justice are obstacles to gratification.

The Nation State is the communal version of the Ego. Individuals within this setting are variously captured by Ego thus the conflict between those who on whatever level, intuite or recognize the ego-guided drift toward catastrophe and those locked in denial. For the latter, recognizing the threat would require behavioral change not acceptable to Ego - completely rational for it is the ego who will need to go extinct in order for homo sapien to avoid that fate. A shift in the ratio of time spent in mind chatter versus consciousness, is necessary, a shift from domination by thought/emotion toward an awakened state of presence. This shift is toward reality for the only reality is now – past and future are thoughts and thought, though it is a useful tool, as master is an obstacle to experiencing life beyond the narrow mental construct. Beyond the mental construct is an interconnected reality whose profound beauty is accessible only via presence, which feeling awareness dissolves the ferocious values of a fear-based culture.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

We-the-People-as-vendors


In our Northern American society citizens are vendors, business persons. You have to sell something to make a living. The only product most of us have to market is our time/energy, our labor, which we sell to the highest bidder. Education and skill improve our competitive position as employees. Employers increase profits when they reduce or keep wages low. Most of us drudge away our sales day, at best making the best of it. Failure at or refusal to engage in business has serious consequences - the street being the ultimate enforcer, the bottom line.
So our life-blood is traded for whatever level of food, shelter, education, health care and entertainment, we can attain. But suppose these were givens, the goal in fact of our society as a whole, for all, instead of enrichment of the few, the clever and the ruthless?
Suppose we set out as a nation to solve this riddle: how to create a society whose top priority is the basics (food, shelter, education, health care) for every citizen, at a sustainable level - one which doesn't despoil the earth, air, soil, water? This as the driving force of our culture, to replace the current one, pursuit of profits, privilege and power.
If this attempt were made anywhere else and showed the least chance of success it would be crushed, as it was in Nicaragua, Chile and other countries, by the United States. This explains U.S. hostility toward Cuba as well. It is Cuba’s anti-capitalism, not its lack of democracy that upsets U.S. rulers. Change has to happen here and before the momentum of patriarchal capitalism finally consolidates its power internationally.
It will happen when we elect state and national governments, and courts, who embrace these values. That can only happen if we-the- people first adopt them, which can only happen through grass roots education, which we best be about. Well, there is another means to this, subject for another post. It is to be found, not exclusively but clearly, in the teachings of Eckhart Tolle.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Panthers and Police, Police and Panthers


The book, Savage City (2011), T.J. English, examines New York City over the period 1963-73, using three individuals as a device for walking us through that period. George Whitmore, a na├»ve and innocent young black man, is viciously framed by the police and D.A. for crimes he very obviously didn’t commit; Dhoruba Bin Wahad not so innocently is also framed, basically for being a Black Panther; Bill Phillips is a super-corrupt cop who, like his more famous and honest contemporary Serpico, becomes a super-snitch. He is also, ironically, framed. The book’s focus is really massive police corruption and virulent racism. The Panthers would never have existed without the daily harassment, humiliation and routine injustice of the men in blue and their near-impregnable blue wall of silence.

The Black Panthers represented a reaction to oppression, on the street, in the job place, in housing and to a systemic discrimination that made daily life hell for most black citizens across the country. The success of the civil rights movement in the south helped northern black communities realize that passivity was not the only option. But the cities were populated by young men, such as Malcolm, Dhoruba, Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton, who had spent hard time in youth gangs and prison. This was an education that did not recognize the merit of non-violence. In fact such a strategy was equated with cowardice, just as it was on the mean streets and in the prison system.

A friend of mine tells the story of returning to visit his south Georgia hometown after an extended stay in Boston and joining his father and friends at their club. After enduring an evening of casual racist jokes and hawkish Vietnam platitudes (along with way too much Southern Comfort) my friend announced to these Southern Gentlemen that the U.S. was doing to the Vietnamese in Southeast Asia just what they were doing to blacks here at home. A Father/Son fistfight was narrowly averted. Southern organizers recognized that to challenge the oppressor in their comfort zone of violence, was suicidal. The basic law of karma, that violence begets violence, that actions have consequences, that it all comes back on you, what goes around comes around etc; is ignored at our peril. Noam Chomsky recently stated that when you want to create change you have to consider whether your actions will actually move things in the desired direction. Will breaking windows help or will it only give you the feeling that you’re doing something? That the Black Panthers were ultimately destroyed testifies to the futility of one aspect of their strategy, the fatal mistake of dismissing non-violence. Would that the criminals who, in the main, run U.S. foreign policy, would take this lesson to heart.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Choosing Choices



It’s easy to excuse oneself from the citizen responsibility of voting with the fact that no election is won by a single vote. If large numbers of people follow this line, well, we have what we have now, low voter turn-out. Still, one vote, something comes up, can’t make it, doesn’t really matter. Now with corporations endowed with the status of persons, by the wisdom of our pretty much Reagan-Bush-appointed Supreme Court, is created a whole class of very rich and thus very influential persons. We have a new ball game here, or maybe just an on-steroids version of what we used to have. A topic certainly worthy of exploration and vigorous opposition. This anti-democratic decision needs over-turning. Maybe even impeachment for instead of protecting us from all enemies foreign and domestic, the Supreme Court has delivered us into their lusty hands. But my point here is making choices, how that impacts what goes on.

There is a movement to boycott Wal-Mart, to make this person accountable for unfair labor practices, sexism in the work place and driving wages and benefits downward. So shopping at Wal-Mart supports these practices, choosing to boycott goes the other way. Buying your gas is another opportunity to influence behavior. The Venezuelan state-owned oil company Citgo, it is argued, disperses its profits in socially beneficial ways as opposed to the other oil giants whose profits help perpetuate the growing income divide and bolster anti-democratic measures in the form of electoral influence from these corporate persons.

A friend of mine militantly advocates vegetarianism using a three-pronged argument: For the Animals; For Your Health; For the Environment, hoping that one of the three will hook her potential recruit. Under these three headings then she presents the impact of a meat diet on the animals, especially the notorious factory farm style raising and harvesting where miserable and cruel conditions that would truly shock the average meat eater are routine. The health impact arguments are of the heart attack/stroke/cancer cultivating nature of meat-eating, batting down the usual response that “I need my protein!” by pointing out that protein is way over-present in meat and is abundant in vegetarian diets. The meat addict gets a list of the numerous meat-like substitutes available, veggie burgers etc; For the environmental argument she presents information such as the methane and other pollutants released unsustainably into the environment. She also cites the inefficiency of growing great quantities of corn (70%) and grain for animal consumption – takes something like 15 pounds of corn to produce one pound of meat. Great acreage could be freed to reduce the stress on wild animal populations from urban encroachment. Humans are not the only animals on this planet but they are granted few rights. They stand in the wood, at the edge of our fields, observing with trepidation the choices we make. Try this for more details: www.vegsource.com/news/2009/09/how-to-win-an-argument-with-a-meat-eater.html

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Three Threats


We face three threats to our longevity as a species and all grow out of the dysfunction of ego: Pollution, Over-Population and Nuclear (and other) WMD

Global climate change will be minimally very disruptive and could escalate way beyond the worst case scenarios of only a few years ago: rising seas, epidemics of old and new diseases, agricultural catastrophe, shifting currents drastically changing climate, unprecedented refugee dislocations and more. On top of the climate change situation apparently chiefly caused by deforestation and the dumping of carbon into the atmosphere, there is the dumping of toxic chemicals into the air, soil and water, the loss of topsoil, the poisoning and depletion of the oceans, the extinction of species.

The planet, in some estimates, can sustain a population of 150,000,000 at a U.S. lifestyle. Obviously, at six billion and climbing, we are way beyond that and something’s got to give. The high-consumption portion of world population must make serious adjustments as must the population-escalating portion. The adjustments might be voluntary if the crisis is fully recognized, and soon. If not they will be involuntary.

Nuclear weapons, as well as other clever yet-to-be-developed (or perhaps just not yet public) Weapons of Mass Destruction, have the potential to kill millions and render large areas uninhabitable for long periods. The proliferation of these weapons is on-going and encouraged by intransigence on the part of the nations already in possession, hesitant to give up what they mistakenly view as security or advantage. Nuclear power plants are pre-positioned nuclear devices to a serious terrorist and helpful ingredients in the making of nuclear weapons. There are more than 10,000 nuclear warheads, some on hair-trigger alert and hundreds of nuclear plants with full-time cheerleaders committed to promoting the technology. Radiation is increasingly, routinely, entering our planet’s life system. Radiation is a carcinogen.

Madness you say? You would be not mistaken. All of this suicidal behavior is driven by fear which is created by the mistaken belief that we are not intricately interwoven into the web of life but rather are alternately masters or potential victims of an indifferent and violent order. The nurturer of this bleak view is the ego, a pseudo entity that will sacrifice whatever it takes to find momentary safety and maintain the illusion of its own importance and reality. How to escape Ego? Take a breath, let it out; there you are.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

(NRC) Nuclear Regulatory Collusion


On Monday 3/21 an official with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) explained to us, via NPR news, that we needn’t worry about radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. NRC’s mission is to protect the public by ensuring that nuclear power plants in the U.S. operate as safely as possible. There are several worrisome factors that would lead us to question NRC credibility, as much as we’d like to believe their assuring pronouncements:

• The nuclear industry funds the NRC – can you say collusion of interest?
• The NRC has never turned down a license extension request from a reactor that has reached the end of its original operating life (this week they renewed a 40 year old reactor in Vermont for another twenty years)
• NRC has a history of ignoring or downplaying safety violations, for example ignoring a leak that had been going on since 1993 at Indian Point, a plant nearer New York City than Tokyo is to Fukushima; ignored regulations requiring releases of radioactively contaminated air be via controlled and monitored pathways at Vermont Yankee; there are others and these are only for 2010 according to a Union of Concerned Scientists annual report in which NRC also did some things right (see www.ucsusa.org).
• The day before 911 the NRC determined that the possibility of an airliner crashing into a reactor was so remote that it needn’t be considered in safety review. Many think a reactor was the target of the failed hi-jacked airliner of 911.
• Attempts to infiltrate mock-terrorists onto nuclear sites over the years were successful 50% of the time despite reactor security knowing the dates of these tests in advance.
• NRC staff embrace the flawed, potentially deadly belief, that an extremely dangerous process of boiling water, leaving extremely long-lived radioactive waste can be “safe” even when safety regulations are ignored and benign alternatives are available.
• NRC and other nuclear advocates constantly give assurances that certain scary outcomes are so unlikely as to be virtually impossible and when they do happen (think Japan, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl) there is a gathering of the wagons to defend the industry that resembles the denial surrounding alcoholic addiction.
• Anti-nuke groups warned against the decision to build nuclear plants in Georgia, their arguments and warnings ignored but their concerns about cost, safety and alternatives confirmed, item by item, in the end. This doesn’t seem to figure in Georgia Power’s recent decision to once again overrule these same objections to the same pro-nuke mind-set (denial is not a river in Egypt).
• President Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future includes exactly zero anti-nuclear advocates.

Keeping in mind that official weather reports in heavily nuke-committed France falsely reported wind patterns to the public showing radiation from Chernobyl by-passing France, that the scenario still being played out in Japan was considered impossible by our nuclear geniuses, are assurances from industry bedfellows to be uncritically bought? Or might it be wiser to adopt a philosophy of Buyer Beware!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Meditation


Painting: Coffee House Napkin Drawing, oil on canvas, Tom Ferguson

When I first encountered the idea of meditation it picked my interest, yet I got nowhere when I tried it out. Aside from being boring(!) I found that my mind raced with ideas, memories, things to do, unfinished business, when I was expecting some kind of esoteric experience. Once I even became quite frightened and thought, hey, is that it?, remembering maybe that scary line from my religious indoctrination, that no one can look upon the face of God and live. Understanding the practice, much later, as a means to becoming present, abiding in that deeply rooted state, as Tolle describes it, clarified what I found intuitively appealing. Joi de vivre is the real face of God, not the Biblical projection of fear.

My most profound experiences, given this understanding, can be explained as having entered into the state of presence. I once burst into tears before a Van Gogh, in the Toledo Museum of Art and just as unexpectedly broke down at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. and as I witnessed and caught my daughter’s slippery, primeval womb exit. I stood on the chilly December shores of Lake Superior anticipating a sunrise, the intensity of my consciousness gradually increasing until the sun’s appearance was accompanied by a metaphoric crescendo of a thousand voice chorus in the clouds; staring out the window of a European train watching the world unfold; captivated by a passage of Chopin; delighted by a Beatle riff, a flourish of paint, a flattened tin can, a splatter of rain against the window, reading/writing words that seem to magically materialize and cohere and express something true, at the heart of reality, doing the same visually with line and color – all moments of awareness, of felt interconnection, interrupting a dysfunctional stream of mind-chatter that otherwise dominates and subdues the joy of being.

What unites these experiences is that they occur in that gap in mindstream called presence, triggered by some intense or novel experience. They are also colored by the confusion and fear that a belief common to our culture engenders, the belief that we are separate and vulnerable, isolated individuals. When the contrary and self-evident fact that we are interconnected is felt, not thought, confusion and fear dissipate, replaced by a state characterized by a feeling of peace and joie de vivre with the depth of those feelings potentially fathomless and referenced throughout history in terms like mystical, cosmic, peak experience, godhead, expansive continuum, etc;

That felt interconnection is awareness, of being. The feelers via which we experience go deep and wide. If we are absolutely interconnected then we feel the full reach of physical reality, the inseparable and simultaneous layers of past, future and most profoundly, the ground of being out of which the illusion of form flows. In this state we dwell en-joy and we are moved to acts of creativity in the dance of life.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Jolly Ol' Folly


I’ve been reading Barbara Tuchman’s March of Folly (1984). Current events too numerous to list would very nicely qualify by her criterion to be included in the pageant: building nuclear power plants on earthquake faults; building nuclear power plants at all when benign alternatives are available and economically competitive; going for the golden greed award in a democracy, expecting people to be fooled all the time; taking actions to address terrorism that increase terrorism (violence begets violence); despoiling the biological system on which we depend for sustenance; seeking permanent psychological and physical safety and security in a corrupt, utterly and patently illusory social-political-religious paradigm.

Tuchman’s book begins its survey of folly with Troy and advances through the 3-4 popes presiding over the worst excesses of the Papacy, ironically during the Renaissance, enumerating very worldly, sometimes bizarre and certainly decadent church doings to include orgy, torture and murder, inter-city squabbles, alliances and betrayals with France, Spain and Germany all at a time when some of the greatest art of western culture was being created. Tuchman goes on to document the loss of the colonies by totally avoidable British folly, then on to the colony’s subsequent Vietnam folly. History offers far more examples than Tuchman is able to deal with in one volume but her point is made, namely that pursuit of policy contrary to self-interest, her definition of folly, has been with us and we can expect, surprise, to see it’s ugly head raised with the usual frequency in future. The lesson is hardly academic since we must live with the consequences and in a democracy we have opportunity to participate in perpetuating foolishness or stand in opposition.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Big 'D' Democracy


When you lay out a continuum of possible political points of view and compare it to the range of opinion in U.S. mainstream media it is clear that a narrow spectrum dominates, roughly Center or Corporate-right to Hysterical Right. Another way of saying it is that the greater, or at least a significant band of opinion, is excluded from the national dialogue. What then can only be called a propaganda system insists, relentlessly, that freedom and democracy are inseparable. What is meant by freedom in this sleight of hand, is capitalism, the favored value, trumping at all times democracy, which term is utilized not for its actual practice but in order to coopt its prestige. An obvious instance of this deception is in the workplace. If democracy is our highest value why is it not practiced where most of us spend half of our waking time? This question of course never arises in mainstream “debate”, chief proselytizer for the free market.

In private discussion however one can find libertarians and right wing ideologues scurrying to obscure the issue by claiming that we are a republic not a democracy! Or that the masses are not smart or well-informed enough to trust democracy. Well then, why not pair capitalism with republicanism in our slogans? Not quite as catchy, from a marketing point of view. And it begs the question, what does it mean? The answer, a system that allows a tiny elite of wealthy individuals and corporations to run things, an oligarchy actually, isn’t going to draw a lot of majority support so less insightful terms must be substituted. I think it was Jefferson who said that if the people are not sufficiently educated then educate them. If the choice is between education and throwing out democracy I modestly propose that we transfer a couple hundred billion dollars from the war machine towards true security.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Health Care or Health Scam?

In a 4/27 meeting at Atlanta Friends Meeting House, organized by Healthcare Now, Philadelphian Katie Robbins spoke and led a spirited discussion on the state of organizing for Single-Payer healthcare. Vermont is in the lead nation-wide, a bill there being very close to passage but without a funding mechanism as yet. California has twice passed a single payer bill, twice vetoed by former Governor Schwarzcoph… or is that Schwarzenegger? With a new Governor, Jerry Brown, there could be hope in California, though Brown may have succumbed to the lure of born-again fiscal conservativism since his last term.

Katie introduced the acronym PISD (private insurance-induced stress disorder) offering the antidote, National Health Insurance. The situation is one of crisis to which Republicans offer denial and the Democrats tend to go along with their timid party head in the white house. House Bill 676 would expand and improve medicare, improving by eliminating co-pays, deductibles and expanding by eliminating the millions of uninsured by lowering the age requirements to minus 9 months – medicare for all, in a word. Since the situation is in crisis and systemic and what has become known as Obama-care, though bringing some improvements, is ultimately inadequate, we will have this debate again and it is important to have in place some single payer models, hopefully Vermont and/or California, for that discussion, though of course the Canadian, Western European and Australian models didn’t help on the first go-around.

Activist nurses and doctors, responding to the shut-out of single payer advocates in finance committee testimony, forced a small opening by their disruption of the meetings. This small opening still left the insurance industry dominating the debate and resulted in the tepid Obama-care.

HR 676, the United States National Healthcare Act, would basically put the insurance companies out of business. It is estimated that administration costs under the private system is 30% whereas medicare administrative cost is 3%. The nations with single payer also have low admin costs. Estimated saving for this bill are around $400 billion. Funding sources are obviously the bloated military budget, especially Iraq/Afghanistan, and the cap on social security tax which sits at $106,000, for no apparent reason other than that ideologues opposed to social security and medicare want it that way. Katie points out that single payer is a financing mechanism as well as a way to democratize health care. This last point probably helps to explain corporate opposition. It strikes many as strange that corporations oppose single payer since they would experience significant cost saving when no longer responsible for their worker’s health insurance. Being top-down tyrannies, apparently they feel threatened by any form of democracy.

Despite polls that show a healthy majority favor it, despite the cost-savings and improved health effects, single payer has been off the table since the discussion began, considered not politically viable. This says something about our democracy when a policy favored by the majority is considered not viable. It suggests that forces other than the people are who count – but we already knew this.