“He came dancing across the water / Cortez, Cortez / What a killer.” — Neil Young

I spent thirty-three years and four months in active service as a member of our country’s most agile military force — the Marine Corps.  I served in all commissioned ranks from a second lieutenant to a major-general.  And during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street, and for the bankers.  In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism….

The words of General Smedley D. Butler, quoted in Open Veins of Latin America, by Eduardo Galeano.

http://theragblog.blogspot.ca/2009/06/books-jonah-raskin-eduardo-galeanos.html

Eduardo Galeano

The mighty war machine: a tool for wealth accumulation.  As it has been since armies plundered and pillaged their way across the known world.

The real problem isn’t that they behave as they do, carelessly playing war with human life so that they may become richer and more powerful.  Nor is it the fairy tale of heroism and bravery that is packaged as truth and sold to the people in true colour HD.  The problem is that we the people believe it.

General Butler was, in his time, the most decorated Marine in U.S. history.  He goes on…

Thus I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914.  I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for National City Bank to collect revenues in….I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912.  I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916.  I helped make Honduras “right” for American fruit companies in 1903.

The ability of the ruling class to control the public opinion is remarkable.  In spite of unleashing a century of aggression and subterfuge  against the poor and indigenous places of the world, the great armies of the West continue to be celebrated as fundamentally noble and virtuous carriers of the Standard of Democracy.

If the popular narrative history of our culture is little more than an out-dated propaganda piece, projected onto a smoke-stained wall, what is it worth?  Reading Open Veins of Latin America – Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, I’ve been stuck by how much we know about things that don’t matter.

In fourteen-hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.  School taught me that his ships were called the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, and that after Columbus, many explorers came to begin the European settlement of Canada.

But in school, they didn’t teach me about the genocide of the Americas.  And I didn’t learn anything about the human cost of gold and silver trades, or the starvation that accompanied the changing fortunes of the sugar, cotton, chocolate, and coffee industries.  Popular movies don’t often portray the American military as generally despicable, frequently engaged in acts of highly questionable justification – or morality.

So … the ruling class has been exploiting for hundreds of years.  Lot’s of people have suffered, many throughout their entire lives.  Many have died terrible deaths, their families left to struggle without them.  But … the people of the West had an industrial revolution, experienced widely improved standards of living, and enjoyed tremendous ingenuity and innovation.  Decisions, decisions.

Certainly, nothing can be done about the past.  Yet, here we are …

“Oh, the jealousy – the greed – is the unraveling.  It’s the unraveling and it undoes all the joy that could be.”  — Joni Mitchell

Peace and love.

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27 04 12 · 2129

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” — Albert Einstein

I recently heard a world-renowned public-speaker say that all the best books he’d read were given to him by others.  He said he made a habit of buying cases full of the books he loved, and giving them to people all along his journey.  “I’ve found this book really added value to my life, and I thought you might appreciate it.”

Recently, a friend handed me a book called The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World, by Wade Davis.  (Davis, it just so happens, has the infinitely enviable job title: “National Geographic – Explorer in Residence.”)  Essentially, Davis spends the book introducing the reader to some of our world’s oldest and most ‘exotic’ cultures, and doing what he can to dumb down their ancient philosophies to a level our tiny Western minds might comprehend.

It’s rare that a book hooks me as this one has.

I came to realize, simply by being with Otto and his family, that in a sense the Aboriginal peoples had never been truly nomadic.  To the contrary, they lived locked within the territories delineated by their ancestors.  This was a revelation.  Imagine for a moment if all the genius and intellect of all the generations that have come before you had been concentrated on a single set of tasks, focused exclusively on knowing a particular piece of ground, not only the plants and animals but every ecological, climatic, geographic detail, the pulse of every sentient creature, the rhythm of every breath of wind, the patterns of every season.  This was the norm in Aboriginal Australia. (p. 156)

The Australian Aboriginals are one of the many groups he lived with, developed relationships with, and profiles in great depth.  A common thread that seems to connect the cultures he elucidates is a very intimate connectedness with their environment.  Running in stark contrast to the modern notion of land as a capital asset, for these people the land itself is quite literally alive.  It defines them as living beings, as members of their families and communities, and importantly, as links in a chain that extends backwards and forwards through time.

What linked the clan territories was not the physical movement of peoples but rather the strength of a common idea, a subtle but universal philosophy, a way of thinking.  This was the Dreaming.  It refers on one level, as we have seen, to the first dawning, when the Rainbow Serpent and all the ancestral beings created the world.  And it is remembered in the Songlines, which are the trajectories that these ancestors travelled as they sang the world into being.

But the Songlines, I discovered from Otto, are not straight or linear.  They do no even necessarily exist in three-dimensional space.  In their numbers, however, they weave a web across an entire continent.  For a civilization that lacked the written word they became a record of the past, a promise of the future, and a network that in the moment bound together all people.  The goal of the individual, as Otto taught me, is not to follow the Songline from beginning to end, but to honour the ancestors at the points of power and memory that mark the passage of a Songline through one’s particular clan territory.

But, critically, the Dreaming is not a myth or a memory.  It is what happened at the time of creation, but also what happens now, and what will happen for all eternity.  In the Aboriginal universe there is no past, present, or future.  In not one of the hundreds of dialects spoken at the moment of contact was there a word for time.  There is no notion of linear progression, no goal of improvement, no idealization of the possibility of change.  To the contrary, the entire logos of the Dreaming is stasis, constancy, balance and consistency.  The entire purpose of humanity is not to improve anything.  It is to engage in the ritual and ceremonial activities deemed to be essential for the maintenance of the world precisely as it was at the moment of creation.  Imagine if all of Western intellectual and scientific passion had been focused from the beginning of time on keeping the Garden of Eden precisely as it was when Adam and Eve had their fateful conversation. (p. 157; emphasis added)

I wonder more and more about our culture’s conception of time, articulated perhaps most eloquently in the old adage: “time is money.”  It is very difficult for me, raised in a culture of commoditized time,  to even fathom an existence without “time.”

For thousands of years, our culture – that of intellect, invention, and industry –  has fancied itself as the pinnacle against which all others ought to be measured and to which all others ought to strive. Reading this book has really thrown into stark contrast the transience of many of those things our so-called civilization worships, and the fundamental importance of so much that we ignore, disregard, and belittle.

A world-view without time seems unimaginable, but when such a world-view is placed in its larger context: life lived in harmonious unity with its natural environment; a life where every mountain, butterfly, and gust of wind is imbued with life and significance, that which seemed unimaginable presents itself  like the forest that was lost among the trees.

I’ve heard it said that only a fool thinks himself wise.  Standing, as we are, at the forefront of Western civilization, and the ongoing technological/economic/information revolution, it seems fitting that so many wise-men, disregarded as savages, have shaken their heads at us.

Peace and love.

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“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” — Ecclesiastes 3:1

It’s the first of March.

The dawn of spring has already begun to break winter’s dark night.  The sky in the east grows lighter; a pale glow giving shape and depth and life to the quiet and dark world.

Beneath the snow, the colours of the day ahead still sleep, quiet and cold, waiting for their moment to rise and shine.

And I miss writing.

My life is full, of course – perhaps even too full.  It’s always full, because I love to feel productive even more than I hate to feel idle.  But I love to write, and I miss it, and life is too short and too dreary to sacrifice creative expression at the  expense of ‘productivity’ (whatever that means).

So,  as the small tree stretches and yawns with the forthcoming of spring and the time to bud, to bloom, and to grow, I see the time as ripe for rebirth, renewal, and growth.

I recently learned that a tree grows from the inside out, effectively replacing its core each year, and pushing the past year(s) away.  I love the idea of growth from the inside out.  Certainly the past influences the path into the future, as old experiences limit the tree’s capacity to grow as it otherwise might.  But the present is not built upon the past.  It is instead built from the seed of life, and creates the reality in which the past comes to be defined. It seems a shame that we are socialized to see ourselves as products of our past, rather than definers of it.

Spring is almost here: a season for new beginnings.  I’m excited to write again.

Peace and love.

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“The search for truth is in one way hard and in another way easy, for it is evident that no one can master it fully or miss it wholly. But each adds a little to our knowledge of nature, and from all the facts assembled there arises a certain grandeur.” — Aristotle

The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child.  The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.  His intercourse with heaven and earth, becomes part of his daily food.  In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows.  Nature says – he is my creature, and maugre all his impertinent griefs, he shall be glad with me.  Not the sun or the summer alone, but every hour and season yields its tribute of delight; for every hour and change corresponds to and authorizes a different state of the mind, from breathless noon to grimmest midnight.  Nature is a setting that fits equally well a comic or a mourning piece.  In good health, the air is a cordial of incredible virtue.  Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration.  Almost I fear to think how glad I am.  In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake slough, and a what period soever of life, is always a child.  In the woods, is perpetual youth.  Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years.  In the woods, we return to reason and faith.  There I feel that nothing can befall me in life – no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair.  Standing on bare ground – my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space – all mean egotism vanishes.  I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing.  I see all.  The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.  The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental.  To be brothers, to be acquaintances – master or servant, is then a trifle and a disturbance.  I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty.

— from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature (1936)

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“The highest form of wisdom is kindness” — The Talmud

“Our soul becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts.” — Marcus Aurelius

I like reading the words of the wise.  I think most of us can agree that life can be a bit confusing at times. At other times, ‘confusing’ doesn’t begin to describe it.

It is almost certainly true that life doesn’t come with a training manual or a guide book.  We are simply born one day, and somewhere along the way we become self-aware and then we just sort of go about living, and trying not to die.  Days and weeks and years drift along, and we do what we can to occupy, distract or amuse ourselves, only vaguely aware for the most part, that sooner or later the ride must come to an end.

If at some point on our journey down the river of life, we are to feel a bit tired or lost, stopping and asking for directions is not really an option.  The river never stops, and even if it did, there is no map.  Different people find ‘maps,’ of a sort, in different places, whether science, philosophy or religion, but the near-universal disagreement on which map is ‘true’ really doesn’t lend any specific map a great deal of of credibility.

Still we are fortunate.  I imagine the experience of life must not be very different for a fish, or for a deer, or perhaps even for a bacteria.  They are born, have hungers and fears, and do what they can to occupy, distract and amuse themselves while trying to avoid death for as long as is feasible.  It would seem, though, that we have one up on them, in that the written languages of human beings provide us with something resembling context.  We may be unable to get off the river, or to look at a map, but we can share our insights, and can share in the insights of those who have come and gone before us.

While only the revelations (or lack thereof) that come with death can really define for us the meaning of a “good” or “full” life, there certainly seem to be many human beings who have, on the surface at least, approached such ideals.

Perhaps they excelled in their fields, exploring the limits of their potential.  Perhaps they broadened our understanding of life or the universe.  Perhaps they left a world behind that was better off than they world they were born into.  Perhaps they simply lived happily and at peace.  Many of them wrote, in their youth, their prime and their age, and I believe that their words – their thoughts, ideas, insights and imaginings, are among the greatest of human treasures.   It may amount to nothing more than the blind leading the blind, but many blind men and women have lived lives of misery and toil, while many have found achievement, happiness and serenity.  Though it’s impossible to know what the point of all this living is, it certainly seems likely that experiencing joy, love and completion for as many  of these few short hours of life is preferable to squandering them away in suffering and self-loathing.

Not unexpectedly, many of these so-called wise tend to agree on a lot of things, including an approach to living, and an attitude on life.  To be continued …

Well, each beautiful thing I come across tells me to stop moving and shake this riddle off.  Oh well.

And there was a time when all I wanted was my ice cream colder and a little cream soda.  Oh well, oh well.

And a wooden box and an alley full of rocks was all I had to care about.  Oh well, oh well, oh well.

Now my mind is filled with rubber tires and forest fires and whether I’m a liar and lots of other situations where I don’t know what to do at which time God screams to me “There’s nothing left for Me to tell you!”

“Nothing left for Me to tell you!”

“Nothing left!”

Oh well, oh well, oh well, oh well.

Oh well, oh well, oh well, oh well.

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“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in an American flag, and carrying a Cross.” — Unknown

Apparently Glenn Beck, champion of such gems as:

“This president [Obama] I think has exposed himself over and over again as a guy who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture….I’m not saying he doesn’t like white people, I’m saying he has a problem. This guy is, I believe, a racist.”

and

“I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can.”

and

“Good for you, you have a heart, you can be a liberal. Now, couple your heart with your brain, and you can be a conservative.”

… decided to throw a rally at the same spot as Martin Luther King Jr.  Apparently a few hundred thousand people showed up.  I wonder who sponsored it?

Apparently it was “non-political,” even though it was headlined by a bunch of Republicans.  Instead of being political,  it was instead a tribute to the Christian faith and the military.

Now there is lots to say about Glenn Beck and Fox News, but I am going to restrict myself to this one point.

Christian faith … and … the military.

I wonder if any of these people have actually read the words of Jesus Christ?

I’ve never met the man, but I’m pretty sure “The Prince of Peace” is not so big on trillions of dollars spent on war instead of love.  I could be wrong though.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.”

I’m continually impressed by how effective this crew of greedy, power hungry, egotistical bastards are at accusing the other side of the very things they are guilty of.  I take comfort in the fact that, if they are in fact correct about Jesus Christ being the son of God, he is going to be so terribly upset with them for spreading anger and hatred in his name.

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“Though force can protect in emergency, only justice, fairness, consideration and cooperation can finally lead men to the dawn of eternal peace.” — Dwight Eisenhower

From: http://www.bspcn.com/2010/03/23/no-to-socialism/

This morning I was awoken by my alarm clock, powered by electricity generated by the public power monopoly regulated by the US Department of Energy. I then took a shower in the clean water provided by the municipal water utility. After that, I turned on the TV to one of the FCC regulated channels to see what the National Weather Service of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration determined the weather was going to be like using satellites designed, built, and launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. I watch this while eating my breakfast of US Department of Agriculture inspected food and taking the drugs which have been determined as safe by the Food and Drug Administration.

At the appropriate time as regulated by the US Congress, and kept accurate by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the US Naval Observatory, I get into my National Highway Traffic Safety Administration approved automobile and set out to work on the roads built by the local, state, and federal Departments of Transportation, possibly stopping to purchase additional fuel of a quality level determined by the Environmental Protection Agency, using legal tender issued by the Federal Reserve Bank. On the way out the door, I deposit any mail I have to be sent out via the US Postal Service and drop the kids off at the public school.

After work, I drive my NHTSA car back home on DOT roads, to a house which has not burned down in my absence because of the state and local building codes and Fire Marshal’s inspection, and which has not been plundered of all its valuables thanks to the local police department.

I then log on to the internet which was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration and post of FreeRepublic.com and Fox News forums about how SOCIALISM in medicine is BAD because the government can’t do anything right.”

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