Moon Over Pennsylvania

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Moon Over Pennsylvania

“Any politician who wants to run for president, will come to me…” (Reverend Sun Myung Moon)

“Have you ever had one of those wars where everything goes wrong” (Hawkeye Pierce)

Guns and religion run bone-deep within our religiously infused American exceptionalism, where God’s elect are authorized to seize territory, kill and enslave in fulfillment of our divine purpose. Now in 2018, a bizarre new twist to this brand of patriotism came to light in Pennsylvania, shortly after the Parkland Florida high school shooting, which soon led me toward a deep, dark rabbit hole of non-linear causality. There is nothing new in that fact that guns buttress our myth of rugged individualism, that continues to atomize, challenge and polarize community . We also know, the more powerful the weapon, the more potent the gun owner feels. It has become something like an open secret that the proliferation of guns within our society is not only profitable for arms manufacturers, it fools the disempowered into fetishizing weapons as some guarantor of safety and political agency.

And still, with all of the above in mind, the February 28th events in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania, appeared to me at least, beyond surreal. According to many mainstream multimedia reports the Sanctuary Church held a blessing and marriage-commitment ceremony which included a blessing of the congregant’s nuptials while holding up Ar-15 semi-automatic weapons. According to mainstream media reports, hundreds of eerily resolute, gun-toting worshippers arrived; including some 170 of the faithful over from South Korea along with a few from Japan. Parishioners had donned ritual vestments and gold crowns, some made from bullets. And no, I am not making this up and this piece is not a satire.

This World Peace and Unification Church, considered by some to be a sect, is an offshoot of the Unification Church founded by the late Reverend Sun Myung Moon. Pastor of the Pennsylvania congregation is the youngest of Reverend Moon’s16 children, Reverend Hyung Jin “Sean” Moon who presided over a four day ceremony of gun blessing and marriage rituals, conducted in Korean with English translation. To the outside observer, this public display of ammo-sexuality lends a whole other twist to our age old tradition of “shotgun weddings”, along with the specter of some really explosive divorce proceedings.

In this version of Christianity, AR-15 assault rifles symbolize the “rod of iron” mentioned in the apocalyptic Book of Revelations: 2:27 (King James Version) which predicts the Second Coming of Christ, “…and He shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall be broken to slivers”. Celebrations concluded with a “Thank President Trump Dinner” held at a Best Western Hotel. Many of these holy weapons were likely purchased from Kahr Arms, a local gun manufacturer in nearby Greely owned by “Sean” Moon’s brother “Justin” Moon Kook Jin. Gun experts report that the AR-15 is popular because it is lightweight, easy to use, and without significant recoil. Aspiring celebrants who did not yet possess a rifle in time for these ceremonies, were told that they could purchase a $700 gift certificate for their weapon and this paper could be similarly blessed.

Local residents were understandably spooked by these lavishly costumed goings on. With emotions still raw from the Valentine’s Day High School massacre in Florida, their local elementary school was evacuated as a precaution. Irate parents were unimpressed by the supposed sanctity of commitment blessings which to them meant nothing more than their kids missing days of learning so that some deluded foreigners could marry their guns.

While striving to make any kind of sense as to what might really be going on with this bizarre mix of firearms, religion and Korea, I need to return to that elusive rabbit hole of non-linear causality where there are likely to be a few fractals unfolding. While this weaponized, Christian, royal-robed spectacle might be dismissed with a snicker and a shrug, the fact that nearly every major multimedia outlet ran this story is a significant indication of its importance. These admittedly bizarre ceremonies received massive media coverage at a time when tensions with North Korea have been vigorously revived under the Trump administration along with a national debate about the need for citizens to carry military grade weapons. From a systemic perspective, I suspect that the high strangeness in that Pennsylvania church is a manifestation of lies, cover-ups and covert arms deals in relation to unfinished business from the Korean War.

During World War II, Korea was occupied by Japan and then in 1945 was divided along the 38th parallel, with two occupations by the USA and the former Soviet Union, which immediately precipitated a brutal war of national re-unification. Korea remains as a kind of blind spot in the public imagination, as it served as an essential bridge to the big money machinery of total global dominance. As part of the Cold War Era, the Korean conflict was crucial in that our economy had been organized toward war, so it became necessary to re-configure these efforts in the service of perpetual warfare.The subsequent establishment of the U.S. National Security State led to our still expanding empire of bases. During the conflict which raged through 1950-1953, nearly 3.5 million lives were lost, and at least 36,516 were American, a value mostly to the defense contractors and the politicians they owned. An uneasy truce was established 1953 and the US has remained on permanent war footing. (Janine Jackson, truth-out.org, March 3, 2018)

The Korean War provided material for one of the highest-rated shows in television history. M*A*S*H (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital), which ran from 1972 and was adapted from the film, based on a novel. While this comedy/drama was an ensemble piece, revolving around key personnel during the Korean conflict, many Americans assumed it was about our Vietnam War which was escalating at that time. Often, under the cover of comedy, the dialogues questioned America’s roles the Cold War Era.

Trauma Surgeon Hawkeye Pierce:

War isn’t Hell. War is war and Hell is Hell. And, of the two, war is a lot worse.

Chaplin: How do you figure?

Hawkeye: Easy Father. Tell me, who goes to Hell?

Chaplin: Sinners, I believe.

Hawkeye: Exactly. There are no innocent bystanders in Hell. War is chock full of them; little kids, cripples, and old ladies. It fact, except for some of the brass, almost everybody is an innocent bystander.

Here, I think it is important to mention that during the Korean and Vietnam Wars the USA had conscription. Eventually, the anti-war protests grew to such numbers that the draft was abolished and we now have an all volunteer military.

Perpetual war requires a steady supply of arms, and the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, founder of Korea’s Unification Church was eager to help. Born and persecuted in North Korea, Moon eventually managed to escape to South Korea. After several previous trips, he relocated to America and quickly entered politics during the 1970s with our Vietnam War ongoing at that time. In 1982 he purchased The Washington Times, which quickly became essential reading for any political news junkie. It has since been suggested that he introduced right wing propaganda into mainstream media. Reverend Moon continued to burrow deeper into our conservative mainstream as the self-proclaimed messiah and heir to Jesus Christ with a cult of apparently zombified mass- married, followers. His close ties with the arms, and some say drug, trades in Latin America and George Herbert Walker Bush during his tenure as CIA director and Vice President and President are well documented for those willing to do the research.  (James Ridgeway, Mother Jones, April 29, 2007 )

Reverend Moon died in 2012 at the age of 92 and his mission continues through family members including Sean’s ministry and Justin’s gun manufacturing company in Pennsylvania.

So now it seems that the Moon church arms complex continues to play a role in our American politics which has become an extension war. In addition to our troops in 70% of the world’s countries, we have our President needlessly revving up tensions with North Korea; a number of wars in oil rich Muslim counties, as well as our class war, together with our war on terror where we are constantly fighting enemies who are everywhere and nowhere at all. Violence is becoming increasingly normalized with multiple school and other mass-shootings as our shell-shocked culture continues to veer toward the irrational; which so clearly manifested in Pennsylvania. Given current levels of escalating hysteria, one wonders what the reaction would have been to the Sanctuary Church ceremonies if those worshippers had been Mexican, Black or Muslim?

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Enough

87042859 – many shell casings from bullets of different caliber in the background chaos concept in the world

ENOUGH

“Violence is as American as cherry pie” (H. Rap Brown)

I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose voters” (Donald Trump)

“When your children act like leaders and your leaders act like children, you know that change is coming” (Mikel Jollett)

 

Americans of all political persuasions are shooting each other in the streets and now, with increasing frequency, in our schools and churches. Despite our claims for American exceptionalism and moral superiority, ours has always been a violent country, founded from the onset by genocidal policies and exploitation of slave labor. This American violence, which never stops, has been glorified throughout our history. Violence is the default setting for problem solving for unruly children as well as foreign regimes whose policies we don’t like. Media hyped violence is just about everywhere on our news in keeping with the TV cliché, “If it bleeds, it leads”.

Hollywood action films, Superhero Blockbusters and quick kill video games are enormously popular as entertainment.  Our empire supports a Late Roman taste for violence as spectacle; which is nothing new to our culture. I grew up on the East Coast, watching Old Western movies, together with other kids from our neighborhood, on our little black and white TV screen, which glorified charismatic gunslingers. Every week we had a new episode of the Lone Ranger on his white horse, shooting silver bullets; sheriffs rounding up their posses to organize  “necktie  parties” for the bad hombres who rode black horses. Sharing juice and cookies, we eagerly followed many a gang of valiant vigilantes setting out to promote frontier justice. Interestingly enough, many of these episodes were filmed in Arizona where I now live, which at that time, seemed as far away as Mars.

And then there was Annie Oakley, the most famous sharpshooting heroine of her time, who often starred in Buffalo Bill’s traveling Wild West Shows. A movie about her life starred Lana Turner, and  there were coloring books for girls featuring her rootin, tootin  frontier adventures.  Many Americans also have a kind of nostalgic affection and enthusiasm for elaborate, sanitized re-enactments of earlier wars. Revolutionary War enthusiasts stage their re-reenactments in period costumes on battlefield sites with their reproduced versions of the Brown Bess Musket. These theatrics are always well attended by participants and spectators, as are similar events re-enacting our Civil War. In modern times we have Clint Eastwood’s gun- bearing Dirty Harry daring any adversary  to “Make my day”,  as well as Sylvester Stallone’s now iconic Rambo. All the while our toy industry has greatly profited from this long tradition of lethal weapon’s lore. The fact that a Republican candidate for the presidency could boast as to how he could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody without losing voters, and be nevertheless elected, makes our situation clear enough.

Any invitation for Americans to re-think our relationship to guns is likely to meet with fierce resistance, given our history. It is not only a deeply ingrained belief that fire- arms equate with power but also it is our God given freedom set forth in the 2nd amendment of our constitution. In reality this freedom also includes freedom to stockpile guns and ammunition that we can order online with prime-time delivery options.

Times have changed since our  long-gone  colonial and frontier days. Our once democratic republic has become a world-wide, militaristic empire; and war permeates our fear-driven  post 9/11 culture. In addition to Orwellian perpetual wars to “preserve our freedom” that we hardly notice, we are routinely asked to enlist in a War on Drugs, War on Christmas, and War on Terror. All the while our  bought and paid for politicians continue to allocate ever more gazillions for more and more weapons of mass destruction. Never mind that too many of our human warriors are easily discarded and sleeping in the streets. The hour is late and our situation is dire.

On February 14th, 2018, Valentine’s Day,  Ash Wednesday for Catholics, the latest iteration of a series of horrific school shooting fractals took place in the quiet suburb of Parkland, Florida, when a drill suddenly went live. Why so many of these mass casualty events such as 9/11,7/7 and  others, nearly always take place at the same time as a drill, is a topic for a whole other discussion.  Another co-incidence, if you believe in such things, is that, like Columbine, the Florida school was built on land previously occupied by indigenous who came to a genocidal end.  Broward County was home to Semioles who were either slaughtered or otherwise deported in accordance with colonization policies. In Parkland, the shots rang out during a class on Holocaust history.

While Colorado’s 1999 Columbine High School massacre, in the quiet suburb of Littleton, was not the first event of this kind in the USA, it became iconic due to massive media hype and political involvement at the highest levels of both government and military. The reasons for this are complex and not well understood, as they have to do with the unfinished business of war. I wrote about this in some depth in A Question of Balance (2008) as did Dave Cullen in Columbine (2009). In his film Bowling for Columbine, Michael  Moore addressed this underlying issue of war, from a different and still related perspective.

Parkland Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is located on the edge of the Everglades and named for this environmental activist. Ironically, among the single-cause explanations for this tragedy, mental illness was favored by our mainstream media, and  Ms Douglas suffered from severe episodes of mental illness at various times in her life. Along with the mental illness as the problem rhetoric, was the theory that a majority of school shooters were taking  SSRI  (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor), medications which have the alarming side effect of both suicidal and homicidal ideations. While it does seem that these psychotropic drugs may well have played a role in these ongoing tragedies, there are other factors to consider, including ease of obtaining military style assault weapons such as the AR-15.

The Ar-15 automatic assault weaponhas that name for a reason; and for some they have become something like a fetish.  As novelist Stephen King has observed: “Semi-automatics have only two purposes. One is so owners can take them to the shooting range once in awhile, yell yee-haw and get all horny at the rapid fire and burning vapor spurting from the end of the barrel. The other is to kill people. (Guns). At present, there are some 5 million of these flesh shredding firearms in circulation; which can fire dozens of rounds in one single second.

All of which brings us to the raging debates surrounding the issue of gun control. The popular adage that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” has a modicum of truth, since other heavily armed  populations, such as in Canada and Switzerland, do not have our mass shooting problems. Such countries also have mentally ill, many of whom are medicated with SSRIs; but they do not stage these horrific massacres. Other countries with strict gun control laws, such as those in Scandinavia, also have a clear consensus that these laws are an important aspect of public safety. Without consensus, gun control laws are not effective. Ask Mexico.

Unfortunately, the Columbine High School shooting issued in a new era of militarization of our schools with metal detectors installed and backscatter imaging devices became part of the teenage prom experience. While some may advocate arming teachers, more guns as a response to too many guns doesn’t seem to offer any viable solution. Public school safety programs now include twice yearly,  live shooter drills conducted by former Special Forces and Israeli trained militarized police. This has rapidly evolved into a profitable extension of the post 9/11 security theater profiting from the economics of fear.

If there is any good news, one finds that the Florida mass shooting is different in that survivors are taking to social media and news media with a clear message that enough is enough, and they demand action. On the April 20th anniversary of the 11 A.M. Columbine massacre, students and teachers are planning a nationwide march to demand changes in our gun laws. Celebrities such as George and Amal Clooney, and Oprah Winfrey are donating money and resources and also plan to participate in the marches. This is hopeful, in that one may actually hope for a much needed seismic shift in our collective understanding of freedom, guns and safety.

The storm is upon us and it seems clear that when it comes to common sense gun laws, there is no leadership available from our corporate-controlled oligarchy, and that change can only be achieved from the ground upward. Grassroots groups could arise organically, perhaps as shooting clubs, as well as community activists willing to get involved with local law-enforcement, volunteer firefighters, and emergency responders to promote gun safety courses and competitions. Together they could create an actual infrastructure capable of facing all manner of diversity together as a community of responsible and sovereign citizenry. (Land Destroyer, Global Research, February 16, 2018).

 

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Todesmarch

 

Todesmarch

We as an Earth civilization have not, as yet come to understand ourselves.” (Edgar Mitchell, Astronaut)

Barbarism is not the inheritance of our prehistory. It is the companion that dogs our every step”. (Alain Finkielkraut, Philosopher )

“The opposite of love is not hate – its indifference. Where there is hate there still may be love”.  (Elie Wiesel, Holocaust Survivor)

 

While time has been described as movement from one point to another, as I move deeper into a systemic understanding of collective trauma, it is becoming increasingly clear that, in various non-linear ways, we still embody our past. Recent events in Germany have confirmed, for me at least, that this is indeed the case and that elements from unresolved events will continue to represent in some form or another, in search of resolution. Earlier this year, it was Spring in beautiful Bavaria, lilacs in full bloom as their scent carried throughout the air of this historic region. I spent a day in and around the small Baroque town of Bad Tölz at the invitation offered by my German co-creative partner, Dr. Karl-Heinz Rauscher. History is always with us, in our international; Men, Women, War and Peace events, given the reality of our family systems involvement in the events from World War II. On this day, we had an opportunity to walk together along some of the historical places that had impacted us both and our families in different and also inter-related ways.

While Karl-Heinz was born in Bavaria and lives in Bad Tölz, my experience of this region has been quite different and inextricably bound within specific events of World War II. My father’s 45th Infantry Division of the U.S. Seventh Army was active in this locale and also involved in the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp toward the final days of the WW II. On this day, just prior to our upcoming seminar on Men, Women, War and Peace, we followed a portion of the path of a death march evacuation  of prisoners from the infamous forced labor camp located just outside of Dachau, which also had 123 sub-camps and factories in this vicinity. On the last roll-call before liberation there were some 30,442 inmates in the main camp and another 37,223 incarcerated in nearby satellite-institutions. Established in 1933 Dachau was one of the earliest camps and the only one to have existed throughout the 12 year reign of Nazi terror.

With allied troops fast approaching, nearly 15,000 prisoners were force-marched southward toward the Austrian border, along the eastern shore of the Starnberger See, headed toward the Tegernsee. The reasons for this cruel maneuver are unclear, and possibly had something to do with an effort to launch a last-ditch resistance to build fortifications in the Tyrol. By May of 1945 barely 6,000 of those prisoners had survived, since those in failing health and stamina were shot as they fell along the way. Months later, a mass grave containing 1,071 inmate bodies were found along the route. (NY Times, August 18,1945, p.5).  As they passed through Bad Tölz, and more than a dozen other Bavarian towns, they were seen and surreptitiously photographed by “ordinary Germans”, “who didn’t know”. Passing through, they would have seen or at least heard reports of thousands of tormented figures with shaven heads, sunken eyes, hollow cheeks, weighing less than 80 lbs, shivering in tattered, striped prison uniforms forced to march some 10 to 15 hours a day while suffering from starvation and exposure. (Daniel Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and The Holocaust, 1997)

In the face of such historical horror, Americans would do well to keep in mind the fact that our very own, über-patriotic, “silent majority”, has displayed a similar reaction to oppression and atrocity against “others”. While this inconvenient truth has been evident throughout our history, in recent years, I remember a time when the state-sponsored violence of racial segregation was law, illegal wars declared and, even now, genocidal policies continue to be legislated against our indigenous populations.

We began our day with a walk along the main street in Bad Tölz, as Karl-Heinz’s cell phone rang with a message from someone who questioned his choice to work with an American on issues of war. “They were the victors”, he said,” they don’t know anything”. Continuing on we stopped at times to read the messages on the Stolpersteine  (stumbling blocks) set within the cobblestones. These metal plaques, which measure approximately 10 x10 cm, are a product of a public art project and work of German conceptual artist and sculptor Gunter Demnig. In contrast to most memorials designed to command attention, his understated Stolpersteine reside quite literally underfoot. Each plaque is carefully handcrafted in order to commemorate all Jews, Roma, Blacks Sinti, dissidents, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Free-Masons, military deserters, resistance-fighters and communists who were deported and exterminated. These small plaques also commemorate the mentally and physically disabled victims of euthanasia, as well as those who survived incarceration, sterilization-clinics. Those forced to immigrate or commit suicide as a result of Nazi persecution. Each has one name, date of birth, date taken away and date and manner of death, if known, and placed in the pavement outside this individual’s last known address or workplace. In Bad Tölz, there were many.

Later that morning, we drove out of town along the death-march route to Waakirchen, the site of the death-march memorial created by Hubertus von Pilgrim (b.1931) set just a few steps up from the side of the roadway. Around and behind this cast of his bronze depiction of a huddled line of skeletal figures, we could see open, gently rolling wildflower meadows, which have long swallowed, as Nature often does, innumerable traces of massive human suffering. And still, the fact remains that this idyllic country meadow, once held a campsite where thousands of nearly-dead prisoners were camped, and then discovered by American troops, after their SS guards had fled. Many were fallen and covered with snow in that unseasonably cold year which had freezing temperatures and flurries ongoing into the last weeks of May.

Strong winds came up as we slowly circled the gaunt silhouettes with each figure expressing a range of expressions of indescribable suffering, pain, confusion, despair and exhaustion; barely able to stand there together, in stark testimony to man’s inhumanity to man. Their somber shades of gray, in our changing, late morning light, served to evoke the complicated middle-ground complicity, all around the vast and varied edges of the Holocaust era. On closer inspection, we could see that the sculptor had delicately etched and textured the surface of each figure’s exposed flesh, bearing witness to whips, canes and other torturous abuses, along with open sores and other evident ravages of disease and malnutrition.

Standing there together, with no words, I suddenly felt a stab of fear as we were startled by a low growl rising into a thunderous roar. Turning toward this ominous sound, we saw that a leather clad motorcyclist had arrived and was in the process of parking his bike; probably from a need to relieve himself, and disappeared into a nearby wood.

In his rush, the biker paid us no notice and upon his reappearance, seemed  to have remained completely oblivious or indifferent to us as well as to the memorial. During his brief absence, we noted his impeccably shined, silver and black machine, and matching black leather outfit complete with a death’s-head insignia clearly visible on his black helmet, so evocative of the Third Reich’s motorcycle troops. In a way we were surprised (and also not), since we have been working with systemic approaches to collective trauma long enough to understand that perpetrators and victims belong to the same system within individual, family and social fields. (sheldrake .org). It has also been our experience that synchronous events often manifest  during the course of our systemic approach to all levels and manifestations of unresolved trauma, within our workshops and also when we are simply out and around within our daily lives.

The death’s head on the biker’s black helmet was especially chilling since the totenkopf was used by elite SS (Schützenstaffel) on their on their uniforms and visor caps. The SS ran extermination and labor camps in Germany and throughout Nazi occupied Europe. In 1935, Dachau became a training camp for administrators and other personnel where recruits were conditioned to adapt an attitude of inflexible hardness, and create an atmosphere of controlled, disciplined cruelty. As the dark figure returned to his machine and prepared to depart, still oblivious to our nearby presence, he turned toward the road, revealing an iron cross symbol, clearly visible on the back of his black leather jacket. Beginning in 1939, Adolf Hitler employed the Iron Cross as a German decoration. Post-World War II neo-Nazis and other white supremacists subsequently adopted it as an internationally-recognized  hate symbol, and it is frequently seen in that context here in our increasingly authoritarian USA; whose belligerent patriotism knows no shame.

At present, more than a few of us are concerned that escalating and cascading crises, apparently generating a hostility-based political climate within regions of our country, increasingly resembles the 1930s in Germany. Citizenship here now demands a silencing of dissent, blind loyal respect for authority, militarism, universal surveillance, media-moguls and the corporate-brand. For now, it seems that we have not yet learned the fallacy that blind loyal trust in a powerful leader relieves us of our responsibility to understand. Here in dystopian, Trumplandia we are once again seeing the seductive power of a leader who promises simple answers which will saves us from complicated challenges.

While the European Holocaust is over, the practice of genocide and mass murder has continued on, unabated since the end of that war in 1945. The age-old, warped ideology of Fascist philosophy did not originate with the Third Reich, and history is clear that there has always been an ongoing need for the few to rule over the many; as well as groups seeking to oppress, control or even eliminate other groups. Nevertheless, there is still something hellish about it. Even powerful memorials, such as those created by Gunter Demnig and Hubertus von Pilgrim, along with innumerable written and photo documentations, together with thousands of official documents and testimonials, have failed to banish the false narratives of Holocaust denial. And so, we are left with a reality, which is that, for now at least, a primal need for hatred of the “other” remains at least as strong as our need for truth.

Perhaps I am not alone in my feeling that the hour is late and our situation is dire. Here, Pulitzer Prize journalist, activist and prolific author, Chris Hedges offers some well tempered advice for those of us struggling here through these late stages of our over-extended empire: “Once we no longer acknowledge our own capacity for evil, we no longer know ourselves, and we become monsters who devour others and eventually ourselves”. These destructions have happened before and will no doubt happen again, until all of humanity learns the value of making healthier and more inclusive, life- positive choices.

(Photos courtesy of Dr. Karl-Heinz Rauscher)

 

 

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Men Women War and Peace

“Once upon a time my father was a soldier – he did heal but was never whole… That war defined his life and defined my life before I was even born…One of these days someone needs to write a book about what war does to the children of those sent to fight and die in them…There are many like me and many more to come. We are the children of the aftermath. (William Rivers Pitt, Memorial Day, 2016)

“When your father died, it was like a grenade exploded within our family and then… the silence descended ..we didn’t know any better”. (Aunt Challis, my father’s younger sister)

“In peace, sons bury their fathers; in a war, fathers bury their sons”.

“War does not determine who is right; only who is left”. (Bertrand Russell)

On this upcoming Memorial Day here in Northern Arizona, our days begin began just before sun-up, as those of us desert dwellers know that the baking heat of our oncoming season requires that whatever needs doing, if at all possible, should really try to happen well before noon. And still, before I seriously got going, I took a few minutes to check my email which contained some life changing news from a cousin who is also our family historian. As I read his message, two major and interfacing themes during my years of social and war trauma work, suddenly came together in a totally new way: the choice of one’s life’s work is often an attempt to heal something unresolved within earlier generations, and the systemic role of wars and other conflicts in the ongoing war between men and women.

Years ago, it came to me, as I grew deeper into clinical work, that what we choose to pursue as either a profession or serious hobby is often either a conscious or unconscious attempt to heal something that remains unfinished from previous generations. A pivotal example that opened a way toward this understanding was my work with a swimming instructor for adults, who lost both parents in a boating accident because neither knew how to swim. Given my evolving understanding, in this regard, my ongoing and extensive work with trans-generational war trauma seems almost inevitable, especially with the focus of the impact of war upon the family. My earliest memory, which my Mother has confirmed, is of lying in a crib, around nap time, looking out a large window toward the sky and asking her about a noisy airplane flying low around and around my Grandfather’s rural farmhouse. “That noisy plane”, she explained, “is being flown by your Uncle Bill, saying a good bye to us, on his way ‘overseas’ to the war”. Uncle Bill, my Mother’s youngest brother, who later became an important protective figure in my early life, was a bomber pilot stationed in Southern England. As a staunch patriot, he joined, together with all my other uncles, aunts, cousins and other family members who were deeply involved in World War II; as soldiers, mechanics, navigators, tail gunners, doctors, nurses, Red Cross and home guard. Only many years later did I begin to realize the import of this military aspect of our family history and subsequent relationships.

We were fortunate that all of our relatives returned, at least physically intact, with the notable exception of my father who died in the Battle of Besancon in eastern France; reportedly blown to pieces by a German grenade. By interesting “co-incidence” if you believe such events are merely random, my father died in a battle on the very site where the Battle of Besancon took place on June 21, 1575 during religious wars between Protestants and Catholics. As a result of accusations of heresy, our Huguenot ancestors fled this exact area via north Holland on their way to New Amsterdam which eventually became New York.

My maternal Grandfather and other Uncles stepped in to provide a “fatherly” advisory presence, and I remain deeply and always grateful for their efforts…and still none could ever replace my very own and only father, long lost to war. As a child, I blamed Germany and all Germans for this unfathomable loss. As an adult, this changed during my international war trauma work, especially in Germany where the humiliation of defeat, occupation and division, had added yet another dimension of suffering to the massive devastation; some of which was caused by people that I loved and trusted.

As I became increasingly aware of my trans-generational legacy of war, and the no longer deniable impact of war upon families, my cousin’s Memorial Day message carried this understanding still deeper within an entirely new level that I have yet to fully integrate. His recent research has revealed that, on father’s side, our ancestor’s war service goes back as far as our history can be traced; including combatants in the American Civil war, three who enlisted in the War of 1812, as well as a dozen in the 1776 Revolutionary War and many of our earliest forefathers were colonial militia men. In short, our historian was unable to locate any male ancestor of service age who did not serve during a major U.S. conflict.

Here it is important to note that the impact of these war time experiences upon their physical, mental, and spiritual health, relationships, families and descendants, remains unknown as well as most likely unacknowledged and misunderstood. Please know and also take courage to resist any temptation or misguided invitation to forget, the ancient and long standing reality that it is not only soldiers who suffer the traumas of war… and that this unresolved pain can and most certainly will cascade on, downward and through succeeding generations with often unrecognized consequences.

On Mother’s side, our fiercely tribal Cornish clan was also involved in both World Wars, and to this day have not even reconciled with the English. As my Mother advised … upon the eve of my first trip over there to the UK and “our home” in St. Just, …”Our Cornish will tell you that they have never been to England”. To my surprise, she was not all that wrong about that. On that side of our family tree I would not be surprised to learn that they had also successfully battled Vikings, Picts, Romans, Saxons and maybe even seriously engaged in some head-bashing, stone-axe conflicts with the Neanderthals.

As the realization of my trans-generational mandate with unresolved war trauma began to gain a clearer focus, I also felt a necessity to probe much deeper into the impact of war upon families; as an often hidden source of conflict in relationships, especially between men and women. This was soon to become even clearer during the early 1990s as I co-facilitated a pilot program in the California High Sierra mountains; bringing together traumatized women and combat veterans from the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.

Those wilderness-based events mark the beginning of my work with “Men, Women and War: And the War Between Men and Women”; some of which appears in my first book: Relative Balance in An Unstable World, (2005) written before I re-oriented toward a systemic perspective in regard to the immediate and trans-generational impact of war upon human relationships. This first account also includes material for a similar event that I offered within a deep forest setting in Russia, with their combat veterans and traumatized women. At this point, I should make clear that my understanding of war entangled relationships includes, trans-national conflicts as well as race, class, tribal, civil and religious wars; as well as consequences from political, revolutionary and genocidal agendas.

In subsequent decades I carried on with the “men, women and war” work, mostly on my own until I reached a kind of standstill with the realization that a book that I had long hoped to be able to write on this subject, so central to all of my other work with individual and social trauma…was just not happening. And then last year, it came to me, in May, during one sleepless full moon night in Mexico City, that the work, after all, was Men…Women and War..and the War between Men…and Women…and that this was not only women’s work, which could then be all mixed up with feminism; the real healing work needs to be done by men and women together. Moreover, given the oft trans-generational components of war and other conflicts, I realized the need for a strong, male partner, preferably from an “enemy ” culture…who knows war and shares my level of concern.

Within my family’s family-system, for at least two generations, our enemy was most definitely Germany, and so with this in mind I contacted my long time Bavarian colleague, Dr. Karl-Heinz Rauscher, since we had briefly done a early version of this work together during his visit to Colorado in 2001. While we had remained in contact after he returned to Germany and his practice of medicine, we had not actually seen each other in over a decade…and still his response was quite positive. However, Karl-Heinz felt that a totally new vision was now necessary, and that given that our families had been killing each other through at least two world wars, it was worth an effort to find a genuine path toward peace.

And so, after a year of serious preparation, during which a few long buried “landmines” continue to explode here and there…as layers of our war torn systemic entanglements continue to surface, disturb and disrupt, we nevertheless have managed to commit to finding our own way toward a genuine and lasting peace… on both an individual and systemic level. As a result Karl-Heinz and I presented our new vision of Men, Women and Peace, almost exactly one year later, at a (full moon) “Search for a New Systemic Intelligence” conference in Mexico City. And now despite our inevitable systemic tensions, 16 years into this, neither of us is willing to give up. Nevertheless, challenges continue along with the troublesome fact that with our Trump administration, relations between Germany and the USA are becoming increasingly strained. All in all, time will tell and still we persevere. In June we will offer another event at the UK’s Coventry Cathedral, now a bombed out remnant of war between our countries but also international memorial to all past, present and future victims of our ongoing bomb driven insanities of man’s ongoing inhumanity to man. More information for any and all who have been impacted by wars, bombs and violent conflicts of any kind, possibly for generations, is available at: http://coventryconstella.co.uk

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Fire in the Madhouse

Fire in the Madhouse

Fire in the Madhouse

Fire In The Madhouse :Trauma And The Human Condition : Volume V offers us a provocative exploration of the flurry of conflicts and preposterous events that swirled globally throughout 2016. Our gratitude to Anngwyn St. Just for providing us with a bit more light.” (Francesca Mason Boring, author of Healing Through Constellations,Ceremony and Ritual, and Feather Medicine.)

“Anngwyn St Just is one of the truly original and innovative thinkers in the field of traumatology. With clarity and wit she demonstrates how trauma becomes embedded within the very fabric of space and time and how traumatic experience plays out in our lives, from generation to generation”. (Peter A. Levine, Waking The Tiger: Healing Trauma and In An Unspoken Voice. How the Body Releases Trauma And Restores Goodness)

Fire in The Madhouse is the latest in Dr. St. Just’s growing list of outstanding books on trauma and the human condition. Anngwyn’s perspective and deep insights on collective trauma and the “bigger picture” of needed larger societal and global changes are not just welcome but more than ever before, needed, if we are to survive, and beyond this, transform the madhouse world we live in”.) John Bilorusky Ph.D. President, The Western Institute for Social Research, Berkeley, California.

This current volume, a fifth in a series of Trauma and the Human Condition blooks ” (blogs+books) which continue on as my most recent compendium of monthly online blogs offered throughout the calendar year through auspices of the Western Institute For Social Research, in Berkeley, California, ongoing since 2011. While most entries appear as they did on the WISR web site, some have been expanded and updated as new information has become available. As has been the case, in all previous volumes within this Trauma and the Human Condition series, my overall focus as a systemically oriented social traumatologist continues to remain, for the most part, on those issues having to do with those social and global traumas which contribute to the ongoing process of increasingly accelerated social change, due to globalization, and the internet, in conjunction with also increasingly complex and problematic trans-national, corporate and state sponsored surveillance technologies.

My title for this latest volume comes from a lecture offered by ethno-botanist Terrance McKenna, a seminal figure in various consciousness raising movements during the sixties and seventies while I was a graduate student at U.C.Berkeley, referred to by some more conservative souls as “Bezerkely, Nevertheless, I absolutely loved it there as both student, teacher and resident of that local community surrounding that seriously multi-culti, Bay Area university and remained active for over 30 years in a surrounding on and off campus, local and decidedly adventurous, consciousness awareness communities. No apologies.

While I never had enough real courage to imbibe any of those truly esoteric and exotic substances, cosmic mushrooms, datura, ayayuascha, DMT and so on from which Terrance derived many of his insights, I felt that his return trips had something to offer for those of us less willing to journey into those mysterious, unknown and potentially dangerous realms. On one occasion, which I cannot remember when, Terrance offered a lecture entitled “Fire in the Madhouse. In the End of Time ” and the image immediately resonated with our then and still current situation. In this lecture, Terrance opined that when an entire species is preparing to move on to the next dimension the entire destiny of the planet is tied up in this – we are not acting as our selves. We happen to be the point species for a transformation that will affect every living thing on this planet is caught up in this, the entire destiny of the planet at its conclusion. While I don’t really resonate with his apocalyptic vision, I would agree that the hour is late and our situation is dire.

Signs and symptoms of our collective insanity are everywhere and this Strangelovian leap year of 2016 produced many surprises, aptly described by some as a truly terrible, surreal 12 months that have rendered satire obsolete. Confusion reigns and in the words of British science fiction writer Anna Butler, 2016 is a year…”that stinks like a three week – dead tuna fish rolled in a batter of camel dung. It has brought us little but loss, war, death of innocents, vicious politics and near death of values such as tolerance and acceptance. All it has given us in exchange is noxious politics, dangerous selfishness and bigotry.” Strong words, odiferous even, and still I have never been so glad to see a year come to an end. If there is any good news, 2016’s beyond surreal events have provided pure gold manna reigning down upon our late night comedians, especially those specializing in political satire and fake news. Yet, the term “fake news ” was appropriated by the controllers as an neo-Orwellian attack on alternative media and any other anti-establishment site in a ham fisted attempt to limit free speech, manage leaks, obscure truth and blame it all on the Russians in a troublesome flashback to the Cold War, Red Scare Fifties.

In keeping with this manipulative insanity, if there was one word for 2016, it would likely be FEAR. With this in mind, I began the blogs in this volume with “Our Year of Fear ” a dark comedic account of a “killer squirrel ” terrorizing Northern California communities, all of which is absolutely true and therefore no need to fabricate or even embellish any details. Given that this volume is about 2016, the craziness continues with Al-Gebera and irrational, truly ignorant, out of control Islama- phobia and then that silly Killer Clown craze that shut down public schools during our Halloween season.

Given my profession, I do need to travel a lot and this is also reflected in this Volume V, as has also been with the previous volumes in this ongoing series. For those who are new to the subject of collective trauma, I felt that it was time to update and clarify my understanding of those traumas which involve groups larger than the family, communities, tribes, clans, nations and the biosphere herself and so I felt that this would be the optimum place to begin this latest addition to the series. (Fire In TheMadhouse, 2017 is now available through www.amazon.com)

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First They Came For Dr. Dao

46724595 - suffering from violence with a victim crying male

There is no problem on the planet that can’t be solved without violence. That’s the lesson of the Civil Rights Movement”. (Andrew Young)

“Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict”. (Dorothy Thompson)

If you want a vision of our future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever”. (George Orwell)

Along with our rising tides of authoritarian oppression, state sponsored bigotry and incremental losses of civil rights, we are now faced with the frightening spectacle of Dr. David Dao, who boarded United Airlines flight 3411 at Chicago O’Hare, destined for Louisville, Kentucky, and left as a severely traumatized and likely re-traumatized patient. Courtesy of a cell phone video filmed by a fellow passenger, who recorded this viscerally disgusting, unconscionable violence, we view a 69 year old pulmonologist, Vietnamese-American father and grandfather, dragged, on his back, through the center aisle of an aircraft. Three aviation security goons, now on paid leave, had slammed his face into an arm rest and then knocked him unconscious. Passengers seated nearby report that these uniformed brutes enjoyed “a good laugh” during their vicious assault. In this day of universal surveillance by the so-called powers that be, I am so grateful for the fact that ordinary citizens with cell-phone cameras are still able, for now at least, to have the technology to also watch our watchers. As a result, this amateur, somewhat wobbly, hand-held video, went viral; before the flight even took off and within hours, ignited an international storm of protest.

United’s initial attempt at spin, was that this flight was overbooked and they needed four volunteers to deplane. Time-limited vouchers, redeemable only on United, were offered as an incentive. While three passengers passively agreed to this fable, no one else “volunteered” and so, according to United’s spokesperson, a “random computer search” selected Dr. Dao. In a highly dubious, airline version, of our age-old, American musical-chairs game, he was chosen as the loser who must relinquish his seat. When this chosen one protested, concerned that he was “flying while Asian”, explained he was a doctor who needed to return home in time to see patients, held a confirmed reservation for a paid-for seat, and therefore refused to “volunteer”. This quite understandable protest was later described by a tone deaf United CEO as “disruptive and belligerent”, and therefore his airline “had no choice”, in fluent fascist, Orwellian newspeak, but to “re-accommodate” their latest inconvenient passenger. As for other future choices, my darker side imagines, that our ubiquitous cost-effective experts might well advocate that all subsequent United and all other aircraft be refurbished with remote controlled, trap door, rapid ejection devices to be installed directly beneath all coach-class seating Therefore, no more need to assault and forcibly drag any and all non-compliant passengers off in plain sight ,along with the accompanying risks of negative publicity.

Corporate controlled MSM media has dutifully reported this disturbing incident with Dr. Dao and that this innocent physician was “re-accomodated “. Yes, of course, he was and in a manner similar to the “re-accomodated” extradition of El Chapo from Mexico. And, pay no attention to the actual fact that United’s overbooking story was an “alternative fact” (bold-faced lie). In reality, flight 3411 was not overbooked; and this situation was simply one in which United felt entitled to bump four paying passengers in order to accommodate four of their crew-members scheduled to travel to a connecting flight. Another challenge to the alternative fact, of United’s ” no choice ” defense for their resort to violence, is simply an obvious option in that their crew members could have easily been transported by van or charter-plane to their required destination.

Perhaps our increasing numbers of awake and aware can agree and insist that this “no choice” and “no other option” defense for often lethal violence by law-enforcement operatives is no longer acceptable within our so-called democratic society, where suspects are considered legally innocent until granted a fair trial. This is becoming an increasingly serious issue which I have previously addressed in “No Other Option?” (Lightning OnThe Horizon, 2016). In this case, the “suspect”, Dr. Dao, was guilty of nothing other than rationally protesting an obvious injustice.

Nevertheless, by refusing to “volunteer” Dr. Dao was summarily accosted by three uniformed thugs who proceed to inflict a series of injuries which resulted in his “re-accommodation” in Chicago’s Advocate Lutheran General Hospital. Now a patient, this innocent physician was minus his two front teeth, as well as a broken nose, shattered sinuses and serious concussion, together with confusion and temporary memory loss; (trauma). In addition, he will likely be in need of facial reconstruction surgery.

Upon viewing this disturbing video and hearing Dr. Dao’s agitation and terrified screams, as a trauma specialist, I suspected that this incident may have been a re-activation of a previous unresolved trauma. After being knocked unconscious, and hauled off the aircraft, Dr. Dao somehow managed to break free of his assailants and in a clearly disoriented state re-boarded, muttering, “I have to go home” and “please, just kill me”. He was then again removed on a stretcher by medics who proceeded to clean up the copious blood spatters, while the remaining passengers waited to re-board for a delayed departure.

It has been my experience, with over a half-century of trauma work, that traumas tend to happen on the anniversaries of previous, unresolved traumas, especially those involving a separation or violent dis-connection. Here it is interesting to note that Dr. Dao’s ordeal with a violent dis-connection happened during the month of April. As we have since learned, he spent his teens and late twenties during the height of the Vietnamese War; and that he felt that his United abduction-experience was even more terrifying than his last minute escape during the chaotic fall of Saigon in April 1975.

During this horrific war trauma debacle, thousands of American soldiers and Vietnamese scrambled to flee by helicopter and boats, as more than 150,000 North Vietnamese gathered at the city gates. Small wonder that Dr. Dao was disoriented and “wanted to go home”. More information on trauma and potential re-traumatization on anniversary dates is available in my Trauma: Time, Space and Fractals (2012) and the Youtube interview: “Na rubu znanosti”, filmed in Zagreb in English and Croatian. (link: www.acst-international.com).

While adding insult to injury, the “Friendly Skies of United”, did not bother to make sure that Dr. Dao’s luggage was unloaded, nor that of his wife, a pediatrician, and both were subsequently left without their belongings all during his hospitalization, and then belatedly shipped to the wrong address. While this couple were understandably media-shy, Crystal Dao Pepper M.D., one of their 5 children, (4 of whom are also doctors), issued this heartfelt statement:

“We hope, in the future, that nothing happens again, what happened to my Dad, a wonderful father and loving grandfather, and to other human beings”.

Before long, this sorry episode provided an abundance of satirical tweets, “United Airlines: Pay for the seating. Stay for the beating.” “You carry on. We carry off”, “Board in peace. Leave in pieces”,” U.A.: now serving punch,” “Red Eye and Black Eye flights available”, “The pilot has turned on the no passenger sign”, Unseat, beat, repeat” and “United: We put the hospital in hospitality”.

Needless to say, this viral video provided golden manna for our late night comedians including Jimmy Kimmel, who issued a satirical commercial for United Airlines as a smiling hostess assures that “We will beat your face so bloody that you can use it as a floatation device.” Southwest Airlines was quick to respond with their new slogan: “We beat the competition, not you”. If there is any good news for United’s “Friendly Skies”, it is likely that this fiasco will solve their overbooking problem.

Nevertheless, for the Dao family, their nightmare continued as their hometown Courier Journal newspaper published (a well paid for?) character assassination, hit-piece suggesting all manner of shady shenanigans in the physician’s past, including an alleged second career as a professional gambler. In the opportunistic rush to publish, it is likely that this article was not properly vetted, given that David Dao is a common name. The maligned passenger is David Thanh Duc Dao and the gambler with an alleged criminal past is David Anh Duy Dao. In any event, this victim’s past is not in any way relevant to the fact that he was unjustly brutalized; and passivity in the face of injustice leads to further oppression.

Whatever the truth in this case, an attempt to smear an innocent passenger who dared to voice a legitimate protest is in keeping with our all too pervasive, high and mighty, “blame the victim” culture. Blaming the unfortunate Dr. Dao is much akin to those proverbial rape victims with a “promiscuous past “who were either lying or “asking for it”. Or those “unpatriotic” unruly peaceful protesters who deserved to get clobbered, pepper-sprayed and dowsed with water or sound cannons and worse: Kent State, U.C. Davis, Ferguson, and Standing Rock.

Our situation is such that there will always be those who persist in their belief that bad things only happen to other people, that our world is just and safe for the righteous; and misfortune is only visited upon those who somehow deserve to suffer; either through sin, bad karma, sexual preference, gender-identity, or by belonging to the wrong race, religion, political affiliation, or minority. Such firm convictions require no empathy for those unfortunate “others”. While there was no shortage of commentary on the United incident on social media and comments sections, I found it disheartening to read so many mean-spirited entries blaming Dr. Dao for over-reacting, bringing the beating on himself; for not leaving quietly, exaggerating his injuries for financial gain, a clown who deserved what he got, and more than a few, Ugly American entreaties to “Go back to Vietnam”. Upon reading these latest manifestations of our culture of cruelty, my heart hurts.

As troubling as all of this is, the Dao family’s humiliating ordeal was not a one-off happenstance; as many, if not most of us who frequently fly can testify to many other abuses which never make it into the mainstream media. However, this unfortunate episode has at least served to focus some much-needed attention upon the multiple and increasing dangers of militarized corporate fascism in many aspects of modern life. Any and all who wish or need to travel by air are now required to adapt to our post-9/11 new, normal TSA gauntlets where all passengers are treated as suspected terrorists who must be radiated, and microwaved (millimeter wave scanners) with their persons and belongings thoroughly searched.

Pregnant women, elderly, children and disabled are often singled out for “enhanced ” genital-groping pat-downs; along with anyone else who looks or acts “different”. Cell-phones and laptops can and will be often searched and even confiscated without due recourse and some air carriers have banned in-flight computers altogether. Just recently, girls were refused boarding onto a United flight because they were wearing leggings. No really!

If one actually makes it onto an overpriced aircraft, which is never a sure thing, given the fact that official figures show that over a half-million passengers were “routinely” bumped by major U.S. carriers last year. (New China TV, April 12, 2017). Once onboard your airline’s feudal class assignment system of peerage and steerage, coach class travelers are relegated to sardine-sized seats, some of which don’t recline, shrinking legroom, with air-quality adjusted to Death Valley desert levels of 5-10% humidity. Experiences within these mobile incarceration aluminum tubes are likely to include, limited access to restrooms, incessant “passenger safety” and other needlessly repetitive non-smoking announcements, informing us about the weather, estimated time to reach our cruising altitude, as well as unseen cities and other interesting sites that we are much too far above to actually see. Blankets and pillows often cost extra while over-priced alcohol is an often needed resource in order to wash down limited, ersatz food offerings.

Duly stuffed back into coach, we find none of those microwave heated mini-hot towels and warm gooey chocolate chip cookie offerings available to our betters up front. While I could go on, and by now, you have probably heard more than enough horror stories of passengers long stranded on runway tarmacs, forbidden to deplane, required to endure failing heat or cooling air-systems, lack of water, overflowing toilets, pregnant women, screaming babies, frightened hungry children and so on. Small wonder that we have ever increasing levels of air-rage incidents (UK guardian, April 11, 2017).

While it is clear that some version of an airline-passenger’s Bill of Rights is sorely needed, long overdue, and nothing of the sort is likely to pass through our corporate-controlled bought-and-paid-for legislature and current administration; as well as our current mode of media-distracted “go along to get along”, just change the app, solution to everything; is not likely to end anytime soon. Nevertheless, in view of multiple injustices suffered by Dr. Dao, his family and countless others, it just may be time for our remaining awake and concerned to review those now timeless words of Pastor Martin Niemöller’s Holocaust era warning: First they came…

Here he clearly dared to argue against a clueless apathy that leads to violence and for the moral interconnectedness of all of us within our seemingly diverse human family. And, yes, they did come for him and unlike so many others, he managed to survive along with his timeless message.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –

Because I was not a Socialist –

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out –

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –

Because I was not a Jew –

Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.

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Fukushima

Fukushima

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Venezuela: Update

Venezuela: Update

Venes

Venezuela has changed forever… (Hugo Chavez)

Whoever coined the phrase ‘you don’t know what you got until its gone’ was talking about toilet paper, probably” (Anonymous)

 

A beautiful country holding the world’s largest oil reserves, once known as the Paris of South America, which benefited from foreign investments, and strong influx of immigrants from Europe, has now become a source of media jokes and similar puns pertaining to their “crappy economy”. The reason for this unwelcome attention is that Venezuela is running out of toilet paper. A shortage of this most basic necessity is being blamed on “excessive demand” and “anti-Bolivarian conspiracy”. Commerce Minister Alejandro Fleming addressed this crisis by announcing that “the revolution will bring the country the equivalent of 50 million rolls of toilet paper”. “We are going to saturate the market so that our people calm down.” His strategy is unlikely to work since his numbers are 40 million short of the country’s normal consumption of toilet paper which runs about 125 million rolls.

As urgent as this current crisis may seem, the ongoing situation also involves shortages of food, clothing and other commodities with a bottom line reality that the entire Venezuelan economy is in the tank. Economic policies of the late President Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution have been called “unorthodox”. The controversial dictator picked fights with trading partners, mandated his own time zone and enforced strict currency and price controls .These state controlled prices set below market clearing profits always result in shortages. With toilet paper, for example, if the government says a roll should cost 50 cents, but supplies and labor cost 52 cents, local producers simply stop producing, with an always predictable result of scarcity. (Daniel Gross, “ The Crappiest Economy”, The Daily Beast, 2013/05/16)

And, of course, a serious lack of toilet paper is not only a problem but an attention grabbing symptom of ever increasing crises with rampant inflation adding to the misery of overcrowding, a drastic rise in violence, rolling blackouts, blood soaked protests against human rights abuses, poverty, corruption, drug addiction, trafficking and political oppression.

Decades of government mismanagement have resulted in a self-imposed curfew which is now a fact of life in what has become one of the world’s most dangerous cities. Only the brave walk the streets after sundown, when cautious residents seek refuge indoors, the wealthy retreat behind their lavish, gated enclaves. In wealthy Country Club neighborhoods, sturdy walls, barbed wire and electric fences now block the view of homes and gardens once visible from the street. In one gated community, north of the capital, residents installed a mechanism that scans visitor’s ID numbers, resulting in a seemingly interminable queue of vehicles waiting each day for permission to enter. Even the windows of high rise buildings have been fenced off with metal bars, like tightly clenched teeth bearing down upon the city. Meanwhile, legions of poor bolt the doors to their interminable clusters of makeshift, redbrick and zinc roofed dwellings. This “architecture of fear ” affects all classes, in different ways, and still fear affects everybody. (Sofia Barbararani, ukguardian. March 1, 2017)

A lethal combination of poverty, corruption, and illegal firearms has peppered the capital with a pervasive infestation of malandros (thugs) willing to express kidnap for ransom, or even kill to acquire a car, phone or absolutely anything of potential value. With Chavez successor and marginally elected President Nicolas Maduro continuing a policy of state controlled prices, along with the rumored presence of Cuban torturers, this situation is likely to remain volatile. Market stalls have sprung up, here and there, selling black market, staple necessities at exorbitant prices and shortages of desperately needed medical supplies continue to generate a humanitarian crisis.

It has been several years now since I have been to Venezuela and I have no immediate plans to return and still I greatly value that opportunity to visit as well as my often surprising experiences there. At the time of my Political Trauma seminar, Mr. Chavez was still in charge and I find it interesting that his daughter Maria Gabriela ,socialist- socialite, bon vivant, Pomeranian enthusiast, Instagram troll, as well as, reportedly, her father’s consentida, is now allegedly worth at least 4.5 billion dollars in assets held in American and Aruban banks (ukdaily mail.com, August 10,2015)

Even then, among my seminar participants, gathered within a seemingly secure venue, there was a palpable sense that much of their population was living with a constant, all pervasive feeling of threat which I soon began to experience, as well. Looking back to those times with a view from our recent election of Donald Trump here in the USA, I see similarities in the false promises of authoritarian populism. As Venezuelan economist Andres Miguel Rondon makes clear, the recipe for authoritarian populism is universal. Find a wound common to many, someone to blame for it, make up a good story around this and mix it all together. Tell the wounded that you understand how they feel and that you have found the bad guys and label them. Minorities, politicians, immigrants, dissidents, “outside agitators”, sexual deviants and so on, and caricature them as evil, vermin, masterminds, traitors and losers.

Next, paint yourself as a savior and capture the people’s imagination with rapturous tales of patriotism and then vengeance. No need for policies and plans, your appeal to vengeance will launch and even sustain your movement, at least for awhile, for this brand of populism can only survive amid polarization. If there is any encouraging news, it may be that as history has shown, extreme polarities have a tendency to swing into their opposite pole in an effort to achieve at least some measure of balance. (Washington Post, January 27, 2017 )

Also, from a systemic perspective, it is important to understand the many layers of complexity that have shaped Venezuelan history. Along with many other parts of Central and South America, many levels of this multi-racial society cannot be understood apart from the ongoing legacies of Colonialism. A thorough account of this historical reality is available in Eduardo Galleano’s, now classic Open Veins of LatinAmerica, who understood that specific personalities and political leaders are not the problem, but rather symptoms of deeper underlying problems. This is difficult to accept for those who wish to place singular blame on one particular leader or political party, without reflecting upon the converging situations that brought them into positions of power.

Soon after I returned to Argentina, I received a remarkable letter from an 11 year old boy, identified himself as an Indigo child, who had insisted on attending my event. Joseph was the first such child that I encountered during my travels and meeting him opened my awareness to the presence of many others. He began by thanking me for being willing to come to Caracas and overcoming my reluctance to address the topic of political trauma. He then continued on to share his own perspective on a remedy for ongoing violence in Venezuela which is here translated from the Spanish:

Do you know what is needed in each Venezuelan home? Even if it seems simple…a pleasant space inside the dwelling where pastel colors show the colors of our ancestors, a nice “taparita” (colored gourd) decorated with the savors of a fruit, a rain forest tree stick to honor the indigenous, a Spanish mantilla in the drawers of women to honor the Spaniards, to also wear some pearls, place a drum, and wooden tray to honor our African slaves, so that our homes would have the balance of truth with joy. We need to forgo the proclaiming of our patriotic souls and devote ourselves rather to the soul of being human, honor our Creator and avoid religious images that call upon pain and darkness.

Then, in short, this is a call for every home to become a “temple of peace”. Whether or not one believes in the existence of the Indigos, this “child’s” letter offers much for reflection.

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Monarch 2017

Monarch 2017

28012100 - monarch butterflies

Wind Child

They have just found where the monarch butterflies go in autumn

Those red gold drifters edged in black

That blow like leaves but never coming to rest

Always fluttering out of reach and disappearing…

Speed 14 miles an hour on a 3000 mile course to Mexico…

What a way to go; you make it or you don’t

Or the winds snatch you away….

(Loren Eisley, 1975)

Now I wonder, am I a man dreaming I was a butterfly,

Or, whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I was a man…”

(Zhuangzu, 4th Century B.C.)

On November 1st, when Mexicans celebrate their Day of the Dead, some also celebrate the return of the monarch butterflies, which they believe also carry returning souls of their deceased loved ones. In 2013, however, for the first time in recent memory, they didn’t arrive and some experts fear that their epic migration, during which they can travel from 50 to 100 miles in a single day, is near to collapse. A week or so later they began to slowly straggle in, in record low numbers into their Central Mexican sanctuary in highland oyamel fir forests from November until mid-March. In spring, they begin their northward return while breeding along the way and many die, within a cycle that takes three or four generations to complete. No individual butterfly completes a round trip and only their great-grandchildren return to their colony’s starting point. Known as El Rosario Mexican Butterfly Sanctuary, 3 hours NW of Mexico City, in the state of Michoacan, near the town of Angangueo, it has now become an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The monarch’s ability to navigate an extraordinary and perilous journey, with pinpoint accuracy, to such a secluded place where they have never been remains a mystery.

The path of their unknown homing instinct was beautifully filmed in 3D in a Canadian IMAX documentary: Flight of the Butterflies, (2012).

The mystery of their wintering habitat was solved by the University of Toronto’s Fred Urquhart, who studied them for over forty years. He knew that they migrated because he didn’t see them after a certain time of year. His plan was to put a label on each monarch that he found containing his name, address and a request to return each one that was found. And indeed, people from all over North America began returning the butterflies and since the southernmost area from which they came was Mexico, he traveled there through jungles and forests. In talking with people along the way, he was told of a place west of Mexico City where many had been spotted. Eventually he found millions gathered within their seasonal habitat. (Urquhart, Fred A., “Found At Last: the monarch’s winter home”, National Geographic, August 1976).

For filmmaker Ali Alvarez, returning to Mexico long after her mother’s death, the monarchs inspired her documentary about bereavement: Meurte Es Vida, which took top honors during the2016AnnualInternational Wildlife Film Festival held in Missoula, Montana. While she initially set out to make a film about butterflies, her project evolved into a documentary about death in a beautiful and gentle way and that beauty can arise from loss. Her family left Mexico for Los Angeles when she was six and her mother died while she was still a child. During a rare sabbatical from art school, Alvarez climbed a mountain in Central Mexico, and in a sunlit glade discovered thousands of brilliant orange monarchs…migrants like her. As she began researching this phenomenon and discovered stories of people seeing monarchs when a loved one passed away – as well as ancient and contemporary beliefs that butterflies represent the human soul and spirit set free. Late-medieval butterfly fanciers saw a Christian morality tale in their life cycle from greedy, industrious caterpillars, doomed to toil on this Earth but each has a chance to transform itself into a butterfly soul, ascending up into heaven. In 17th century Ireland butterflies were seen as souls of children. In 20th century China, butterflies were discovered in the cells of executed convicts who had recently converted to Buddhism.

Alvarez’s film feature’s people who found solace through their encounters with butterflies, including two young sisters who were given a monarch caterpillar, by their kindergarten teacher, shortly before their older brother died. The children enjoyed watching their caterpillar banded with yellow, black and white stripes, grow and create a beautiful blue-green chrysalis. Their brother died and the day of his funeral, they watched as their monarch flew free of its chrysalis (UK Guardian, October, 2016). Perhaps you may also remember the touching scene from the 1998 Patch Adams film starring Robin Williams, when he is out in a wilderness, standing on a cliff, agonizing in grief and despair over the loss of a dear friend recently and brutally murdered. Seemingly out of nowhere, a single monarch glides into view, gently alights on his briefcase and then allows him to hold it for a brief moment as his sense of hope and purpose returns.

Scientists speculate that recent deforestation, and illegal logging operations within the monarch’s overwintering habitat, has led to a drastic reduction in their population since these oyamel trees serve both as blankets and umbrellas for protection. Illegal logging continues to remain an ongoing threat. Just recently, authorities detained a truck driver carrying a load of huge tree trunks out of the butterfly reserve, while presenting falsified papers asserting that these trees were diseased and needed to be removed to reduce risk. Investigators soon discovered that all of the harvested trees had been quite healthy.

While there was a time when monarch wings covered over 50 acres of fir forest, with as many as 15 million on a single branch, these delicate creatures now occupy an area of less than 29.6 acres (12 hectares). Climate change, as well as changes in agricultural practice and land use in the USA, and Mexico involving GMO corn and soy crops that have proven deadly using glyphosate herbicide (Montsanto’s Roundup); are believed to be contributing factors to disturbingly dwindling numbers. While there has been no mention of ongoing and increasing levels of ionizing radiation now streaming throughout our entire northern hemisphere, this presents a likely and ultimately lethal factor, as well. Omar Vidal, head of the Mexican Office of The World Wildlife Fund calls for close collaboration of the three countries, Canada, USA and Mexico to ensure the safety and protection the monarch’s, breeding, feeding and migratory routes. (Jim Robbins, “The Year the Monarchs Didn’t Appear”, NY Times, November 22, 2013 and U.K.Guardian, February, 2017).

Some hold that the monarch was so named because of its size and the fact that it exists over a large domain. Another theory suggests that since this name was first published as such in 1874, in honor of English King William III, these butterflies were also called “King Billies”. Well known by their scientific name Danaus plexippus in the family Nymphalidae; the migration pattern of the monarch provides a leitmotif for Barbara Kingsolver’s 7th novel Conducta migratoria (2012).Here we find that the primary focus is on climate change, which the author, who is also a biologist, refers to as “global weirding”. Her novel is set deep within the rural mountains of Appalachia, in a conservative, evangelical, emotionally stifling and depressed town in her native state of Tennessee. Locals and farming folk in particular have noticed a shift in their weather which she describes as “Summer heat never really arrived, nor the cold in turn, and everything living now seemed to yearn for sun with the anguish of the unloved”. This beautifully written story about Nature, as well as human nature, unfolds with an unexpected arrival of 15 million shimmering orange monarchs, in a silent forest area, which creates an illusion of a seemingly Biblical “valley of fire”. The monarch’s atypical flight behavior serves as cause for concern for visiting entomologists, as well as a powerful catalyst for social change within individual lives, families and the community at large.

On a recent visit to Mexico City’s Museum of Archeology, I discovered that the beauty of their country’s iconic monarch butterflies is celebrated by the design team of art historian Cristine Pineda and textile engineer Ricardo Covalin; who founded their studio in 1996. As a onetime, now retired, art historian myself, I can appreciate the enormous energy, quality and depth that has contributed to their research. Considered by many as the “Hermes of Mexico”, the stated mission of Pineda Covalin’s designs,is to preserve a collective memory of Mexico’s pre-Columbian, modern folkloric and country-wide abundance of natural beauty. Within their preferred medium of highest quality silk, these innovative designers have beautifully captured the exquisite, stained glass, shimmering luminosity of the monarch’s tawny reddish-gold colors outlined with tracery patterns in black with delicate points of white. Among many others concerned with preserving both the beauty and survival of our magnificent monarchs we have monarchwatch.org which can serve as a useful entry point for those willing to share both resources and concerns. If you have a yard or land anywhere between Mexico and Canada, you can help. Monarchs seek to lay their eggs on common milkweed, a summer blooming perennial so named for a toxic sticky white sap which renders butterflies toxic to predators. Simply Google “free milkweed seeds” and plant a few to provide a resting place for them to lay their eggs during their migrations.

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The Nicer Americans

38362398 - flag of canada“Every Canadian has a complicated relationship with the United States, whereas Americans think of Canada as the place where weather comes from.” (Margaret Atwood)

“Canada is not a melting pot. Canada is an association of people who have, and cherish, great differences but who work together because they can respect themselves and each other”. (Vincent Massey)

Culture is a fluid thing, and as history has shown, attempts to define an airtight cultural character are usually projects of delusion and denial.” (Murtaza Hussain, Toronto)

On my way North to spend the New Year’s holiday with friends and colleagues in Canada, images from Michael Moore’s 1995 American comedy film, Canadian Bacon, satirizing international relations along our shared borderland territories, came to mind. The plot revolves around an American president’s need to boost his popularity by launching a cold war with our neighbors: Operation Canadian Bacon: A Line in theSnow. A newscaster appears early on with a map of the United States with maple syrup dripping down over Minnesota and Montana as evidence of the evil seeping across our border, along with dark speculation as to how their metric system is actually a conspiracy designed to undermine and destroy our way of life. The familiar Canadian moniker “Canucks” was conflated to imply something like “sinister commie”.

My favorite scene is probably one where a bumbling American sheriff, on his way to Toronto, which he mistakenly believes to be the country’s capital, is stopped by an overly polite policeman who noticed the graffiti on the sheriff’s truck “Canucks are dog meat”. This, the policeman observes, is against the law since Canada is officially bi-lingual and therefore all graffiti and other slogans must be printed in both French and English. In reality, of course, there is no border war and Americans leaving Calgary will discover a fully operational USA customs service right there on Canadian soil. As far as I am aware, we have no such arrangements with Mexico.

While there is no cold war up there it was definitely a cold winter with average daily temperatures far below zero. For Americans visiting Canada for the first time, it can be a somewhat confusing place. While their citizens both look and sound much like we do, there are important differences; including differences about those differences. While it seems that Americans will tell all the ways in which we are similar to our northern cousins on the other side of the 49th parallel, they will likely tell all of the ways that they are different. Canada is a monarchy and citizens have the option to use their government services in either English or French and; they have far fewer enemies than our ever expanding, militaristic, global empire. We also tend to differ along certain political topics, such as gun control, abortion, death penalty, religion and universal health care.

Yet, for me as a visitor to the Great White North, I was soon aware of how very different we are in our respective attitudes toward the subject of immigration. This is an ongoing, highly flammable topic here in Arizona, given that we are a southwestern border state; as well as a deeply divisive issue throughout our nationwide mainstream and alternative media outlets. Overall, the tendency here seems to be of an increasing xenophobia along with calls for draconian measures, such as rounding up illegals, massive deportations, a mandatory Muslim registry and confinement camps for suspicious and unwanted “others”. Some Americans fear that our political dissidents, and others critical of the current regime will be labeled as “domestic terrorists” and possibly faced with charges of treason. Small wonder then, that the Canadian, Citizen and Immigration web-site, received a sudden influx of visitors during our 2016 election night, causing their overwhelmed system to temporarily crash.

In contrast to our harsh stances, with talk of building walls and defending borders, the mood in Canada is much less fear based, with a greater sense of interpersonal trust and an almost cheerful commitment to tolerance and inclusion. In contrast to the rising, angry anti-immigration political parties in the US and Europe, Canada may be one of the last immigrant nations left standing. The government and a majority of citizens firmly believe in the value of immigration. In the city of Toronto, for example, now among the most diverse cities on the planet, over half of its residents were born outside of the country, and Calgary, Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa are not far behind.

Among the practical reasons for Canada keeping the doors open, is low fertility and an aging population; and as their statistics confirm, diversity aids prosperity. Theirs is an ongoing experiment in filling a continent-wide, mostly empty landmass, with the diversity of the world’s cultures, who must learn to survive and thrive amid multiple identities and allegiances. (Charles Foran, https://www.theguardian.com/us, January 4, 2017).

While one could say that this experiment is incomplete, Canada still offers a haven of opportunity for many, and at this time all that is asked of newcomers is social amiability, respect for their laws and institutions and contribution, maintenance and improvements in public life. In some provinces Muslim women were welcomed with the message: “We don’t care what is on your head, we care what’s in it”. Given that Canadians believe that immigration creates jobs rather than stealing them, instances of immigrant doctors and engineers driving taxis are the exception rather than the rule, and Chinese surgeons and Syrian architects are not waiting tables. Even those who don’t welcome immigration mostly accept it as a fact of life.

No human society is perfect, and racism remains as a significant thread throughout Canada’s history, and as has been the case with all white colonial settlers, the indigenous peoples suffered greatly at the hands of the newcomers. Not until the nineteen seventies, were policies formalized to protect the rights of indigenous peoples. While racism has not completely disappeared, progress was initiated during the nineteen-sixties, as Canada began accepting increasing numbers of non-white immigrants and many previous policies of racial discrimination were rescinded; and since the nineteen-seventies the majority of immigrants are of non-European ancestry.

For now, at least, our northern neighbor’s strong capacity for mutual accommodation bodes well and offers a sane and sustainable model for social-cultural strength and stability, in our increasingly stressed and overcrowded world. Canada’s ability to collaborate with others, with flexibility in the face of complex situations, will likely serve them well as climate changes indicate that they will soon be surrounded by three oceans. 

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