Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Dancing Snakes

Here is the entry about Dancing Snakes, and here is the link so you can listen while you read:


Next to "The Lotus of Mt. Ararat," I think this is my favorite piece on the album.

I wrote this just a few days before recording. It is just a simple bass line.

We recorded the bass line first, along with the drone box (yes, we used an electric tamboura, as my actual tamboura doesn't have a great tone for recording...) After that, I doubled the drone with the didgeridoo.

Dugg added the drums on a clay dumbek.

After all that was done, I attempted to play the melody line on the sitar. I kept trying and trying, and juts couldn't get the sound I wanted. So I went to my old standby, the bansuri.

I play the bansuri a little different than most: My teacher was from Northern India, and so uses the fingering from there, which is 2 fingers down for the root. I have never met another bansuri player who does this. Everyone else seems to use the Southern Indian 3 fingers down for the tonic method.

The benefit of my method is that you can go all the way down to the 4th (MA,) which gives a little more flexibility to the improvisation. On pieces that use a natural ga (major third) you can actually bend down to that note, as well. This piece uses a natural minor scale, so I don't get to do that.

This piece is in E. The E bansuri is just a little big for my hands, so I struggle with it at times, and am glad that there are only a couple of suspect notes in this piece. The bansuri I use most often in in F# (or E for those Southern Indian players...)

I like the energy of this song, too. Dugg and Dick really seem to drive it without rushing it, and we must have had the mics in the right place, because the drum is very intense.

Here is what the bansuri looks like:

And this is the dumbek (one like it, not Dugg's actual one...)

A Confidant of Merlin

A Confidant of Merlin

Here is the link to the song, so you can listen while you read:


This is another piece done on the penny whistle, and written in Omaha, again using sort of a descending pattern.

We started out as a Celtic street band, and there are several songs that sort of have a Celticish flavor to them.

After not playing the penny whistle for quite a number of years, it was fun to pull this one out again. There is a bit of a Northern European tribal feel to many of the pieces on this album.

The penny whistle is meant to play in D major and G major, and has tiny, tiny holes, which makes half-hole playing quite difficult. So, for whatever reason, I almost always find myself playing in D minor with some awkward half-holes. I'm not quite sure why...

Dugg chose to play this piece on the djembe, and has a solo in the middle.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Here is my article about track 6 of the new "Walking Eagle" album.

Here is the link, so you can listen while you read:


Fortitude is an example of a lot of the experimental tracks I mess around with when trying to combine unlikely sounds to come up with something unique and interesting.

This track features the didgeridoo:

This is a "Hicks Stick" aspen didgeridoo made right here in Colorado, that has a great tone.

It also features the khomus, also known as the jaw harp, jew's harp, or any of a number of other names:

I got my first khomus in Junior High School, so I could make funny sounds for a movie we were making. Years later, when I found myself at a music conference in Kyzyl, Tuva, I learned that this was a very legitimate instrument, especially in Central Asia and Siberia, and that there are virtuosos on this instrument. Google Vladiswar Nadishana, if you want to see a true master!

The main other sounds are two styles of Tuvan throat singing, a style of singing more than one note at a time that I studied 20 years ago, and then let go dormant. This recording was made when I was just getting back into some throat singing. The low style is called kagyraa, and the higher style is khoomei.

Dugg added some drums on it to bring it together.

We just thought it would be fun to include some of our more experimental sounds on a CD that is largely pretty tonal.

Still Light of Day

Track number 8 on the new Walking Eagle CD is "Still Light of Day."

Here is the link, so you can listen while you read about it:


"Still Light of Day" is another of the pieces written in the hotel in Omaha, where I spent a week with a keyboard, a computer and a bag of flutes, and cranked out about 15 songs , about half of which made it on this CD.

This song is based on a simple, descending line, and, to me, sounds very European.

This is one of the simplest songs on the CD, but, as they say, simple is often better. Dick just recorded the pattern as a loop, I improvised a melody on the Irish flute, and Dugg decided to add shakers and the rainstick.

Not much to it, really. Here's what the Irish Flute looks like:

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Implicit Memory

This is the seventh installment in my blog about the new Walking Eagle CD.

Here is a link to the song, so you can listen while you read:


I "wrote" this piece two years ago. I was in a phase of listening a lot to the group Oregon. I have always loved their music, and especially Ralph Towner's use of interesting chords. So, I got a piece of chord diagram paper, and worked with my guitar to see how many Ralph-Towner-like chords I could come up with. I came up with about a dozen.

Then I didn't know where to go with the composition. So one day, when Dick came over to practice, I just handed him the chords, and asked him to play through them while I improvised. Dick did that, and added a lot of his own chords.

This song became known as the free-chord piece, and, apart from starting with some of the chords on the sheet, it is completely improvised.

While recording, we often play one part at a time. This allows for clean recording, editing, and if we work on one track at a time, if we make a mistake, we just rerecord that part,

"The Implicit Memory" works based on the interplay between the musicians. Dugg wasn't available the day we recorded, so Dick and I did several takes of this piece, playing together, Dugg added the cymbals later to fill up some of the space.

We enjoy playing this piece, since it is different every time.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Cavalcade of One

This is the sixth installment of my blog about the songs on the new Walking Eagle CD.

Here is a link to the song, so you can listen while you read:


This odd little, hybrid instrument in the duclar - which is the Armenian duduk with a clarinet mouthpiece replacing the traditional double reed.

I wrote "Cavalcade of One" in a hotel in Omaha, along with about 15 other pieces. My inention was to create some stand-alone guitar parts over which I could play different instruments from my collection. This song was originally written for my Prayer Rock (also known as Anasazi) flute. The Prayer Rock flute is a recreation of an ancient American, endblown flute. It was modeled after fragments found in the desert of Arizona, at Prayer Rock, that are believed to be over 1,000 years old.

In this picture, the top flute is the Coyote Oldman Prayer Rock flute. The bottom one is the Coyote Oldman Desert (also know and Mojave) flute.

I wrote the piece in Ab to accommodate the flute, but found that the song was much too upbeat and jazzy, and the slow-responding desert flute didn't work.

I searched my collection for another instrument that worked well in Ab. The duduk plays well in A - and the clarinet mouthpiece option causes it to play a half-step lower. Perfect!

The guitar part I wrote swings because most of it is played off the beat. It creates an interesting syncopation, but is very tricky to count. While Dick was recording it, he was extremely careful to play it accurately, and we got some very good takes of it.

After he left, however, I realized that in our care to play the piece precisely, we had recorded it at about half the speed it was intended. I tried working with the track as it was, but it was just painfully slow, and defeated the point of the song.

We recorded it in Logic. Logic does not have a good tool for changing the tempo.

So, in the middle of the night, it dawned on me - I would take the song to Garage Band, which can easily change the tempo, and then save it as a loop. So I doubled the tempo, and used it as a loop back in Logic. It seemed to do the trick. It was also easier to swing the duduk with the clarinet mouthpiece, so that all seemed to work out well.

Dugg added the final track on the bodhran. Dugg plays the bodhran probably in the ancient way. He does not use a tipper, just his hand. It gives a softer sound, and he better able to play unusual rhythms this way.


Hello. This blog is about Trigonometry, the song and not the math...

This is the fifth track on the new Walking Eagle CD, "Walking Eagle."

Here is a link to the track, so you can hear it while you read.


This is an older piece I had started and came across in some notes. I completed the piece in the months before the recording took place.

I initially wrote it as a vehicle for the shakuhachi, however, when we recorded it, it just seemed to progressive for the shakuhachi, so Im played it on the soprano sax. The part that created the challenge is that the chords modulate from a D minor tonality to an Eb minor tonality. I thought I could do this by dropping the jaw position on the shakuhachi, but it didn't work too well. Plus the beat is pretty driving, and the shakuhachi is a lot more effective in a mellower setting.

So, the soprano sax is my usual go-to instrument in times like these, and it works pretty well.

I wrote two parts for the backing track on this. I intended them to be played both on the guitar, and figured we'd use a looper in a live situation. We recorded the two layers of guitar, and it sounded too muddy, as both parts are written in a fairly close range, so we left the rhythm part on the guitar, and I played the counter-part on the keyboard. Dugg rounded it out with the djembe.

Not much else to it, really.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Desert Run - Contrabass Native American Flute

Hello, and welcome to installment number four in my articles about the songs on the new "Walking Eagle" CD.

Today's article is about "Desert Run." Here is the link to listen, if you dare:


There is always a song on the album that I wished wasn't there. This is that track from this album. It really has to do with the recording.

Here is the Contabass Native American Flute, by Collin Peterson.

This flute is about 4 feet long.

The problem with this flute is mic-ing it for recording. If the mic is too close, it picks up all the wind and squeaks it is proned to. In order to avoid that, I set the microphone a little too far away to pick up the warmth of it. I tried to correct it in the mixing, and thought I had it fairly well with my high-end studio headphones... and then I forgot the first cardinal law of recording - mix it so that it sounds good on the worst speakers someone is going to listen with. It doesn't work at all on the little computer speakers most of us listen with these days. I didn't eve realize this until I was listening to it after it had been put on download sites.

But, apart from that, this song was written just before recording. The contrabass flute is in C minor. For some reason, I always find it challenging writing for pentatonic scales, but I did come up with a decent progression.

Dugg developed this method of using shakers and the rain stick when we were working with my first Native American Flute, 15 or so years ago.

Otherwise the recording process was uninteresting. But I am going to have to think about using this flute on a recording again. I'll have to be more diligent about experimenting with mic placement.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Summary of All Things

Hello. Welcome to my blog about the new songs on the "Walking Eagle" album.

The group "Walking Eagle" is composed of three of us who have played together for almost 20 years. We have explored many genre of music from fusion jazz to punk rock to folk to Celtic to flamenco to Australian, Native American, free jazz, and just about everything in between.

Two years ago, we reformed our "aggressive world-beat jazz" group 'Before the Rain' into a trio focusing more on the acoustic elements of world jazz. We released an album at that time called "Returning to my Village." The album was largely based on The Native American flute, with a few other flutes and saxophones tagging along for good measure.

This year we have released our second album that is more probing, and uses a larger variety of world wind instruments.

"Summary of All Things" is the third track on the album. Here is the link to listen to it while you read:


The penny whistle was actually my first world flute. I got ahold of my first one in Scotland in the early 90s, (along with a set of bagpipes.) When I returned to the US in 1992, Dick and Dugg and I started playing Celtic Christmas music. That eventually led to a more varied catalogue of Celtic music, and our first name as a trio "The Cornerboys."

in 2011, my wife had to spend a week in Omaha, studying at a university. I tagged along, and spent the week mostly in the hotel room with a keyboard, a computer and a bag of flutes. That week I cranked out about 15 songs, many of which are on this album.

"Summary of All Things," originally known as "guitar piece 2" was one of the first pieces I wrote that week.

I was interested in writing guitar accompaniment pieces that could stand up on their own, and then added flutes to them. This one had sort of an Elizabethan feel to it, and so seemed to call for a Northern-European/British type flute, and returning to the penny whistle for the first time in well over a decade seemed very natural.

This particular flute is a plastic susato D whistle. I usually play wooden or tin whistles, but the plastic one has a sharp tone that records a little better. I did try several whistles before choosing to use this one.

Dugg pulls this piece together with a driving djembe beat. I had envisioned it as a bodhran piece, but Dugg definitely made this work better.

I also definitely pictured all these pieces being played on the acoustic guitar, but Dick kept forgetting the acoustic and brought his electric guitar, so they are all played using electric.

The Lotus of Mt. Ararat - Armenian Duduk

Hello. Welcome to my little blog about the songs on our new CD, "Walking Eagle." Today is the second track, "The Lotus of Mt. Ararat."

Here is a link to the song, so you can listen to it while you read:


The duduk is an ancient instrument from Armenia, that is thought to be over 3,000 years old!

 It is a double-reeded instrument. Here is a close-up of the mouthpiece/reed.

I have always loved the duduk, since it has one of the most mournful sounds of any instrument. It is deep, earthy, and sad.

Even though I loved the duduk, It has a reputation for being an immensely difficult instrument, particularly in terms of the reeds. I finally broke down and had one made for me in Armenia about a year before we recorded. It was extremely difficult to play in tune. Finally, I ended up misplacing the reeds I had for it. In a panic, I ordered some reeds from Amazon.com, figuring they would be low-quality...I just couldn't wait for the two months it takes for the mail to arrive from Armenia. But surprisingly, the reeds were great, and with these reeds, I could play the instrument in tune very easily!

I wrote the chord progression for this piece only a day or two before we recorded it. The progression just sort of came to me while I was playing around on the piano. It took less than five minutes to develop, yet I believe it is one of the best progressions I have written.

So I had a great progression in F# minor, but not many instruments that play in F# minor. I could always go to the sax or flute, but was trying to emphasize the world instruments on this recording.

Then it came to me: The duduk is normally played in A, the tonic having all but two fingers down. But if you close all the holes, it plays F#, and the minor scale is fairly basic from that point.

When we recorded the album, Dick, the guitarist, spent two days recording the backing tracks, normally recorded as loops, and a third day recording solos. Between times recording the guitar tracks, I would play the melody tracks on the world instruments. Dugg came in at the end and added percussion.

I gave Dick this new piece to sight-read, and after a few times through, we recorded it. I knew the duduk part in my head, but never did write it down. I recorded it later in the afternoon. Dick then added one of the nicest solos he has ever played! Dugg pulled it altogether with the djembe. 

Of all the songs we have ever recorded, this is one of my favorites!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Overtone Fury

I have decided to write a little blog about the songs on the new "Walking Eagle Album." I will just write about them in the order they occur on the album, and tell a little about the instruments and backstory of each song.

Here is a link to the song, so you can listen while you read:

Overtone Fury

The first song on the album is "Overtone Fury." The lead instrument on this is the Slovakian Overtone Flute, also known as the konkovka.

As you can see, the overtone flute has no finger holes. This confuses people a little bit.

The way it works is that there is an existing phenomenon in physics called "the overtone series." It is best described with stringed instruments, but the same principles apply to wind instruments.

With a stringed instrument, if you pluck an open string, you get a note. If you divide the string in half, you get the octave of that note. If you divide it again, you get the interval of the fifth. The the fourth, and the third, and so on. With a wind instrument, the same overtones occur in the same sequence in relation to how hard you blow into the instrument.

The overtone flute can generate two series of harmonic overtones - one when the end is left open, and another when the end is covered with the hand.

After playing with this instrument for a while, I found that it lent itself to some pretty showy, fast playing, and decided that this would work well with an accompaniment of a rather funky bassline.

I wrote the bassline in a hotel in Omaha about nine months before we recorded it. I wanted something that had a bit of an irregular beat to it, so it is asymmetrical in it's pattern, followed by a symmetrical pattern for the bridge,

I recorded the bassline first, using a synthesizer, and planned to go in and replace it with an electric bass at a later date. The truth of the matter is that I was never able to play the bass guitar as well as it worked on the keyboard, so the synthesizer part remains.

When we play this song live, Dick plays the bass part on the guitar, but for the recording, we tried that, and we liked the lower sound better, so Dick, instead, played a fast rhythm part.

We recorded most of this album in the early spring, when Dugg, the drummer, is exceptionally busy at work, so, he came in one afternoon and played the drum part for all the tracks. He recorded this one using a clay dumbek.

After all the backing tracks were laid-down, I recorded the flute part. It is entirely improvised. I recorded several different takes, and then chose the one I liked the best. I believe it was the first take that we finally went with.

Tune in next time for the story of "The Lotus of Mt. Ararat."

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Defining 'Religious Freedom' for Thanksgiving

In August, U.S. Representative Mike Kelly, a Republican from Pennsylvania, said "I know in your mind, you can think of the times America was attacked. One is Dec. 7, that's Pearl Harbor Day. The other is Sept. 11, and that's the day the terrorists attacked. I want you to remember Aug. 1, 2012, the attack on our religious freedom. That is a day that will live in infamy, along with those other dates."

What Mike Kelly was referring to was the day that The Affordable Care Act, 'Obamacare' kicked in numerous provisions supporting women's health. On this day, women were entitled to free annual well-woman visits, free screening for gestational diabetes, free screening for HPV, free counseling and screening for sexually transmitted diseases, free counseling and screening for HIV, free contraceptives and counseling, free breastfeeding support and counseling, and free counseling for domestic and interpersonal violence.

How is all this benefit for women's health on par with 9/11 and Peal Harbor? Mike Kelly feels it is because of the contraceptive clause.

I am a liberal, and in my world, freedoms have to do with the right to do what you want, up until the point that it interferes with the rights of another. As a metaphor, I can listen to whatever crazy, dissonant, loud music I wish in my home and car, but need to turn it down if the neighbors can hear it.

Religious freedom, in my view, is that anyone in this country can worship any way they like,  or choose not to worship at all, up until the point that it interferes with the personal freedom of another. 

To people like Mike Kelly, religious freedom means that he is opposed to anyone having the right to practice their religion in any way that doesn't fit his own religious beliefs. He is a Christian who does not believe in contraception, and he therefore feels that all others in the country need to believe the way he does, and that to allow people the freedom to have options in the area of contraception is a violation of his religious freedom.

Mike Kelly is not in a minority in this country. There are numerous people who are convinced that religious freedom means that other people need to follow the same religious guidelines in which they believe: As a metaphor, people in other houses should not be allowed to listen to music they don't like, even if those neighbors keep the music quiet enough that they will never hear it.

The 'religious right' is not a religious movement, and I do not criticize individuals who are Christian. The religious right is a political movement, and, essentially, a political party. It is not concerned with salvation or enlightenment or feeding the poor or healing the sick or any of those Christian virtues. It is concerned with controlling money and influence, and is using religion to subjugate the vulnerable and turn their genuine religious beliefs into political momentum. How else can one explain the fact that the religious right political movement is in direct opposition to the teachings of Jesus on almost every level? Denying help to the poor, denying medical care to the sick, passing judgement on others, and so on and so on.  I don't mean any of what I am saying to be condemning of Christianity as a whole. There are many wonderful people who have found true enlightenment through Christ, and have walked their own path, not forcing it upon those around them. But, within that same movement, are individuals who are motivated by power and profit. It is these people to whom I direct my criticism.

The religious right in this country feel that they have a lock on the truth, and that the government should stay out of their lives - except to enforce that people practice religion the same way they do. They promote the contradiction of small government that does not interfere with personal liberties, except that they want to be sure people can get arrested for getting abortions, or even using contraception (All this while a number of white men in this movement feel a need to redefine rape, and to give rights to rapists to visit the children that are the results of their violent acts...); that opposing views to theirs not be taught in schools; to deny basic Civil Rights for gay people or other people who are 'different'; that people who look 'non-Christian' be scrutinized as suspicious terrorists; that there be restrictions on where Mosques can be built as not to offend 'Ground Zero' and on and on and on.

The First Amendment to the Constitution reads, in part: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

The states of Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Maryland and South Carolina have enacted bans to atheists holding public office... probably in order to preserve religious freedom.

But why not. This type of thinking goes back to the very genesis of our country:

The Puritans came to this country for the purpose of religious freedom. Having been persecuted for not practicing the official religions of their native countries, they came to American to have the right to practice their religion in the way they chose.

When the Puritans arrived, they found Native American people who lived here, who did not believe in Christ. They dubbed them heathens. In 1637, 700 Pequot men, women and children were massacred as they celebrated their green corn dance ceremony, because it was believed they embodied the devil, since they were not Christians.  In honor of this, the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared a "day of Thanksgiving." A very different scene from the myth of the three day feast of peace we learned about in school.

The 'Puritans' then went on to murder a number of innocent people for witchcraft, and created a cultured that embraced slavery, the continuing slaughter of Native people, and the subjugation of not only non-Christians, but of other Christian groups who had subtle differences from their own dogma.

This is the kind of thinking that still remains strong in our country. Though the principles of freedom are the talking points of the religious right, they have not ventured far from their Puritanical roots, and still feel that religious freedom is the act of condemning those who do not believe as they do.

I guess there is some, basic part of human nature that makes us believe we are right and others are wrong, and that makes us believe that it is worth using violence to try to prove that our opinions are correct. All of human history seems to be the story of groups of people dominating each other and exterminating those who believe differently. The fact that people are denied rights because of their religious beliefs rather than actually being exterminated in America is, I guess, improvement. 

Ultimately, I believe, this basic phrase in The Constitution points to a higher level of evolution than we have yet reached.

As a public school teacher, over the last 20 years, my voice has become more restricted. I used to teach, with the blessing of the school district, a vast multi-cultural history of The United States and the world. The age of high-stakes testing and the standards that have followed, which, essentially, force us to teach to the test (all a result of No Child Left Behind) has silenced my voice. The Social Studies I taught were restricted to the history of white America, which would appear on the test. More and more frequent observations from the school district ensured that I was following the standards assigned.

Now, in Texas and California, the text books are being rewritten, to reflect an even more idealized and watered down version of the white man's illusion of American history. This is being exposed in a new film called 'The Revisionaries.' I have provided a trailer below.

As the religious right consolidate power, they are working on rewriting history, as they did with the first Thanksgiving. They are further eliminating religious freedom, as I see it, and practicing religious freedom as they see it through a systematic denial of opposing views.

Religious freedom is this country has become a battle for the control of people's thoughts and ideas. Those of us who embrace diversity and celebrate differences are being pitted against a well-oiled machine that is attempting to make us into a theocracy, despite the words of The Constitution.

Religion in this country is no longer a contest for the hearts of believers, but is a multi-billion dollar industry that profits from people coming to the churches. Some churches have become machines for political propaganda, while they are tax free, costing us somewhere in the neighborhood of $71 billion in lost revenue. Much of religion has become a business. This melding of money and belief leads to a tremendous potential for manipulation, as people promise, in exchange for an investment, the redemption of one's soul, or eternal life.

So, the dilemma, once again, becomes where to draw the line. It is certainly within one's religious freedom to join a politically motivated, for-profit church, if that is what gives that person satisfaction. If we call for monitoring of the churches' political activities, are we infringing on their freedoms?

Respect for truth, and respect of one another is not something that can ever be defined or legislated, and, if it is, then, by nature, it is denying religious freedom to someone.

As I wrestle with this idea of religious freedom, I can't come up with an idea for a solution. There will always be religious groups that are parasitic and prey on those who are struggling. And there are always going to be those who are true in their conviction, and practice religion for righteous reasons. It is against the principles of freedom I have established for myself to tell others how they should believe, or stand in the way of the free practice of one's beliefs, until the point that it interferes with another's rights.

As a metaphor, I can listen to my own music so long as it doesn't bother my neighbors, but as a musician, I also sell my music to people and perform for those who will listen. I am an independent musician, and don't work too hard to convince people to listen to me who seem uninterested.  My music is an art. It is a reflection of who I am. It energizes me, it gives me an expression for my inner ideals. In many ways, when I play music, I am communing with God, or The Great Spirit, or the Universe, or whatever that thing is that is greater than I am.

As a metaphor, there is a world of music that is for profit. There are people who take anxious young artists, and mold them into their view of someone who can reap a profit for their company. They record these musicians and push their music out into the world through a variety of media - background for movies and TV, radio, advertising. Many of these musicians are used up and spat out by a cold industry. Some, like George Clinton, aren't even allowed to play the songs they wrote, because they have been prostituted to such an extreme by record executives and lawyers who are motivated only by greed. Many of these artists feel downtrodden. We hear every year around hundreds who have given into drug and alcohol abuse to try to replace the spirit that has been taken by the profiteers. These profiteers play their music even when the neighbors ask them to turn it down. Sort of like when the FBI blasted loud music into the compound of the Branch Davidians in Waco Texas as a form of torture to try to force them out.

Ultimately, I guess it comes down to greed and the desire to have control over the weak.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

My Little Ride on the Ron Paul Express

I studied philosophy in college, but I have often tended to investigate it more deeply by immersing myself in ideas rather than studying them from the outside. In that vein, this is the story of my little ride on the Ron Paul express during the spring of 2008.

The first inklings came when some guys at my yoga studio whispered to me in the locker room that I needed to support Ron Paul. "For the banks," they said, in hushed tones. "He's the only one who understands what is going on." I looked him up that night.

In the summer of 2007, I decided to treat myself to a little gift. I subscribed to satellite TV. On the first day of my summer vacation, the technician hooked me up. "You get all the premium channels free for three months, too!" He told me.

And suddenly, my life was filled with the wonders of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and The John Adam mini series, and a myriad of movies, old and new, that I had heard about, but never seen.

Among the shows that came into my life was Penn & Teller's "Bullsh*t." The first episode I watched was an expose about Walmart. They paraded across my screen a line-up of people who talked about how Walmart had given them jobs when they couldn't find work, and how they were able to better provide for their children because they could buy things cheaper. A city counsel woman talked about how Walmart had revived the bad section of her town.

I was in a state of cognitive dissonance. After all, I had been an active boycotter of Walmart. I initially protested the building of a Walmart in beautiful mountain valley in our small town. After that, I had heard all sorts of stories about how they only hired part-time employees to avoid paying for benefits, and how they had locked people in the store until they finished their duties, not paying them overtime, and about how they were being sued for racist practices.

Had I been duped by the liberal media?

Penn & Teller are Libertarians and Atheists. I found a number of articles and youtube talks they did about their belief in individual rights, and their rejection of the supernatural. They were extremely logical in their approach, and seemed to have an easy consistency in their belief system.

All I knew about Libertarians at that time was that they seemed to like the legalization of marijuana, and they didn't like paying taxes.

I watched Penn & Teller pretty religiously, and started to be swayed by their ideas. I was really excited about how they seemed to ascribe to ideas from both the left wing and the right. They were anti-death penalty, anti-the-Boy-Scouts-discriminating-against-gays, the verdict was out on climate change. They sure didn't like anything new-age, which they called sewage, and rhymed with sewage.

I had long since mourned the division between left and right in this country and, even though I had been a Progressive Democrat since the womb, was excited about this new way of thinking.

My next stop was the bookstore, where I picked up Ron Paul's "Revolution." There was a lot there I agreed with: I supported his anti-war stance, liked his idea that we needed to take care of our problems at home first, and look abroad later. When he challenged me to look at my life and see if it really changed when there was a Democrat or Republican in office, I had to agree that my life had stayed pretty much the same... I knew other people whose lives had been affected by Bush administration policies, but mine was not one of them... and, in true Libertarian form, I was beginning to see that it was about me and not other people anyway.

I had studied The Constitution and The Framers, and liked the reverence paid to them by The Libertarian movement. I had never been a Constitutional literalist, but why not try it on for size? I wasn't quite sure how we would pay for roads and what-not without paying taxes, but certainly knew that I never saw somewhere between a quarter and a third of my salary. And what about states rights? As a school employee, I agreed that more local control over schools had seemed to work better than the increasing number of mandates for education coming down from the Federal Government through No Child Left Behind - and why would this not be true in other areas as well? And what about that Federal Reserve? No one knew what was going on with it anyway...and didn't it make sense that our currency be backed up by something of real value, like gold?

And so I bought my ticket, and stepped aboard the Ron Paul Libertarian Express.

The next step was to start to find like-minded people, and it didn't take long for them to start to show up in my life. I started talking to these Ron Paul enthusiasts and better understood their world.

One of them thrust a CD at me. "Listen to this! This tells the real story of The Federal Reserve, and why we can't trust it!"

I listened to the CD, where the speaker wove a lovely yarn of the leaders of Wall Street, in heavy disguise, taking the train to Jeckyll Island. They did not, apart from their secret handshakes and subtle winks, acknowledge each other, until they arrived at their destination, where they secretly reconfigured the American economy, with all sorts of Masonic overtones, putting the fate of the free world in the hands of a secret Federal Reserve Bank that operated independent of the government. It was an intriguing conspiracy theory only loosely based in fact that was the very, crumbling, foundation of the Libertarian movement. (More about this can be found in this article.)

For the sake of storytelling, I am going to condense numerous conversations that took place over several months into a single, paraphrased conversation:

"Taxes are illegal," one of my new friends told me. "The Constitution is specific, that the government does not have the power to collect taxes."

"Doesn't Article I give Congress the power to collect taxes?" I responded (Article I; Section 8; Clause I; The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;) I had prided myself on spending most of my fourth grade year memorizing The Constitution. 

"No, no, no..." my friend replied. "That's one of those liberal myths. It is clear that there is no taxation..."

"What about the Sixteenth Amendment? That gives explicit power to the government to collect income tax."

"That's the thing. We don't believe in Amendments, just the body of the original Constitution... The Amendments aren't legal."

"I thought you guys loved the Tenth Amendment... power to the states."

"Yeah, that's a good one... and so is the Second Amendment... and also the first... but what about The Fourteenth Amendment? Did you know that that Amendment allows children who are born in The United States to foreign parents to be American Citizens? That's why illegals come here to have their babies! That's why we need to get rid of The Fourteenth Amendment!"

"That was so that children of slaves could get citizenship... and what about the Equal Protections Clause? Isn't that important?"

"The what clause...oh, never mind..."

As time went on, I began to learn that 'states rights' was really a dog whistle for getting rid of the Civil Rights Act and Voters Rights Act. The Ron Paul people were opposed to The Civil Right Act in the fact that it created an 'imposition' on private businesses by forcing them to equally serve people of different races and religions. 

"If I want to start a business and not serve Mexicans, let's say, how is it the business of the government to force me to serve them?"

As a staunch Civil Right Activist, since the age of two or three, my Ron Paul enthusiasm was quickly unravelling. 

I had lived in the Communist Soviet Union, and saw very quickly there how something that sounded very good when Karl Marx wrote about it was a disaster once ideologue people got ahold of it, and I was seeing the same thing in The Libertarian movement. 

The final straw for me was the obsession that people seemed to have with Ayn Rand. Ron Paul's son is named after Ayn Rand.

In Atlas Shrugged, the book that most of these folks seemed most obsessed with, Ayn Rand creates a utopian world in which laissez-faire capitalism is king. In this world, every person is out for themselves. Those who end up on top are there because they are the tough ones who deserve what they get. Those who end up on the bottom are weak, and Rand refers to them "savages" (or, in interviews as 'vermin' or worse.) 

Ayn Rand, in her real life, became enamored with a serial killer who she praised for being entirely consistent in his philosophy. She saw him as strong, and representative of The Superman (taken from Nietzsche) in our society - someone we should all strive to emulate!

The Libertarians took this philosophy, as they did with all philosophies, out of context and to an extreme, and used it to justify a life of selfish focus, where people should not care for others, and where people who could not make it on their own, and depended upon the government for anything were weak, dependent, and should be cut off. (despite the fact that some of these same people had medicare and collected social security... as did Ayn Rand, under an assumed name.)

And so I pulled the brake on the Ron Paul express, and jumped back on the Progressive Democratic train in time to enjoy the slugfest between upstart Senator Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Over the next several months, The Libertarian Movement had a strange fusion with fundamentalist Christianity and became The Tea Party. They became known for their often eccentric costumes and patently misspelled, racist and inaccurate  protest signs.

The Tea Party was built on a multitude of conspiracy theories, from the Jeckyll Island story, to the birther movement, to the many who called Obama a Socialist and a Communist, but who, when asked what Socialism or Communism meant were typically unable to define these words.

In 2010, a  number of Tea Party favorites were swept into Congress, into governorships and into state legislatures running on the idea that the deficit was our number one enemy, and on job creation. Once in power, these individuals routinely blocked all legislation that had to do with job creation, and instead introduced the largest number of pieces of anti-abortion legislation to be seen since Rowe v. Wade. They engaged in an embarrassing attempt to close down the government over funding for Planned Parenthood and succeeded in lowering the nation's credit rating through a stand-off over raising the debt ceiling and the creation of a looming fiscal cliff that could result in further limiting our current economic recovery.

In 2012, there was a rejection of The Tea Party in local and national elections, and mainstream Republicans were left astonished by the defeats that seemed to come mainly from a right-wing media bubble they had created that was based, in large part, on these conspiracy theories.

During my brief interlude with the pre-Tea Party enthusiasts, I witnessed their magical thinking, which was based on a lack of actual information; which was based on stories they, themselves, had created to try to explain away the problems they perceived. The obsession with selfish interests came to a head during the 'let him die' moment in the GOP debates.

The racial undertones of the movement became apparent early, and, over the next four years, seemed to come to a head, as The Tea Party took radical stands on immigration. The signs seen at Tea Party Rallies often were racially derogatory, and following Obama's election, a barrage of racist tweets went out through the blog world (An interesting and disturbing study about the racist tweets.)

I am not surprised by the direction this movement took. My experience with The Libertarians was that these were people who felt alienated by the government. They fell into a category of people who were victimized by their own mediocracy: They were white, lower middle-class, uneducated people who fell above the poverty line, so did not qualify for any help, but felt pinched by the cost of living. They were often people who struggled to stay employed, and saw people who were different from them having some more economic success. They were people who saw the world changing, but not championing them, after they had been raised in a world where white people had been the traditional success stories. They were people who wanted to go back to a non-existent simpler time. In order to justify their rage, they created stories and conspiracies about how The Federal Reserve and illegal tax systems and immigrants had destroyed the ideal world that had been created by The Constitution. They loved The Constitution and The Framers, yet had no real understanding of The Constitution (probably limited by their lack of education) except what other had told them about it. The stories they had about The Framers and early America were similarly twisted to support their views.

I believe The Tea Party movement was all put into perspective by the comments of self-proclaimed Tea Party sweetheart Michele Bachmann, who stood up in front of the CPAC conference and stated "If our forefathers thought taxation without representation was bad, then what would they think of representation WITH taxation?" Clearly she, and the others in this movement, misunderstood the significance of when the tea was thrown into Boston Harbor because the colonists had no say in the tax structure that was being imposed upon them by a King and a Parliament an ocean away. "Don't Tread on Me" was the saying then, as colonists requested a say in what they paid, rather than having to foot the bill for wars being raged by their mother country that did not directly benefit them, symbolized by a snake that would bite when stepped upon. After the Revolution, we got what we wanted, and control our own fate. These symbols are now being used by a group of people who misunderstand this history, and seem to believe that our country was founded on the principle of paying no taxes.

I believe, however, that recent history has given us a valuable lesson: The GOP became consumed with these Tea Party practices of the ends justifying the means, and revising history to justify your own predicament and tactics. We have listened, endlessly, to Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck concoct twisted yarns of revisionism to explain how Obama is trying to end America as we know it. We listened to right-wing pundits who revised the math through the elections season's polling to prove that Romney would win the election in a landslide. And now we see the retractions, the embarrassment and the finger-pointing as they recoil in horror that these new and convenient ways of thinking, provided by The Libertarian movement, failed them almost completely.

While the staunchest among the conspiracy theorists shout that the solution is to have more conspiracy theories and be more conservative and more racist and more government gridlock, it seems like a lot of people are looking for a way to get out of the bubble and move back toward reality. We will see what direction it goes.

Furthermore, most of these Libertarians, or Tea Partiers have learned to use the government as a scapegoat. They do not realize that in our form of democracy, the government is anything we make it out to be, as evidenced by this week's election when clear messages were given about the role of women and minorities, marriage equality and the legalization of drugs. A good article about how Americans have been taught to hate their government.

In the meantime, it would appear that Ron Paul's Revolution, that led to the rise of The Tea Party and the collapse of the GOP was nothing more than a vastly expensive experiment in magical thinking that ended in utter failure. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Dona Nobis Pacem - Meditation as a Path to World Peace

"If every eight year old was taught meditationwe will eliminate violence from the world within one generation" - Dalai Lama

The above quote caught my attention earlier this year. It is an astonishing assertion - that we could end violence on the planet in a single generation merely by engaging in inward reflection.

It has been an extremely violent year. We have seen continuing war across the world. In Denver, where I live, the past few months have given us one of the most devastating mass shootings in history, the gunman a youth in his early twenties; and the past few weeks we have had to deal with the horrifying abduction and murder of a young girl by, it appears, a 17 year-old boy.

Could these tragedies have been averted by training in inward reflection? 

I work in a school for emotionally disturbed young people. I have always been struck by the fact that the de-facto response of these students to most situations that cause any stress is to suggest a violent solution, if not to act out in a violent manner. It seems as though very little is below the level of people deserving to be injured or killed for causing any sort of inconvenience. Certainly, these students are on the extreme end of the bell curve in their responses, but I see this out in the public at large - as people, frequently, show road rage, cuss at each other, extend their middle fingers, or otherwise seem to wish harm upon others for often very simple and innocent oversights or mistakes of which all of us are guilty.

It sort of seems, sometimes, that many Americans live their lives moving from one little temper-tantrum to the next.

Certainly, if we struggle so much, and become enraged about small conflicts, then the large conflicts create out-of-control situations.

The idea of meditation is a simple one. It is non-religious, although people can make it religious if they want... in fact, people can make it almost anything they want. It is simply a process of turning away from the stresses of the external world, and connecting with the balance that in natural in an inner world.

Most people I know seem extremely focused on the external world. They are caught up in their belongings, their jobs, their schedules and their routines. People are frightened by emotion, and when faced with more intense emotions, look more to the external world for guidance.

The inner world is an important place, and it is important to be in touch with it.

Research has proven that inward reflection and meditation result in reducing stress, increasing happiness, better cognition, the ability to have better control over one's emotions, and so on and so on.

In a school I read about, they had the students engage in 20 minutes of meditation in the morning, and their test scores increased dramatically. 

I have also read about other schools where this has been tried, but where parents objected because they felt that meditation was related to Eastern religion. In fact, meditation has been a vital part of Christianity and Judasim, although it is most often referred to as prayer or contemplation. The contemplatives in the Christian church or Kabbalist traditions are every bit as advanced in their meditation techniques as Eastern meditators. Meditation can be adapted to any belief system, and is also just as effective as a non-religious practice, as one can merely get in touch with their inner thoughts and emotions.

A lot of people have told me they can't meditate because they don't have time. A reality is that meditation actually will cause people to become more relaxed and efficient, and will create more time for people. As an old saying goes, "Everyone should meditate for a half-hour a day - unless you are busy. Then you should meditate for an hour a day!" I have found in my life that during the times I let meditation go, I feel that life is busier, and I feel more exhausted. I also engage, during these times, in more escapist activities, such as television watching.

As far as the difference between escapism and meditation, I think Eckhart Tolle does a nice job of describing different levels of consciousness: There is the state of everyday consciousness, with which we are all familiar. Then there is the state of 'super consciousness' which is the state of meditation. He describes escapist activities, such as TV and video games, as be 'sub-consciousness' (meaning below the level of everyday consciousness - not the subconscious mind) which is where we sink into a state in which we have turned our minds off and are easily subjected to the will of others - or of the television. This can result in fatigue, and interfere with peoples' abilities to make good decisions.

Meditation is not escapism, even though it is a retreat from everyday consciousness.  During or after meditation, I have often found that I suddenly have more creative solutions, and more energy to apply these solutions to everyday world problems that had been plaguing me before. Escapism results in temporarily forgetting problems, but then they return, without ideas for solutions.

So, how does this all relate to peace?

I am a firm believer that external peace will only come from internal peace. As that Dalai Lama implied, if all of our children were schooled in the methods of meditation, and became masters of inner peace, our problems would be resolved simply and without violence. 

I have a hard time picturing people who meditate flipping off people who cut them off in traffic or yelling at a waitress because their glass is dirty. And it seems that it takes working at this level to affect real peace on a larger scale.

I think another offshoot of meditation is that it realigns our values with internal needs rather than external wants. It is easy to argue that war has become profitable in our world, as thus people are willing to easily wage war upon others because people make large amounts of money. Likewise, people steal and kill for material possessions on a smaller scale. 

Meditation takes away some of the emphasis on material goods, and places more value on inner virtues. If people see that respecting each other is more important than profit, the world would change immediately.

So, how does one start to meditate?

There are all sorts of meditation tools out there. Here is an example of a simple, guided meditation available free on youtube. And there are thousands of them!

There are thousands of books, CDs, meditation programs, classes and so forth to help people meditate, and probably most of them will work. There does not have to be a great investment of money or time (meditate for 30 minutes instead of watching one show.)

Rumi said "What nine months does for the embryo, Forty early mornings will do for your growing awareness." Meaning that 40 days of meditation (he preferred the early morning, as does Wayne Dyer...) can alter a person's consciousness. (There is a great winter program based on this, 'The Winter Feast for the Soul' )

The last thing I would like to address here is how collective focus can alter the world:

As Mimi has thousands of us blogging about peace, when many people focus on one thing, there are real, measurable changes that occur. Dr. Dean Radin has done research for many years about collective focus. In his research, he has random number generators all over the world. They just run constantly, generating random numbers. There is a predictable randomness to this most of the time. However, when large numbers of people focus upon one thing, such as 9/11, during the O.J. Simpson trial, during Hurrican Katrina, etc... The number generators suddenly start becoming less random for a period of time. I can assume that the recent Hurricane Sandy event will affect these number generators.

So, if thousands of people start focusing inward every day, and focusing on inner peace, I can imagine this could have a profound influence upon our planet.

I have recently recorded a guided meditation that I am offering as a free download. It is a little more advanced meditation, but anyone can try it. It takes one through a cleansing of the chakras (a kriya) and then raises one's energy through the chakras (a kundalini.) The background tones are singing bowls, didgeridoos and vocal overtones, which have been shown to vibrate the chakras and create healing. It is based on a combination of Yogic and Shamanic meditation traditions and techniques.

Here is the link. Please feel free to enjoy it and share it, and I would certainly appreciate any feedback. This is really sort of a rough draft, and I would like to polish it and have it available in a more professional form, eventually.

Axis Mundi Kriya Guided Meditation