Monday, January 29, 2018

McMeditation

In these trying times, when half the nation seems to have gone insane, everyone not in a coma seems to be searching for a way to relax. Some choose vigorous exercise which can end in pain and regret. Others might enjoy listening to soothing music, if any exists, or keeping a journal, which is like seeing a shrink without the appointment, bill or condescension. So rather than elevate my blood pressure by discussing the idiots and assholes that populate our current administration, I thought I might offer a balm for the troubled mind and discuss my experience with meditation. All I knew about the subject was that the Beatles had become interested in Transcendental Meditation (registered copyright, but since I don't have that symbol on my keyboard, I'll use an asterisk), or TM*,  from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1967. The Maharishi, know at the time as the "giggling guru" for his numerous television appearances, developed TM* in India in 1956, but after meeting the Beatles in London, he began making an enterprise of it. When the Beatles and their wives, along with the Farrow sisters (for whom John Lennon wrote "Dear Prudence"),  visited the Maharishi in his ashram in India, the mystical glow faded after the Holy Man hit on Mia Farrow and the band walked away disillusioned. Although the discipline of meditation dates back five thousand years, the Maharishi's TM* technique caught fire in those halcyon days of spiritual discovery, guaranteeing effortless inner peace, at a price. In 1968, the Maharishi began training TM* teachers from his new global headquarters in Seelisberg, Switzerland, and sent them forth to pacify the world.

When I was in the midst of my tortuous decade trying to write Country songs in Nashville, I reached the point that if I heard one more song celebrating poverty and ignorance, I was going to lose it. I was in desperate need of stress relief and TM* was literally the only game in town. Encouraged by a friend who had even moved his family up to Boone, N.C. to live in a TM* community, I signed up for a course. I knew nothing of meditation or its Eastern origins, and unlike the wizened sage you now witness before you, I had everything to learn. I don't think I'd even had dinner in an Indian restaurant. My particular impression of Hinduism was a religion with multitudes of goofy looking gods and goddesses with animal characteristics standing in awkward positions. And because of cow worship, the faithful went hungry while cattle roamed the streets. Since TM* is rooted in the Hindu faith, I approached my lessons with some apprehension. The six-day course cost $250 at the time and could only be taught by a certified TM* instructor, in my case a soft-spoken young man lousy with serenity.

The meditation classes were easy enough, based on a repetitive phrase that centered the mind. Practicing for twenty minutes, twice a day, was prescribed to ease stress and anxiety. The big payoff, or mystic goody, was the mantra, a sacred incantation chosen exclusively for you based on your personal interview with the teacher. For initiation day, I was instructed to bring a clean handkerchief, flowers, some fruit, and naturally, the course fee. A makeshift alter was erected with a peach crate and a bedsheet. On the wall above was a creepy photo of an old, white-bearded man, who was the Maharishi's guru. I was admonished to never utter my mantra aloud, lest I tarnish it and strip it of its power. The Maharishi said, "Using just any mantra can be dangerous. Mantras commonly found in books can cause a person to withdraw from life." When the big finally moment came, I was asked to bow before the guru's photo and receive my mantra. I immediately balked at bowing before anybody but I figured I'd come this far, so I lowered my head. I was hoping for something cool, like "Shanti," but the teacher leaned forward and whispered in my ear, "Hrring." Since it was chosen especially for me, who was I to disagree? I chose a comfortable chair in my bedroom and began to practice. Focusing squarely on the third eye, I began to silently recite, "Hrring,  Hering, Herring." I just spent two-hundred and fifty bucks so I could recite a word that sounded like Jewish smoked fish. I told my teacher that my mantra was making me laugh and could I please have another but I was assured that this was mine and to work with it. Sometime later, I received a call from my old friend Mac, who said, "I heard you took TM*, what's your mantra?" I was appalled, "I can't tell you my mantra. I was sworn to secrecy." Mac said, "If you tell me yours, I'll tell you mine." I reluctanty agreed saying, "Mine's Hrring." Mac burst into laughter. "What's so funny?" I asked. He replied, "Mine is Shrring."

I came to realize that there are a multitude of ways to meditate and the Maharishi had turned TM* into a for-profit, international franchise, much like Weight-Watchers, or psychiatry. TM* was quick to reassure its customers that their fees covered not only the initial training, but a lifetime follow-up, like a Kenmore warranty. Even financing is available. In 1984, Omni Magazine published an article by "disaffected TM* teachers" listing sixteen mantras used by the organization, contradicting the fable that the result was dependent on a trained teacher's choice. A 2007 study found that details of training and knowledge for TM* teachers are kept private and potential franchisees are required to sign a "loyalty-oath employment contract." Fortunately, effective meditation doesn't require the $960 dollars currently being charged for TM* classes. By the time of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's death in 2008, TM* had become an empire worth an estimated four billion dollars, including the Maharishi International University, now The Maharishi University of Management on three-hundred eighty-one acres in Fairfield, Iowa. The compound in North Carolina called "Heavenly Mountain" unfortunately went bust. Built as a TM* community in 1998 for forty million dollars, the site sold at auction in 2012 for $3.9 million and is now the Art of Living Retreat Center, offering weight loss, detox, yoga, and meditation for an all-inclusive fee. Just YouTube "meditation," and you don't have to pay for it. Meditation really works, but it takes the sort of consistent self-discipline that I utterly lack. Which reminds me, there's a Xanax prescription that I need to refill.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Beatitudes

Among the more perplexing phenomena of the Cult of Trump is the nearly universal backing of people who identify themselves as Evangelical Christians. Exit polls showed that eighty-five percent of evangelicals cast their votes for a man who is the antithesis of Christian teaching. Did they hate Hillary so much that they voted for a sybarite? Prosperity gospel pastor Paula White, chosen by Trump to pray for him at the inauguration, encouraged viewers of the Jim Bakker Show to be obedient and loyal to Trump because it is what God wants. Author Lance Wallnau said God spoke to him and claimed, "I really believe that the mercy of God intervened in the last election cycle." Reverend Franklin Graham, the poorly-informed son of Nixon pal Billy Graham, gushed, "Never in my lifetime have we had a president willing to take a strong, outspoken stand for the Christian faith like President Trump has." And Texas mega-church pastor Robert Jeffress said, "God has given Trump authority to take out Kin Jong-Un." If that were God's will, you would think He wouldn't need help from Trump, but it's unfathomable how conservative Christians can still be the main defenders of this crude idolater of mammon.

My Catholic education informs me that Matthew chapters 5-7 contains the Sermon on the Mount, otherwise known as the Beatitudes. These words are the basis of Jesus' early moral teachings, so let's check the record and see how the family values agenda is stacking up.

MT5 "Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

Jesus: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Trump: "Show me someone without an ego and I'll show you a loser." "Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest- and you all know it. Please don't feel so stupid or insecure. It's not your fault." "As for my yacht, The Trump Princess, it is a dazzling trophy...for me, you see, the important thing is the getting, not the having."

Jesus: "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."
Trump: "Nobody could have done what I've done for Puerto Rico with so little appreciation." "So, what's your death count? Sixteen? You can be very proud, only sixteen instead of thousands in Katrina." "Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They want everything done for them." "We cannot keep FEMA, the Military, and the First Responders in Puerto Rico forever."

Jesus: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."
Trump: "Part of the beauty of me is that I am very rich." "I like money. I'm very greedy...I love money, right? But..I want to be greedy for our country." "I'm the most successful person ever to run for the presidency, by far. Ross Perot isn't successful like me. Romney? I have a Gucci store that's worth more than Romney." Trump's penthouse, "has been called the best apartment ever built. I own the top three floors- the whole floor, times three."

Jesus: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied."
Trump: "First of all, I am a great Christian, and I am-I am. Remember that." "Why do I have to repent? Why do I have to ask for forgiveness if (I'm) not making mistakes?" "When I drink my little wine...and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness."

Jesus: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy."
Trump: "Torture works!" "Would I approve of waterboarding? You bet your ass I would- in a heartbeat. And I would approve more than that." "Believe me, it works. And you know what? If it doesn't work, they deserve it anyway." "I'm putting people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration, that if I win, they're going back." "When someone crosses you my advice is, 'Get Even!'."

Jesus: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
Trump: "I did try and fuck her, she was married. I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn't get there." "When you're a star, they let you do it...Grab 'em by the pussy. You can do anything."

Jesus: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."
Trump: "North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen." "If forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea." "With Iran, when they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats and they make gestures...that they shouldn't be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water."

Jesus: "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Trump: "Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." "When people wrong you, go after those people, because it is a good feeling and because other people will see you doing it." "When someone hurts you, just go after them as viciously and violently as you can." "If you do not get even, you are just a schmuck. I love getting even."

Jesus: "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account."
Trump: "You tell people a lie three times, they will believe anything. You tell people what they want to hear, play to their fantasies, and then you close the deal." "The FAKE NEWS (sic) media is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People."

I don't know about you, but in a two man race, I'll be voting for the liberal candidate; Jesus.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Me Too

Nobody seems to be talking about Bill Cosby so much anymore. Harvey Weinstein's sexual abuses were so grotesque that if I were a woman, I'd prefer to be drugged. It's a given that men are dogs and pigs but, my God, the description of Weinstein's conduct was shocking to me- then I talked to my wife. In my naivete, I never realized this ugly conduct happens all the time. Melody was and is an attractive girl, which means practically every man she's ever known has hit on her since she was sixteen, including a cop and a former teacher. She's seen it all- flashers, gropers, masturbaters, heavy breathers, and aggressive advances from acquaintances and co-workers both young and old. And these encounters were just as common with her female  friends. Everyone had a tale to tell. Some of her stories were too harrowing to repeat. Fortunately, she escaped these incidences unharmed. The thirty women who accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual abuse over twenty years weren't so lucky. Weinstein's victims include a who's who of Hollywood actresses- Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie, and Rose McGowan, who refused a million dollar hush money offer and called out Hollywood talent agencies as being "guilty of human trafficking." It only took one brave woman telling her story to the New York Times to open Pandora's Box, so to speak. Weinstein initially denied engaging in non-consensual sex, but his unspeakable behavior was common knowledge at Miramax, the company Weinstein founded. He has reached seven settlements with other victims. Weinstein's predatory conduct was appalling because it was so disgusting. He invited women to his quarters and reappeared in a bathrobe, exposing himself. Ashley Judd was asked to watch him shower. Other unassuming targets were told that watching him masturbate would help their careers. Weinstein has been accused of giving alcohol to a minor, rape, and assault. The bloated, bearded swine blamed his behavior on coming of age in the sixties, when the rules were different. No they weren't. Only in Hollywood could a dirtbag feel so entitled and powerful that women would surrender to his nascent charm. After all, he had the power to make or break an actress' career, and if rebuffed, he would go out of his way to punish them. After the Weinstein allegations, fifty-nine more men in politics and entertainment have been accused of abhorrent sexual behavior, and the list is growing every day.

For twenty years, viewers spent their mornings with Matt Lauer. After discovering that he had a button under his desk to lock a woman in his office and pull the old Harvey Weinstein bathrobe routine, I feel duped. It's like if Dick Van Dyke were arrested in a child pornography sting. Same goes for Charlie Rose, fired by CBS, PBS, and Bloomberg for making lewd phone calls and incidences of groping. Thoughtful and soft-spoken political analyst Mark Halpern, co-author of Game Change, masturbated behind his desk while meeting with a female colleague. The hot comic Louis C.K., writer and director of the classic movie Pootie Tang, did bits about masturbation in his stand-up act. Now we know he wasn't kidding. Accused of exposing himself and asking women to watch him masturbate, his upcoming comedy special and a new movie release have been cancelled. The list goes on: Kevin Spacey, Jeffrey Tambor, Dustin Hoffman, Garrison Keillor for God's sake. Bill O'Reilly paid out thirteen million dollars to five women. Former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson successfully sued Fox Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes for twenty million dollars for "unwanted sexual advances." Before explaining himself, Ailes took the easy way out and died earlier this year. Of course there's accused child predator and our new Senator from Alabama, Roy Moore, cruising teen hangouts to make new friends. He claims all five of his accusers of lying.

We have obviously reached a tipping point in male-female relationships. The old dinosaurs are going down and the push is finally on for women to be believed. But must we blindly believe all woman? Case in point is Senator Al Franken and his accuser, radio personality Leeann Tweeden. On a 2006 USO tour in Afghanistan, when Franken was still a comedian, Tweeden said Franken forcibly kissed and groped her. She later wrote Franken, "grabbed my breasts while I was sleeping and had someone take a photo of you doing it, knowing I would see it later and be ashamed." Franken immediately apologized and called for an ethics investigation into himself, which was smart because it could force Tweeden to testify under oath. The photo mentioned was childish and sophomoric but contradicts Tweeden's account. She is asleep in a cargo plane wearing a flack jacket while Franken's hands are hovering over her chest while he smiles for the camera- obviously a joke- a stupid one but a joke just the same. Tweeden accepted Franken's apology before the YouTube videos of the tour surfaced. Check them out and watch Tweeden grind on country singer Mark Wills and grab his butt. It was for the troops. I'll bet Rita Hayworth did similar shtick with Bob Hope. Turns out Tweeden was an employee of Fox Sports, a regular on Sean Hannity's nightly propaganda broadcast, and a Trump supporter. Sounds like a hit job on Al Franken to me, yet some are demanding his resignation. Which brings us to the most blatantly hypocritical pot and kettle dilemma. Over the past two decades, taxpayers have paid seventeen million dollars for hush money and to settle congressional sexual harassment charges for two hundred sixty-four congressional staffers and other legislative employees. A boatload of men are currently searching through their memory banks and the feeling of a new enlightenment has dawned. Now, when is Donald Trump going to sue those twenty women who accused him of boorish sexual behavior like he promised?


Monday, November 6, 2017

Fooey

Did you hear the Foo Fighters are coming to Memphis this coming May 3rd? I have- over a hundred times now. In fact, every time they cut to a commercial during a Grizzlies' game, there's Dave Grohl's ugly mug staring back at me. I'm guessing that I'm going to have to watch that commercial for the remainder of fall and all of winter and spring. Do you think they gave us enough advance notice? I understand that the Foo Fighters are America's favorite rock band and have been protecting this nation from foo since 1994, but personally, I can't stand them in general, and Dave Grohl in particular. Oh I know, all my musician friends tell me what a great service Grohl did with his 2014 mini-series, Sonic Highways, traveling to eight cities with unique musical histories and interviewing luminaries from those locations. He went to Chicago, Nashville, Austin and New Orleans but bypassed "Soulsville," primarily because he has no soul. He hammers on that guitar just like he used to pound those drums for Nirvana. At least Kurt Cobain wrote songs incorporating dynamics, using delicate melodies before plunging into thrash and crash. Grohl copped that much from him, but to me, the songs of the Foo Fighters sound like U2 on crank. I'm not expecting anyone to agree with me. After all, the band has nine albums and eleven Grammys, reflecting today's musical tastes, but this power-chord, neo-hard rock is not for me. So now, every time I want to watch a basketball game, I have to sit through several commercials while enduring the screaming of Dave Grohl, greasy hair streaked across his contorted face, resembling someone who's masturbating with steel wool. To each his or her own, but May? If they sell the thing out, perhaps the ads will cease, but I'm holding on to that "mute" button until the playoffs.

Speaking of annoyances on television, did you see that World Series? I'm not referring to the games, which were sensational, but the traditional "Seventh Inning Stretch." I used to love watching Harry Caray sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," when he was the beloved announcer for the Chicago Cubs. It was part of the joy of the game. Shortly after 9/11, sporting events in this country began taking on a militaristic air. I don't know why they have to play the National Anthem before a ball game in the first place, but replacing a jolly sing-a-long with "God Bless America," is a bridge too far. Maybe they sang them both, but all I heard was the announcer saying, "Please stand and remove your caps for the singing of "God Bless America." In the words of CeeLo Green, "FU." I already stood and removed my cap, why should I have to repeat the exercise to an Irving Berlin song written in 1918 during WW1? We don't stand for "White Christmas" or "Easter Parade," or even "Alexander's Ragtime Band." Why this particular Irving Berlin tune? Funny you should ask, so I'll tell you. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, an Assistant Media Relations Director with the San Diego Padres suggested that the song replace "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," and Major League Baseball instituted it league-wide. It's now supposed to be on a voluntary basis, but consider this: On August 26, 2008 at Yankee Stadium, a fan was detained by the NYPD and ejected from the game for walking to the restroom during the playing of the song, resulting in a lawsuit. Among the provisions was a court order demanding that the Yankees no longer restrict the movement of fans during the song. That hasn't stopped the National Hockey League from taking up the practice. Now, they even sing "God Bless America" before the Indy 500. Nothing like a patriotic song before burning lots of rubber and gas.

Speaking of anthems, the player protests in the National Football League continue, despite the idiocy of vocal team owners like the Cowboys' Jerry Jones or Houston Texans owner, Bob McNair, who recently said, "We can't have the inmates running the prison." There's many a slip between the tongue and the lip, and McNair accidentally let slip that the NFL is nothing more than a billionaire's private club, and you're not in it. Ornate stadiums dot the land, playing the role of giant plantations, while the team owner is the straw boss. In 1969, when St. Louis Cardinals' outfielder Curt Flood was fighting for free agency, he said, "A well paid slave is still a slave." Currently, there is a lawsuit pending against the NFL by Colin Kaepernick, who began kneeling during the anthem in 2016 to protest police brutality against African-Americans. The suit accuses several NFL owners, including Jones, McNair, and Trump pal Robert Kraft, of collusion to prevent Kaepernick from playing in their league. Despite a spate of injuries to quarterbacks and sub-par performances by their replacements, Kaepernick (considered a premier quarterback) has not played for the past two seasons. The court has ordered seven team owners to be deposed and to turn over all cellphones and email records pertaining to Kaepernick or the players' protest. This might get good.

If I were a black athlete in the NFL, or any player with a conscience, I'd take a knee before the "Star-Spangled Banner" too, because our National Anthem is blatantly racist and needs to be changed. It stirs the hearts of millions who never paid attention to the third verse, which literally celebrates the deaths of slaves. I'll save you the trouble of looking it up: "No refuge could save the hireling and slave/From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave/And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave/O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave." If you were a descendant of slaves, would you stand up for that? The author, Francis Scott Key, was a wealthy lawyer from a Maryland plantation, who, according to Smithsonian.com, "not only profited from slaves, he harbored racist conceptions of...human potential." Serving as District Attorney for the city of Washington, Key said that Africans in America were "a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community." Key's song was only established as the National Anthem in 1931. That was just a few years before Irving Berlin wrote "Heaven Watch the Philippines," but we don't remove our caps for that. They don't teach you this stuff in White History. Speaking of white history, perhaps Dave Grohl could pen a new alt-rock national anthem and debut it during his visit to Memphis next May. He's only got six months. I can hardly wait.