Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Microburst

NASA illus. of a Microburst
Last night we had a microburst associated with Hurricane Sandy here in Boston. It sounded like a freight train was passing by with fire hoses aimed at the front of our house. It was hard to hear the accompanying thunder over the sound of the pounding water. I shrugged when Peter showed alarm. "Hurricane stuff," I said, as I focused on the recent episode of Homeland. 

Later I went downstairs to the kitchen and found a small pool of water on the living room floor. The two cats were there. They stared at the water. Then they looked up at me the way cats do when they think something is definitely out of place. Their expressions were a mix of "We didn't do it." and "Better clean that up!" I was dumbfounded. There was no sign of water on the ceiling. None on the wall. The water had somehow come in horizontally from the sill where the wood of the upper house is joined to the brick foundation. It was easily cleaned up with my shop vac.

I did some reading on microbursts and realized that the water came in because the water was coming up from the sidewalk in front of the house instead of pouring down and running off. This explains why the ceiling of the front porch was wet. That was new as well.

I have been thinking and writing about change and the capricious nature of life. Here was a great example. Rain falls...right? No. Rain can actually rise up from the ground in a microburst. No matter how well insulated my house or well sealed my roof, water can penetrate at Nature's whim.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Steps

As a major storm passes over the eastern U.S., reports of damage and disruption flood the media. Record snowfalls, heavy rains and record high tides have plagues the region. Power is out in cities and in the countryside. Nature has made its point.
 
Yesterday, as the storm approached, I went to the store for some milk. It was crowded for a late morning on a weekday. People rushed through the aisles with carts brimming with food. I was jostled and narrowly avoided being run down by carts several times. I couldn't get out of there fast enough with my several items.
 
Our human minds seem to desire stability over rationality. The threat of disaster throws many people into a panic. They rush to attempt to avoid discomfort by stockpiling. Their discomfort may be inevitable, whether they stockpile or not. A powerless refrigerator, filled with hundreds of dollars of perishable food, is useless and wasteful. Think of how much more discomforting that is to a person with limited resources.
 
This all relates to learning to live life in the present moment, while also taking rational precautions and steps to make a possible future as workable as possible. The key to this is my attitude toward change and my confidence in myself to adapt to change.
 
If I am confident and competent, I can take small steps to recover or adapt to any change. Confidence is different from optimism, but a degree of optimism can bolster confidence in dire circumstances. Confidence is based in success with dealing with the ongoing and inevitable changes of life through practice. Competence is comprised of the collected skills acquired through practice. If I am incompetent in the future, from dementia for example, nothing I can do today can prepare me for that change and what follows. It is important to understand and accept the capricious nature of all life.
 
Touch screens, the computer mouse and keypads have encouraged a sense of false confidence and competence through virtual realities. Once the power goes off, the real world becomes a different place. It is dark and cold at night. Great effort can be required to boil water for hygiene and cooking. There is little instant gratification in a computerless world. Everyday life requires taking conscious steps to get basic results. One step after another with a consciousness of changing conditions.
 
If computers and electric power are absolutely necessary to support an overpopulating human species, which in turn further taxes the planet's resources, disaster is inevitable when Nature does not follow human rules. The illusion of control, fostered by technology, may be the madness which eventually decimates the human species. If individuals increasingly believe that technology can solve all the problems of life, they will be incapacitated without technology in the face of drastic change which disables that technology.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Peace


Peace is more than the absence of violence. In our media world, we are tempted to equate peace with the absence of war. This is unfortunate. It externalizes the concept of peace from something we carry within our minds and bodies to something out of our control.

I often associate peace and joy in my writing. I see the two as entwined and inseparable. I refer to the peace which comes from accepting responsibility for maintaining and improving my life as it is. My age, my genetics, my sexuality...all these things are as they are. Maintaining and improving that life is the work of daily practice. Joy naturally develops as I live in this peace with my life as it is. I become liberated from the silly worries of materialism and hedonism. I become satisfied with simple pleasures. I value the people in my life for who they are, as opposed to who I wish them to become.

Freedom from violence aids this development of personal peace, of course. The best way to remove violence from my life is to become non-violent myself. This doesn't entail walking through life in fear. This entails becoming confident in my own ability to defend myself if attacked or to remove myself from a violent sitaution. The daily practice of promoting health and fitness contributes to this confidence.

A peaceful life can begin with simple actions. Evaluating the immediate living environment for conflict or threats is an example. Making decisions about how to approach these environmental negatives is a good beginning. Meditation and reflection help me to see where my own demons accelerate my anxiety and perception of threats to my internal peace from my environment. Sometimes my demons are the threat. Then I need to take them on with concentration, communication and behavior modification.

Getting to know myself, a never-ending job even at 62, allows me to know what I need to be at peace. Success at promoting my internal peace brings joy and increased confidence. This is elemental to my practice as a humanist. How can I promote peace and joy in other lives if my own is in conflict? How can I implement my values in my environment if I cannot implement my values within my own mind and body?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Allergies

I have always enjoyed Autumn for its weather and wonderful colors here in New England. As I have grown older, I have developed an allergy to leaf mold. Fungi consume dead leaves. They release their spores into the air as a form of reproduction. When those spores get into my sinuses, I sneeze, get a headache and generally feel like a have a mild cold. Each year it is the same.
 
I still sweep leaves around my house from the driveway into the yard to compost. I saw a young man sweeping leaves from a gutter the other day. He was wearing a surgical mask. My heart went out to him, but I realized he would  have to wear that mask all the time to escape leaf mold in Boston in October. It is simply in all the air we breathe.
 
Adapting to these changes in life is another way of becoming at peace with Nature and with my own state as an animal on a planet which hosts a wide diversity of life, no better or worse than my own. Modern medicine tends to couch this as a battle rather than an adaptation. I think this is a grave mistake. Militarizing against a natural process within my own body is self-destructive, yet that process is at the core of medical treatments for diseases from allergies to cancer.
 
I am not a Luddite. I am alive today thanks to modern pharmaceuticals and radiation therapy. However, I have tried to be compassionate toward my own body with its failings and weaknesses. When I was suffering from the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, I tried to summon acceptance of my body's frailty, as opposed to raging against its weakness. I believe this facilitated my remission and eventual recovery from the traumas of treatment.
 
My humanism is founded on clearly looking at and accepting my life as it is. This is how I coped with coming from a family plagued with denied and untreated mental illness. This is how I coped with being homosexual in a violently homophobic society. This is how I coped with being a male nurse in a sexist society. This is how I coped with being infected with HIV in 1984 by someone I deeply loved. This is how I coped with having cancer. This is how I cope with simply growing older.
 
I can smile as well as sniffle with my allergies. I am alive. I can function. And, when the time comes when I cannot function, I will accept that as well. This is part of my practice as a humanist and a person who assumes responsibility for my own happiness and well being. So much of a truly peaceful and joyful life is simply accepting life as it is and making the best of it.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Panic

The media, prompted by actuarial reports from insurance companies, has whipped up a panic over a storm in the Caribbean. Government, inept at doing anything about climate change, has taken to panicking citizens with drastic predictions of flooding and high winds. Big sales are predicted at grocery chains and home-improvement stores. This is what our so-called civilization has come to with all its technology and communication.
 
My humanist perspective frames all this as more of the same old paradigm. Obsession of those who have with what they have. Ignoring those who don't have and what they need. Making an enemy of Nature without acknowledging the human responsibility for all this stress.
 
Learning to plan responsibly for the contingencies of Nature's turns should be a routine part of human life. Respecting the planet by curbing the selfish needs of human beings should be a lesson woven through all forms of human education. Having the predictable funding and systems to provide public safety with understanding of natural sciences should be the constant role of government.
 
Overpopulation at a time of increasing technological efficiencies has made the provision of services for pubic safety and general human welfare unsustainable. This may sound absurd, but it is what I see. Fewer people are needed to do the actual work of human society, as it now sets its priorities. Meanwhile, capitalists preach a gospel of increasing population as the basic engine of economic growth for those who make money off the labor and consumption of others. This gospel assumes that natural and technological resources are limitless. It also assumes the benificence and generosity of the wealthy. These are medieval assumptions.
 
Ignoring panic and finding reliable information to act wisely are parts of my own practice. I am confident that whatever happens I will cope. This is the result of learning through a lot of coping in my life. The most extreme outcome of any natural event in my life is my demise. In accepting my inevitable death, I am freed to face life's contingencies without panic and with scientific curiosity. This an outcome and benefit of humanist practice.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Complaining

I dislike complaining for complaint's sake. I feel this can become a habit. It is a habit that undermines progressive thinking and actions.
 
A simple rule of my own practice is this: If I complain, I must try to fix or resolve without delay.
 
This has made me a letter-writer and phone-caller when I see a problem that is within the purview of government or business. I make it a practice to not delay these responses to bad situations. I have written or reported by phone things from smelly buses to snotty clerks. I see this as my responsibility to the society at large.
 
As far as complaints about my own state of being, I follow the same rule. If I feel unwell, I do something about it. I do not dither or deny. If my independent attempts to deal with the complaint are unsuccessful, I go to a physician or other health care provider. If nothing can be done, I stop complaining and do something to cope with the chronic situation. I accept that this 1950 model of male human body has a lot of mileage. It isn't going to be painless and trouble-free forever.
 
Chronic complaining is a symptom of depression, or deep unhappiness. It is a difficult habit to break. It convinces the complainer's brain that he/she is impotent, a hapless victim. What could be more toxic to personal development?
 
A humanist cannot spend time complaining. Being a practicing humanist entails being practical. My personality and my environment will not develop or improve themselves without effort. Complaints may be useful diagnostic tools for focusing on specific problems or issues to be addressed. But stale complaints, repetitious litanies of what is wrong with life, serve no purpose without accompanying actions to improve life.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Paradox

Being a practicing humanist entails an interesting paradox. It is easy because it simply entails being a decent human being in daily life without learning prescribed dogma or rituals imposed by an institution with no consideration of my personal needs and characteristsics. It is hard because it entails being a decent human being in daily life in society which is corrupted by unjust and cruel prescriptions dictated by institutions and accepted by many people.
 
Treading my path along the ridge of this paradox with optimism and generosity is the challenge of my humanism. Accepting what I cannot change in society while vigorously working on positive change in my own being requires a developed sense of balance. My daily meditation helps a great deal. Pursuing scientifically derived information to educate myself helps a great deal. Cherishing the good and gentle in people I know and meet helps a great deal.
 
The inherent paradox of being an intelligent animal, that is being able to imagine walking among the stars while being held by gravity to life, aging and death, is simply part of the pain and joy of human existence. If we all could tap into that basic common experience with each other without the barriers of race, politics, money and religion, we could all learn to be better stewards of this marvelous planet.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dawn

Photo: Somraj Gupta
I looked through the skylight this morning as the East became pearl gray with charcoal-smudge clouds. Several months ago at the same time the sun was up as I readied myself for an onslaught of contractors. Later this morning I looked out my back door and saw lights on in many of the surrounding apartments.
 
The contrast between the natural light of dawn and the golden light of electric bulbs in rooms made me aware of how artificial urban life has become. We are a species removed from Nature. However, Nature surrounds us and ultimately influences our lives. Storms overcome our defenses. Natural resources are limited. Our Sun itself is a temporary phenomenon.
 
Living in awareness of Nature in the urban environment takes mindful practice. It helps to walk. It helps to stop regularly to listen to the sounds of the wind, the birds and other animals.
 
Being out of touch with our own nature can lead to disease and dysfunction. We are animals, not exempt from physical laws. My practice of humanism (being fully human) entails being in touch with my normal biological needs. This is the way to maintain health, the basis of any sustainable human progress. My normal biological needs are linked to my natural environment. They change with the seasons. They vary with the amount of daylight in my environment. It is important for me to educate myself about these needs to promote my personal health in order to be a mindful and compassionate human being.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Collapse

The notion of work in a society which does not manufacture anything has changed. The U.S. consumer society has blurred the concept of labor and consumption for many of its citizens. Consuming products is not labor. It does not add value to a society. The capitalist myth that consumption can be the foundation of a society is simply a bourgeois gimmick. It is a form of denial. Denial of overpopulation and environmental degradation of the planet.
 
Cartoon from Life on Earth
The hands-on power of billions of human beings, if properly educated and motivated, to turn the state of the planet around could be equal to the task at hand. However, turning billions of human beings into consumers of manufactured goods with little or no practical value is a recipe for collapse of the human species. Governments are to blame here. The embrace of unscrupulous capitalism after the fall of Soviet Communism has infected the mindset of most governments.
 
Education, public health and personal development have taken a back seat to hedonism and greed in the sermons of government officials to their constituents. "Balanced budget" is code for "corporate welfare over human welfare". Media brainwash populations into being relentless consumers of goods with dubious social or personal value. Automobile, donut and insurance ads dominate broadcast television in the U.S., for example.
 
The work of becoming a practitioner of humanist values runs directly in the face of this worldwide religion of capitalism. Unlike radical Islam or fundamentalist Christianity/Judaism, humanism stems from science and individual development through constant open education. Capitalism dictates that there be haves and have-nots. The have-nots must labor to provide the haves with cheap goods and services. Humanism is a mindset of equality, both social and economic.
 
Overpopulation by the human species may already preclude the general application of humanist values in societies, overwhelmed by it and the environmental degradation it inevitably produces. Any species which overpopulates its ecology is doomed to eventual collapse from what we know of natural history. If the human species survives such a collapse, perhaps the way back to a humanist view of the planet and society will be clearer to the survivors.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Skunk

I am inhabiting the territory of many other beings. As a dominant predator, I often forget this. Forgetting this is shattered by the odor of a skunk under my porch. This is a good thing and a bad thing.
 
The good part is being reminded of my place in the planet's ecology. I rely on skunks in the great chain of life. The skunk is inconvenienced by my house and asphalt driveway with automated lighting. Skunks really dislike light at night. The shelter under my porch must just seem like the instinctive choice for the skunk's winter residence. Dark, warm and sealed off from larger predators.
 
I will say honestly that an odor-free skunk would be more than welcome under my porch. I am not neurotically afraid of the typical animals that rummage around my house. I don't want squirrels in my attic (actually or figuratively), but I don't obsess on the squirrels that are always around due to the walnut tree overhanging my property from the adjacent yard. Field mice never frightened me. The discreet urban rat does not concern me, as long as it stays out of my house.
 
No, it's just the odor, which has been naturally selected to repel me, a large potential predator. It's working very well. I am repelled, but unfortunately in my own house. That's the bad part.
 
The best advice so far, garnered through the gift of Google, is to blast the underside of my porch with 24-hour bright lights for several weeks. Brilliant. Off to Home Depot, again. I adapt. That's what human beings are fortunate enough to do intentionally through science and engineering. The skunk will most likely adapt instinctively by finding a new place to nest. Hopefully, neither of us will be harmed or sprayed in the process.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Revisionism

Revision of history (hindsight) is the enemy of progress based on scientific experience and the enemy of true compassion. I rallied from restless sleep this morning to the pablum of a show on local public radio. It is called On Being. This episode, The Future of Marriage, was centered on the recent teaming-up of a religious opponent to LGBT equal rights and a gay-marriage advocate (Uncle Mary?). These two are a tag team act on the university speaking circuit apparently. This is a new business model for the intellectuals who sit on their dubious laurels.
 
I am a fan of reconciliation, but not normalization or revisionism. Reconciliation, as I have experienced it many times in my life, often entails agreeing to disagree in peaceful coexistence. These two are selling gay marriage as a way to keep homosexuals in line and to shame heterosexuals into remaining nuclear in the family way. They obviously have a low opinion of a single life with or without children.
 
The recasting of the LGBT rights movement into an intentional quest for an ivy-covered cottage filled with children, adopted or genetically engineered, is ludicrous and insidious. The LGBT movement for rights was and is, for many, a sexual movement, a movement of liberation of the individual mind and body from the shackles of heterosexual conformity and convention. Conformity and convention are the enemies of individual enlightenment. They are the enemies of scientific advancement. They are the enemies of fine art. They are the enemies of humanism's highest values, because they are based in satisfaction with the status quo and the lowest common denominator.
 
My humanism is offended by the compulsion of intellectuals in the mainstream to normalize and neutralize in these times. They preach that Islam is a religion of peace, for example. They preach that capitalism is freedom. They preach that being gay is no different from being heterosexual. They preach that religious faith is a progressive human experience. This is all nonsense for consumption by the fearful and the intellectually lazy.



Saturday, October 20, 2012

Community

Religion offers the illusion that going to a service and listening to exhortations from the podium to practice values satisfies what it means to be a good person. Hoodlums famously hide under the banner of religion. Mafiosa, Taliban, Kosher Nostra. Killing and stealing during the normal work week, balanced by confessions and/or prayers at week's end.
 
The Messiah concept, one who is godlike and saves the masses through his life and death, is a convenient invention for those who do not wish to practice daily goodness and self-salvation through thought and deed. The Messiah, or prophet, or sage, is simply another battle/sport icon, who takes the risks and does the hard work to entertain and absolve those who sit on the sidelines. An avatar in life's video game.
 
Churches, mosques and temples market the concept of community. The operators of these institutions need the contributions of this so-called "community", or congregation,  to pay the bills and support their lifestyles, which in many cases are far more exorbitant that the lifestyles of those who throw money in collection plates or write checks. Rare examples of true practicing communities, centered on religion and shared daily action bsed on shared values, are seen today as anachronisms: Shaker, Quakers and Amish.
 
While I loathe some of the dogmatic prescriptions that come witth practicing sectarian communities,
I do admire the practice of their daily actions in concert with their values. This process is itself admirable, even if based on antiquated, anti-scientific (Luddite) moralities. I myself aspire to be as truthful in my daily life as the buggy-riding, non-violent Amish man, though I do not wish to go back to needing to maintain a horse to go shopping. His process is admirable, even if the content of his belief structure is out of date.
 
As a humanist, I wish to spend time in a community of people who practice their values daily in every aspect of life. There are no large neon signs blinking "Be With Practicing Humanists Here". Part of the nature of true humanism is intentional individualism. Saying, "The responsibility for maintaining and improving my own life and my own environment is mine in ethical cooperation with society.", entails introspection and deliberation which requires some isolation, either concrete or intellectual. Always being immersed in the hub-bub of modern life is a distraction from mastering the mind and putting its values in practice.
 
I would like to see a community of humanists develop around practice and the sharing of ideas about practice. This does not entail presentations by best-selling authors or media celebrities. It does not entail abstract discussions like a book club. This entails the simple getting together of practicing humanists, who share their experiences of humanist practice and learn from each other. It would resemble a weekly Quaker meeting perhaps, rather than an academic symposium. The greatest obstacle to the formation of this type of community is getting it started in an organic and equitable way. It requires leadership which steps back into peer participation as soon as the community has developed its own life. No clergy, no board of directors, no titled roles.
 
Obviously, this kind of community must start with individuals who are already practicing their humanist values in their daily lives. This is not a top-down proposition. No converts, no proselytizing, no mental or financial coersion, no snappy ad campaigns. Humanists would do well to leave those bad habits to religion.
 
 
 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fraud

The current scandal involving Lance Armstrong reveals an ugly side to the non-profit world. Armstrong's Live Strong organization, patterned after the AIDS organizations of the late 1980s, has an annual budget of approximately $30 million. The organization claims it spends nearly $2 million per year on administration. That can be $2 million for first-class airline tickets, exotic vacations, disguised as conferences, and a generally grand lifestyle for the administrators. Not a bad gig for what some consider saintly work.
 
Ghost Bike
Now we hear that Armstrong himself has been accused of being an international drug kingpin. Nice. Is this a big surprise coming from someone who exploited a disease into an advertising empire for sportswear and beer?
 
As a person living with cancer and AIDS, I have been heartened by the removal of the shield of immunity which Armstrong has enjoyed for all too long. Once exposed to light, lies of this magnitude tend to be revealed in spasms of disgusting details.
 
The fault for this system of charity-for-profit, posing as personal largess, not only lies with those who exploit it. It lies in the capitalist system we now see adored and enshrined as unassailable in Western media. This capitalist system is based in selfish materialism motivated by greed. A brief glimpse of shows like The Kardashians makes this obvious to anyone whose values are neither materialistic nor selfish.
 
Churches, mosques and temples have been infected with the disease of exploitation for centuries. Manipulative and greedy power brokers have exploited their positions in religious communities to rise to political and economic power. This is obvious today across the world.
 
I am a humanist. This means that my own humanity dictates that I do well by my neighbors and the planet. My humanity dictates that I simply do this as part of my daily living. I believe that a secular government has a responsibility to tend to many of the needs that are now designated as the territory of non-profits. I believe that properly educated citizens in a democracy are capable of deciding what those needs are.

The problem in the U.S. at present is the lack of proper public education. Part of this is due to the fraudulent nature of media advertising, the driving engine of a capitalist, corporate media. Another part is due to lack of proper taxation of the population to pay for general public education and the corporations which have wrested control of government. Armstrong's fraudulent exploitation of the heartstrings of the world is not unusual. Pink ribbons, red ribbons and yellow ribbons can all be hung in a hall of advertising gimmickry with hollow promises.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Crash

Due to an overnight crash of my computer, I will be brief this morning. I have a lot of technical work to do on my old Pentium D today to get it chugging along properly. It seems my anivirus program and Google had an argument overnight while I was asleep. You see, I let my antivirus program do a full scan every night before I go to bed. I leave the program to shut off the computer after its done. Last night this resulted in something nasty in the cyber-woodshed.

I'm up and running, and so is my computer after some initial fixes. I like these learning curves overall. That's why I have an eleven-year-old car and a seven-year-old computer. Self-education is a pillar of my practice. Today my old p.c. will be teaching me some lessons.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Both-ers


The not-so-discreet racism of the Birther Movement, a subsidiary of the Tea Party in the U.S., was based on questioning President Obama's legitimacy as a native-born American citizen. It came out of the disgruntled Republican campaign of 2008, which tested the general racism of the voting American public, which was predominantly white in racial terminology.


Last evening I watched a pre-Presidential-Debate program on PBS. Its topic was race in present-day United States. The  program was well produced. Very artsy. It had the basic Ken Burns interview style, framed by backgrounds of stunning video and still photography. Its interviewees were articulate and interesting.

I came away from the documentary with a mixed message. One message was, "We are on the threshold of a browner America where racial issues will be neutralized." The other message was, "Old white people are getting in the way of racial harmony." While both of these messages may contain a kernel of truth, I was listening to the understated message, "We of racial minorities still expect white people to treat us with special deference and privilege because of our race."

My partner returned home yesterday afternoon with a subway anecdote which seems related. A young brown man was bragging to his brown friends on the subway that he scared the white people at his job by threatening to shoot a dysfunctional copying machine with his handgun. He was amused because they got upset by his jesting remark. He was amused, he said to his friends loudly on a racially integrated train, because "white people are so gullible". 

There are those in any minority or majority community who want privilege based on the color of their skin. This is racist, no matter what the color of the person. A society may decide to give privilege to people of one race over another for political or historical reasons. This is still racist. 

Enter the both-er. This is a person of any color who preaches equality and justice, but demands special racial privilege. This is the person of a racial minority who has open racist hatred of the racial majority, while expecting that racial majority to grant him special privilege based on past transgressions. This is the liberal of the racial majority who preaches racial equality and lives in a gated community which is segregated by the economic privileges of the majority race. 

I am all too familiar with both-ers in my own LGBT community. These are gay/lesbian people who bemoan their lack of equal rights in general society but live in gay-ghetto isolation without doing any activism for equal rights in the general society. These are the affluent gay men who remain in the closet in high-paying careers while expecting deference within the gay community because they are affluent. 

"Having it both ways" is an old descriptive of someone who is manipulative and insincere in order to exploit for their own advancement or comfort. The both-er is a person who lives in reaction to his/her environment, rather than living proactively in his/her environment. The both-er wants respect without having self-respect or respect for others, regardless of race. 

Being a humanist, in my opinion, entails being proactive in my environment despite racial, political and social barriers. Always reacting to the environment to get what I want would be immature and cowardly for me as I envision what it means to be a humanist. Knowing myself and my environment in order to improve both is what I see as my role as a humanist. Birthers and both-ers alike do not contribute to progress. They are too busy trying to settle grudges from a cloudy past. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Responsibility

The line between personal responsibility and societal responsibility has been blurred for some time in the U.S.. The current presidential election seems to be centered on this issue. The Republican candidates maintain that greater personal responsibility, which they see tied to selfishly accumulating personal wealth, would heal the ills of overpopulation and growing degradation of resources. The Democratic candidates see the government as responsible for facilitating the solution to society's big problems. 

Neither political group is adequately addressing the underlying issues of environmental degradation and the growing population which is becoming increasingly impoverished, the inevitable result of unplanned  human reproduction among the undereducated. So, neither party is responsible. 

I fear we are in an age of diminishing understanding of what is responsible. Everything, even hard science, is endlessly debated by people who would not be able to describe the elemental components of the air they breathe. Parents treat children as buddies and provide little discipline or role-modeling of social decorum. Elders spend time and money on trying to be twenty-five again. Health care for all is begrudged by a majority of the population. Nearly everyone feels they should not pay taxes. 

A culture of cheating and cutting lines is the inevitable result of the loss of social responsibility in the populace. Look at the ancient civilizations of Persia, India and China. Learn about their ascensions and declines. You will see what I mean. Greece and Rome later followed the same course. 

The corruption of American society is in process. Diminished resources for schools, municipal maintenance of infrastructure and public safety bring consequences. Resentment of government is in part resentment of civic responsibility. Irresponsible parents scold strangers who try to educate their unruly children. Police do not intervene when simple acts of antisocial behavior, including violence, are committed under their noses. There is little easy social interaction between strangers on the streets of cities. 

Being responsible requires being responsive. A society of strangers, sealed off by smart phones and earplugs, cannot be responsive and responsible. Lack of engagement guarantees chaos when disaster strikes.   Personal responsibility goes beyond looking pretty and having a shiny car. It entails developing a personality which can cope with change and promote good in society through the acts of daily living. My humanist practice requires me to be responsive and responsible wherever I am in my life. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Leaves

An American walnut tree stands behind my house in my neighbors' yard. It is a magnificent tree. It shields my property from the untidy back porches of that neighboring three-story building, a condominium building which has seen better days. The tree hosts squirrels and cardinals. The lazy neighborhood cats hover about it for glimpses of imagined prey. 

When I moved in, I began to worry about the large walnut leaves in my gutters. Clogged gutters in New England are the cause of endless problems. Then I noticed that the leaves are too big to readily fit into my gutters when they fall. The torrent of June walnuts onto my car and all about the back of the house was a fascinating annoyance. The squirrels left few nuts unopened. Their cast off shells fell like gravel from the tree's thick branches, where the sated rodents screeched their rasping territorial cries. The tree has grown a large root which has cracked my driveway. The crack is at the far end of the driveway. I can live with that. 

I like to sweep. I spent many mornings cleaning up after the squirrels and birds. The shell fragments and leaves went into a barrel, designated for mulch and compost. The barrel is nearly full now in Autumn. The walnut leaves are falling heavily with every rain. I sweep and rake the majority of the crop onto my small back yard for mulching over winter. 

My deceased mother hated fallen leaves. Her house was surrounded by huge maple trees, which resided safely in neighboring yards. I say "safely" because she would have cut them all down if she had been able to. We still joke about the "attack of the killer trees". Her sincere personification of the maples into dark, hateful forces who were determined to make her life miserable still makes me chuckle. 

My own ambivalence about the inconvenience of fallen leaves as an urban property owner, despite my deep love of trees, tells me that my human mind and natural humanity are somewhat unbalanced. Trees are essential to my evolution and survival as an animal on this planet. Why should I resent a gorgeous walnut tree for being what it is? I shouldn't. I should appreciate it and tend to it. 

I try to understand that peace with trees and other growing things on my property comes with becoming a servant to them, rather than an adversary. This is a familiar lesson to me as a humanist. My nursing career taught me the same lesson about people in my environment. This requires the humility which comes from acknowledging my dependence on the full range of life on the planet for my own survival. Humanism, as I see it, is based in this realization. 


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Understanding

This is an age of quick answers and little understanding. Smart phones, computers and search engines make point-by-point research quite easy. But how much understanding goes along with all that random information?


I am not a Luddite. I enjoy my computer and my tablet. I use Google as much as the next person. I appreciate all the hard work that countless scientists have done to bring all this to my life. 

Looking up something and getting some information from a search engine does not necessarily mean that I understand the greater context of that information or its implications if applied to my life without more investigation. Understanding takes patience and time. Recognition may be instantaneous, but understanding requires methodical thought. Too often the words "I understand" are spoken in the absence of true understanding as a way to placate or soothe. 

The skill of understanding requires practice. Snap judgments may have some value at times, but they must be cast aside for true understanding. Arrogance is the enemy of understanding. Humility aids the process of understanding and comes with its attainment. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Disease

Disease is not failure. Disease is a normal natural occurrence. Human beings in affluent nations have developed a phobic culture around disease. 

This is due in part to media marketing by soap manufacturers, pharmaceutical manufacturers and medical providers, who are employed by money-making institutions. Public health officials have also contributed to this phobic attitude toward disease. In an attempt to use modern media to prevent disease, they have crafted messages which are tinged with moral judgments. 

By making people phobic about disease, health providers succeed in diminishing the likelihood that the symptomatic will seek early treatment. The persistence of STDs in societies with high education levels is evidence of this. The thought of being diagnosed with an STD is more frightening than the deleterious effects of having/spreading an STD in denial and silence. 

Those who promote products for disease prevention also compound the problem of disease phobia by implying that disease is always preventable by following simple steps A through Z. The implication here is that the person who becomes ill is a slacker or just simply uninformed. Since a great deal of disease is due to genetic disposition or contagion, promoting an ideal that all disease can be prevented by a certain regime is dishonest nonsense. 

The phobic nature of attitudes toward disease also makes it difficult to teach preventative health techniques effectively. The anxiety of patients about disease makes them regress into a dependent posture. They want to be cured, since just thinking about disease prevention makes them anxious. There is a general lack of taking responsibility for both disease and its prevention in a disease-phobic society. 

Disease is an inevitable fact of every life. Education is the best weapon against disease phobia. Understanding that life is mortal, with an inevitable aging and death, can lead to an acceptance of stewardship for the body. Unlike cars, which can be fixed by a mechanic on demand while the driver goes about his/her business, the human body is both vehicle and person. There is an increasingly informative and effective user's manual for the human body, thanks to scientific research. Learning to be an informed user my own body is my best approach to dealing with disease and promoting my own health.

I consider this responsible approach to my own body's health to be a central part of my humanist practice. After all, what good can I be to my environment if I am unable to function physically and mentally due to disabling disease? This is not a matter of morality. This is a matter of practicality. And, if I am unwell, what good will it do to avoid dealing with my disease with open eyes and mind? None, obviously. Learning to accept disease as part of my life has helped me to survive mentally and physically, despite serious challenges to my health. Educating myself about disease and its scientific treatment has significantly extended my life. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Basics

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs


Attend to life's basics. Eat well, Get adequate sleep. Avoid excessive stimulants, like caffeine, or depressants, like alcohol.  Exercise daily by walking or going to a gym or playing a physical game. This is basic wisdom.

Achieving balance, health and peace in my own life enables me to be mindful of other lives around me. Learning to be nurturing to myself enables me to be nurturing to others. These are the basics of developing general mindfulness and compassion in life. Without this foundation, life tends to be chaotic and self-centered. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Don't

Dealing with behaviors which interfere with my own happiness has been a challenge of a lifetime. When I was a child, I had many neurotic compulsive behaviors. My body was plagued with physical conditions related to internal stress. Rashes, itches, incontinence. I was a mess. My mother occasionally moaned in despair,"What did I do to deserve a kid like this?"

As I was emerging from this storm of somatic symptoms, I began to make friendships with neighborhood kids. I began to come out of my shell. Then my grandfather, my best friend and two other schoolmates died suddenly in various accidents. The suicidal depression which followed, lasted for several years. It was my dark, brooding secret. My family, preoccupied with melodramas of their own, didn't notice. I was out of the way and quiet. That seemed to be what they expected of me. 

I entered college at 16, thanks to some good luck and hard work. I was forty pounds overweight and socially inept. One of my classmates mistook me for a professor during freshman orientation. Older than my years in many ways. Naive and foolish in others.

I had an awakening, one of several in the subsequent years of my life. I was sitting alone in the college cafeteria between classes. I watched happy groups of students chatting and laughing. I realized in that moment that I was my own worst enemy. I took out a pad of paper and wrote a list of things that stood in the way of my happiness. The first thing on the list was my physical appearance.

Two months later I sat in the same cafeteria with several of my new friends. I had lost forty pounds through a rigorous diet and exercise regime. I had changed the frames on my glasses from thick plastic to wire rims. I bought clothes that were similar to the clothes my wealthier, older and worldlier classmates wore. I learned a deep lesson, "Don't stand in the way of your own happiness!"

Positive affirmations and feedback serve their purposes. However, many people simply stand in the way of their own happiness without anyone else acknowledging it. The "don'ts" are as important as the "do's". Making the decision to not do something any more is sometimes the beginning of great personal progress. Smoking, drunkenness, overeating, angry outbursts, dysfunctional family ties, etc.. 

My early decision to not stand in the way of my own happiness has served me well. It was the beginning of a journey of self-discovery and self-development. This has been the core of my practice. That practice has empowered me to be a contributing member of society. It has led me to what I consider my humanism. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Bullshit

I try to maintain a certain level of decorum on this blog. However, I am from Chelsea, Massachusetts.  This means I have the blessing of a certain amount of homely common sense, learned on tough streets among hard-working people. I can smell bullshit from far off, even though there were no pastures in my urban upbringing. 

I have written here extensively about patience and compassion. I thought today I should distinguish compassion, as I see it, from enabling dysfunction like a fluffy Liberal, the species that seems to dominate the Democratic Party in the U.S.. There is a lot of bullshit fostered by Liberals and Conservatives. That bullshit threatens to enable social dysfunction for the whole of human society.

One glaring example is the Rap music culture of the 1990's , which was embraced by urban Liberals with light-headed masochism. The enshrinement of rappers as cultural icons by music executives and consumers, despite the harsh homophobia, racism and sexism of their lyrics, belied the Liberal political bullshit of the Clinton Era. 

Bill Clinton, King of Bullshitters, was neither a Leftist nor a Liberal in light of his accomplishments, lauded by the Right. Welfare dismantlement, banking deregulation, don't-ask-don't-tell, bungled health-care reform. Mr. Clinton was exposed as a liar and a sexual predator. He has spent his retirement amassing a fortune in the company of the Trumps and the Bushes. He makes token photo-op appearances in catastrophe zones to keep his ego and public image bolstered. Yet, he is still revered in Liberal circles. That is indeed bullshit.

Washington, D.C., and surrounding Virginia-Maryland suburbs are the wealthiest parts of the U.S. by annual income. This is indeed concrete evidence that the American taxpayer is footing the bill for a political aristocracy, growing by leaps and bounds, like the bureaucracy of ancient Byzantium. And, these fat cats have the gall to lecture the citizenry on the need for tightening belts and becoming more self-sustaining without government assistance. This is intentional hypocrisy as well as steaming bullshit.

I am far from being a supporter of the Tea Party. They spout a lot of bullshit. That Rightist gang is just venting its jealous rage that the hacks in Washington have gotten to the trough in front of them. Their vision of a world with a vendor's stand in every suburban driveway is atavistic. Go to any open market in a Third-World nation and you will see the functionality of an anarchistic entrepreneurial society. Nice place to visit for its quaint charm, but I like living near a supermarket, where the food has been inspected for toxins. 

The Internet has enabled a certain dysfunctional double-speak in media. The mainstream, corporate giants of media are controlled by the Left-Center and Right-Center companies who own them. In the same browser, we can access every manner of extreme bullshit in blogs and Web sites like this one. Is there any wonder that the average American is confused, ambivalent and/or self-absorbed? 

Cutting through bullshit takes a strong stomach, self-education and perseverance. This too is part of the business of daily practice. Researching what I am fed by the media takes time, but it is well worth the effort in order to keep my mind focused on healthy thought. Accepting bullshit from individuals, groups or media is poison to the mind. It is the stuff of religious cults and extremist political movements. The Taliban, for example, is a cult of pseudo-religious bullshit. They are, in reality, a gang of armed thugs, a mafia. The same can be said of other groups, Christian, Buddhist and Jewish, who peddle religion to obscure their real motives. I put on my mental boots and pick up my mental shovel as part of my daily practice to clear the bullshit out of my way to peace and joy. 




Tuesday, October 9, 2012

K.I.S.S.

My lawyer is a tremendously proficient and formally polite man in his sixties. I was anxious during a long real estate transaction some years ago and called him with a convoluted question, based on some dubious information I had garnered from the Web. His response shocked me, "Paul, I'm going to give you a kiss."

"A kiss?" I said with obvious conflict in my voice. "Yes, a K.I.S.S. ... Keep It Simple, Stupid." He then explained he had acquired the acronym in the U.S. Navy. 

The world's complexity and the complexity of my own human mind sometimes wrap me up in a tangle of considerations, facts, worries. However, this does not help the situation I am facing. Keeping it simple often entails taking a deep breath and sitting in a quiet space. In human relationships, keeping it simple means focusing on the loving and peaceful thing to do, despite the internal complexity of my reactions. 

If I proceed through life with a benign smile and an open mind from situation to situation, my life becomes simpler. I do not practice insincerity, but I have found that silence is preferable to reactionary criticism. Anger   explored in solitude is better than anger ranted at others. Sadness is better aired than swallowed or denied. The generous sharing of joy is always welcomed. If I continue to breath deeply, I remain relaxed in difficult situations. Doing these simple things often unravels the complex.  

My humanist practice is the development and implementation of healthy ways of living within the context of society. Being healthy, intellectually and physically, enables me to be mindful and compassionate. It is that simple. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Pets

The domestic pet industry in the developed world is huge. The urban lifestyles which are degrading the planet have given rise to a complex system of pet purchasing, pet abandonment and pet shelters. The pet food industry adds to the drain on the environment by requiring more and more meat, fish and cereals. 

I see this from the viewpoint of a former pet keeper and a person who lives on a mostly vegetarian diet. I have housed and fed dogs and cats over the years. I like some dogs and cats. I confess to not understanding the affection human beings shower on reptiles and fish. Yes, they are fascinating, but not cuddly with the possible exception of constrictor snakes.

If we lived in a healthier natural environment, we would be coexisting with many more species of animals. More education about the instincts and needs of other species would alter the popular conceptions about pet ownership. "Ownership" in itself is a very revealing term. It implies that domestic animals are simply property, as opposed to creatures with some intelligence and instinctive motivations of their own. 

Most domestic pets are emotional slaves to humans. The emotions are human, of course. They are projected upon the cat or dog with fervor. "He love me," a proud dog keeper might say. Whether or not the dog experiences "love" is a big question without a scientifically definitive answer. A social animal, like a dog, isolated from its species and totally dependent on a human "master" is more like an emotional slave than a loving partner. This may explain the common occurrence of runaway pets. 

I am currently living with two cats, adopted as old adults from a shelter by my partner. They are admittedly attractive and provide a fair amount of unintentional entertainment, as they live out their own instinctive lives in the house. They have made bonds with us, related to the provision of regular meals and comfortable shelter. I do not believe they "love" me or ever will. I believe they recognize that they are dependent upon me and respond accordingly to satisfy their needs. In turn, I feel responsible to tend to their needs, since they are in my environment and are dependent on me. 

Sentimentalizing relationships with other species satisfies the emotional needs of some human beings.  Some human beings sacrifice their potential for fulfilling relationships with other human beings in favor of their relationship with a pet. Pets require time and attention that can take away from human contact for some. In an age in the U.S. of increasing social isolation, it is not surprising that keeping a dog by single individuals is escalating. It is also not surprising that the pit bull breed has found sudden popularity in a violent, drug-polluted society. 

There are many fascinating species in Nature, including our own. Broadening an appreciation of how many different forms of animal life exist independent of human life helps me to understand and accept my place in the Universe. It dispels illusions that I, as a human being, am at the center of the universe of life. I fear that pet "ownership" for many simply reinforces that illusion. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Patience


Patience can be a benefit of practice. Patience is work. It must also be practiced intentionally. 


We all encounter aggravating habits in ourselves and in others. Some people aggravate intentionally as a way to vent their own anger, frustration or anxiety. Denying aggravation has never been my strong point. However, how I cope has evolved with my personal practice. Patience is the key to the changes I have made in dealing with difficult situations. 

From a practical standpoint, patience can begin with something as simple as adopting silence when upset. Placing space between myself and the object of my aggravation is also helpful. Once I have removed myself from the intensity of the aggravating situation or stimulus, mentally and/or physically, I can take the time to understand what is going on with me. Am I being irrationally annoyed? Is the aggravating stimulus made worse by my personal vulnerabilities? Would the aggravating stimulus be easily observable by others in my environment?

Taking a scientific attitude toward my own emotional and physical reactions to my environment has helped me to develop patience. If I know who I am, I need not feel threatened by many things which used to threaten me. Using my own feelings as a stimulus to challenge myself to understand them is extremely important for me in order to know my limits and boundaries in relation to my environment and those in it. 

The benefits of patience are great. Reducing conflict, promoting healthy relaxation, enhancing interpersonal skills. The consequences of not developing patience with age are also great. Hypertension, alienation, generalized anxiety. My vision of practice is grounded in simple measures taken daily to promote mental and general health. One of the most basic skills which can achieve personal and social health is patience. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Buns

Sometimes the morning is taken up with baking cinnamon buns.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Lotus

Why is the lotus flower a symbol of Buddhism? Buddhist sutra refers to the lotus flower's ability to create life and beauty from the muck of the most polluted waters. This concept drew me to Buddhist thought years ago.  

I see the role of the humanist in society as similar to the lotus flower's role in converting muck to beauty. In the most desperate situations, the humanist brings optimism and hope by being intelligent and compassionate.   It takes practice and intention for a human being to do what a lotus does naturally. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Slogans


I watched the Presidential debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama last evening on television. It was called a debate. What I saw, for the most part, was an exchange of cheesy anecdotes and slogans. 


As a scientist (Cellular Biology and Chemistry) and a humanist, I resent this jingle-ridden approach to the future of government and the people it influences. Mr. Romney, doing a fairly good imitation of Ronald Reagan in the Reagan-Carter debate, tried to cast Mr. Obama as the failed savior. Mr. Obama, taking a mistaken defensive posture, relied on dragging his deceased grandmother from the grave to defend Medicare and Social Security. Utter nonsense.

The question before the American population is rather clear to most of us here and across the developed world. Is government's loyalty to the wealth of the wealthy or to the greater good for the greater majority of the people? Mr. Obama made glancing references to this question. Mr. Romney brushed it aside with his bible of trickle-down economics, the same economics which brought us Madoffs and banks too big to fail. 

The immaturity of U.S. politics reflects the stultifying American media, dominated by manipulative corporate giants. The hypnotized populace walks to the step of advertising and slogans. Lines to buy iPads and iPhones  indicate that even the affluent are zombies under the influence of media hype.

Individual acceptance of the degradation of intelligence and independent thought has deep consequences for society.  As a practicing humanist, I refuse to accept this degradation. As a taxpayer, I expect the brightest minds to handle the money I give the government. As a citizen, I expect equal treatment for all under the law. As a voter, I refuse to support any politician who cannot present a coherent plan with details for solving current social problems here and abroad. None of this work, which I expect, will be done by slogans. 



Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Walking

Walking is an urban privilege for those of us who take advantage of it. Well maintained sidewalks and crosswalks make urban walking free and easy for the savvy pedestrian. Transportation and aerobic exercise, wrapped into one. This saves time and brings an awareness of the world which riding in a vehicle does not provide. 

I grew up in a city, so I frequently take walking for granted. Two years ago at this time I went to rural New York. I stayed on a farm on the side of a moderately busy rural road. Walking around the farm was impractical without deep boots, due to mud and various potential hazards. Walking along that road without a margin or sidewalk seemed a risky business.

My neighborhood is a walking paradise compared to that farm. Level streets and many conveniences make it an interesting place to walk and observe. I am able to feel the seasons change as I walk. As Peter and I walked from a nearby shopping center several evenings ago, we saw the full moon rising in the clear sky. It was stunning.

It is part of my health practice to try to walk at least three miles a day. This takes me about an hour or so. Walking is a ready remedy for anyone who is capable. It shakes out the blues. It helps the digestion. It builds confidence in my place in an environment. When I go to another city, I immediately set out on a long walk. 

I recommend you take a walk today. Set out without an agenda if you have that luxury. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Morale

Keeping up my own morale is my own responsibility. The greatest contribution I can make to my environment is to maintain my own mindfulness and compassion in my everyday life. Morale, my positive attitude about potential outcomes, sustains my practice. My practice sustains my morale. My morale supports the morale of others when they are under stress. 

It is easy to be up when life's coincidences provide glory, money or sexual conquest. The health and beauty of youth support optimism and hope effortlessly for the many. As age progresses, morale becomes harder to sustain without core values and daily discipline. Gravity and the slow deterioration of the human body pull at the morale of youthfulness subtly over time. 

The cosmetically altered elders of developed societies create an illusion with youthful exteriors. For some, this is a useful stimulus to prime a practice of maintaining health, sexual activity and positive outlook. Others are able to sustain their youthful optimism by maintaining a daily practice. This youthful optimism is in itself attractive and helps sustain social and sexual connections in their environments. 

A positive outlook does not require youth or beauty or money. A positive outlook requires regular positive results from regular positive actions. Regular positive actions require practice at initiating them. The engagement in regular adventure and change is the key to maintaining a positive life outlook, or morale. This adventure and change need not be dramatic. Changing one entrenched habit on a daily basis is an adventure which inspires creativity and yields understanding. 

This is the grist of practice. The grinding work of daily implementation of mindfulness and compassion. Being able to engage in that work with a positive attitude is a form of joy with internal peace. Finding joy and internal peace in the work of life then sustains a positive attitude. The direction from which I approach my peace and joy is irrelevant. The point is to remain focused on pursuing it with compassion and generosity. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Communication


Clear and concise communication can be developed with practice. As a tongue-tied, dyslexic child, I spent my early years in troubled silence. I was misunderstood and often paid the price by being ignored or worse. My struggle to become articulate was long and arduous.


I am still an inarticulate child at times. I say things I regret. I talk around my feelings. I am a practicing human being. That means I am not perfect. Practice, despite the adage, is not about attaining perfection. Practice is about creatively and intentionally discovering how mindful and compassionate I can become in this lifetime. That practice will never be done. There will be no award ceremony. There will be no matriculation. 

Communicating clearly requires communicating. Playing the saxophone well requires playing the saxophone. I have been astounded throughout my life by those who choose to clam up for long periods when they are most disturbed. While discreet silence has its merits at times, withholding and pouting are counterproductive. The inability to communicate is an indication that a problem requires attention. 

The communication age which enables bloggers like me has strangely degraded the quality of much of the communication in society. A famous designer once declared, "Less is more." In the case of the communication age, more appears to be less. Obscenity, disrespect and ranting are omnipresent in type and in public. Clear communication of mindfulness and compassion is rare. 

I believe an entire personal practice could center on quality communication alone. Communication with the self and communication with the environment. This is certainly a good place to start in any personal daily practice.