Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Clarification

The re-tooling of my practice of writing this daily essay about my process of being a secular humanist requires me to clarify for myself what I want to share and how. This is part of my daily practice throughout each day, but I try to focus on one idea or process every morning for this blog, which I routinely write between 9 AM and 10 AM.

Some readers of the blog interpret it as simply a rant or a vanity pamphlet of political-social opinion. That is a legitimate criticism, but it misses one important aspect of the blog. It misses that I take these ideas seriously and try to work with them as part of my humanist practice. In other words, I support causes which are consistent with these ideas. I write to those in power to share my personal ethical perspective on issues. I join protests of injustice by signing petitions and giving support I am able to give.

Anonymous ranting (trolling) on the Web is a hobby for some. I find it annoying. Help-rejecting complaining in many cases. This is part of social dysfunction, not a remedy.

This blog represents no sectarian positions. It is an individual's expression of an individual daily practice of living ethically, peacefully and justly. Practice means trying harder and harder to live ethically, peacefully and justly in each moment of each day. I hypothesize that the human species can live ethically, peacefully and justly in society only if all individuals in the species are educated from childhood to a life of practicing these values every day. I do not believe this kind of world peace can be imposed by force. I believe force begets force. This is simply basic physics: Each action causes an equal and opposing reaction.






Monday, December 30, 2013

Deliberation

Medicine Buddha
This practical humanist is considering changing his medium in 2014. This would hopefully cause me to stretch my mind in another direction. I plan to continue publishing a daily expression as part of my practice. My current thoughts are centered more on the format of my creative expression and the locale. 

I have used Blogger since 2005, beginning with Buddha's Pillow, my first daily blog on the Web. Buddha's Pillow was inspired by my four decades of independent study of Eastern Thought while practicing a life based in ethical thought and behavior.  In 2010, I put aside Buddha's Pillow in favor of The Practical Humanist. This paralleled my increased involvement with Harvard University's Humanist Chaplaincy. This transition between blogs was a form of reshaping and renewal. 

Possible confusion between what is seen as a Humanist Movement and what I perceive as humanist lifestyle, or daily practice, in the minds of my readers concerns me. Humanist Movement, meant as a social-political movement of non-religious people, and a personal humanist practice are not synonymous, just as Roman Catholicism is not synonymous with rigorously practicing a Christian ethic in daily life. The bejeweled Cardinal is not similar in most ways to the Christian who chooses to work daily for near-minimum wages in a homeless shelter. 

What form this change in expressing the thoughts from my practice may take is unclear as I write this essay. My creative process is in gear. I am considering my skills and needs for improvement in my use of current communication technology. Whatever forms I may use will still reflect the same basic process, my own daily practice of what I consider a practical and humanist lifestyle. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Communication

I write this quickly since my Internet connection has been spotty. I have a broadband service with Comcast. I am not a computer scientist in a formal sense, but I have grown into computers from early DOS systems to the current horrors of Windows 8.1. I have been able to do much of my own technical adjustments and installations. My mind tends to think in the logical, step-wise way that computers respond well to. 

As Comcast has grown into a national mega-corporation, I have found their services better in some respects and worse in others. That is the way life works with most things. Like my beloved Netflix, Comcast has become less reliable in terms of download speeds. This means that my Netflix videos have farts and belches with a common "Loading" bar appearing or a sudden pink screen with sound only, which requires a reboot of my selection. My Comcast download speeds in the last 24 hours have ranged from 55 Mbps (what I have contracted to receive) to 8 Mbps, according to an independent speed test program. That's quite a range. It can turn surfing the Internet to being hung up on the rocks of clocking time.

I spoke with a tech support person last night. He said he was in a time zone two hours away. He told me that there was a service problem for streaming video on the lines in my area. That was in process of repair. I was not surprised by his distance or his ability to see a map of function in the Comcast system. I was surprised at his assertion that the problem was isolated to streaming video. All the video now is relevant to the Internet in some way. The modem and the DVR  are dipping into the same stream, the cable wires. The upload speeds are just as spotty today. 

None of this electronic communication comes cheap. Bandwidth is money. It is a limited commodity, subject to supply and demand in this corporate capitalism. As a consumer, I must evaluate if the communication is worth its cost. Meanwhile, Comcast has taken to nagging me about buying a security system, tied to my Internet service. It strikes me as ironic that Comcast, the source of my insecurity about the quality of my electronic communication, now wants to sell me yet another product which is intended to make me feel secure about my property. These can be very confusing times. 


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Technology

The number of people on the planet who have access to communication technologies is overloading servers. The number of people on the planet who demand to be fed has led to using poisonous technologies to produce cheap food in volumes which deplete the planet's soil. The number of people on the planet who require fresh water drains aquifers, already stressed by the pollution created to support heating, light and cooking for the world's human population.

Technology cannot magically replace the elements and compounds which are the physical foundations of reality as we know it in this universe. Matter/energy cannot be created or destroyed. For example, drinking water cannot be made without using water or its component parts. The technology of desalinizing water, for example, is complicated and costly, requiring energy which must come from somewhere and has its side effects on the planet.

Technology is the new religion. Just like the old religion, it is doomed to disappoint when population and materialism grow out of control under global corporate capitalism. Traffic jams in Brazil, China and India with gas-guzzling and polluting engines are growing, not diminishing. Those who trust in technology while throwing out the basics of physics and biological science in ecology are doomed to destruction.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Academia

leave academia to the academics
let them climb their ivory towers
they will not jump for sure
they face little or no danger
perhaps getting too fat to move
once on top the tenured summits
squinting at narrow unchanging views

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Fluffernet

Just think what it would be like if retail garbage (advertising) was removed from the Internet. If the hucksters were pushed back into their respective boxes, known as stores, the liberated bandwidth would be staggering. It could be used to light the dark corners of the underdeveloped world. It could be used to light the dark corners of dulled minds in the overdeveloped (materialist) world. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas

Christmas, like any special day, is what you make of it. No matter the religious or materialist significance, the day, the living of its conscious moments, is uniquely mine or yours to do with as we choose. I hope you will practice being at peace and being joyful on this day, no matter what your circumstances bring. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Injustice



Alan Turing, a mathematical genius who helped save lives and Great Britain itself by cracking Nazi code during WWII, was sentenced to a choice of life in prison or chemical castration by the same government he had supported because he had a sexual relationship with a man. Yes, he was a gay man in today's parlance. Turing chose castration. Turing died at 42. His death, called a suicide by authorities, was suspicious in the minds of those who knew Turing but it was not thoroughly investigated.  Many suspect the British intelligence establishment of murdering Turing.  Turing has been granted a Royal Pardon from the British government. My response: Big fucking deal. I would rather see the British Royals, the British aristocracy and Parliament paraded through the streets naked as contrition. "Breaking the Code" is an excellent film about Turing. 

Mikhail Kalashnikov has died at 94, an honored celebrity in Russia. Kalashnikov invented a machine gun which has fueled slaughter throughout the undeveloped world. It is still in use, especially in the hands of African child soldiers. Kalashnikov had absolutely no remorse over the use of his invention. His wife actually did much of the gun design and has not shared his celebrity. His son, one of four children, has also become a designer of firearms. "Legendary Kalashnikov" is a documentary on the weapon designer. 

Is the human mind driven to goodness by nature? Does the human mind move toward good without intentional practice? Is justice and inclusion a natural human tendency? 

No single religion, government or ideology will turn the tide of human injustice. The tide of human injustice will only turn to justice with the intentional modification of the human mind and behavior on an individual basis through education and the awakening of human civilization to its necessity for the survival of the species. This is my hypothesis by which I myself live my life. This is what I mean by practical humanism. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Corruption

The Board Chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, Stephen Crosby, is modeling the new hubris of the executive class in America. Crosby has been shown to have compromising ties to people involved in trying to develop casinos here in the state. He gruffly denies that his position is untenable. He will not resign. He says he has not violated any of the standards of his position, as set up by the legislature. This follows last year's defense of his chosen interim executive director who had been alleged to have sexually abused a 15-year-old in Florida prior to his selection for the office. This candidate for that position wisely withdrew.

The legislature and the governor are notably silent on Crosby's performance. The whole business of legislated gambling has been shown to be a corrupt business. There will be little or no benefit for the constituents and big salaries and pay-offs for those who hold the gates open to organized crime, a known element in the history of gambling in the U.S.. 

Luring people to gamble in the name of improving the purse of government may look innocent enough as presented by vested interests. I suggest that constituents in Massachusetts read Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" and George Orwell's "Animal Farm".  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Peace

German and British troops, Christmas Truce, 1914. (Imperial War Museum Photo)

Christmas cards are plastered with the words "peace" and "joy". These sound like nicely wrapped gifts which the sender has conveyed via the U.S. Postal Service. Peace and joy cannot be packaged because they are processes of an individual human mind-body. They can be simulated by a pharmacological stimulus to centers in the brain. However, withdrawal of the drug is the withdrawal of the processes which create drug-induced (alcohol-induced) peace and joy. 

Those who are interested in European history are familiar with the sentimental story of a spontaneous Christmas truce along the stagnant front of the First World War in 1914. This is a tremendous model of individuals defying convention and oppression to extend their personal joy to inspire peace for many in a difficult circumstance. The violence-obsessed, godly men on all sides who led and controlled, mostly members of the upper classes,  took subsequent threatening measures to discourage this humanist behavior between combatants.

If all human beings were taught the ways of personal peace and joy from childhood, there would be no war, murder, domination, greed. The impediments to universal peace and joy are those who reproduce without personal peace and joy. Those who bring children into the world without the means to teach those children personal ways of maintaining peace and joy are the obstacle to world peace. This flies in the face of current attitudes about "reproductive rights" in modern feminism and some international human rights organizations. 

Incompetent parents pollute children, who are capable of achieving happiness despite genetic impediments if taught how to do so. Incompetent cultural leaders force feed dysfunctional myths and attitudes which promote greed, hatred and guilt. Incompetent political leaders propagate policies which reward dysfunction which subsequently undermines peace and joy in the ongoing lives of affected children. 

Humanism, as I understand it, cannot be summarized in a Christmas card. It is an intentional way of being in the world, a daily process. Peace and joy are processes which are enhanced by living responsibly, ethically and generously in the world. The truly peaceful person is habitually nonviolent in word and deed. The truly joyful person is generous and forgiving. Peace and joy in practice overshadow greed and resentment. 

As a practicing (practical) humanist, I am working my way out of the processes in my mind and body which obstruct my development of peace and joy in my own life. These obstacles are deeply embedded. They arise in my path by the minute, by the hour, by the day. Sometimes they stop me dead in my tracks. The measure of my practice is the fact that I decide to move forward no matter how much inertia or gravity of my conditioning gets in my way. I am striving for peace and joy because I know I alone can light my own way to my happiness. 


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Backwards

President Obama held a news conference yesterday before departing for his annual winter vacation, something most Americans will never know. He used the news conference to promote his own performance as President, an office which is now owned and operated by Corporate-CEO America. 

Unfortunately, Mr. Obama has it all backwards. He spoke proudly of having restored Wall Street's prosperity. Well, yeah, they paid his way into office. His financial advisers are all Wall Street insiders. He has been a puppet of Wall Street and big banking. He said, with hollow confidence, that now it is time to see to it that all Americans share in that prosperity of his buddies on Wall Street. 

What? Is this a feudal king? "I have seen to it that all the lords of my fiefdoms are fat and wealthy, so now I shall proclaim that they let some money fall to the peasantry." That is how it sounded to my ears. This capitalism is simply a modern form of the old class system.

Then Mr. Obama tried to cover himself for his complicity in NSA surveillance on everyone in the world they can reach. He said the NSA might find a better way "to skin the cat". Yes, those are his words, "skin the cat". This betrays the aggressive and predatory nature of Mr. Obama's own mindset when it comes to American immunity from being held accountable for its snooping into personal lives of lawful civilians. Again, this is the mindset of the aristocrat who sees himself as god-chosen to supervise and dominate the rest of humanity. 

Yes, Obama has it backwards. He was elected to serve (not dominate) all the American people, but he isn't doing that job. He is carrying on the practices of the George Bush administration, a map drawn by the puppet masters behind the dotty Ronald Reagan, like Dick Cheney and Grover Norquist. He has obviously become another acolyte of corporate worship. 

Mr. Obama repeatedly chanted that he had seen to it that 2 million people had signed up for insurance under his abortive health care "reform", which was actually a boon handed to insurance corporations. His great achievement in four years in his mind has been to get 1.3% of the U.S. population to get health insurance. Wow. I suppose in his mind that entitles him to take two weeks in Hawaii on the taxpayer's tab. Now that is getting it backwards big time. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Minority

I can imagine a day when the term "minority" garners a questioning look from an average person on the street. For example, media are referring to Boston, Massachusetts as a "majority minority city". This is an overtly racialist term, because the term refers to a contrast between "white" people and "people of color", who comprise so-called minorities in numbers which create a joined majority of the city's population. My "minority", LGBT people, is not factored in this use of the word, since my minority crosses all racial and ethnic boundaries. This does contribute to my perspective on this issue.

The process of becoming politically powerful in government in order to change discriminatory laws has the eventual downside of propagating racialism after these categories become less socially and politically relevant. Those most impacted historically by racism are prone to becoming practical racists in seeking support and political power. They are prone to continue to exploit their own racial or ethnic identity over their actual worthiness and qualifications to govern. 

Media reports on our recent mayoral contest in Boston are rich with this racialism. There is no notable acknowledgment by the reporters that this is socially divisive. It is the same unconscious racialism that can foster racist behaviors which divide a diverse population rather than promote harmony and cooperation. Listening to the reports confirms there are still a White Boston, a Black Boston, an Hispanic Boston and an Asian Boston. However, as I walk through my own multiracial neighborhood, I know this is untrue for the city as a whole, but perhaps true for some sections of the city which have become racially or ethnically stagnant for a number of reasons, which include the racial and/or ethnic choices of their inhabitants to live in a racially/ethnically homogeneous neighborhood. 

A new way of encouraging inclusion will most likely evolve. However, those who have ascended to economic and social power by exploiting diversity will be loathe to participate in that conscious evolution. Their self-interests will likely trump their desire to disarm racialism as a political and financial weapon. Moving on, a slogan in the Obama campaigns, isn't easy. It does not mean the ascendancy of another minority class of power brokers over the diverse majority.  

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Late

I am posting late today due to a medical issue I am confronting. My old body has decided to act up. It is not immobilizing, just time-consuming. Let's just say the Obamacare Web site mirrors the general maze-like confusion of the medical structure in the U.S.. I am extremely fortunate in having made contact with a specialist surgeon who has previously treated me for this current issue. I shudder to think what happens to the uninitiated and uninsured when they encounter a similar problem to mine. Tomorrow is another day.

I must note that a kind Comcast employee responded to yesterday's post. I have posted his comment. It was good to read a human response from the corporate clouds. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Banned


I made a technical inquiry yesterday. My Google Chrome browser would not interact properly with my Comcast email account. Comcast is my broadband provider. It has been for many years. I have since fixed the problem without any help from Comcast. 

When I tried to access an official support forum at Comcast, I found I was banned. Yes, banned from support forums by a mega-media-corporation to which I pay thousands every year for broadband service. I pay my bills on time every month. I seldom need customer service. I never hack into services. I am not literally profane on message boards. This is a matter of some restraint and pride on my part. And I am banned by Comcast. "Hmm," I thought.

I abandoned the Web forum and called the 800 number. A wonderful young tech, whom I will name "Sally", investigated. Yes, she found I was banned in response to one complaint about a posting I had made. When she tried to investigate further, she was banned! This was a matter of some consternation for Sally, who candidly said, "This must be pretty bad if I'm a tech for Comcast and got banned!" I was amused. I thanked her and moved on.

I told Sally that the last time I used the forums was several years back. I recalled it vividly. Comcast, in league with Microsoft, conspired to deny Roku Player (streaming video) users access to HBO GO, an application which allows subscribers to HBO, like me, to access HBO programs at will through their streaming video player. This is preferable to "on demand" because it provides a wider range of programming which can be viewed at any time and saved to a reference list which does not expire in 24 hours. 

Microsoft and Comcast, both monopolistic giants, have been dancing for years. Talks of mergers. Sale of MSNBC. Microsoft sells XBox. The XBox also streams videos and is much more expensive that Roku Players. XBox got HOBO GO. Roku was shut out by Comcast, even though Comcast subscribers with HBO also have Roku Players. Obviously, it was the hope of Microsoft that Comcast's move would shove customers its way. I wasn't shoved.

At the time of my last unbanned visit to the Comcast forums, I participated in a thread that ended up including scores (perhaps ultimately hundreds) of Comcast users, all irate over this corporate maneuvering. I made several thoughtful comments in that thread. My comments succeeded in getting me a phone call, unsolicited, from a Comcast Vice-President, whose agenda was to get me to let up. It was intended, I assume, as jovial corporate bullying. I was expected to be impressed. I wasn't.  He seemed disappointed when I pressed my arguments with him personally. Perhaps he then had me banned. We will most likely never know, unless I develop a personal contact within the NSA.

To you youngsters who worship the altar of "free market capitalism" and corporate power, I offer this anecdote. Yes, Biff and Buffy, corporations are not your friends. Corporations are conscience-free sharks, trolling for one thing...profit. If you stand between profit and the shark, you are lucky if you are simply banned from a support forum Web site. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Capitalism

I grew up at the end of an earlier age of American capitalism. My small city on the edge of Boston's northern border had a local economy which was self-contained and very personal. Local banks were owned locally. Local businesses lined a bustling Broadway. Everything from car tires to delicatessen was available in the city center, accessible by local buses, which had recently replaced street cars (trolleys). 

The whole city was just about one square mile in area. The population then was close to 40,000. The trolley to Boston, less than a mile across the Mystic River, had recently been replaced by a bus, which crossed the new highway bridge which had plowed through my city and divided it down the middle. Poor immigrant neighborhoods, abutting busy small-factory district, were easy prey for the brainwashed suburban devotees of the automobile. 

We had no big-box stores. Our largest stores were two competing dime-store chains, tucked in among the smaller stores and movie theater on Broadway. These stores were harbingers of the future of American capitalism. Then they were integrated into my community. Soon they would be succeeded by strip  malls and shopping plazas on small highways farther away from Boston. Our local merchants saw this coming, even then in the late 1950's. Slowly, the lights went out on Broadway. 

The retail experiences of my youth were personal. Benny was our butcher, for example. Each aspect of our retail life was identified by a name. Mr. Baine was the TV guy. The Slotniks sold funeral memorials. Julie (short for Julius) sold tires. Our grocery store was a small IGA, staffed by the same clerks for decades. As I trailed behind my mother or father on household errands, I realized even then that each transaction was accompanied by a social interaction, a short conversation punctuated by local gossip, fueled by our local newspaper, The Chelsea Record

I walked by a big-box store in my local Boston shopping center on the evening of Thanksgiving Day. In front of an electronics chain store, men and women were setting up camp for a midnight sale event. It was bitter cold, under freezing with a stiff wind. The desperate bargain-hunters were huddled in sleeping bags on the frosty pavement. Men and women with small children. One man spoke loudly on a cell phone in a language I could not identify. My mind drifted to imagining the life of a retail clerk who had to greet these frozen strangers at midnight, the beginning of tortuous night shift for minimal pay and less personal investment. 

The capitalism of my youth was bridled by a longstanding Puritan ethic (fair competitive price for quality goods or services), melded with  the small-business ethic of an immigrant Jewish community, which had been in the city for fifty years. The quality-assurance of these Jewish businesses was tied to a proprietor's name, like Benny the Butcher. Bad business brought shame on the proprietor within his own social group, as well as lost income. 

Today's mass marketing and retailing is not personal, no matter how hard the huge corporations try to create a personal atmosphere by granting an account on a slick Web site. Walking into a retail store today is a lesson in "Buyer Beware". Disgruntled clerks, whose pay barely pays the rent, must have a special character to deliver any semblance of customer service. Those special few soon move on to better jobs in other fields or climb the goose-stepping corporate escalator. This is an increasingly alienating commerce, which will most likely lead to growing fortunes for UPS and Fedex.

Globalization of this form of capitalism is inevitable in an overcrowded world with mass media which reveal social and economic injustice to the global masses, if corporate capitalism is to avoid violent revolutions against its control of governments worldwide. Whether it succeeds in stabilizing its hold on power is dependent on the development of technology which can make goods cheaper while also making crowd control more effective through propaganda, surveillance and militarism. 

I cherish my memory of local commerce in a small city. I think it helped to shape my self-image as a worthwhile human being in the face of later challenges. Living where people want to know your name from street to store may soon be a privilege of the wealthy in (economically) gated communities, urban or suburban. The rest of us, who appreciate its value,will simply have to try harder to keep that form of civility alive in our neighborhoods and wherever we do business. Modern capitalism finds little profit in civility for the masses. 


Monday, December 16, 2013

Traps

History and tradition can be foundations, but they also can be traps. Learning to understand the difference is part of becoming an intelligent person who lives in the here and now with consciousness and compassion. Few human beings attain this level of practical education. 


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Water

10 PM Saturday night. Temperature 19'F. Water is fluffy weightless snow.
5 AM Sunday morning. Temperature 32'F. Water is heavy slush.
9 AM Sunday morning. Temperature 36'F. Water is rain.
10 AM Sunday morning. Temperature 32'F. Water is wet ice.
10:30 AM Sunday morning. Temperature 25'F. Water is hard black ice.

This is the cycle of winter here in the coastal New England. It teaches. It humbles. It threatens. Being a New Englander is formed in part by these cycles. Living with these cycles breeds caution, planning and foresight. If it doesn't, cars crash, limbs are broken and power lines break. It is not mysterious or spiritual. It is Nature, understood by science.  

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Guns

The anniversary of the Newtown, CT, massacre of innocents has brought them all out. This morning I heard the NRA (National Rifle Association) position on gun control reiterated on NPR (National Public Radio). I paraphrase: Gun control will never work at curtailing gun violence as long as law enforcement has not eliminated the criminal element in society. 

This is idiotic. Without guns in the society, there would be no gun violence. Plain and simple. 

If killing other animals for sport or shooting at targets is so important to these stalwarts of "freedom", why not agree to a system of gun leasing under highly regulated conditions for these purposes. In other words, a qualified shooter could obtain a gun from a government outlet (provided under the provisions of the sacred Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution) for a specific lawful purpose for a specific time. Guns which are leased legally could be programmed to deactivate at the end of the lease period. Unaccounted for guns could be traced by homing devices in the gun.

These same provisions should apply to all guns, including those used by law enforcement and military personnel. This should calm the more paranoid militia types. Any gun violence committed by government shooter against a civilian would be easily traced for prosecution of the shooter. Frankly, this would be a better provision for the public safety and civil liberties than the current state of affairs.

Guns do kill people, many of whom are unarmed and innocent of criminal activity. Fact. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Dissonance

Yesterday I posted a brief essay on PTSD in the U.S. military veteran population. A situation which is an unconscionable, especially after the history of the Vietnam War. There is a high rate of chronic mental illness and homelessness in this population. 

The dissonance occurred when I opened my blog's comments this morning. I received a comment from someone which seemed to laud the post as humane and ended with an advertisement for luxury accommodation in Australia. This made my brain hurt. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

PTSD

 
There are reportedly 100,000 veterans in the U.S. with 'bad paper', or dishonorable discharges. Many of these people, trained to be professional killers, have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Many are on our streets, homeless and dysfunctional. These individuals do not qualify for Veterans' Administration benefits for health care or shelter. This is a contribution of the military to society. Hollow patriotism cannot excuse this atrocity.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Government





I received an odd piece of mail yesterday. A non-profit in Massachusetts is lobbying for assisted-suicide legislation. Compassion & Choices is the befitting name of the non-profit. 

There is a creepiness in looking to government to grant human beings "permission" to die at their own choosing. It reeks of religion and its imprint on politics. This is an indication of the insanity of overpopulation and the distancing of human beings from their own animal wisdom. 

Denial or mortality is a business in the U.S. and other so-called developed nations, which have been polluted for centuries by religious myths of immortality and reckonings after death. These myths are the basis of religious extortion of money for insurance against eternal damnation. Drug companies, medical suppliers and hospitals  have also exploited the fear of death for huge profits. Rather than educating human beings about the inevitability of death, the medical-industrial complex pumped billions of dollars into methods for exploiting fear of death. 

I was the clinical director of a hospice prior to my retirement. Hospices are lousy businesses in the U.S.. The reimbursement levels from government-funded insurance and private insurance are minimal. They do not cover the daily costs of residential hospices, where individuals can die without worry. They barely cover the cost of the daily expenses of home hospice. In other words, people who choose to establish and maintain hospices are very dedicated humanists, in my opinion, whether they would identify with my label or not. 

Relying on government to die is unnecessary. Death can be actualized by anyone with his/her wits in seconds. The preponderance of guns in American society makes this very simple for the determined. Yes, this is a messy way to die and a traumatic one for survivors. 

The criminalizing of suicide by government is both absurd and a measure of any constituencies level of development as socially responsible human beings. By this parameter, U.S. governments on state and federal level are medieval. I have lived with attempts of government control over my body. As a gay man, I was conditioned to loathe myself as a child. As an HIV-positive person, I was threatened with incarceration in the early days of the AIDS epidemic when government briefly debated imposing mass quarantine on HIV-positive people during the Reagan administration. 

As well as seeking government approval, I encourage the leaders of the assisted-suicide movement to educate the public on the inevitability of death and the personal nature of dying. More documentaries should be produced for public education. Subversion of the medical-industrial complex by posting readily available information on the Web about effective and less violent methods of suicide would help. This would be a practical and compassionate action for those who need answers and assistance now. One example: www.assistedsuicide.org.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Convergence

Jackson Pollock, Convergence, 1952

The other day I visited the open house of a new Humanist Hub, an impressively large space for non-religious people in the center of Harvard Square, Cambridge. Greg Epstein, the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, has facilitated a team of staffers and contributors, including myself, to develop this church-alternative. We have done a good job of it. Our individual daily practices have converged in concert to develop a community center. Some of us have devoted the majority of their waking hours to the task. They have done well.

Looking across a roomful of self-identified secular folks of various stripes caused me to wonder what various personal practices brought them to the same space. I prefer to think they were a convergence, rather than a simple congregation, a term which can too easily be associated with passive herding by a shepherd. Too many shepherds are actually wolves.

Between 1978 and 1982, I developed a group counseling program in a gay/lesbian clinic here in Boston, one of the first publicly supported gay/lesbian institutions in the U.S.. We provided low-cost or free counseling to hundreds of clients every week in the dilapidated rooms on the 8th floor of a dilapidated office building. My youthful passion, as a relatively inexperienced psychiatric nurse, was group counseling. I facilitated several weekly groups of six-to-eight clients each. 

I learned from my experiences and study as a group facilitator that the power of any group lies in the development of the health of each member individually within the group by the caring words and actions of the members. My job, I realized, was not to lead. My job was to identify the beauty and strength of the individuals in each group in order to facilitate their sharing it with each other, to help each other become healthy and confident. These groups were a convergence of people questing for growth and health in their individual lives. Once established, these groups met for years and did a great deal of good for members who came and went. The healing which occurred had little to do with me. Its source was the convergence of seeking minds in a caring environment. 

The lectern model of religion is a failure. Look at the most religious. Fundamentalists of every kind look to leaders to steer moralist revolutions. What they get is quite different. They get demagogues who often steer them into the worst forms of isolationism, homophobia, militarism and mental illness. I am hoping that Humanism as a movement seeks to bring people together in community to share their individual strength and intelligence, rather than develop another congregational religion which exists to support its clergy. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Zen


I picked up a book of Zen poems.
Stark lines cringed in page corners.
Detachment stripped of beauty.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Virginity

Today, December 8th, is the Catholic Feast of the Immaculate Conception. When I was a youngster being indoctrinated into the Papist cult in post-WWII America, there were jokes about the impregnation of the Virgin Mary being celebrated the day after the 'sneak attack' at Pearl Harbor. I once thought about writing a play called, "Screwed by an Angel". It would be all about growing up a gay Catholic in the 1950's and 1960's. 

Virginity is the finest wine in the cellar of misogynist patriarchy. How odd. The same patriarchal religious fanatics who would stone pedophiles in the public square drool over the idea of taking the virginity of a female adolescent. They blow themselves up to get to a heaven where they can deflower virgins with the blessing of their patriarchal god and his prophet. 

I always hypothesized that gay men were attracted to the Catholic priesthood because of its adoration of heterosexual virginity, with which they were blessed due to their sexual preference for males. No pressure to test one's fertile virility there. 

Our forebears wrote poetically about the virginity of the North American continent. Virgin prairies, virgin forests, virgin lakes. Well, we have seen what patriarchal men do to virginity in the way America's leaders have raped and squandered its bounty after committing genocide to wrest it from its previous custodians, the American Indians. 

I will be attending the preview of a new Humanist Hub in Cambridge, MA, today. Greg Epstein and his staff at the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University have constructed a new friendly space for non-religious folks. This conception of a space for freethinkers occurred by no mystery nor angelic conveyance. Hard work, fundraising and outreach will determine the course of this form of intentional community. I hope this virgin Humanist Hub continues to be impregnated by down-and-dirty intercourse of inclusive ideas, questions and experimentation. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Inclusion

Much is made these days about inclusion. Politically correct bourgeoisie bow their heads at words like "multiculturalism" and "diversity". The allegedly ethical religious Americans are always going on about food banks and "helping the homeless".

Actually including people in a society means actually doing something to include them. Lip service is cheap.


  • Including the uneducated means educating them well in well-funded public schools. 
  • Including immigrants means requiring them to access provided (by taxpayer money) language and acculturation methods.
  • Including chronically mentally ill (homeless) means providing actual homes and treatment.
  • Including lesbian/gay/transgendered people means respecting their right to control their own bodies.
  • Including people without children means not always asking them if they have children or miss having them.
  • Including people of various races and ethnicity means not always focusing on their difference from the perceived majority.
  • And so on.


U.S. society is increasingly media-driven. Audio-visual media are not real life. They are representations of real life concocted by the perceptions of journalists, writers and musicians. These perceptions are most frequently the illusions or projections of an upper economic class, from which these journalists, writers and musicians spring or to which they have climbed while motivated by greed.

Inclusion begins with me, in my everyday life. Practice encompasses the inclusion of each person I meet into my life with consciousness and compassion. This is a goal of a work in progress, not an accomplished skill. I pay my taxes without trying to cheat in order to support public inclusion. I try to be open on the street. I try to be respectful in everyday interactions with whomever I encounter. I try to encourage the disheartened. I give what I can. I take only what I cannot achieve with my own labor. This is my way of promoting inclusion of all people in society.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Mandela



Nelson Mandela's life was a journey of a good person through a hate-filled and violent world. His was a rare victory. He was victorious over his own history of participating in violence to achieve freedom for his people. His life history is an outstanding example of the power of persistence of personal practice, a practice of self-education, self-sacrifice, compassion and consciousness. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Reciprocity

"Old Friends" by Jim Van Geet
Reciprocity is a necessary part of most human relationships with the exception of the parent-infant relationship. Relationships without some form of intentional reciprocity are imbalanced. Dysfunction occurs when reciprocity in relationships is unintentional or lacking. In other words, two or more people may develop a pattern of reciprocating anger and hostility unintentionally. Bickering is one symptom of this. Violence is a more severe symptom. 

Developing an intentionally, candidly and respectfully reciprocal relationship is the key to sustaining friendship. Reciprocity based only on superficial social etiquette may lead to a popular social life, but it may not develop intimate and sustainable relationships. These relationships are based more on trade than love. 

Remaining a contributing partner in any friendship requires effort, compassion and consciousness. The free exchange of ideas and feelings without barriers creates a bond which can endure aging, disease and separation. These relationships, in my experience, do not come by the dozen. These are not the "friendships" of a Facebook page. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Capitalism

According to a recent feature on National Public Radio, a T-shirt, for which you may pay as much as $20 here in the U.S., costs about $2 to make. $1.50 of that cost to the manufacturer is materials (fabric, thread, machines). $0.50 is labor cost. 

The $18 over the cost goes to various people in the supply chain which gets the T-shirt from Bangladesh to you. The shippers, the distributors, the retailers. The cotton in the T-shirt may have come from Mississippi (by some measures the poorest state in the U.S.) and has traveled the globe on its way to your local Walmart. 

Is capitalism efficient? Is capitalism effective at distributing wealth fairly? Does capitalism have any investment in local communities beyond profits? Why then are so many governments and individuals touting the popular myth that free-market capitalism is the best economic system? 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Decisions

The most difficult decisions are those which entail relationships with others. Many people gain their ideal of success by eliminating other people from their decision-making. While this streamlines the process, it results inevitably in alienation and isolation. Alienation and isolation take their toll, whether that toll is acknowledged or not by the person who suffers it. As a nurse, I can testify to this.

Making decisions which incorporate others is always a challenge. Bureaucratic committees are often nightmares of inefficiency due to poor facilitation by leadership. Married couples divorce over their inability to make mutually beneficial decisions. Parents are tortured in trying to help adolescents make responsible decisions about education, sex and lifestyle. 

Humanist practice is a helpful compass for my decision-making. It is not a remedy for the difficulties. It simply helps me keep my focus on being mindful, compassionate and health-oriented towards my own life and the lives of those with whom I choose to associate. My experience in life has convinced me there is no absolute win-win decision for a whole group of people or a couple. However, I have found that maintaining a non-aggressive and health-oriented approach to making difficult decisions has made these decisions pan out with minimal trauma for me and others. 

There comes a time in any decision-making process with others when I must decide first whether or not the process is working for me. If it is not, I will try to voice my dissatisfaction with the process in an attempt to gain some consideration in the process. If this does not yield a result, I must then make my own decision and take appropriate action. While the win-win solution to any decision-making process with others is ideal, stagnation in a process of indecision may prevent this. Some people thrive on indecision, procrastination and denial. 

The matter of timing is crucial in my sense of decision-making and implementation. The practice of care in planning my time eliminates rash and autonomous decisions. Big decisions are usually made in a time frame of months or years in advance. By living realistically in the here and now, I can speculate on future needs. If I am dissatisfied with a life condition which I have been working at with no results in the present, chances are that it will not magically improve in the future. It is time to plan ahead for some progress in that situation. This opens my mind to new approaches which include practical and gradual change.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Evaluation

I am constantly evaluating my life. Most of us associate evaluations with grades, work promotions or raises. This is the way we are introduced to evaluation from our early school days. This is unfortunate when it is tied to a carrot-stick system of rewards and punishments. 

Quality of life is central to my practice of humanism. I measure that quality by the peace of my mind and environment in whatever life circumstances I devise or encounter. My measure of my own quality of life requires regular evaluation of my own state of mind and my environment. 

This evaluation requires internal honesty, which is developed with practice. Internal honesty is difficult. My self-perception is often skewed by my desire to be the good guy or to be "right". Admitting that I have failed someone or at something doesn't always come easily. It is necessary to admit this at times to make progress in my own life, to learn. If my denial of my failure leads to my repeating the same dysfunction over and over, I am being self-defeating in the long run. 

This is where the good-bad paradigm gets in the way. Failure is not a measure of badness, or evil, in most cases. Failure is simply human. Without recognizing failure, there is no reaching for the correct way. Success is not always good, if it is achieved at the expense of ethics and other people. Without evaluation of success, there is no understanding of the complexity of life and relationships. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Propaganda

The advent of expensive movie production and the film industry's dedication to profits over content have merged to produce propaganda films like Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. This glossy production with famed English actors, breathtaking scenery and a Dickensian romance is basically a pro-religion (Islam), anti-environmentalist, anti-government, pro-capitalism and pro-aristocracy propaganda piece, aimed at the hearts and minds of those who believe in tortured romance as the preferable manner of connecting with a life partner. I will not elaborate. The film is widely available for viewing by the uninitiated. 

Hallstrom, director of the film, is Swedish. His family has generational roots in conservative, anti-socialist politics in Sweden. Whether or not this influenced his decision to direct this film is uncertain. However, the film seems consistent with his other works as pro-capitalist and conservative, implying a morality of accepting social systems as they are and learning to move within them. 

Art is often propaganda. It is an effective medium for planting political ideas through words, imagery or song. The success of the lunatic Third Reich was largely due to the evil genius of Goebbels, the media mastermind of Nazi propaganda. 

While I abhor censorship by government, church or rabble, I also abhor the lack of skeptical criticism of films in a world enthralled with religion, corporate greed and materialism. Hallstrom's fishy tale was nominated Best Motion Picture in a Golden Globe Award category. The Golden Globe Awards are bestowed by a group of powerful Hollywood writers and critics. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Smoke

Last evening I took a walk in the fading dusk. It was cold, about 32'F/0'C. The sky was cloudless, a deep azure blue fringed with pink. The dry air felt like menthol at the back of my throat. I looked across to Boston's waterfront buildings. They seemed magnified by the startling clarity of the clean air. Stunning.

I strolled along a routine route. It circumvents this neighborhood, described as The Polish Triangle, an area still populated in part by Polish immigrants and Polish-Americans. The sidewalks were empty at evening rush hour. The streets unusually quiet for a Friday. The Thanksgiving holiday extends past Thursday through the weekend for many. 

My mind drifted to my warm kitchen as I rounded the corner of my street. I was cold. The last long block of my walk should have been a relieved homecoming. Should have been. As I got within four houses of my address, the smog of my neighbor's wood stove, an illegal anachronism here in the city, clogged my nostrils. The crisp air was polluted. My serenity was challenged.

The owner of the wood stove is reputedly a good Catholic. I have been told that he teaches religion at my old prep school. He lives on the next street. His smog drifts over a large back yard which bridges the block to my street. He keeps a low profile on my street. I used to wonder why. The cold weather brings an unpleasant reminder. In summer, I seldom associate the smog of cold seasons with his frequent use of a wood chipper in his yard. But today I am aware he is making wood fuel from old lumber and dead trees he collects from trash piles and yards. The smoke is rancid, probably laced with lead paint.

I am sure there is romance entwined with my neighbor's insistence upon breaking the law and polluting our air. He has a miniature barn for a shed in his back yard. It has a fake hay loft door with a large hay hook dangling in the wind in front of it. I am also sure there is an economic motivation. There are gas lines in all our streets, but gas must be purchased. Rotten wood is free. 

I am grappling with an ethical conundrum. As a nurse, I know the smoke is less healthy than exhaust from other sources. I also speculate the stove is illegal. It resides in a relatively new addition to a relatively new house. Boston banned wood fires decades ago as an environmental protection. My conundrum is how to approach the problem to fulfill my ethical, social  and professional duty. 

Peter and I have an obvious and dubious distinction of being two rare gay men residing in our immediate area. The smoker is a rather rustic type who often shoots a questioning eye in our direction from his elevated back porch when we are gardening or cleaning up. His middle-aged son, who apparently lives there with his family, will give the occasional wave. My hard-earned instincts of self-preservation tell me that the seemingly "normal" approach of simply introducing myself and telling him about his smoke will not yield a mutually satisfactory result. Too many potential mines (or memes) in that field. 

My other option is the city zoning authority. Have you ever dealt with an urban zoning authority? A smoky wood stove is not a leaning high rise or all-night disco. Little graft value in intervening for the local bureaucrats. It is about as appealing as approaching the neighbor with my complaint. 

For now I have insulated my windows and doors to exclude the smoke, which last winter invaded our stairwell through the antique front door. We are now smoke-free inside, more or less. Eventually I will call zoning with a rhetorical question about wood stove ordinances. I will check my blood pressure, like reading omens, before I call. No sense risking a stroke over a wood stove. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Canvas

I have made it a practice to be aware of my anger. Suppressing, repressing or sublimating it can be lethal. 

I have methods for dealing with my anger and frustration at the frequent irritants of life. When my anger is no longer functional by way of motivating me to creatively contribute to constructive change of a situation, I must use my mind to stop stewing. Stewing in my own anger is a great way to foster disease in my body and mind. 

Sometimes I find the blank canvas helpful. I have painted on canvas occasionally over the years. I have also frequently taken white paint and blanked out a used canvas in preparation for a new work. I can use my mind to visualize this process with my day. I can paint over the nasty events which have contributed to my stewing. Yes, this is a form of active denial. The operative word is "active", or conscious, or intentional. I do not regret my anger. I do not analyze it as deserved or undeserved. I simply stop the stewing, or ruminating. 

I have also used the image of turning off the burner under the pot of stewing anger. This is another form of taking away the obsessive energy from my anger by stopping rumination about its causes. 

I am a visual person, so visualization is helpful for me. Some people do better with music or dance or yoga to accomplish the same result. The point is to stop the rumination and move on. You can be assured the anger does not simply disappear, but dealing with it consciously brings greater understanding of it and mobilization of it into remedial action. Ruminating on it tends to create more frustration than results.  

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Gratitude

Much More Beautiful Alive
Gratitude is an attitude. It is more than saying "thanks" blandly or writing a note in response to receiving a present. Gratitude is a developed consciousness of appreciation. In order to experience the joy of gratitude, I must first examine the contributions which others have made to my life without sentimental neediness. In other words, I must learn to recognize and appreciate words and actions which may even seemed hurtful at the time but later proved beneficial to the quality of my mental/physical life, as I owned and developed it. 

Gratitude is the key to loving my enemies or tormentors. The development of gratitude as an integral part of my personality also feeds my own practice of generosity. Gratitude is essential for unobstructed learning. That is learning freed from constraints of egoistic defensiveness. For example, when an angry demented person on the street acts bizarrely and aggressively nearby, I am grateful to him for his warning to cut a wide path around him. This prevents me from falling into the trap of trying to control or fix him. 

How did I come to this understanding of gratitude? I was raised under severe conditions of controlling behavior within my family. My natural personality, which was optimistic and also vulnerable, was perceived as offensive by my mother, who was angry and depressed. My father, a bipolar jock, was embarrassed by my lack of masculine competitiveness. My one sibling was over 6 years older. My maternal grandmother, who lived with us, was angry and depressed as well. My maiden paternal aunt, who lived with us for a decade, was depressive and lived in perpetual religiously inspired denial. As the youngest in the household, I became the messenger, the puppet, the easy object upon which to dump whatever angst was around at the moment. Under the guise of being sheltering, the adults each tried to shape me in his/her own image. 

As the cloud of confused neurosis cleared after I extricated myself from this home environment at 20, I gradually realized that I had comparatively useful skills, compared to my peers. My mother had beaten abstemious cleanliness into me. She had also tolerated my watching her cook as a way to watch me while doing her housework. My father had used me as a common laborer in his perpetual home improvements. Sharing a room with my older brother helped me develop some strength by learning to defend myself. My grandmother's peasant ways taught me gardening skills and sensitivity to seasonal changes. My aunt, who lived a solitary life in our basement, showed me that being alone wasn't always bad. 

The bumps and bruises of my childhood have gradually faded. The kernel skills gained from them have stayed and developed. The harsh Jesuits who openly mocked my local accent in my first year of prep school now seem like wise benefactors. The dean of Harvard Dental School who said he did my admissions interview in order to meet the young man with enough gall or stupidity to apply to his school with my poor qualifying-exam scores now seems like a helpful tutor on the ways of the elite. 

Working with these experiences, as opposed to reacting against or denying their memory, is the grist of self-development. Gratitude blossoms from their compost, as sentimental (self-pitying) pain dissolves into mature understanding. I realized that some of those I hated most in youth were my best teachers about life. The consciousness of gratitude as part of daily awareness becomes anticipatory during unpleasant or stressful situations. Instead of becoming immersed in emotional reaction, allowing the understanding to surface that even the most disgusting experiences (and people) yield practical knowledge is a form of liberation for which to be grateful to my own mind. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Ethnocentrism

The most homophobic reactions to LGBT children can come from those who are racially identified with a single genetic group, especially when that group perceives itself as an endangered minority in the general human population. Much of this perceived endangerment is based in a history far removed from those who experience it. They have been programmed to expect this endangerment by parents who were also conditioned in this world view. This propagates racialism which equates normal human reproduction with survival of their kind. 

The LGBT children of racial, ethnic or religious minorities in a society suffer harsh discrimination when their parents heavily identify with their subgroup of the population. While minority identity, even among LGBT people, can be a method of unity in the face of discrimination, minority identity combined with a belief that self-propagation is a duty can be very destructive and divisive in society. It stands defiantly against the concept that all  people are equal human beings first.

The affirmation of culture during various seasonal holidays can be joyous. However, the affirmation of difference unaccompanied by the superior realization of human commonality is divisive and an obstacle to peace. Multiculturalism deepens the human experience when it means that we all appreciate each other's origins equally. Ethnocentrism within any group leads to suspicion and reactionary isolation. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Language

Conscientious use of language is a sign of personal development. Habitual hyperbole can reflect upon the user's inability to maintain perspective and moderation in life, as in speech. Sparsity of words when words would help a situation can reflect upon the speaker's withholding or parsimonious nature. Economy of words by an effective speaker can indicate mindfulness and compassion. Precise and effectual speech is uniquely human. In a time when language is frequently dominated by entertainment media and corrupted politics, human beings risk diminishing the usefulness of one of their most crucial tools for peace and planetary well being. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Intention

I live intentionally as long as I have the cognitive ability and motor ability to determine my own activity. This is something I may take for granted, until either of these two abilities becomes impaired. Living within a personal practice entails clinging to consciousness of this capacity for intent in action in the moments of each waking day. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Evil

If you wish to see the face of evil in the world as I perceive it, introduce yourself to Erik Dean Prince. The founder of Blackwater, a paramilitary "security" corporation, hired by the State Department to do its dirty work in war zones, is currently living in the Arab Emirates (notably not the U.S.). Blackwater morphed into a different form after its employees were convicted of a civilian massacre in Iraq. Prince subsequently retreated to luxurious shadows to escape the heat. Now he has a publicist and is back with the Bible of God and Fascism in hand on the media. The stunning reality is that the media are catering to him. Verification of the control of Rupert Murdoch and his Rightist kind. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Pause

The most beneficial aspect of learning and practicing patience is the pause. What is the pause? The pause is an intentional break in time between any perception from the environment or animal impulse within and any reaction, action or avoidance. Think before you speak. Think before you act. Think before you ignore. 

Some of us have rapidly firing brains, due to neurological stimulants/transmitters which our bodies naturally create at higher levels. We are particularly prone to fast responses and premature actions. I have had to learn to temper my mind. While snappy repartee may be funny in a Marx Brothers movie, it can be poison in real relationships. Rushing to fix things without a pause for consideration often leads to solutions which require a cascade of costly retro-fits. Making a snap judgment to ignore a situation can lead to the development of a more complex series of problems in time.

I have discovered useful voices in my head. One says simply, "Shut up." I have another which says, "Think before you leap." Learning to listen to these cautionary voices has helped me to become more patient than I could have imagined when I was young. 


Friday, November 22, 2013

Assassination

Fifty years ago today I was a 13 year-old student at Boston College High School, located about a quarter mile from my current home. It was a Friday, like today. The crackling announcement came over the intercom system in our classroom. President Kennedy, that icon of Catholic and Iris-American ascendance, was shot. 

Later that day at school, while I was at the chess club, the announcement was made that JFK was dead. The entire school of 1200 students ran with tears. I had never seen my worldly Jesuit teachers cry openly and hug one another in consolation. The trip home to Chelsea, a 90-minute trek on subway and bus across town, was nearly silent. Strangers of all types on the train nodded tearfully to one another.

The younger generations may be able to relate on the basis of their own reactions to 911 or the Marathon Bombing. However, the Kennedy assassination was intensely personal for those of us with any conscious connection to immigrants in our daily lives, especially Catholic immigrants. 

At 13, I had already experienced great personal loss. My paternal grandfather had died two years earlier. He had helped me salvage myself from devastating abuse by parents, relatives and nuns. Three of my peers had died suddenly in the two years after. My best friend in a family car accident which wiped out most of his large family. My friend Diane, born the same day as I was, who lived on the next street and died rapidly from spinal meningitis after a day at school. Beautiful little Whitey, a classmate on whom I had a crush, was run over by a drunken neighbor as she backed out of her driveway without looking. 

These losses all felt like assassinations to me. They also felt like further assassinations of parts of my personality which were constantly under threat. All of these lost loved ones had accepted me for myself. My parents and some relations had never done so. They constantly told me they saw me as too sensitive, too artistic, too neurotic, too feminine, too clumsy, too this or too that. The assassination of JFK extended my hatred for those who persecuted me to humanity in general. I resolved to be fearless, invulnerable, prepared for my own death at the hands of a brutal world. 

A therapist once told me that she felt that my inner self was a bloody, pounded piece of bleeding red meat in my fears. This was her well-meaning attempt to encourage me to be "less defended". I explained to her that my inner self felt like a piece of bloody red meat often. I consciously drew on that pain to grow and heal as best I can. She was skeptical. I think she just wanted to see me blubber in her office. My becoming teary-eyed wasn't enough for her, I guess. She helped me at the time, but I don't think she was very satisfied by the experience.

Now, fifty years to the day after JFK's fabled death, I have returned to the same neighborhood where I heard the fateful news after decades of nomadic wandering. When I walk out to the peninsula where the JFK Library now stands above rising tide lines next to the University of Massachusetts Boston,  my return route takes me by my Jesuit prep school, which stands where it stood fifty years ago. I tread the same walk I walked that day of sadness and resolve. I am always reminded consciously of the effect of that time, that day, on my life. I am still here. I am not fearless, but I am strong. I am not invulnerable, but my openness is tempered with skepticism. I am prepared for my death, but I realize that it is not unlike any other in this mortal world. 


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Afghanistan

Once again we are propping up a gangster plutocracy at American taxpayers' expense. Our military plans to 'negotiate' a presence in Afghanistan until 2024? Why? We are functioning as a security force to protect American and Chinese oil/gas/mineral exploitation of the region. U.S. citizens have been duped by media-driven militarism and patriotism. International corporations profit. The taxpayers are forced to expect less and less social security and infrastructure at home. This is corruption at the highest levels of government. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Police

Chief Wiggum
Urban policing in the United States is abysmal generally. Police unions have negotiated away weight and fitness requirements for officers. The unions have colluded with educational institutions to develop a faux-academic basis for raising salaries and diminishing on-the-street labor for officers. The patrol car has become the refuge for the corrupt and lazy. Beat cops, officers who walk or bike through neighborhoods, are considered luxury protection for the wealthy. If I need a policeman, I would do better to find a nearby construction site than call 911 here in Boston.

Police reps come to my local civic association meeting every month to give a crime report. The number of criminal occurrences rises every month, it seems. They add glib remarks about incidents, like house breaks, which go unsolved or ignored. The local crusade against street-walkers and addicted vagrants is presented as swimming against the tide with shrugs. Violent crimes are highlighted when there have been arrests and mumbled over otherwise. Crime prevention procedures are notably absent in the reports. There apparently are none.

The Boston police union has protested against the use of GPS devices to track police car activity. Officers complain this is an invasion of their privacy, as though they are independent sleuths, rather than public employees. The police have not been forthcoming in support of surveillance cameras on the streets. In short, our police do not want to be found or to take responsibility to find criminals in the act. 

My father was a policeman with a long career from the 1940's to the 1980's, ranging from beat cop along a tough urban waterfront to local FBI liaison. Being the kid of a cop is no joy, as most will attest. However, I take some pride in my father's ethics. He was an honest cop, a popular local youth worker and a generally admired public figure in my home city, a blighted community on the edge of Boston. He was encouraged to run for mayor and declined. He could not stomach the stench of corruption in our city hall, which eventually fell under state control because of its remorseless hacks bankrupted the city.

As I look at the current men in blue at my community meeting, I see rare glimpses of the man my father was. Unlike them, my father saw himself as a humble servant and protector of his community, not an authority. My father was not defensive about his performance, because he performed to the best of his ability on and off duty. If he saw criminal behavior on his day off, he stopped the car and intervened without hesitation without gun or badge. He was above all a good citizen who happened to be a good cop as well. 

As a gay man in my 60's, I am not particularly well disposed to the police. I will admit this. Policemen shook down gay men in my youth. They violently smashed up gay bars. They printed the names of arrested gay men in newspapers. They brutalized gay men in jails with impunity. I am glad this has changed in many places. 

As a taxpayer and active citizen of my city, I am greatly disappointed in the direction of policing. Like disease prevention, crime prevention is much more efficacious and less violent than reactionary policing. Crime prevention takes planning, liaison with civic associations and feet on the ground. 

I have left the ACLU as a member for a number of bad decisions that organization has made. For example, they are trying to overturn an ordinance in Portland, ME, which forbids begging in traffic by addicts and vagrants. Our local police have been loathe to take on enforcement of this ordinance in Boston. One of the police reps last evening almost gleefully announced that, if the ACLU succeeds in Portland, the Boston ordinance will no longer be enforced. This is a clear example of the wrong-headed attitude of current police culture in a city overrun with addicts and aggressive vagrants who are largely responsible for much of the city's petty crime.