Thursday, January 31, 2013

Guns

The Congress of the United States is conducting hearings on gun violence. This is simply a cynical show to create the appearance of concern for public safety. One politician moaned that the U.S. is "awash in guns".
 
Guns do not grow on trees. They are manufactured. In fact, they are manufactured in great volume with taxpayer money, funneled through the Pentagon. Making and selling guns is a big international business.
 
An international convention on the banning of gun production could wash away guns eventually. It would also wash away the military-industrial complex which is invested in one group of people hating another to the point of organized murder.
 
Guns do not kill people. People kill people. Yes. It is now time for people to kill guns.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Money

Money underlies all human power struggles. Money is sustenance in a modern world. This is not an idealist picture of life. This is simply reality...and an increasing reality in a world dominated by anti-socialist capitalism. Perhaps this is the way in which the human species will attempt to deal with its overpopulation. The haves, at the top of the money food chain, will survive and prosper. The have-nots will gradually become less and less likely to afford to reproduce. Machines will fill the hard-labor gap, once plugged by the poor and desperate.
 
Human beings who reproduce cannot objectively look at human overpopulation with a clear mind. Their brains are conditioned to believe that maintaining overall population is equivalent to maintaining their own progeny. Their behavior is quite different. They strive to be at the top of the food chain at the expense of the progeny of others. They resent paying taxes to support burgeoning population needs. They soothe themselves with the twisted concept of "healthy competition" while adulating people like Lance Armstrong.
 
The indirect monetary approach to dealing with overpopulation and associated environmental deterioration may succeed if technology continues to enable the wealthy and undermine the position of the less wealthy. It will take a great deal of time, of course. Whether the species has that time is the question.
 
Modern China is an example of how this process may not work out so well. Mao Zedong, while a monster on many levels, had the intellectual foresight to understand that China's population of poor, uneducated peasants was unsustainable. He implemented policies which largely underlie the current prosperity of some in China. He put substantial, if indeed brutal, brakes on China's population and established a process of planning food production in relation to population.
 
Contemporary Chinese are in the process of unraveling Mao's vision in favor of anti-socialist capitalism. Communism in China is morphing into Fascism at a meteoric pace. The rest of the world cheers as they are showered with the products of China's descent into wild self-centered materialism. History does not support a rationale for this enthusiasm.
 
We, as a species, are emerging from an era in which religion swayed politics and finance. In lieu of sin, heaven and hell, educated human beings now obsess on shares, retirement funds and plastic surgery. What if education became the determining currency of the human species? What if science was the determining factor in the planning of politicians and governments? It is possible that the human species will eventually unite in peace around rational planning for a shared quality of human life on this planet. Perhaps, but I doubt that money will take us there.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Time

It is so precious. Time is more precious than anything else in a mortal life, yet it is frequently squandered. It is indeed wasted on the young, who are not taught from an early age that their years are numbered. Lives have been extended for years by the quick action within seconds by medical personnel. Lives which seemed invulnerable have been snuffed out in seconds by tragic accident.
 
Learning to use time, rather than being used by time, is an important part of any personal practice. When I meet someone who is averse to any form of routine, I know I am dealing with someone who does not appreciate the value of his time or mine. I act accordingly.
 
Too many people try to cheat time by taking shortcuts in doing what is correct, creative or necessary. They rush to leisure which is often not fulfilling and mentally stultifying.  Watching others throw a ball around a field, watching criminals shooting each other in cheap crime dramas, watching life pass by from a sofa or armchair in front of a wide screen. Chips and beer are poor consolation for the time lost to hollow leisure.
 
Yes, I am at an age when time weighs heavily on my mind. I have watched enough people die to drive home the lesson. The end is the end. No negotiation. No extensions.
 
I do not confuse appreciative use of my time with accomplishment. On a planet which will inevitably be melted by a solar nova, there is no permanence of accomplishment. I surrendered to that scientific knowledge long ago. My sense of valuing time is assuring that the quality of my life experience from moment to moment is the best I can manage with what I have and where I am. Is my time free of violence, anger and regret? Is my time peppered with joy? Is my time experienced with a rested brain, a healthy body?
 
The quality of my time is the true value of my human life. No other person's life, granite monument or plaque on a wall will compensate me for wasting my life on nonsense once I am dead and gone. This is the delusion of martyrs. Heaven is the blissful moment of consciousness at peace with itself and its environment.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Good

It isn't enough to mean well if you are a practicing humanist. Practicing goodness is the point of a humanist practice. Unlike some religions, secular humanism does not cut slack in favor of a ritualized confession or deathbed absolution. By being in the now, with realization that the now is all that the human being can actually occupy, the humanist must decide his/her path to goodness in each living moment of each day. Mindfulness, compassion, nonviolence and intelligent skepticism are the guiding lights of the secular humanist's quest to live in goodness in relation to himself/herself and his/her environment.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Confusion

There is a vast difference between the humanist acceptance of natural life as it exists and the current media-based attitude of "It's all good." The humanist, while acknowledging physical realities of existence, such as aging, disease and eventual death, also accepts the responsibility which comes from investigation, education and skepticism.
 
The "It's all good." mentality is hedonistic and unethical. It belies an intellectual laziness. Anyone who flexes a few brain cells and looks around at human society knows it isn't all good. The poor know it is not all good. Those stricken by violence or disaster know it is not all good.
 
I do not believe that humanism entails a quest to control society or the environment. I do believe that humanism entails taking full responsibility for one human life and one personal environment, my own. I start by realistically assessing and accepting my own life. From that acceptance of responsibility, I can them become a person who can be mindful and compassionate in my environment. If I begin by looking at my own life and its environment with an "It's all good." attitude, I eliminate growth or improvement from the get-go.
 
The "good" in "It's all good." reveals the basic moralist equivocation of that attitude toward life. Life for the secular humanist is neither good nor bad. Life may be fortunate, functional, progressive, miserable, poor, lucky...but life is not simply a blanket good or bad. Overcoming the depressive dismissal of ability to change, to make a difference, to improve is the beginning of a humanist practice in life.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Technology




I share these thoughts through technology...wireless Internet and all that. Sometimes, like today, technology gets in the way. New router to support new operating system to support new broadband speeds to....

Resetting passwords all over the house. Is security worth this? Is this security, really? It feels like insecurity.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Path

The image of a path for life is perhaps too linear. Life is more like an amble.
 
It seldom goes in straight lines from birth, despite the steady and inevitable aging, leading to its end point, death. We wander, despite our drive and ambition. Coincidence, luck, both good and bad, and accidents determine our way as much as mindfulness and compassion, no matter how enlightened we think we've become. Realizing this, relaxing with it, makes the difference between a happy practitioner and a pompous ideologue.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cold

The cold of January is here after a brief thaw. The digital thermometer in my West window read -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 Celsius) this morning before sunrise. That's cold.
 
I reached into the far end of my closet for a yellow fleece pullover, reserved for Arctic conditions. I walked through the house and checked the thermostats. I have 4 zones and four thermostats. I felt the baseboard radiators. They were warm, but did not give any signs of being overstressed.
 
In the basement, I realized the heat was more stable, due to the insulation of the stone-brick foundation, thermal windows and ceiling insulation. I elevated that thermostat by five degrees to heat the floors on the first floor, our draftier region due to high ceilings, a French door in the kitchen area and an antique oak front door. This has worked out well. The entire house feels warmer now.
 
You see, there is a science to living when you have the education to apply practical measures to deal with environmental conditions. Humanism, as I see it, includes sharing the knowledge that improves the quality of life on an individual level. My little heat experiment may somehow help me to share that knowledge with someone else. This is the elemental nature of humanist practice as I see and practice it. The laboratory of my life and the those of others form an enormous network of potential discovery and advancement.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sex

There is a movement here in the Massachusetts legislature to develop legislation which will enable a board to decide whether a sex offender is more dangerous than designated on the Sex Offender Registry. This means that a person convicted of a sexual offense can gradually be publicly listed as a most heinous sex offender without another trial and actual proof of his/her guilt. A board, not a jury, would have the power to make a person more of a social outcast whose scarlet letter would be posted for all potential neighbors, landlords or employers to see on the Web.

Massachusetts has a reputation of being a Liberal state. We have legal gay marriage, for example. However, in reaction to the HIV epidemic, all Massachusetts cities launched an attack on gay male entertainment venues. Most, with the exception of the most conservative, were shut down. The message here in Massachusetts to gay men has evolved into: "Get married and have the same repressed sexual lives that we heterosexuals have!" Unfortunately, many gay men are more than eager to slam the closet door on their sexual natures in exchange for social acceptability.

The Sex Offender Registry has been used to persecute gay men who have not chosen to submit to the sexual oppression of Puritanism or Roman Catholicism. It can be used to persecute anyone who is deemed sexually "indecent". "Indecent" is a broad term which can be applied to many forms of common sexual expression.  Enabling an appointed board to administer stricter punishment on sex offenders who have already been convicted of sex crimes and stigmatized is medieval, not progressive. 

I abhor all forms of aggressive violence. Sexual violation of a person's right to peaceful existence is particularly abhorrent to me. Rapists are sick predators, who should be required to undergo the most rigorous medical treatment and subsequent vigilance by the justice system. However, it is my understanding that there are people on the Sex Offender Registry in Massachusetts who were persecuted and stigmatized for consensual sex or no actual sexual behavior at all. This is just wrong.

I would suggest that the Massachusetts legislators occupy their time devising a Violent Crimes Registry for the Web. I think it would make sense for bullies, violent drunks, spouse abusers, child abusers and their like to have their pictures up on the Web with details of their deeds. If the violent crime is sexual in nature, then it would be included. 

I would also suggest that the legislators set up a White-Collar Crime Registry with the same availability to the public. Frauds, grifters, crooked cops, crooked politicians, mafia lawyers, bogus insurance scammers, bogus investment counselors. Their pictures could also be displayed with details beneath. This would be especially useful during election campaigns.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Drones

The drone of the National Rifle Association about the Constitutional right to carry a weapon which can snuff out human life in a heartbeat falls apart on the face of another kind of drone. The Luddites of the NRA talk wheezily about the their fear that the government may take their guns away as part of a master plot to dissolve democracy in the U.S.. Ludicrous. The United States has never been a democracy. It is a republic at best and a plutocracy in daily reality. The plutocracy has morphed into a corporatocracy, rule by global corporations who manipulate elected officials, their fattened and willing puppets.

What will the proud owner of an automatic machine gun do in the face of a missile-hurling computerized drone when it is aimed at his house? Nothing. Technology has already made the gun obsolete as a method to ensure democracy or any other form of revolutionary politics in the U.S.. That technology is in the hands of the corporately controlled government. Game over. 

As long as populations crave technology, cheap consumer goods and individual entertainment over hard work, skill and social responsibility, there will be no place for democracy or socialism on the planet. Profits rule. The Prophet of jihad has no chance against the Profit of Walmart.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Luck

I was born with pale skin into a a species which prized one shade of skin over another. I was born with genes which dictated my height of 6 feet 3 inches. I was born a male. I was also born a homosexual. 

I encourage anyone to make a list of lucky coincidences in his/her individual life. It can be humbling and also encouraging.

Many who are religious choose a belief system which makes the coincidental luck of their lives into some form of divine ordination. Others choose religion as a hedge against bad luck. Few who encounter severely bad luck in life remain religious at all. They may cling to a sense of spirituality, but their belief in a Divine Architect is usually shattered. This is simply common sense. What rational human being would wish to submit to the Divine Architect of cancer, famine, flood or massacre?

So much of my luck, good and bad, was determined at the inception of my life when my father's sperm penetrated my mother's egg. That was a point of no return. The process which became me was begun, whether I had made it to birth or not. 

Science is now a practical hedge against luck. Most human beings are ignoring it because they cannot access it or cannot afford it. Some who can both access and afford it are ignoring it as well. This is a choice of luck over rational action. The implications for a new life are massive and may drag on for many decades, if the genetic roulette wheel spins bad numbers. This does not seem to deeply concern most progenitors I meet. New life is too often conceived to satisfy the needs of the progenitors.

The magic of our age is not alchemy or religion. The magic of our age is biological science, supported by mathematics and engineering. By dispelling luck from crucial life moments, we are capable to choose longer lives and better life quality. At this moment in history, only those of us who have the bad luck to be diseased or genetically impaired can appreciate the wonder of this magic, based in hard science. This is unfortunate for the rest of humankind, who still harm and exploit one another over religion, power and money. This is chosen bad luck for anyone with the education to make an informed choice.  


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Real

"She's just so real!" This statement is usually a compliment. However, the emphasis on the world "real" often indicates that the person's candor or personal truthfulness is extraordinary, unusual, perhaps bizarre. Isn't this a shame?
 
What has become of our species? We came from living in small groups where every aspect of life was shared. Births and deaths were both honored equally. The sick were tended to by the smartest minds in the bunch. Leaders led under the threat of death as a consequence of betrayal of the group's survival or prosperity. Killing one human being without just cause was a great atrocity. There was little room for artificial personalities and false hierarchies.
 
Yes, we have evolved. Our lifespans have increased significantly. We have flashy toys. Machines do much of our heavy lifting. At what cost to us as a species? Is this overpopulated species on a degraded planet really such a great achievement in consideration of the rare opportunity the Universe affords us to do better? I think not.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sentimentality

I listen to a fair amount of National Public Radio (NPR) presentations. Perhaps too much. My use of this medium allows me to write or do other chores while becoming informed about current events. I find watching news on TV becomes numbing after the first few kidnappings, explosions or feel-good stories. Al Jazeera English and BBC are my TV news choices. 

My impression of NPR has changed. Perhaps NPR has also changed. Over the past two days, I listened to two segments of a series called "Story Corps" and shook my head at what seemed to be about banality, served up in a heavy sauce of schmaltz. The first segment was the recounting by an elderly African-American of his days growing up in a poor Southern U.S. town. He explained that an Anglo-American sheriff had shot his dog when he was eight. The dog had bitten an Anglo-American passer-by. Somehow this was a symbol of racist oppression in this man's mind. I suppose the logic of his mind dictated that dogs owned by African-Americans should have been allowed to bite Anglo-Americans with impunity. I had thought racism in the rural South took a less practical and more pernicious form.

The second piece was the recounting of a son's suicide by drug overdose by  two educationally limited parents in Texas. The son, an Iraq veteran, developed a deep drug habit after being dishonorably discharged from the military. The parents were obviously softening the edges of their description of their son's behavior prior to his suicide. They called his suicide an "accidental overdose". They also expressed helplessness and regret about their own roles in their son's life. There was no questioning of how lack of education and poverty had doomed their son to a military life for which he was not emotionally or psychologically suited.

NPR is supposed to be a medium of public education and information. That is the reason I have supported it with money and listener input over the years. However, this series exemplifies a shade of NPR content that is anti-intellectual and intent upon elevating the mundane and banal to a special place. It reminds me of elementary school teachers who praise the crayon scribbles of untalented children as "interesting" or "creative" rather than using the child's scribbling to teach him/her something. It is one thing for a doting parent to do this. It is another thing for a dispenser of public education to do this.

Sentimentality has infected the media since September 11th, 2001 and the subsequent militarism which was the reaction to it. The HDTV gore of LED flat screens is modified with feel-good stories about shepherds on the fringes of the Sahara. The shepherds may not feel so good about living on the fringes of the Sahara, but TV news producers seem to feel good after pulling our heart strings with the poverty and hard work for survival there. 

Part of my genetic heritage is Irish. Another is Russian. Luckily, another part is German-Jewish by way of The Netherlands. This last part perhaps saves me from immersion in peddled sentimentality to the extent of losing my intellectual capacity to winnow out important details. This is the core of skepticism. I wish media in this country, especially media which sell their mission as educational, would develop more skepticism in their editorial chambers.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Armstrong

I will start by saying I have never liked the public persona of Lance Armstrong. Two male communities in which I have traveled, AIDS survivors and cancer survivors, adopted Armstrong as an adorable icon. I never trusted the man's machismo. 

Yellow elastic bands have made Armstrong a fortune with which he will buy his free card to avoid any significant pain from law suits and felony charges for perjury. When I see a yellow band on a young male wrist here in the city, I wonder if the bearer would also make a good Nazi. This reverie developed from the vicious verbal attacks I have suffered for simply mentioning my mistrust of Armstrong in certain groups of Armstrong groupies.

This man is a profiteer, a user, a liar, a predator...the ultimate spawn of Reaganism. He is the perfect Libertarian. He is the perfect Tea Party icon. 

I will not be satisfied that Armstrong is telling the truth about his life until he drops his Spandex on TV and proves to us that he had the cancer that he has spun into a media career. It is more likely we will see him cutting paper dolls for cash with Martha Stewart.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Cooperation

Surrendering to the process of cooperation is a foreign concept to avid free-market capitalists. Competition is the motivator and impediment of a Libertarian capitalist economy. Perhaps this represents a comfortable equilibrium for those at the top of the capital pyramid. Those whose support the wide and onerous base of that pyramid suffer with the consequences of this capitalist competition. Low wages, job insecurity, environmental deterioration...just to name a few. 

Cooperation with a healthy dose of respectful and mindful competition far exceeds hostilely competitive capitalism in its advancements for quality of life. The horrors of the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s were prolonged by the competitive model of capitalism in the pharmaceutical industry. Cancer patients today suffer the same fate. Newer treatments are withheld because of the competition between medical institutions and the pharmaceutical industry for patient dollars, tied to government pay-outs. Today's medical advances would be far more breathtaking if a cooperative model were in place rather than a purely competitive one, based on money for research, university capital funds and hospital building funds. 

I invite you to think about situations in your own life which entailed competition or cooperation or a combination of the two. I know from my own experience that opening myself to cooperate with a potential adversary in a situation diffuses potential acrimony and promotes movement away from a crisis to an equitable solution. This tango takes at least two dancers. However, the humanist who is aware of his/her ideals is likely to take the initiative in steering the way to a cooperative solution by heading off the threat of injustice, aggression or violence. Openness, personal truthfulness and compassion are more practical personal characteristics than aggression, selfishness or violence.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

NRA

Bullies. Cowards. These are the words which come to mind when I hear the enthusiasts of the NRA (National Rifle Association) speaking of their right to bear the means to snuff out human life in an instant. Is this really a human right? Does every human being have the right to bear the potential to end another human being's life from a great distance at will, perhaps anonymously? Have the lessons of the Beltway Sniper been forgotten?

The NRA has become a lunatic fringe organization composed of over 2 million members out of a U.S. population of around 300 million. This 0.6% of the U.S. population is controlling the Congress. This 0.6% of the population are not simply avid shooters. They fund and control Right-Wing conservatives who favor elimination of women's rights to choose and equal rights for minorities. They are henchman of the Far Right. This is an all-too-familiar phenomenon in Euro-American history. 

Governor Andrew Cuomo (NY), Governor Deval Patrick (MA) and Governor Dan Malloy (CT) are standing out against the policy dictates of the NRA. There are no truly courageous voices in the U.S. Congress against gun violence. This has been true for decades. The NRA has used it bullying tactics effectively. Like Grover Norquist's bullying of Congressional leaders against rational taxation with corporate backing, the NRA has corrupted democracy, the very thing they say they are trying to protect with their lethal weapons. The self-serving in Congress have colluded in this corruption of the people's will for a safe and peaceful society.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Wisdom

Some days it is wise to breathe, sit back and watch the Universe with skeptical reflection. This is one of those days for me. Yesterday, a pit bull from an adjacent yard attacked me as I patched the hole in the fence along the border between our properties. I was not bitten, but was aggravated and shaken. Yesterday's earlier post about violence and defenseless animals came to mind. 

My Yahoo horoscope warned me this morning that my stars are predicting frustration with achieving goals. This comes as I prepare to call Boston's Animal Control Department, which has previously been less than effective when I have had dog-owner issues at other addresses. Not atypical of city government in my experience. It can be about as reliable as my Yahoo horoscope.

There are many ways to deal with my angry, perhaps abused, canine neighbor and its owners. I dislike the word "owners" when applied to pets of any kind. It belies the emotional and physical slavery that many domestic animals endure at the hands of inhumane hosts. I will begin with the obvious way to deal with the situation as a taxpaying citizen and property owner. 

Still, I will reflect, observe and withhold sentimental attachment to any immediate envisioned remedy or result. It will, like all of life, be a process. This is wisdom, as I perceive it. If all else fails me, I have my experience and capacity to remain committed to my personal process of learning and creative application of what I learn.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Evil

Adam and Steve by CyrusNarcissus
There is a human tendency to demonize those who display behaviors, emotions or ideas which scare us. Some of this is self-preserving. Much of it is simply irrational fear. 

There is actual evil in the sense that some human beings have been conditioned to aggressive or predatory violence against other human beings and defenseless animals. Intentional, unprovoked aggression with or without violence is my definition of evil.

Religious enthusiasts find evil in the most rudimentary functions of Nature. They see evil in consensual sex. They see evil in speaking skeptically about their imaginary friends or imaginary ethereal dictators. They see evil in real loving homosexuals wanting the same rights and social benefits as heterosexuals. They are exhorted to aggressively oppress those whom their religion deems evil, based on vague moralistic premises, dictated by their imaginary ethereal bosses as interpreted by their intermediaries, whose motives are often tainted with money and political power. This oppression (aggressive subjugation through law and social pressure) is what is actually evil. Therefore, in this, religion itself is evil.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Readiness

Any examination of martial arts leads to an understanding that they are focused on developing readiness. Readiness to defend. Readiness to neutralize a threat from aggression.

Readiness is different from mindfulness. Mindfulness is somewhat passive, even if intentional. It entails taking in environments, mental and external. Developing mindfulness through meditation often entails being non-judgmental about what is sensed or observed. Readiness is not developed through passive observation.

Readiness hinges on self-confidence. This takes mental and physical development through practice. My humanist practice, since it includes exercise for strength and flexibility, proper nutrition and proper rest, helps me to develop some readiness for emergencies. In my case, years of work as a nurse in acute psychiatric wards, where violence is a regular problem, developed self-defensive readiness as well. I learned how to neutralize violence when attacked.

An existential key to my readiness is the acceptance of death as an eventual human experience. This is not the "We're all dying." kind of acceptance of death. That attitude is a silly deflection used by many who do not want to seriously consider their mortal states. My acceptance of death is more akin to the samurai practice of approaching each day, each moment, as potentially my last. This always strikes me as ironic since I, unlike the samurai, am avidly non-violent. But the samurai code concerning mortality rings true to me. A wonderful film with Forest Whitaker illustrates a fascinating take on this code.

Readiness in all things become a way of simply being present, being alive, being engaged in living.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Flu

There is a current panic in Massachusetts over the number of influenza cases. Over 700 cases have been in Boston. This represents less than 0.1% of the population. Media is whipping up the panic but urging everyone to get a flu shot right now.

A flu shot administered today will not effectively protect the recipient until 2 weeks from now. Influenza is best avoided by simple daily hygiene. 

This shows that we are more concerned with disease than health. The reliance on vaccines after the fact of an epidemic is reactive, not proactive. Today billions of dollars of resources are devoted to developing an HIV vaccine when HIV can easily be avoided with safe sexual practices and advance testing prior to developing a sexual relationship with someone. 

Disease is a fact of life. Unfortunately, health isn't. Health requires daily health practice. No vaccine can make up for poor health choices. Smoking, drinking too much alcohol, doing recreational drugs...these practices deplete resistance and immunity to disease. Poor nutrition, often associated with the previously mentioned behaviors, is an open door to disease. Daily exercise has been scientifically proven to boost the immune system. 

Why would anyone choose poor health? The choice of poor health comes in the form of many small daily decisions and mindless habits. Yet it is still a choice by a person who is not already infected with a communicable disease or does not have a genetic disease. I believe being a humanist begins with applying humanist values to my own body first. Educating myself about health, making daily proactive health choices and treating my own body with mindful compassion.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Abuse

I have been impressed by the number of child abuse stories on public radio recently here in the U.S. and also on BBC from the U.K.. The stories, of course, are spiced with sexual predation. In a U.K story today, the reporter qualified a story about a celebrity predator who sexually abused children for 50 years. The reporter made a point to mention that, despite the overwhelmingly heterosexual nature of his predation, the perpetrator had also sexually abused at least one young boy. A truly horrific story.

My question is, "Isn't a puritanical society really the sexual abuser of children when it denies them sexual education and adequate access to trained professionals who can help them?"

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Bread

I have written before about making bread. This morning's loaf was another lesson. Bread is an amusing teacher, once the baker gets beyond hope for perfection or predictability.

I recently bought the wrong yeast. This probably seems an esoteric statement to a non-baker. But yeast is alive and displays all the eccentricities of life. It responds differently to weather conditions like humidity, temperature and barometric pressure.

This wrong yeast is simply an active dry yeast, produced by a major manufacturer and marketed in supermarkets in a small baby-food-size jar. The right yeast, in this case, would have been the "quick rise" breed, made and marketed similarly by the same manufacturer. A minor distraction of my mind led my right hand to reach for the wrong jar on the supermarket shelf last week. Now I have a $7.00 jar of this wrong yeast.

So, setting up my no-knead bread (recipe available by request) yesterday afternoon included the wrong yeast, which I am determined to make the right yeast for that particular application. At least until the $7.00 jar is emptied. 

Voila! After its overnight brewing, minor folding, relaxing, redistribution in a roasting pan, proofing and baking, my bread sits cooling on its wire rack. And it is gorgeous. It is overall taller than the quick-rise loaf. It browned more deeply. It smells wonderfully different from the quick-rise loaf as well. I am delighted. The final proof is in the tasting, which will occur at lunch. I will sit across from Peter and watch his face as he crunches the first bites. He is my bread taster and connoisseur. He bakes as well, and I return the delightful favor of tasting his productions. His challah would make a Jewish mother disbelieve that a goy like Peter could master it.

So what's the lesson? Well, today's lesson from bread was a reminder that mistakes are opportunities to be optimistically creative. The linear think of "I want" or "I need" can get in the way of new discoveries. Life does not easily deliver whatever we want or need. Learning to train the mind to shut off the stuck whining of "I failed!" or "Woe is me!" is incredibly valuable. Learning to accept mistakes with the same enthusiasm as glorying in successes is a developed skill. It has been a precious one in my far-from-perfect life.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Choice

Each day, each moment, is a doorway to positive change. All it takes is choosing the door for change as opposed to the worn path of habit.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Education

I devote part of every day to my education. It is unfortunate that education has been equated with degrees and tuition-collecting institutions as part of capitalism's dog-eat-dog competition for jobs. Education mills, which include some of the most prestigious universities who readily admit those with family wealth and provenance, are as much part of the problems of society as they are part of society's solutions.

Self-education is the acknowledged responsibility assumed by the awakened. Feeding on the stuff of conventional textbooks is not a well balanced intellectual diet. We are fortunate to live in an age of ready access to information on the Web. Then why is the human population becoming more stupid, according to some research? The answer is simple: An educated populace is more difficult to manipulate, and media are focused on selling and manipulating viewers to buy, rather than educating.

Looking beyond the reports of media takes time away from watching television, Web porn or playing video games. It actually requires concentration, reading and skepticism. These are the ingredients of the self-education process. My humanist practice grew from education and develops with education. Taking time every day to pursue knowledge is as important as eating and exercising daily.


Monday, January 7, 2013

Rape

Recent awareness of rape in India on public media has highlighted one of the worst aspects of sexism. Violence against women perpetrated by men who feel entitled to do so with impunity. This is not only an issue of economic deprivation or educational deficits. It is an issue of religion as well. All world religions have some aspects of sexist practice or dogma. This is often used to justify cultural sexism.

Family values, as preached by religious citizens in the U.S., tend to be sexist. The ideal of a heterosexual family with a paternal money-earner and a housebound matron is a form of sexual assignment. The male, mobile and moneyed, has the power. The female, less mobile and moneyed, can be controlled by the male. This is all excused in this ideology because it is allegedly "for the good of the children". It actually is a form of gender indoctrination of the children to ensure male superiority in the future. 

Most religions are directed by men. In countries where religions are wedded to ruling authority, religious doctrine is used to oppress women. Head scarves are the soft shackles of Islam and Orthodox Judaism. Prohibition of birth control is the invisible, but equally effective, shackle of Roman Catholicism.

Until religion and culture are purged of sexism, rape will be a common occurrence. Secular sex education is a preventative remedy for rape in society. Chemical or physical castration, frequently held up as deterrents, simply indicate a surrender to sexism in society while brutalizing its more violent victims, sexually ignorant and frustrated men. More brutality is not a cure for brutality. 

A secular humanist must look at sexuality scientifically by becoming educated about the dynamics of sex. This is in itself a deterrent to sexism and its terrible consequences for individuals and society. Part of any humanist practice entails promoting and pursuing individual and social health. This includes promoting and pursuing individual sexual health and social sexual health.


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Betrayal

I do not comment on politics lightly. I follow U.S. government process and politics fairly closely. I accept politics for what they are...a dirty business. 

The recent "compromise" over the touted Fiscal Cliff was a vast betrayal of those of us who voted for President Obama on the premise he would promote change. Vice President Biden was particularly instrumental in this sell-out of actual middle-class Americans. He convinced principled Democrats in the Senate to cave into this Republican fix for the wealthy and corporate power. 

I heard President Obama praising his own deal in a speech. He referred to it as a victory for middle-class Americans. This is a patent lie. He apparently is not very good at math, or perhaps he failed to qualify "middle class" by saying "upper middle class". Approximately 15% of U.S. households make over $100,000 a year. A small minority. Limiting tax increases to people who earn over $450,000 a year did absolutely nothing to improve the country's financial situation. 

The back-door area of the Cliff deal was even worse. Corporate tax loopholes and corporate welfare were delivered in record amounts by the grinning Republicans to their backers. For example, Federal subsidy for Puerto Rican rum production. In a time of rising alcohol abuse, the government will be subsidizing the liquor industry. This is truly toxic policy.

If President Obama and the Democrats in Congress had simply not voted for any Republican proposals, our country would be on the way to fiscal recovery with real reforms. However, instead of opting for change, the politicians in Washington decided to betray those Americans who were inspired in 2008 by Obama's promises of change.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Firsts

3D Printer
There is a human tendency to mark firsts. First African American (blank). First gay (blank). First female (blank). These recognitions are considered incentives for further advances. However, they also serve to formalize and establish the very obstacles they are overcoming. Racial firsts acknowledge racism as status quo. Sexists first acknowledge sexism as status quo.

While firsts are important accomplishments for those who achieve them, society's use of them through the media is a way of neutralizing problems which are not erased by the accomplishment of being first. Obama's presidency, for example, is pointed to by the uninformed as the end of racism in the U.S.. The passing of a gay marriage referendum is referred to as the end of homophobia. The many firsts of women in U.S. society have not eradicated sexual inequality in the workplace.

Media have learned that firsts are great stories. They play on the sentiments of those on many sides of any issue. They get the attention of media consumers. The media coverage of firsts routinely can create a sense of false progress on the core issues of society.

Yesterday I listened to a story on the first commercially available 3D printers. The reporter summarized the impact of the printers by saying that manufacturing of basic household goods with these printers may become a home activity in the future. She ended by quoting Karl Marx on what constitutes power in relation to the individual vs capital. Then she said it was ironic that true power for the people would be delivered through capitalism, as represented by an expensive 3-D printer which would, of course, have to be purchased from a manufacturer. As far from the Marxist vision as could be imagined. This was idiotic and hardly worthy of the public radio network which aired the piece.

Firsts imply competition. People vie against racism, sexism and other prejudices to "win" their place as firsts. This minimizes life's pain and tribulations to the level of a computer game. Close examination of the real lives of firsts who break social barriers will reveal that being a first was just the beginning of a deeper continuing struggle as a ground breaker and role model.


Friday, January 4, 2013

Mastery

I offer some words attributed to Gotama, considered to be the initial historic Buddha. These words seem appropriate in this time of New Year's resolutions and fad diets.






Love yourself and be awake...
Today, tomorrow, always.

First establish yourself in the way,
Then teach others,
And so defeat sorrow.

To straighten the crooked
You must first do a harder thing...
Straighten yourself.

You are your only master.
Who else?
Subdue yourself,
And discover your master.

Dhammapada, as translated by Thomas Byron.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Alone

It has always been important for me to remember that I was brought alone into this world and will leave it alone. I am not twin, triplet or quadruplet. I appreciate that these individuals would have different understandings of their journeys through life.

Relationships, whether in pairs, in family or in community, are important parts of the human experience. Many people take relationships of all kinds for granted. Some never physically or psychologically leave their families of origin. Others find their life mates at any early age. Older people often develop sustaining relationships based on their shared need for security and their mutual understanding of life's bumps and grinds. The serially monogamous chalk up many intense relationships over their lifetimes. George Sand is a famous example. The polygamous can form mutually sustaining relationships with many people. The promiscuous are immersed in satiating heir own desire while assuming their ultimate loneliness. I do not use the words 'monogamous', 'polygamous' or 'promiscuous' here in a purely sexual context.

Loneliness while in a relationship is sometimes a sign of dysfunction. Some choose to stay put, despite alienation and dissonance. This is psychologically unhealthy in my opinion. A certain degree of loneliness within any relationship can be a sign of psychological health, when the parties acknowledge their differences and need for personal space.

No matter what the relationship, having relationships requires constant work to avoid mindless stagnation. Such stagnation poisons the individual capacity for love and creativity of the parties involved. As someone once said about a long-married couple, "Together they made up almost one whole person."

Practice entails being present, generous and mindful within relationships of all kinds. However, it takes at least two to tango in this case. Carrying the practice of growth and maintenance for a relationship while other parties do not participate is useless. It is a self-defeating exercise and an unhealthy one. 

The key realization of my responsibility primarily for my own limited lifespan powers my practice. The relationship I maintain with myself determines the health of the relationships I maintain with others. I cannot bring openness and loving to a relationship with another person who is closed and unloving. I can attempt to make a connection with the inherent goodness of another person in an attempt, however I cannot make anyone give of themselves if they are incapable or unwilling.

Practice can be a lonely business. For centuries, various sects of Christians and Buddhists have attempted to live the dichotomy of being alone in community. Some have succeeded brilliantly. More have lapsed into an insane obsession with dogma, ritual and/or fanaticism. Living a secular life in the consciousness of being alone while practicing humanist values in relationship to others is challenging in a materialistic world.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Cold

My digital thermometer read 6 degrees Fahrenheit this morning at 7:45 AM. By any human measure, that is cold. The radio claimed a balmy 17 degrees at the station which lies in a snug corner of a university campus a bit more inland.

The experience of cold reminds me that my body is a working machine which produces a constant internal temperature as long as I am properly sheltered, nourished and hydrated. This is a relatively fragile homeostasis, as anyone who has been poor or homeless will testify. People die of exposure in American cities every winter. Boston's Emergency Medical Service surveys parks and alleys on early winter mornings for dead bodies, according to the wife of one of its paramedics, with whom I worked some years ago. 

I consider all this while listening to reports of bloated politicians gloating over having made a deal whereby they can cut more human services to the population in exchange for allowing minimal tax increases for the wealthy. An obsession with debt ceilings and bond values has led the leadership of the U.S. into a different kind of cold, calculating wilderness. Our President has colluded in this straying away from humanist priorities. Rather than allowing the money men to suffer the consequences of going over the Fiscal Cliff for the benefit of the many, President Obama deferred to the Right...again.

There are many doomsday predictions floating about. I recently learned about the Georgia Guidestones, for example. These are an alleged monument to a Rosicrucian plot. However, the extreme speculations of human self-destruction are less frightening than the cold of the money-driven heart which is driving the U.S. government and worldwide governmental policy.

Yes, it takes great biological effort to resist cold by the human body. It takes great humanist effort to resist the cold of materialism and hedonism in society. My humanist practice involves both forms of resisting coldness.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013

Another year. The young look ahead breathlessly at the potential for improving their lives. The old look ahead with some trepidation at their need to maintain their lives. 

Practice deflates the importance of calendar changes. An established daily practice eliminates the need for seasonal resolutions. Fad diets are unnecessary. 

One point of having and maintaining a daily practice is liberation from the seasonal and accidental happenstances of life. Creating a daily routine of mindful health promotion and compassion for beings in my environment supersedes the conventions of the calendar. 

I hope 2013 marks a continuation of healthy daily practice for those who follow that path. For those who have yet to develop a personal practice, I hope 2013 marks the beginning of that process. For all human beings and our wonderful planet, I hope for greater health, greater peace and greater joy.