Saturday, August 31, 2013

Intervention

The world is buzzing over the next international hurling of missiles and bombs between Syria and other places. Like punks around a street fight, some people savor this. It becomes sport, grist for wagers. 

A preventative intervention for all military violence could begin today. It could be performed by non-military personnel. All those who control the accreditation of academics, scientists and engineers across the plant could institute policies which would quickly deflate the weapons industry. 

These international accreditation organizations could revoke the accreditation of any institution of learning which supports weapons research on or around its campus. These organizations could arrange to expunge the academic credentials of any scientist or engineer who produces weapons of any kind. 

Those interventions would do more for world peace than any religion or philosophy throughout human history. Those interventions would save the lives of millions to come. Those interventions would strike at the violent corruption of capitalism by the military-industrial complex. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Military

The military-industrial complex goes deep into the affairs of all countries across the planet. Abolishing the use of nuclear weapons was a token attempt to calm rational anger over the development of annihilating weapons by the international war machine. This machine is powered by men in white lab coats in sterile laboratories. These men are educated scientists with backgrounds in chemistry, physics, biology and engineering. Shouldn't they be held accountable for the horror they bring upon our species?

Weapons are not developed and distributed for free. They are bought and sold. People profit from death and destruction by weapons. Individual stockholders profit from corporate weapons manufacturing. Shouldn't these people be held accountable for the horrors they visit upon their fellow human beings for money?

Almost seventy years ago, war crimes were tried and punished by tribunals in Germany and Japan. Some leaders of the German and Japanese war machines were punished severely. However, what about the pilot of a fighter jet who intentionally drops a fire bomb on civilians in Syria? Isn't he a war criminal? 

The only way to deal with demilitarizing the world is to hold military establishments more accountable for their actions in an international tribunal. Developers (scientists and manufacturers) of weapons should be held accountable and liable for their inappropriate sale to unaccountable combatants. Scientists of conscience should be working tirelessly to develop anti-weapon technologies. Detectors and devices to disarm weapons are true scientific contributions to the human race. 

The people of a democracy bear responsibility to work for peace by the votes they cast. A citizen who supports the promotion of peace and nonviolence will not vote for any politician who supports the military carte blanche. The candidate who uses sentimental militarism as part of a campaign should be opposed by any citizen who values life and peace. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Leaders

The leaders of the world have colluded in protecting themselves with various treaties which essentially forbid them from removing any rogue among them who commits atrocity. This area is perhaps the only one in which I find myself in agreement with the policies of Ronald Reagan, who tried to surgically remove Libya's Gaddafi decades before his eventual deserved demise. George Bush Senior removed Manuel Noriaga from Panama in a continuation of that policy. 

Why should thousands of innocents be massacred by one human being's will to retain power? Why should thousands of human beings in uniforms be thrown into hellish danger to remove one maniac from power? I am an advocate of nonviolence. I am opposed to war. However, I am also committed to defending those who cannot defend themselves. If people in power had the deterrent of assassination by the international community in reaction to atrocity, perhaps there would be less atrocity. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Smile

I found a broken smiley-face ring in the gutter the other day. The black curved mouth and dot eyes on a yellow background always evoke a jerky little grin on my own face. Must be like the yawning reflex. 

This doesn't surprise me. When I started my nursing practice in 1976 in a violent psychiatric ward of a state hospital, I was horrified and frightened on many of my early days at the job. The impoverished facility was overpopulated. Forty beds were expanded to fifty by placing unmade vinyl mattresses on dirty linoleum floors. As a state facility, we could not say "No" to a committing court. Yes, many of our patients had committed violent crimes. 

Murderers and serial rapists slept near intellectually challenged adults who would have been better served in a group home. On a good day there were five or six of us to deal with the patients. The evening and night shifts had three. Our job was to insure cleanliness, safety and treatment for every patient. We also had to monitor and/or protect visitors, many of whom were themselves mentally ill and violent. 

At twenty-six I was a strapping guy. I was six-foot-three and weighed about 190 lbs. However, I had an absolute aversion to violence. This included striking out in self defense. I took many kicks and punches. The chief psychiatrist explained to me that my size invited violence, especially from conflicted patients who really didn't want to hurt someone. My size suggested authoritative invulnerability. This was not reassuring.

I gradually found I possessed a tremendous deterrent to violence, quite by accident. A particularly articulate schizophrenic in recovery once said in a community meeting on the unit, "I wanted to smash Paul in the face but he has such a disarming smile." Everyone chuckled when I broke into an automatic grin and blushed. 

Then I remembered something. Four years earlier I had lived with my partner in an African American neighborhood. He and I were among a handful of struggling Caucasians in the densely populated area which was notorious for gun play and street walkers. Our neighbor on one side was a busy brothel. The prostitutes sat on the stoop in warm weather. As I passed one day, the usual cat calls of "white trash" were hurled my way. I routinely walked by them, smiled and gave a small wave. Inevitably, one of the women would say loudly, "Yeah, he's OK that one." and they would all laugh.

After the patient commented on my smile, I realized I had lived in that rough neighborhood for a year without one angry or violent confrontation with anyone. It had never really clicked in my mind before then. After that day, I developed my "clinical smile". It has served me very well for nearly four decades in most areas of my life. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fifty

I was thirteen and in high school when the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom occurred in 1963. I knew I was different then. I was a gay boy in an all-boys Catholic school. I was a relatively poor boy in that school as well. Many of my classmates came from wealthy political and professional families. I admired Martin Luther King. I admired the men and women who packed The Mall in Washington, DC. Sixteen years later I proudly stood on The Mall at the first national Gay/Lesbian March on Washington with a memory of the 1963 march consciousness on that bright October day in 1979. 

Fifty years have passed. Remembrances of the 1963 march have been everywhere in the media. It was a remarkable and memorable event. However, fifty years have passed.

The rhetoric I hear has not changed in fifty years. This is unfortunate and also remarkable. The constant drumbeat of "White people aren't doing enough for us." drones on. It is no longer as poignant or as credible. The fact is that Black people are not doing enough for themselves in their own communities. The fact is that Black racialism stands in the way of the progress of those who choose to still identify themselves primarily by race. Racialism, whether Black, Latino, Asian or White, is a barrier, not a winning banner. I say this as someone who lives in a racially mixed neighborhood. I say this as someone who shops in a predominantly Black shopping center. I say this as someone who pays attention to the minority cultures around me. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Responsibility

Responsibility gets a bad rap. The word itself is often said with dour sobriety in reaction to some failure to live up to same: "But it was your responsibility to..."

Learning to accept and integrate the practice of responsibility usually comes with some accomplishment in life. In other words, success can breed a sense of responsibility. Not always. Some people are raised with great privilege and succeed readily because of it. This does not breed a sense of responsibility. This breeds entitlement. 

For those who are not born privileged, achieving goals can stimulate a practice of maintaining what has been achieved. Maintenance is often associated with responsible behavior. For example, if a person struggles to be able to afford his first new car, he will tend to keep that car mechanically maintained and polished. 

Learning to apply this process to my own body in my 30's was a big step in my formation of a personal practice. I stopped smoking when I was thirty. I had been smoking 3 packs of cigarettes a day. I had begun smoking when I was 16. It was my life's one great addiction. Giving it up was brutal. 

The achievement of being free of nicotine and feeling the liberation from severe addiction opened my mind and healed my body. I became a daily runner. I gave up the massive portions of red meat in my diet. I stopped driving for recreation in favor of walking. I learned that behaving responsibly toward my own body brought tremendous gains in my social life and work life. 

Now that I am 63 and have health challenges, responsible action on a daily basis pays off. I know that my responsible actions in maintaining my health and environment maintain my quality of mental and physical experience. This makes me a socially responsible person as well. With a clear mind and observant eye, I am able to perceive needs in my environment to which I can respond. I am present and interactive in my social environment. 

Pointing angry fingers at irresponsible action does very little to facilitate change. Likewise, enabling irresponsible behaviors does very little to facilitate change. The middle path is living responsibly and visibly in my social environment. Interacting from a position of educating the irresponsible is more effective than scolding irresponsible behavior without pointing out alternatives. This is not an easy or comfortable way to be in the modern world, but it is the responsible way. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Technology

The smoke alarms in my house went off at 4:30 AM. This is always a dreaded event, of course. Most dreaded because the technology of these hard-wired alarms is so poor. 

I have no idea why they went off really. I suspect that our occasional vagrant who has left evidence of prowling around the house at night might have been smoking near an opened basement window which provides a lovely updraft through the stair hall of the house. Unfortunately, fire laws require five alarms along the route of that air flow. 

4:30 AM is a lousy time to be Sherlock Holmes, unless you are injecting cocaine as the famous sleuth obviously did just for occasions of this type. However, Peter did see the outside motion-sensor security light on when he entered the dark kitchen shortly after the alarms began to blare. I was too busy to notice. Some of the alarms are attached to 12-foot ceilings. Since they have battery back-ups, the batteries must be detached to reset the alarms even after the breaker switch for the alarms is turned off. Step ladder required.

The happy discovery was that no fire occurred. The unhappy reminder was that dealing with these damn alarms could very well kill me. My vigilance in the kitchen or basement workshop is fed by my fear of the alarms more than the fear of actual fire. I suppose some self-satisfied fire-prevention engineer would smile in approval. 

As I walk through my old neighborhood, I frequently hear the low-battery chirp of an out-of-code unwired smoke alarm in a stairwell of a deteriorated wooden three-unit building. I muse upon the reality that the horrific fires reported in this city mostly occur in these slumlord domains. Would updated smoke alarms really matter in one of these dumps once a flame ignites? Probably not. 

Once again the conscientious and responsible must suffer for the behavior of the negligent and greedy. It is an example of the lack of thought given by government in dealing with problems. The problem of slum fires is the slum. Peppering a substandard building with smoke alarms at the owner's expense and inconvenience simply isn't going to happen, since it is left to the owner's responsibility to do it. There are no routine inspections of slums. If there were, there would be no slums.




Saturday, August 24, 2013

Clarity

PBS's Holmes and Watson
Clarity comes with clarity. So much of today's life in the technologically dominated developed world is clouded with clouding information. Too much information (TMI) can be as problematic to to the affected mind as dark ignorance. The stupefying effect of LED screens is obvious on the many dull faces on a subway train. 

Clarity comes with the development of identity and purpose. If I know who I really am in the context of my own life and my environment, I have a conscious identity in my daily practice. If I understand where that identity stands in the context of my time (in the sense of history and current events), my own age and my environment, I can develop a purpose for my daily practice, my conscious daily existence. 

If I am secure in my changing identity and changing purpose (all things change), I can be clear in my daily process. I know what is a good decision for me. I know what is a bad decision for me. I am aware of my intuition. I am aware of the events in my environment which are affecting me. 

This is the clarity of Zen. This is the clarity of Tao. This is the clarity of any practice for positive life change, change for the good. Practicing clarity brings clarity. Learning to live ethically with the consequences of clarity of mental vision is at the core of humanist practice. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Sexism

There is and always has been a lot of sexual hypocrisy in the United States. Whether it is attributed to some lingering Puritanism or more contemporary causes, such as fear of HIV, Hep C and other STDs, this sexual hypocrisy is acted out constantly in entertainment media. The on-line porn industry is huge. Some of it is the usual territory of organized crime, but much of it is now a cottage industry. A housewife with an HD camera on a laptop can do a solid on-demand porn business from her guest room. 

I believe this latter reality in economically challenging times has undermined the high road of feminism. A recent flap over a Robin Thicke pop video by self-identified feminists rang false. Popular women's fashions over the past decade have mimicked the wardrobes of curbside hookers. Protest parades of women dressed this way have been seen by so-called feminists as some assertion of women's rights. Please. This sucks the air of credibility out off any protest over a cheesy-teasy flirtation video by Mr. Thicke, whose surname seems strikingly appropriate in this context. 

A response video on Youtube to Thicke's portrays homophobia by three women who declare to very gay (acting) male models that they really want to have sex with women. So, these feminists have decided to objectify gay men in response to being objectified by straight men. Now doesn't that make sense? Of course not. Sexuality is seldom sensible. 

Sex for sale is the problem. A society which has adopted money as the measure of human worth will merge objectified sexuality for profit. The great hypocrisy of this age, with its veneer of born-again religiosity of many stripes, is the oppression of prostitutes by governments in cities across the United States. Female entrepreneurs are marketing sex rehabs for forced retirees of the world's oldest profession. These born-again Puritans, mostly old prostitutes and former drug addicts, decry all prostitution as human trafficking. 

In a previous time, feminists decried all pornography as degrading. Today a feminist may well defend her right to masturbate on camera for cash to supplement her income or walk into any bar dressed like a hooker. The net result of all of this is the total erosion of the meanings of the words "feminism" and "sexism". The reality is that the whole society is sexist. The media are sexist. Government is sexist. Human beings are all sexist, in the basic sense of sex-consciousness. This isn't bad; this simply is. Sexuality is one of the most elemental drivers of all animals who rely on it for reproduction and/or a sense of safety. 

Religion has stood in the way of human beings adopting a universally healthy attitude toward sexuality. All major religions are patriarchal and misogynist. As long as society seeks to control the sexuality of women and confine it to reproduction, all members of society are diminished to confining roles which inhibit the greater good of the species.




Thursday, August 22, 2013

Trials

Hasan
Manning
Bales
Three trials are in the news here in the U.S... All involve the military. One of the three is most telling about the mentality of the military-industrial complex. 

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, age 39, who plead guilty, massacred 16 people, mostly women and children, in Afghanistan. He is currently seeking the right to parole from his probable life sentence. Major Nidal Hasan, age 42, who wished to plead guilty, massacred 13 military personnel on a Texas army base during a base event. Hasan was forced to plead not guilty because he could face the death penalty. A puzzling quirk of military law. Bradley Manning, age 25, sent information to Wiki Leaks which exposed intentional murder of non-combatants by the U.S. military in war zones. Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison. 

Bales, who joined the army while under fraud charges, has a history of alcohol and drug abuse. He volunteered for 4 deployments. His older brother provides the typical defense by enabling family members. He suggests that Bales is really a good guy. He just behaves murderously, it seems. The older brother is hoping Bales will be eligible for parole, despite admitting to atrocity.

Hasan, a lunatic psychiatrist, is an Islamic extremist who "switched sides", according to his own defense of his massacre of fellow U.S. military personnel. It seems actually he chose the side to which all military personnel belong: The side of war and killing. Hasan, admirable perhaps in his consistent acceptance of violence and its repercussions, has voiced his desire to be executed. 

Manning claims to have done what he did as a matter of conscience. He presents himself as someone who entered the military from a position of economic need. He also presents himself as someone who 'woke up' in uniform and realized he had gotten into an organization which does not represent good, but does evil. 

I suggest that anyone interested in maintaining a truly ethical personal compass examine what is happening here with these three trials. Those who like to wave the "Never Again" banner of post-911, like Sergeant Bales, who claims to have joined the army to avenge 911, might reconsider their self-righteous stance. "Again" is exactly what Sergeant Bales did in that village in Afghanistan. He terrorized and murdered innocent victims. Those who embrace the pan-religiosity now popular in the U.S., which promotes the notion that Islam is a religion of peace, might reconsider this in light of Islam's effect on a doctor, who was educated to heal.  Those who would dismiss Manning as a traitor might reconsider their own patriotism and nationalism in light of the lives of Bales and Hasan. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Business

I have always tried to follow the personal business philosophy voiced in Shakespeare: 

"Neither a borrower nor a lender be
For loan oft loses both itself and friend, 
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. 
This above all: to thine ownself be true,"
 .....Hamlet, Scene III.

Far cry from the philosophy of the Federal Reserve and the media hype currently eroding U.S. business ethics. 

The indoctrination of the American people by government in collusion with corporate finance for the past thirty-odd years has undermined common sense and fairness in American business. The added negative effect of Christian evangelicalism, which has adopted a sales pitch of prosperity gospel, has confused the whole issue of ethical business and the sensible use of money and resources. The financial collapse of 2008 in the U.S. and the subsequent sinkholes around the world are simply pieces of evidence in what will eventually be seen as a criminal erosion of public trust and general human well being in the name of capitalist greed. 

The financial predators are everywhere. They plunder the public purse to build huge medical complexes which deliver advanced technical care and poor human care. They exploit drug addicts for profit by building chains of methadone clinics and ineffectual rehabs. They package ethics and morality in seminars for profit. They build mega-churches for bilking the "faithful". They enslave the poor in China and Bangladesh to sell lousy products to the fat and lazy in the developed world. 

Yes, this has become business as usual. 

The merging of religion with business is particularly evil in my secular-humanistic view. The Vatican stands as the penultimate example, but ornate mosques, financed by petrochemical money from Saudi Arabia, are perhaps even more insidious. As a Saudi royal once said to me in the back of a limo, "We use the mosque to keep the common people, the mob, in line."

I fear this merging of business and religion might infect the rising movements of the Nones, secular people who are non-believers in gods and dogma. In the U.S., many of those who are organizing non-believers are wealthy. They have benefited and still benefit from corporate capitalism. They are at the top of the financial pyramid scheme of corporate capitalism, which makes money from money for a select few. 

Humanism can never be valid as a business model under corporate capitalism. This would be an absurd selling of a label which has everything to do with undermining corporate capitalism in favor of economic and social justice. Those who practice humanism in a daily and committed way would not work for or own stock in corporations which support the military-industrial complex, for instance. They would not accept contributions flowing from these income streams. This would eliminate the possibility of Humanism ever becoming a profitably non-profit business for those who presume to market it as such. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Cooperation

The loss which comes with the big-corporate influence on all aspects of American life is vast. Living in a city brings this to light when I need something done at my house. The larger corporate vendors are slick when they provide glossy brochures from the hands of a professional salesman who is distanced from the actual labor to be provided. The brochures are seductive. They too are the product of big-corporate advertising firms. The follow-up to the closing of a deal with these corporate businesses is not as shiny as their brochures. Broken promises hold great profits for insurance companies and other big businesses. 

My recent experience with a local contractor was a pleasant contrast. The company owner still swung a hammer. His workers had the congenial confidence of those who are treated well and respected by an employer. This contractor took a design I made in a simple computer program and translated it into wood with open communication and cooperation with me all along the way. The result was remarkably true to my original vision. He and his workers took pride in the result. 

Large corporations are in the business of carving out consumer tastes and expectation to suit their profit margins. They do this through media, supply and price manipulation. The dictation of supply and demand has long ago given way to corporate indoctrination and manipulation of the public taste. Any sophisticated foodie biting into a Dunkin Donut knows what I am talking about. Any lover of durable clothing who rifles through the racks at Walmart knows what I am talking about.

Cooperation between vendors and buyers is a a local phenomenon. The neighborhood bakery, now a dinosaur of urban life, knew what to bake from what people in the neighborhood bought. The milkman, another anachronism, used to determine the amount of milk, cream, cheese and butter to leave at the doorstep based on the reusable bottles returned and a note stuffed into the top of one of them by the customer. He did not simply leave what he wanted to get rid of on the stoop. 

The basics of life in the U.S. have been kidnapped by large corporate businesses with the cooperation of government. Farm subsidies and Federal regulations have led the way. Local regulations followed suit. This made it unprofitable or illegal for local providers of basic consumer goods to access the demand for them. I happen to believe the enforced dependence on the mass-produced automobile paved the way for the indoctrination which led to this situation. 

I often criticize capitalism. When I do, I am most often criticizing the big-corporate capitalism of Wall Street. I resent the government's collusion in convincing the population that this is It. Love it or leave it, Mr. Snowden. The big-corporate-military complex has won. Go quietly to prison, Private Manning. If you are lucky they will give you 25 years instead of 99. The big-corporate-military complex will not be exposed to criticism by the likes of you, a single citizen-soldier. 

It is indeed likely that there are already too many human beings for food producers and public-safety-suppliers to handle in any other way. But wouldn't it be more humane for governments and corporations to say this? Wouldn't this educate the public rather than mesmerize them for exploitation? I think so. However, the big-corporate-military complex is not humane. It is a culture ruled by greed and power. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Abuse

We live in a time when simple and appropriate discipline by school teachers leaves them prone to accusations of abuse. Meanwhile, I hear verbal abuse of children all around me. My supermarket aisles are often populated by stressed mothers whose children are spinning on bad nutrition based in sugar and cheap carbohydrate foods. The mothers are commonly obese themselves. Their children run around the store without any consciousness of other shoppers. An inevitable collision with an elderly person or a store clerk leads to a scathing diatribe of loud, unabashed verbal abuse of a child by its parent. Sometimes accompanied by an all-too-common physical assault. 

The conflicting conventions of reproductive autonomy and social political correctness are creating an antisocial underclass. Violence is a growing problem as handguns are proliferating in the communities where this underclass reside. The more violent and antisocial this underclass becomes, the less likely any intervention will be made from outside of it. This is known to anyone who knew the ethnically or racially segregated ghettos of an earlier time in urban America. 

The deterioration of the public education system is a contributing factor. The increase in the imprisonment of nonviolent drug offenders in their youth is another. The dismantling of the public mental health system is also a contributing factor. We are now seeing the results of refusing to provide adequate mental health services to poor communities while pouring money into ineffectual police forces and prison systems. 

The greater abuse in the U.S. is the abuse of the working class and the impoverished by their own government, which has shifted its generosity to corporate welfare from human welfare. The gains of post-WWII America in general social equality has been undermined intentionally by the Republicans and New Liberals, who bow to the shrines of Ronald Reagan and corporate capitalism. In reality, Reagan-lovers are proponents of corporate welfare over human welfare. 

Growing poverty and poor education of the greater population will eventually generate tremendous costs to those in the corporate class as well. Detroit's bankruptcy proceedings are a recent example. The racial riots of the 1960s and the L.A. riots of 1992 are examples of the cost to everyone of fostering an underclass. 

Humanism and atheism as movements in the U.S. are currently ivory-tower social trends within the corporate class. This is an unfortunate repeat of history. The lack of integration of socialist ideals by the intelligentsia into public education in an earlier time gave rise to anarchist and communist movements, headed by disgruntled members of the educated middle class who manipulated the impoverished to do their violence. These revolutionary actions usually gave rise to further abuse of the impoverished over time. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Time

Pando Grove
Four decades ago I associated with a channeling psychic (in the tradition of Edgar Cayce), whose control, the spirit who allegedly spoke through the psychic's body, claimed to have conscious memory of living in many life states all over the Universe throughout Time. The control, whose improbable name was Elexius, claimed to be a disembodied consciousness, free to roam through Space and Time at will. Why not? Sounded like fun to me back then.

Of the many lessons which Elexius preached (in a darkened room of people holding hands in a circle) the one in which he revealed some of his experiences in different life forms impressed me the most. And of those life states, his experience of being a tree in a primordial forest for several centuries was chilling because it rang true in my imagination. I experienced the stiff constraint of living in rooted wood as he spoke. I verged on claustrophobic panic. 

Today I heard a radio piece on the Pando Grove in Utah. One of the scientists explained that the root mass of the grove, which is essentially one tree with many trunks which span 106 acres, is both the heaviest and perhaps oldest life form on Earth. She speculated that it could be 80,000 years old, which would mean that it was born when homo sapiens was still a much smaller species confined to Africa. 

Elexiius offered his stories of timeless life, he said, to calm us down about our mortality. He also maintained that his awareness of his many experiences of different life states throughout Time and Space came to him after thousands, perhaps millions, of years of existence. He maintained he was one of a species of evolved entities like himself who had lived and still lived all over the Universe. By the way, his gender assignment, he clarified, was an arbitrary choice since his host, my friend the medium, was male. I liked Elexius, even though I seemed to annoy him with my constant skepticism. 

Pando Grove ignited my memory of Elexius. Had he been inside an aspen in Utah, I wondered. Had I? 

My daily practice is rigorous as I grow older. This is not a statement of virtue, but of reality. It is harder to stay healthy and mobile as my body does its aging thing. Since health and mobility facilitate happiness, it is also more work to be happy with life as it is. So, thinking of an 80,000-year-old tree or a disembodied consciousness with a perspective on being a tree is enlightening, in the sense of lightening my own human mind, melded with my aging body. I am not comforted by the prospect of experiencing existence for thousands or millions of years. I'll leave that to the vampires and Elexius. However, thinking of the smallness of my present existence somehow makes it feel more manageable in the greater scheme of things.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Interface

I have chosen an interface between my daily practice and technology. This blog is a part of that interface. Research and education via the Web is another part of it. I take technology seriously. I view it intentionally. It is not an ass-scratch reflex, like texting while driving. 

So, when I sit down with the intention of writing my blog entry as I did this morning, I must realize in the moment that change can occur even in the sanctity of my temple of personal reflection. The wind can blow in an update of Open Office, Version 4.0.0, to be precise. This is sobering, not only because I still flinch at dialogue boxes, but because I use Open Office to maintain my household accounts on a spreadsheet. I do not like being reminded I have a spreadsheet, let alone a rigorous budget.

I chose Open Office years ago as a revolutionary act, a protest against Microsoft domination...and Microsoft cost. I know the motivation of its original volunteer designers was egalitarian. They wanted to provide free access to a state-of-the-art document software. This is very empowering for anyone with a second-hand computer, no money and the desire to write a cover letter to a potential employer. I know this to be true because the person to whom I gave a computer several years ago used Open Office successfully for this purpose. 

I tried to remember all this this morning when I was interrupted by a box telling me about the Open Office updated version. I was already running late. I was also paying one of those annoying utility bills which never fail to take my breath away. So here I am writing my entry at a later time. My neurons are stretching to adapt. My legs are calling to take my morning walk. My mind threatens every moment to disregard the monitor and drift out to the sunny summer day.

Interface, between human and machine or human and human or whatever, always requires adjustments of some kind. Interface with my computer is a surrender of unilateral control. It is a process, like every other aspect of a humanist practice. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Foresight

Hindsight is clearer than foresight. Old saying with obvious validity. Being a humanist requires foresight. And that foresight may not be clear, but it is better than bumbling along with an acceptance of outdated assumptions about life and morality. Finding the place between foresight and myopic idealism is hard. Effective action with foresight is based on education, analysis and compassion for the living conditions in any environment. 

A glaring example of poor application of foresight is the bungling of the political arena by the Egyptian military. By trying to head off fundamentalism, the military overstepped and triggered cultural tribalism and vendettas. Nationalist cohesion is never achieved without bloodshed, since nations are arbitrary collections of diverse, often feuding, populations. However, that brand of cohesion is short-lived. This may have been foreseen with some intelligent analysis. 

Foresight, which is easily influenced by idealism, must be tempered by real experience of people and the world. Those who bill themselves successfully as psychics, for example, always modify their foresight with the inevitable variables of randomness. "You may find..." is a common lead to a psychic "prediction". This is not necessarily the hedging of a con artist. It can be the honed skill of a person who has seriously made foresight a focus of his/her life through daily practice. It is neither mystical nor fraudulent in every case. 

Hindsight, practiced rigorously and honestly, is crystal clear. It is the foundation of foresight in the practicing mind. Sherlock Holmes references past cases whenever he leaps to a brilliant prediction of a criminal's behavior. Paying honest attention to my own life's past and mindfully utilizing it in today's present leads to foresight into my potential future. It is not magical thinking. It is a scientific approach to my realities. 


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Egypt






The current upheaval in Egypt is religious at its roots. The same can be said for the ongoing Syrian civil war. The same can be said for Lebanon's long history of civil strife. Israel, while often cited by extremists as the sole object of religious hatred in its region, is just another religiously plagued society. All religions in this region have contributed to the madness. The various sects of Islam, the various sects of Judaism, the various sects of Christianity. They are all part of the violence and impedance of social progress.

A sane person, looking at this current cesspool of religious inspired madness, must formulate a less than shining view of religion. To continue to say "Yes, but..." in the face of the daily facts of antisocial behavior and violence in this religiously contention region, the cradle of three major religions, is to be anti-scientific and irrational. The evidence is there in front of any observer's nose. Religion is poison more often than it is balm when religious people of different religions live side by side. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Corruption

Corruption in government is simply an extension of lawlessness in a society. As a humanist, I recognize that equality and justice are dependent on the equal and just application of equal and just laws. This applies to traffic regulations as well as violent crime. 

A small local story here in Boston could easily be ignored as petty. The member of a prominent real estate dynasty apparently had a valet-parking sign installed by the city illegally in front of her office. She has been using that space, in a busy public parking zone, as her private space for many years. It seems a courageous whistle blower has managed to get that sign removed. 

This is an example of the petty corruption practiced by the wealthy against the public interest. Anyone who has lived in a city center can share a similar anecdote. The frequently unused loading zone, used as a private parking space by a proprietor, in front of a store which has a loading dock behind it is one example. The commercial truck which feels free to use handicap parking is another. 

Lawlessness creeps in. We have two decades of popular music which lionizes gangsters. A major political force, The Tea Party, prides itself on despising taxation to the point of making illegal tax-avoidance a heroic act. Our own national government bends the laws protecting personal privacy in order to protect us from alleged terrorist attacks. Racialist policies in the name of affirmative action often tread the line between just accommodation and undermining proper standards of education. 

Following the law is often impractical and inconvenient from an emotional point of view. If I am late for an appointment, I am less likely to closely watch my speedometer or may be less forgiving of a dawdling pedestrian who hasn't quite indicated that he is going to use the crosswalk he is standing in. 

Recently I saw a woman of middle age steal a considerable amount of groceries at my local market. She was dressed in new clothes. She had a hairdo and manicure which looked professionally done. She was wearing gold jewelry. She had secreted two full bags of groceries in the bottom tier of her cart. She passed several items in the top of her cart through the scanner of the self checkout. She paid for those items with a government-provided debit card. When I shared what I saw with the store attendant, whose job was watching for this kind of theft, she shrugged and looked at me as though I was acting strangely.

We all pay for those stolen groceries, as well as the subsidized items which are paid for. We pay in increased prices to cover the proprietor's overhead. It is not "victim-less" crime. 

Corruption unravels the social fabric from within like a slow-growing cancer. It is fueled by the million of individual decisions made by members of a society for their convenience or profit. Once out of control, as we have seen recently in Mexico, the remedies are catastrophic and marginally effective. My emphasis on individual ethical practice comes from my realization that this is the only way in which a society avoids corruption. Each individual has the power to effect the integrity of the society and its laws. Parents and teachers are particularly powerful in promoting ethics in society or undermining them.  Developing ethics in the minds of our children is a matter of setting example. 


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Capitalism

Yesterday I expounded on my sense of the It, as magical thinking encouraged by religion, corporate media and corporate-controlled government. Obama was the It of 2008, promising Change. Now he is promising continued spying and is defending violent conflicts. No big Change there. His (un)popularity ratings testify to his loss of It-ness. 

Mr. Obama has been possessed by the It of corporate capitalism. His It appears to be the Wall Street junta which financed his way to power on their behalf. He must have studied Bill Clinton's life very closely. He has never diverged from Wall Street's mandate of promoting business over social benefits. Even his Affordable Care Act is a Trojan Horse, occupied by insurance executives, who are readying to invade and finally subdue the health delivery systems to their will. 

Do any of us believe that the NSA's spying is really geared to protecting private individuals from terrorist bombs? The protection guaranteed by the NSA is protection of corporate interests and stock market values. Perhaps there is a cubicle at the NSA occupied by a geek who also monitors corporate piracy potential? Would this explain the easy cooperation of Internet providers with the NSA's intrusions into privacy of common citizens and paying customers?

The planet is in a pickle of polluted air, poisoned oceans and tainted crops. Overpopulation is a boon to corporate capitalism. Any cursory examination of capitalist theory exposes the kernel of falsehood at its very center. It is based on one scientifically faulty principle: More is Absolutely Good. More consumers, more sales, more profits. So, making capitalism the It of the entire planet is suicidal for the human species. As the planet becomes inhospitable to the vast majority, the predators at the top of the capitalist food chain wallow in luxury. However, when the vast majority becomes extinguished by famine, war and natural disasters, the predators too will fall. 

I wonder if the push for private corporate space exploration is the It of the educated corporate elite who can see the end of their plunder approaching. "We'll just leave and find another planet." This could be the mantra of denial of their responsibility to be just and compassionate stewards of our one known green planet. If so, I hope their plan succeeds sooner rather than later. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

It

Beware of It. It, as in "This is It!", can be a dangerous illusion. We are all sadly aware of the behavior of some who decide that fundamentalist Islam is their It. In general, finding religion, making religion your It, leads to a dead end. The educated will be able to integrate the religious It into the rest of their lives in positive ways. The determinedly ignorant will just go from religion to another It, perhaps racist supremacy of some brand. 

Alcohol is the It of the alcoholic. Heroin is the It of the junkie. The circuit party can become the It of the pretty young gay man. Another person can become the It for someone insecure in himself. Eventually life's diverse experiences, which come at random, can turn any It into a That, as in "Oh, That!".

Changing my focus from the external and magical It was absolutely necessary when I battled with my own body for survival. I realized that I am my It. I am ultimately my body and my mind. Without developing those, I am adrift in a senseless road trip to the grave. Making my own personal development my It is what I call my practice. This is not a practice of cosmetic surgery and tanning booths. My practice is centered on becoming a conscientious and compassionate human being in the moments of my life. This is my way of living a life which is responsible and responsive to my internal and external environment. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Difference

Many good people see the art of making a difference in grandiose terms. This is unfortunate. The media aggrandize the image of the change agent even further. We are led to believe that the only way to make a difference entails spending millions on exotic horrors of poverty and misery in the developing world. This is very unfortunate for the species. 

The choice to make a small difference in the quality of life of the person next to you in a sluggish grocery line takes the same compassion and initiative that powers grander schemes. And it is applicable in the moment at no monetary expense.  How many times have you seen a grumpy customer shed her rage on a cashier? I have seen that same grouch drop change with a pious lift of the chin into the cup of a drug addict as she leaves the store. Enable the drug addict; bully the hard worker on minimum wage. How does this make a difference?

Part of the confusion about making a difference is the confusion between quantity and quality. Humans in the developed world equate happiness with abundance. Many in the impoverished parts of the planet manage to experience happiness in scarcity. The entranced rich tourist finds this quaintly charming. It is not. It is a stunning example of what really makes human beings human. Learning to live happily and unselfishly in an unjust world is the core struggle of becoming a more mindful and more compassionate human being. 

A cursory look around my house or my neighborhood or any retail store floods my mind with potential for making a difference in the quality of life within my own environment. This used to be perceived as civic duty or simply the right way to behave. The antisocial nature of today's life in the world of personal devices, "me" media and "me" politics has eroded the routine individual process of trying to make a positive difference in society. Giving over taking is now considered socialist or simply stupid in much of our popular culture. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Manipulation

Mr. Snowden has escaped. This has obviously infuriated the corporate-owned spy establishment in the U.S.. They are so angry they have decided to give everyone in the Arab world an August vacation by closing embassies in the region. After all, it's just too hot over there anyway. The touted terrorist threat, which Mr. Obama tried to sell at a press conference yesterday with little success, is so scary that he has retreated to a resort island surrounded by Secret Service.  His rented home, reported as valued at $7.5 million, is owned by a Chicago financier. With Wall Street connections, you think?

One other aspect of Mr. Obama's press conference which went over like a lead balloon with this gay activist was his assertion that nobody is more upset than he is by the homophobic stance of the Russian government. Nobody, Mr. President? Really? How about the Russian activists who have been jailed and brutalized and who have to listen to you dismissing the proposed boycott of the Olympics, a corporate commercial venue, as counterproductive? For that matter, how about me? Do you really think you are as upset as I am by the brutal oppression of LGBT people in Russia, Mr. Obama? Doubt it.

Speaking of upset... If I had the microphone yesterday, I would have asked Mr. Obama how upset he was when he learned that the military tortured gay man and whistle blower Bradley Manning when he was taken in custody. Was he more upset than anyone else? If so, why haven't any of those who tortured Manning been publicly tried and punished? After all, Mr. Obama is Commander-in-Chief. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Narcissism

The "T" in LGBTQ is short for transgender. The transgender identity has been closely associated with Gay Liberation from the Stonewall Riots in 1969. Transvestites are reputed to have started the riots in reaction to police harassment. Within the gay community, drag queens have always held a special place as icons of gay humor and gay rage. 

The confusion between gender identity and sexual orientation has remained entrenched in society, which is struggling to emerge from homophobic ignorance. While they may lie on a continuum of sexual  identification in the opinion of some, I believe gender confusion and conscious sexual orientation are vastly different.  

Some gender confusion is concretely based. Some human beings are born with combined gender characteristics. They are physiologically bi-gendered. A person may have female breasts and a small penis with no scrotum, for example. Or, a person may have small breasts and an exaggerated and protruding clitoris. These are real physiological conditions, the happenstances of birth. The usefulness of surgical intervention in this cases to proximate some normalcy is positively life-changing for many, but the fact that they feel compelled to have surgery to be other than they are by birth speaks a great deal about the lack of tolerance and appreciation in human minds for difference. 

I recently heard the case of Kristin (born Chris) Beck, a U.S. Navy Seal who is peddling a book about being transformed from a macho, violent man to a woman as part of his exploration of his "feminine side", as she puts it. While I have no business telling Mr./Ms. Beck to do with her own body, I do have a right to question whether hormonal and surgical interventions are a sane way for a man to get in touch with natural femininity within his consciousness. I also has a right to question the ethical behavior of medical personnel who too readily indulge this approach to self-discovery with prescription pad and scalpel. 

I happen to be fond of a transgender person whom I see regularly in a commercial setting. She is charming, articulate and well adjusted. The extreme interventions she has chosen are working for her. But, in my professional capacity as a psychiatric nurse, I have experienced many more transgender people who are conflicted, narcissistic and simply a mess. These individuals were not well served by a medical establishment which wrote prescriptions and cut away at genitals without thorough attempts to understand the motivation of the patient in pursuing gender re-assignment. It is easier and more profitable to do the mechanical interventions. The growing number of transgender people who are trying to reverse these interventions to return to their birth state is evidence enough. 

The current popular "so what" attitude toward gender re-assignment procedures is consistent with the popular "so what" attitude toward homeless addicts begging on the streets. There is a social callousness toward mental health problems in U.S. society. "We don't want to know," is the message. This is not new. Shame associated with mental illness is ancient. Intolerance of difference is also ancient. However, as a humanist, I think a compassionate society must pay attention to and understand mental illness in an effort to provide adequate services to avert needless individual and social violence and pain.

The current narcissistic cultural  lack of interest in those with mental illness or simple ignorant confusion feeds the narcissism of the impaired, which is a severe problem. This in turn can lead to a severity of symptoms ranging from crippling psychosis to murderous acting out with a bomb or firearm. I think we are all too aware of the recent examples of this.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Family

I am mystified by the the obstacles so-called pro-lifers, usually associated with Conservative religion,  place in the way of cell research. Many of these same breeding enthusiasts take great pride in diminishing the quality of life on the planet by producing more offspring than they can afford to provide for with absolutely no second thought. They are not really pro-life. They are simply another form of antisocial, anti-scientific control freak. 

Now that the cooing over the baby royal of Britain has died down, I think it is valuable to look at the genetics of this object of adoration. He is descended from a long line of murderous autocrats. His genetic heritage is bathed in the blood of those murdered for perceived disloyalty or simply killed as grist for the mill of political power and personal vanity in wars. His parents' choice of two names of assassinated monarchs, Nicholas and Louis, is a hint to the unconscious or conscious shamelessness of the unjustly privileged.

Humanism, as I understand it, grew from the science of the Early Renaissance. It was woven into the Reformation of the Christian religion. It was very much part of widening the portals to education for the middle class in Europe. This education contributed to the eventual overthrow of autocratic monarchs by exerting pressure on their aristocratic base, previously considered untouchable due to God-given hereditary privilege. 

In some ways, humanism is antithetical to "family values". Humanism does not support tribalism. Humanism supports equality and justice for all, regardless of hereditary legacy or hereditary wealth. So, while a royal baby does not deserve to be despised because of his nasty forebears, he also does not deserve to be adulated because of his nasty forebears. He only justly deserves the same life options as the lowest of the human species. No more, no less. 

Living in light of this humanist ideal of justice and equality is very painful at times, especially here in the developed world. However, that pain over the basic injustice of our species toward one another is not as excruciating as living with the actual injustice of poverty and ignorance day in and day out. The bleeding-heart Liberal writes a check and sighs. The token Liberal partakes in an occasional service vacation in some less privileged part of the world. This is usually as much tourism as service. The practicing humanist takes up a profession which improves the quality of human life. The practicing humanist finds a way to live well and to live responsibly. The practicing humanist does not live for making and spending money. The practicing humanist lives justice for all by serving the public equally and fostering social equality. 


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Walking

Dante's Inferno a la Dore
I did an errand yesterday which took me into the heart of the city. Then I walked home. The distance was not great. However, the walk was fascinating, since I discovered urban planners' inhumane idea of a straight line from my neighborhood to the city center. 

My walk was untouched by the shade of trees. In verdant Boston, this takes some doing. Trees pop up everywhere in this city, even when uninvited. It was a walk of concrete and asphalt, bordered by bulky steel railings, highways, access roads and shabby chain link. 

I passed half dozen pedestrians along the whole course. Six human beings on a walk which passed through a part of a city which houses thousands of condo units, apartments and offices. It was a time when many people leave work. This was obvious. I was surrounded by thousands of polluting cars, each occupied by one person with cell phone.

Walking in the city tells me what is really happening in this so-called civilization. Too many people are living too close together. Those who decide to avoid this congestion for whatever reason are condemned to live hours every day in an idling car on a wide pavement. They have been provided with the distraction of a smart phone. It is the modern pacifier, which subdues, hypnotizes, indoctrinates and brings profits to those who control them. 

Walking in the city, as I did yesterday, where the urban planners have consigned me, is like touring a level of Dante's Inferno. Perhaps some urban planner with a sense of humor saw this at the drafting table. I find that strangely comforting. More comforting than thinking a mindless bureaucrat with no humanity simply banged it out of some software program.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Supremacy

Supremacy is at the heart of Roman Catholic dogma. Supremacy is at the heart of Judaic scripture. Supremacy is at the heart of Islam. Supremacy is at the heart of Mormon mythology. How can peaceful acceptance of the equality of all human beings exist in a world dominated by religion?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Wealth

Aviva III
The yacht, Aviva III, was docked at a wharf in Boston yesterday. Peter and I noticed it was the largest ship in the inner harbor as we took our Sunday stroll along the waterfront. It was an outrageous example of personal excess, so I decided to look it up. It belongs to Joe Lewis, a British currency manipulator, who made a fortune with George Soros on Black Wednesday , the day the U.K. Conservative government bailed out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, thereby leading to the devaluation of the pound sterling. Soros and Lewis sold their pounds at a higher rate prior to the crash of the pound.

Joe Lewis
Money manipulation which creates these great fortunes has no social value. In other words, these money-makers who live excessive lifestyles do so at the expense of the true value of the quality of life on the planet. This makes Soros' contribution to Liberal causes in the U.S. highly suspect. Lewis is a tax exile from the U.K. and lives in the Bahamas. He reportedly uses the yacht as his mobile office. Is there any wonder why the likes of Mr. Lewis would prefer a mobile office?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Creativity

Young Edison
A recent study, reported in the N.Y. Times, found that spatial skill is a better predictor of creativity than math or verbal skill. In other words, Bill Gates' success in producing the PC after becoming a college drop-out probably had more to do with his spatial skill than the skills which got him into college. But is this really news? Thomas Edison never took the SATs. In fact, he had little formal schooling. He influenced the quality of human life throughout the world.

Today's electronic devises can create an illusion of creativity for a user. Sampling the creative music of several composers with a computer passes as original art. Modulating an untrained voice with machines rivals the creative interpretation of songs by trained and practiced singers in the market place. The 3-D printer threatens to replace hand crafts with computer-generated images. Yes, it takes creativity to use a machine to produce something affecting and inspiring. I am not dismissing technology as having no value in the creative process. The hand chisel was once a new technology which transformed sculpture. 

I am trying to maintain my own discernment between the illusion of creativity and creativity itself. For example, I may have the illusion that I am a whiz at Words for Friends, but, if I am using a Words for Friends Cheat App, I am not really a whiz at the game. I am a cheat. I am not a gardener if my garden is planted and maintained by a professional landscaper. I am simply a consumer.

Creativity is needed to apply ethical ideals in daily life in a culture which has normalized criminality and cheating. Practicing humanist values is a creative exercise, in other words. This blog, for example, is a creative process which is part of my own daily practice. It is a place where I creatively address questions about my experience and try to work out some understanding for my own continuing practice. 

Coming back to the concept of spatial skill, I think that practice is a matter of making space in daily routines for meditation, reflection and creative expression. Arranging my time to include all the elements necessary to maintain my physical and psychological health is a creative process. It is building a daily lifestyle in which being a peaceful and joyful person is sustainable despite the pressures of modern life. That is the essence of practice. 


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Trials

While the government is wasting my money on an overextended show trial for Whitey Bulger and on a lifelong state pension ( $198,205.92 annually) for his brother, Billy Bulger, Bradley Manning is quietly sequestered away with the likelihood of spending most of the rest of his life in prison. Edward Snowden, tried and convicted by the Obama administration in the media, is brushing up on his colloquial Russian. His perseverance in the face of the full weight of U.S.-government bullying is admirable, no matter how one views the N.S.A.'s role in geopolitics. 

I am learning that idealists motivated by conscience and personal ethics are bad in the eyes of the U.S. government. They are to be captured, imprisoned, tortured and silenced. Failing to do this makes those in power crazy. However, lifelong murdering, criminal bastards, like Bulger, can hide in plain site in a lovely beach-side community in California for 16 years. They can be provided a world-class defense. They can be lionized by the media for years. Their relatives can pretend they never knew anything or colluded in any way with absolute impunity.

The word "trial", it seems to me, is what the U.S. citizens are being subjected to by a government which is mismanaged and sold out to corporate and criminal interests. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Blimps

What kind of government deploys blimps around its national capital in fear? The U.S. government. 

According to this The Atlantic article, the U.S government's military establishment (Pentagon) has spent $5,400,000,000 on two blimps to cruise perpetually around the skies of Washington, D.C. to protect our precious power brokers. That's right, taxpayer, two (2) blimps cost $5,400,000,000! And they are most likely meant to protect the politicians in Washington from us, the people, rather than some foreign invader.


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Injustice

My bank pays me less than 1% interest on my savings. The U.S. government has just given its blessing to student loans over 3% with a cap around 8%. These loans could yield profits to the tune of $185 billion over the next decade. Those profits are designed to offset tax breaks for the rich. Is this just? I think not. It is not just for me. It is not just for the students. It is anti-education and also prejudicial against people with little money who depend on savings to pay for life's needs while on a fixed income. Is this just? The U.S. capitalist system has been kidnapped by the 10% at the top of it at the expense of the 90% beneath. It is about time the voting population wakes up to this and makes significant changes in Washington.