Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sports

A fool's loyalties and emotions can easily be manipulated by media. This is very clear this morning here in Boston, where media are hyping the World Series win of the Red Sox as some monumental cultural event. It is not. It is the continued exploitation of the public to support multimillionaire gladiators who are advertising billboards for corporate commercialism. Professional sports teams in the U.S. are big businesses. Nothing more and nothing less.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Being

Young Stephen Hawking
 Being in full consciousness is difficult. Most of us have problems acknowledging the realities of our lives. Denial is a natural human defense. We deny pain, fear and powerlessness regularly in order to get through our lives functionally. We are mortal. We age. Our bodies deteriorate, no matter how well we maintain them or dress them up. 

I have had to be fully conscious of being incapacitated more than the majority of people my age in the developed world. When my legs didn't work or my lungs didn't get enough oxygen, I learned a great deal about who I really am. I am an animal, an organic machine with definite limitations and needs. Yet my mind can transcend those limitations with some effort and practice.

Mature Stephen Hawking
Most people in good health fear even thinking of these realities and eventualities. Watching people in a crowded situation when someone in a wheelchair enters the scene will educate you on this. Their discomfort, confusion and avoidance is flight from their full consciousness of being, which includes consciousness of the mortal limitations of their own lives. Avoiding the fear and discomfort of identifying with a disabled or damaged human body in view is a common defense. However, it also is a common barrier to compassion in practice.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Computers

If you are reading this, you are most likely on line. This morning, I heard a disturbing radio piece on computer gaming and children. The designers of computer games are using neuroscience to get children to spend money on computer games. In other words, they are brainwashing children by promoting an addiction to their products. This is vile. 

All the hype about the advantages of computer games for brain function does not justify the obesity, deterioration of socialization, violence and materialism which computer games promote in children who are allowed by parents to sit for hours every day in front of them. I am speaking of children here. Young children, whose brains are easily imprinted and manipulated.

I have no children. I have limited interest in children. However, as a human being with a brain I know that corrupting children's minds in this way is not beneficial to the species to which I belong. Computer gaming has increased, and so have drop-out rates. Computer gaming has increased, and so have the incidents of child-on-child violence. The developers of these games are not interested in their social impact. They are not interested in simply making enough money to support their craft. They are interested in making massive amounts of money in profits.

Yesterday I heard an encouraging story about a teacher who is fighting obesity in her early education classroom. She has gotten her students to jump and do exercises for 15-20 minutes during her class time. This has been shown to assist in weight maintenance and the development of proper bone density. It was encouraging because the exercise is not centered on conflict. It requires no special equipment. She is teaching these children that mobility is fun, social and healthy. Brava!

The contrast between the two stories is obvious. It is discouraging to see the disparity between the social positions of cynical computer-game developers and elementary teachers like this brilliant and compassionate woman. If I were a parent, I would readily see the better influence on my child.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Beauty

Example of Zen Design
Woody Allen's film, Interiors (1978), is one of my favorites. It is centered on the relationships between a severely disturbed interior decorator and her estranged family. The decorator, played by Geraldine Page, is obsessed with color, symmetry and space. In other words, her tortured internal environment fuels her attempts to control her external environments. She finds no real comfort in her work. 

Anyone who has known me for some time knows that I have moved frequently and frequently change my decor when I stay put for a while. These behaviors began when I first left my parents' home, where furniture seemed riveted to the floor boards. It never moved. When my mother died two years ago, the decor of the 1960's was preserved in her house like a museum collection. Worn but meticulously maintained furniture and accessories helped to sell the house. I believe many perspective buyers toured it just for its retro ambiance. 

My first room, meaning my first room of my own, was a drafty second floor front room in a tawdry rooming house, located in Boston's Fenway neighborhood. I was twenty. The owner, a mad symphony violinist, lived in a room with a squeaking door by the front entrance. Whenever I entered the building, loud violin practice ceased. The door squeaked open a crack as I rapidly ascended the stairs. It was truly creepy, but quite affordable.

My rented room was stark. Its only ornament was an ornate Edwardian fireplace mantle sans fireplace. The mantle was used as a headboard for the lumpy twin bed. A hard wooden chair was placed by a kitchen table at the double windows. Lace curtains, suitable for Miss Haversham, sagged and admitted jaundiced light through the soot-encrusted windows. I loved the place. I bought a colorful psychedelic bedspread and a matching cushion for the chair. I took down the curtains and washed the windows, which afforded a wonderful view of the busy city street below. I quickly learned that beauty was perception. I also learned that perception was mine to develop and change.

Since then, I have lived in thirty different homes. Being nomadic served me financially and psychologically over my years of mostly urban living in Boston and Manhattan. My two favorite environments prior to my present home were an empty one-room studio in Manhattan's Upper East Side and a one-room cottage in Provincetown on Cape Cod. 

My empty Manhattan studio, where I lived on parquet floors with a futon and a small table, was on the 32nd floor of new apartment tower on the East River. The apartment came with my nursing job. The juxtaposition of the building's grand lobby with doormen and my airy room tickled me. I was chanting Japanese Buddhist sutra in those days. I chose my environment to immerse myself into that cultural and mental experience. When I came home from my tense and exhausting job on a violent psychiatric ward, I quickly relaxed in my near-empty apartment. 

My rented one-room cottage in Provincetown was a refuge from city hustle. I had just closed an antiques business and was working two 16-hour days on a psychiatric ward outside Boston. I commuted the 120 miles to the city on a motorcycle initially. Stayed two days. Returned to my refuge for the other five days of each week. My unsold antique-shop inventory was piled into that cottage. I lived with two dozen chiming clocks, all ticking smoothly. Tables, chairs, music boxes, and other items, including a huge 18th century Vermont secretary. A shallow loft, accessed by a straight wooden ladder, was my bedroom. It was just a mattress. That pup-tent space was really my home for many months, as I gradually sold off and gave away my inventory. I often go back to that happy space in my mind.

Penetrating and sustainable beauty isn't accessed by reading Architectural Digest, in my opinion. It resides within mind and healthy body. A beautiful environment reflects the beauty of its designer's interior. Spaces of others which linger with me are spaces infused with the creativity and expression of their designers. The smells of their cooking, detergents and cosmetics, the play of light on a wall, the odd piece of salvaged furniture in just the right corner. This is the beauty I relish. It reflects the intelligent interplay between a special person and his/her environment. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Enough


When you have reached the consciousness that simply being is enough, you have arrived at liberation. From liberation, all doors to progress are opened. Without liberation, life is a blind wandering within the maze of convention. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Insurance

Insurance has always been a scam. It was devised by people who knew math to sell to those who didn't. It seems that still applies here in anti-scientific, corporate-capitalist America. 

Health insurance is the riskier scam. That explains the private insurance industry's enlistment of Mr. Obama to guarantee that more young, healthy folks buy insurance. If many healthy people pay premiums, the profit margin for the insurance company grows exponentially. More money for more real estate investment and diversification. More money to hire more bureaucrats to disqualify procedures and interventions from reimbursement.

Life insurance is the mother load of the insurance industry. Mathematicians sit in cubicles and calculate the odds of the lifespan of consumers. The numbers favor the house. Just like a casino. If you doubt this, look at the number of tall buildings in your closest city which are owned or were built by insurance companies. 

The key to profits in the insurance industry is NOT paying benefits, even when those benefits seem to be obviously owed. The industry counts on lost life insurance policies, tucked at the back of a drawer belonging to the deceased customer. The industry hires layers of bureaucrats who make collecting on a policy a matter of jumping hurdle after hurdle. One false move takes the beneficiary back to another desk or dumped into an endless loop of recorded telephone messages. There are profits in obstruction.

A social security safety net, like the one provided by the U.S government, is an alien concept to profiteering insurance providers. After all, if everyone is guaranteed benefits by contributing into a fund from their earliest days of employment, where is the option to delay and obstruct when benefits are legitimately due? To the avid capitalist, dumping all that money into a stock market or private insurance is ideal. This gives the sleazy and greedy ample opportunity for skimming off profits while shrugging off the "risks of the marketplace" when funds evaporate in a stock market manipulation. 

Those who decry Obamacare on the Right are inspired by those who wish to dismantle all government undercutting of capitalist exploitation by ensuring public safety nets. The only "insurance" they believe in is the "insurance" that they can exploit the exploitable for profits. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Labor

Yesterday I was reminded of something by a young contractor doing some work in my house. The man yelled up the staircase here for me to come look at his project. The materials I had obtained for the project, he said, were not up to his standards. He would not install them. He pointed out specific flaws. I agreed, despite the loss of some money on the partially used materials and the inconvenience of delaying the project. I thanked him for being conscientious.

My experience with workmanship here has been discouraging at times. There is a growing work culture of "good enough". My father, a self-taught carpenter and jack-of-all-trades, was a manic perfectionist who built an eight-room house with his own hands. Despite exhaustion and frustration, he never settled for "good enough". He strove for the best result, even if this entailed asking for the help of a more experienced craftsman. 

Manual labor has been demeaned in the U.S.. There are many reasons. From a consumer standpoint, I believe trade unions are much to blame. Their exclusion of minorities and careful limiting of trained personnel in the marketplace in order to jack up wages has been disastrous. The development of an underground immigrant labor force by indiscriminate contractors has brought affordable labor to the consumer, but it has also lowered the bar on standards in some cases. 

My contractor has a standard for his work that exceeds "good enough". He not only prevented me from having a future problem with his work, but he took extra time and effort to remedy the materials issue with me yesterday afternoon. He was courteous and matter-of-fact while he did this. This is his way of taking pride in his work. I greatly appreciated it. 

Having a conscientious labor ethic is a form of ethical personal practice. It speaks to a certain level of personal development. Our culture has sadly abandoned this concept in favor of Neo-Liberal ideals about collegiate education for everyone. Educational institutions have capitalized on this at great profit. They have become a corporate complex with high-profile lobbying in government. Educators have spurned vocational education as inferior or somehow doing a disservice to those who are not interested in  or equipped for Academia. Is there any wonder why Americans citizens are not available to do jobs in manual labor? This is a blatant failure of government and the public educational systems that government are required to provide to our children. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Cold

It is currently 39 degrees Fahrenheit here in Boston, Massachusetts. Winter approaches. I am always aware at this time of year that we in northern climates live with the illusion that life here is readily sustainable through winter. This requires massive assumptions about the availability of natural and refined resources. It requires assumptions about well maintained infrastructure to deliver fuels and remove deep snow. I requires assumptions about a food supply chain from warmer climates. 

How much do you take for granted in your environment? 

I once lived in a seaside cottage north of Boston. I was young and poor. The 19th century cottage was not insulated. There were spots where daylight was visible through gaps in the walls. I took the rental in Autumn. It was a real deal, I thought in my youthful and stupid mind. Romantic views across the harbor of an old New England town. The cottage itself sat on a small island, connected to the mainland by a man-made causeway. 

I have never been so cold before or since. The two-floor cottage was heated by a gas log in the kitchen stove. The two cats who lived with us never came downstairs. They found the warmest part of the house, my bed. Nights were punctuated with struggles for space under the covers. 

It was a very good experience for a young urban man. How many of us would be totally incapacitated by a failure of just one utility in January?  Millions. Our civilization is comfortable at a great cost which we seldom tally. It requires massive amounts of technology, labor and resources. Therefore, it is commensurately vulnerable to failure and catastrophe. The cold reminds. Simplicity has its advantages. Awareness of the reality of my environment makes me better prepared to deal with its inevitable changes. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Stillness

Being still in time is a form of being in the here and now. Visualizing myself in meditation as floating on a calm lake of time while letting go of agendas, ruminations and speculations is one method I use to be still. My experience of this form of stillness is calming and restorative. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Peace


Peace is more than lack of war. Peace, in the holistic sense, is the presence of unstressed well being. This does not require robust health. To the contrary, I have known rare people who were at peace moments before losing final consciousness prior to their deaths. I have known many more who never achieved that peace up to the moment of death.

I speculate that there can be no universal peace, in the sense of lack of aggression and war, until all human beings are committed to individual peace. Achieving individual peace takes practice of conscientious methods to attain it. Meditation, education, communication, physical health maintenance, etc.. Dedicating myself to personal peace is a contribution to universal peace. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Silence

I have become accustomed to routine periods of silence during the day. I find these periods helpful. They assist me to quiet my mind and to hone in on priorities. There are times when these periods also allow me to sort out conflicts or difficulties with others. 

The contemplative tradition of the Benedictine monks incorporated silence as a method of maintaining the focus of what they considered their spiritual practice. In fact, Benedictine life was punctuated by rare periods of speech, prayer and song. This discipline became the standard of contemplative community life in Europe for centuries. Some Buddhist monastic communities also incorporate silence into their rules. 

My silence is not dictated by a community rule. Peter and I have negotiated these periods rather naturally in our home. I think these silences have facilitated our transition from living apart to living together after ten years of knowing each other. 

I recommend regular periods of silence to anyone searching for personal calm and time for serious thought. I think simple silence while working or walking is the next-best hing to structured meditation. Doing both is a very good combination for any personal practice for health and awareness. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Alcohol

Ethanol molecule.
I am the son of the adult child of an abusive male alcoholic. I lived for 61 years under the oppression of the results of my maternal grandfather's brutal addiction. My mother bore the scars of her upbringing until she died. This interfered with all her human relationships. 

I was pleased to hear a National Public Radio piece on women and alcohol this morning. This segment is an example of the best aspects of NPR, in my opinion.

Alcohol is not a healthy nutrient. Alcohol does not facilitate proper hydration. Alcohol worsens depression, despite its traditional use by the depressed as medication. Alcohol is not an effective treatment over time for any psychological distress. Its physiological toxicity far outweighs its physiological, psychological or social benefits. This is medical science ... not pseudo-science sponsored by the alcohol industry for advertising.

Alcohol will eventually be seen as a toxin like tobacco as overwhelmed medical systems are destroyed by a flood of alcohol-related disease in aging populations. This may be the last hurrah of the alcohol industry before that inevitable correction. Unfortunately, the swath of destroyed lives left in the wake of the industry's record profiteering will be irreversible. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Belief

I recently had an interesting conversation with a religious friend. She maintained that belief systems (religions) are reflected in the behaviors of those who claim to subscribe to them. I strongly disagreed. Born-again haters and jihad bombers are not really behaving in accordance to Christianity or Islam in their systemic forms of written text and evolved interpretations.

I brought up my own concept of behavioral systems. I maintain that human beings actively or passively choose behavioral systems. Those who actively create and maintain their behavior systems are practitioners, in my opinion. Those who passively allow heredity, environment and social factors to determine their behaviors are simply sleepwalking through life. Some practitioners choose to model their practices on a prescribed belief system, such as a religion or ethical philosophy.

I think the differentiation between belief system and behavioral system is helpful. As a secular humanist, I have no abstract belief system, based on established Truth. I base my behavioral system on science (the constant questioning of Truth), self-education, meditation and other health-oriented activities. Humanism, as I practice it, is a behavioral system, designed by me to increase my health, awareness, understanding, social contribution and compassion. It is my responsibility to myself and my environment.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Maintenance

The carefree attitudes of youth are appropriate to a young body which heals easily and has a vigorous metabolism. After 30, things begin to change. After 40, the obvious changes of aging are hard to ignore. After 50, major body systems have begun to change significantly and develop problems. 

Practice, as I define it, is the daily maintenance of healthy mind and body with a quest for increased awareness, responsibility and compassion. I am a mundane person. I understand that the simplest daily actions have the most profound effects on a life. Flossing teeth can make the difference between dentures and original teeth in old age. Eating properly every day prevents obesity, osteoporosis and many other diseases of old age. Yoga stretching for 15-20 minutes a day prevents loss of flexibility, assists proper breathing and maintains muscle memory, a handy recovery tool when disease does strike. 

Proper maintenance for health can begin right now in any life. Cleaning out the bad habits, the small unhealthy lapses, is a good first process. Cutting back on your time sitting at a computer, for instance. Not watching television before a certain hour in the evening. Eliminating unstructured eating, especially eating away from a table. Reading up on nutrition. Just a few simple examples.

Introducing one daily walk is a maintenance tool for anyone who can walk. Walking for at least 20 minutes a day without stopping to do things or and without eating along the way is a wonderful primer for other exercise. After a week of doing this, anyone new to walking will be impressed with its effects. 

I laugh when people ask me, "How do you get so many things done and have time to relax?" I have learned to appreciate the tasks of maintaining a healthy life as forms of relaxation. I have also learned to maintain my body and environment in small increments daily. For example, I wipe down my sink, cutting boards and kitchen counter after each use. I was trained to do this in restaurant kitchens. They are always clean. No need to devote longer time and more effort to scrub them down when they get badly soiled. This is a good metaphor for all forms of mind and body maintenance. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Openness


Openness is not the same a gullibility. Skepticism is not the same as cynicism. I think these distinctions escape many people in the pop culture of the U.S. today.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cycles

Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln

I recently saw Spielberg's film Lincoln. I don't get out much, so I'm behind the Oscar curve on this one. But my appreciation of the film goes beyond its impressive acting and excellent staging. 

In Lincoln, a kernel group of the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives who represented slavery interests against the initiation of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is well portrayed. They were a minority group within a minority party of the time. Sound somewhat familiar? These men threatened their opponents within their own party. They were ruthless representatives of the interests of the Confederates, while screaming their loyalty to the Union. They were playing both sides of the political street. 

Today we have the Tea Party contingent of the Republican Party. These are the same people, interestingly enough many are also from the same parts of the country. These people represent the interests of those who profit from inequality, while waving a flag of entrepreneurial patriotism. They might say, "Freedom means making it on your own. Anyone can make it in America. Government just gets in the way."

Yes, government got in the way of human slavery in the U.S.. Government got in the way of meat-packing factories in the early 20th century when they did nothing to guarantee worker safety and consumer safety. Government got in the way of stripping the West of what are now vast national parks. Government got in the way of factories pouring toxic waste into streams and rivers. I could go on for many more paragraphs about government getting in the way of greed and evil. I could also write paragraphs about greed and evil within government. 

These self-centered Libertarians plead narcissism as a defense. "I made it...why can't you?" Well, most of these self-promotions are outright lies! Michele Bachmann, one of the stellar big-mouths of this movement, profits from "corporate welfare" with her various business activities. She and her husband run a counseling service based in religious ideology, including belief in converting homosexuals to heterosexuals. They collect money from state and federal agencies. The Koch brothers, the major financiers of the Tea Party, have sucked from the public tit to make huge fortunes in the petrochemical industry with subsidies and tax breaks. 

Knowing history brings perspective and can lead to wisdom through scientific analysis of it. This is a far cry from bowing to statues of Jesus or The Founding Fathers. Scoundrels are always trying to twist history, their own and that of the species, to justify what has been proven over and over again by analyzed history to be unjust. Denying affordable health care to all people is simply unjust. Diminishing Social Security for the working people of the country is unjust. Withdrawing government oversight from corporations which have demonstrated disregard for public welfare is unjust. Maintaining that all taxes are evil is socially unjust and just plain stupid.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Belief

The scientific and humanist mind uses the word "belief" as a synonym for "working hypothesis". The religious use the same word to describe a static canon of religious laws, cosmology and rites (a belief system). This is a crucial difference between the secular humanist and anyone who accepts the assumptions of any religion. 

Seeing my life as an ongoing science experiment has been very helpful to me. It has kept me from meddling in the lives of others to seek control over them. Maintaining my own life laboratory takes up a lot of time. This consciousness has also liberated me from the control of others. Realization that a series of life experiments in the context of a relationship, for example, are an abysmal failure for my happiness or the happiness of The Other dictates a necessity for a new working hypothesis and change. This has prevented me from trapping myself in a dysfunctional relationship. Remaining both committed and liberated is not easy.

Passivity is the path of the fearful and those sleeping the sleep of chosen ignorance. Hypnotically treading the well-worn path from cradle to grave is rewarded by those who wish to maintain control of others ... dictators, conservatives, leaders, parents, professors, pastors, rabbis, imams, etc.. Surrendering to convention is safety for those who fear. Convention is stagnation to those who think.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Steps

The Steps We Cannot Avoid


Positive and negative changes in an individual life all proceed from small initial steps. 

Habits build from small steps made in a circle back to repetitious behavior and away from the path ahead to progression. 

Steps are made intentionally if made without resistance. 

The way to addiction is made in small steps.

The way back from addiction is made in small steps. 

Viewing life as intentional and responsible in the moment opens the endless possibilities of choosing small steps.

Small steps do not require wealth. 

Small steps do not require great personal strength, physical or mental. 

The small steps to personal progression entail meditation, reflection and an intent to change for the better. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Crowding

Photo from loe.org
The most obvious aspect of overpopulation is simple crowding. The physical reality of limited space on the surface of the planet with a burgeoning human population (1 million increase every few days) is obvious, even to the unscientific. 

A friend told me an anecdote the other day. He was in a food-store cashier line in Boston. A South Asian man, most likely used to being jammed into limited space in his homeland, was brushing up against my friend's back as they waited in line. The brushing felt like pushing to my friend, who gradually became annoyed and yelled at the man to back off. The man was shocked and denied doing anything unusual. My friend's perception was based in having private space, based on a late-middle-aged American standard. The South Asian man's standard of space was obviously very different due to the crowded nature of his home environment. A minor clash of population etiquette which caused conflict.

A news story this morning seems relevant. 800,000 people had to evacuate a section of the eastern Indian peninsula to escape an approaching cyclone which eventually landed and killed seven people. This says so much about the human conundrum over population. Where do you push 800,000 people in a country which is already grossly overpopulated? What price is paid by those into whose territory those 800,000 are pushed? What environmental deterioration will the 800,000 face when they return home? How many will return home? Will they stay and further overpopulate their refuge territory over time? Where will the refugees from the next cyclone flee? 

I see a common human desire for crowding here in my own "developed" city. People flock to massive sports celebrations after a tournament victory. Millions flock to the city's center for a parade and rally. Street are closed. People jam in hip-to-hip. Ancient transit systems are stretched to capacity. Most likely, much of the subsequent breakdowns and inconveniences are related to the government's lack of anticipation of the consequences of overloading the systems. There are consequences of too many people, too much weight, too many overloaded trips over a short period of time. But this is science, and we are becoming America the Unscientific. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Flexibility

I suppose some would think of having a daily practice as following a collection of rigid routines. While routine is indeed helpful in remembering what needs to be done, its rigidity is not necessary for a healthy practice in my opinion. This does not mean that lapsing into a occasional night of drunkenness falls under flexibility in a practice to maintain health and expand consciousness. 

Initially establishing a practice may require a period of some routine structure. Diet, exercise, mental stimulation, socialization...all these ingredients must somehow be integrated into a life which is often occupied in large part by work. While some forms of labor allow readily for satisfying certain aspects of practice, others do not without added effort on the part of the worker. That effort usually pays off.

The analogy of a tree in the wind has always appealed to me. The tree is firmly rooted, but withstands high winds by being flexible. If its is old and rigid, it is likely to be torn apart by a storm. The stability of practice is the root. The flexibility comes with the health and resourcefulness practice develops in the mind and body. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Reminders

I was scheduled to see my doctor yesterday. A flu shot was on the agenda. I woke up with the flu and cancelled my appointment. I was in no shape to travel and did not want to share my virus with entire outpatient service. 

Getting sick is a reminder. It reminds me that I am a mind and a body. While my mind may feel invulnerable most of the time, my body is not. And, despite all the measures I may take to stay healthy, I will get sick, and I will eventually die. 

This awareness is crucial to my compassion for other living things. No matter how annoying or even aggressive another living thing may be, it lives with this same reality. We all must cope with this understanding in some way. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Flu

This practical humanist awoke with the flu this morning. It's been a while. So I'm a little out of flu practice. Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Lampedusa

African migrants
The sinking of a boat carrying undocumented migrants to Italy from Africa off Lampedusa island is being exploited by politicians and activists internationally to whip up sympathy for illegal immigration. The dead were not slaves or hapless victims of human trafficking. They were voluntary violators of laws, regardless of their motivations. They were not martyrs to any worthy cause. They were individuals who decided to flee unpleasant circumstances in badly administered nations  for a developed country with social benefits. 

Their plight and ultimate fate were truly disturbing. They were most likely born to ignorant parents, who had no sense of fiscal responsibility for the lives they brought into the world. They were most likely brought into the world to ultimately support those uneducated (or traditionalist) parents actually. If they had succeeded to make it to Europe, they would most likely have been expected to support the family in their home country with regular payments. There are those in Europe and the United States who would say this process is just fine, a way of bringing up the undeveloped world with money from the developed world. But what of the human cost to those migrants and their children? How well will this theory work if the number of migrants eventually bankrupts the countries they invade?

Global capitalism is anti-human. It is truly a Darwinist religion which worships aggression, competition and wealth over human kindness and universal socioeconomic equality. This is the root cause of Lampedusa's tragedy. There is no discussion of the overall system which caused the tragedy. Why? Because the governments of the developed world are controlled by capitalist predators. Even China and India have caught the capitalist disease. 

The international Left is confused and unfocused. It is divided by new-feminist obsession with reproductive rights (as opposed to sexual rights), irrational positions on migration, vapid multiculturalism and fear of being called "socialist" or "collective". The Right is richer and richer. It controls money and power. It calls the shots in education, thereby indoctrinating the young minds of the world into accepting the status quo with soothing (and false) statistics about raising all boats on the rising tide of minority wealth. 

The drownings off Lampedusa, pirate attacks off Somalia, drug cartels in Central America, government dysfunction in Washington, military domination in Egypt....all are related to poverty, lack of education and overpopulation. Global capitalism is not solving these problems; it is exploiting these problems for profit. That is simply what corporate capitalism does. 



Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Particles

Today's announcement of the Nobel Prize for Physics, awarded this year to Higgs and Eglert for their work on determining the source of mass, brings attention to a stunning fact of life on this planet in this universe. We and everything around us are simply vibrating collections of matter and energy. This is a scientific justification for the "everything is one" statements of belief systems down through the ages. This is a basic precept of many interpretations of Buddhist thought, for example. 

Acceptance of this science directly challenges most religious assumptions based on the superiority of human beings as creations of a humanoid god. While human evolution has indeed made human beings the prime predator on this one planet, that status is simply a collection of random natural accidents throughout history. And the same development of a frontal lobe (self-aware brain with applicable memory) may well be the destruction of the species eventually, if human beings fail to control the insatiable greed and unrestrained use of sex for reproduction, driven by the so-called animal brain, with the practical intelligence of the frontal lobe of the human brain.

The irony of the Nobel (Peace) Prize, funded by a weapons fortune, never ceases to amuse me. However, it may also stand as an example of how something so negatively human as weaponry can be transformed into fodder for improving the human condition.  


Monday, October 7, 2013

Reincarnation

Tibetan Mandala
A reference was made to reincarnation in the radio journal piece referred to in yesterday's post. The piece from the excellent radio show Living on Earth reported on a science education program between a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in India and Emory University in the U.S.. 

Reincarnation is a part of Tibetan Buddhist dharma, or law. The Tibetan Book of the Dead is a how-to on avoiding reincarnation for the spiritually liberated as they are dying. By following its instruction, one may avoid coming back into this world of suffering and progress to higher spiritual evolution. It's a scary book. There are no promises of friendly dead relations coming along after the white light to guide us to heaven. There are no promises of virgins for martyrs. It's just more hard work for the Buddhist practitioner. Individual responsibility and choice does not end with death in this scheme. I like it actually.

My view is skeptical on egocentric reincarnation. I dislike the idea. I would not want to be cognizant of past lives on and on into eternity. Annoying reminders. Distraction from the now. I take a very different, perhaps more scientific, view of reincarnation. It is fairly simple.

We all contain the developmental components of multiple domains, kingdoms, phyla, classes, orders, families, genus, and species. The growth of each human being from one cell is a recapitulation of Earthly evolution. Perhaps our sense of living multiple existences comes from imprinted memory within the very building blocks of life itself. Those building blocks lie within us as long as we are alive. Accessing hints of that history with our frontal lobes through dream states, involuntary in sleep or induced by hypnosis, may simply be a natural process. 

Our Earth is materially a closed system, with minor intrusions by meteorites and other relatively small particles. It is an open system to energy, such as sunlight and electromagnetic forces. Materially our bodies are of the whole Earth. We inhale hydrocarbon emissions, for example. So our bodies contain atoms from dinosaurs and the first plant life, stewed by time and gravitational pressure into crude oil and natural gas. Crops grown here in Massachusetts in native soil may contain atoms from long-dead Native Americans and mammoths. There is past life in the lettuce. 

Flowery egocentric interpretations of reincarnation, like those of Shirley MacLaine some decades ago, are simply entertainment for those in a developed world where coming back from one life to drive a Cadillac in another sounds like a good time. It soothes the fearful mind which fears dying, being naturally recycled back into the ecosystem from which we and everything else come. As a meditative and reflective person, I enjoy focusing on the wonder of being so intrinsically part of this ecosystem which gave me conscious life. Compassion stems from these thoughts, since they remind me that we are all a part of the same system. None of us is an exception to this reality, no matter how wealthy or grand, impoverished or humble. In life, we are all equal. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Buddhism

Overlooking Dharamshala
This Living On Earth radio segment is fascinating. It is a report on a science education project of Emory University in Dharamshala, India, the exile home of the Dalai Lama and the center of world Tibetan Buddhism. 

I was pleased to hear some of my own ideas about the intersection of Buddhist practice and scientific method in the report of the projects findings. I was displeased by the journalist's confusion in describing Buddhism as a Faith, when the project he was reporting on confirms that Buddhism is a form of Mental Practice, not an unquestioning subscription to a belief system on faith. The journalist also implied that Buddhist interest in preserving and respecting all forms of life is based in fear of being reincarnated. While this may be true of more dogmatic Tibetan Buddhism, it is not universally applicable to all Buddhism. 

My own exploration of Japanese Buddhism thirty years ago was inspired by reading which indicated to me that modern Japanese Buddhists saw this link between the practice of Buddhism and scientific method. They also subscribed to a theory that Buddhist practice could facilitate the actualization of world peace. This is why they came to the West with their organization initially. Unfortunately, the organization eventually fell into disarray when it neglected the ideal of fostering individual practice in favor of making converts to the organization for income. Religiosity corrupts. This explains my indignation when words like "faith" are applied to Buddhism.

I hope you'll listen to the program or read the transcript if you are interested in science, Buddhism, practice and/or humanism.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Preparedness

I have eaten well at human life's table. 
When my plate is cleared, 
I will happily leave. 

These sentences came to my mind last night as I prepared for sleep. I decided to share them because I feel they convey an ongoing process within my own present mind as I deal with aging and disease. I have developed a preparedness for death. I have become more aware of this lately. It is neither morbid nor maudlin. It is a realistic assessment of my physical and mental place as a living being. I derive comfort from it. 

I have never been a person who writes bucket lists. I find the whole concept narcissistic, especially among those whose lives in the developed world have far exceeded the convenience and comfort of the vast majority of lives on the planet. A wealthy American lawyer who must climb Mount Everest in his retirement, for example. A stock broker, who retires early on his profits from trading digital paper, feeling compelled to sail around the world on his own yacht. 

Greed gives way to gluttony. As death approaches, there is never enough to satisfy the anxiety of the approaching inevitable. Powerlessness does not go down any better with a $500 bottle of rare wine. Are the octogenarians rushing to Alaska on buffet-laden cruises really interested in ecology when they proudly state, "I wanted to see the glaciers before they are all gone." ?  I think not. I think they are on a white-knuckle cruise to their own graves with little resolution of what that means to them. 

Preparedness in life is a practice I took to early on. I wasn't a boy scout. In fact, regimented groups with uniforms and medals always made me very uneasy. However, I discovered early on that preparing required thought and analysis. It then paid off with a better result than waiting for shit to happen. Yes, shit happens. I agree, but there is a lot of shit that life tosses which can be avoided with preparedness. One of my earliest decisions based on this concept was my initiating my own application to a prep school which was considered beyond my capabilities, financial capacity or class by my parents and some administrators at the prep school, who later confessed this to me. 

Staying physically and mentally healthy are the most effective forms of preparedness. Being physically and mentally fit lightens the burden of many of life's contingencies. Looking straight ahead also helps. Allowing myself to be endlessly distracted by the negativity or irresponsible neediness of others is bad for me. If I keep my eyes focused on my life's solid priorities (elements of practice), I can be better prepared for inevitable and unpredictable changes. Acknowledging what I have already lived as my own responsibility and accepting it as my life are effective ways to be in touch with the richness of my experience, rather than focusing on what I have not had, accomplished or experienced. 

No matter how prepared I may be for my inevitable demise, it will most likely come as a surprise. This is the human condition for most of us. This does not lead me to say, "Oh, what the hell!" and then go off on a binge of self-deluding self-gratification. I have chosen to examine the reality of it all with acceptance. I have allowed myself to examine my own body from this perspective. It is a rich experience. It has allowed me to relate to all beings who age and die on some level. The scrawny cat, the drooping sunflower, the demented lady with a walker. 

I believe being grounded in the education of these realities brings an understanding of the world. It may eventually be a world without human beings. It may be a world covered in sunflowers or ruled by robots. None of that will be under my control or matter to me. It is simply how The Universe works through constant change. I am learning to accept my place in that scheme with less anxiety, sense of deprivation or anger. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Imagine

Imagine what could be done if all the money given to developing weapons for killing were to be given instead to education, sanitation, clean energy development and health care. If armies were turned to service organizations, just imagine what could be done. If all the money spent on cars and gasoline was given to the development of public transit in every community, think of how the general environment would benefit. 

Those who embrace the status quo hold back human evolution. Those who cannot imagine are doomed to live out their lives according to a dreary script, dictated by those who wish to exploit and control. Imagining the good helps to divert attention from the dysfunctional and deleterious. This is a way to prevent depression and develop the initiative to live constructively with inevitable change. 

The selfish and greedy cling to things as they are in an attempt to keep change from taking what they have. The generous embrace change as an opportunity for improvement of the general well being of all. This is the conflict which is going on in Washington, D.C. right now. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Taxes

Rand Paul, Libertarian Behind the Shutdown

The government runs on taxes and fees. This tends to be forgotten when rabid Libertarians rant about the evil of government. Without government, there would be no trains, buses or roads. Are those the evils they are ranting about? No. The evil they rant about is their civic responsibility to chip in and pay for things just like everybody else. 

I make very little income by modern standards, but I pay taxes on it. Every quarter, I visit the appropriate government sites and make my payments with a groan admittedly. However, I usually reflect on what a privileged life I have led due to those taxes. I have social security, in the true sense. I will struggle in old age with weakness and pains, but I can rely on having a roof over my head and something to eat. That makes me more fortunate than the vast number of aging people on the planet. 

The young and healthy have no sense of government's importance in the individual life until they collect unemployment benefits or encounter an accident which requires costly medical attention. Those who have accumulated fortunes through whatever means feel immune to need, until a major catastrophe washes away their assets. Then they are the first in line to apply for government assistance. Remember the bail-outs?

This week's shutdown of Federal services by Congress is an insult to the taxpayer. How dare they? This is tantamount to walking off the job and still getting paid for being obnoxious. This is not the fault of government. This is the fault of fanatics and those in the Republican Party who have caved to them. This is the fault of those who vote for them. You know who you are.

I have a municipal tax bill on my desk. I will pay it promptly as I always do. That is my civic duty. I do not do it because I am afraid of the consequences of not doing it. I do it because I understand that the life I enjoy in a civilized society depends on my doing it. And, as is shown by the growing avoidance of paying taxes my the wealthiest Americans, I know that American life will deteriorate as defaulting on that civic responsibility becomes a more and more popular trend. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Loving


People often say that love is "being there" for another. But "being there" seems too simple to me. For example, there are couples who puff out their chests when they declare they have been married for several decades. They have certainly been proximate to one another, but their lives can be discovered to be hours of bickering, pouting silences and hollow familial rituals. 

There is a vast difference between "love" as concept and loving, as a living process in the moment. Being there in the sense of loving means bringing full attention and compassion toward a person in the moment. Yes, loving does require some actual contact with another. But, a brief conversation on Skype can perhaps be more loving than a whole evening watching television side by side. 

Loving is not for the lazy or those who prefer virtual conventions of conversation. Pressing a "Like" button is not loving. Loving requires attentive communication which is sometimes uncomfortable due to its honesty. An implied contract between individuals sometimes excludes true loving. "Don't rock the boat" is a caption for many relationships, which are contracts of convenience and reciprocity. They are more like business partnerships than friendships. In business, this may be appropriate, but it is not loving. 

Loving is not for the fainthearted, the duplicitous or the manipulative. Loving has nothing to do with money or selfish comfort. "Being there" means simply showing up in its most common usage. "Being there" in the sense of loving means a commitment to be vulnerable and candid. Loving in this way takes a great deal of practice. Many conventional families of origin actively discourage this form of loving. Family secrets and delusions are treasured above honesty and vulnerability. 

I believe that a humanist practice must be rooted in loving. Nonviolence is based in loving. Putting general well being above selfish gain is based in loving. Making the everyone in the human species part of my family requires loving to a degree which takes a great deal of courage and risk. Taking responsibility for my actions toward the planet which supports my life requires a form of loving which is not easy at all in the industrialized world. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Obamacare

The Affordable Care Act is a 1200-page mess. I will grant this readily. President Obama deserves to have his name linked to it throughout history, as Obamacare. In the first years of his presidency, Mr. Obama either made a major tactical mistake while he held control of Congress or sold his soul to the health insurance corporations of the U.S.. He could have and should have pressed through a one-payer, national health care insurance, if his motivation was to help the poor and uninsured. The Democrats would have done it. The public, by now, would love it. This did not happen. Instead, the health insurance companies, initially enthusiastic for new subscribers, are backing off from Obamacare under warnings from economists who have outlined the possible collapse of their industry if the public does not swallow the inadequate policies on offer. 

Mr. Obama's bow to his corporate/Wall Street handlers has cost him and the American public dearly. The government shutdown today is simply drama, staged by exploitative Republicans for political gain. These folks are our domestic terrorists. They use fear of government to frighten the old and the uneducated to vote for them. Their agenda is to abuse those misguided supporters over time by increasing corporate welfare at the expense of human welfare. They are funded primarily by shadowy corporate moguls, like the Koch brothers

Yesterday, I listened to a panel broadcast on the Fox network, owned by notoriously corrupt and corrupting Rupert Murdoch. The panel consisted of Tea Party supporters and doctors. The lies about the health care system, which were broadcast without question, were stunning. One of the doctors stated baldly that the Affordable Care Act will fail because doctors cannot make "enough money" giving medical care under its provisions. He then went on to imply that doctors would be impoverished and would not deliver care. Imagine that. How many truly poor American doctors do you know?

A political party which uses misinformation and manipulation of fear against the better interests of the people is a greater danger than a rag-tag group of terrorists off our shores. That political party, the Tea Party, are domestic terrorists because they tell lies to promote fear to gain the support of those who simply don't know better for causes that are based in the corporate greed of the fossil fuel industries. Tea Party politicians are simply paid thugs for those industries. When John McCain, a nationalist and Republican to his roots, stands tall in opposition to the Tea Party, intelligent Americans should become quite concerned. Anyone considering himself/herself a humanist should be appalled.