Saturday, November 30, 2013

Smoke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 29, 2013

Canvas

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Ethnocentrism

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Language

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

Monday, November 25, 2013

Intention

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

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Evil

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

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Pause

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

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

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


Friday, November 22, 2013

Assassination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Afghanistan

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

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Police

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Happiness

I recently read a pop psychology piece which very confidently listed the fourteen reasons why miserable people are unhappy. I was amazed to find there were actually fourteen. In my experience, it usually takes just a couple of horrific factors to make someone miserable. I felt like Moses, being handed the tablets. 

Seriously, I was amused to see yet another pop psychologist making a speaking-engagement career with secrets of human happiness. It seems to be cycling back around. The early 1970's, the mid 1980's and now the 21st century ...history repeating itself.

My experience tells me that there is no such thing as static "human happiness". My dedication to the concept of personal practice relates to this. I strongly believe that happiness is a thread which runs through the human consciousness along with misery and other conscious states. Personal practice, as I see it, is partially an attempt to hold onto that thread while weaving my life from the decisions and accidents of each moment. 

The Guru of 14 Points of Misery seemed to see happiness as a Valhalla, a mountain top, of serenity. The causes of misery were apparently all fixable. Snap! Check each off the list as they are expunged. One of them, financial insecurity, might get someone stuck for a lifetime in a capitalist society where the accidents of birth largely determine financial success. However, the Guru of 14 Points of Misery didn't seem to get this. I assume she was lucky in that department. 

I have witnessed well over 1,000 human deaths as a nurse and as a son. None of those I saw dying were observably "happy". Some were serene. Some were tortured. Most were simply heavily medicated. I do not think happiness exists as a static state for any living being, which is born, ages and dies inevitably. Happiness is momentary, situation-dependent and intentional as we age. The fortunate find the thread of happiness in the weave of life and hold onto it as best they can. This is an element of a personal practice for peace and well being. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Consolation

I heard a short piece this morning on Catholic churches in the Philippines, where typhoon victims flocked for consolation after devastation. Several extremely religious Filipino women were interviewed. The usual pablum about prayer and God and faith.

This report, delivered soberly by an NPR correspondent, never once reflected on the place of religion in post-colonial societies, like the Philippines, named for an ancient Spanish king. The Black Ships of the Spanish and Portuguese in Southeast Asia brought priests, enslaving predators and disease to these islands. Those same ships took away anything of value they could carry. 

Wily Jesuits concocted a Catholicism which would interlace with the native beliefs of native inhabitants. Inquisitor Dominicans brought torture and public execution to those who resisted. Spanish soldiers, absolved of atrocity by the Inquisition, raped and pillaged at will. The psychological conditioning of the surviving populace was so thorough that even today the Philippines are 80% Catholic. Subsequent overlords have implemented religion effectively to get what they have wanted. 

Overpopulated regions too close to a rising ocean are the real legacy of Roman Catholicism in the Philippines. A superstitious population with limited education are still exported throughout the world as work slaves on cruise ships, in hospitals, in sweat shops and in private homes. They are instilled with a fear of and loyalty to patriarchy, the working model of Catholicism. They pray masochistically as faithful servants of Father God, consigned to their lot in life. Yes, religion is an opiate of the poor and ignorant, but it does not really ease the pain. It encourages internalization and sublimation of the pain by the afflicted.

Religion is an arm of patriarchal power. Any liberated heterosexual woman or gay/lesbian person understands this. Any humanist. scientifically examining the human condition, understands this. Slowly, a growing population of liberated women, liberated gay/lesbian people and liberated secularists is making a difference. Gay marriage is a symptom. Women achieving positions of political and economic power are examples. Secular organizations and meet-ups are growing in major cities. The media are gradually covering this phenomenon. This is a process of progress by an enlightened humanity, not simply consolation for the subjugated and afflicted. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Truth



The hardest truth comes from truthfulness with myself about myself.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Consequences

Mr. Obama decided to dance with the devil (corporate capitalism) in order to achieve his dream. He achieved his dream, but he cannot achieve dreams for the electorate who bought his "change" slogan. The poverty gap widens. The corporate capitalists, spearheaded by the Tea Party fringe, will effect a roll back of policies for social and economic equality. In reality. Mr. Obama is the greatest enabler of the Tea Party by continuing to avoid confronting them directly by name and calling them out for who they really are. They are the other end of a spectrum, which, when joined at the ends, forms a circle of empowerment of the rich against the poor. The educated rich see the tunnel to security narrowing ahead with overpopulation and deteriorating natural resources. Mr. Obama has played his part to ensure their selfish victory over the interests of humanity. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Struggle

On some days, I am tempted to struggle against who I am in the moment. I may not want to get out of bed in the dim winter light. I may not want to tick things off my list of chores. In many cases, the struggle against who I am being to become more active and positive is worth it. There are cases of sadness, anger and disappointment which are not necessarily times when struggling against my feeling yields progress. In fact, struggling against it (denial) leads to a loss of momentum.

Learning to pick my battles has been a constant part of my individual practice. I have a somewhat reactionary nature which is modified by optimism and hard-learned patience. I could spend many days of my life writing letters (emails) to authorities or CEO's about the conditions I find on the street. I write my share, but I will not waste my life in reactionary attempts to control what is out of my control. This wisdom has come with experience. 

The line between being a reactionary and developing a sense of victimization is fine. A person who lives in constant negative reactions to the environment will eventually feel alienated and victimized. The reality is that we shape our perception of our environment. Our environment, made up of many elements out of our control, shapes us as well. The interplay between the process of shaping perception of the environment and being shaped by it is the grist of becoming a socially integrated human being. 


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Deer

Suburban deer are being culled as vermin by municipalities and townships across the U.S.. I heard a recent National Public Radio piece about a township in Michigan where deer populations are thriving and invading human space, including downtown streets. There are over 1.5 million deer-car accidents a year in the U.S.. 

The reporter I heard referred to the deer issue as a case of a species without predators. There was a brief exposition on the introduction of wolves into ecosystems. I laughed. The planet is swarming with 7 billion unchallenged predators, many of whom are starving. 

Beef and pork breeding for those who can afford the meat degrade the planet significantly. They are highly inefficient forms of food production for protein in the human diet. Deer, on the other hand, can live in the wild in great numbers, as buffalo once did and still could do, if corporate corn agriculture was banned on prairies and meadows. Pork lovers could be invited to hunt wild boar.  This would restore respect for pork sausages. 

Deer and buffalo, managed correctly, could be the salvation of the North American ecosystem, not a scourge to be culled and disposed of as novelty meat. Corporate capitalism stands in the way of implementing such a rational approach. Corporate capitalism is dysfunctional in a functional natural ecology. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Civility

Two rather typical urban incidents yesterday disturbed me.

The first incident occurred as I was driving through the neighborhood shopping center. As I approached a pedestrian crossing which is often treacherous, I saw a young woman approaching on the sidewalk to one side. I stopped well in advance of reaching the crossing. My stopping caused an oncoming car to also stop. The young woman walked part way across the roadway and hesitated in front of my car in order to give me a hateful look. Then she tilted her head up in an aggravated gesture as she moved on. I cannot imagine what that was about.

The second incident occurred in the local supermarket in the same shopping area. I was waiting in line at a cash register. A young woman with a child of about three pushed past me without a word of apology to the cashier. She had passed her items from an adjacent line to the cashier, whom she apparently knew. In an attempt to model more socially appropriate behavior, I smiled gently at the three-year-old. The woman sneered at me, pulled the child close to her and the child looked at me with fear and suspicion. The cashier seemed to notice all this and was particularly friendly and cordial when I got to her. 

How can an overpopulated society function without conflict when these behaviors become commonplace? 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Welfare

President Obama recently answered a question about one-payer health insurance at a forum on Obamacare. He said that he would have preferred to develop a one-payer (government) insurance rather than the mess he has developed with the Affordable Care Act. However, he claimed, the private health insurance industry could not be touched for fear of disrupting the economy.

This same man watched over the purchase of a major car manufacturer by the U.S. government. He spent billions upon billions to bail out banks. But he could not touch the private health care industry?

The truth is that the current health care industry in the U.S. is a complex monster of corporate welfare. Medical centers and health insurance companies feed off the public treasury. Insurance premiums barely cover costs because of the huge bureaucracies the insurance companies support. Hospitals also support armies of staff to bill and collect. Health care is indeed a major sector of our economy, as it should be. However, it is vastly inflated by the scamming of hospitals and private insurance. 

President Obama signed off on this status quo with the Affordable Care Act. Tea Party libertarians support the status quo of insurance scams as 'free market' capitalism. In this, the President and the Tea Party are joined hand in hand. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Typhoon

The destruction of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines was horrific. Thousands may have died. However, this disaster was no surprise. It was predictable.

Overcrowding, poor construction too close to water's edge, poor communications. There were many factors in place to ensure the loss of life from this storm. Poverty, religion and ignorance conspired to kill the victims.

We have the technological ability to prevent massive storm deaths. After all, our satellites are spinning outside our solar system. We are calculating the number of habitable planets in our nearby Universe. Weather-monitoring technology shows us progress of storms in real time. Computer models tell us where we should and should not build structures for habitation. Yet the vast majority of humanity has no easy access to this information.

The reality of human life, when looked at in this harsh and realistic light, has not significantly changed since the Middle Ages. The wealthy, now counted in millions, live elevated lives with access to food, education and material comforts. The poor, now counted in the billions, live on the ground as they have since the beginning of human history. They may have plastic sheeting over their heads or cell phones in their hands, but they are still living lives of disease, disaster and violence.

A humanist sees this simply as a matter of engineered inequality in favor of those who exploit the poor to live better themselves. Corporate capitalism has many rationalizations for its leadership in this process. They are just rationalizations. The truth lies in the eyes of starving children and homeless flood victims.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Technology

I recently "upgraded" my operating system from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1. I began using computers in the 1980's when we worked on a black screen with type in databases. This was before easy email. It was before the Web. Back then, IBM technology ruled. It was the Iron Age of computing, I suppose. 

Windows 8.1 has exceeded my wary expectations. It is a mess. It has disabled a perfectly good all-in-one wireless printer by a major brand, but I understand it is capable of 3D printing a facsimile of Rodin's "Thinker". It has made the simplest tasks of computer maintenance more difficult. It is a disaster. 

And what is the general tone of geeks at Microsoft when consumers complain? "Oh, you must be stupid." about sums it up. They are not alone in this attitude. I mentioned the printer issue at a local computer superstore recently. The salesman, a man educated in computer science, said, "Ah...that's nothing...probably just a dot where there should have been a comma in the code. They'll work out a patch eventually. No biggie." His dead expression belied the compassion of a hungry spider.

There is a myth in the developed world among the wealthy that technology will save humanity and the planet. Yet one of the major operating systems for computers, which lie at the heart of that myth, is dysfunctional and its Doctors Frankenstein seem not to care. Does this strike a rational person as supportive of the myth of technological salvation? I think not. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Oxidation

I am watching the red maple outside my bay windows. It has gone from summer's deep burgundy to flaming crimson-orange as the leaves drop in wind and Autumn rain. The cycle of trees is comforting to me. I sometimes envy their Winter sleep, followed by Spring's vibrant awakening. 

Trees grow and age differently from human beings. They live and die in annual cycles. We strive for year-long homeostasis. Their bodies accumulate annual rings and grow larger. Our bodies progress from year to year along a bell curve which climbs from relatively rapid growth to a plateau of maturity to a decline of shrinkage. Both trees and human beings eventually die.

The neighbor across the way heats his home in part with a wood stove. He oxidizes dead tree parts for warmth. This is an accelerated form of returning what was once a living being to its elements. Cremation of human remains is the same process. However, we humans expend a great deal of heat to do it. Our bodies would slowly oxidize to their elements if left alone in Nature. Tibetan Buddhists utilize the digestive systems of vultures on mountainsides (see video below) to oxidize the remains of dead monks more efficiently. It certainly works for the vultures.



We spend too little time looking at the cycles of life. If we spent more time doing this, we would gain greater respect for our planet and its workings. It is a marvelous system of chemistry and physics. It recycles on its own when human beings don't screw the process up. But that's what we do...screw things up for profit or power in the name of making them better.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Reflection



When I come to this page to write in the morning, I sometimes have nothing to say. These are the days I devote to reflection. Silence, meditation and reflection are indicated, when my mind cannot focus on writing this blog. Perhaps it is fatigue. Perhaps it is simply a need for a variation on my routines. In any case, reflection in silence is preferable to forced expression. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Obesity

Obesity is a complex disease state. Granted. However, obesity itself is not genetic. It is not the same as genetic skin color, genetic sexual characteristics, or genetic sexual orientation. Genetic disposition to fat accumulation may facilitate the development of obesity, but obesity itself is a state of being which does not develop on its own under normal conditions. In other words, if you have intelligence and a normally functioning brain/body, you bear some responsibility for being unhealthily fat. In societies with medical infrastructure, obesity is a readily treatable disease, if a patient adheres to treatment. 

A misguided legislator here in Massachusetts has introduced legislation making it illegal to discriminate in employment on the basis of obesity. This is simply ridiculous. Think for a moment. A grossly obese man or woman with previous experience or a trade certificate applies for a construction job in which he/she must climb ladders, carry heavy weight and maneuver in precarious spaces at high altitudes. He/she is an industrial accident and medical emergency in the making, even in normal daily activity. never mind strenuous construction work. Why should employers be forced to take on that risk against their interests and the interests of getting the job done well?

As a nurse, I have dealt with obese patients throughout my career. My care for these patients centered most commonly on the side effects of their obesity. Heart disease, diabetes, amputations, skin ulcers, respiratory distress, paralysis, stroke, fractures, etc.. Relatively young men and women with otherwise normal bodies who allowed themselves to become incapacitated by obesity. The defensiveness and anger at having this pointed out is a function of the disease. It is off-putting, as are most defenses of the dysfunctional. Enabling this denial of responsibility, however, enables the disease; it does not address it for the good of the obese person or society. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Action

The virtual world which distracts and entertains is here and has its place. It has improved valuable communication for the wise. It has dumbed down communication for others. The tools can be used for good and for exploitation. But the virtual world is simply a screen, a keyboard, a joystick. It is virtual.

From obesity to sociopathy, much dysfunction can be associated with the mesmerizing effect of the virtual in the hands of those who are not capable of using it appropriately, in moderation. Watching is not doing. Viewing is not being. 

Action is most often thought of in the context of politics, philanthropy and violent films. However, action is simply mobilizing mind and body to accomplish concrete goals. Having a daily plan of action aids in getting a lot of things done. Passively responding to external stimuli and acting accordingly is a good way to get lost in a mire of confusion and dysfunction. Unfortunately, many violent computer games, which occupy the time of many young minds, foster this form of action, which is actually reaction. These games promote an illusion of invulnerability and control while undermining the mind's ability to initiate and accomplish real positive action in a real world. 

Some secular and political groups admirably sponsor action for positive social change. Religion has tried to claim ownership and direction of social change in U.S. society. However, religion's need to constantly refer to its past provenance to bolster its legitimacy undermines its progressive power. Dogma obstructs. Patriarchy clings to power. 

As a proponent of personal daily practice, I believe that social action is most effective when the individuals promoting it are also committed to personal progress in their own lives. Progress in self-awareness, health and social intelligence. Social action inspired by idealogues is doomed to be neutralized by the tides of human inertia in society where individuals do not foster progressive actions in their own lives. I believe this is why thousands of years of domination by well-meaning religions have yielded little net result in the overall health of the planet. 




Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Art


The media are intrigued with a case of a discovery of hoarded art in Munich, Germany. There are questions about the provenance of the previously unknown private collection. The collection is likely comprised of art seized by the Nazi regime and sold to private collectors. 

Layers of social issues are raised by this story. It raises the obvious specter of deadly Nazi antisemitism. It raises the question of what is the real value of this art. Is it cultural legacy? If so, hasn't it actually become a negative cultural legacy by way of its provenance? It will most likely always be known as stolen art, associated with the vilest human behaviors. It also raises the issue of art as money. If this art hadn't been money, it most likely would have been ignored by the Nazis and subsequent buyers. Its recent discovery would not have been valuable for selling eyes and ears to media advertisers. 

The art culture is to beauty what religion is to goodness. The art culture and religion both capitalize the best of human expressions. They turn the finest instincts of humanity into a business. This creates an illusion that human beauty and human goodness can be measured and given relative value, in terms of finance. There is an intrinsic evil in this process, in my opinion. It squelches more expressions of human beauty and human goodness than it promotes. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Resourcefulness

Shipping Container Home
Living in the developed world under the indoctrination of corporate consumerism causes many people to rely on consumer goods to solve simple problems. The disposal is considered preferable to the durable. Cars are leased and flipped in a fraction of their lifespan. Supermarkets have long shelves of premixed cleaning products with hazardous chemicals and dyes in polluting plastics. Disposable diapers have caused major environmental degradation. 

Resourcefulness is a very valuable personal quality. Most of us who value it have developed it out of necessity. We have learned to use what we have wisely from the experience of having very little or from being raised by those who lived in poverty. 

Some may consider manipulating the welfare system to avoid personal development as resourcefulness. This is not what I am talking about. Those who participate in black markets for food stamps and who have children to receive welfare payments are simply uneducated and conditioned by their parents to do this. This is institutionalized poverty, not resourcefulness. 

Resourcefulness is not just about obtaining or sustaining. Resourcefulness, motivated by compassion, can do great good. The effective psychotherapist is usually quite resourceful in the interests of his/her clients. The resource physician is highly prized. The resourceful handyman can make a great difference in the environment of someone with little money. 

Being resourceful requires estimating and understanding available resources. This requires education about, experimentation with and appreciation of what is available, as opposed to bemoaning what is not available. "This is what I have." is the start of the process of being resourceful. Always looking at what could be available or should be available can be self-defeating. It is often an excuse for not moving on with what is available.




Sunday, November 3, 2013

Wonder

I recently read a manifesto of a new atheist "church" out of England. It was the usual stuff about atheists needing a congregation of like-minded folks. And, of course, at the head of the congregation would be the predictable hierarchy, two comics in this case. Yes, a church indeed. 

One of the aspects of this non-religion was what they called "wonder". "Wonder" is one of those words like "shock" and "awe", which George Bush liked to throw around while massacring civilians in Iraq. "wonder" is a word likely to be found in the Christian Bible. It is often associated, in my recollection, with blind "faith". This is bogus in our scientific age. 

Curiosity and skepticism are the hallmarks of science when coupled with hard work. Wonder is for the ignorant and the passive. It is the shoulder-shrug of those who call themselves "spiritual". Mysticism is easier than doing hard scientific investigation. 

My wonder is the wondering why any intelligent atheist would need to sit around with other atheists and wonder. They would do better to use the time to read an informative book on what it is they are wondering about or to do the research to write one.  

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Focus

I find that focusing on my now and my immediate future brings calm and clarity.

What am I feeling now?
What am I doing about it?
Is there anything I can do about it?
Who am I being now?
How can I go from who am I being now to how I wish to become in the next moment?

Breathe. Pause. Feel. Think. Move to the next moment and the next. This is my way of maintaining focus through life's constant changes.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Fifty

Boston seen from Boston University, 1963
This morning there was a sentimental piece on local public radio about John F. Kennedy. This month will mark fifty years since the popular U.S. President's assassination. The focus of this morning's segment was JFK's love of his native Massachusetts. 

I was 13 in 1963. And I remember what was lovable about Massachusetts in 1963. Much of it no longer exists due to population growth and urban sprawl. 

In 1963, a ride to Cape Cod was a rural adventure. The territory between Boston and the Cape Cod Canal was covered in fields and woods, punctuated by occasional cranberry bogs. Now golf course, shopping malls, industrial parks and commuter developments line the roads from Boston to Cape Cod. The Cape itself was still rural in atmosphere then. Beaches were still dotted with the occasional mammoth hotel with rambling verandas, built for Victorians. Mushroom motels were just beginning to pop up. 

In 1963, the drive west on Route 2 through Cambridge quickly meandered through truck farms in Belmont and Lexington, now pricey suburbs. Hill towns further out were surrounded by active farms. Pastures were populated by herds of cows and grazing horses right by the road. The towns themselves were still commercial villages. Solid brick settlements around paper mills and factories, which still made product here in Massachusetts. 

In 1963, a ride north to Vermont, New Hampshire or Maine was an easy step into the 19th Century. Traveling up logging roads on the White Mountains was tricky business, but afforded the experience of wilderness. My family traveled there occasionally to a log cabin on a pristine kettle pond. Wood stove, hand-pumped water and outhouse. This city kid loved it, despite the fear of encountering a bear when rushing to the outhouse. Now that same trip would lead to a time-share in a crowded condo development. 

In fifty years, the population of Massachusetts has climbed relatively slowly, from 5.3 to 6.6 million (2012). That is still approximately a 20% increase. However, New Hampshire's population has increased from 649,000 in 1963 to 1.3 million in 2012. Doubled! 

These figures will not seem staggering if you are young. However, as someone who has live with the visible changes of burgeoning population, I am sensitized to its effects on quality of life for everyone. Corporate capitalism, unbridled by scientific governance, feeds off overpopulation. More houses. More everything. More trash. More sewage. The real equations of capitalist "growth" do not yield a net gain for humanity. They yield and elevated lifestyle for fewer and fewer predators.

My mind hurts when I extrapolate to the environment fifty years from now. When I see an insulated 13-year-old on the subway with ear buds and smart phone I see the self-protective consciousness of the future. When environment becomes unbearable beyond our control, we draw within. This is simply human behavior. A world with a crowded withdrawn population is a world ripe for totalitarianism or violent anarchy.