Saturday, January 31, 2009

No Trumpets -- No Fanfare

The great Tao flows everywhere, both to the left and to the right.
The ten thousand things depend upon it; it holds nothing back.
It fulfills its purpose silently and makes no claim.

It nourishes the ten thousand things,
And yet is not their Lord.
It has no aim; it is very small.

The ten thousand things return to it,
Yet it is not their Lord.
It is very great.

It does not show greatness,
And is therefore truly great.
~ Tao Te Ching, Thirty-Four ~

In the monotheistic religions, the almighty (Allah, God, Jehovah) not only makes himself known, but demands your allegiance. He is described as a jealous supreme being who gets rather testy if you choose to worship a different supreme being. In a manner of speaking, the supreme entity is beset by all the petty emotions of his progeny.

In Taoism, Tao makes no claims at all. It doesn't announce itself. It doesn't demand you even acknowledge it. It simply is what it is. Each of us is part of it and it is part of us.

How can a supreme being be truly great, if it must tell you so? It's like those sorts of people -- we all know them -- who spend all their time bragging about their skills and exploits. No matter what anybody else says, such people will always try to one-up you.

We've learned from psychology that people who are too full of themselves tend to have a poor self-image. Therefore, they have an inherent need to pump themselves up in other people's eyes as a way to convince themselves of their own self-worth.

If we are created in the image of a God, does this mean the almighty suffers from this same malady too, that the supreme one needs to announce himself over and over again as a mechanism to convince himself of his own worth?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Different Shades of Green

In our society, the word green tends to engender one of two concepts: environmentalism and money. I often find that, because of my philosophical viewpoint, these two images constantly butt heads.

On the one hand, I'm an avowed environmentalist -- what some derisively call a treehugger. I believe that global warming and climate change are incontrovertible facts and that our society is set up to operate in an unsustainable manner.

On the other hand, economic justice is just as important to me. I find it vulgar and profane that a small minority of the world's population lives in opulent splendor while the vast majority struggles to get by each day. I embrace the mantra Live Simply So Others Can Simply Live and I believe that, if more people followed this rule, our world would not be so poisoned by such economic inequality.

In essence, I believe many of the world's ills could best be solved by a marriage of environmentalism with economic justice. Unfortunately, neither concept has been embraced by the powers that be and, when one of them partially is invoked, it always seems to be at the expense of the other.

For example, here in the U.S., various levels of government recently have created a variety of tax incentives to encourage people to utilize renewable energy and/or make use of less-polluting technology. Here I'm referring to tax credits for installing solar heating/cooling systems in your home or purchasing hybrid or plug-in electric vehicles (to name but a few).

On the surface, these seem to be excellent mechanisms to encourage folks to lead more sustainable lives. While it is certainly unfortunate that far too many people seem motivated to do the right thing for our planet ONLY when it benefits their economic self-interests, at least these types of strategies seem to get many people moving in a better direction.

When our elected leaders promote these various schemes, they do so in a way to make it appear that ANY citizen can take advantage of the tax credits or allowances. But the truth of the matter is that only the well-off will have the wherewithal to make these sorts of investments and, thereby, receive the economic benefits.

So, in reality, working class folks are giving money (taxpayer dollars) to rich people to induce them to buy a Prius or install solar panels on their roof. This is yet another example of the insidious transfer of funds from the least wealthy to the most wealthy (Robin Hood in reverse)!!

In the end, while such tax schemes sound laudable, they truly don't address the problem in a meaningful way. And the main reason they don't truly address the problem is that the vast majority of Americans are in the middle and working class -- the very people who can't afford to take advantage of these tax breaks, in the first place.

So, while a very small minority are driving hybrids or heating/cooling their homes from renewable energy, the majority are driving clunkers and heating/cooling their homes with coal-fired or nuclear energy. The overall positive impact is minimal.

If our government was truly serious about moving this nation toward sustainability, then we must pursue strategies that ALL Americans can take part in. For one idea, government could provide subsidies to the middle class and working poor to purchase hybrids and/or wind and solar heating/cooling systems.

Our Anti-Stimulus Package

While Congress and the media debate President Obama's economic stimulus bill, it's interesting to note that the total amount -- currently tabbed at $850 billion -- is in the ballpark of what this nation has borrowed and/or spent on conducting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Consequently, had we not initiated either of these wars, this money would be available now.

I realize that the above statement is not entirely true. If we hadn't wasted so much money on this two failed military endeavors, we would have spent some of the funds on other things. In addition, a lot of this money are not funds we currently have -- the monies were borrowed. Still, had we not borrowed the money, we wouldn't be so deep in debt and our national economy wouldn't be in such shambles now.

While former [p]Resident George W. Bush bares a lot of the responsibility for our current dilemma, both political parties are equally culpable. Republicans, as well as Democrats, kept passing bills that funneled more and more taxpayer dollars down the holes known as Afghanistan and Iraq! Congress could have easily halted either war by simply cutting the purse strings, but this didn't happen.

The National Priorities Project (NPP) has done a great deal of work on calculating the costs of the Iraq war. As of March, this cost will equal $656.1 billion. Here's a note on their methodology:
The Cost of Iraq War calculator is counting up to $656.1 billion, the amount allocated by Congress through March 2009. When additional fiscal year 2009 war funding is approved, the counter will be updated.

The numbers include military and non-military spending, such as reconstruction. Spending only includes incremental costs, additional funds that are expended due to the war. For example, soldiers' regular pay is not included, but combat pay is included. Potential future costs, such as future medical care for soldiers and veterans wounded in the war, are not included. It is also not clear whether the current funding will cover all military wear and tear. It also does not account for the Iraq War being deficit-financed and that taxpayers will need to make additional interest payments on the national debt due to those deficits.

The media (and others) sometimes cite a figure that is in excess of our estimate. However, the number cited by the media may include not just the Iraq War, but the Afghanistan War and for enhanced security abroad. Our figure is only covering the cost of the Iraq War as it relates to the U.S. federal budget (and does not include costs to others or other countries or any economic impact costs to Americans).

This number is based on an analysis of the legislation in which Congress has allocated money for war so far and research by the Congressional Research Service (latest report) which has access to Department of Defense financial reports...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

When Death Trumps Life

Why do the people think so little of death?
Because the rulers demand too much of life.
Therefore the people take death lightly.
~ Tao Te Ching, portion of Seventy-Five ~
This particular passage is very timely. With the US economy in free fall, a recent article posted on AlterNet, "The Financial Crisis Is Driving Hordes of Americans to Suicide" only underscores how more and more people are viewing death as a viable alternative to life.
The body count is still rising. For months on end, marked by bankruptcies, foreclosures, evictions, and layoffs, the economic meltdown has taken a heavy toll on Americans. In response, a range of extreme acts including suicide, self-inflicted injury, murder, and arson have hit the local news. By October 2008, an analysis of press reports nationwide indicated that an epidemic of tragedies spurred by the financial crisis had already spread from Pasadena, California, to Taunton, Massachusetts, from Roseville, Minnesota, to Ocala, Florida.

In the three months since, the pain has been migrating upwards. A growing number of the world's rich have garnered headlines for high profile, financially-motivated suicides. Take the New Zealand-born "millionaire financier" who leapt in front of an express train in Great Britain or the "German tycoon" who did much the same in his homeland. These have, with increasing regularity, hit front pages around the world. An example would be New York-based money manager René-Thierry Magnon de la Villehuchet, who slashed his wrists after he "lost more than $1 billion of client money, including much, if not all, of his own family's fortune." In the end, he was yet another victim of financial swindler Bernard Madoff's $50 billion Ponzi scheme.

An unknown but rising number of less wealthy but distinctly well-off workers in the financial field have also killed themselves as a result of the economic crisis -- with less press coverage. Take, for instance, a 51-year-old former analyst at Bear Stearns. Learning that he would be laid off after JPMorgan Chase took over his failed employer, he "threw himself out of the window" of his 29th-floor apartment in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Or consider the 52-year-old commercial real estate broker from suburban Chicago who "took his life in a wildlife preserve" just "a month after he publicly worried over a challenging market," or the 50-year-old "managing partner at Leeward Investments" from San Carlos, California, who got wiped out "in the markets" and "suffocated himself to death..."
These sobering facts should cause those in Washington, D.C. to take pause. Whatever legislation they end up passing to deal with this new Great Depression (and let's be honest about what's happening -- it's not a fleeting economic downturn -- it's a bona fide depression), it must contain strategies to get lots of people back to work. If not, then articles like the one above will become...ho hum...commonplace.

The only way for death to become a popular avenue is when people start to view life as unbearable. Being out of work with no realistic prospects of finding a decent job, lacking the ability to pay one's monthly bills, having no health care or no roof over one's head and being unable to feed one's family are surefire ways to make life unbearable for many.

Where there is no hope, there is no joy.

Where life seems like death, death itself becomes a perverse joy.

A "Stimulating" Discussion

So, the US House passed President Obama's Stimulus bill; now it moves onto the senate. I downloaded the entire text of the bill -- all 647 pages! It's a difficult read as most of the text is in legal mumbo jumbo. It's hard to understand, particularly because most of the earmarked funds are for broad (and vague) categories.

One thing jumped out at me though. Despite the fact we already have the largest military budget in the world, nearly $5 billion of the package is for the Department of Defense. Since, according to the War Resisters League, over 50% of the $2,650 billion 2009 US federal budget is for military-based expenditures, why on earth is there even one penny in this package for anything having to do with the military?

Why is it that ONLY $100 million is earmarked for the WIC program and slightly more, $150 million, for emergency food programs? Even Head Start comes out on the short end of the stick with a paltry $1 billion.

Americans are hurting and hurting badly. One of the chief reasons that our social safety net has been torn to shreds is because of the egregious amounts of taxpayer dollars being expended on two unethical wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. So, if the military-industrial complex is one of the leading factors that is steering our nation toward financial insolvency, why is the military receiving a larger share of the pie than programs like WIC or Head Start?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Kiss "Em Goodbye

On Monday, workers at two Aberdeen Weyerhauser mills showed up for work to begin another shift. I'm sure for most of them thought it would be a typical workday. However, at 2:30 p.m., they all learned that they were out of work. The timber giant had decided to close both locations.

The official reason for the closures has something to do with "weak market conditions". In today's teetering economy, I don't doubt the company's reasoning. Most industries are having problems and layoffs are being announced daily.

What infuriates me to no end, however, is the manner in which it was done. The announcement was made abruptly during one of the shifts. There's no way in the world you're going to convince me that Weyerhauser officials made this decision on Monday morning or even over the weekend. Obviously, they've been mulling over this decision for some time and, at some point, made up their minds.

If you respect the people in your employ, the ethical thing to do is give them some warning. The workers are counting on their usual paychecks to pay their bills. Now those paychecks are history and there are going to be a lot of people hurting.

What's even more galling is that big corporations like this (and, of course, it's not just Weyerhauser) often exact big tax breaks from state, county and local governments to come to and remain in a locale. It often takes the form of legal extortion -- Give us x amount of a tax break or we'll take these jobs somewhere else!!

So, governments bend over backwards to make sure the honchos of these big companies don't get their feathers ruffled and yet, this is the kind of payback we receive time and again -- They simply pull the plug without notice and glibly tell their workers not to let the door hit their backsides on the way out.

This Is What You Get

Over the last few years the media has had quite a time reporting on corporate excess. A few years back the big name in the news was Kenneth Lay of Enron. In more recent days, John Thain and Dick Fuld have been cast to the forefront. Each time a new name takes center stage, we're told that such folks are the exceptions to the rule. Most corporate CEOs are good folks who would never ever take advantage of the system.

I've got news for you, corporate excess is part and parcel OF the system. The only thing the three men above are guilty of is what most CEOs are guilty of -- unmitigated greed and an economic system that promotes this.

As United for a Fair Economy has reported for over a decade, the gap between CEO pay and that of their workers is mind boggling! Within the last 10 years, the gap has been as high as 525 to 1 and, as of 2005, was 411 to 1. Put into wage figures, if an average worker earned $40,000, the CEO earned $21 million (2000) and $16.4 million (2005).

What on earth could A-N-Y CEO do to justify that kind of gap? Often times what they have done is laid off workers -- those people toiling away to make the CEO rich -- or they've run their companies into the ground. Yet, regardless of whether or not the company profits are up or down, the CEOs always seem to come out of it smelling like gold-plated roses.

Still, despite this, I do feel a bit of sympathy for the Lays, Thains and Fulds of this world. Since gouging the public and lining your golden parachute is par for the course, these fellows must wonder why they have been singled out to be made the poster children of corporate excess.

You see, the exception to the rule is those few CEOs who behave in a reasonable and responsible manner -- not the legions who don't. Until we create an economic system that values people over profits, corporate excess will continue unabated and this will lay the ground for more poster children to be born.

A Comment on Comments

As many of you may have noticed, I don't always respond to the comments left here. I realize this probably violates some net etiquette rule somewhere and it may cause some of you to think either I don't take the time to read your comments or I don't care what you have to say.

Neither is the case, however. I read and often reread every comment posted. I often spend time mulling over your words and thoughts. It's always a good exercise to try to look at issues or situations through another person's eyes.

So, if I do read them and I care about them, why don't I always respond? It's because of my general rule -- I only write those words that wish to be exposed! Often, I find that many comments simply don't need a response from me. They have the strength to stand on their own feet. At other times, I really don't have anything salient to add.

If I think a point made is really clear or important, I may simply respond with "Good point" or I may not respond at all. On the other hand, there are some comments left that I categorically disagree with, but I simply don't feel the need to get into a protracted back-and-forth.

Finally, a lot of it most likely has to do with my Asperger's Syndrome. It is not uncommon in typical face-to-face situations when a person I'm talking with expects that I'm going to respond to something said and I say nothing or they make a remark that doesn't call for a response, yet I act as if it does. Simply put, I'm never clear when a response is expected and when it ain't. So, my default action is to stay quiet. ;>)

A Sad Sign of Our Times

Many of us awoke this morning to news of another tragic murder-suicide, a family of seven in metro LA. While it's far too early to offer a cogent analysis, I am afraid that this may well become a sad sign of our times.

Since we live in a society predicated on work and income, as more and more people face layoffs or business shutdowns, more and more people are going to feel like there is no alternative better than death.

What Now?

Now that a new study has been released that declares that climate change has passed the tipping point, what do we do now? Should we sit around and cry in our beer? Should we just say "Screw it" and keep on heading down this same road?

Of course, chances are that society will rush to embrace both of the actions listed above. Both represent the easiest route and, besides, what's done is done.

On the other hand, western society could take a page from Taoist belief and decide that now is a good time to practice societal wu wei (i.e., doing without doing or going with the flow). If our government leaders and all of us average citizens decided today to embrace wu wei, we could certainly leave the planet in much better shape for future generations.

For example, nuclear power is trying to force an energy source. It doesn't exist of its own volition and, even worse, it routinely produces deadly byproducts that we can't seem to figure out how to store safely.

Gasoline is also another attempt to manufacture an unnatural energy source. The petroleum industry has spawned our car culture which is one of the leading factors in irreversible climate change.

Wu wei informs us that we need to utilize those energy sources that surround us daily -- sun, wind, water, hydrogen, etc. It's actually downright amazing that the elements most within our reach are the very same ones we utilize the least! If nothing else, it only proves how we humans again and again seem incapable of grasping the obvious.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Them Darn Migrants!

I had to go today to my local Social Services office for an appointment. While awaiting my turn, I shared the waiting room with two other people. At one point, the young woman groused about having to wait so long. The other fellow told her to chill out because the wait here was nothing compared to Seattle or LA. In fact, he said, you probably couldn't find a place to sit because those waiting rooms are almost always jam packed.

The guy then launched into a brief diatribe about how, in California, those darn migrant workers are draining all the resources so that folks like us -- all three of us were lily "white" -- aren't able to receive the various services that WE are entitled to.

I could have simply sat there quietly and allowed the fellow to yammer on, but that's not my nature. I told him that, while it's true that many migrant workers do receive services from various social service agencies, they also make significant contributions into our overall economic system. For example, there are many rich people who owe their fortunes to migrant labor.

"Don't get me wrong, " the fellow responded. "I'm not a bigot. I realize that most migrants work very hard to make a lot of white Americans rich." If he had stopped there, then the conversation would have ended, but he still had another comment or two to add.

"You know what their problem is?" he asked. "They sell themselves short by accepting too little pay." Of course, he continued, this caused them to seek out social services to help them make ends meet.

And why do migrant workers accept such meager wages? Because slave wages in the US are still better than slave wages in their home countries, if they can find jobs at all, and the US plays a huge role in their home country's poor economic situation. Regardless of where a person hails from, we all share the same basic needs: food, shelter, clothes, leisure, etc.

Again, the fellow reluctantly agreed with me. "But if they would learn to organize, then they could demand better wages," he offered.

Migrants tend not to organize because they are here illegally and they're afraid to stand up for their rights because of the fear of being deported. I also pointed out that MOST American workers aren't organized -- though they should be -- because many of today's labor laws don't provide adequate protection against company reprisals. Often, if any worker speaks up, they get fired.

The one other point I would have made -- had I not needed to leave to pick up my wife -- is that there's even a bigger reason why migrant are paid so poorly -- the US economy would collapse if migrant workers were paid a living wage!!

While produce prices have certainly gone through the roof lately, these price spikes are nothing compared to the prices we would have to pay if the farmworkers were paid, at least, minimum wage. Prices like $5 for a head of iceberg lettuce or $20/lb. for pecans would be the norm. The poor in this country -- a number that is increasing daily -- would get to the point in which we couldn't afford groceries and this would result in higher crime and food riots.

No president or governor wants food riots, certainly not in the so-called most prosperous nation in the world. So, the easiest political answer is to pay migrant workers a subsistence or less wage and then to scapegoat them for accepting the terms that we, in fact, created.

Rules, Rules & More Rules

When the great Tao is forgotten,
Kindness and morality arise.
When wisdom and intelligence are born,
The great pretense begins.
~ Tao Te Ching, portion of Eighteen ~
When a person reads the above passage from a Judeo-Christian viewpoint, it seems to make no sense at all! Being kind to others and living a moral life are said to be virtuous attributes. Wisdom and learning are things we should strive for.

But from a Taoist perspective, Tao is impartial. It's not kind, moral, wise or intelligent. It just is and, if you allow yourself to be one with Tao, you do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. Period. End of story.

In essence, you don't try to live your life by a set of arbitrary religious rules -- ones that often were written down long ago and by someone external to you. Such rules are problematic because they lack context. What may seem to be the correct move in one instance, may not be in the next instance.

Another problem with arbitrary religious rules is that it seems to be the human condition always to try to find a way around them. Almost all of us like for rules to be rigidly applied to others, while we expect a lot of slack, in our own particular case!

The other chief problem with arbitrary religious rules concerns WHY most people seek to follow them -- that is, when they DO follow them. This specific point represents one of my chief critiques of Christianity. If you do or do not do something to please God, then, in my book, you're not truly doing or not doing it for the right reason anyway.

If you do something positive, then you're expecting brownie points or a reward (heaven). If you do not do something negative, then you're hoping to avoid a demerit or sanction (hell). In either case, you hope to get something out of the behavior or action. Therefore, your genuine emphasis is on you, not the supposed almighty. This means, of course, that your true motivation is nothing more than a bold attempt to serve your own selfish needs.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Reflections on Blagojevich

To be candid, I'm not that eager to jump on the "Damn Blagojevich" bandwagon. One thing I've learned in my many years is that what appears clear and easily defined in the political arena, often is anything but. So, while I grant that Governor Rod may indeed be a dirty and corrupt political parasite, I'm equally open to the idea that things may not be as they first appear.

So many aspects of powerful politics appear to be "wag the dog" scenarios. At first, the media blares headlines. People immediately make up their minds yea or nay based on spotty and, often, extremely biased reporting. Slowly, but surely, the truth comes out and it tends not to resemble the original headlines at all.

Whenever I hear or read stories of this nature, the very first question that pops into me noggin is: What advantage do the various players get out of this situation? If the answer to this question can be approximated -- and often, it can't be -- then you have a better than average chance of deciding the veracity of the various claims.

I guess what bothers me the most about the Blagojevich case is that I think this kind of horse selling goes on everyday in the backrooms of politics. Each time a contentious bill comes up, there are all sorts of [shady] deals being brokered out of public view to convince others to vote the bill up or down. So, what is it about this particular instance that caused criminal charges to be lodged?

One thing that jumps out at me is that Gov. Blagojevich was about ready to announce his selection of a replacement for the departed Rohm Emmanuel. It is more than conceivable that some in Illinois and/or the national Democratic Party leadership knew who the selection would be and they didn't like it. Therefore, they needed a quick strategy to derail the selection and arresting the governor fit the bill.

Like I said, they could have Blagojevich dead to rights and the charges against him are true and bona fide. I'm simply not ready to hang the man yet...not until some more of the dots are filled in.

An Old Love

As I dosed in my recliner last night -- slipping in and out of lucidity as I suffer mightily from an intestinal virus -- my wife was watching one of those forgettable flicks on the Hallmark Channel. I can't tell you the name of the movie nor much of anything about the plot, but during one of my semi-conscious moments, I heard one of the characters exclaim, "Nothing is as beautiful as young love."

At almost the same instance, both my wife & I blurted out the same basic sentiment -- Older love is better!

I suppose we often think that love in our younger years is better because it's so fresh and new. When you meet the "right person" your world seems to get turned upside down and it often feels like a fireworks display is erupting inside your heart and soul. At times, life almost feels surreal, sort of like an out of body experience.

But young love generally is subject to great highs and lows. The first time you intimately hold your beloved in your naked arms is the kind of experience few of us can put into words. On the flip side, the first major argument tends to make us feel like we've made the most horrid mistake as our idealization of the perfect partnership has been torn asunder.

In essence, young love often is like a roller coaster ride -- breathtaking rushes followed by the feeling like you're going to puke out your lunch and all your entrails too.

An older love is much deeper and is characterized by contentment and harmony. You and your beloved know each other inside and out. You've been through the best of times and the worst of times together. Those of us lucky enough to emerge from this struggle -- and any quality marriage or partnership IS a struggle -- find we have a much deeper relationship than anything that came before.

I often compare my marriage to the feeling one has for a favored pair of worn out jeans. The pant legs may be a bit frayed. The color is certainly faded. There may well be a hole or two in the material. But they feel so comfortable to wear, like a second skin. The very thought of chucking them in the trash is unthinkable!!!

You will wear them until there is almost no material left and you will keep sewing them up and patching them up to extend your relationship as long as humanly possible.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Tao of Obsession

Back in the day when I was part of the "working" world and, like most people, had the unmitigated joy of going to job interviews, one type of question always befuddled me. The interviewer[s] would ask me either to name 3 positive or negative traits about myself. I suppose this type of question was asked to gauge a person's self-confidence and openness to criticism.

I always noticed at group interviews that none of my fellow applicants had the slightest problem answering this style of question. Each, in turn, would extol his/her positive attributes and would then provide 3 negatives that were actually backdoor positives (e.g., "I work too hard -- but it's because I always want to get the job done right").

When it came my turn, my answer tended to leave everyone -- fellow applicants and interviewers alike -- with a dropped jaw expression! I would explain that my personality exhibits certain traits that can be viewed as positive or negative, depending on a person's point of view.

For example. One of the hallmarks of my AS is that I'm obsessive-compulsive. Just stating it, in a sterile sense, makes it appear in a negative light, but there are many situations in which being obsessive can be a very good thing indeed!

Let's say a person is an investigative reporter, an attorney or some type of advocate. Being obsessed with getting the story right or defending a client or group of people against all odds is a noble trait. In many instances, only an obsessive person can win the day because the non-obsessive person would have given up long ago.

So, if you support the aim of the news article or the person/people being defended, you would view absolute persistence as a strong quality in a person.

If, on the other hand, you stand on the opposite side of the fence -- you believe the reporter's aim is bogus or the people being defended are as guilty as sin -- then such dogged persistence will be viewed very negatively. Such people are apt to say that the reporter or advocate simply can't let go and they're causing no more than a tempest in a teapot.

And that's how I view each of my personality traits. Every single one of them can be viewed in a positive or negative light -- it all depends on the reference point of the person doing the analysis.

I do understand, however, that my opinion on this matter probably is greatly influence by my AS. I readily recognize that a great many people don't understand this topic this way at all and, when I try to explain my reasoning, they look at me as if I just landed from the planet Mars.

But what can I do? I'm obsessed with explaining my take on obsession. ;-)

Like a Castaway

I suppose as a way to try to wean me off of The Green Mile my wife suggested tonight that I watch a different Tom Hanks film, Castaway (believe it or not, I'd never seen it). Of course, when I'm in these deep philosophical moods, I probably read more into the stories than I would otherwise. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, in a sense, but also found it a bit disturbing.

I should mentioned that I missed the first 30 minutes or so -- I was doing something else and really didn't plan to watch it. I finally decided to build a fire in the fireplace (the room where the TV is) and it was about this time that Tom's character, Chuck Noland, washed up on the deserted island.

I often have a great deal of difficulty trying to explain to people what it's like living with Asperger's Syndrome (AS). I can provide folks with a detailed clinical definition, but this doesn't really do justice to the topic. However, I now have a better way to describe it! I can refer to this particular movie.

In many ways, having AS is like being a castaway on your own deserted island. You know there's a world of people out there, but, in your mind, you're all alone with no one to talk to. You have to figure out how to survive day after day and you do it in much the same way as Chuck Noland -- trial and error (with a heavy emphasis on the error part).

Trying to navigate the social environment is very similar to when Chuck is rescued and is returned to his former life. You feel out of place, like a person with a broken compass, and you're never sure which way to go.

More importantly, you intuitively understand the dilemma Chuck finds himself in. When isolated, he/you long for human interaction, but when he/you gets it, he/you often wants nothing more than isolation.

In my personal case, I sometimes wish I could be a more social animal, a person who felt comfortable in crowds, gatherings or general social settings. But every time I find myself in those very situations, I want to run away as fast and as far as I can. I'm simply incapable of processing all the social indicators swirling around me in a way that makes me feel safe and comfortable.

So I retreat to my imaginary island and talk to my own volleyball, this blog. Maybe I should rename it The Rambling Wilsons. :-)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Our Own Not-So-Green Mile

Over the past week I've read Stephen King's brilliant novel, The Green Mile -- I've also rented the video and watched it several times. It has only underscored for me my absolute revulsion to the death penalty. Capital punishment simply has no place in a just and civilized society. If a person believes that premeditated murder is wrong, then it's wrong for individuals AND the state.

If the US Supreme Court or the Congress tomorrow struck down capital punishment as a means for punishing criminals, it would do nothing to lessen the death penalty sentence that everyone in the world -- the guilty and the innocent -- have been handed. As long as we continue our mad dash toward ecological ruin, we are condemning people the world over to walk their own not-so-green mile.

While this walk is to not to a hangman's noose, electric chair, gas chamber, firing squad nor lethal injection gurney, it is a walk toward certain death. We may not know the precise day and hour, but when that day and hour comes, there will be no call from the governor to save us. We'll be staring the death of our planet square in the face and death won't blink.

What keeps me up at night is the fact that we already may be beyond atonement. Even if all the people of the world came together right now and we decided that we would collectively put an immediate end to all this non-ecological foolishness, our past sins might be enough to convince the jury that we're beyond hope. We can't know for certain if we are indeed beyond hope, so we need to get our act together like there's no tomorrow because, one day, there genuinely will be no tomorrow!

We need to do whatever we can today and tomorrow to save our progeny from having to walk the not-so-green mile.

Dog Bless America

While I certainly wasn't excited with the Obama election win in November, I did watch many of the inauguration festivities. Heck, I usually watch this stuff, regardless of whether or not the new president was someone I voted for -- Well, that's really an understatement because I have never voted for the candidate who won!

While all the speeches sounded fairly run-of-the-mill, the one thing that irked me to no end was the constant referencing of "God". At times, I wasn't certain if I was watching a political event or a televangelist Sunday service!

There were prayers galore. It seemed like Obama mentioned the words Christian, God or scripture in every other paragraph. I almost expected to see Jesus come riding out of the sky sporting a huge smile and a big thumbs up.

Seems that I'm not the only person who noticed this gratuitous use of the almighty for political gain. Greta Christina wrote a very good commentary on the topic that was featured on AlterNet.
She had this to say on the topic:
We have the very fact that this inauguration was opened and closed with a prayer. The fact that Sunday's inaugural concert was opened with a prayer. The fact that the oath of office was sworn on a Bible, and concluded -- unrequired by the Constitution -- with the words, "So help me God." The fact of the insistent repetition of the phrases "God bless you" and "God bless the United States." The fact that God was all over this inauguration like a cheap suit; the examples I've cited here, while the most egregious, were really just a drop in the bucket.

Completely regardless of the content of these prayers and invocations, we have the unquestioned assumption that religion and prayers and repeated references to God and faith should have a significant part -- indeed, any part whatsoever -- in the ceremonies of our government. We have the unquestioned assumption that the prayers of a church belong in the single most important ceremony of our state.

Look. You can't spend all day talking about how God's grace is upon the nation, and how everything that happens comes from God, and how equality and freedom and opportunity are promised to us by God, and how the elected leader of a democratic country is God's servant, and how forgetting God is a sin that requires forgiveness -- and then mention once that some of the people making up the strong patchwork of this country are non-believers -- and call that real inclusivity and recognition of non-believers.

Any more than you can spend all day talking about how same-sex couples shouldn't be allowed to marry, and non- discrimination laws shouldn't be expanded to cover sexual orientation, and LGBT people shouldn't be allowed to serve in the military -- and then say, "Oh, no, I'm not homophobic."
I couldn't agree with her more!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Stuck in Drive

For most of this month I've been writing in a torrent. The last two days, however, I've written nothing. It's not that all of a sudden I ran into writer's block -- it's more that I'm struggling mightily with one of the components of my Asperger's Syndrome. I find that I'm obsessing on The Green Mile (by Stephen King) and I'm trying very hard not to subject all of you to my obsession.

When I get into these periods, all I can think, talk and write about relates to what I'm currently obsessed with. In many ways, it's good that I'm anti-social or else I would be subjecting all my cohorts to endless discussions and insights on The Green Mile. I've even pulled back from my wife somewhat because I certainly don't wish to drive her crazy with my endless babble.

One way I've been trying to divert my attention is by doing some of my paid work on the GreenPRO database. This helps a bit, but certainly not completely.

I can only hope my current obsession runs its course in due time and I can get back to thinking and writing on a plethora of topics. Until then, I'll be walking The Green Mile.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Taoist President

Over the past 200+ years, each time a new presidential administration comes into office everyone is filled with hope for a new beginning and a new chapter. At this point in history with our nation beset by a multitude of serious problems, the previous statement is even MORE true.

But what if Barack Obama decided to seek the counsel of Lao Tzu instead of the usual gaggle of political insiders. What kinds of advice would this ancient Taoist sage have to offer? How would a Taoist presidential administration differ from the ones of the past?
Not exhalting the gifted prevents quarreling.
Not collecting treasures prevents stealing.
Not seeing desireable things prevents confusion of the heart.

The wise therefore rule by emptying hearts and stuffing
bellies, by weakening ambitions and strengthening bones.
If men lack knowledge and desire, then clever people will not
try to interfere.
If nothing is done, then all will be well.
~ Three ~

Better stop short than fill to the brim.
Oversharpen the blade, and the edge will soon blunt.
Amass a store of gold and jade, and no one can protect it.
Claim wealth and titles, and disaster will follow.
~ portion of Nine ~

The universe is sacred.
You cannot improve it.
If you try to change it, you will ruin it.
If you try to hold it, you will lose it.
~ portion of Twenty-Nine ~

Peace is easily maintained;
Trouble is easily overcome before it starts.
The brittle is easily shattered;
The small is easily scattered.

Deal with it before it happens.
Set things in order before there is confusion.
~ portion of Sixty-Four ~

A good soldier is not violent.
A good fighter is not angry.
A good winner is not vengeful.
A good employer is humble.
~ portion of Sixty-Eight ~

Not Going To Happen

Last week Paul Krugman wrote about how our new president needs to hold the former Bush administration accountable for their various illegal activities. On Monday night, Keith Olbermann of MSNBC sang a similar tune. In fact, many pundits have called on President Obama to be the voice of the American people by sending a message that this kind of crap will not be tolerated.

Folks, get a grip. It's not going to happen. Already, our new president is talking about "looking forward". And who can blame him?

While the mainstream media has made it appear that the Bushies were constitutional renegades and that the Congress was in the dark much of the time, information has slowly leaked out that the room wasn't as dark as it seemed. Many key congressional leaders -- on both sides of the aisle -- knew about a lot of this muck LONG before we did and did nothing to stop it.

That is precisely why nothing is going to happen. If Congress were to haul Bush, Cheney and their compartriots before various committees, it would expose many of the very same people conducting the so-called "investigation". So, a lot of our Congressional leaders will talk tough, but in the end, it will be just that -- talk.

It will be left to the historians to judge if Bush et. al. were criminals or not.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Night Before

For two men (and their families), I'm guessing tonight is surreal. For one, George W. Bush, he will go to sleep tonight as President of the United States of America, but by afternoon, he will no longer hold this title. For the other, Barack Obama, he will go to sleep tonight as a private citizen and, by the time he goes to sleep tomorrow night, HE will be the President.

Regardless of one's political perspective or personal opinion of these two men, I think we each can understand the range of emotions each will go through over the next 12 hours or so.

Who hasn't begun a new job or started at a new school? Remember the butterflies in your stomach the night before? There's usually a combination of anxiety and anticipation. Now multiply such feelings by a factor of 10,000 and you might be in the ballpark of feeling what Mr. Obama is feeling.

By the same token, who hasn't ended a job or graduated from a school? Remember the butterflies in your stomach the night before? There's usually a combination of anxiety and anticipation. Now multiply such feelings by a factor of 10,000 and you might be in the ballpark of feeling what Mr. Bush is feeling.

Of course, most anyone reading this -- and certainly NOT the person writing it -- will ever serve as US President. Consequently, we can only imagine an approximation of the emotions being experienced by Obama and Bush. That said, whether a person is about to become president of a nation, a person beginning a new job as an accountant or young person getting set to enter high school, the basic emotional array is much the same.

I just wonder if either gentleman will get much sleep tonight.

X Marks This Spot

Of course, today is Martin Luther King Day. In years past, I have tended to write a post about the words and thoughts of this man of peace -- one of my heroes. Today, however, I'm going to do something a bit different. Instead of offering a trove of quotes from MLK, all the quotes shown below were stated or written by Malcolm X (another one of my heroes).

Malcolm X doesn't enjoy the same type of popularity as does King. For one thing, his earlier pronouncements when he was a follower of The Nation of Islam were seen as very threatening to the white majority. While King was unabashedly nonviolent in all his words and deeds, Malcolm X supported the use of violence as a self-defense measure.

But the Malcolm X that typically is depicted is from his early years in the black civil rights movement. Like most people, Malcom X's ideology and perspective evolved with time. Near the end of his life -- one cut short by an assassin's bullet -- Malcolm was moving closer to a position that was not altogether different than Martin's.

So, while Dr. Martin Luther King continues to hold an important position in the minds of American's today, I think it's just as important to remember the life and words of Malcolm X.
  • A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.
  • Usually when people are sad, they don't do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.
  • You can't separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.
  • Power never takes a back step - only in the face of more power.
  • Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.
  • I believe in a religion that believes in freedom. Any time I have to accept a religion that won't let me fight a battle for my people, I say to hell with that religion.
  • If you have no critics you'll likely have no success.
  • Power in defense of freedom is greater than power in behalf of tyranny and oppression.
  • You're not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can't face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who says it.
  • You show me a capitalist, and I'll show you a bloodsucker.
  • There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time.
  • I believe in human beings, and that all human beings should be respected as such, regardless of their color.

Meating Out Illness

There are a whole host of reasons why I decided to become a vegetarian over two decades ago. One of the principle reasons is that I read numerous sources that wrote of the lack health and safety standards of the US meat industry. It would seem we haven't made that much progress since Upton Sinclair wrote "The Jungle" back in 1906.

But being a non-meat eater these days doesn't seem to be protection enough! Despite the fact that I eschew all meat, meat products and meat byproducts, I'm still subject to be on the lookout Salmonella outbreaks!

This is very galling because, according to the USDA's Food & Safety Inspection Service,
Salmonella is a gram-negative, rod-shaped bacilli that can cause diarrheal illness in humans. They are microscopic living creatures that pass from the feces of people or animals to other people or other animals...The bacteria live in the intestinal tracts of infected animals and humans.
As can be easily discerned from the above information, vegetables, fruit and grains -- in their natural state -- do not harbor this dangerous bacteria. The way these foods become contaminated is by coming into contact with animal feces (dung).

Of course, the most obvious question is: Why would things like peanuts, spinach and bean sprouts (all subject to salmonella outbreaks in the past 3 years) come in contact with animal feces? Answer: Improperly treated manure or lax health practices which led to cross-contamination.

You see, the profit motive causes many farmers and companies to need to hold down costs and this tends to mean that they cut corners. One of the popular corners to cut is in the area of safety and monitoring. Add to this the fact that meat industry PACs contribute a lot of money to candidates and elected officials and it's no wonder our meat safety and monitoring standards are so deficient!

So, even though I'm a devout vegetarian, I continue to be held an unwilling hostage by the meat and meatpacking industries. (And, to say the least, I'm not very happy about this at all!)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Moment of Tao

In Zen Buddhism, as I understand it, there are certain moments -- moments of Zen -- when things become clearer. These moments tend to occur when we least expect them. In Christianity, such moments often are referred to as epiphanies.

This got me to thinking what would be a comparable experience for a Taoist -- a moment of Tao? I thought I would relate to you my understanding of the concept through a little story.

The sage and his student had been walking in silence for some time when the student asked, "Master, it is said that a person should learn to master a craft or a discipline. If a person is ever mindful and practices his/her craft diligently, could we say that person was embracing a moment of Tao?"

"Yes," the sage said. "That would certainly be a moment of Tao."

They walked in silence again. After awhile, the student asked, "Master, it is said that the movements of Tai Chi Chuan help to bring a person into a state of mental clarity, calmness and balance. If a person practices Tai Chi Chuan, could we say that person was embracing a moment of Tao?"

The sage nodded. "That would certainly be a moment of Tao."

They walked several miles more saying nothing. The student then asked, "Master, they say that meditation is a way to center oneself and to be like an open vessel to receive the mystery of Tao. If a person meditates, could we say that person was embracing a moment of Tao?"

"Yes," the sage said. "That too would certainly be a moment of Tao."

The student became excited. "Oh thank you, Master. I think I now understand all things. If I work at my discipline diligently, practice Tai Chi Chuan, and meditate frequently, then I will always be in a moment of Tao."

The sage stopped and looked at his student. "You do not understand at all. While all the things you mentioned certainly are moments of Tao, the list is not exhaustive."

"What other activities should I commit to?" the befuddled student asked.

"Brush your teeth every day," replied the sage.

Even more befuddled, the student asked, "Brushing my teeth will bring me closer to Tao?"

"Yes, brushing your teeth or washing dishes will be a moment of Tao," the sage replied. "In fact, everything we do every second of the day is a moment of Tao because Tao is part of us and we are part of Tao."

How 'Bout a New Constant?

It's been said that the only constant in life is change. In today's techno-modern world, change seems to come at every turn. For example, it seems like only a generation or so ago, people ascertained the current month, date and day by looking at a calendar. Before we knew it, calendars were thrown on the dust heap and were replaced by watches. Now, even watches, are passe -- People look at their cell phones!

While all these silly nilly changes may be fine and dandy for the majority of the population, I gotta tell you it's wreaking havoc on those of us with AS. Each slight modification in our general routines tends to discombobulate us and causes unknown amounts of anxiety and stress. Though I haven't checked with my fellow aspies -- because I don't do well in social situations -- I think we'd all appreciate it if you neurotypicals would get together to decide to limit change in certain areas. While this wouldn't solve our entire dilemma, a little bit of constancy would go a long way to help brighten our overall mental health!

For example, would it be too much trouble for you folks to figure out how to produce food that's not infected with Salmonella Typhimurium? The FDA used to issues warnings and recalls every now and then. Over the last generation or so, these warnings seem to come in rapid fire: hamburgers, spinach, and now, the most American of foods, peanut butter!!

It's getting to the point in which we don't know what to eat anymore. Everytime we latch on to a favorite food, it becomes infected with some vile organism and we're told not to eat it.

Another area in which a state of constancy would be most helpful is national politics. Wouldn't it be far easier simply to select one president and one vice president to serve for life?

We used to think that these various candidates and office holders supported different policies, but, if you look at the recent record, we get the same crap albeit with different faces.

Over the last generation or so, every American administration has supported war. If it wasn't George Sr., it was Bill Clinton followed by Dubya and even the new guy sounds like he likes to rattle sabers too. Ya see, same basic policy, only a different set of lips telling Americans why this is good for us.

Look at the disparity between rich and poor. It keeps growing, regardless of who sits their keester in the Oval Office. So, why keep playing musical chairs? Just decide on two people and let him stay there until they die.

Here's another suggestion. Could you all decide on one color for use at traffic lights? Everytime I stop at one, I'm met by this maddening array of color: red, green and yellow with a wide assortment of arrows and flashing words. Since most drivers seem to ignore this rainbow anyway, couldn't we just have one light in, say, the color of beige or charcoal?

Even in the safe confines of my own abode, I'm constantly besieged by change. Each time I turn on my television, there are more channels than I can shake a stick out. Since most of the programming on the networks is junk, why don't they all conglomerate into one? It would make it so much easier and less stressful to skip by one channel rather than three!

For that matter, a lot of the programming on the cable channels isn't much better. So, could we combine all the "movie" channels, sports channels, news channels and get rid of all those silly one topic channels?

I could go on and on, but I think this small list is enough to get you going. If you can get these solved post haste, let me know. I'm sure I and other aspies can supply more detailed lists in the future.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

What Happens If...

Because the blogosphere is only a virtual place, what happens if the author of one of your favorite blogs dies? Blogs -- like corporations -- seem to be able to live in perpetuity. How are we to know that blogger x or y has left this earthly plane?

There are blogs that I have followed for a few years. The author will post on a continuous basis until, one day, the posts stop dead in their tracks. I check back from time to time and there are absolutely no changes. In essence, the blog becomes frozen in time.

I realize there are a bevy of possible reasons. For one, the person may have moved on to greener pastures and has simply forgotten about the blog. Maybe the person got married, moved to another locale or landed a great new job. On the other hand, maybe the person has become so sick and bedridden that they can no longer type at their computer. The last possibility is that the blogger died and there will never again be another post.

I know there's not really anything anybody can do about this, but it just makes me wonder sometimes. Why do some of my favorite blogs simply stop?

Healing...for a Price

Near the end of last year over at the Diary of a Daoist Hermit, Bill Hulet wrote a very thorough post on Miracles Explained. I quote a snippet below and then expand on one aspect of "miracles" that has always troubled me.
First of all, it is really important to understand the role that trickery has played in traditional spirituality. Any society that values holy men is bound to create a reason why people would want to mascarade as them. People want to believe, and if they do, they are quite willing to give wealth, power, and other forms of gratification to anyone that they believe has some sort of pipeline to God. And the quickest way to get people to believe that you are the "real deal" is to manifest some sort of super power. And the easiest way to do this is through some form of trickery. For example, take a look at this Christian evangelist who has already been exposed. I suspect that a great many of the miracles that have been presented in religious literature really boil down to this sort of thing---even if was not much more than a shaman figuring out how to confuse his followers with false teeth that he whittled out of basswood (complete with fangs and designed to show that he had transformed into a half-man/half-animal) and a bullroarer that he swung around his head to make an unearthly sound.
I want to start out by stating that I don't necessarily believe in miracles or faith healing. I'm not saying they don't exist or they aren't possible; only that I have, thus far, not seen enough evidence to support my belief in them.

However, if such things indeed are possible, then I would look at each conceivable example to see what the miracle worker or faith healer sought to get out of the experience.

For one thing, anyone who conducts miracles in a casual manner would, in my book, be a charlatan. We've each seen these quacks on TV or the internet. They easily move from person to person casting out devils or relieving the afflicted of their negative energy.

If a person was to have the ability to channel the healing force of a God or Tao, it's really hard for me to believe it wouldn't knock them flat on their backs for awhile. It's hard for me to fathom that it would not overwhelm their own biological systems and that they would not need a respite to recharge their battery.

Anyone who has ever received a worldly electrical shock knows what I'm referring to. It happened to me once in my teens when I -- inadvertently, of course -- tried to unplug a vacuum cleaner while coming in contact with a slight amount of water I did not see in our front hallway.

Even though this shock was very short-lived, it literally knocked me off my feet! My entire right arm felt fuzzy for several minutes and even my brain felt like, well, I can't really describe it in words. Yet here I am, over 35 years later, and I can still remember the unpleasant sensation.

So, if having a few volts run through my body for a few brief seconds felt so powerful, what would it feel like to have the power of the universe run through one's body in order to heal someone? Me thinks it would be a very powerful force indeed and not something a person could dispense lightly!!

Beyond how it is done, another consideration for me is where. Do you go to serve the afflicted where they are or do you make them come to you?

It's always amazed me that these supposed healers feel compelled to hold their "miracle" events in huge auditoriums or stadiums under the glare of TV lights. It's not like they don't know where the poor and disheveled reside.

I don't think I've ever heard of a case in which one of one these "healers" just showed up on the streets of Watts, the mountain towns of Appalachia or the slums of India. They aren't found in leper colonies, AIDS hospices or hospitals. No, it's all about making a public show and that's a good reason alone to assume it's a sham.

Finally, along with the how and where, I want to know what sort of economic considerations are expected for this "service". It's interesting to note that most evangelical faith healers are doing quite well, thank you. They seem to see nothing wrong at all with pocketing a few hundred thousand or million dollars.

For me, this is the easiest of the dead giveaways. If a person genuinely possessed the ability to heal the sick and raise the dead, then its more than obvious that they would be nothing more than a conduit for the supreme entity. In other words, the miracle would not originate from their hands; their hands would simply be the vessel.

As the conduit, it would be vulgar and immoral to accept monetary compensation for the work of someone/thing else -- a God or Tao. Not only would such a person refuse any type of compensation, but they would most likely tell the thankful to donate it to the Red Cross or the next homeless person met on the street.

So, in the Tao of The Rambling Taoist, if someone a) performs miracles in a casual manner, b) they do it as a public spectacle and/or c) they're more than willing to accept any money you wish to give them, then such person is an outright fraud and you should get far away from them.

Since that 3-part definition sums up every miracle worker or faith healer I've ever heard of, I remain unconvinced that such people truly exist.

Look Within

Without going outside, you may know the whole world.
Without looking through the window, you may sees the way of heaven.
The farther you go, the less you know.

Thus the sage knows without traveling;
He sees without looking;
He works without doing.
~ Tao Te Ching, Forty-Seven ~
For me, this verse is so straightforward and, yet concurrently, so elusive. The message itself is very clear -- whatever one seeks in a spiritual or divine way is inside each of us.

You can't find it in a book, holy or otherwise.

You can't find it in a gathering of fellow believers.

You can't find it by talking to a priest, minister, rabbi, shaman, sage or prophet.

You can't even find it by praying or conversing with anything external to you.

No, if you want to discover the ever-flowing spring of life, all you have to do is look in your own heart. It's there waiting for you to discover and embrace it!

With such a simple message, why then is it so elusive?

Our hearts are covered up with layer upon layer of hubris and vanities. It's like standing in an abandoned and neglected field, overtaken by decades of weeds and brambles, to try to find a pinhead. There are so many thorns and stickers in our way that most of us give up without much effort. It seems like such an impossible task.

But where a neglected field needs a mower or a machete and hours of backbreaking work to clear it, all we need to find the source within us is silence. Unfortunately, silence is a skill that few of us ever obtain.

It's certainly not hard to understand in this modern world. Noise is everywhere. It's on the streets, in our homes AND in our minds. The very concept of inner silence (i.e., peace) seems so foreign and unobtainable. But it IS within our grasp.

However, when we try to scoop it up all at once, it slips through our fingers again and again. The harder we try to hold it, the quicker it fades away. We become royally frustrated and decide to give up on the enterprise altogether.

Yet, even as we walk away from ourselves, deep down we each know the key to unlock the door. Silence comes with patience and practice.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Inside My Little Box

I talked to my brother today for the first time in several months. He's had "phone issues" which have not provided him with the means to call out long distance. I never received an explanation of how (or if?) this situation had been resolved, but there he was on the phone.

Amongst the many topics we got caught up on, one concerned some of my quirky behaviors as a child -- ones that exerted a far greater influence on Sean's life than I ever realized! He told me he has done some research on Asperger's Syndrome (AS) and is certain that it definitely describes his rather odd older brother.

Back in the day when our nuclear family was still intact (before my parent's divorce, remarriage, then re-divorce), one of our routine family outings was to go to Zeppi's Pizza & Pub near the intersection of 85th & Wornall Rd. in Kansas City, MO.

Both of my parents LOVED pizza and Zeppi's Pizza, in particular. Though, as an adult, I too love pizza, back when I was younger, I decided I did not like it.

Years later I surmised WHY I thought this. My father was a cigar smoker and his taste buds were, shall we say, a bit deadened. Consequently, eating a pizza with Italian sausage on it wasn't enough for him. He had to shake red pepper over the whole thing too. I've never liked spicy "hot" food and so I associated pizza with spicy hot.

Consequently, before we could go to Zeppi's, we first had to stop at Smack's Hamburgers, so my little brother and I could get our meal to go. As a very routinized individual, I ALWAYS ordered the same thing -- a plain hamburger with ketchup. No pickles. No mustard. No cheese. Just meat, bun and ketchup.

Sean always ordered the same thing. However, I've now learned that he did this solely to be like big brother. He actually longed for the day in which I would move outside of my routine, a day that never came. So, he kept ordering a meal he didn't really want. He says it took him years to get up the nerve to order something different.

This whole scenario puzzles me because I certainly didn't think I had anything to do with what he ordered. It would have been quite fine with me if ordered a different sandwich each time. I've never demanded that other people conform to my personal rituals; I only ask that they don't try to divert me from them.

But this unawareness is very common for people with AS. If I had been better at picking up social cues, maybe I would have noticed that my brother kept ordering something other than what he preferred. Alas, I never noticed.

Sean also remembered a time (after my parents were divorced, I think) when father purchased the wrong kind of jelly for my daily peanut butter and jelly sandwich. According to Sean, I became so discombobulated that I ended up smashing two plates against the wall. Though I don't recall this incident, I believe him because it sounds like something I could have done.

The great thing now is that I'm an adult and I live on my own with my wife. I can easily keep to my rituals without unduly influencing or upsetting other people. Thank goodness I have a patient and understanding wife!!


One of my central rules for blogging is to only write when the words wish to be known. Early this morning the words were clamoring to be exposed, but I was so brain dead from having read The Green Mile for hours on end that I had a great deal of difficulty harnessing their flow. So, what started out as a long exposition (the previous post) became shortened as my brain synapses kept misfiring.

The first line in verse five of the Tao Te Ching reads, "Heaven and earth are impartial". This same concept appears in other places in the book as well. Tao exists for the good and wicked, the just and unjust, the peaceful and non-peaceful, humankind and every other life form. We can each draw on it, if we so choose.

Unlike the depictions of religious monotheism, Tao doesn't care nor cry when we hurt. It doesn't rejoice when we are happy. It doesn't come to our rescue when we call out for it and it doesn't punish us when we go astray.

Tao simply is. It nourishes the flow of life everywhere. It's what keeps the universe going. It's nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Each of us is part of it and it is part of each of us. In fact, the best way to find it is not to look without, but to look within.

Everything is Tao.

Variations on The Green Mile

For a slow, plodding reader, I just set a personal record of sorts. I began reading The Green Mile by Stephen King at around 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday and finished the entire 538 page paperback at 11:00 p.m. on Thursday. Needless to say, it was a book I simply couldn't seem to put down!! I kept saying to myself that I needed to use the facilities or get something to eat or go to sleep; an hour later though, I was still reading away.

Of course, as I noted previously, my interest in reading the novel was piqued by the movie of the same name. So, I already knew the general arc of the storyline. I also understood there would be differences -- some major, some slight. Knowing the basic story premise helped to spur me along as I anticipated several key events.

If you haven't read the book or viewed the film, then a lot of what I will write below may not make as much sense as it might otherwise. I'm not going to provide a book report either. I'm just going to assume that those of you who are reading this know the story as King laid it out.

While the author made several references to God in the book, the all mighty doesn't figure prominently in what I got out it. In fact, I think the story could have been told just the same by referencing Tao, nature or nothing at all.

In fact, I'll go even a bit further. One of the key themes of the story illustrates what led me away from Christianity and the very concept of a personified supreme being.

The hero of the story is man named John Coffey (like the drink, only spelled different). He possesses unknown powers to heal the sick and to feel all the pain and misery this world has to offer. At one juncture, he describes the latter ability as being like tiny shards of glass poking him in his eyes and head.

If there was a personified God, then he would be John Coffey to the nth degree 100 trillion times over. Every time any one of his creatures screamed out in pain, misery or agony, he would feel it and, since there are billions upon billions of creatures (animal, plant and mineral), it would feel like trillions upon trillions of shards of glass cutting into his very soul.

His existence would be nothing like nirvana; it would be more like an oozing open sore. In essence, heaven would become hell with no end. What supreme being -- regardless of its omnipotence and omnipresence -- could survive such a torturous existence? Why would it want to?

The ONLY way it could ever hope to survive would be to become absolutely apathetic toward the evils of humankind -- to have the ability to see utter pain and agony with a casual disinterest. That is, of course, possible, but it immediately contradicts the notion of a personified being; a being that cares for each of us as unique individuals.

When I realized this back in my 30s (though, I think I realized this from the very beginning), it dawned on me that no one was up there listening to my prayers. There was no great old geezer in the sky keeping tabs on me or anyone else. Whatever it is had to be wholly IM-personal. And this brought me to Taoism.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Inadequate Description

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
~ Tao Te Ching, a portion of One ~
These are the opening sentences to the Tao Te Ching and I find myself returning to them again and again. In their simplest form, these two lines merely point out that Tao is so much greater than the capabilities of human intellectual that, any attempt to boil it down to a word, sentence or paragraph, is wholly inaccurate.

This afternoon, however, I was struck by a very elementary realization. How can any of us expect to be able to define the mother of all things when we are totally incapable even of defining ourselves? It would be like trying to describe a car and yet not being able to describe a wheel, engine or turn signal.

I can certainly describe myself to you. I can list my height, weight, gender, preferences, beliefs, etc. But I can't tell you what makes me, me. I know that I'm more than the sum of my body parts and processes. I know that there is something more -- some call it soul, others spirit. But, try as I might, I can't definitively tell you what it is.

So, if I can't adequately define the entity that I intimately know the best -- myself -- how on earth could I define and describe something so immense that, in comparison, I look like one blade of grass or one grain of sand?

In my mind's eye, only an extremely arrogant and pompous person would even think that they could do justice in trying to define Tao (or God, Allah, Jehovah or whatever else). We're talking egotism to the millionth degree.

Reading a Book

Unlike most people I know, I rarely read fiction. While my dad can plow through 2 - 3 volumes of historical fiction per week, I can probably count all the books of fiction I've read in 51+ years on my fingers and toes! My reading tastes tend to be a tad bit odd -- rather natural for a quirky individual with AS.

In my teens, the only outright fiction I read -- other than To Kill a Mockingbird -- was what I was assigned in class. For my own amusement, I tended to read books about nature or real live people. The only exception to this rule was theatrical plays. I read almost every play written by Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams and several others.

I can't tell you why, but I liked reading stuff that went like this:

Edward (crosses the room behind the faded sofa, speaks pensively): I think I've found it.
Mary (entering the room from stage left): Are you sure that's it?

In later years, I developed a liking for reference books. I can remember many a day browsing through an encyclopedia or almanac. To this day, I always keep a few reference-type books near my sleeping mat. I've been perusing one for the last several weeks that discusses the origins of words.

Over the past decade or so, the kind of book I most frequently read is philosophical, in nature. I have a rather large library of books written by Alan Watts plus Karl Marx. Light reading to be sure!!

Today, however, I picked up a book at the library that falls outside of my typical interests -- a book of fiction and, though I'm generally a plodding reader, I've raced through the first 150 pages already. The book is The Green Mile written by Stephen King.

Tonight I realized something really odd about the few books of fiction I have voluntarily read -- in almost every case, what spurs me to read the book is watching the movie derived from the book first. In the present case, I caught the last third of the film, The Green Mile, on cable recently and this is what piqued my interest.

This same pattern has been borne out in any other work of fiction I can think of. I read each of the following books only after falling in love with the movie first:
I'm sure I may have read one or two more, but that's all that comes to mind off the top of my head.

Like I indicated above, I think this is sort of weird, but I is what I is. :-)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Taking Time to Say Thank You!

This month represents the beginning of my fifth year blogging from The Rambling Taoist. Like most people, my efforts have come in fits and starts. There have been times when I spend a lot of time contemplating and writing here; at other times, I post a few entries per month here and there.

Most of 2008 was a down time. I didn't return to full-time blogging until November and I've been going strong ever since. I think this burst will last for some time and, maybe, until the end of my days.

As I've discussed in various entries, I've recently come to grips with the fact I have Asperger's Syndrome (AS). While initially this diagnosis really threw me for a loop, I'm growing far more comfortable with understanding my quirky peculiarities. One of these quirks is that I don't belong to a face-to-face social network. Here in South Bend, there's no one I hang out with outside of my family (wife and pets).

But through the process of blogging I have found a sense of community that would otherwise be lacking. I've made acquaintances with Donna, Hayduke, Forest Wisdom, Berd (who I've actually met in person -- we're both Washington guys!), Twisted Branch, Casey, Howard, Tom, Wolf, Samson, ASpieBoy, the FallenMonk and so many others. Some of you I only know as Annonymous, but I often can tell the difference between the various ones who stop by here.

Every visitor who leaves a comment -- and especially those of you who I have had the pleasure of conversing with via email -- has enriched my life. For these reasons, I simply want to say THANK YOU to each and everyone.

Your virtual companionship has meant more to me than, I suspect, you will ever know!!!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Coon Tail Dee-Light

In the efforts of FULL disclosure, I'm a vegetarian and have been for at least 15 years. Consequently, discussions concerning the consumption of any meat or meat byproduct tend to turn my stomach. That said, the following article that I read today from the Kansas City Star, turns my stomach in more somersaults than I previously thought possible.
Raccoon: It's what's for dinner
The Kansas City Star

He rolls into the parking lot of Leon’s Thriftway in an old, maroon Impala with a trunk full of frozen meat.

Raccoon — the other dark meat.

In five minutes, Montrose, Mo., trapper Larry Brownsberger is sold out in the lot at 39th Street and Kensington Avenue. Word has gotten around about how clean his frozen raccoon carcasses are. How nicely they’re tucked up in their brown butcher paper. How they almost look like a trussed turkey … or something.

His loyal customers beam as they leave, thinking about the meal they’ll soon be eating.

That is, as soon as the meat is thawed. Then brined. Soaked overnight. Parboiled for two hours. Slow-roasted or smoked or barbecued to perfection.

Raccoon, which made the first edition of The Joy of Cooking in 1931, is labor-intensive but well worth the time, aficionados say.

“Good things come to those who wait,” says A. Reed, 86, who has been eating raccoon since she was a girl.

“This right here,” she says, holding up a couple of brown packages tied with burlap string, “this is a great value. And really good eatin’. Best-kept secret around.”

Raccoons go for $3 to $7 — each, not per pound — and will feed about five adults. Four, if they’re really hungry. Those who dine on raccoon meat sound the same refrain: It’s good eatin’...
I suppose we'll all know when grilled raccoon goes mainstream when it becomes the featured secret ingredient on Iron Chef America.

I can't wait. Yum. Yum.

Taking a Spin Around the Yard

I don't know about the rest of you, but one of the aspects of blogging I so enjoy is reading about the travels of others wanderers on their own chosen paths. Often times, their words, contemplations and musings strike a definite chord within me and cause me to look at an issue or concept anew.

Since I try to offer as many links to my fellow wanderers as I can find -- both explicitly Taoist or not -- I thought I would take the time to provide excerpts from a few of them in the hope that you too will find their blogs inspiring. The following sample is not extensive and I will try to remember to repeat this exercise every so often.
From A Quiet Watercourse -- The Three Wise Monkeys
I was meditating the other day when something came to my mind about these 3 little fellows.

So we have “See No Evil”, “Speak No Evil” and “Hear No Evil”. There are a few meanings attached to these guys, from outright denial of evil (head in the sand) to a refusal to perform certain actions in case they propagate evil. My own personal focus tends to be a little more on the inner world and I’d like to journey that way, if you’ll consent to walk with me for a minute.

The most obvious meaning is the physical one, literally a “head in the sand” approach, but I feel that this misses the mark. At least, it does for me. I would aim, personally, for the inner eyes, ears and mouth. Not so much a denial of negativity, a refusal to see, but a sense of not allowing your inner self to be blinded, deafened or struck dumb by negativity.

For me there is a sense of trying to see and hear through what may seem to be a simple act of negativity to what underlies it, trying not to let the immediate feelings block that perception...

From Gathering Wisdom -- Why Do We Love?
Love is eternal and is a pervasive, integral part of our True Nature, Source, Self, or God. Everything, including us, springs forth from this infinite Source to enter this material existence. Once here, the Law of Opposites comes into play to create the contrast necessary for everything to assume it's respective definition or form. Without this contrast, nothing would make any sense and our world would appear as an ever-changing chaos overwhelming the senses and causing complete panic from the perception of our Egos. Therefore, Yin and Yang, permeate our entire physical existence and our perception of the material realm...

From The Gnarled Oak -- The Origin of Evil
Evil does not exist as an independent entity operating on is own for the sake of some sense of warped justice or spiteful vengence. All so-called evil conditions, mind states and behaviors stem from the not-knowing of ignorance. Further more, Evil is empty of self and impermanent, arising for a moment and then fading away. The true original sin is not-knowing or ignorance. Human beings are born with the capacity to perform skillful or unskillful actions. And we perform these actions based on the predisposition of our inherited genetic characteristics, environment and mental conditioning. Or for short our inherent nature. We truly are victims of this inherent nature. But we are not completely without some free will, although our intention is only a small factor in the grand scheme of things. We do have the capacity to choose wisely. We can stop evil from arising if we so choose to. Unfortunately our inherent nature seems to be a more powerful factor than our capacity to choose...

From Forest Wisdom -- "a patient willing descent into the grass": A Reflection on Death
Is it only upon reaching "middle age" that most of us really begin to think about the reality of our own death? When we wake up one day and realize that barring accident or disease (which, of course, can take anyone at any age)--were we to live out a life of "normal" longevity--we have now passed a point...we are closer to our graves than to our cradles.

I'm certainly no stranger to such ponderings. Ironically perhaps (but not surprisingly really, if you stop to think about it) such "reflection on death" actually makes one think very deeply and intentionally about one's life...

From Church of the Churchless -- Reality isn't black and white
While it might look like Taoists are big on black and white, this yin-yang symbol actually speaks otherwise.

Yes, there are dualities in the universe. Lots of them: male/female, positive/negative, wave/particle, good/bad ... and on and on and on.

But it's those little circles that tell the most meaningful part of the story -- how there's yin within yang, and yang within yin. The farthest reach of black blends with the beginning of white, and vice versa.

If we think in terms of this or that, we're not seeing reality rightly.

The world appears in shades of gray to eyes attuned to how things are, rather than how we imagine or conceive them to be...

The Side Road of Excess

If I have even a little sense,
I will walk on the main road and my only fear will be
of straying from it.
Keeping to the main road is easy,
But people loved to be sidetracked.

When the court is arrayed in splendor,
The fields are full of weeds,
And the granaries are bare.
Some wear gorgeous clothes,
Carry sharp swords,
and indulge themselves with food and drink;
They have more possessions than they can use.
They are robber barons.
This is certainly not the way of Tao
~ Tao Te Ching, Fifty-Three ~
Though these words were first put pen to paper thousands of years ago, they could have just as easily been written during contemporary times! It really seems like an apt description of what is going on the U.S. today.

It seems like every other day a new news report comes out about this or that executive, for a company that is receiving taxpayer dollars via the federal bailout, is using said money to fund extravagant purchases. They plead poverty and come hat in hand begging before Congress and, once the money is secured, go on living at a level for above those bailing them out!

In essence, this is but one illustration of life out of balance.

This is not to suggest that every person should earn the same amount and that all things in life must be equal. If we look to nature, we see a constant ebb and flow of the life force. Sometimes a species is on the rise, while, at other times, they're in decline. But Mother Nature seems to have an uncanny ability to self-correct excesses and deficiencies. Mother Nature keeps to the main road.

Human society could learn a lot by mimicking the natural world. We suffer from crime and war because robber barons decked out in gorgeous clothes flaunt their excess in the face of the poor. We maintain police and armies to keep the poor from bothering the rich and their excess of possessions.

Remove the excess and one could remove much of the stress and misery in this world. Excess leads those who have to the stress of retention and obtaining more. Excess leads those who have not to the stress of yearning and trying to devise cunning ways to steal.

Therefore, excess is what sidetracks us from holding to the center and being one with Tao.