Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Struggle Continues...

I'm in one of those places in which I'm more acutely aware of my Asperger's self. While the warm temperatures of spring and approaching summer have led my neighbors to host back yard barbecues and informal confabs on the street, I continue to putter around in my own little world. It's not that I long to join in -- I wouldn't know what to say or do -- it just seems weird to have all this laughter around me and not understand the joke.

In a manner of speaking, it's hard for others to understand how socially isolated I am (by choice). There are many days in which I never leave the confines of the house and yard. On the days when I do venture out, it's for only 30 minutes or so. My "social" world centers around the library, grocery store, pharmacy and bakery.

There are many, many days in which the only other human I talk to is my wife. Sprinkled in, on other days, may be short conversations via phone with my brother, dad and one friend (Maryrose). I also have an odd neighbor who I talk to -- we're a strange pair! Most of my long conversations are with my animal friends, both those who reside here and throughout the neighborhood.

Lately, I haven't even been that conversant with my wife. I spend long hours upstairs alone. The other night I came upstairs about 7 p.m. and never went downstairs until the next morning!

During times like this I struggle with being a Taoist. It's hard to go with the flow when nothing around or within me seems to be flowing.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Fractal Disengagement

I'm a very cyclical person. I go through periods in which my mind is alive and others in which it's just sort of dead. Right now, I'm tilting toward the latter. I'm not writing much and I'm not visiting my favorite blogs -- YOUR blogs -- either. I have several books on my reading stand, but I simply can't muster the motivation to read any of them.

I believe I go through these mental ups and downs because of my "all out" personality. I'm not the sort of person who tends to do things half-ass. For example, during the month of March, I was posting entries on this blog several times per day. My mind was razor sharp. Everything I read, saw, watched, observed or contemplated sparked a thought and, since this blog merely represents my thinking out loud, those thoughts got posted here.

As mentioned in my last post, I had been neglecting my paying gig a bit. So, in my typical fashion, I did one month's worth of work in three frenetic days!

The problem I habitually encounter with this kind of personality is mental exhaustion. At some point, I seem to burn up all of my emotional energy and this leads to a type of depression. No, I'm not suicidal or anything like that; it's more like being unable to think, write or contemplate anything more serious than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Thoughts still swirl through my head, but I can't seem to catch up with them. So, instead of spending my time pondering the complexities of life, I sit at my computer and play word games (Boggle, Lexicon, Super Letter Linker, WinAgrams, etc.).

At some point, the sparks will start flying again and the words will no longer get jumbled in my head. When that happens -- later today or weeks from now -- TRT will come alive again. Right now, though, it's existing on fumes. :-)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Gone Traveling

For the first time since mid-March (gallbladder surgery) I haven't posted anything for 2 whole days! The reason for this is I've been traveling. In the past 24 hours, I've been in South Africa, Ireland and New Zealand. Talk about jet lag!!

For those of you scratching your heads -- knowing how financially poor I am -- you may be wondering if I've completely flipped out this time. Well okay, I haven't genuinely left the confines of Pacific County, Washington; I've been doing my travels via the internet. ;-)

As I've mentioned in this space before, I have a part-time job as a researcher for GreenPRO. So, I've been researching local laws and policies in the aforementioned far-flung places. Because of my obsessive-compulsive nature, when I get into research mode, I research for hours on end -- usually to the detriment of my health, diet and sleep!

Hmm. Maybe later today I'll skip over to Germany or Singapore.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

One and Three Zeros

The numbers one and zero can mean lots of things. Take one "1" and add it to three zeros (0, 0, 0) and we still wind up with one. Subtract the zeros from one and we still get 1. However, if we throw in a decimal point, ooh then we can do some fun things. We could make 10.00 or 100.0 or .001 or 0.010...

On this occasion, however, I'm not going to use a decimal point at all; I'm going to use a comma -- 1,000. This number 1,000 signifies the number of posts as of this very one that I've written on this blog to date.

That's hundreds of thousands of individual letters. Probably a few less syllables. Tens of thousands of sentences and a few thousand paragraphs.

In the overall scheme of things, one thousand means nothing. It's merely one more than 999 and 8,046 less than 9,046. But what can I say? I LIKE numbers. I think it's one of my Asperger fixations. Numbers run through my head constantly. I always seem to be adding, subtracting, averaging or counting these made-up thingies.

One thousand posts also points to the fact that I have a lot to say. I seem to be willing and able to expound on numerous topics, though there are certainly specific topics I focus on.

Heck, when I'm dead and gone -- through the magic of the internet -- the words I've tapped out here will live on and on. Who knows? Maybe 1,000 years later, people will still be able to access all my incessant blathering. That's kind of scary, if you think about it!!

So, here's to the number 1,000 -- a totally insignificant milestone of sorts. Maybe sometime, in the near future, I can work up the enthusiasm to embrace and celebrate post #1,084.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Dream of Peace

While many will memorialize fallen soldiers today for their sacrifices for "the greater good", I instead lament all the broken lives of war -- the soldiers and civilians killed, all those physically maimed, the souls who have been psychologically destroyed and all the families who've had to deal with the awful fallout.

For me, the best way to commemorate Memorial Day is to work to make war obsolete. To this end, here are a variety of videos celebrating war's antithesis -- peace.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Spring Cleaning

When we moved to South Bend in August 2007, we unpacked all of our essentials and left lots of the non-essentials in boxes in the basement. Of course, the plan was to sort through the stuff in the coming weeks. Well, the "coming weeks" lasted a bit longer than intended; until this weekend, in fact!

What can I say? I'm a pack rat (and so is Della). It amazes me how much junk I hold onto. My favorite sort of thing to keep is made of paper -- news clippings, magazine articles, entire newspapers and magazines, old reports and tests from college, and almost anything I've ever written -- good, bad or so-so.

Over the past 5 years involving two moves, I've tried very hard to break the paper habit. I've probably recycled at least a ton or two of paper. Yet, no matter how much paper I recycle, there's still way too much of it. Boxes and boxes filled with paper.

So, this time around I'm culling more of it. If I keep doing this every few years, I might get to the point in which I'm only left with 2 or 3 boxes filled with paper. Ya know, the best stuff for the those trips down memory lane.

One of those boxes will be filled with reams of copy paper. Over a decade ago, we bought a pallet of office supplies at an auction for $98. Aside from lots of stuff we really didn't need, we did find that we had purchased two cases of Valley Forge Parchment paper. At the time, each ream cost $11.50 (retail). Twenty reams would have set us back $230, so getting this paper for $98 was a steal.

As I'm going through yet another box, I find 4 reams of the paper. I already have a ream of 80% recycled paper -- so I now have 5 reams or 2500 pieces. This should last us for the next 10 - 20 years.

Now, if I can only figure out what to do with the dozen or so golf balls I've found in boxes! (Note: Neither Della nor I plays golf.)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Like Reading the Tax Code

A few weeks back, I mentioned I was getting ready to read "The Ethics" by Spinoza. While I DO hope to make my way through it eventually, the writing style is not one that is very comfortable for me. It's kind of like reading the US Tax Code -- I've read parts of that before -- or any other highly legalized document.

Spinoza constantly refers back to other paragraphs, pages or chapters. It goes something like this: Here's an idea or concept that refers back to page 16, paragraph 3, sentence 2. So, I have to go back to that place which then has its own references to still more backtracking.

I think it's the kind of a book that a lawyer would thoroughly relate to and, maybe, even enjoy. My problem is that I'm not a lawyer!

Friday, May 22, 2009

By the Side of the Road

Today we trekked to Aberdeen so I can begin the fun process of becoming toothless (dentures on the horizon). As we drove north on Highway 101, we kept noticing the same plant which features a dazzling display of yellow flowers. "Ooh, maybe we could add that to our native garden," my wife suggested. I stopped along the side of the road to get a sample plant -- something we could use with our native plant reference guide.

It turns out that this plant -- Scotch Broom -- will not be finding a home in our garden because it is classified both as a noxious weed AND an invasive species. It seems that it is prevalent along Washington highways because the highway department put it there before realizing how destructive the plant can be.

According to the National Park Service, Scotch broom is a "bad" plant because:
  • Scotch broom is a prodigious seed producer. The seeds have hard coats enabling them to survive in the environment for up to 80 years.
  • The seeds are transported from place to place in mud stuck to vehicles, equipment, shoes and the feet of animals.
  • Seeds may be carried via runoff from roads into streams and gullies. Then seedlings may establish along stream sides and along gully walls.
  • Scotch broom forms dense brush fields over six feet tall.
  • The brush fields distract from appreciation of the natural landscapes of the Bald Hills prairies.
  • The brush fields diminish habitat for grazing animals, such as the native Roosevelt Elk.
  • Areas of dense brush shade out and kill native grassland plants in invaded areas, and favor invasion by other woody, non-grassland plant species.
  • Scotch broom is a threat to the integrity of the Bald Hills prairie ecosystem.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Boxes Comes in All Shapes and Sizes

Most people avoid creative activities due to a fear of failure. The sage having no such fear thinks new thoughts, tries new actions and gains understanding through failures as well as successes.
~ Yesterday's Daily Quote from the TaoWoods Center ~

For much of the past 18 years, I've been involved with -- shall we say -- progressive and/or far left advocacy groups. I've held leadership roles within the Socialist Party, Green Party, peace organizations and social justice groups. These organizations are said to be progressive or far left based on their underlying perspectives and foundational principles.

However, just like almost any other group of individuals, it's often difficult to get members and supporters to "think outside the box". While each group's focus may border on being revolutionary, the way each group operates internally is rather conservative. People always seem to want to do things the way they have always been done. If anyone broaches a new idea or strategy, you can be assured that the majority will opine, "What if it doesn't work?"

I've come to believe that almost any group is confined to a box. It doesn't matter where the group falls on the political, philosophical or religious spectrum -- there is still a damn box that constrains their actions.

Fundamentalists have a teeny weeny box. The box for old-fashioned conservatives is a tad bit bigger. Moderates enjoy a slightly larger box. Liberals have a bigger box still. Left wingers have an even larger box. Anarchists have the largest box of all, but it's still a box!

Few groups are willing to try new ideas and strategies because they are each afraid of failure. So, they keep going through the same motions which tend to net the same results. And then they wonder why they can't seem to move forward!

I was an officer of a statewide peace group in Oregon. This organization railed against the top-down hierarchical corporate model as being unethical and against the needs of the people. So, what sort of model do you think this group employed for it's internal structure? Yes, you guessed it -- a top-down hierarchical one.

When the staff and our chief volunteers pitched the idea of becoming a collective with no executive director, the board went bonkers. A state organization must have a chief executive, they told us. Why, we asked. Because that's the way it had always been done!

One of the political parties I was involved with screamed to the high heavens about the practice of gerrymandering employed by the Democrats and Republicans. It's wanton manipulation of the system, they cried. Yet, during a heated debate on a strategical move, the leadership body utilized gerrymandering to apportion delegates for a convention so they could ensure that they would win the day.

I could provide loads of example, but this will suffice. People of all stripes get too caught up in the idea of winning and success based on methods and strategies that have worked before. New ideas and strategies get thrown to the side because a) it hasn't been tried before and b) it might not work.

The fact is that we humans learn best through trial and error. In fact, we often learn more from our mistakes and our mistakes often pave the way toward success. But, in order to move forward, a group has to be willing to try out new ideas and strategies -- ideas and strategies that may or may not work as intended.

American Idol

FINALLY, it's over with for another year! This means I don't have to hide upstairs on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

Look, I'm sure the program is mildly interesting -- Talent contests have been aired since the dawn of the television era. But millions upon millions of people go gaga over this stuff. They debate, talk and write about it incessantly...while Rome burns. I read online that something in the neighborhood of 100 million votes were cast for the final show of the season. Heck, if one-tenth of one percent of those people cared about what's going in the nation's capitol or their state capitol or their county board or even their city council, maybe we wouldn't be in such a mess!

Between the entertainment and sports industries, millions of fans only seem interested in living their lives vicariously through their heroes and idols. Sure, it might be great to imagine you're living the life of Derek Jeter, Julia Roberts, LeBron James or whomever won this year's American Idol, but it isn't YOUR life. So, get over it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What Saith the Tree?

Over one year ago, we planted a one foot high shore pine in our back yard. It's grown, at least, two feet in its first year. However, of all the trees behind our house -- there are hundreds of them! -- it's teeny weenie. I often wonder if it looks up at the majestic pines, cedars and spruces to think, "Hey, one day I may be that big!"

I don't mean this in an anthropomorphic way. We humans have a tendency to ascribe human characteristics to non-human beings (e.g., pets, God, etc.). But I believe that all entities have a form of consciousness.

For quite a long time, we thought ONLY humans possessed consciousness; this is what separated us from everything else. Recently, it's been hypothesized that apes have consciousness too. Who knows? Maybe science will one day show that all animals possess a form of consciousness.

My belief is not based on science per se. I reason that, since I have consciousness and I am part of this experience called life, it only stands to reason that everything else is conscious of its own being. Rocks, slugs, wolves and tulips probably don't recognize their own consciousness in the form of expressive language and thought, but that shouldn't mean it doesn't feel alive and part of the tapestry in some sense.

For me, consciousness is awareness. I think it would illustrate extreme egoism at its most absolute if I thought I had a sense of self that no other being possesses.

One little tree amongst giants.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

One With

By spending time in natural settings, you can resolve the problems of your psyche, and like the sage discover the treasures buried within your own mind and the universe.
~ Today's Daily Quote from the TaoWoods Center ~

Almost every person I have ever met enjoys time in the out-of-doors. Some people like to walk alone on an ocean beach. Others thrill at the opportunity to go hiking, camping or canoeing. Still others flock to federal, state, county and city parks. For some, with super busy lives, it might be as simple as time spent in the back yard watching a robin hunt for a juicy worm.

If we are able to muster the willpower to leave behind our cell phones, iPods, Blackberries, laptops and all the other techno features of modern life, we quickly realize in our isolation that we are nothing more than one aspect of nature. This realization is both frightening and exhilarating simultaneously.

It's frightening because we quickly see that we are a mere speck in the totality of existence. It's also exhilarating because we feel an inherent connection with all around us.

Consequently, getting away to the woods, beach or mountains isn't merely a recreational pursuit; it's something we all need to feed our inner self. It's so easy to find ourselves anew staring at the rhythmic action of ocean waves or an eagle gliding high overhead. We each need such exquisite solace to truly be alive.

Monday, May 18, 2009


In a post from last week , Quantity vs Quality, I discussed the fact that members of the Pirahã tribe have a short life expectancy of approximately 40 years. In this modern world, that figure seems really scant. However, when compared to Afghanistan's 43.8 years, it's not that much of a difference!

Imagine being in your late 30s and realizing that, on average, people in your country can expect to be dead by 44. I guess that would mean that the Afghani AARP cards would start being offered to individuals once they attained the mature old age of 25!

If we look at the various nations that border Afghanistan, life expectancy rates range from 63.2 years in Turkmenistan to 70.56 years in Iran. Why would crossing over an imaginary line reduce a person's expected life span by nearly 20 years or more?

Of course, the answer is obvious -- war, war and more war. While the Pirahãs experience a short life expectancy, reports from various sources indicate they lead contented lives. As the following story from TruthOut indicates, the same can not be said for most Afghanis.
According to the CIA World Factbook, an Afghan's life expectancy is merely 44 years. That's 20 to 30 years fewer than neighboring Pakistan and all other surrounding countries. It is just one result of the ongoing devastation in that country.

The war in Afghanistan did not start in 2001 with the US invasion. It began 30 years ago in December 1979, when the former Soviet Union invaded the country. The human toll of the conflict is staggering: More than a million Afghans have been killed and 3 million maimed.

Five million (one third of the pre-war population) were forced to leave their country and became refugees. There are still 3.1 million Afghan refugees today, making up 27 percent of the global refugee population. Most of them live in Pakistan. Another two million Afghans were displaced within the country. In the 1980s, one out of two refugees in the world was an Afghan.

Most Afghans alive today have seen nothing but war.

Daily life in Afghanistan is miserable. Only six percent have electricity in a country which gets as cold as Chicago in winter. Even in Kabul, the country's capital, electricity comes for only a few hours a day. Traditional wood heating is difficult since not much wood is left in Afghanistan after 30 years of wars and forest devastation. Over 1,000 people died because of cold weather last year.

"About two million state school students do not have access to safe drinking water and about 75 percent of these schools in Afghanistan do not have safe sanitation facilities," according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

There is no law and order in most of Afghanistan. Government barely exists in Kabul. Former warlords are the leaders. That is demonstrated by the fact that "Afghanistan is the world's largest cultivator and supplier of opium (93 percent of the global opiates market), according to the [Afghanistan Opium Survey 2008] by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime." [A British daily paper] actually reported that "the four largest players in the heroin business are all senior members of the Afghan government."

The Taliban, which has lost its legitimacy due to its brutality, are sometimes remembered by Afghans as those who brought peace to Afghanistan...

Another One Bites the Dust

75 and 100 years ago, every major and minor city in America had two, three, even a dozen daily newspapers duking it out for the hearts and minds of their town’s population. Now we’re down to less than 10 cities.
~ from Mustardayonnaise ~

Yes, America has a long history with multiple print media in towns, cities and metro areas. In February, Cincinnati lost the Enquirer and, a short while later, Seattle saw the Post-Intelligencer shut its doors. The prior year it was The Rocky Mountain News. On Friday, another newspaper bit the dust, the Tuscon Citizen.

In this day of instant news via the internet, many might ask: What's the big deal? Why are folks in these cities upset when they still have one major newspaper?

Every time a voice is silenced, the definition of what constitutes news gets narrowed. Wherever a monopoly exists, choices become limited and controlled. If you live in an area with only one gas station, the owners can charge whatever the like. There is no other option to compel them to behave otherwise.

It's the very same thing for news! When only one major newspaper exists in a large metro area, its publisher and editors get to decide what is and isn't news. Since all publications have a necessary bias, the news get filtered through this one lens.

(Try getting a letter to the editor published in the one newspaper if your bias doesn't match up well with the newspaper's bias!)

Friday was a sad day, not only for the people of Tuscon, but for lovers of divergent voices everywhere.

Hedge Your Bet

I remember back in grad school studying about the campaign contribution system in American politics. In most instances, particular individuals, groups or companies favor one political party over others and their campaign contributions flow in the preferred direction. However, in some cases, campaign contributions were given to all the candidates with a chance of winning. The preferred candidate received the largest chunk, but any other candidate, thought to have a decent chance of winning, received a sizable contribution too.

Some individuals, groups and companies spread the money around in order to hedge their bet. They wanted to be in a position to curry favor with whoever won the contest. So, by betting on all sides, their strategy was to guard against a potential loss.

This same kind of strategy is employed by some people at horse races. Small bets are placed on every horse in the race in the hope that the winner, place and show will net enough money to cover all the bets AND bring the bettor a profit too.

I suppose this strategy might work in the areas of politics or horse racing, but it doesn't apply as well in other areas. One area in which I think hedging one's bet is not applicable is in religion.

From time to time on blogs frequented by non-believers and Christians, discussions can get fairly intense. There's a lot of back and forth with little common ground. It's not altogether infrequent for an exasperated Christian to blurt out, "What if you turn out to be wrong? Is it going to hurt you to believe in God?"

I call this the "hedge your bet" argument. The inferred suggestion is that a person can hold onto their non-believing ways while, concurrently, believing just enough to guard against being wrong on "Judgment Day" or they should believe in a half-ass way.

But, if there is a God, don't you think he would see through this wanton subterfuge? Don't you think he could not easily identify those who were "hedging their bets"? Me thinks he actually would go easier on the strict non-believers than he would on the fake believers because at least the former were being true to themselves.

So, here's a heads up to you devout believers: Quit utilizing that stupid argument! By encouraging others to hedge their bets, you are encouraging others to be deceitful and this one act could seal YOUR fate on Judgment Day. Instead of enjoying your seat at the heavenly table, this one act could reserve you a seat next to the fiery imp himself.

(Not So) Fun in the Sun

As I mentioned in my last post yesterday, I spent a great deal of time out in the sun tending to my garden and yard. Since my hair is thinning with age and I sport a crew-cut anyway, I wore a ball cap most of the time to ensure I didn't sunburn me noggin. I also took frequent breaks to make sure I didn't stay out in the sun too long.

Because of temperatures near 70, I eschewed my typical uniform of overalls and did my work in shorts and a t-shirt. I got a lot of work done, but I also ended up with a nasty case of sunburn.

The interesting thing is what part of my body looks like a lobster. It's not my head, face or arms. In fact, it's a place I don't think I've ever been sunburned before. It's my knees -- both of them! The rest of my legs are fine. But my knees are on fire.

Go figure.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bite Worse Than the Bark

The weather in South Bend this weekend offered us the first taste of summer. So, I did what many of my neighbors did -- puttered around the yard and garden. Late this afternoon my outdoor time came to an abrupt end. As I was sitting in the sun, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye -- a pit bull running loose.

On most issues in life, my opinion falls in the far left quadrant. However, when it comes to pit bulls, I probably have a very conservative perspective: I think pit bulls should be outlawed. Even further, I think all the pit bulls currently alive should be rounded up and euthanized.

My wife tells me this is a bit harsh. There are many pit bulls that are loving pets and companion animals. I will admit that this may well be true, but given the right circumstances, I fear that ANY pit bull can become a monster.

I just did a Google news search on stories related to pit bulls in the past four days. Here's what I found:
Look, I truly feel sorry for these poor canines. It's not their fault that humans have bred them to be aggressive attack animals. But news items about pit bull attacks on people and other animals are becoming far too common.

One recurring aspect of many such stories is when the owner tells anyone who will listen that their dog has never behaved this way before. Some of these folks probably are lying, but I believe many of them are speaking truthfully. This only underscores what kind of danger these dogs represent. They can lead nice and friendly lives, then one day -- poof! -- the dog becomes a mad mauler!

Even more amazing is the number of times the dog's owner has tried to thwart the attack to no avail. In fact, in the first story cited above, the dogs turned on their owners and attacked them!

I also understand that there are other breeds who have been known to attack innocent bystanders (e.g., Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, etc.). But stories of these attacks appear every once in awhile. Hardly a week goes by in this country when a pit bull hasn't attacked someone, somewhere.

Null and Void

The concept of the void or "nothingness" is fundamental. The sage understands that there is no separation between the void and the phenomena it produces, it is in all things.
~ Today's Daily Quote from the TaoWoods Center ~

This thought really resonates with me. I've tried to explain my reasoning several times, but I keep erasing it because it's not capturing what's in my heart. Since I'm having trouble putting it into words, I finally decided that I won't try anymore. I'll simply let today's daily quote stand on its own two feet.

Maybe one of you can explain it better.

Anything Goes?

The world has gone mad today
And good's bad today,
And black's white today,
And day's night today,
When most guys today
That women prize today
Are just silly gigolos
And though I'm not a great romancer
I know that I'm bound to answer
When you propose,
Anything goes.
~ from the musical, Anything Goes by Cole Porter ~

When I talk to people in the local community about Taoism -- a philosophy so foreign to many American sensibilities -- quite a few people have asked: If each person must find their own path, does this mean that anything goes?

I can readily understand their concern. Under our religion-infused system, the thought is that there must be moral standards to constrain the masses from wanton debauchery, theft, murder and all forms of abuse. If, under a Taoist system, people are allowed to define such things for themselves, then a person who desires to have sex with children or a person who wants to kill others he/she doesn't like would be free to do so, right?

The problem with this kind of analysis is that it misconstrues the concept of finding one's own path. Taoists believe that nature -- something we already are part of -- should be our guide. In nature, there is no desire and intent, only being. All the nefarious activities listed above have intent at their very core.

When a tornado falls from the sky to wreck havoc on the earth below, it's not because the atmosphere has an axe to grind with the trees or people below. Tornadoes occur because of a complex matrix of climatic cause and effect.

When an eagle swoops down to kill a rabbit or a cougar takes down a deer, it's not because the "victim" insulted the aggressor, it's the natural cycle of things. Eagles and cougars need to eat to stay alive and their biology dictates that most of their nutrition must come from meat.

In the two examples cited above, intent is the variable that's missing.

Contrast this with a rapist or murderer. Both commit their heinous crimes with the intent of satisfying a desire. If the desire and intent are removed, then the crimes wouldn't be committed as they would serve no internal purpose.

So, the key to understanding the belief in finding one's own path in this life is to do so devoid of desire and intent. Strip these two away and no morality is needed. People would live in harmony with nature and each other.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Damn That Spellcheck

I used to be something of a good speller. I remember earning a few ribbons and/or high marks for spelling competitions in school. It seems that as I age, my spelling instincts have flown out the door! Words that I have spelled correctly for decades, all of a sudden, sport letters or even syllables that don't belong.

Of course, few people would notice this incessant problem because of the ubiquitous spellchecker in most software. I have to run the program each time I post a blog entry, lest you all think I flunked out of kindergarten four times!!

But here's the problem: Using a spellchecker isn't helping me regain my prowess as an accurate speller. In fact, it's having the opposite affect (or is that effect)! Each day I seem to find new words to misspell which means new words for the program to correct. And I don't seem to retain any of this information.

Of course, this is a common problem when we get used to allowing technology to take over parts of our lives. Why should I even be concerned with proper spelling if my computer can make me look like a spelling genius? I really don't have to put that much effort into it because the effort itself is being born by this machine.

At least I still cut my vegetables by hand! No food processors here.

Take the Money and Run

Tonight I watched a rerun of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. It's an episode from Season 2 entitled, "Con-Text". The basic storyline is about a confused young man who is manipulated to commit murder by a greedy self-help guru.

Now, I'm not going to suggest that every self-help program out there is sleazy. I'm sure there are a few of them that really believe all their own pr. That said, the founders and stars of the successful ones are making tens of millions of dollars convincing people that each needs to be helped to realize their self potential by handing over oodles and oodles of money.

Why do people allow themselves to be suckered into these kinds of nonsensical programs? You don't need someone like Tony Robbins to help you "unleash your power within". There are no secret formulas to life. There are no shortcuts. All an external source can do is help you to actualize their own external ideas.

Almost anytime someone tells you that he/she can help you unlock or free yourself for x number of dollars, run the opposite direction post haste. I don't care how reasonable their advice or program may appear to be. More than anything else, it's money-making racket -- your money into their pocket.

In this same vein, if someone tries to convince you that he is a prophet, Jesus-reincarnated or God's special friend, make a mad dash out the door. Even worse than your typical self-guru, these individuals want not only your money/possessions but also your undying allegiance. I think it can safely be said without exception that such individuals are conniving crackpots.

You don't need any of these folks to you find yourself. You are the only with the power to do this. So save your money for something more worthwhile.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Where Have All the $$ Gone?

Back in the 1960s, Peter, Paul & Mary asked: Where have all the flowers gone? I'm beginning to think it's time to pen a new version -- Where Have All the Dollars Gone? Trillions upon trillions of taxpayer dollars are flowing out of the national treasury, but where exactly are the dollars going?

On the news tonight, NBC reported that the areas of the country with the highest unemployment are seeing the fewest dollars from the stimulus package; you know, the moolah that's supposed to help put the unemployed back to work! So, if it's not going to these areas, where is it going?

Here's another thing I'm wondering about. We're giving Chrysler, GM and Ford hundreds of mullions of dollars to keep afloat and the first two have just announced that they will shutter a combined 2,000 dealerships. That means tens of thousands -- if not more -- people out of work. So, what are the big 3 doing with the money?

And then, of course, we have the banks and Wall Street. We're supposedly giving them money hand over fist to ease the credit crunch. But no one is lending. So, what are they doing with this great largess?

Is anyone paying attention to this money drain?

Dead Rodent

Generally speaking, I'm deathly afraid of rodents. Whenever a mouse or rat is caught in a trap or by one of our cats, my wife HAS TO dispose of it because I won't even enter the room. If a mouse is spotted in the house, I leave or lock myself in the bathroom.

Early this morning, however, I encountered a dead mouse and I'm proud to say that I dealt with the problem myself. Of course, this particular rodent happened to be a computer mouse. :O)

It simply quit working. I tried to fix it, but it didn't want to be fixed. So, I hopped over to Radio Shack to purchase a new one.

Being a person with Asperger's who doesn't like change, my intent was to get a mouse just like the old one. But they didn't have any old fashioned ones. So, my new mouse has an optical light instead of a ball and it has one of the scroll wheel thingies in the middle. I'm not even sure I know what the purpose of the wheel is.

Doesn't matter. I'm just going to pretend it's not there.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Not Again!!

For the second time in the past 4 years, my favorite oldies radio station abruptly is going off the air!! Back in May 2005, when I lived in Oregon, I lamented the fate of KISN 97.1 FM. One day I was listening to my beloved 60s music and the next day it was replaced by some eclectic corporate new wave crap. At least, in that instance, a form of KISN remained on the air on the AM dial.

Now, four years later, I just learned that The Eagle 97.7 out of Olympia will turn into KOMO-FM tomorrow morning. Not only will a Seattle group take over the station, but the format is switching to a Talk/News format. Double Yuk!!!

While this "news" bums me out to no end, I again feel worse for the 15 or so employees who will lose their jobs. Many of them just learned of this radical change in their lives -- in this wonderful economy, no less -- only a day or two ago. Of course, the owners of South Sound Broadcasting must be sitting pretty as I'm sure this deal with a media conglomerate means big bucks for them.

The Eagle is/was the only halfway decent radio format we can pick up in South Bend. Most of the few other stations on the dial are Christian, Spanish and country stations. Surprisingly enough, despite the fact Pacific County is rural, we have NO radio stations of our own. Not one. So, news from Seattle isn't particularly germane to our area -- we're actually closer to Portland, OR than to Seattle.

I find this lack of a local radio outlet appalling (even one with a format I might dislike). In almost every other rural area I've ever lived in, there has been at least 1 local radio station. Such a station served as the fulcrum for local news and community events. It was a place that broadcast local high school sporting events, city council meetings and area public service announcements.

But not Pacific County, Washington! The closest we can get to "local" is Aberdeen/Hoquiam (35 miles north) or Astoria, OR (50 miles south). And now we can't even get oldies music either!!

I'm going to have a good cry now. :(

Tick, Tick, Tick

With completion comes fulfillment. With fulfillment comes liberation. Liberation allows you to go on. The sage understands that even death is not a true ending, but a continuation.
~ Today's Daily Quote from the TaoWoods Center ~

As anyone who frequently visits TRT knows, I feature quotes from the TaoWoods Center quite often. I think the person or persons who devise these pearls of wisdom do a great job! More often than not, I find resonance in what arrives in my in box each morning.

However, I'm not of a mind to agree or disagree with the thrust of today's quote. Why? Because I have no way of knowing whether or not death is part of a continuation. Death may be nothing more than a complete cessation of all we know OR it may merely be a pause along the way. It could even be something altogether different, something we have no way of describing nor comprehending.

Even further, the concept of continuing is based on another concept -- time. If time exists independent of human consciousness, then a belief in continuation makes sense. On the other hand, if time is merely a human construct to explain what can't really be explained, then what does continuation mean? It's based on a something that is nothing.

Put another way, if time doesn't exist, then continuation (or cessation) isn't anchored to a frame of reference. One can only continue from a beginning and if a beginning never happened, neither can a continuance.

Hmm...That's Different

I often like to look at the referring URLs that bring a person to TRT. It's one way to find out who lists your blog on their blog roll, not that this genuinely matters in the overall scheme of things! What fascinates me the most are the various criteria employed by individuals utilizing a search engine. Some of the search strings can be really hilarious.

More often than not, it's a straightforward proposition. Someone types "taoist blogs" or "taoism blog" into Google or Yahoo. A close cousin to this kind of search is to type "taoism and an additional (word[s] or topic[s])". Sometimes a person is looking for a catch-phrase or a quote. I wrote a post many moons ago about the song "Let Peace Begin with Me" and, on occasion, people arrive at TRT based solely on this criteria.

Today, I discovered a most interesting search string -- "man tao bread wiki". Aside from a hearty chuckle, I'm left to wonder the precise information this person was looking for. I can't imagine that anything on this blog met with that person's satisfaction.

Hey, but who knows?

Heart of the Matter

I have just about finished reading "Don't Sleep, There are Snakes" by Daniel Everett. One aspect of this book that has really surprised me is the lack of discussion concerning his deconversion from Christianity. In reading reviews, I got the idea that this topic was to be a central theme. The topic only is dealt with directly in one chapter near the end of the book.

But, in many ways, the 259 pages of lead-up are pointing to this one chapter. Everett does a masterful job of allowing the reader to feel a small part of what it means to be Pirahã. Once the reader takes this in, the chapter on deconversion becomes an obvious and organic conclusion.
Is it possible to live a life without the crutches of religion and truth? The Pirahãs do so live. They share some of our concerns, of course, since many of our concerns derive from our biology, independent of our culture...But they live most of their lives outside these concerns because they have independently discovered the usefullness of living one day at a time. The Pirahãs simply make the immediate their focus of concentration, and thereby, in a single stroke, they eliminate huge sources of worry, fear, and despair that plague so many of us in Western societies.

They have no craving for truth as a transcendental reality. Indeed, the concept has no place in their values. Truth to the Pirahãs is catching a fish, rowing a canoe, laughing with your children, loving your brother, dying of malaria. Does this make them more primitive? Many anthropologists have suggested so, which is why they are so concerned about finding out the Pirahãs notions about God, the world, and creation.

But there is an interesting alternative way to think about things. Perhaps it is the presence of these concerns that makes a culture more primitive, and their absence that renders a culture more sophisticated. It that is true, the Pirahãs are a very sophisticated people. Does this sound far-fetched? Let's ask ourselves if it is more sophisticated to look at the universe with worry, concern, and a belief that we can understand it all, or to enjoy life as it comes, recognizing the likely futility of looking for truth or God?
I don't know if the Taoist sages of old could put it any better!

No Flow

Unfortunately, I think I understand the concept of blockage (no flow) better than the average bloke. When we're each unable to go with the flow, we become stagnant. On an emotional level, we can't seem to motivate ourselves to get up and going. In essence, we become bogged down, mired in a rut.

I've been up almost all night. In fact, it's no longer night anymore! I'm not suffering from emotional or psychic blockage; it's more physical, in nature. Without going into the gory details, my spastic colon is at it again -- a not untypical complaint for those with fibromyalgia.

I've struggled with this -- shall we say -- difficulty for my entire life. Things just sort of stop moving and get hung up. It causes gas, bloating and a good deal of pain. It's not because I eat a poor diet. I partake of plenty of fiber and I drink lots of liquid. Nonetheless, from time to time, things seem to stop moving along their merry way.

Of course, I know what the real culprit is -- stress. While some people get migraines, my focal point is a lot lower. I simply wish I could learn to relax this internal part of my body. Believe me, I've tried, but, as with many things in life, trying is the problem. As Master Yoda (Star Wars) would say, "Don't try. Do."

Enough of that. Just be glad my problem isn't the other side of the coin -- diarrhea. Now that would make for an interesting post!! ;-)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

I've written quite a bit about the human tendency either to wallow in the past or fret about the future. Some individuals spend their lives focused on what has already happened and can't be changed. They become so fixated with what's over and done with that they just can't seem to enjoy the present. Others -- and I sometimes fall into this group -- spend so much time and energy being anxious about the future that they too can't enjoy the simple pleasures of the here and now.

Taoism teaches each of us to concentrate on the now and to do so like a child -- free from prejudices, expectations and control.

Unfortunately, like individual humans, some systems (thought patterns and practices created by humans that, after a while, may operate without specific human direction) seem to be unable to follow this simple advice either. Religion, in general, and Christianity, in specific, seems to fall prey simultaneously to both of the human preoccupations cited above.

On the one hand, much of Christian doctrine is focused on the past. Adherent's eyes are told to fixate on Moses, the Prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus and Paul. The other main portion of Christian belief is aimed toward the future replete with visions of heaven, hell and judgment by the almighty. The present only serves as a temporal springboard to look backward or forward.

There is one system that, on the surface, appears to take Taoist perspective to heart -- capitalism. This economic system seems to focus the vast majority of its attention on the here and now with little time left over to look back or forward.

Under capitalism, the goal is to reap the greatest profit today. The past has already come and gone. The future will take care of itself in its own time. But there is an element missing in this equation -- capitalism does NOT view the present in a child-like manner. Instead of allowing things to unfold as they will, this economic system is about control. Consequently, capitalism lives in the here and now at the WILLFUL expense of the future.

The individuals and organizations of today's capitalism realize that many of the strategies they employ today to maximize profit in the present will cause future headaches and misery. With extreme prejudice, they don't give a damn because THEIR today is deemed more important than anyone else's tomorrow.

What brought on this little tirade, you ask? An article by Matt Renner in today's TruthOut:
Ask most people on the street how much money taxpayers are using to save banks and you will probably hear the number $700 billion. The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) passed by Congress at the urging of the Bush administration and then Treasury secretary Henry Paulson, allocated an unprecedented sum of taxpayer money for the sole purpose of propping up the financial sector in its darkest hour.

But the actual number is much bigger. The current block of taxpayer money that has been pledged by the US government and the Federal Reserve to prevent the system from collapsing, according to an analysis by Bloomberg News, is roughly $12.8 trillion as of March 31. This money has been lent, spent or guaranteed to prevent a systemic collapse. The Bloomberg report and a chart showing broad categories of where the money has come from and the programs it funds can be found here... [emphasis added]
You see, Wall Street (with our government as their accomplice) is willing to bankrupt our future to insure they get their own mega profits today.

Rethinking Universality

As a peace activist for most of my life, I've held the steadfast belief that war and societal conflict is not inevitable. It's merely an easy out that people throughout history have chosen. Critics almost always counter that this illustrates naivety at its best. They'll say, "People have been war-like since Day One. It's part and parcel of being human".

As I continue reading "Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes", it has caused me to rethink the very concept of universality. There are a number of principles and social mores that modern humans -- including scientists and anthropologists -- would consider basic to the human experience; things that span history and civilizations. If a human has lived within the bounds of a given society, he or she will practice and believe certain things. Such concepts will, undoubtedly, be expressed in different ways or rely on different frameworks, but the underlying principles will be the same.

So, is making war a universal human principle? Not according to the Pirahãs! The author points out that there is no evidence the Pirahãs have ever been involved in a war with anyone. While they do have bows and arrows for hunting, there is no evidence to suggest these implements are used for societal offense or defense. And there are no other implements that suggest that they're used for any other purpose than for eking out a subsistence lifestyle.

Another commonly held belief is that all societies have a form of numbers and counting. Numbers are important for economic reasons, if nothing else. A society needs some methodology to quantify goods to be traded and received. While the Pirahã do, in fact, engage in trade, they concurrently employ neither numbers nor counting.
In 1980, at the Pirahãs urging, Keren and I began a series of evening classes in counting and literacy...Each evening for eight months we tried to teach Pirahã men and women to count to ten in Portugese...After eight months of daily efforts...the people concluded that they could not learn this material and classes were abandoned. Not one Pirahã learned to count to ten in eight months.
Not only do the Pirahãs not utilize numbers, but they also have no written language. It would seem they've gotten by quite well without either!

There is one other supposedly universal concept I will touch on in this entry -- the taboo against incest. As a former social worker, I must admit that I thought this taboo was universal! To be certain, I knew that certain segments within a few societies broke the taboo, but, in general, the taboo was widely held.

Not so for the Pirahã! Children, in their society, aren't viewed differently than adults in terms of respect and independence. As the author points out more than once, children are not physically scolded. They are allowed to engage in the same trials and errors as their adult counterparts.
Children are just human beings in Pirahã society. They are not seen as in need of coddling and special protections. They are treated fairly and allowance is made for their size and relative physical weakness, but by and large they are not considered qualitatively different from adults. This can lead to scenes that to Western eyes can seem strange or even harsh.
So, it later came as not really a surprise when the author wrote, "So long as children are not forced or hurt, there is no prohibition against their participating in sex with adults." A paragraph or two later he provided a specific example.

Wow! That certainly shocks my western sensibilities!

I'm only at the halfway point of this wonderful book. I'm certain there will be more eye-popping revelations. It is not only well written, but it's causing me to reevaluate many long held beliefs and suppositions on what it means to be human.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The American Dream

I just received an email from The Nation (magazine) entitled, The Future of the American Dream. It futures a column by William Greider, among others. I'm sure it a well written article that makes a lot of points I would readily agree with. But here's the thing -- I don't have an American Dream and I think a dream of this nature explains a great deal about the many problems our civilization faces.

Before some of you think I'm going to go off on an anti-American rant, hold on to your horses. I only highlight the American Dream because I happen to live in the US. I'm equally opposed to the Iranian, French, Japanese and South African dreams too. This incessant fixation on the idea that people in different lands have widely different needs and desires is what I rebel against.

To be certain, we each live under different political and religious systems. Our worldviews are different because of these systems. However, at the end of the day, all humans desire basically the same things: love, companionship, food, water, shelter, creativity and respect (among other things). We may state these needs in different ways and in different languages, but these insignificant differences don't change the commonalities we share.

So, if we must have this imagery of a dream, let's sweep away all these ethnocentric and nationalistic tendencies. Let's quit erecting these artificial barriers. Instead of an American or Peruvian Dream, why not a World Dream?

Quantity vs Quality

One of the measures that is often used to define how well a country or society is doing in the modern world is life expectancy. As the thinking goes, the longer the average person lives, the better overall life is. In essence, because of the way modern westernized humans think, we have decided that quantity equates to quality.

Yet, despite these beliefs, there are many indicators that show that this assumption can be rather spurious. While the average American can expect to live to the ripe old age of 78 (or 82 in Japan), we spend inordinate amounts of money, time and energy searching for the ever elusive happiness. We abuse substances and foods. We buy fancy cars and speed boats. We pick out and swap designer spouses. We fill up mental health centers and enrich plastic surgeons.

Yes, longevity may have its perks, but just not as many as we may wish to think.

Compare this life expectancy rate to that of the Pirahãs of the Amazon. At 51 years old, I have exceed the life expectancy of the average Pirahã by 11 years!! Just as the average westerner is entering middle age, a Pirahã man or woman is preparing to be buried.

So, it would seem that we westerners are much more advanced than our Amazonian cousins. Yet, according to author Daniel L. Everett in his book "Don't Sleep, There are Snakes",
Pirahã laugh about everything. They laugh at their own misfortune: when someone's hut blows over in a rainstorm, the occupants laugh more loudly than anyone. They laugh when they catch a lot of fish. They laugh when they catch no fish. They laugh when they're full and they laugh when they're hungry. When they're sober, they are never demanding or rude...This pervasive happiness is hard to explain, though I believe that the Pirahãs are so confident and secure in their ability to handle anything that their environment throws at them that they can enjoy whatever comes their way. This is not at all because their lives are easy, but because they are good at what they do."
For all of our sophisticated knowledge and technological advances, it seems the Pirahãs embrace one concept that we each have hard time with -- most of the time, quality trumps quantity, not the other way around.

Think about this radical concept for a moment. If you could live a life of 40 years of contentment versus 80 years of a mixture of happiness and misery, which would you choose?

Only the Lonely

Many people experience loneliness and fear being alone because of it. The sage sees the true cause of loneliness, which is losing your sense of oneness with the world around you.
~ Today's Daily Quote from the TaoWoods Center ~

I know a lot about today's quote -- loneliness used to be the hallmark of my life. Because of Asperger's and Klinefelter's Syndrome, I've always been an exceedingly odd duck that rarely meshed with people in social situations. I can remember many a time when I felt very lonely despite the fact I was in the middle of a large gathering!

Needless to say, I've spent far more alone time than most people. In my youth and young adult years, it was agonizing. I so longed to be one of the gang, but I knew I never would be. For the longest time I didn't know why and this made the loneliness that much worse.

But, somewhere along the way, I decided not to allow the situation to bug me. I still spend the vast majority of my hours alone, but it no longer makes me unhappy. In fact, I now cherish my monastic lifestyle because I see the oneness of it all and realize that I am connected, regardless of how social I may not be.

(It also helps that I have a new virtual family of sorts -- all of you!)

Step Outside

We each become so used to the way we see things that it's often difficult to imagine that others don't see things the same way we do. It's one thing when we're talking about insignificant matters of routine life; it's quite another when the discussion switches to the fundamental issues of life, death and beyond.

A lot of the "facts" and "knowledge" we take as a given are, in reality, nothing more than culturally-based information. If we could magically change our gender, race, or where we grew up (and still reside), our worldview might well be altogether different. Instead of being a middle class Lutheran living in Minnesota, we might be a hunter-gather in the Amazon who believes in animistic spirits.

These thoughts are percolating through my mind as I read "Don't Sleep, There are Snakes" by Daniel L. Everett. (The book was mentioned on one of the many blogs I frequent, but I'll be darned if I remember which one.) The book is about the author and his family's 30 year off and on life with tribal people in the Brazilian Amazon.

I'm sure I'll post more entries that reflect on this book as I get deeper into the text.

Monday, May 11, 2009

No Apologies Necessary

Over the past several weeks many of my favorite blogs have been relatively silent. I get used to checking them once or more per day to glean new kernels of insight, wisdom or humor. All of a sudden, however, the flow stops and I'm left scratching my head.

In most cases, the posts begin flowing again at some point. The author bends over backwards in apology, explaining that one or more of the following things had occurred:
  • Personal or family crisis
  • Job stress (good and bad)
  • Too many things going on at once
  • Illness or injury
  • Vacation
  • Depression
  • Lack of motivation to write (writer's block)
  • Computer or internet-related issues
Well, I have a message for my fellow bloggers -- Quit apologizing! Blogs are a privilege, not an obligation. In the overall scheme of things, blogs simply aren't that important.

It's one thing to provide a brief explanation for the sudden cessation in posting; it's quite another to feel the need to apologize for living a life. As the saying goes, shit happens and it happens to each of us. If any of your faithful readers gets into a tizzy because you are not posting to THEIR preferred schedule, you're better off without them!

All a blog really entails is a forum to allow others the opportunity to see what's going on in a portion of your brain. You are allowing us a chance to see what you're passionate about, what issues make you tick. Many of us relish this opportunity you have provided.

But that's as far as it goes. We really can't mandate nor compel you to share. It's a one-way street and you alone get to set the direction.

So, for those of you who are posting again, I'm overjoyed. I've missed your ruminations on this thing we call life. I enter into this virtual relationship with no expectations. I'm content in the knowledge that we can share some time and words together -- however long or short it may be.

And for those of you who are not posting at present, I'll keep a lookout for when you may post again. If that time never comes, rest assured that I am thankful for the brief space we shared. It was my privilege to be able to glimpse a thread or two of you.

Really. No apologies are necessary.

Carlin on Flatulence

Hello. I'm Fred Ponsaloney III, president of the Fart Retrieval League. We all know that millions of farts are released by Americans each day, but did you know not all of them are free to rejoin the atmosphere? It's true. A small but significant number of farts each day are hopelessly trapped in seat cushions, suspended forever in cotton padding or foam rubber. We're asking you to help rescue these forgotten farts by sending your donations to the Fart Retrieval League. We'll send you a booklet entitled The Facts on Farts. And next time you're in a hotel lobby, do your part: Jump up and down on a seat cushion for several minutes and liberate a few trapped farts.
~ from "When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?" by George Carlin ~

Here's the Leash

Finding one's true nature is deemed necessary by many who claim to be great spiritual teachers. The sage sees the value in this, but is cautious of those who eagerly offer to help in doing so.
~ Today's Daily Quote from the TaoWoods Center ~

Since the beginning of time, one message has been drummed into most people's heads again and again -- You couldn't find your way out of a paper bag without help from "learned" advisers. As this mantra has been repeated ad nauseam for centuries, the average Joe and Jane has taken it to be a universal truth. And so most people see themselves as little more than dogs; happy to supply the leash to be led around with!

And why have religious leaders drummed this mind-numbing concept into the heads of the masses? Baby, it's all about control. If the common people learn to view themselves as pitiful wretches -- undeserving of happiness or mercy -- they will much more easily allow hucksters into their lives to "save" them from themselves.

For me, this goes a long way toward explaining why people such as Ted Haggard, Jim Jones, Jim Bakker, David Koresh or Charles Manson (to name but a scant few) could attract followers and why the new generation of spiritual hucksters continues to do the same. Far too many people have been brainwashed into thinking that each is completely unable to find their true self without a guru to guide them.

When other people "help" you to find your true inner self, the you that you find is a caricature shaped by them -- their thoughts and ideals. In fact, it's more of a them-you than you.

Nobody needs a guru. Nobody needs to be led around like a dog on a leash. Nobody can help you find the true you EXCEPT you and you alone have the power to make this journey. In reality, you don't need a spiritual adviser. Anyone who tells you otherwise is merely trying to control you.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Musical Interlude

If you'd like to hear a beautiful song from a beautiful voice, listen to Moment in the Night, courtesy of Thoughts from a Taoist Babe. It certainly put a smile on my face!!

The Joke's on YOU

Back in April, Robert over at Superstition Free had a post "The Doctrine of Hell". I made a few comments, but kept most of my ideas to myself as I contemplated the overall topic a bit more. It should come as no surprise to any of my regular readers that I don't believe in the concept since I have no way of knowing whether or not there is a thing called an afterlife. In addition, I find the overall concept to be primitive and brutish.

Be that as it may, most modern religions -- many primitive ones too -- have a description of a hell-like place within the structure of their mythology. In most cases, a person is extended a reserved seat in the fiery place based upon their many misdeeds in this life. Once a person dies, they are forced into a one-way trip to the deep dark place.

If it were to turn out that I am wrong -- that there actually is a thing called hell -- I still think most people have it all wrong; it's not a specific place, it's a state of mind. If THAT turns out to be true, then the joke's on them and the deity is up there laughing away.

For religious adherents -- particularly Christians, only because this is the religious tradition I understand the best -- most of them are living in hell right now. They must navigate a gauntlet of earthly "sins" and, every time they behave like an average human, each must punish and beat up themselves to no end.

For example, psychology teaches us that sexual fantasies are a normal part of life. If you're a religious person, however, each normal sexual fantasy sets off those infernal internal warning alarms -- "Danger Will Robinson. Danger Will Robinson. Sinner Alert!" You now must spend inordinate amounts of time and energy chastising yourself for wondering what it might be like to have a foursome with two of The Beatles and a 6-iron.

Covetousness -- particularly when combined with those dreaded sexual fantasies -- is another big NO NO.

Let's say your next door neighbor is one of these people who is always overly enthralled with all things new. This person collects things and people. As long as it's new, it's fun and exhilarating, but once the newness wears off, it's on to the next conquest. You befriend this idiot's spouse and come to lament the fact that he/she has now been thrown to the side. If, for a moment, you imagine how well this fine lady/gentleman would be treated if you were their spouse...oh no, the sirens are going off again! Over your internal loudspeaker you hear: "Go directly to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200."!!

The examples I could provide are endless. Almost any passing thought could mean trouble. So what's a person to do?

Well, the only normal religious thing to do -- beat yourself up!! Tell yourself what a miserable excuse for a human being you are. Literally or figuratively bash your head against a brick wall until it falls off. Make yourself read unintelligible religious tracts until your eyes pop out of your head. Most importantly, tell yourself over and over and over again what a sorry wretch you are and how you don't deserve any mercy.

Since these passing thoughts and urges bombard us every single day, the devout religious adherent ends up spending most of their time tormenting themselves for their perceived shortcomings. It's a never-ending cycle of selfish self-abuse. Hmm. Hell?

Of course, some truly devout religious adherents don't like to beat themselves up. So, they beat up everyone around them, particularly those who are committing the same foul actions they are. While, on the surface, it may appear that each is skating around hell, things aren't always as they appear!

If the life you're living is a lie (think Jimmy Swaggert, Jim Bakker or Ted Haggard), then you've got to keep track of your real life with the one you're projecting for others. I'm sure it must be a kind of living hell covering your tracks constantly and ensuring that your lies don't contradict each other. So, while it may appear to the observer that all the wrath and indignation is pointed at others, that same wrath and indignation is poisoning your own well too.

I'm certainly not suggesting that philosophical Taoists, atheists or humanists don't beat up on themselves too. Almost everybody has a mental picture of themselves and we can get upset when we don't walk our talk. That said, our inner struggles aren't compounded by visions of fiery furnaces, so I would think we end up enjoying a bit more bliss and contentment than those plucking their own eyes out in the hope that this act will win them a better seat for the matinee!

A White Bread World

I was reading a blog entry yesterday in which the person stated something to the effect of -- We should cherish each and every day. On one level, I certainly echo this sentiment. Life is a gift, one we shouldn't waste. On the other hand, however, this kind of sentiment largely is dependent on the type of lives we lead in the so-called civilized western world. We're actually at a liberty to enjoy our lives in a way that many others are not.

If a person lives a life of grinding poverty -- and I don't mean the kind of poverty in most of the locales of the US, Canada, Europe or Japan -- I bet it might be hard to see what there is to cherish. I'm certainly NOT suggesting that a person's outlook is solely based upon economic standing, but if each day is a mighty struggle to find enough food to meet one-half a person's necessary nutritional needs, I'm not altogether sure if the word cherish is appropriate!

What about those people who live in constant terror due to war? Again, I'm not sure if they would cherish their daily horror show. People who are enslaved or brutally oppressed may not value every breath as much as the next person.

In my humble opinion, one of the reasons many of us westerners have a false sense of the world in which we live is because we converse with each other via this medium and we don't get to hear the voices of those without internet access or computer literacy. We are conversant only with those who lead similar lifestyles.

On Wikipedia, there's a graphic of internet connection rates as of the year 2000. In most of the world, less than 750 per 10,000 people had internet connections! While I'm certain strides have been made in the past 9 years, we do need to recognize that far more than one-half of the people in this world will neither read nor comment on this or any other blog entry because they either aren't computer literate or have no internet access or both!

We each need to keep this in mind as we contemplate, theorize and pontificate. The world we know most likely is foreign to most of the world's inhabitants. A principle that we may state as universal most likely is only universal to a select few.

We need to be ever cognizant of the fact that many life stories will not find their way to the blogoshere, in specific, and the internet, in general. Regardless of how well off each of us may think ourselves to be, in relation to so many others, we are each privileged.

Time Flies...And It Costs More!

When I was a wee lad, my grandparents would often detail to me how monstrous prices had become. My grandmother often lamented the unreal increase in the price of bread. "Ya know, grandson," she would say. "It wasn't that long ago when I could buy a loaf of bread for a plum nickel." I'd sit there silently, rolling my eyes.

Of course, what I lacked then was a frame of reference! I was far too young to discern the historical increase in the cost of goods. Whatever the price of a specific item, it had remained relatively constant before my eyes and I simply accepted it as a given.

While I'm not quite as old today as my grandparents were then, I'm fast approaching that age. Just like my grandparents, I now marvel at the dramatic price increases that have spanned my time on this orb.

Tomorrow the price of one measly first class stamp increases to 44 cents. It won't be long now before the price will be 50 cents (one-half dollar!). From 1885 - 1957, the cost of a first class stamp increased by one whopping penny! In the 51 years since, the price has increased by 41 cents.

It got me to wondering about the prices for stuff in the year I was born -- 1957. Here's what I found:
  • Gasoline -- 24 cents per gallon
  • Bread -- 19 cents per loaf
  • Milk -- $1.00 per gallon
  • Eggs -- 55 cents per dozen
  • Ground Beef -- 30 cents per pound
  • Pure Maple Syrup -- 33 cents for 12 ounces
  • Campbell's Tomato Soup -- 10 cents per can
  • Broccoli -- 23 cents per bunch
  • Nabisco Saltines -- 25 cents per box
  • Average New Home Price -- around $12,000
Sources: Grocery Store Prices for 14 Items in 1957, The Year 1957 From The People History, Fifties Web: Prices for 1957

What did prices look like in the year you were born? It might be an interesting topic to explore!

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Over the past few months I've read quite a bit on a variety of blogs about the ego. Generally speaking, most Buddhist and Taoist writers believe that ego is responsible for all of our suffering and that we can transcend this life by casting the ego aside. While, in an esoteric sense that is all well and good, what in the heck does that really mean?

If I traveled many miles and hiked up a mountain for a spiritual meeting with an ancient guru and he/she said to me, "Taoist, let go of the ego and you will be free", it would affect me in the same way as if he/she said, "Taoist, cut off your left leg and right arm, and you will be free."

From my perspective, the ego ain't such a bad thing. We each have to have one to survive in this realm. If a person had no ego, then he or she would be lost. Thinking would be almost impossible and communication would be far beyond us.

Besides, in my mind's eye, there is an appropriate time when the ego leaves us -- death. We no longer need it and so we shed it like a snake sheds its skin. Up until that point, we need to keep it tucked into our toolbox.

For me, the biggest point about our egos is to keep them in balance with the various aspects of ourselves and others. When the ego takes center stage and blots out other parts of what we call the self, then that's when we have a severe problem on our hands. When any one element predominates a being, the other elements are lessened.

So, my goal is to balance ego, not destroy it.

Such a Dirty, Dirty Mind

What is it about dirt that seems to rub humanity the wrong way? It seems that almost every time the root word dirt is used, it conjures up a negative connotation. Think about it for a minute. When do you use the word dirt to convey something positive?

Take, for example, the word dirty. A person said to have a dirty mind is not being complimented. Dirty linen is associated with gossip and scandal. To get the dirt on someone is to air out their dirty linen. Dirt cheap means really inexpensive and usually of poor quality. Dirty pool means that someone is behaving unfairly.

Yet, for the all the invectives we heap upon dirt, there would be no life -- at least as we know it -- without it! We couldn't grow many of the foods we need to survive without dirt. A house built on just sand or rocks wouldn't be as sturdy. Heck, without dirt none of us could have enjoyed the age old childhood ritual of making mud pies. No mud pies?!

What's even more amazing is that the Christian ethos which permeates our society celebrates dirt as the constituent ingredient that brought humanity to life. Had there been no dirt, what would God have fashioned us from? Seashells?

If we are completely honest with ourselves, we've really disrespected dirt from day one. Dirt provides meaning in our lives, yet all we do is diss it.

What can I say? It's just a dirty rotten shame! ;-)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Carlin on Control Freaks

Hello. We're the ones who control your lives. We make the decisions that affect all of you. Isn't it interesting to know that those who run your lives would have the nerve to tell you about it in this manner? Suffer, you fools. We know everything you do, and we know where you go. What do you think the cameras are for? And the global-positioning satellites? And the Social Security numbers? You belong to us. And it can't be changed. Sign your petitions, walk your picket lines, bring your lawsuits, cast your votes, and write those stupid letters to whomever you please; you won't change a thing. Because we control your lives. And we have plans for you. Go back to sleep.
~ from "When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?" by George Carlin ~

It Hits the Fan

For months now angry American citizens have wondered why members of Congress have steadfastly refused to vigorously investigate and bring members of the renegade Bush administration to justice for all their nefarious spying activities. Many of us on the far left have responded that the prime reason the Democratically-controlled Congress has been engaged in collective foot-dragging is because many were in on it from the get go. The Dems, of course, have flatly denied this.

But news is coming out slowly that our suspicions were correct! As the LA Times reports,
Congressional leaders were briefed repeatedly on the CIA's use of severe interrogation methods on Al Qaeda suspects, according to new information released by the Obama administration Thursday that appears to contradict the assertions of House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

The records describe dozens of congressional briefings about CIA decisions that since have emerged as major sources of controversy -- including the agency's use of waterboarding and its destruction of videotapes of interrogation sessions.
You see, when too many hands are culpable, it's rather easy to see beyond the rhetoric. The Democrats aren't pressing the issue because this would necessitate exposing their own guilt!

Who Is This Yahoo, Anyway?

If you spend any time visiting TRT, I think you'll get a good feel for who and what I am. However, I realize that inquiring minds may desire to see a bit more meat on the bone! So, to satisfy the needs of the curious AND to provide a bit of background to first-time visitors, I've added a link to the left column entitled, "Want to know more about Trey?"

Said post will provide a bit of info about yours truly and it also includes a link to my Blogger Profile.

The only thing different about the background post is that comments are disabled. If you want to excoriate me for what I've written, you're welcome to do it out here on the main page. :-)

Run for the Hills

As we slowly inch toward summer, my neighbors and I are preparing ourselves for a two-pronged invasion. One is from a foreign invader and the other is a bloodsucking domestic terrorist. Combined, these two will marshal an army of mercenaries to turn our serene hill into a battleground. Who are these invaders? Japanese knotweed and the ever dreaded mosquito!

Japanese knotweed is a known invasive species. It spreads through rhizomes and seeds. It forms dense colonies that overwhelm native plants. Worst of all, it's almost impossible to eradicate.

A few months back I read of a group on Vancouver Island, British Columbia that tried everything they could think of to rid their area of this knotweed. They tried digging up the plants, fire and even a cocktail of pesticides, yet the knotweed refused to die.

The hill behind our house has been overtaken by this unwelcome visitor. My strategy has been to dump yard refuse (and that of one neighbor) on our back forty where the stuff grows. We've piled up old sod, branches, limbs and rotten logs. In the areas in which we've been able to pile it up to form a thick mat, the knotweed doesn't appear to be growing, but most of the area does not have these mats and so the stuff is springing up all over the place. Arghh!!

It looks like I will spend another summer trying to cut this crap back. This task is made more difficult by our domestic invader -- the mosquito.

Beginning in June, the little boogers will start swarming up the hill from Mill Pond. In the early part of the summer, they will merely be an annoyance. However, by the dog days of August, swarms will invade our peaceful hillside and make it next too impossible to enjoy anytime outside unless a person covers themselves in DEET. While I certainly do not enjoy being selected for the next meal from these pesky swarms, I equally dislike spraying poison on my body. It's a lose-lose proposition!

Our small town's response to the annual mosquito invasion leaves a lot to be desired as well. Instead of attacking the problem at its source -- the pond where the mosquitoes breed -- city crews merely spray down the neighborhood every 3 to 4 weeks. This tact is wholly ineffective for two reasons.

First off, the poison they use is water-soluble. Since nary a week goes by when we don't receive some amount of rain, the pesticide is invariably washed out of yards into the sewers and, eventually, the river.

Secondly, all the spraying does is kill the mosquitoes present. Within a day or two, more swarms come up the hill and the poison doesn't seem to effect them one bit. So, basically all that is accomplished by spraying poison throughout the neighborhood is that it buys us 24-48 hours of relief and then we're right back where we started.

I've tried to convince the city supervisor that there are more cost-effective and non-poisonous methods for dealing with this problem, but he's from the "Round-Up" generation and no amount of data or research seems to sway him.

So, I'm going to try to enjoy the rest of the spring before the real onslaught begins.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Surrounded By Myopia

Several times per week I use Technorati, Google Blog Search or the Blog Search Engine to find blogs that discuss Taoism. My hope is to find more blogs to list in the links section to the right. Of course, not every blog that writes about Taoism is doing so in a positive light. Some have a tendency to confuse or lump together philosophical Taoism with the religious form. In such cases, I try to set the record straight by leaving a comment.

There are other blogs that treat the very idea of Taoism in a hostile manner -- most of these turn out to be fundamentalist Christian blogs! I sometimes leave comments on these blogs too, though I skip most of them.

Today, on a blog entitled "Keith's Journal", I came across a post, "Drawing the Lines". Here's a portion:
Someone asked me today about whether Tai Chi is an acceptable form of exercise or not. I have to confess that I know very little about Tai Chi.

I did some research and discovered that it is based in Taoism, which is a Chinese traditional religion which features, amongst other things worship of ancestors. Many commentators expressed the view that of all the martial arts and related exercise systems, Tai Chi is one which draws deeply on the spiritual aspect, seeking a harmony of the physical and spiritual aspects of the practitioner. Because it is more than movement, but includes meditation, I believe that it is not appropriate for Christians to engage in it...I do think that any activity, whether of Eastern or Western origin where a form of meditation requiring an emptying of the mind or an agreement to a non-christian form of spirituality will open people up to demonic activity.
While it should go without saying that I think the idea of an evil spirit surreptitiously impregnating someone's mind with dastardly thoughts is completely asinine, I'll skip over that argument today. What I find completely bonkers is that this bloke would dismiss a form of exercise simply because it comes from a philosophic tradition other than his!

I suppose this means he would find something satanic in yoga or pilates too. It makes me wonder what kind of physical exercise is acceptable to fundamentalist Christians. Maybe 50 lift and jerks of a stack of bibles?

Addendum: Yikes! It's worse than I thought. Here are two other blogs that are reporting on the Wynyard Baptist Church of Tasmania which has canceled Tai Chi classes because they are...gasp...not Christian-based! 1) Forlorn of Thee and 2) Blogocrats