Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lower the Boats

Just let me say that there is a good chance no one will find this post interesting except me! Aside from utilizing this space to philosophize or comment about current events, I also use it to keep a record of my observations about our local weather. So, the topic of this post concerns our unusually wet water year as well as an extremely wet March.

Normal precipitation for the current month is 9.25". We received more than that this year -- a helluva lot more! As the clock moves forward to begin a new month, our rain total for March comes in at 21.02". That's 11.77" or nearly one foot above normal. This total represents the normal rainfall for March, April, May and June combined!

As I have noted before, the water year begins each October. In what I bet must be some kind of record, we have recorded above average rainfall for all 6 months thus far. February has been the only month in which we had less than 1" above normal. We have experienced 3 months (October, January and March) of at least 9" above normal.

All told, our total precipitation for the past 6 months has been 104.06" which, as it turns out, is 20.42" more than the average for the entire 12-month period. If we record average rainfall for the rest of this water year, then our total will come in around 123.50" or more than 10 feet!

Of course, if we keep to the pattern of the past 6 months, that total will wind up being far higher.

Even for around here, that's a heck of a lot of water.

Chapter 14, Part 8A - Chuang Tzu

Confucius said to Lao Tan, "I have been studying the Six Classics - the Odes, the Documents, the Ritual, the Music, the Changes, and the Spring and Autumn, for what I would call a long time, and I know their contents through and through. But I have been around to seventy-two different rulers with them, expounding the ways of the former kings and making clear the path trod by the dukes of Chou and Shao, and yet not a single ruler has found anything to excite his interest. How difficult it is to persuade others, how difficult to make clear the Way!"

Lao Tzu said, "It's lucky you didn't meet with a ruler who would try to govern the world as you say. The Six Classics are the old worn-out paths of the former kings - they are not the thing which walked the path. What you are expounding are simply these paths. Paths are made by shoes that walk them, they are by no means the shoes themselves!

"The white fish hawk has only to stare unblinking at its mate for fertilization to occur. With insects, the male cries on the wind above, the female cries on the wind below, and there is fertilization. The creature called the lei is both male and female and so it can fertilize itself. Inborn nature cannot be changed, fate cannot be altered, time cannot be stopped, the Way cannot be obstructed. Get hold of the Way and there's nothing that can't be done; lose it and there's nothing that can be done."
~ Burton Watson translation via Terebess Asia Online ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the chapters of the Book of Chuang Tzu.

Derivations on a Theme - Probabilities

For me, the God question is about probabilities. Can I state with certainty there is no God? (using the word God in a generic sense) Of course not. But, I can not make an absolute statement about anything. I don’t possess complete, absolute knowledge of anything. Even if there was proof of the existence of a god how would I determine which god is the real God? Humans believe in a plethora of gods. Which god is the true God?

Atheists are skeptics. Claims of certainty, like the claims of Christianity, are viewed with suspicion. The Atheist says “prove it.” Appeals to faith or the supernatural have no effect on atheists...
~ from The A Word at the blog, Fallen From Grace ~
Like my blogging compatriot Bruce Gerencser, it took me quite a while until I began identifying myself as an atheist and, in my case, as an atheist Taoist. The word atheist comes along with so much baggage -- baggage heaped on it by theists. I avoided the term so that I wouldn't be preached at by others more than usual.

But the fact is that I don't believe in god -- your god, if you believe in one, or anyone else's. By definition, that's atheism and so I am an avowed atheist.

As with the quote from Bruce above, I am not stating that there is absolutely and undeniably no supernatural entity that created and/or watches over the world and cosmos; I am merely stating that I see no logical evidence to lead me to believe that such a being exists.

In my case, however, I do believe in the notion of Tao and many of you have suggested that Tao could easily be interchanged with the word, god or vice versus. My response is that this may work for you, but it doesn't work that way for me. In my view, a god is a something -- a specific being, entity or spirit-like thing -- Tao is a principle, process or what one could call the "laws of nature."

From my perspective, the probability that a principle exists is far greater than the probability that a specific entity exists.

As I have stated in this space numerous times, I am of the opinion that most of the things we think we know we only believe we think we know as most aspects of this life are unknowable. From this standpoint, most of what we take as fact is either personal or collective belief. In the majority, I try to base my beliefs on probability and, in my estimation, the probabilities of a god as described by any religion I am aware of are very, very, very remote.

More Tasty Revelations

I seem to be in one of these periods in which I am revealing more about myself and how I look at things, so this post will continue along that path.

I actually think this is a good exercise on any blog from time to time. New regular readers are always stopping by and, anytime you enter an enterprise mid-stream, it can be helpful if someone hands you a generalized map that shows the basic lay of the land. It can also be helpful for long-time readers too if, for no other reason, than to remind what the perceived goals are.

One complaint I receive every so often is that I am obsessed with discussing and critiquing the Christian religion. While I readily admit that I have a strong tendency to obsess on things, I don't think this is one of them! In fact, I think it's the other way around. The society I live in is obsessed with Judeo-Christian perspective and, as an amateur philosopher and social critic, I write about the events and ideas in the world around me.

Almost everywhere one looks in this country, you can find the fingerprints of Judeo-Christian values and ideals. As one example, prostitution is illegal in every state except Nevada. Why is it illegal? Because Christians (note to Christians: Muslims too!) believe it is sinful. It is interesting to note that in the more-secularized Europe, prostitution both is legal and regulated.

There has been a big push in the US for nearly 30 years to outlaw abortion. The impetus for this push is not based on any type of scientific or medical data; it is completely bound up in the conservative Christian belief in what constitutes the beginning of life of the human soul. As with prostitution, in more secular societies, abortion is legal and widely available.

Another issue in which Christianity weighs in heavily is in our government's tendency toward war. Many of the most rabid war hawks are also rabid Christians. They believe it is not only moral to attack Muslim nations, but many would see absolutely nothing wrong with preemptively carpet bombing the entirety of the Muslim world.

Finally, if one takes a look at our economic system (profits before people), many of its greatest champions quote the Christian Bible incessantly to support exalting the rich and powerful, while subjugating everyone else. For the most part, the Christian Church historically has been one of the loudest cheerleaders of the spread of global (Chicago-style) capitalism.

On issue after issue, there almost always is a Christian component that figures prominently.

So, if I am to write on philosophic ideas and current events, about the ONLY way I could avoid focusing on Christian ideals is if I treat the subject matter to a very superficial analysis. Since I try to scratch below the surface of each post's topic, it is inevitable that my critique of Christianity will pop up frequently.

Of course, you are entitled to your own opinion on this or any other matter. I openly admit that this is solely the way I view it.

Chapter 14, Part 7C - Chuang Tzu

"I will tell you how the Three August Ones and the Five Emperors ruled the world! They called it `ruling,' but in fact they were plunging it into the worst confusion. The `wisdom' of the Three August Ones was such as blotted out the brightness of sun and moon above, sapped the vigor of hills and streams below, and overturned the round of the four seasons in between. Their wisdom was more fearsome than the tail of the scorpion; down to the smallest beast, not a living thing was allowed to rest in the true form of its nature and fate. And yet they considered themselves sages! Was it not shameful - their lack of shame!"

Tzu-kung, stunned and speechless, stood wondering which way to turn.
~ Burton Watson translation via Terebess Asia Online ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the chapters of the Book of Chuang Tzu.

Right, Wrong Or...

I've written before that I am a big fan of Keith Olbermann and I regularly read his blog, FOK News Channel. While Olbermann has many, many fans, he also has his share of critics and the word that many critics use to describe him is mercurial. As I was watching a video on his blog this morning, I realized that the word, mercurial, could well be used to describe me. So, in Olbermann, I have found a kindred spirit!

Ask anyone who has known me for any length of time and I'm guessing he or she would tell you that I can be funny, caustic, witty, moody, satirical, inappropriate, smart, boorish, insightful and, most of all, obnoxious. While I often feel like I was dropped on the wrong planet (common feeling for those of us with autism), I have no lack of self-confidence. It is true that I wrestle daily with mental illness, but unlike many, I have rarely doubted my self-worth.

And, if you haven't figured it out yet, I generally think I am right or correct in what I think. I am certainly not alone in this regard. Most people who possess a strong degree of self-confidence tend to think they are right too.

Of the various people I have met throughout my journey through life, I have met 3 types of people.
  • People who think they are always/most always right.
  • People who think that they are always/most always wrong.
  • People who can't decide -- the wishy washy majority.
Those of us in the first category are people who tend to take charge of situations. We often behave like bulls in a China shop. We size up the circumstances we are presented with, formulate a definitive plan of action and then go charging off into the wild blue yonder. Of course, it sometimes turns out that we are charging off towards an oncoming train, but we would never be convinced of that until we heard the horn and saw the train's lights moments before impact.

People in the second category tend to wait for someone -- anyone -- other than themselves to take charge of a situation. If something goes wrong in the plan, these people immediately volunteer to serve as the scapegoat. They possess minimal self-esteem and almost no self-worth. They are the follower's follower.

The people in the last category tend to be inactive because they are never sure what is the right move to make. So, to ward off making the wrong move, they don't move at all. They tend to be followers, but mainly in word, not in deed.

While most of us fall into one category as the predominant feature of our own unique personality, we each skirt the other categories as well. I have never met a person who is a monolith!

It is because I fall into category #1 AND I am OCD that I am slowly learning -- through the help of my mental health counselor -- to try to avoid debates whenever possible. This is a way to explain why I pick and choose which of your comments I respond to.

I have a tendency to obsess on things and so I tend to obsess on the back-and-forth of a good debate. Since I tend to think I'm correct in what I believe and I have this need to get in the last word, I have great difficulty in being able to walk away from a debate.

As my counselor has suggested numerous times, the best way to thwart an obsessive episode is to cut it off at its knees. In other words, if I consciously choose not to enter a debate, I won't get caught up within it.

This is why the comments section is reserved mainly for you to have your say with little input from me. What I have to say appears out here!

Line by Line - Verse 26, Lines 5-6

Although he may have brilliant prospects to look at, he quietly remains (in his proper place), indifferent to them.
~ James Legge translation, from The Sacred Books of the East, 1891 ~

Though there are beautiful things to be seen,
He remains unattached and calm.

~ Gia-fu Feng and Jane English translation, published by Vintage Books, 1989 ~

Even though there are luxurious sights
They are composed and transcend beyond

~ Derek Lin translation, from Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained, published by SkyLight Paths, 2006 ~

She may be surrounded by beauty
but she isn't caught up in it.

~ Ron Hogan rendition, from, 2004 ~
It can be difficult not to get up in our media-crazed, consumer-driven world. We constantly are bombarded with what it means to be beautiful, young, strong, sophisticated and popular. We are urged to conform to arbitrary standards.

But we find again and again that, when we go chasing after externally-defined criteria, we lose the basic essence of who we are. No matter how much we obtain, something tends to get lost in the process.

To view the Index page for this series to see what you may have missed or would like to read again, go here.

As the Smoke Thickens

In a post from last night, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, I briefly discussed the possibility that the various uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa may well have been fomented by covert CIA operations. In this morning's post, I want to connect that theme with the possibility that there may be more than one ulterior motive involved.

Though, by and large, the American public seems to exhibit short-term memory, I want to remind you of the three administrations before the current one. Under Bush Sr., Clinton and Bush Jr., we frequently seemed to become intermeshed in military escapades when a) the president's popularity was sagging and/or b) when our elected leaders desired to divert our attention from pressing domestic matters.

Lots of legislation was passed and executive orders were signed without as much public debate as usual. Through the efforts of politicians and the mainstream media alike, we were too focused on the then-current war or supposed escalation of the terrorist threat.

This has led me to wonder why the fuse may have been lit overseas at this particular point in time. What is it that our leaders may wish to divert our eyes from?

The answers are myriad. While poll after poll indicates that the chief worry on most American's minds is jobs, this issue has not been deemed very important by either the Democrats or the Republicans. This is puzzling since the GOP swept into office last fall on the pledge to make job creation a top priority.

Foreclosuregate continues unabated and more and more average folks are becoming incensed at the fact that our leaders keep calling for "shared sacrifice," while many of our wealthiest corporations aren't paying their fair share of taxes and, in some cases, they aren't paying ANY federal income taxes at all.

These issues and scores of other related ones would be prime targets for our leaders to desire to divert our attention from, but I don't think that is the key issue driving the need for a new war front. No, I think it is the overreach of the governors in places like Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio that is serving as the number one catalyst.

The attack on public sector unions and collective bargaining has caused a much stronger backlash than their promoters believed possible. Overnight, these fights have re-energized a sleeping foe -- the American Left. Progressives and liberals have taken to the streets all over the country and are vowing to fight back in a multitude of ways.

People who had sat on their hands for several years are now organizing. US Uncut is gaining momentum. The protests in Wisconsin, in particular, have been eye-popping in terms of numbers and their continued presence. Unlike the past several years, the people aren't backing down.

And so, it could be readily argued that the powers that be needed some diversionary measure to slow the momentum that was beginning to build. Enter Libya.

The talking heads of the mainstream media have shifted their focus away from the labor unrest to what's going on halfway around the world. Our elected leaders are jockeying positions and arguing about how best to serve the needs of democratic rebels in Libya. Even many of the left and progressive voices in this country have shifted their focus to war and away from labor.

I am NOT stating this is the way it is, but, in terms of our past history, this scenario would certainly fit into the mold.

Chapter 14, Part 7B - Chuang Tzu

Lao Tan said, "Young man, come a little closer and I will tell you how the Three August Ones and the Five Emperors ruled the world. In ancient times the Yellow Emperor ruled the world by making the hearts of the people one. Therefore, if there were those among the people who did not wail at the death of their parents, the people saw nothing wrong in this.

"Yao ruled the world by making the hearts of the people affectionate. Therefore, if there were those among the people who decided to mourn for longer or shorter periods according to the degree of kinship of the deceased, the people saw nothing wrong in this.

"Shun ruled the world by making the hearts of the people rivalrous. Therefore the wives of the people became pregnant and gave birth in the tenth month as in the past, but their children were not five months old before they were able to talk, and their baby laughter had hardly rung out before they had begun to distinguish one person from another. It was then that premature death first appeared.

"Yu ruled the world by causing the hearts of the people to change. It was assumed that each man had a heart of his own, that recourse to arms was quite all right. Killing a thief is not a case of murder, they said; every man in the world should look out for his own kind.

"As a result, there was great consternation in the world, and the Confucians and Mo-ists all came forward, creating for the first time the rules of ethical behavior. But what would they say of those men who nowadays make wives of their daughters?
~ Burton Watson translation via Terebess Asia Online ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the chapters of the Book of Chuang Tzu.

Not a Good Taoist

From time to time, some readers have chastised me for not being a very good Taoist. They charge that my socialist leanings disqualify me from writing anything connected with Taoist philosophy OR that my leftist leanings have poisoned the well of my thought.

These sorts of comments give me quite a chuckle!

It's as if the word Taoist defines a person in their totality. Taoist is merely a label and there are many labels that, in part, define the person I am. Some of the labels that imperfectly define an aspect of me are:
  • Philosophical Taoist
  • Brother
  • Son
  • Husband
  • Eco-Socialist (or Democratic Socialist)
  • Tree-Hugger
  • Pacifist
  • Gardening Enthusiast
  • Writer
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder
  • Autistic
  • Comedian
  • Soup Maker
  • Keith Olbermann and Bill Maher fan
  • Avid Reader
  • Cat and Dog Lover
And the list could go on and on. Not one of these labels, in isolation, provides you with much of a clue as to who I am. Taken together, you can form an approximate picture of me, but it is still incomplete, nonetheless.

This is as true for me as it is for each of you.

It is all these aspects taken together that impacts any one of these various labels by itself. What would it mean to be a Taoist or a Gardening Enthusiast and nothing else? Can only one aspect of a personality with multiple threads define who a person is?

That is why comments of the nature cited above make me laugh. The underlying assumption is ludicrous on its face.

Socrates: Know Thyself

Socrates: Know Thyself
by Scott Bradley

Most everyone who has dabbled in philosophy knows the most famous of Socratic dictums: Know thyself. It is likely that few understand it, however. That includes myself, but I will, nonetheless take a stab.

Certainly, to know oneself is, among other things, to understand why we think and do as we do. In understanding what motivates us we begin to discover what forces determine our behavior -- forces to which we have somehow relinquished control.

There is liberating potential in just this awareness of what motivates us. But these forces are strong within us and do not surrender easily.

Self-illumination is a life-long project and its transformative power, though steady, does, I believe, take a long time to realize.

Personally, I am not an advocate of self-control, though it might be a tentative stepping-stone on the path to harmony. I began this project because I realized I was out-of-control -- I simply was not as I wished myself to be. And though I do attempt to stop one way of thinking and replace it with another, I realize that self-control is of the same genus as out-of-control. From the Daoist perspective there is another way -- the surrender of control to the life that wells up within us. This is the life lived in spontaneity without reference to should and should not.

There is a story in the Zhuangzi where someone asks a sage how he manages to live as he does. I paraphrase his answer: "I have no idea. I just flow like the river. It's natural, all natural!"

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

One of the things I am being reminded of again by Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism is that life isn't always as it first appears. This is particularly true when certain elements of our society go out of their way to set up one smokescreen after another so that it becomes very difficult to tell up from down.

As Klein details in her discussion of various coups in South America from the 1970s - 1990s, what was generally reported by the mainstream US press was patently untrue. American readers were told that these coups represented spontaneous domestic uprisings and that the US, like so many other nations, merely was watching from the sidelines to see how these events played out.

In almost every case, the coup was fomented by covert operations of our own CIA. We funded, trained and promised millions or billions of dollars in aid to those who carried out the coups against democratically-elected leaders. Our government initiated these covert operations because the populist and, sometimes, socialist pathways of South American leaders didn't please the capitalists because it erected barriers that kept them from looting these countries at will.

Once the despots and military leaders seized power, these trends quickly were reversed and the bottom lines of many US and European-based corporations grew substantially. Empowered by their successes in overthrowing democracy in South America, this general blueprint (though sometimes sans the brutal violence) was utilized again and again in places like Poland, Russia, South Africa and many Asian nations.

With this as a backdrop, one has to wonder if the democratic uprisings in the Middle East are as innocent as we have been led to believe. We have been told time and again by the Obama administration and the mainstream media that the protests across the Middle East and Northern Africa are the result of spontaneous domestic yearnings for an end to brutal regimes and a call for freedom and democracy.

While I grant this could well be true, owing to past history, this could merely be the "reality" that certain elements want us to believe. It is just as likely -- if not more so -- that our own CIA provided the spark that became the fire. As fires often do, they aren't always so easily controlled and so some of the real estate being burned now may not be of our choosing.

Chapter 14, Part 7A - Chuang Tzu

Tzu-kung said, "Then is it true that the Perfect Man can command corpse-like stillness and dragon vision, the voice of thunder and the silence of deep pools; that he breaks forth into movement like Heaven and earth? If only I too could get to see him!"

In the end he went with an introduction from Confucius and called on Lao Tan. Lao Tan was about to sit down in the hall and stretch out his legs. In a small voice he said, "I've lived to see a great many years come and go. What advice is it you have for me?"

Tzu-kung said, "The Three August Ones and the Five Emperors ruled the world in ways that were not the same, though they were alike in the praise and acclaim they won. I am told, Sir, that you alone do not regard them as sages. May I ask why?"

Lao Tan said, "Young man, come a little closer! Why do you say that they ruled in ways that were not the same?"

"Yao ceded the throne to Shun, and Shun ceded it to Yu. Yu wore himself out over it, and T'ang even resorted to war. King Wen obeyed Chou and did not dare to rebel; but his son King Wu turned against Chou and refused to remain loyal. Therefore I say that they were not the same."
~ Burton Watson translation via Terebess Asia Online ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the chapters of the Book of Chuang Tzu.

Chapter 14, Part 6B - Chuang Tzu

When Confucius returned from his visit with Lao Tan, he did not speak for three days. His disciples said, "Master, you've seen Lao Tan - what estimation would you make of him?"

Confucius said, "At last I may say that I have seen a dragon - a dragon that coils to show his body at its best, that sprawls out to display his patterns at their best, riding on the breath of the clouds, feeding on the yin and yang. My mouth fell open and I couldn't close it; my tongue flew up and I couldn't even stammer. How could I possibly make any estimation of Lao Tan!"
~ Burton Watson translation via Terebess Asia Online ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the chapters of the Book of Chuang Tzu.

The Flaw of For-Profit Insurance

It accentuates the structural flaw plaguing Medicaid, which often sees enrollment spike during bad economies when states can least absorb the extra costs.
~ from Dems: Potential Cuts to Medicaid Outlined by Administration 'Cruel' by Mike Lillis ~
The structural flaw identified above is, in my opinion, THE structural flaw of for-profit insurance. When you don't have any claims to file, insurance companies love you. Unfortunately, when you need their services for an accident, injury, illness or death, then they often don't want to have anything to do with you!

For-profit insurance corporations make their money when we pay in and don't need them to pay out. So, to keep profits up, they come up with all sorts of reasons NOT to pay out -- even for the very benefits we've been paying them for in the first place.

Almost anyone you talk to has their own horror story when it comes to needing an insurance company to hold up their end of the bargain and the insurance company doing everything possible to evade their contractual responsibilities. My story concerns my mother.

For years, she dutifully paid her monthly health insurance premium. The insurance reps were always friendly and helpful, particularly when my mom was thinking about adding some increased coverage -- coverage that meant a higher premium!

One day my mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a very serious form of cancer. All of a sudden, the ever friendly insurance reps weren't as friendly as before. Though my mother was hospitalized in a weakened condition, they hassled her constantly. They kept claiming that required forms had been lost or misplaced and that my mother had to resubmit them.

They were slow on paying claims and, in the interim, my mom kept receiving these huge bills from the hospital and the various medical professionals working with her. This prompted mom to call the insurance company to see what the problem was and, as is all too typical, she spent week upon week receiving one runaround after another.

But the absolute worst of it is when the insurance company threatened my mother's employer, an Area Agency on Aging (AAA). The AAA was told that, if they didn't drop my mother from the agency's insurance plan, the insurance company would drop the entire agency!! In other words, if my mom's employer didn't cut her loose in her time of need, all my mother's coworkers would lose their health insurance as well!

Talk about audacity. Talk about unfair play. Talk about unmitigated greed. I was so infuriated that I wanted to find the insurance company's CEO and rip him a new asshole and my anger was mild compared to my brother's!!!

Fortunately, the agency's lawyers and a judge stopped the insurance company from doing the unthinkable: victimizing a fully paid up customer for having the utter gall to succumb to disease.

I've always wondered if the insurance company bigwigs threw a party when my mom subsequently died. Hey, no more money to pay out for this sick woman -- that's what they wanted all along.

Line by Line - Verse 26, Lines 3-4

Therefore a wise prince, marching the whole day, does not go far from his baggage waggons.
~ James Legge translation, from The Sacred Books of the East, 1891 ~

Therefore the sage, traveling all day,
Does not lose sight of his baggage.

~ Gia-fu Feng and Jane English translation, published by Vintage Books, 1989 ~

Therefore the sages travel an entire day
Without leaving the heavy supplies

~ Derek Lin translation, from Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained, published by SkyLight Paths, 2006 ~

A Master can travel long distances
and still see all her possessions.

~ Ron Hogan rendition, from, 2004 ~
According to Derek Lin,
"Travel" here refers to the journey of life, and the heavy supplies are the essentials -- the most important stuff, the basics. Sages are the ones who traverse through life without ever losing track of the fundamental essence that makes us human.
John Lash makes a similar point.
On your journey to the Tao, do not lose sight of that which is important: tranquility, harmony, silence, compassion, and emptiness. These are the essentials you will need to reach your true destiny.
To view the Index page for this series to see what you may have missed or would like to read again, go here.

What's Wrong With This Picture?

I'm sure we've all heard the refrain many times before. Our national and state governments are in such bad shape because those nasty public sector unions are bleeding our treasuries dry. They are able to get away with this highway robbery due to the nefarious collective bargaining. Not only are the unions destroying the country, but Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security are gouging budgets left and right.

To make matters worse, the corporate tax rate is a staggering 35%! How can we expect business to create jobs and fuel the economy if we're constantly yanking their hard-earned money away from them?

The ONLY way out of this mess is to put unions in their place, slash government spending by mammoth proportions AND reduce the tax burden on the beleaguered corporate class.

Yes, that's the official story and it's nothing more than a big pile of bunk!! We're in such bad shape because we keep going off to war, there is little meaningful regulation of the people who wrecked the economy and few corporations actually pay anywhere near 35% in taxes. In fact, as the list below from Mother Jones illustrates, many of the wealthiest corporations aren't paying a damn cent in federal corporate taxes. Even worse, several of these financial Goliaths are receiving whopping refunds!!
1) ExxonMobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009. Exxon not only paid no federal income taxes, it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to its SEC filings.

2) Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year, although it made $4.4 billion in profits and received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department of nearly $1 trillion.

3) Over the past five years, while General Electric made $26 billion in profits in the United States, it received a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS.

4) Chevron received a $19 million refund from the IRS last year after it made $10 billion in profits in 2009.

5) Boeing, which received a $30 billion contract from the Pentagon to build 179 airborne tankers, got a $124 million refund from the IRS last year.

6) Valero Energy, the 25th largest company in America with $68 billion in sales last year received a $157 million tax refund check from the IRS and, over the past three years, it received a $134 million tax break from the oil and gas manufacturing tax deduction.

7) Goldman Sachs in 2008 only paid 1.1 percent of its income in taxes even though it earned a profit of $2.3 billion and received an almost $800 billion from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department.

8) Citigroup last year made more than $4 billion in profits but paid no federal income taxes. It received a $2.5 trillion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury.

9) ConocoPhillips, the fifth largest oil company in the United States, made $16 billion in profits from 2007 through 2009, but received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deduction.

10) Over the past five years, Carnival Cruise Lines made more than $11 billion in profits, but its federal income tax rate during those years was just 1.1 percent.
~ from Bernie Sanders' Top 10 Tax Avoiders by Michael Mechanic ~
So, tell me again, who exactly is bankrupting the country?

Chapter 14, Part 6A - Chuang Tzu

Confucius called on Lao Tan and spoke to him about benevolence and righteousness.

Lao Tan said, "Chaff from the winnowing fan can so blind the eye that heaven, earth, and the four directions all seem to shift place. A mosquito or a horsefly stinging your skin can keep you awake a whole night.

"And when benevolence and righteousness in all their fearfulness come to muddle the mind, the confusion is unimaginable. If you want to keep the world from losing its simplicity, you must move with the freedom of the wind, stand in the perfection of Virtue.

"Why all this huffing and puffing, as though you were carrying a big drum and searching for a lost child! The snow goose needs no daily bath to stay white; the crow needs no daily inking to stay black. Black and white in their simplicity offer no ground for argument; fame and reputation in their clamorousness offer no ground for envy.

"When the springs dry up and the fish are left stranded on the ground, they spew each other with moisture and wet each other down with spit - but it would be much better if they could forget each other in the rivers and lakes!"

~ Burton Watson translation via Terebess Asia Online ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the chapters of the Book of Chuang Tzu.

Actions Speak Volumes

Mark (of Mark & Susan fame) was none too pleased with the article I quoted in the post, "Someone Has to Do It." He felt the passage unfairly impugned the reputation of Jeffrey Immelt, the Chairman and CEO of General Electric (GE). He suggested that we shouldn't judge others because we can't see into their hearts.

While I certainly acknowledge that it is true that no one can see what's in another person's heart, a thinking person can get a clue as to another person's true intentions by noting their actions. If a person habitually behaves or acts in a manner that undermines what they say or imply, then one can come very close to identifying what the person's true intentions are.

To illustrate my point, I will draw on a circumstance I faced numerous times as a Child Abuse Investigator.

While my primary duty was to investigate allegations of the abuse (and neglect) of children, spousal abuse often intersected in these cases. It was not uncommon at all for the spouse batterer also to be the person who physically abused the children. Less often, the victim of the spousal abuse took out her anger on the kids because she dare not say a peep to her batterer, lest she "set him off" to abuse her again.

I remember one case, in particular. The abuse of the children was easily substantiated and, in the process of interviewing family members, it became apparent that dear old dad was an equal opportunity thug. He beat up his spouse as frequently as he terrorized his own children.

I went to the mother and laid the cards on the table. I told her that, unless she kicked her husband out OR chose to go to a women's shelter, I would be forced by the situation to place her 3 children in emergency state custody.

I knew, of course, that she wouldn't dare to ask her husband to leave HIS home. That was a surefire recipe for a major thrashing, but, by law, I had to offer that as one of the options. No, the more reasonable choice was for her to allow me to make the necessary calls and then to transport her and the children to a safe house (before her hubby arrived home from work).

As is not uncommon in these types of situations, she declined the offer. Why did she stand by her man at the expense of her children? Because her husband never intended to hurt anyone.

Each time he choked, punched, kicked, burned, bit and/or knocked her around for the flimsiest of reasons, he told her that he didn't really want to treat her this way, but it was HER fault. She hadn't prepared a good enough dinner or the hallway wasn't vacuumed or the kids got on his nerves or she smiled flirtatiously at the waiter at the restaurant. In other words, she drove him to abuse her.

Once he cooled down, he told her how remorseful he was. He would swear that he loved her and the kids more than life itself. He would cry and beg for her forgiveness. He would promise that he would never ever raise his hand against her and the children again. Each time never would last for a few minutes, hours or maybe a day or two before the whole scenario repeated itself again.

This had been going on for 8 long years.

I tried to convince her that his actions spoke louder than his words, but she kept returning again and again to this idea that he was a good man who did not have ill intentions and the reason she KNEW that he had no ill intentions is that he told her so AFTER EACH AND EVERY BEATING.

I asked one of my female coworkers to talk to this women to see if she could get through to her that the beatings weren't going to stop. My coworker had no better luck than I did. And so, I removed her children and placed them in the custody of the state. She never tried to regain custody because she steadfastly refused to separate from her abusive partner OR attend counseling.

Eventually, we went to court and the judge terminated their parental rights. The children were lated adopted.

And what happened to this wife and mother who couldn't leave her abusive husband's side?

One day he beat her so brutally that she died.

Was that his intention? Who knows and who cares!!

Socrates: On the Good

Socrates: On the Good
by Scott Bradley

Though Socrates realized he did not know Truth, or as he more aptly put it, The Good, he believed that there was such a thing. The human mind and heart seems to find it necessary to do so. Reason, however tenuously grounded, assumes Truth. Justice, however arbitrary, assumes the Good. There is an orientation in the human nature which requires the Ultimate. This is essentially what is meant by Tao. It is that Unknowable which unites and underpins all that is.

The Socratic Good does not imply evil, however. Sin is not a moral failure; sin is ignorance. Everyone ultimately just wants what is best for himself. However 'wrong' one's behavior, it is done with the intention of bringing good to oneself. Socrates, therefore, helped people to see how their 'sinful' behavior was a consequence of this ignorance of the Good, and how it failed to further their own good.

We cannot know the Good, just as we cannot know Tao, but we can align ourselves with the natural alignment within ourselves, an alignment toward Tao. This is harmony with Tao.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

Stewart Gives Up

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Real Life Tao - Thank the Dandelions

Years ago, when my wife and I moved into our house in Salem, Oregon, one of our first projects was to rip out the front lawn in order to replace it with native species. Years later, when we moved into our house here in South Bend, we began the process to replicate that plan.

Because we try to lead earth-friendly lives, we have chosen not to kill off our grass through the use of pesticides. Our strategy has been to tarp a few sections of the yard per year, cover the tarps with bark dust and then pull up the tarps 6 - 9 months later. Before raking the bark dust over the mainly barren ground, I slowly and laboriously dig out as my roots as possible.

Once these tasks are completed, I begin the process of planting native species in each newly reclaimed section. Thus far, we have reclaimed about 65% of what use to be the front lawn. We still have a long ways to go to reclaim the totality of the front of our house plus the side yard.

The first year of the current project I became a bit miffed around June as dandelions started popping up all over the place. (Dandelions are resource hogs and, during our 2 - 3 month dry season, they can appropriate the moisture that other plants desperately need to survive.) I had worked so hard to find and dig up as many root systems as possible that I was irritated that these weeds had somehow hung on. I spent several days pulling the dandelions and digging out their roots. That should take care of the problem, I thought to myself.

About one month later, dandelions started popping up all over the place again! A neighbor suggested a certain pesticide to help rid our garden of these pests. No, no, I said. It will probably take the whole summer for me to rid the garden of these weeds. And I did work all summer at digging them up each time they started to proliferate.

The next year I was supremely confident that dandelions were a thing of the past. However, come May or June, they started popping up all over again. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!

This time around though, something dawned on me. The presence of dandelions is what keeps me working in the garden all spring and summer long. If not for them and a few other persistent weeds, I could basically work on my garden in the spring and pretty much let it go of its own accord for the rest of the growing season.

In other words, what I originally viewed as a negative was really a positive for me. The dandelions allow me to work at something I enjoy far more than if they disappeared completely!

This notion is similar to many of the tales and stories of Chuang Tzu. In several chapters, this Taoist sage urges us to be open to different perspectives and not to allow ourselves to be boxed in by preconceived ideas. What at one moment may look like a negative could just as easily be viewed as a a different light.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Chapter 14, Part 5B - Chuang Tzu

"Fame is a public weapon - don't reach for it too often. Benevolence and righteousness are the grass huts of the former kings; you may stop in them for one night but you mustn't tarry there for long. A lengthy stay would invite many reproaches.

"The Perfect Man of ancient times used benevolence as a path to be borrowed, righteousness as a lodge to take shelter in. He wandered in the free and easy wastes, ate in the plain and simple fields, and strolled in the garden of no bestowal. Free and easy, he rested in inaction; plain and simple, it was not hard for him to live; bestowing nothing, he did not have to hand things out. The men of old called this the wandering of the Truth-picker.

"He who considers wealth a good thing can never bear to give up his income; he who considers eminence a good thing can never bear to give up his fame. He who has a taste for power can never bear to hand over authority to others. Holding tight to these things, such men shiver with fear; should they let them go, they would pine in sorrow. They never stop for a moment of reflection, never cease to gaze with greedy eyes - they are men punished by Heaven. Resentment and kindness, taking away and giving, reproof and instruction, life and death - these eight things are the weapons of the corrector.

"Only he who complies with the Great Change and allows no blockage will be able to use them. Therefore it is said, The corrector must be correct. If the mind cannot accept this fact, then the doors of Heaven will never open!"
~ Burton Watson translation via Terebess Asia Online ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the chapters of the Book of Chuang Tzu.

Dirty Therapy

In today's counseling session, Bill and I talked about the concept of enjoyment. One of the questions he naturally asked me was what do you enjoy?

I didn't need to think on the question for any length of time. One of my great enjoyments is gardening! I like to pull weeds. I like to feel the earth on my hands. I like to dig holes to place new plants in. I like the way our formerly grassy lawn is turning into the home for numerous native species.

Today we purchased 3 new native plants to add to our growing menagerie: a shore pine (for the back yard); a mountain huckleberry bush and an Indian plum tree (for the front of the house). The huckleberry and Indian plum will provide more fruit for the area wildlife and the pine tree will provide company for the other shore pine we planted two years ago.

So, if we get a break from the copious amounts of rain one of these days, I am going to engage in my own form of mental health therapy by getting down and gloriously dirty! :-)

Chapter 14, Part 5A - Chuang Tzu

Confucius had gone along until he was fifty-one and had still not heard the Way. Finally he went south to P'ei and called on Lao Tan. "Ah, you have come," said Lao Tan. "I've heard that you are a worthy man of the northern region. Have you found the Way?"

"Not yet," said Confucius.

"Where did you look for it?" asked Lao Tan.

"I looked for it in rules and regulations, but five years went by and still I hadn't found it."

"Where else did you look for it?" asked Lao Tan.

"I looked for it in the yin and yang, but twelve years went by and I still hadn't found it."

"It stands to reason!" said Lao Tan. "If the Way could be presented, there is no man who would not present it to his ruler. If the Way could be offered, there is no man who would not offer it to his parents. If the Way could be reported, there is no man who would not report it to his brothers. If the Way could be bequeathed, there is no man who would not bequeath it to his heirs.

"But it cannot - and for none other than the following reason. If there is no host on the inside to receive it, it will not stay; if there is no mark on the outside to guide it, it will not go. If what is brought forth from the inside is not received on the outside, then the sage will not bring it forth. If what is taken in from the outside is not received by a host on the inside, the sage will not entrust it."
~ Burton Watson translation via Terebess Asia Online ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the chapters of the Book of Chuang Tzu.

Everything It Touches

How does one contain a failing nuclear reactor? This is a question I have been pondering. The word "contain" means to hold or keep within limits; restrain. But here's the problem with nuclear energy and radiation: everything used to shore up the problem becomes contaminated itself.

The Japanese have learned this lesson through their use of sea water to try to cool the fuel rods. All the water they pumped in is now contaminated too. So, not only do they need to worry about the reactors themselves, but now they face an additional dilemma of what to do with the contaminated water!

In my view, this is why containing a nuclear accident becomes very troublesome. Whatever tool or material is utilized to halt the process becomes part of an ever growing problem. So, rather than limiting the situation, it actually increases it.

This is one of the prime reasons I have always opposed nuclear energy. The byproducts of nuclear fission are just as dangerous, if not more so, than the process itself. Every kilowatt of energy generated concurrently produces dangerous toxins that remain highly toxic to biological organisms for tens or hundreds of thousands of years. In a manner of speaking, it's a gift that keeps on giving!

For all the study and research involving nuclear energy, no one yet has figured out how to safely store the toxic byproducts. Here, in Washington State, they have buried these poisons in cement tombs at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. We were told both by our government and GE (the folks that run it) that this process was safe and posed no threat to anyone.

People believed them...until some watchdog group noted that the toxins were leeching out of their tombs into groundwater. It seems that the monitoring devices had malfunctioned and no one from GE or the government had bothered to mention this. This singular problem in one location hasn't been fixed, though we're told that the issue is being studied.

To me, this crazy experiment with nuclear energy is like placing a lit stick of TNT in the middle of an urban area and acting as if it won't detonate. The Japanese people -- and, maybe, the rest of us too -- are now paying for this irrational calculation.

Line by Line - Verse 26, Line 2

stillness, the ruler of movement.
~ James Legge translation, from The Sacred Books of the East, 1891 ~

The still is the master of unrest.
~ Gia-fu Feng and Jane English translation, published by Vintage Books, 1989 ~

Quietness is the master of restlessness
~ Derek Lin translation, from Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained, published by SkyLight Paths, 2006 ~

If your body is active, your mind should be relaxed.
~ Ron Hogan rendition, from, 2004 ~
From Red Pine's book, here is how this line is explained by three Taoist masters. (Note: Pine interprets this line as "still is the master of busy.")
Ch'eng Hsuan-Ying: "Still" means tranquil, and "busy" means excited. Excitement is subject to birth and death. Tranquility endures. Hence the still rule the busy.

Te-Ch'ing: "Still" refers to our nature, "busy" refers to our emotions. People forget their body and chase external things. They forget their nature and follow their emotions.

Ho-Shang Kung: A lord who is not still loses his power. A dragon is still, hence it is able to constantly transform itself. A tiger is busy, hence it dies young.
To view the Index page for this series to see what you may have missed or would like to read again, go here.

Always Oil

I didn't listen to President Obama's speech about trying to justify why the US is involved in its third war. I didn't see the need. Anyone with half a brain already knows one of the critical criteria that made Libya such a green light for military intervention -- oil. The United States attacks nations who don't give us oil on our terms OR nations that are connected to the delivery of oil on our terms.

We attacked Iraq who has the 2nd greatest volume of oil reserves. We attacked Afghanistan because that territory is key to an oil pipeline we want to build. We are attacking Pakistan because it is related to said pipeline. We are now attacking Libya who possesses the 10th greatest volume of reserve oil. And sadly, I fear it will only be a matter of time before we launch an attack on Iran, the nation with the 4th largest oil reserves.

Obama says we are in Libya to defend people and to try to avert massacres. But despotic regimes in the Ivory Coast, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain are abusing and killing democratic protesters just as fiercely as Libya's leader was and you don't see the US moving swiftly to defend and protect them. And what is so different about the situations in these countries?

No significant amounts of oil.

I know there are people out there who will argue that the situations in each nation are unique and that varying complexities mean that different strategies will be employed based on differing circumstances. While I certainly will grant that point to a certain extent, it still is uncanny how the nations we choose to attack are major oil producers with whom we don't have exporting relations on OUR terms.

What are the chances of such an apparent correlation if oil is NOT the key determining factor?

About nil! And everybody knows it, regardless of what our various presidents say.

Chapter 14, Part 4C - Chuang Tzu

"Thus it is that the rituals and regulations of the Three August Ones and the Five Emperors are prized not because they were uniform, but because they were capable of bringing about order. The rituals and regulations of the Three August Ones and the Five Emperors may be compared to the haw, the pear, the orange, and the citron. Their flavors are quite different, yet all are pleasing to the mouth. Rituals and regulations are something that change in response to the times.

"If you take a monkey and dress him in the robes of the Duke of Chou, he will bite and tear at them, not satisfied until he has divested himself of every stitch. And a glance will show that past and present are no more alike than are a monkey and the Duke of Chou!

"The beautiful Hsi-shih, troubled with heartburn, frowned at her neighbors. An ugly woman of the neighborhood, seeing that Hsi-shih was beautiful, went home and likewise pounded her breast and frowned at her neighbors. But at the sight of her the rich men of the neighborhood shut tight their gates and would not venture out, while the poor men grabbed their wives and children by the hand and scampered off. The woman understood that someone frowning could be beautiful, but she did not understand where the beauty of the frown came from.

"A pity, indeed! Your master is going to end up in trouble!"
~ Burton Watson translation via Terebess Asia Online ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the chapters of the Book of Chuang Tzu.

Someone Has to Do It

In yesterday's post, "A Tough Position to Be In," I briefly discussed the moral dilemma about the efforts in Japan to deal with the leaking reactors. Of course, I'm not the only person thinking about this! Someone has to do the job, yet whoever does it is risking their life. How does one decide whom to ask?

Charles M. Young, writing at This Can't Be Happening, has an answer of at least one person who should readily become directly involved.
If someone has to die an agonizing, terrifying, nauseating, blistering, stinking, metastasizing death, who should be first guy to run into the Fukushima reactors with a bucket of wet cement?

I nominate Jeffrey Immelt.

Immelt is chairman and CEO of General Electric. General Electric designed all six of the faulty Fukushima reactors. General Electric built three of them. General Electric claimed it was safe to build these reactors next to the ocean in an earthquake zone. General Electric built 23 reactors in the United States exactly like the ones melting down right now in Japan. General Electric has made colossal profits promoting nuclear power in Japan and around the world. Jeffrey Immelt made $15.2 million last year.

He makes the most money, it’s his company, and he tells everyone else what to do. At any time since taking over GE in 2000, he could have said, “Those plants are too dangerous. We sold them to Japan. We need to shut them down.” He didn’t do that. Hence the nuclear waste in Tokyo’s drinking water belongs to Jeffrey Immelt.

This is what Immelt says on the GE website: “I’m out talking about this company seven days a week, 24 hours a day, with nothing to hide. We’re a 130-year-old company that has a great record of high-quality leadership and a culture of integrity.”

That is the statement of a moral turd. A shameless, sociopathic, moral turd. GE ran the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, one of the most polluted places on the planet. GE has paved parking lots with nuclear waste. GE has released vast clouds of radiation on innocent, unwarned people in United States just to see what would happen. GE has done radiation experiments on the testes of prisoners without properly warning them. GE dumped 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson River, making it poisonous for generations. GE has refused to clean up the PCBs in the Hudson and elsewhere. GE has lied repeatedly about the PCBs. GE is a serial polluter of ground water.

GE takes enormous pride in paying no corporate taxes in the United States. GE has been fined many times for defrauding the the Defense Department. GE has been fined many times for design flaws and safety violations at its nuclear plants in the United States. GE has shipped most of its operations overseas so it can pay workers less and get fined less.

GE owns a big chunk of NBC and MSNBC, which has been covering Japan less and less as the meltdown gets worse and worse. GE sees to it that all those NBC Dateline true crime documentaries don’t inform anyone about GE crimes. And last, but far from least, GE launched the political career of Ronald Reagan.

For all that, GE has been named “America’s Most Admired Company” in a poll conducted by Fortune magazine.

For all that, Jeffrey Immelt has been named Chairman of Obama’s Economic Advisory Panel.

For all that, I say give Jeffrey Immelt a one-way ticket to Fukushima and a bucket of wet cement. While he’s pouring it on the burning fuel rods, he can throw in his MBA from Harvard...
It is a sad fact that those most responsible for placing citizens and the earth in harm's way are not the ones who must risk life and limb to clean up the mess. They may suffer some embarrassment (maybe not) and they may lose some of their billions, but life tends to go on as usual.

Socrates: The Midwife

Socrates: The Midwife
by Scott Bradley

Socrates made it a point to never tell anyone the Truth since he did not know it himself. Likewise, he never told anyone that they did not know it. Rather, he simply asked questions which enabled them to realize their own ignorance of the Truth. The Socratic method has thus been called a kind of midwifery: Each one gives birth to his or her own understanding.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Tao Bible - Psalm 108:13

Through God we shall do valiantly: for he it is that shall tread down our enemies.
~ King James version ~

Why do you have so many enemies?
~ possible Taoist alternative ~
Throughout the Old Testament, there is much talk of enemies and how God will defeat them for us.

If we are at all honest, it is our desires that create enemies. We want what someone else has and, if they don't hand it over, we label them as an adversary. When we temper desire and live more by the way of Tao, we discover that we have much more in common than what separates us. We find comrades where we once found enemies.

If you're interested in reading more from this experimental series, go to the Tao Bible Index page.


The soldiers were bored and shellshocked and angry. They had been sent to Afghanistan as part of a new advance guard on a mission to track down the Taliban, but the enemy was nowhere to be found. "To be honest, I couldn't tell the difference between local nationals and combatants," one soldier later confessed. During the unit's first six months in Afghanistan, the Taliban evaded almost every patrol that 3rd Platoon sent out. Frustrations ran so high that when the unit came across the body of an insurgent killed by a helicopter gunship in November 2009, one soldier took out a hunting knife and stabbed the corpse. According to another soldier, Gibbs began playing with a pair of scissors near the dead man's hands. "I wonder if these can cut off a finger?" Gibbs asked.
~ from The Kill Team by Mark Boal ~
This investigative report from Rolling Stone is disturbing, to say the least. It is a must -- but very difficult -- read.

Chapter 14, Part 4B - Chuang Tzu

"Nothing is as good as a boat for crossing water, nothing as good as a cart for crossing land. But though a boat will get you over water, if you try to push it across land, you may push till your dying day and hardly move it any distance at all. And are the past and present not like the water and the land, and the states of Chou and Lu not like a boat and a cart?

"To hope to practice the ways of Chou in the state of Lu is like trying to push a boat over land - a great deal of work, no success, and certain danger to the person who tries it. The man who tries to do so has failed to understand the turning that has no direction, that responds to things and is never at a loss.

"Have you never seen a well sweep? Pull it, and down it comes; let go, and up it swings. It allows itself to be pulled around by men; it doesn't try to pull them. So it can go up and down and never get blamed by anybody.
~ Burton Watson translation via Terebess Asia Online ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the chapters of the Book of Chuang Tzu.

Expiration Date

I have this nifty program on my computer which indicates how much ink I have left in my ink cartridges (color plus B & W) in my attached printer. It amazes me how close to accurate it is. It usually is no more than a few copies off as to when one or the other cartridge runs dry.

Gas gauges are the same way. Some of the new batteries on the market have little dealies that indicate how much power is left. There are lots of products and machines that possess something comparable.

What if each of us was born with an expiration date. Do you think it would affect the way you lead your life?

Imagine that as each baby is born (in a hospital) that, after severing the umbilical cord, the doctors would hook each newborn up to a machine which could extract the expiration date on the unit. The readout would indicate the exact year, month, day, hour and second that the unit would cease functioning. For example, little Bobby's readout might indicate: May 4, 2043, 22:18:16. Would this information impact Bobby's life?

There are two important considerations before we could even attempt to guess at the answer to the question. If the world was created by a divine being that could foresee each individual's destiny, the expiration date would be fixed with no hope of mitigating factors. We wouldn't know how we were to die, we would just know when. History would teach us that, no matter how some individuals tried to avert the knowing end, it always came on schedule, nonetheless.

If the world was not created by a divine being with the ability to foresee each individual's destiny, then the expiration date would be open to mitigating factors. The date would merely indicate that, beyond disease or accident as well as enriching factors, the unit would cease functioning at that time.

In this latter case, the rich and powerful among us would have a far better opportunity to exceed the scheduled expiration date because they could afford medical intervention to extend the unit's warranty. The poor and impotent, on the other hand, would be far more likely to fall victim to disease, war and accidents.

Taking these considerations into account, how do you think knowing the precise time of your death would impact (or not) the way you live your life?

Whether you care to share your thoughts in the comments section is less important than considering how you might answer the question to yourself.

Labels Can Be Helpful

One topic we have discussed on this blog numerous times before is labels. Many of you have left comments that this or that label -- for example, in relation to political perspective or mental health diagnoses -- can be limiting. I certainly wouldn't argue with the notion that people (me definitely included) tend to identify with a particular label so much that we fail to see the real person the label seeks to define.

While labels in this vein probably should not be relied on so much, they do serve a useful and needed purpose in other areas of life. One I can think of right off the bat is food. Food labeling allows consumers to make better informed choices.

A recent article at the PRWatch website reports about one aspect in the push to require labels on the foods we consume.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is about to issue a new rule forcing movie theaters to disclose nutritional information for the prepared snacks they serve, including hot dogs, pretzels and popcorn, but the National Association of Theater Owners is lobbying FDA and congressional staffers to exempt theaters from the requirement. Theaters argue the rule is an unwarranted intrusion into their business, since people come to movie theaters to see movies, not to eat food. "It's dinner and a movie, not dinner at a movie," says Gary Klein, general counsel for the theater owners' group.

The stakes are high for theaters. Sales of popcorn, sodas and snacks generate up to one third of their revenue. David Ownby, the chief financial officer of Regal Entertainment Group, the country's largest theater chain, recently disclosed at an investor presentation that a bucket of popcorn costs theaters just 15 or 20 cents to make, and sells for about six dollars. The Center for Science in the Public Interest found a large dry popcorn purchased at Regal had 1,200 calories and 60 grams of saturated fat. Adding butter adds 260 more calories.

The major theater chains already report nutritional information in California, where state law currently requires it, but theater owners are protesting being forced to disclose the information elsewhere, saying it should be voluntary, that people don't go to the movies that often and when they do go, they really don't care about the nutritional content of their snacks anyway.
I don't know about you, but I think ALL food -- particularly packaged or prepared food -- should be so labeled. Yes, it would cost more at the outset, but think of the money it would save in long-term health care costs. While not every person would pay any heed to such labels, I bet a lot of people would.

I certainly read food labels. Two of my big bugaboos are saturated and trans fat. If I'm looking at a product and I notice that there is ANY trans fat in the item, I don't purchase it. If it is high in saturated fat, I generally don't buy it either.

If the government mandated that chemical additives and GMOs were reflected on food labels, I can tell you that I would rarely, if ever, buy any product that had either.

What about you? Do you read labels?

Of course, the other outrageous tidbit in this article is the ratio between the actually cost of popcorn and the outrageous price they charge for it. It is tantamount to highway robbery!

Chapter 14, Part 4A - Chuang Tzu

When Confucius was away in the west visiting the state of Wei, Yen Yuan said to the Music Master Chin, "What do you think of my master's trip?"

Music Master Chin said, "A pity! - your master will most likely end up in trouble."

"How so?" asked Yen Yuan.

Music Master Chin said, "Before the straw dogs are presented at the sacrifice, they are stored in bamboo boxes and covered over with patterned embroidery, while the impersonator of the dead and the priest fast and practice austerities in preparation for fetching them. But after they have once been presented, then all that remains for them is to be trampled on, head and back, by passers-by; to be swept up by the grasscutters and burned. And if anyone should come along and put them back in their bamboo boxes, cover them over with patterned embroidery, and linger or lie down to sleep beneath them, he would dream no proper dreams; on the contrary, he would most certainly be visited again and again by nightmares.

"Now your master has picked up some old straw dogs that had been presented by the former kings, and has called together his disciples to linger and lie down in sleep beneath them.

"Therefore the people chopped down the tree on him in Sung, wiped away his footprints in Wei, and made trouble for him in Shang and Chou - such were the dreams he had. They besieged him between Ch'en and Ts'ai, and for seven days he ate no cooked food, till he hovered on the border between life and death - such were the nightmares he had.
~ Burton Watson translation via Terebess Asia Online ~
Go here to read the introductory post to the chapters of the Book of Chuang Tzu.

Starting Points

Some readers have suggested in the comments section to various posts that the word "God" -- typically the Christian God -- can easily be substituted for the word "Tao" in many passages in the Tao Te Ching and Zhuangzi and this represents a sort of congruity between the two belief systems. In my opinion, this is not necessarily as easy an operation as might first appear. While congruity might exist on the surface, the starting points of these two philosophies are starkly different.

For Christianity, the starting point is one of separation and estrangement. We are separated and estranged from the divine, Mother Earth and each other due to our sinful nature. In Taoism, the starting point is one of interconnection and community. As all things originate from the same source, we are each a manifestation of the One.

Another way of viewing these diverging starting points is in the relationship humans have to other beings. In Christianity, plants and animals are seen as mere commodities. On the one hand, they are special gifts from the divine to the human species. On the other hand, they are mere pawns to be used by us to appease the creator for our misdeeds.

The Old Testament is chock full of sacrifices of other beings to atone for OUR sins and transgressions. To get back in the good graces of God for some affront, the guilty party may be instructed to sacrifice a goat and 2 lambs plus burn some wheat and offer up some grapes.

In Taoism, plants and animals are not taken to be commodities at all. Each being is just as important as any other because we all are from one cloth. It is understood that it is the way of the cosmos for beings to kill other beings to survive. We all need a certain level of sustenance to live. We all must feed on something other than this self and body we are housed in.

Just as many American Indians paid tribute to the animals they slaughtered for food and other uses, the Taoist philosophy recognizes the honor in the acts of life and death.

Because of these two divergent starting points, contemporary concepts come to mean different things. Take, for example, the notion of self-interest.

If you view the world as one of separation, then self-interest is exclusive. The big question always on your mind is: How will this or that affect me? If you view the world as one of interconnection, then self interest is inclusive. The big question always on your mind is: How will this or that affect the web of life?

In my view, starting points are critical. They help to shape the direction and path we each decide to tread.

Line by Line - Verse 26, Line 1

Gravity is the root of lightness;
~ James Legge translation, from The Sacred Books of the East, 1891 ~

The heavy is the root of the light.
~ Gia-fu Feng and Jane English translation, published by Vintage Books, 1989 ~

Heaviness is the root of lightness
~ Derek Lin translation, from Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained, published by SkyLight Paths, 2006 ~

To be light on your feet, you need a steady mind.
~ Ron Hogan rendition, from, 2004 ~
While I could do this with any line in any verse, let's see how Jonathan Star parses this one out. For starters, the line reads in Chinese: Chung wei ch'ing ken. Each of these words can be translated different ways.
  • Chung: heavy, weighted or solid; genuine or real; gravity, substantial, important or serious; associated with the characteristics of generosity, stability and honesty.
  • Wei: is, makes or acts.
  • Ch'ing: lights[s], lightness, frivolous, easy, flimsy or "not taken seriously."
  • Ken: root, origin, initial cause, foundation or support.
As I hope you can see, it is easy to understand why translations sometimes differ significantly as each translator will alight on different definitions of the same words (though, in this case, the 3 translations above are fairly much in congruity).

To view the Index page for this series to see what you may have missed or would like to read again, go here.