Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Only In Amurika

We are the world’s greatest military and economic superpower. When we get an economic tummy ache, the world gets a right awful case of explosive diarrhea. When we start a war, we conquer with shock and awe. We dominate the world stage. We consume three billion pizzas a year. And a shitload of burgers too.

Impressive sounding, but I can find you a Newfoundland dog that can do the same. Powerful empires come and go like teeny-bopping pop stars but every few millennia some great civilization makes a monumental contribution to mankind, something that etches it’s place into the history of human achievement.

Alas, these United States Of America have finally breached the upper echelons of cultural magnificence; our superior ingenuity now demonstrated in a grand and final statement.

I’ll spare you the platitudes. There are no adequate superlatives. In the face of such grand achievement, words fail. So without any further ado…

Humanity, you’re welcome.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Taking My Lead From The Blind

Working in downtown Fort Worth one encounters all manner of curious and eye-catching scenery. There was the incident with the mostly nude animal rights protesters doing their thing in freezing cold temperatures out in front of whatever that place was; probably something to do with cattle. Livestock is a big thing here. Not only do we eat it but we use it for decorative purposes too.

There’s the crazy dreadlock homeless guy who often sports a strange and unidentifiable nose apparatus whilst contorting his face into a sordid variety of disturbing expressions. He twitches, converses animatedly with himself, and more often than not wears no shoes, though he may be donning a black leather overcoat, even in the stifling Texas heat. Most notable about this character is not the man himself but the reactions of unwary passers-by who have stumbled into his vicinity. The looks of sheer terror, stunned confusion, and cautious maneuvering give the impression of an encounter with a downed electrical line that’s dancing unpredictably…and wearing a very odd nasal accessory.

Also worth mentioning is the elderly black woman who used to be a downtown fixture. Always dressed in her Sunday best, she’d wander the streets engaged in scriptural but profanity filled shouting matches with herself and – one imagines – with God. The threat of physical violence always seemed more plausible with her than with crazy dreadlock dude. Haven’t seen her in awhile and I do hope that she is okay. Maybe she worked things out with herself. Maybe she worked things out with God. Either way, the place isn’t the same without her.

Having worked in downtown for nearly eight years there is still, on any given day, some scene or occurrence that can grab my attention and seem out of the ordinary. It probably doesn’t hurt that the county jail is right across the street from my place of employment. There are plenty of examples but like the ones already mentioned, they would be tangential to what I had in mind as I started scribbling this out.

Yesterday I noticed something that I’d seen previously on many occasions and though always more than a little intrigued, I’d never allowed myself to just stop and really take it in. There are a number of blind people who frequent downtown. I don’t mean this in a philosophical or metaphysical sort of way, although that would also be true. I am referring to people who literally do not have eyesight. Several of them have guide dogs - which is fascinating enough in its own right - but the person who caught my attention yesterday did not have a guide dog.

In what was honestly one of the most impressive and inspiring acts I can recall witnessing, I watched a blind man disembark from a city bus and make his way several blocks through downtown. This may sound like a trivial thing but you have to understand, navigating one’s way through downtown can be challenging even for pedestrians with perfectly good eyesight. As I saw him get off of that bus, all alone with no assistance save a thin metal stick, in a crowd of hurried people and with cars whizzing by, it occurred to me what a precarious situation this was (or could be).

He moved a little slower than the rest of the crowd (for obvious reasons) and as everyone else cleared out quickly, he made his way meticulously down the sidewalk, tapping out a noticeable rhythm with his walking stick. I watched as he approached the first potentially perilous obstacle, an abrupt drop-off from the curb of a driveway that cut across the sidewalk. Even with the stick out in front, the likelihood of him losing his footing when he reached the driveway seemed high to me; but no. Even without the walking stick he seemed to somehow know when he was about to step off that curb. He paused for a second and then gracefully stepped down, continuing on his way.

Next, there was a concrete planter about waist high directly in his path. He became aware of it when his stick gave it a good whack. He stopped, his facial expression changed (as if wondering what the hell this thing was), and he felt it out with the metal walking stick. Once the object was identified, he easily maneuvered around it and continued on.

I continued to watch for awhile. From my vantage point it was easy to do without looking strange or rude. In rapt attention I observed him navigate the urban obstacle course, crossing busy streets at the cross walks (amazing!) and dodging other pedestrians; basically going about his business as a person with 20/20 vision would. I know this may sound like a simple thing but to really watch it and acknowledge the significance of what was occurring was fascinating and humbling. Even more so, it was profoundly inspiring.

As I went on my way it seemed to me that this was a truly heroic and triumphant demonstration of the human spirit. What adaptable and determined creatures we are! On an individual level our ability to overcome adversity is remarkable, almost limitless. Collectively it seems to come less easy but the potential is certainly there.

I’m fortunate in that I don’t really have any problems but after seeing this blind fellow yesterday, any thought of personal inconvenience or disappointment seems trivial now, laughable even. To think that someone can be completely blind and still manage to make their way through the world so effectively is…empowering. That could be any one of us. Through will, determination, and focus (innate human abilities), any one of us could also overcome such a devastating setback. And if we are capable of that, it seems that we could do just about anything.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Looking For The Silver Lining

It’s become clear that the Wall Street insiders (Paulson, Kashkari, etc.) who are working diligently to alleviate this crisis that was caused (primarily) by Wall Street insiders don’t know what they are doing and don’t have any actual coherent plan. What they do have is hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars and the latitude to operate from a make it up as they go approach. It seems a little experimental. This is a $700 billion to $1 trillion experiment that may or may not work as intended, which again begs the question of whether we should be doing it at all. The only known in this experiment is that we will be roughly a trillion dollars more in debt when it’s over. Assuming it’s ever over.

There are two distinct perspectives through which to view this debacle and I vacillate between them depending on whatever mood I happen to be in at the moment. The optimistic outlook is that these guys are making the best decisions they can based on the information they have. I’m all for having a plan but there has to be flexibility sufficient to meet the demands of changing information. I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt because in my experience it makes for a more amicable existence as a human being.

The other view is that this bailout is just one of the final steps in a satanic-zionist-illuminati-men-in-black scheme to enslave the American public by creating a massive peasant class. The wealth of Middle America is tied up in 401Ks and home equity and values there are plummeting faster than a chili cheese dog sliding down Rush Limbaugh’s gullet. There is a monumental transfer of wealth going on and at this point it is unclear as to who is benefiting although it’s safe to say that Joe Six Pack is screwed as ever at the moment.

A case could be made for either of these two perspectives. One of the weaknesses of the more sinister of the two is that it is not only the middle and lower classes that are having their savings evaporated. There are some obscenely wealthy individuals – old money aristocrats - who are also having their asses handed to them right now. But I guess it could be argued that the elite losers just aren’t in the inner circle or whatever.

Paulson’s more recent talk has revolved around consumer credit, the implication being that more credit needs to be made available to the American public so that we can borrow to buy cars, plasma tvs, breast implants, etc. I’m no economic expert, but this is crazy talk.
Granted, greed on Wall Street and the lack of some common sense regulation on these hocus pocus derivatives are the primary cause of our economic ills. But they aren’t the only cause. And it bears taking a good hard look at the environment which allowed this unbridled greed to flourish in such a destructive way.

America did not get into this mess because we couldn’t get our hands on enough credit. We got into this mess, in large part, because it was too easy to get too much credit. We evolved into a society that is addicted to credit. It was a seeming win-win situation but it shouldn’t have been that hard to see that it was a disaster waiting to happen. Is an economy that depends on excessive consumer credit really a sustainable economy?

The savings rate of Americans is something like -1%. I’d submit that an economy that requires the masses to spend more than they make is an illegitimate and unsustainable economy. In addition to the greed on Wall Street, some of the blame falls squarely on the American public and a culture of instant gratification and rampant, pathological consumerism.

Also, I’d posit that the economic fallout is just an outward symptom of a deeper problem that pervades our society. Whether that problem is a philosophical, spiritual, or psychological one is something the reader can decide based on their particular disposition but what is happening now should be a clear indicator that our value system as a society has finally gotten so out of whack that living in denial is no longer an option.

It could be possible that what we are seeing now is a forced rebalancing process where there is a shift away from crass materialism and conspicuous consumption and towards a more balanced and responsible way of living. Since it is obvious that society would not willingly make this change for the better (the forces working against such a positive change are formidable) it could very well be that the Universe, Fate, God, Karma, or whatever, is making the decision for us. It might be a little painful at first, but growing up always is.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Well Pluck Me Running

Republicans, buy a f#%&*ing clue! Or rent one. Or put one on layaway. Hell, pretend you’re Jack Abramoff, Tom Delay, or Ted Stevens and steal one. I won’t say a word. I should let this go but...I…just…can’t. The election is over but the insanity lingers. As I type this, right wingers throughout the land are having night terrors about socialism and God knows what else. They’re buying guns. They’re hanging their flags upside down. They’re pouting and thrashing about.

And I’m scratching my head.

They are killing me with this socialism thing. Really, I don’t think it’s a stretch to point out that most of these people (like “Joe The Plumber” and “Bob the know-nothing-right-wing-radio-enthusiast”) that are shrieking like rabid pterodactyls about the big “S” word, have little to no understanding about their own government and how socialistic it already is. More importantly, they are either in denial or –more likely – just flat out don’t know the role that their own party has played in enacting socialistic type policies.

Maybe they should read this article by George Will. He’s a conservative but different than your garden variety because he actually gives these things more than half a second’s worth of thought. Garden variety conservatism considers ‘thought’ elitist, anti-American even. Don't get me wrong, republicanism does have its virtues but they’ve been pretty much snuffed out by the cult of culture war whack-jobs and the drum beat of those who believe the Christian thing to do is ‘spread democracy’ (read: bomb the shit out of Muslims).

There’s talk of Sarah Palin being the future of the GOP. Folks if that ain’t batshit crazy, I don’t know what is. By now we should have learned our lesson about electing officials who can’t manage to wrap their head around the English language and speak in coherent sentences. Sarah Palin shouldn’t be allowed outside of Alaska and it would be preferable to keep her confined to the tiny town of Wasilla. But hey, that’s just my opinion (and several dozen million of my closest friends).

Anyway, the comedy continues. I hate to keep going on about politics but watching some of our locals here mope around like the Grinch has just stolen Christmas is amusing and perplexing to me. Apparently I live around and work with some of that 2% (or whatever it is) who approve of the direction the country has been going in.

It hurtses us. Oh yesssss, it hurtses ussss.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Blow V8

I’d like to take this opportunity to discourse at length in a pompous and boastful manner. In other words, I’d like to bloviate. What a wonderful word. Sounds like the bastard offspring of ‘bloated’ and ‘ruminate’. In my recent internet wanderings I’ve noticed an increased prevalence of the term bloviate. Why just yesterday I saw it three separate times at The Best of the Fray and it occurred to me that this is a new addition to my own verbal accoutrement. Yay.

With the ending of such a contentious election season it’s surprising that I haven’t noticed anyone busting out with this epithet until recently. I hear bloviate and I think of Rush Limbaugh. The guy is pompous if not bloated, boastful if not ignorant; a slovenly, bile spewing embodiment of a lifetime of bad eating, oxycontin abuse, multiple divorces, and general mean spiritedness. I wouldn’t pick on Rush but generally when someone gets publically exposed for such brazen hypocrisy you’d think it would ratchet them down a few notches on the pomposity scale, but not this pontificating jack-ass. All these years later he is vile as ever and still deified by throngs of his fellow hypocrites; hate the sin but love the sinner…as long as that sinner isn’t a democrat.

What was meant to be a quick commentary on the term bloviating has digressed into Rush-bashing but he encapsulates the mental image conjured up in my mind’s eye when I see this word. So here’s to you Rush, you bloated, bloviating blowhard.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Some Wicked Jowl Butt This Way Comes

If you’re like me, nothing gets your mouth watering like some good salted cured pork jowl butt.

Mmm, mmm…

Well of course I’m kidding. I’d never recommend adding salt to cured pork jowl butt. Why waste your time? (Or the salt?) Pork jowl butt pretty much stands on it’s own. Shit, in some circles salting a jowl butt is akin to culinary heresy. The important thing is that its cured. Jowl butt can be cured and not salted but never salted and not cured. Woe unto the bowels of he who does not heed that little bit of jowl butt wisdom. A fine line it is between basking in the savory glory of jowl butt and wallowing in the intestinal fury of trichinosis. You can take that to the piggy bank.

If one must salt the butt, the question arises: sea salt or regular salt? Connoisseurs agree that sea salt is the preferred additive for those with a pallet sensitive to the subtle nuances of jowl butt. For the jowl butt layperson, regular salt should be fine.

As you can probably tell, one could plumb the depths of salted cured pork jowl butt for eons and only scratch the surface; the subject is simply too vast and few have the requisite disposition and presence of mind to embark on such an epic undertaking. Well don’t beat yourselves up for it. Salted cured pork jowl butt can be enjoyed by anyone, from the erudite jowl butt aficionado, to the uncultivated but curious neophyte.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Choosing To Be Blind

God am I ready for the election to be over with already. Unfortunately politics won’t go away just because the election is over but the hostility and divisiveness has reached a fevered pitch that has become tiresome and counterproductive. I am by nature an optimist but some of what I have encountered during this election season has indicated the potential of a grim prospect for our future.

Oh sure, for me personally things are good and seem to only be getting better but this is about more than just me and mine. All of humanity is connected. That’s not some meaningless and lofty platitude; it is a matter of true fact. Religious fundamentalists and blind adherents to any form of ideology miss this completely and their very sense of identity and existence demand it’s negation but nonetheless, we really are all one. For any of us to gain at someone else’s loss is a non-sustainable mode of living. It’s not a zero sum game but that flies in the face of a ‘greed is good’ philosophy and this constant idea of ‘us’ versus ‘them’. There is no “them”. It’s all “us” and we are in trouble if we fail to recognize this and act accordingly.

Election season arrives and we all choose sides. For a good number of us, our sides were chosen for us long before we had any say so in the matter and we completely missed the point where we might have decided the issue for ourselves but that’s how it goes. It’s much easier to just go with the flow and buy into whatever group think pervades your environment. Why not just be honest and admit that for most Americans, this is how it is. How many of us could actually admit to falling into this category?

Throughout my debates and discussions I’ve noticed one particularly troubling phenomenon that for me goes a long way towards explaining why things are the way they are. Before going any further I need to point out that I don’t know who might be reading this and what I’m saying may or may not apply to you but it most certainly does not apply to everyone who is laying eyes on this. Okay? Just bear with me, that disclaimer felt like a necessary thing to do.

I’ve been struck by how alarmingly common it is for otherwise intelligent people to be so attached to their point of view that they are absolutely closed off and unwilling to acknowledge or confront facts that conflict with their pre-determined beliefs, however compelling and obvious those facts may be.

I can hear the various reactions to that statement now. “Well gee Ben, no shit. You’re just now figuring this out?” or maybe “Well gee Ben, don’t you think this might be the pot calling the kettle black and that’s why you are so attached to your point of view?”

That’s fair enough but allow me to explain. Yes, I know we all think we are right and the other guy is wrong and we all have a tendency to filter information so that it conforms to what we already believe. I won’t dispute that and I’m probably just as guilty as the next guy. And yes, I’m somewhat confident and steadfast when it comes to conclusions I’ve reached on the various political issues at hand.

But here’s the difference that I’ll claim when it comes to my own perspective: I am willing to consider and take fully into account new information and another point of view, even if it happens to be contrary to my way of thinking. I’m willing to be proven wrong and if I am wrong, I’ll change my point of view so that it aligns with reality as opposed to clinging rigidly to some long held but misguided position. I’m not going to shut someone off and discount anything they may present simply because they are a conservative or a liberal or whatever other label that I may have some personal aversion to. I have learned so much more from people that I disagree with than those who already think just like me and I would have missed out on a wealth of knowledge had I closed myself to anyone who might challenge or offend me on some level.

I’m not saying any of this to sound self-righteous, even if it does. I’m saying it because I’ve been truly amazed at the unashamed closed-mindedness of some otherwise intelligent and reasonable people that I have butted heads with when discussing politics. I have been told point blank “there is nothing anyone can say that is going to change my position or beliefs on this/these issues”. Really? How fucking sad and pathetic. Think about the implications of that kind of a statement. And even in some cases where it wasn’t explicitly said to me, that same point was made clear enough.

Now it’s true that there are some philosophical arguments that people can debate all day long and there is really no right or wrong, or no way to factually prove a right or wrong. But some of this stuff really is black and white. Some of it just pure fact versus fantasy and if otherwise smart people would rather cling to fantasy than confront fact and base their decisions according to reality…well people, we are on the fast track to self-destruction and I am absolutely convinced that that kind of blind and willing ignorance and refusal to change is largely responsible for the various debacles which we are now in.

I’m not talking about religion here or the moral implications of legal abortion, etc. You can’t really prove anything on those kinds of issues and we can argue idiotically over those things until we are blue in the face and never reach any kind of conclusion. But other disputes can be solved by virtue of empirical data. Take the issue of the Community Reinvestment Act which I made a point on recently. The right wing media and others have repeatedly made the claim that that was the cause of the subprime mortgage crisis. But when we look at the actual real life data that claim just is simply not true. It can be proven untrue with facts and figures that aren’t subject to interpretation. Any reasonable human being should be able to see the data and acknowledge the erroneous nature of that claim. But I have been firsthand witness to the attitude of “no, I won’t look at the data because you aren’t going to change my mind, and that’s how it is goddamnit”. And this wasn’t coming from some backwoods, trailer park, snake handling inbred.

There are dozens of other examples like this that I have encountered and I’ve seen bizarre rationalization and explaining away of simple cut and dry facts when they conflict with someone’s cherished opinions. In a sense, for way too many people, factual data is completely irrelevant. This is a given for some percentage of the population but for most of us, it shouldn’t be. When your mind is completely closed off to opposing information you are incapable of learning anything new and are essentially stuck in an ideological rut. Perhaps my own naivety is to blame but I’ve been stunned at how common this is when discussing the election. The utter inability or unwillingness to accept reality, admit when one is wrong, and change when reality calls for it is a threat to freedom and human progress.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Community Reinvestment Act

Wow. Right wing media would have us believe that the credit crisis can be blamed on minorities and poor people who couldn’t afford their mortgages (via the “democratic congress who forced banks to make loans to people who couldn’t afford them”). Their basis for this claim is the Community Reinvestment Act which was enacted in 1977 by democratic president Jimmy Carter and was intended to prevent discrimination in mortgage lending and encourage banks to make loans to customers who reside within the community that they operate.

Two of the most glaring problems with trying to blame the CRA:

1.) Only 20-25% of the bad loans behind the crisis were made by depository lending institutions that are subject to CRA. That means that 80% of the subprime mortgages had nothing to do with the CRA.

2.) Banks that were subject to CRA loans were substantially less likely than other lenders to make the high cost, high risk loans that fueled the subprime mess. CRA lenders were more than twice as likely as other lenders to hold originated loans in their portfolio (as opposed to selling them off to Fannie, Freddie, or other mortgage buyers). In fact, CRA loans were generally less risky and less likely to foreclose than other mortgages.

This is just more evidence of the right’s pathological inability and/or unwillingness to correctly identify the true source of a major disaster and hold the appropriate parties/policies accountable.

Some useful information that you won’t hear on Fixed News or talk radio:


Monday, October 20, 2008

Proudly Unpatriotic

I just read an article on Politico discussing Cindy McCain’s emerging new role in the campaign as she transitions from the reserved but supportive wife with minimal involvement, to another republican pit bull with lipstick. It’s noble of her to step up her efforts and help her husband try to resuscitate his ailing campaign. But her approach just reinforces the increasingly evident fact that the GOP just doesn’t get what this election is all about.

After two weeks of dismal polls you would think the republicans would have figured out by now that vitriol does not trump substance and angst does not substitute for relevancy. Sure, there is a certain “base” of conservative voters that love nothing more than to work themselves up into a hysterical frenzy, shouting epithets like “Terrorist!” and “Socialist!” or even “Muslim!”. There is no doubt that these folks eat up the pit bull tactics but really, were these people’s votes ever in question? Does stoking the emotional fervor of a group who was already going to vote for you anyway really accomplish anything politically?

Cindy McCain made the statement “I have always been proud of my country”, implicitly taking a jab at Michelle Obama. Well of course it’s always been easy for her to feel proud of her country. She is a child of privilege. She’s white. She’s never been made to feel like less of a human being because of her socio-economic status or skin color. In short, her country has always been very good to her. Other Americans can’t say the same thing but that doesn’t make them less American. Turning a blind eye to reality is not a patriotic act. This country is great but not perfect and it doesn’t make one a traitor to acknowledge the imperfections and even to express a little righteous anger when you’ve been on the wrong side of our nations flaws.

The right wing implicitly tries to label anyone who disagrees with their narrow perspective as un-American. Apparently they would have us live in a homogenous society where nobody questions the traditional values of the state and every good and patriotic citizen conforms to the status quo. But wait a minute…doesn’t that smell a little like communism?

Despite our alleged “Christian values”, this nation has been responsible for a number of stunning acts against humanity. I wonder how the conservative traditionalists reacted to the first person who spoke out against slavery. Time and again I’ve wondered how Christian America accepted slavery as a legitimate social arrangement. Actually, I don’t wonder. I can hear it now as the first few brave souls who questioned slavery were labeled anti-American, unpatriotic and even un-Christian. Interestingly, the first people that did speak out against slavery were Quakers from Pennsylvania – or, as the fundamentalist Christians called them – hellbound sinners of a false faith.

I’m digressing but it bears mentioning that the Bible and religion in America have been used to justify numerous atrocities, from slavery to war to not allowing women to vote. Somebody stood up to question each of these and in each case was labeled as a threat to normal and decent society and yes, as unpatriotic. They were labeled as dangerous radicals and were not only verbally attacked but were physically attacked and even killed…by good, upstanding and patriotic Christian citizens.

Am I unpatriotic for bringing these things up? Am I unpatriotic for questioning the actions of my government and acknowledging injustice and inequity when I see them? I wonder if a man who acknowledges that he has a drinking problem should be labeled as self-loathing for recognizing his addiction.

What the republicans and the far right fails to recognize is that admitting one’s faults and failures is a strength not a weakness. It’s how you get better. It’s how America became great in the first place. We’ve made some mistakes in the past and we are making some in the present and the true patriots are the people who can recognize this and acknowledge when change is needed. There are people who fear and will fight a change in the status quo. These are the people at the top, the elite, the Cindy McCain’s.

Apparently there are two kinds of elite when it comes to the political argument. There are the Cindy McCain’s and the George W. Bush’s who were born into wealth and privilege; they are elite. And then there are the other ‘elites’. The Michelle and Barack Obama’s who weren’t born into any kind of privilege and worked against all odds to obtain degrees from prestigious universities –institutions normally reserved for the first kind of elite – are the second kind of elite. It should not be surprising at all that the second kind of elites would be more prone to making valid criticisms of their country. It hasn’t coddled them because of their birthright but in fact has done the opposite. Does this make them unpatriotic? I’d argue that the answer is no. It makes them honest. The truth isn’t always pretty and as a rule, the truth is going to upset someone.

America can still be a great country. I’m not proud of what has become of us over the past eight years and if it makes me unpatriotic to criticize and hold accountable those who were responsible, then let me state here for the record that I am proud to be unpatriotic. This country is growing and changing right now and it’s going to make some people very uncomfortable. That first breed of elites will fight change tooth and claw but the rest of us…well, we will welcome it.

Cindy McCain, call me any name you like. You and I live in two different Americas and we have two very different definitions of patriotism.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sublime Hilarity (Stream Of Consciousness)

We fill up pages and time litters the sidewalks of our Eden. The art of procrastination is on display, naked like the wilted leaf on the path to nowhere. You might get lucky enough for half a second to realize you are nothing. The platitudes and admonitions may be exposed to the light and evaporate like condensation from a can of cold brew. You might find yourself upon a precipice and then again, you might have the good fortune of walking through the valley of the shadow of death in nothing more than your underpants and a pair of cheap sunglasses. You might realize you are Don Quixote and those windmills are real smart asses. The stars poke through the black canvas one by one…are they laughing at you? More importantly, are you laughing at them? Humor lurks behind every rotting corpse. That may offend you. If you let your thoughts just go where they will, you just might offend yourself. This is life and there are no sidelines to sit on. Better to find that out the easy way than to have the teacher catch you sleeping and embarrass you in front of the class. We can sift through this charade of plastic pink flamingos together or you can go it alone. It’s not hard to see if you would only remove the metal bucket from your head. It will be much easier to sleep when it’s not there for other people to bang on with their wooden spoons. It’s not so funny now is it? Wrong. It’s funnier now than ever. You’re clever. So am I but what good has that done either of us? We both piss into the same wind and the wind gets the last laugh. Ah, if only the wind could be bottled up and sold at convenience stores or taken with bread and wine on communion Sunday. Contemplate. Meditate. But don’t procrastinate. I can say it with a straight face but that’s about it. If we only knew, we’d be laughing right now too. Two stars might collide but that would be less significant than either of us feeling the vibe. I can dig it. I can roll with it. I’m willing to let the sand slide through my fingertips and down into the trembling Earth, with all it’s wanton hypocrisy, with all it’s perfunctory grace. If it were any more graceful, surely one of us would have dissolved into a beam of sunshine by now and confused the hell out of the peanut gallery. Shhhh.. .Can you hear that? Dead ass silence dishing out wisdom for free. Go ahead, take a peek out the window. The moon ain’t countin’ no age. The flowers still bloom when the stock market crashes. You might Botox that expanse between what you wanna see and reality but…that shit’s just poison. You’d do far better by tying a rope to one leg and hanging upside down from a towering tree in an invisible forest. The world only has any hope of making sense when seen upside down. So go on ahead. Climb up that tree and tie the knot good. You’re gonna be there awhile. Screw the neighbors. They only give you bad looks because you mirror their own inanity back to them. It’s like that when the circus comes to town and you are the freak show.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


It wasn’t the first time he had privately entertained the possibility that aliens could be the controlling agency behind the Starbucks phenomenon. Ludicrous, he thought. Absurd, he said to himself. He didn’t even know that he believed in extra terrestrials. Well he did actually, but he couldn’t be sure that they had visited our little patch of paradise in the galaxy, much less have infiltrated Starbucks. My God what people will believe…he thought this to himself also. But there was that Phoenix lights thing. I mean, like thousands of people saw that, right? He’d even seen the video of those strange celestial formations taking shape over that desert metropolis. Something was surely parading itself with intentional fanfare and he found laughable the government claim that it was all just military flares.

This kind of thing grated on him constantly… dumb, implausible explanations by supposed authority figures or agencies. Even more befuddling to him was that there was a certain mentality in the human psyche that sat rapt like a trained pup, ready to eagerly swallow any tidbit of comforting explanation that was tossed down by these presumed benevolent purveyors of (dis)information. This attitude pervaded so many aspects of life for those disposed to this gullible and incurious way of thinking. Religion. Education. Commerce. Morality. How so many people could willingly allow their opinions and viewpoints on these and other important subjects to be spoon fed to them by someone else was a disgrace.

How did I even get on this train of thought? he asked himself. Oh yeah, Starbucks and aliens. It could be possible. $2.45 for a clear plastic cup with some ice and green tea inside? And what was tea when one really thought about it? Water! So $2.45 for a throw-away cup full of flavored water. That wasn’t even the kicker though. One could procure this exact green tea from any grocery store for about $3.40 a box. A box made about twenty cups of tea, or ten the way he used it. No matter how one sliced it he had just paid one dollar less for a single cup of tea than he could have paid for ten cups of tea.

He pondered this and all the sub-thoughts that went along with it. Shame. Guilt. Embarassment. These all naturally flowed as he remorsefully contemplated his actions. And the really bad part? He had that same tea at home, readily available and easy to prepare. Home was less than seven minutes away. But by some act of demonic influence or alien possession he had just paid $2.45 for this cup of tea. WTF? He thought. What’s become of me? Damn, I’m starting to think in text messaging! This troubled him further.

One could lament over this sort of thing for hours if allowed to indulge and wallow in self-pity. He knew this and disciplined himself to move on mentally. But the episode did solidify the alien possibility in his mind. He had just willingly engaged in a bizarre, irrational, and disconcerting act that worked directly in the interest of Starbucks and against his. What kind of otherworldly voodoo could be responsible for this?

And have you seen the people that work at Starbucks? So annoyingly perky with that tenuous façade of cool trendiness. Who would intentionally act this way in public? He scolded himself for being so judgmental. They’re just people, he thought to himself. Just doing their job. They probably have new hire orientation classes where they teach the Starbucks attitude.

“Whatsup dude. What can I get started for you today?” Well gee dude, why dontcha go right ahead and just yank my wallet out of my back pocket and then smack me upside the head for good measure…okay? Thank you. I’ll pop back in tomorrow so we can do this again.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Credit Default Swaps - Simplified(?)

Bank X makes a loan to Company Z. Federal law requires Bank X to keep a certain percentage of cash on hand in case Company Z is unable to repay their loan. This cash cannot be loaned out or invested by Bank X. This is a limitation to Bank X because it is much more advantageous for them to loan or invest their cash than to have it in a low (or no) interest bearing account. Here is where the Credit Default Swap comes in to play. In order to free up this cash Bank X sells the risk on the loan made to Company Z to another company, Company Q. Bank X agrees to pay Company Q a certain dollar amount per month in exchange for Company Q agreeing to cover the loan made to Company Z in the event that Company Z defaults. Now Bank X can loan/invest the cash that was previously tied up as the reserve amount for the loan to Company Z. Company Q now gets a new monthly income stream for “insuring” the loan made to Company Z. It’s a win for both entities up until the unfortunate event that Company Z defaults on the loan, at which point Company Q is now on the hook for the loan amount. The contract between Bank X and Company Q is called a Credit Default Swap and becomes a separate investment vehicle that can then be sold by Company Q.

Of course, this is an oversimplified example and credit default swaps are created against a large pool of loans as opposed to a single loan, further complicating the risk evaluation, which was and is part of the problem. Evidently CDSs have been around awhile and didn’t become especially problematic until they became so prevalent with mortgage backed securities (a large pool of mortgages instead of corporate loans). AIG was neck deep in mortgage based credit default swaps (AIG would be equivalent to “Company Q” in my example above).

Allegedly the financial world went ape-shit with CDSs over the last few years and all was well until people started missing their mortgage payments en masse. So here we are.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

VeePee In A Bubble

I hate to keep harping on this but the red flags keep appearing with such alarming frequency that it warrants continued scrutiny. Sarah Palin. Despite her glowing achievements and unquestionable experience and qualifications (she can see Russia from her front porch for crying out loud!), she’s still too big a liability for the McCain campaign for normal media access. The press is understandably frustrated by this and in my opinion it should be cause for concern for all of us. After all, this is the potential VICE PRESIDENT of the United States.

Sarah is probably a fine person but this situation reminds me a lot of that old movie “Dave” where an average look-alike guy is called upon to stand in for the president who is in a coma. Much like Sarah, Dave requires a great deal of ‘handling’ in order to appear presidential. But unlike Sarah, Dave has some redeeming qualities and takes to the role fairly naturally.

I would assume that this kind of media protection is unprecedented. Last night I saw parts of a PBS special about Ronald Reagan and whatever you think of his presidency, it’s undeniable that he had charisma to spare and was a master of improvisational media interaction. He was articulate and quick on his feet. You got the impression that he genuinely understood the questions he was asked and his answers were appropriate and on topic. (Very Obama-like, if I may say so myself.)

Perhaps more importantly – and getting to my point – he actually enunciated his words and his grammar was respectable, educated sounding. Contrast that to Sarah Palin. Contrast that to Bush. The latter two have one particular verbal flaw in common that should, in and of itself, disqualify anyone from high office.

You can probably guess what I’m talking about. One word. Such an important word in times like these. It’s a dark word that strikes fear all across the land and it’s a word that deserves respect. Unfortunately, it’s a word than when mispronounced sounds so idiotic that it should embarrass the whole nation.

Feel me?

Say it with me now…George, this is for you…”NOO KYOO LER!”. “Newkewler?” Whatever.

“Iran cannot be allowed to obtain a newkewler weapon.”

No, Sarah! You – and anyone else that can’t make what little half-assed effort it would take to learn to say this and other words correctly – cannot be allowed to speak on public television representing this nation. And more importantly, if you lack the dignity and wherewithal to master your native language, you shouldn’t even be allowed into the running for public office. This should be a basic qualification.

A southern accent, I can live with. A little Boston non-rhoticity (think Haahvahd)? No problem. Some degree of geographical dialect is understandable, charming even, depending on your tastes. But some words deserve – no - demand some semblance of proper pronunciation. A president or vice president is more than just a role model, they are the face and voice of an entire nation. They are our first impression. Image counts. Articulation and clarity are paramount.

What happened the last time we elected a person who couldn’t pronounce NUCLEAR? How did that work out?

See what I’m getting at here? Let’s learn from our mistakes. What does it say about a person’s competency level when they have the temerity to butcher such a sensitive word in front of tens of millions of television viewers?

Nuclear. Noo-klee-er. Nothing difficult about that but it immediately adds twenty or so points to perceived IQ level. It doesn’t sound elitist, so stop with that already.

I’m not only disappointed with Sarah Palin over this oratorical fallacy but I think her group of handlers should be taken to task as well. They are the ones shaping and molding her image and this would be a quick and easy fix.

As it is, Sarah is in a protective bubble from media contact and if that doesn’t scare the hell out of you, I don’t know what will. Personally, hearing “noo-kyoo-ler” sends a few shivers down my spine.

What’s the implication here? She’s competent and qualified enough to possibly be in command of the most powerful nation on Earth, but…she has to be buffered from impromptu questions from the media.


I caught McCain on sixty minutes the other night responding to the question “Do you think Sarah Palin is ready to step in as president of the United States?”

“Absolutely…absolutely…absolutely”, he chanted. He cannot seriously believe this. And if he does, that alone should be ample proof of his lack of judgment. She’s not even ready to ride the media bicycle without the training wheels. She can’t even say nuclear!

I submit that correct pronunciation of the word nuclear should be a mandatory qualification for nomination/election to any government office. Think of the misery we would have been spared had this stipulation been in place eight years ago. Imagine what future misery we could avoid.

Adding Palin to the republican ticket was a blatant and desperate political move that demonstrates McCain’s wreckless ambition to become president. Sure he’ll pick up a few votes as a result. But understand, the people who are now voting for John McCain because of Sarah Palin are the very same ones who would vote for Elmer Fudd as long as he was anti-choice and an NRA member.

I really have no problem with a hockey mom mispronouncing the word nuclear. But the president or vice president of my country? Come on. They should be held to a higher standard. John McCain is selfishly endangering the credibility and future of this country by having Palin on the ticket. She is absurdly inexperienced and requires a constant buffer from the media lest she open her mouth and say something stupid.

America, you should have higher expectations.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Republicans Are Upset With Themselves

And they should be. Stumbled across this article here where congressional republicans are upset because they “they don’t feel like they understand the coherent strategy” of the Bush administration in regards to this financial debacle. Welcome to my world, congressional republicans. I don’t think anyone on mother Earth, including Bush, understands his strategy on anything; but I’m glad to see a trace of concern aimed at republicans by republicans. It’s heart-warming to a confused and concerned conservaliberal like myself.

Somehow, some way, the die hard and hopelessly indoctrinated right wingers among us are blaming – you guessed it – the democrats for this economic free fall that is shrinking our 401Ks and poo-pooing the FICO score of the United States government (which, by the way, will lead to all kinds of fun things in the future). I’m still new enough to politics for this to be surprising to me, so cut me some slack here. I’m still trying to adjust myself to the reality that politicians work from the standing assumption that the American public is a herd of blindfolded, tranquilized cattle. I’m becoming hip to the fact that some portion of us are indeed just that and another large portion are just blind, unquestioning, partisan loyalists. And then, perhaps worst of all, is another percentage who are indeed quite bright and informed but just can’t bring themselves to admit when they’ve been wrong and who can’t change their position despite being buried in a mountain of crushing evidence against them. Pride, you say? It’s an ugly thing.

No matter your political party you have to admit that McCain has one hell of a quandary in trying to get elected as a republican amidst the wreckage left in the wake of a republican white house and – until the last two years – a republican congress. Let’s be honest here, running your campaign on the theme of “change” and “reform” is kind of like admitting that you messed up and will promise to do better next time. Either McCain did or did not vote in tandem with Bush 90% of the time, and folks, it’s pretty gall darned (trying to avoid sounding ‘elitist’) obvious that he did. I mean, that’s on record, right? You can’t just blame all of the inconvenient facts on the liberal media. Maybe McCain was being a maverick that other 10% of the time but that’s a piss poor track record if I may say so myself, even by government standards.

McCain’s got a lot of experience as a politician, I’ll give him that. In fact, with all that time in office he’s had every chance in the world to make good decisions and take action to avoid history-making disasters like this one. But here we are, six of the last eight years dominated by republican leadership and a case history of lack of regard for fiscal responsibility and, arguably, a lack of regard for human life. The results speak for themselves, do they not?

McCain always seems a little uncomfortable to me, and who could blame him. If he ever was a maverick, and if there is an ounce of integrity and self-honesty that remains, transforming into the very thing he claims to be against has to be a painful undertaking. I kind of feel bad for him. But with all those houses I’m sure he’ll be fine.

The more America comes to her senses the worse McCain’s prospects become. It’s already starting now. The economic cattle prod is moving to and fro across the once green pastures and the herd is stirring. It’s high time for a little introspection on the part of republican politicians. I’ve let go of the naïve idea that anyone will take responsibility to what has become of America the apathetic. But I do know who has been running the show for eight years now, and so does anyone else who can read, write, and use the grown-ups potty. This does not – cannot - bode well for a republican campaign.

McCain is tripping all over himself this week and would do well to just take the rest of the week off and go camping or maybe moose hunting with his running mate, avoiding any form of media and any more opportunities to do or say anything stupid.

But even that wouldn’t postpone the inevitable.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Teenage Pregnancy – Now Endorsed By “Focus On The Family”

We interrupt our regularly scheduled series of essays to highlight another poignant example of the moral relativism of the religious right. Or maybe double standard would be a better way to put it. As the proverbial cat has been let out of the bag regarding Sarah Palin’s pregnant teenage daughter, evangelicals including Focus On The Family leader James Dobson have rallied to support her and reiterate their endorsement of the republican vp selection.

Apparently the imperative of moral perfection and abstinence only applies to those heathen liberals. Puritans all across the land of conservatism are taking heart that hey, at least she isn’t having an abortion.

Had this scenario played out the other way around with a democratic, pro-choice candidate, the wingers would have celebrated gleefully and gone after the poor guy/girl like rabid pit bulls. O’Reilly and Limbaugh foam out the mouth about this sort of thing and would be name calling and high-fiving like gloating five year olds. Ann Coulter would be shouting “Godless wh#re!” from the rooftops. It would just be further confirmation of the amoral, fornicating tendencies of the liberal left and it would be milked for every ounce of political influence that they could squeeze out of it.

But as it turns out, you get a hug and pat on the back when you happen to be on the republican ticket and a pro-lifer. Once again we see the cherry-picking morality and double standard of the right. We all know that a democrat would have been crucified under this scenario.

Personally I do not think it’s a big deal that this girl is pregnant and I give Obama credit for taking the position that he has. ‘Family is off limits and anyone on my staff that doesn’t respect that will be fired’, he says. Like any reasonable person he understands that we are all human and that sh#t happens. I like to quote the Bible in this kind of situation. “Judge not lest ye be judged”, I say. But then again, I’m not a conservative republican.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Psilocybin On The Horizon

Well, it feels like I’m past due on adding another blog entry. My number one fan and number one critic has been indicating that my blog posts are too long for normal human consumption. She’s probably right but that doesn’t mean I’ll be successful in getting any shorter.

Sitting down to do this without anything in mind to write about can make this difficult. So why not just talk about what I’ve been thinking about or what I’ve found interesting lately. That is actually pretty easy and can be summed up with one word: Psilocybin. No, that is not a prescription asthma medication.

This is a topic that some may find disturbing or upsetting but bear with me here. This is something that I’ve been vaguely interested in for a number of years. Blame Carlos Casteneda, Aldous Huxley,native American culure, my own curiosity for interior exploration, and now…Johns Hopkins University. The last one might just be the one that tips the scales on this for me.

Okay without further ado let’s get to what the hell I’m talking about. The latest thing to pique my interest on this subject is this article here (http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=long-trip-magic-mushrooms). If you can, read that before reading the rest of this blog entry.

Psilocybin is the active ingredient in – and God I hate saying this – “magic mushrooms”. Over the past few weeks I have done a ton of research into psilocybin and mushrooms, mostly sparked by this latest study at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and I am absolutely struck by how similar the after effects and psychological changes evoked by psilocybin are to what I have experienced through years of meditation. It’s uncanny. There’s the whole oneness with the universe thing, and the feeling of being smack in the middle of eternity, the inter-connectedness of all life, the importance of love, and much much more. This “drug” seems to, in general, have an enormously positive effect on people. It’s true that’s not always the case but there are a number of factors that are involved that can determine how a psilocybin experience will go.

Before moving on let me just state for the record that I have never personally taken a psilocybin journey.

Yes, it’s illegal; which, after what I have learned is pretty absurd. But then again I think it’s absurd that marijuana is illegal. (And I hate marijuana.) If you look back on the history of psilocybin in America it’s easy to see why they outlawed it. Let’s just say the hippies might have ruined it for the rest of us. Folks, I’m glad you busted us out of the hypocrisy of the status quo but life is sure about a hell of a lot more than just ‘feelin’ good’. With that being said I’d like to also thank the hippies for all the great music and the very real contribution they made to human development in America and possibly worldwide. There was most definitely some good there.

Sidenote: My number one fan and number one critic thinks I’m a hippie. No thank you. I have no desire to run naked through the woods tripping on LSD. And Alan Ginsberg? I’ve tried but I just don’t feel it. Must have been one of those things where you had to be there. I don’t know.

Some interesting facts about psilocybin: It is physically impossible to become addicted to it. By any reasonable standard it’s impossible to overdose on because you’d have to eat like 16 pounds of mushrooms to get poisoned. (16 pounds of anything would kill you.) It’s significantly less harmful to the body than alcohol, nicotine, and tobacco. It’s been used in spiritual/religious ceremonies by Indian and other native cultures for thousands of years. Most of the participants in the Johns Hopkins study report that their experience was one most meaningful of their lives and still report positive changes in their sense of well being 14 months later when they were questioned in the follow up study. Also, psilocybin is currently the only thing offering any significant relief to these horrible headaches that dwarf the discomfort of a migraine called cluster headaches.

In my own personal research I’ve read hundreds of “trip reports” and have been amazed at what I have found. Very powerful and life changing psychological breakthroughs seem to be quite common. People have stopped the use of drugs or alcohol completely as the result of a mushroom experience. They’ve reconciled with their parents or other estranged loved ones, realized their innate worth as a human being and discovered the importance of compassion and the beauty of life.

Personally I’m starting to think that we ought to hand this stuff out to kindergarteners. (Just kidding)

It is true that people occasionally have “bad trips” that are terrifying and stay with them for a long time. It’s also sad but true that a lot of the people who would do this kind of thing are just your average druggies looking for a cheap thrill or escape from reality.
But…there is a positive aspect to this substance than cannot be ignored or feared out of ignorance. I am open to the possibility that it may very well play an important role in our journey but there are some major caveats to that. Primarily it’s that something like this would only be approached after a great deal of preparation and with a tremendous amount of respect and the right mind set. I think it could be useful for a sincere seeker who has a desire to dive deeper into themselves and the meaning of life.

I’ve searched high and low on the internet and cannot find one incident of someone being hospitalized or damaged in any lasting way by ingesting psilocybin mushrooms. In fact it’s really hard to find anything bad about them other than the risk of picking the wrong mushrooms and getting sick. Yet another absurdity arises to me that this is illegal and yet alcohol, cigarettes, prozac, and high fructose corn syrup are not.

I’ll wrap it up for now but will probably post a follow up on this subject at some point along the way.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Dream A Little Dream With Me

Every so often have I have dreams that affect me at least as profoundly as any waking experience; in some cases, even more profoundly. They seem to come as powerful messengers from some place beyond what is normally accessible to me. The specifics of each individual dream don’t feel that important. The details aren’t what matter but rather the overall imprint that is left behind in my consciousness and the change that inevitably results from it. The actual content is symbolic as far as I can tell but I awake feeling as if I have been to another world.

In most of these cases I am aware that I am dreaming as it happens. In fact, that is usually the dramatic turning point; that moment when I become aware that it is a dream and that I can do out of the ordinary things. I become aware that something significant is happening. After this kind of event I will sometimes experience a deeply peaceful and blissful state and other times, in contrast, I will feel a sense of sadness so deep and raw that there are no words to describe it.

One of the most common analogies that appear in so many spiritual teachings is a description of life as a dream. There is the constant admonition to wake up. One of the more odd perceptions I have occasionally encountered is a slight difficulty in differentiating waking life from the dreaming state. Yesterday’s real life event feels comparatively significant to yesterday’s dream. Neither have a tangible power over my current situation but both leave imprints behind that can color my perception if I am inattentive enough to allow that to happen; if that makes sense. It makes sense to me.

Further on in the dream analogy is the idea of ‘being awake in the dream’. Buddha was called “The Awakened One”. He awoke within the dream of this life. This doesn’t mean that his physical body evaporated into a ray of light and floated off into some heavenly realm, but clearly some transformation took place. His physical existence on this plane (the dream) continued on, but his experience of life was permanently altered. He transcended human suffering and vowed to help others do the same. He taught an eightfold path and Buddhism was born, another religion that would inevitably suffer from many of the same trappings that afflict all organized religions at one time or another. Perhaps he could have disappeared into a beam of sunshine had he chosen to, but he didn’t.

One of the more interesting things about Buddhism to me is that the entire religion is centered around alleviating human suffering. In a nutshell, the cause of all suffering is attachment and desire. This is not an opinion but rather a verifiable fact that anyone can confirm the truth of by simply paying attention and analyzing any distress they may experience. The natural tendency is to distract and run away but by paying attention on a regular basis and tracing one’s suffering back to the root, the truth of the Buddhist philosophy can be experienced firsthand. Furthermore, they say, suffering can be overcome. There are practical methods and techniques that can be applied. In contrast to western religious philosophy, Buddhist doctrine places salvation squarely on the shoulders of the individual.

The events of our lives play out in front of us in movie and dreamlike fashion. It’s interesting to hear older people talk about how they don’t feel old and how quickly it has all gone by. I think this is because the observing presence, the pure consciousness in the background, remains unchanged from birth to death; even before birth and after death. Everything else changes. We suffer because we attach and want impermanent things to be permanent. We get caught up in the particulars of our own personal dream and lose touch with the observing awareness. That is the real “us” and it is why the self-conscious part of our mind will never feel old.

I had an interesting experience as a child and one of the things that came out of it was the perception that “I” had been in existence long before this current lifetime. I don’t know how to explain it other than to say it was clear and definitive and did not leave question. People talk about reincarnation and remembering past lives but that’s not how my experience was. I had no specific recollection of past lives; just direct experience of the timelessness of my own existence. The idea of reincarnation is reasonable and logical to me but it is also purely speculative. However, I have definitive ‘proof’ of my existing in some capacity prior to this lifetime. That, of course, brings up the questions of where, when, and how; and though I find these to be intriguing questions, I also find them to be unimportant. What is important to me is where I am now and how that may affect wherever it is that I may be going.

Another outcome of my experience was the realization of how utterly brief a single lifetime is in the overall scheme of things. It is (dare I say) much like a small piece of one of last night’s many dreams. I’ve often had the thought that people would suffer much less if they had the slightest inkling of the astounding brevity of their current experience. Everything that happens to us, we somehow think it will last forever, but the scenery is changing faster than we can comprehend.

We are, understandably, attached to the scenery and we are also attached to ourselves. But our ‘selves’ as we perceive them, are most certainly no more real than a dream. The personality, who we think we are, is a creation of our own imagination. Attachment to this phantom causes tremendous suffering. In a sense we are all dreaming our own little dream at all times and, in that regard, are creating our own experience and are living either in heaven, hell, or someplace in between based on our individual capacity to navigate through the hologram.

As these words are being read someone else’s dream is brushing up against my own and both the act of writing and reading this may just leave some little imprint on both of us that alters our perception of whatever particular act is next up on stage in our own individual drama. It is both dream and stage play, comedy and tragedy, blissful fantasy and horrific nightmare. Do you feel it changing even as you think about it? Can you sense yourself apart from it all, observing from somewhere just left of center stage? I hope that you can and wish you the most pleasant of dreams…even as I begin to hear the volume of the cosmic alarm clock growing louder and louder, somewhere off in the distance.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Turn On The Boob Tube, I'm In The Mood To Obey

I’ve been skeptical of the mass media since my early twenties but not necessarily for all the right reasons. It was clear to me that there was an agenda but as far as I could tell the conspiracy went only as deep as a concerted effort to part you from your hard earned money. From the obvious efforts that come as the form of paid commercials to the more subtle messages that are woven into tv shows and movies, the underlying theme is always the same; happiness is attained through consumption, in whatever form.

That has been the message and ‘we the people’ have been successfully trained to be docile and obedient consumers. The evidence can be seen all around, from our waistlines to our wallets. The fact that we can be persuaded to consistently engage in behavior that is so obviously bad for us is just one small demonstration of the power of the media.

It’s understandable that the mass media would have this effect of turning us into consumerist droids. After all, who keeps them in business? Corporations. Advertising dollars. This makes perfect sense and is easy for me to wrap my head around.

But that was where it stopped with me. Other than the corporate agenda, I actually believed that we had a free and generally uncensored press. I believed that when I saw the news on television I was seeing a basically accurate and unbiased presentation of the facts.

I remember what it was like when 9/11 happened. Who doesn’t? I remember exactly where I was, what I was doing, and how I felt. I remember being glued to the television set every evening for the days and weeks that followed and believing what I was being told, every word of it.

I remember the first time I heard the phrase “9/11 Was An Inside Job”. I remember exactly who said it and the reaction that I had to that statement. Many people right now would have the same reaction I did to hearing such a statement. It was one of utter revulsion, anger, and disbelief. How could anybody say such a thing? I remember expressing my outrage when hearing this and asking myself what would motivate someone to make this kind of an allegation.

All of my conclusions about 9/11 at that time were based on my only source of information about the subject, the mainstream media. We all became scared in a way that many of us had never felt before and the world and this country changed more in that instant than it had in decades. I don’t have any figures but I’d guess that tv watching increased dramatically in the weeks and months following 9/11. I’ve never been one to spend much time in front of a television set but during that time I would watch religiously, anxiously.

An entire nation sat every night in rapt attention. We wanted answers and explanations, but more importantly, we wanted comfort and security. We wanted revenge. We wanted protection. We were spoon fed information and reassurance and the vast majority of us swallowed every ounce of it, willingly and gratefully.

We were a unified nation in a way that I had never witnessed before (I was 24 at the time) and the media made this possible. We were unquestionably behind our government in a way that I had never seen before. There was no need to ask questions. The answers were all right there in front of us in plain sight on our televisions. Our president was there telling us exactly what happened and what our government was going to do about it.

Fast forward seven years.

There is now a large body of evidence that renders the official 9/11 story laughable; utterly laughable. There are people like me, asking themselves how they could have ever believed such a story in the first place. In fact, the 9/11 Truth Movement appears to be growing each day and on the low end there are hundreds of thousands of Americans that question the official story and more likely the number is in the millions. One poll I read had 36% as the percentage of Americans who are doubters.

Whatever the actual number, it is substantial to say the very least, and growing. And…by some amazing and magical act, you don’t hear a whisper about this in the mainstream media. Nothing. Why??? Is it not newsworthy that such a vast number of individuals are questioning the explanation we were given concerning the most significant event to happen in our lifetime? Is it not worth a mention on Nightline or Good Morning America? Not even a five minute spot in between the reviews for Batman and the updates on Lindsay Lohan’s lesbian escapades?

There is still a lot I am grappling with on this subject. Until yesterday I had no idea that Arizona state senator Karen Johnson gave a speech before the Arizona state senate in support of reopening the 9/11 investigation. The contents of the speech can be read online (http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/story/118233) or it can be seen on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lgEpaLVjgo). This speech was given on June 10th of this year. Had I not found the story on http://www.whatreallyhappened.com/ I wouldn’t have even known it happened. Granted, it’s just the Arizona state senate but this lady is making some very controversial claims and you would think this would show up somewhere in our news. But no. Again, nothing. Why?

It also occurred to me today that most people don’t know (or remember) that World Trade Center 7 also collapsed on 9/11. It wasn’t hit by any aircraft, it just fell at near freefall speed, all by itself. A brief conversation with a peer today made it clear to me that most people don’t even realize that not two, but three buildings collapsed that day.

More and more questions are coming up and the 9/11 Truth Movement continues to grow and we hear nothing about it from the mainstream media. There’s no way I could cover all of the material on this topic - hell, I probably am only aware of a tiny fraction of the material anyway - but I find myself asking more and more why I only see the most trivial, airheaded, and utterly pointless topics covered on television news. I find myself in disbelief about what doesn’t get covered at all. Ever heard of Ron Paul? How is it possible that this man’s name - though he had millions of supporters - NEVER came up in the mainstream media during the presidential nomination campaign? How does that even happen?

Imagine how our worldview is shaped by the media, the power and influence it exerts over an entire population, and what could be accomplished by controlling this medium. There are arguments out there about the media dumbing down the population and, frankly, they make a damn good case. Who would want to dumb us down? For what purpose?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Preamble To Something Different

After my last blog entry someone made the remark “Ben, I like your blog but you always write about the same thing.” I thought about it for about half a second and realized that this was a very accurate observation. I don’t write that often but it makes sense that I would have a tendency to write about what I think about most often and so there is this recurring theme of integrating the spiritual life into this age of materialism…or something like that.

I’m going to try to get away from that for awhile but I doubt I can eliminate those undertones completely from much of anything that I take the time to write about.

But before I move on… let me just say that it is possible for any person to have an experience that completely transforms their view of, well, everything. Let’s say that from the time you were born the world has told you that the sky is blue. Everyone knows the sky is blue. It’s just a fact that is taken for granted and – for the sake of argument – let us imagine that a good portion of the world’s knowledge and what is considered normal is based on the initial premise that the sky is blue. Now let’s imagine that you wake up one day or perhaps have some strange but undeniable experience that reveals to you that, in fact, the sky is NOT blue. All of the sudden you now know, from the very core of your being, that the sky is not blue and therefore all of the concepts that were based on that initial premise are no longer valid either.

The caveat to this little revelation is that you cannot actually share this information with anyone else without sounding like a complete lunatic. Even hinting at the possibility will get you nothing but strange looks from most people. But at the same time, the implications of such a thing cannot help but affect your life in a profound way and somehow creep into every aspect of your day to day experience. It cannot help but become a recurring theme in your consciousness because it touches every facet of life as a human being.

So what does one do if they find themselves in a situation like the one described above?

At first you probably go on the best you can and don’t mention it and do what you can to fit in. Externally, life goes on as normal. But internally there is a new dimension to your existence that seems to deepen as time goes on. With it comes the incessant desire to go even deeper, explore a little further. Occasionally you feel a bit like an alien being on a foreign planet but you make do.

That is a nutshell and slightly exaggerated analogy of something that I have been through. It has been a neat thing to get older and more comfortable with it and to realize that it isn’t that uncommon. It’s been neat to discover other people of a similar disposition and a wealth of literature and information on the subject.

Hopefully that serves as some kind of explanation as to why I end up repeating a similar theme whenever I sit down and try to write a blog entry. I don’t usually have the benefit of starting out the process with something in mind for a topic. I just let my thoughts carry me where they will and inevitably end up back on the same thing.

The inner life is something that has been devalued in our time but here and there you can see subtle signs of a comeback. Unfortunately commercial culture is so all pervasive that it defines our priorities and value system from birth to death. Pursuing the inner life puts you immediately at odds with popular culture and normalcy. This however may be starting to come to an end as people gradually grow weary of living in a society defined by consumption and fueled by insatiable appetite.

I think about these things a lot and so I end up writing about them even when it’s not necessarily my original intention. In an effort to challenge myself and add some variety for the hundreds of thousands of readers that visit my blog every hour (heh heh), I will make it a point to address some completely different topics the next few times I sit down to do this.

There’s no telling what kind of topics might pop up. I might discuss the ins and outs of owning an English Setter, or maybe why I think those clear plastic blister packs are incontrovertible proof of demonic influence in human affairs, or maybe the pitfalls of trying to make your vertical leap higher at age 31 than it was at age 19. Might delve into the ridiculous world of politics or other areas where I can proudly display my ignorance on certain subject matters. Maybe talk about marriage and relationships and try to get myself a big ole hug from Oprah the demigod. Who knows? I might even share some of my personal bathroom experiences. Point is, it will be something different. I promise.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

You Do A Little Dance, Then You Drink A Little Water

Sometimes I find more reasons to avoid doing the things I need to be doing than there are stars in the sky. I am a natural procrastinator. But out of practical necessity I have learned to be superhumanly efficient with time when I need to be. Okay, maybe superhuman is an exaggeration but to me it feels superhuman. I can waste time like nobody else. Today almost half the day was gone before I realized what time it was and I had done little more than eat breakfast and spend some time fooling around on the guitar. By fooling around I mean trying to master the guitar solo from Purple Haze. I recently indulged and bought a couple guitar gadgets and have finally been able to nail the tone from this song which, quite honestly, makes me feel like I’m channeling Hendrix right here in our little office/workout/music room.

Not to sound grandiose or anything but HO-LEEE-SHIT does it feel nice to play Hendrix and actually (somewhat) sound like Hendrix. Seven years ago I probably would have sold my soul, had that been an option, to be able to play some of this stuff that I can play now. I guess when you put your mind to it and have a love for something you really can surprise yourself. Who was it now that said you’ve gotta have love?

There are two states of sound that assure me that there is more to this world and our existence than what meets the eye: music, and complete silence. Music can give you a little taste of heaven, and silence, quite possibly, can give you the whole thing. My musical tastes span a pretty wide range but there is something ethereal and divine there that affects me like nothing else can. Nothing but silence that is. It’s been said that it’s the silent spaces between the notes that make music. The same probably goes for everything else.

Playing around with my new toys this morning I was creating sounds that one minute made me think I was about to blast off in a spaceship and the next that I was already zigging and zagging on the outer stretches of Saturn’s rings. I’ve never tried LSD but I’m pretty sure anyone under the influence would’ve thoroughly appreciated my psychedelic, green-tea fueled jam session.
I find time to pretend I’m Jimi but can’t find time to do other things that might actually be of some importance. Life has been a little hectic the last few weeks and I’ve slacked on the meditation. Of all things, this is what I have slacked on. I could just as well be writing an essay on how important it is to be regular with certain things like meditation but instead I’m writing this, talking about how I’ve managed to not find time lately.

Trying to maintain balance and stay centered in a world that is designed to distract and confine you is probably the most important thing any of us can do. There is a lot of confusion right now, a lot of unhappiness and frustration in this place where most of us have more in the way of comfort than any reasonable human being could ask for.

There’s a great quote saying something like “we live in a society that has mistaken comfort for civilization”. We are drowning in our own excess. We are surrounded and invaded by things and noise; the average attention span being reduced to about the same amount of time that it takes for Paris Hilton’s Chihuahua to pass gas. Without constant stimulation of some sort, some of us begin to go a little crazy. Alone with one’s thoughts is an uncomfortable experience that can pretty much be avoided altogether thanks to modern technology. I anticipate coming technology that will surgically implant tiny television screens inside of one’s eyelids so one’s eyes won’t even have to be open to catch the “exclusive” and latest Hollywood gossip on the Insider. Tiny speakers will be inserted directly into the ear drums and by pinching your earlobe in a certain manner you will be able to download streaming video and music, all powered by Apple of course. There may be side effects to some of this but Merck will be right there with a pill to counteract it. AstraZeneca will produce the pill that counteracts the side effects caused by Merck’s pill. Wal-Mart will start offering drive thru Botox and lipo. You’ll hear and see ads for all of this on the tiny devices that have been implanted into your eyes and ears. There will also be iPods for dogs. (I sincerely happen to think there’s a market for this.)

Well, it’s no wonder I have a problem managing my time. I had nothing in mind when I sat down to write this blog entry. I just knew it was time to write something and here I’ve wandered all around and somehow ended up in my own dystopian vision.

Though we have a lot to show in the way of things and comfort and every conceivable manner of indulgence, we have a major deficit when it comes to authentic happiness. This, in my opinion, is the result of our culture of distraction, triviality, and misguided priorities. We need silence in our lives to counteract everything else. If thirty minutes a day is good, an hour a day is better; just to let the water settle.

Today I pretended to be Hendrix. Last weekend I was pretending to be Michael Jordan as we played in Hoop-It-Up and managed to lose 4 straight games, never by a margin higher than two points. These things were distractions for me and, though they were fun, I neglected something that is far more important. I neglected that little space of time reserved each day to feel what it’s like to be truly human and alive and not just another pin-ball in someone else’s machine. And…I paid a price for it. Towards the end of the week it was tangible; something real, pulling me away from sanity, sucking me into a world of chatter, discontent, and irritation.

Tomorrow starts another day and a recommitment to get back to what I need to be doing, enjoying that beautiful silence where sanity resides and stepping away from the flashing screen, in whatever form it takes.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

There's Dog Shit In My Yard. Damn Liberals.

I think this is a safe blog entry to write. That is, I think there is a slim to none chance that the person whom I will be writing about will ever stumble upon this. At least I hope not. It’s not that I’m really going to say anything that I wouldn’t say to his face but the way in which I’d approach it would probably be a little different than what is probably about to follow.

A conversation that I had long avoided - and in some way had hoped would never take place - occurred late this afternoon as the result of provocation which proved to be more than I could resist. It was with a good friend of mine, someone I’ve known about 3 years now. The guy is in his late 40s and is just about your stereotypical Bush-loving conservative “Christian” republican. I say just about because he does happen to be vegetarian and engages in exercise and physical discipline that, in my experience, is hard to find among this particular demographic. Without going on about this, suffice it to say that politically/religiously/socially this individual is practically my polar opposite. Nonetheless he is a friend and I believe he is well-meaning but misguided. It is not my requirement that a person share my exact same views on everything in order to be my friend. In fact, I appreciate the diversity.

Let’s just call him Z. Z enjoys conflict tremendously and has an uncanny ability to create an adversarial relationship with anyone who is unfortunate enough to draw his irritation. And it doesn’t take much. For the entire time I have known Z, he has been involved in some lawsuit or legal proceeding of some kind. If it’s not suing his neighbor over their swimming pool or calling the police on an elderly woman who has wondered onto his property or complaining about some bicycle rider who makes a U-turn in his parking lot….well, if it’s not one thing it’s another. Z causes himself a tremendous amount of stress and seems to obsess over these kinds of things. Z yells and cusses at his wife. I have no doubt that he loves her and maybe some of the criticism is deserved but Z can get pretty verbally abusive with her and his college-aged children. He has a quick temper. Several times he has apologized to me for me “having to see that” and admits he is wrong and shouldn’t do it but…he keeps doing it.

Z confides in me. For whatever reason I think I intrigue Z and even though I’m quite a bit younger he seems to run things by me to get my input or opinion. This is fine with me. I know Z is good at heart and in certain areas he can teach me a thing or two. Z maybe drinks a little too much from time to time because his self created stress becomes too heavy a load and it offers him some release. He exercises heavily – this is our common ground – and it provides some stress relief but not quite enough. Z has some health concerns that most likely stem from his quick fuse and general attitude about life.

Today Z was complaining to me about what a bad week he had last week. He had a blow up episode and some other problems, all of which were really very minor and not worth the energy he exerted in response to them. On Z’s list of laments was “Obama”. I’ve avoided political discussions with Z in the past because he is outspoken and I know where he stands. He and his son had the opportunity to meet Bush in person several months ago and it was “just amazing”. Today he says “Ben, don’t tell me you’re for OBAMA….”. I guess my patience and self-control with this issue had finally run out, or maybe it was just the heat but I had no choice but to answer honestly. “I really like Obama Z. Of course I’m for Obama.”

This led to all kinds of discussion that I knew would have potential to end our friendship just because of our fundamentally different worldview. We talked oil and abortion and the war in Iraq and 9/11. I held back a little but generally let him know where I stood on these issues. Some of things I said clearly stunned him and left him almost speechless. You could see him thinking. The conversation, to my pleasant surprise, remained cordial. He probably did more of the talking and that definitely helped but he seemed open to what I had to say. His complaint with Obama, oddly, was something about a comment he made and him being pro-choice. Somehow in his mind it mostly came back to abortion and the immorality of killing an innocent unborn child. I’m not sure if he just couldn’t think of anything else or in his mind he was really able to compartmentalize politics to such an extreme but this is how it was.

I asked him how he could reconcile the morality of starting a devastating war on false pretense and killing hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis and thousands of young American soldiers. There were other questions I posed along these lines and it generally resulted in a subject change of sorts. He made a comment about Obama being the anti-Christ. I think (and hope) he was at least mostly joking but I eventually shot back with my belief that Bush/Cheney were the Terrorists In Chiefs and if there was such a thing as the anti-Christ, they fit the bill nicely, at least on grounds of devastation of life and destruction. Still…the conversation remained cordial but pretty much devolved into a complaint-fest about all the ills that are afflicting him and his business. Somehow it was implied that all of this is the fault of the liberals and democrats…even the old lady at the end of the street who’s dog shits in a remote corner of a very large grass field behind his building.

The conversation ended and we remain friends. In fact I think I made at least a small bit of progress with Z. Z thinks I handle life pretty well and it obviously piques his interest. He found a book by Paul Brunton that I had left sitting by the swimming pool (accidentally) and has questioned me several times about things like meditation and spirituality. Z’s sense of self-identity very much hinges on his Christian beliefs and he almost feels a little guilty for being curious about anything different. The same can be said for his politics. But intuitively he recognizes that something about his personal philosophy isn’t quite working for him. He has absolutely zero control over his emotions and his anger. He seems to have no tools to help him with this. His way of relating to the world is moving him closer to a breaking point, psychologically and physically. He recognizes this but has no idea what to do about it. So…as Z’s friend, I do the best I can to help out without thrusting my views onto him.

We wrapped up our conversation and Z agreed to read a book I suggested and also agreed to watch a DVD, “9/11 Mysteries 1: Demolition”. Z is interested in Eastern philosophy and how it can be practically applied to help his health and his life. I gave him a novel which I think serves as a great primer and is also one of my most favorite books of all time, “Island” by Aldous Huxley. I hope he takes it to heart.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Door Is A Jar

Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve had the time to write here. Really one always has the time it’s just a matter of taking the time to do what’s important to you. But…on the flipside of that, sometimes just surviving the day-to-day can easily devour all of your time. Such has been the case with me lately. May was a busy one; too many things to talk about and none of them really interesting enough to be worth taking up space here. I realize that a lot of people use these things as an ongoing play-by-play of their personal life and circumstances and there’s nothing wrong with that either. It’s just not me. If you’re that interested in putting yourself to sleep I’d suggest Benadryl or Tylenol PM and save me the typing.

Have I ever mentioned that there’s really no such thing as time? Probably not. Even so that doesn’t change the fact there are things that need to get done between when the sun comes up and when it goes down. It’s possible to experience the unreality of time but it’s not possible to escape the obligations of day-to-day living.

Sometimes events and changing circumstances come at you with such speed that it’s difficult to assimilate them as they occur and it can be a bit overwhelming. When this happens – as it has with me over the past few weeks – it’s important to take extra precautions to keep yourself centered and sane. It’s in these times that it’s easy to find yourself staggering through life on auto-pilot/survival mode and getting caught in the downstream current. It’s easy to stay on course (assuming you have a course) when there is not much else vying for your attention and time.

I have practiced a lot of meditation over the years (and still do) and there is something that gradually happens as a result where you start to become very conscious of the background awareness that is silently observing every experience in your life, including internal experiences like thought and emotion. It’s neither thought nor emotion and it’s not the running dialogue in your head but it’s something behind all of that. It’s a neutral, unaffected observing presence.

When life becomes more hectic than usual I do everything I can to stay more in tune with that background awareness. There is possible change on the horizon for me career wise and though I don’t really consider myself very ambitious career-wise, there is an exciting opportunity that has arrived neatly wrapped and hand delivered to my doorstep. A job is just a job but it is also what puts food on the table and keeps the lights on and practically speaking, it is a huge facet of anyone’s life. Any change in this area is not to be taken lightly, even if it’s what looks like a good change.

So I’ve been pondering these things and trying to be vigilant about distinguishing logic from intuition and fear from common sense. I’ve been waking up a little bit earlier, being more conscious of every sensation and action that I experience throughout the course of each day, paying more attention to what I eat and how it affects my mind/body, devoting time each day to think about all that is going on, and devoting more time each day to cast thought out of my mind altogether.

On other fronts, I’m very happy to see Obama finally get the nomination. I’m not happy to see that he is already pandering to Israel and I honestly just don’t get this whole thing, which is one of the reasons I don’t talk about these kinds of issues on my blog. I have no idea why it’s just accepted that our country basically plays the role of “beer bitch” for Israel. Maybe hit man is a better analogy than beer bitch. But… I stay away (obviously) from the political blogging so I won’t expound on this digression.

It’s likely that I will need to continue being very attentive and vigilant over the next few weeks. I’m just short of making any big decision but it definitely feels like change is on the horizon and I’m soon to be practicing the Yoga Of Changing Jobs. We’ll see…

Monday, May 12, 2008

Dancing In The Liquid Fire

I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I am a very disciplined person. This is actually pretty funny to me because I’ve never really considered myself to be so. But if I step back and take a look at myself from the outside, as much as that is possible, I guess it is fair to say that I am relatively disciplined. If this is indeed true, it’s worthwhile to look at the why behind whatever self-discipline that I may possess. It is not something that was forced or even necessarily taught to me (though in come cases it was). Really it is impossible to impose this kind of thing onto another person against their will for any length of time and even if you do, the unwilling participant will lack the necessary sincerity to get much use out of whatever discipline is in question.

Now with that being said it’s not to imply that I’ve never once tried to impose my opinions on how someone should live their life or what they should believe. There was a time period where I fell into this trap and it is indeed a trap because it’s nothing more than the ego creeping back in and trying to use anything it possibly can to make itself feel superior to someone else. This happens to all of us. It especially happens when one discovers something new that is wonderful to them or is introduced to some new idea or system that they resonate strongly with and perhaps have a genuine wish to share it with others with all the best intentions.

You cannot impose discipline on to another person because if that person is to derive any real benefit they have to discover the need and usefulness of it for themselves. It has to be their idea. I don’t think that I have personally ever been the sort to just believe something or go along with it because an authority of some sort told me I had to or that I should. I always asked “Why?” as far as I can remember except in those cases where the ‘why’ was obvious or because I had a certain respect for the person giving the information. I think this is one of the reasons I was drawn so strongly to Buddhism at one point because the Buddha essentially said ‘hey, don’t believe any of this stuff that I am telling you, go find out the truth of it for yourselves.’ That is a philosophy that I can respect.

I’m not Buddhist but at one time I sure thought I was. I also did some Bible thumping for about a three or four month period in my life. That’s pretty funny to think about now but I had my reasons. I’ll probably talk about that here at some point. I’m much more an advocate of direct experience than “faith” but I realize that faith plays an important role also and cannot be dismissed entirely.

Maybe it is true that I am a disciplined individual but we are all disciplined in some sense of the word. None of us are willing to press our hand against a red hot burner on the stove. Discipline? You’re probably saying “no Ben, that’s just common sense”. But it wasn’t common sense at some point along the way. Maybe you found out the hard way or maybe you believed your mommy or daddy when they warned you, but either way you eventually got the message. Really that sums up any ‘discipline’ that I have in my life. This may or may not be pertinent to the topic but incidentally I did just about literally blow up an entire kitchen before I was five years old…

I’m at a point where I feel like there is a lot of good in my life, a lot to be thankful for and a lot to be happy about. This is how life is, there are upswings and downswings. In a lot of ways I am enjoying an upswing at the moment, though ever conscious of the fact that things can and do change at a moment’s notice. I’m comfortable with that. It’s possible that some of the good that is appearing right now is the result of discipline on my part. The fact that I am comfortable with life’s ever changing nature is most definitely a result of discipline on my part. I should also add that I will never be able to take personal credit for so much of this good that is in my life. Much of it is the result of grace and something that I don’t fully comprehend but nonetheless, I try to cooperate with it. I acknowledge it constantly and give thanks constantly also. Call it “God” if you like but keep in mind that I’m not referring to any white-bearded sky daddy. That’s a concept that, like bed-wetting, I had to outgrow. (Sorry, it’s my blog and I get to be a smart ass here.)

I find life to be a beautiful, wondrous, and mysterious experience. I also cannot help but notice that it is an intensely precarious one too. It is this precariousness that inspires the ‘discipline’ that I have. Learning that the red hot stove burns your hand is a metaphorical way of stating something that actually occurs throughout ones entire life. The danger gets less obvious as we get older and hopefully smarter and also because certain things become taken for granted and accepted, as if there were just no other way. Sometimes this is true but often it is not. Again, there is no requirement to participate in something just because everyone else is, whether that be a way of thinking or way of eating or spending or whatever.

A human lifetime can be looked at as a purifying experience. Spiritually speaking, we might just be going through a giant celestial car wash right now. The mud is being wiped away, the obstacles – one by one – being removed. Some of those stains are in there pretty good, requiring a great deal of heat and pressure. This whole thing can be quite painful at times and exquisite at others.

I’m running out of time and words to get into the specifics but I’d like to try to do so in another post or two. I’ve had some people close to me say some very nice things to me lately about stuff that I didn’t realize was that obvious. I’m thinking that what they are referring to is in large part the result of self-discipline which in my case basically consists of the following things: meditation, exercise, dealing with money, diet, and some other stuff that I’d like to maybe talk more about next time.