RSSCategory: Quality of Life

U.S. House approves funding to maintain the empire

December 16, 2009 | By | 3 Replies More
U.S. House approves funding to maintain the empire

As distinct from other peoples, most Americans do not recognize — or do not want to recognize — that the United States dominates the world through its military power. Due to government secrecy, our citizens are often ignorant of the fact that our garrisons encircle the planet. This vast network of American bases on every continent except Antarctica actually constitutes a new form of empire — an empire of bases with its own geography not likely to be taught in any high school geography class. Without grasping the dimensions of this globe-girdling Baseworld, one can’t begin to understand the size and nature of our imperial aspirations or the degree to which a new kind of militarism is undermining our constitutional order. —Chalmers Johnson

It is with the context provided by that quotation from historian Chalmers Johnson that one must understand today’s news that the House of Representatives has approved funding today for defense maintaining the empire. The level of spending has been approved at $636.3 billion dollars– nearly two-thirds of a trillion dollars(see related post on how much a trillion really is) to maintain our network of more than 800 military facilities in more than 140 countries around the world. That spending includes $128.3 billion for fighting our current wars, although Afghanistan is expected to require an additional $30 billion to fund the most recent troop increase.

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It’s time to break the taboo and to talk frankly about human overpopulation

December 9, 2009 | By | 34 Replies More
It’s time to break the taboo and to talk frankly about human overpopulation

If you are feeling brave, take a look at the World Clock. You’ll see that more than twice as many people are being born as are dying for any given interval (click the “Now” button to see the numbers spinning out from the present). world-clock

Click the “Deaths” tab and note that for every 100 deaths, there are also more than 60 abortions, and yet the Earth’s population still spirals out of control. Click around on the other tabs and you will probably find yourself transfixed by magnitude of these numbers. Notice the vast amount of forest being decimated by clicking on the “Environment” tab. Under the “Energy” tab, notice the incredibly disconcerting “Oil Depletion Timer,” indicating that we have 40 years of oil left on the entire planet (you’ll need to do the math, dividing the days left by 365–this estimate is based on the admittedly laughable assumption that it would be economically viable to scoop up every drop of oil). Notice the ghastly numbers of entire species being lost each week (almost 300 extinctions per week). Notice the many thousands of preventable deaths every week (under the Death tab), including ghastly numbers of children dying from preventable things like lack of nutrition.

The World Clock sends me into an existential swirl. Watching these numbers accumulate fascinates me and, regarding some categories, horrifies me. Regarding the needless deaths, for example, it occurs to me that no human being has sufficient cognitive capacity or sufficient empathy to properly understand or react to numbers of this magnitude. It is impossible to feel sufficient empathy for the needless deaths of thousands people, week after week.

Last year, I posted on an effort by Global Population Speak Out (GPSO) to discuss the need to discuss overpopulation. But many people are too horrified to even consider this topic. One such person repeatedly vilified me in the comments, arguing that I was an elitist (and worse) because I merely dared to raise this issue.

But this issue of overpopulation is too important to ignore.

[more . . . ]

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The Possibilities are Emptiness!

November 30, 2009 | By | 8 Replies More
The Possibilities are Emptiness!

“Emptiness is described as the basis that makes everything possible”
The Twelfth Tai Situpa Rinpoche, Awakening the Sleeping Buddha

“The truth you believe and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new.”
Pema Chodron


Buddhism makes people uncomfortable when it talks of emptiness. Most Western minds immediately go to “nothingness” as the equivalent, which I am learning is not accurate. Mingur Rinpoche has a fantastic chapter on emptiness in The Joy of Living. In it he makes my language geek happy by explaining the Tibetan words for emptiness – “tongpa-nyi”. He says Tongpa does mean empty, but only in the sense of something we can’t capture with our senses, and better words would be inconceivable or unnameable. Nyi, he says, has no particular meaning but when added to a word conveys a sense of “possibility”. Suddenly, instead of nihilism, we have an “unlimited potential for anything to change, appear, or disappear.” That is cool stuff.

We, as human beings, simply can’t conceive emptiness in that sense. Our minds are limited – they can only deal with so much – even with training. The assumptions we make and the perspectives we develop and yes, even the absolutes we live (and too often die) by, are simply our own constructions helping us navigate a reality that would otherwise overwhelm us. I’m not just talking about moral or ethical realms here, I also mean our physical reality. We are comforted by the thought that the chair we sit in and the floor we walk on are “solid” but science teaches us something else. The history of science itself demonstrates our understanding of the world is evolving. Quantum mechanics shows us things we didn’t dream of 100 years ago. We keep learning new and better ways to grasp how the world works – our knowledge shifts constantly like sand in a desert storm.

Facing the possibility of everything being in flux frightens us, and so we create shields that offer protection, that make us comfortable. We then think we can know ourselves, the world, and those around us. We know what to expect, we know what to accept. We order our existence, and we feel safe. Often we don’t know that we are creating a structure with which to experience the world. We are born into them as much as we seek them out, but the effects are the same.

Habits of knowing, like habits of behavior, are comfortable, like well-worn shoes or a tasty turkey pot pie. Fear of losing that comfort and the accompanying feeling of safety is why we, collectively, often lash out at anyone or anything that is different from us. In those situations our core concepts of who we are and how we live are at risk. But when our worldview is so rigid it prevents us from adapting to what is, our carefully constructed truths are no longer places of refuge, they more resemble prison cells.

Consider a man who has been laid off from his job as a machinist who can only see himself going into work at a factory, but all of the factories in his town have closed. His options for factory work in his town are nonexistent. If that is all he can see for himself his options are very bleak. But if he can open his mind and see another way to put his skills to use – not as an employee of a factory – he can devise a plan of action. I don’t mean that he will transform himself into something different with brand new skills. But if he can let go of the rigidity of what work once meant to him, he has a better chance of finding ways to leverage what he currently has to offer.

The challenge is to hold lightly to everything I believe, and to see the lack of fixity as a source of possibility instead of a recipe for loss. As someone just getting started on this practice, I can say it feels much like standing and stretching luxuriously after being stuck in a painfully cramped space. One can learn to do a fine backstroke in the abyss, and abyss is more a fertile sea of possibility than terrifying vacuum. What a happy surprise.

Image: © Rozum | Dreamstime.com

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Denialist Wall Street Journal admits Peak Oil has arrived

November 24, 2009 | By | 3 Replies More
Denialist Wall Street Journal admits Peak Oil has arrived

The trickle of Peak Oil articles has turned into a flood recently. First came the chief economist for the International Energy Agency (IEA), Dr. Fatih Birol, with the shocking announcement that “My main motto never changes, the era of low oil prices is over.” Then there were the whistleblowers at the IEA who alleged that the IEA’s rosy forecasts of rising production timed perfectly to satisfy rising demand had been rigged at the request of the United States. “We have entered the Peak Oil zone. I think that the situation is really bad,” one whistleblower said. Then, Warren Buffet made his “all-in” wager on rail transportation. Now, even the Wall Street Journal has capitulated. Last week, they ran a front-page story titled “Oil officials see limit looming on production“. The actual Wall Street Journal site requires a subscription, but it has been mirrored a number of places online if you’re interested. The first paragraph of the story reads:

A growing number of oil-industry chieftains are endorsing an idea long deemed fringe: The world is approaching a practical limit to the number of barrels of crude oil that can be pumped every day.

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Hungry Ghosts

November 14, 2009 | By | Reply More
Hungry Ghosts

I recently came out of an emotional bad spell – emerging from it felt a lot like hitting the surface after you’ve been underwater just a little too long. This spell of anxiety/fear/depression/whatever it was taught me more than usual because it happened smack dab after I had a really awesome year business wise. I was on a high. Things were so good I had to go buy a suit so I could go to Las Vegas and get an award for being so awesome. That is important to note not because getting an award is important (but it is kind of cool, right?) but because of what happened after the award.

Intellectually I knew that all the activity I had in the funnel would end, and I’d be back in building mode. I knew it and even tried to prepare myself for the letdown. My business is cyclical – I know that. And I like building mode. Building mode is how one gets to closing mode. I just had a run of especially good fortune and my building mode was a distant memory, which I knew was not such a great thing for me. In the midst of my crazy happy frenetic good luck mode, I tried to prepare for what would come after the constant activity of balancing all the stuff in the hopper died down. I know how I can be – I get squirrley sometimes, so I tried to prepare.

There is a saying: “Trying lets us fail with honor.” I failed. I’m not sure I had any honor, either.

“I woke up one morning and I was scared. Not just a little scared, either. I was in full-on panic mode. I remember thinking, “Dammit, Lisa, this is exactly what you worked to prevent.” Yep it sure was. In my defense, I had a crazy end of September/October. We had family in from out of town (stressful), my Mom had spine surgery (surprisingly stressful), the foster greyhound we rescued need to be carried up and down our stairs in order to go outside (it takes both of us – constantly coordinating schedules is stressful), I bought a car (consumerism is, for me, fraught with drama, tension and guilt – stressful, but I sure like the car) and Ginger decided to feng shui our bedroom. Not only was I going through something hard, I had to do it with our bed facing a new and opposite wall. Things like that do bad things to me. I spent an entire sleepless night focused on whether the bed facing the other direction was symbolic of me never closing another deal. During that mental wrestling match I started doubting my employ-ability (I only have one suit!!) and by morning I had tearfully decided my only option was to make this thing work or I’d end up living in a paper box. I went to bed scared, I woke up panicked and I think Ginger wanted to throttle me (I wanted to throttle me).

[more . . . ]

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If the Methodists can do it, why can’t everyone?

October 26, 2009 | By | 7 Replies More
If the Methodists can do it, why can’t everyone?

While shooting footage for a documentary in Brooklyn this past weekend I came upon this sign outside of a Methodist church and felt compelled to share it with you. It made me feel good to see tolerance so boldly stated.

parkslope2

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Rage and Injustice

October 18, 2009 | By | 2 Replies More
Rage and Injustice

When people ask why laws must be changed to protect behavior that seems “outside” social norms, it can sometimes be difficult to make the point that rights must accrue to individuals and their choices or they mean nothing. So when a woman is stoned in some backwater country for adultery (whether she is in fact married or not) or a young girl has her clitoris snipped off without having any say in the matter or when a child is allowed to die from a treatable illness because his or her parents believe that only prayer can save them or when people are denied basic civil rights because they don’t play the social game the same way as everyone else or—

If this were an issue of a racially mixed marriage, everyone would be aware and outraged. In this case it is not, it is a lesbian couple with children, who suffered a dual outrage—the first being denial of partner’s rights at the hospital where one perished and the second being the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by the survivor against those who callously disregarded their basic humanity. The assumption by strangers that because they didn’t fit some cookie-cutter definition of Normal that their fundamental humanity could be abridged in a life and death situation is not something that is redressable other than by law, because without a law people will make up any old justification to be assholes. And without a law, the rest of us will let them get away with it.

Read the story. Be outraged. But do not be silent.

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Dying in prison

October 14, 2009 | By | Reply More
Dying in prison

Fascinating photo essay of Louisiana prison hospices. Yes, those are human beings behind bars–there simply must be a better way to deal with most of them than letting them rot behind bars. The essay starts with a mind-blowing statistic: In Louisiana, one out of every 55 residents is behind bars, many of them for life.

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Die, Caps Lock, Die

October 12, 2009 | By | 3 Replies More
Die, Caps Lock, Die

One of my peeves against propagated obsolete legacy is the caps lock key for computers. I hate it. In the 32 years that I’ve been using computers, I don’t think that I’ve ever hit it intentionally. It is where it is because typewriters used it to mechanically lock down the shift key.

But I have yet to meet anyone who types in all caps, except to indicate online screaming. Even then, it isn’t hard to hold a shift key with a pinky while typing with the other 9 fingers.

But now there is a fix! In every version of Windows since W2K, there is a secret patch that lets you convert any key to another. I’ve chosen to make CAPSLOCK into a simple shift. If I really need to lock caps, I can do it through software, or convert another useless key (e.g. scroll lock) into caps lock.

I found the magical tool in JohnHaller.com’s Useful Stuff essays: Disable Caps Lock. It’s a simple registry tweak that he found at annoyances.org (where they have full technical details).

Just download and launch the tweak. You get warnings, But it works! Just follow the directions and you’ll never be bothered by caps lock again.

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