RSSCategory: Quality of Life

It’s always a good time to appreciate good things

February 23, 2010 | By | 7 Replies More
It’s always a good time to appreciate good things

I had to work late tonight, and as I got into my car I was a bit frustrated that I was not able to get home earlier, so I could spend more time with my daughters. Poor me.

As I put the key in the ignition, however, it occurred to me that I was fortunate that when I turned a little key in the ignition, my cars engine fired up. I was lucky to be able to drive quickly home in a car that actually worked on a cold winter night. Not only does it work, it has a radio. As I drove through the streets of the city of St. Louis, I appreciated that there were well marked streets and that the people driving home around me were doing so carefully. I passed a Walgreens on the way home, and it occurred to me that I am lucky to live in a society where you can get quick relief for many medical ailments. Many people in the world have no access to aspirin when they get headaches. I shouldn’t ever take that for granted.

When I got home and saw my beautiful children, it occurred to me that I should always consciously appreciate how lucky I am when I get home and I find that my children are safe. When I see them smile I should give thanks for that too, because there are many people who don’t have a safe place to spend time with their smiling children. I could go on and on, of course. I live in a wealthy society where I can turn on lights with the flick of a switch, and where the interiors of our houses are usually comfortable. I live in a society where a magic Internet gives me easy access to more information from more diverse groups of people than I could have ever imagined. I live a life of luxuries that could make a King jealous.

As I dictate this short post, I am eating a delicious bowl of soup, sitting in a comfortable chair, knowing that my children (and now my wife) are safe and healthy and sleeping soundly upstairs. I am free to walk out of my front porch and stare up at the sky. I can somehow see one big round object that is a quarter million miles away, and I can see hundreds and thousands of stars. Because of the scientific work of many who have come before me, I know I live on a huge orb and that underneath my feet, way down past the Earth itself, there are billions more stars.

I am awestruck by the thought that several trillions of cells have somehow become highly coordinated to an extent that “I.” exist. The body is so complex that I don’t wonder why it sometimes doesn’t work–rather, I revel in the fact that it works at all. How is it that 10 billion of those cells have become self-aware? Indeed, how is it that this 3 pound brain is capable of generating endless representations of the real world inside of my own head? How is it that I am able to think about conversations I had it work while I sit home alone at home? this is all too amazing to understand.

Yes, we live in a world where many things could be better than they are, but I try to remember (though not often enough) that I am an extremely fortunate person living among extremely fortunate people, and that there should not be any whining in a place like this. And just after I had reminded myself about how wonderfully mysterious life is, I stumbled upon this YouTube video featuring Louis C.K., who passionately summed up what I I have been feeling tonight.

Share

Read More

Payday loan opponents struggle to get a fair hearing

February 22, 2010 | By | 20 Replies More
Payday loan opponents struggle to get a fair hearing

Payday loans are high-interest short-term unsecured small loans that borrowers promise to repay out of their next paycheck, typically two weeks later. Interest rates are typically 300% to 500% per annum, many multiples higher than the exorbitant rates charged by banks on their credit cards. A typical payday borrower takes out payday loans to pay utility bills, to buy a child’s birthday present or to pay for a car repair. Even though payday loans are dangerous financial products, they are nonetheless tempting to people who are financially stressed. The growth of payday lenders in the last decade has been mind-boggling. In many states there are more payday lenders than there are McDonald’s restaurants. In Missouri Payday lenders are even allowed to set up shops in nursing homes.

Missouri’s payday lenders are ferociously fighting a proposed new law that would put some sanity into a system that is often financially ruinous for the poor and working poor. Payday lenders claim that the caps of the proposed new law would put them out of business. Their argument is laughable and their legislative strategy is reprehensible.

Exhibit A is the strategy I witnessed Thursday night, February 18, 2010. On that night, Missouri State Senator Joe Keaveny and State Representative Mary Still jointly held a public hearing at the Carpenter Branch Library in the City of St. Louis City to discuss two identical bills (SB 811 and HB 1508) that would temper the excesses of the payday loan industry in Missouri. Instead of respecting free and open debate and discussion regarding these bills, payday lenders worked hard to shut down meaningful debate by intentionally packing the legislative hearing room with their employees, thereby guaranteeing that A) the presenters and media saw an audience that seemed to favor payday lenders and B) many concerned citizens were excluded from the meeting. As discussed further down in this post, payday lenders are also responsible for flooding the State Capitol with lobbyists and corrupting amounts of money.carpenter-branch-library

When I arrived at 7:00 pm, the scheduled starting time, I was refused entry to the meeting room. Instead, I was directed to join about 15 other concerned citizens who had been barred from the meeting room. There simply wasn’t room for us. But then who were those 100 people who had been allowed to attend the meeting? I eventually learned that almost all of them were employees of payday lenders; their employers had arranged for them to pack the room by arriving en masse at 6 pm.

Many of the people excluded from the meeting were eventually allowed to trickle into the meeting, but only aspayday-employees other people trickled out. I was finally allowed into the meeting at 8 pm, which allowed me to catch the final 30 minutes. In the photo below, almost all of the people plopped into the chairs were payday lender employees (the people standing in the back were concerned citizens). This shameful tactic of filling up the meeting room with biased employees has certainly been used before.

Share

Read More

How much filthy coal did you burn today?

February 12, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
How much filthy coal did you burn today?

Most people don’t think much about how their electricity is produced. It turns out that half of the electricity in the United States is produced by burning coal. Maybe you’re thinking “So what?”

Here’s why you should care. There is no such thing as “clean coal,” it is still a fantasy, not a reality. Mining coal releases dangerous amounts of mercury into the human environment, including 48 tons of mercury, “the largest source of man-made mercury pollution in the U.S.” Burning coal releases massive amounts of carbon dioxide. Coal is dangerous. And see here.

In the United States, we burn a railroad car worth of coal every 3 seconds. This year, your family will burn 1,000 pounds of coal just to run your clothes dryer (yet many communities make it illegal to dry your clothes on a line outside).

Each year, a 500 megawatt coal plant burns 1.4 million tons of coal. It also produces:

  • 125,000 tons of ash and 193,000 tons of sludge from the smokestack scrubber. A scrubber uses powdered limestone and water to remove pollution from the plant’s exhaust. Instead of going into the air, the pollution goes into a landfill or into products like concrete and drywall. This ash and sludge consists of coal ash, limestone, and many pollutants, such as toxic metals like lead and mercury.
  • 225 pounds of arsenic, 114 pounds of lead, 4 pounds of cadmium, and many other toxic heavy metals. Mercury emissions from coal plants are suspected of contaminating lakes and rivers in northern and northeast states and Canada. In Wisconsin alone, more than 200 lakes and rivers are contaminated with mercury. Health officials warn against eating fish caught in these waters, since mercury can cause birth defects, brain damage and other ailments. Acid rain also causes mercury poisoning by leaching mercury from rocks and making it available in a form that can be taken up by organisms.
  • Tons of hazardous and acidic waste which can contaminate ground water. Strip mining also destroys habitat and can affect water tables.

Again, how much coal did you burn today? If you live in an area where most of the electricity comes from coal, the amount of coal you burn will astound you. Your family burned 30 pounds of coal today. And you’ll burn another 30 pounds tomorrow. And the next day.

The average household in the U.S buys, on average, 900 kWh of electricity per month, roughly every 30 days. If we multiply 30 days times 24 hours, we find that there are 720 hours in a month. The average household, therefore, is responsible for consuming 1.25 pounds of coal per hour (900 kWh = 900 pounds divided by 720 hours). (Note: your mileage may vary, as we are assuming an ‘average’ house here. Check your utility bill for the past 12 months for your actual kilowatt-hour usage.) There are 8,760 hours in a year, so if we multiply 1.25 pounds by 8,760, we find that the ‘average’ house using 100% coal-generated electricity is responsible for the burning of 10,950 pounds of coal for the electricity they consume per year. That’s nearly 5.5 tons!

The question, then, is why we don’t work harder to be more energy efficient? We could construct buildings that are close to carbon neutral (and see here). We could massively reduce our energy use without reducing our quality of life. Each of us could help in dozens of easy ways. Consider, too, that peak coal is approaching; don’t believe the hype that there are many decades of cheap coal left. With all of these problems with coal, why does the U.S. Department of Energy website tout the virtues of coal without disclosing the dangers? Why doesn’t the DOE discuss energy conservation as a means of drastically reducing the amount of coal we burn? The logic is indisputable: Those areas of the country that depend heavily on coal could cut the trainloads of coal they burn in half if they cut their use of electricity in half. There are easy ways to cut the our use of energy (and see here).

We could live smart, if only we had the will, if only we would take the time to consider that there are far better options. If only we thought about it, we would realize that our energy-wasteful habits are killing American industry. Unfortunately, we live in a country that doesn’t know how to stop bad things from happening and to make good things happen. We are squandering our future. It’s pathetic for a country that talks such a big game to fail so miserably.

Isn’t it time to start writing a happier ending to this sad story? Here’s how. Talk to your friends and neighbors about the dangers of coal. Take the time to learn more about coal. Read this Sierra Club publication: The Dirty Truth About Coal. And when you’re trying to decide who to believe, remember that the Sierra Club isn’t trying to make a profit, unlike those who want to burn ever-larger amounts of coal.

Share

Read More

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.

Share

Read More

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 . . . ]

Share

Read More

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

Share

Read More

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.

Share

Read More

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 . . . ]

Share

Read More

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

Share

Read More