Saturday, November 30, 2013

Christmas Consumerism Is Killing Mother Earth

Tar sands in Alberta, Canada.  Scientists have recently
found that the eggs of birds downstream from the
tar sands contain statistically more mercury.
Today is Saturday, November 30, 2013.

The 2012 Greendex survey found that people in poorer countries feel, on average, much guiltier about their impacts on the natural world than people in rich countries. The places in which people feel least guilt are, in this order, Germany, the US, Australia and Britain, while the people of India, China, Mexico and Brazil have the greatest concerns. Our guilt, the survey reported, exists in inverse proportion to the amount of damage our consumption does. This is the opposite of what a thousand editorials in the corporate press tell us: that people cannot afford to care until they become rich. The evidence suggests we cease to care only when we become rich.  – George Monbiot

If GM crops sprayed with pesticides and fungicides are so
healthy, why is this researcher wearing a hazmat suit?
It's true, folks.  People in countries such as China, India, Mexico and Brazil are more concerned about climate change, pollution of air, water and soil, endangerment and loss of whole species, genetically altered foods,  and shortages of fresh water than people in rich countries like the United States, the U.K., and Canada. 

In Bolivia, one of the poorest nations on earth, Mother Earth has been granted equal rights by constitutional amendment: humans do not have the right to destroy the natural environment.  In that country, also, GMO crops will be completely banned by 2015. 

Ecuador is another South American country that has a so-called "wild law" giving rights to Mother Earth.  As with all laws, the details are still being worked out, but at least the law is on the books. 

The governments of India and China, where economies are booming just now, are reluctant to sign agreements with European Union countries on CO2 emissions, but India has placed a 10-year moratorium on planting GM crops, and China has decided not to adopt GM crops for at least the next five years.  Instead, they will try to develop more sustainable high-yield non-GM crops. 

The global water supply is rapidly declining due to misuse, pollution and for-profit privatization by companies such as Nestlé, whose practices, in effect, severely limit the supply of clean water for the poor. 

All over the world, scientists are warning us that we are poisoning our soil and our water supply, poisoning our atmosphere, and negatively affecting the natural cycles that produce our climate.  We are being warned that our pesticides and fungicides are killing bees wholesale.  Our GM crops are affecting surrounding animals and plants, and leading us into an unhealthy dependance on companies that produce altered seeds. Why aren't we listening?  Why don't we care, as a nation?

Right now we are approaching the time of year when consumerism is at its peak.  There is a frenzy of buying, such that, this very weekend, many retailers will be operating "in the black" for the first time all year.  Many of the things we buy for ourselves and for others are things that we don't really need in order to survive.  They are merely things that tend to keep our feelings of ennui at bay.  In George Monbiot's words, we "spend ridiculous sums on conspicuously useless gifts."   Minbiot asks, "Are we so bored, so affectless, that we need to receive this junk to ignite one last spark of hedonistic satisfaction?"  

Toxic waste dump in Nairobi, Kenya
In order to produce these products, we "wear down the knap of the Earth, ream the surface of the planet with great holes, fleetingly handle the products of that destruction then dump the materials into another hole."  Sorry, I can't improve on Minbiot's words, he's so right on.  We destroy the earth, in other words, to produce electronics, ceramics, plastics, paints, dyes, and various types of packaging.  When we exhaust the ore in one area, we move on to another area, leaving behind destruction so intense that nothing will grow for generations, because the soil and water are so polluted.  Meanwhile, our factories continue to put carbon into the atmosphere at an alarming rate.  There is now 393.66 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere according to CO2 Now website.  The upper amount at which Mother Earth can replenish herself is 360 ppm.  And then when we're done with our toys, we junk them in landfills, once again polluting the soil in the process.
Abandoned coal mining site in Appalachia

Are we truly so addicted to consumerism that we cannot step back and see where it is leading us?  Do we really need all this junk in order to enjoy life?  Is our self-worth really so dependent on what baubles we own, what vehicles we drive, what clothes we wear, or what kind of castle we live in?   Do we really need to impress others with the evidence of our wealth?  George Monbiot has something to say about that, too: Those who are impressed by money are not worth impressing.

Will we continue to bury our heads in the sand and kick the can down the road so that we don't have to face the consequences of our destructive habits right now?  Will we continue to refuse to tighten our belts or set limits on our need for luxuries at the expense of Mother Earth?  

This Christmas, as you do your gift shopping, stop and consider the provenance of the things you buy.  Where do the materials come from?  How is this plastic made?  Where did the factory dump its waste products?  Whose pure water supply was commandeered in order to make this product?  How long will we be able to use this product before it is junked, and in whose backyard will it end up? 

If Christmas is a season of love, the least we could do is spare a little love for Mother Earth.  :-/

Friday, November 29, 2013

Being Stuck in Your Story

Today is Friday, November 29, 2013.

The other day I read an article that asked, "Are you stuck in a story?"  What the author was talking about was being stuck in a rut, but I like the metaphor of a "story" rather than a "rut," because it offers more of a clue to why we get stuck in the first place.  

Each of us has a story.  In fact, we have more than one as we go through life.  Our stories put the events and experiences of our lives into a context.  They reflect our perception of the world and our beliefs about ourselves.  Our stories can make it easy for us to change or keep us chained in negative, repetitive cycles.  

Some stories can be summarized as, "I'm a klutz" or "I'm not important."  Other negative stories sound like, "I'm so ugly" or "Nobody loves me."  We keep doing things that allow ourselves to "prove" that our stories are true, and we unconsciously draw into our lives people who are willing to help us sustain our illusions.

It doesn't even matter how the story started in the first place.  We waste a lot of time pinning blame on others for our stories.  What we should be asking ourselves is whether the story serves us at the present time.  It may have served in the past, but if it no longer serves us, it needs to go.  

There is a lot of advice out there about how to get "unstuck," but what they all have in common is the idea that we need to start looking at the situation from a different perspective.  Instead of seeking to fix blame on someone else for our problems, it's more productive to look at ourselves and how we are reacting to the situation.  Why are we reacting this way?  What "story" about ourselves are we enacting?  

Once we identify our story and the ways in which we continue to act it out, we can decide to change our part.  When we do this, others will have to change their parts, too.  Some people will drop out of our lives, because they are unwilling to make the change, while new people will enter our lives.  Some people will change along with us, even if they complain a bit.

The point is this: We are the authors of our own misfortunes.  Rather than blaming others, we must work to identify ways that we are keeping ourselves stuck by hanging onto old patterns of belief and old responses to situations.  We are the ones who got ourselves into the mess we're in, and we are the ones who can get ourselves out of that same mess. Nobody else has the power to do this for us.

When we let our stories go, we say, "Wait a minute, I'm not that clumsy.  I'm not ugly.  I'm not doomed to stay in this  low-paying job forever.  I'm not, either, too busy to help.  Once we let the story go, whatever it is, we are free to take different actions, to respond to situations in a different way.  

Are you stuck in a story right now?  What are your current stories about yourself, and how long have you been in them?  Do these stories support you right now or hold you back?  

You can tell when a story holds you back.  If you say to yourself things like, "If I weren't so ugly, I'd be able to find a boyfriend," then your story is "I'm ugly" and it's holding you back from finding a boyfriend. If you think you are the kind of guy who earns $50,000 a year, then that will be what you earn, and it will be almost impossible to earn more than that, even if you are handed a chance on a silver platter.

Fortunately, our stories are not set in stone.  We can change them.  What would you like your story to be?  How will your life be different – how will it be better – when you change your story?  :-)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Doing the Right Thing

Joel Hartman hugs managing director Scott Stuckey
of the Omni Hotel at CNN Center in Atlanta.
Today is Thursday, November 28, 2013.

Joel Hartman is a 36-year-0ld homeless man in Atlanta, Georgia.  He was digging through the trash to see if he could find anything to eat when he came upon a tourist's wallet with her credit card and  ID inside.  He could have lived on Easy Street, at least for a while, but he decided to do things differently.  He knows he's made some bad decisions in the past, but this time, he made an effort to find the owner.  He went to four different hotels in downtown Atlanta before finding the wallet's owner at the Omni Hotel at CNN Center. He turned the wallet in to security guards, giving them a fake name because he figured nobody needed to know who found the wallet.  It turned out that a French tourist who was in Atlanta to attend a conference had reported her missing wallet to police on November 7. 

Scott Stuckey, the managing director of the hotel, wanted to show his appreciation, knowing that it couldn't have been easy for a starving homeless man to turn in a wallet.  He and his staff went around the streets of Atlanta, talking to homeless people and asking if they knew who might have found the wallet.  Hartman heard he was being sought, so he presented himself at the hotel on November 22, where he got the surprise of his life.   

Stuckey said they were giving him a free stay in a luxury hotel room through the Thanksgiving holiday, free room service, and $500 in cash.  When he was told what the manager planned to do for him, Hartman was speechless.  All he could do was hug the manager and say, "Thank you."  

Hartman told a local Atlanta news station that he had been homeless since March, when his long-time girlfriend died.  He'd been sleeping in the woods in a suburb of Atlanta.  He said that he has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and finds it hard to concentrate on anything for long, but he gets by doing odd jobs.  Hartman says he plans to hop on a freight train to Alaska to look for work after Thanksgiving. 

This is such a great Thanksgiving story, don't you think?  Something to restore your faith in humanity. Best wishes for the future to Joel Hartman, who did the right thing when it was not the easy choice.  And kudos to Scott Stuckey, who also went out of his way to do the right thing. :-)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Danger of Making Assumptions

Today is Wednesday, November 27, 2013.

Making assumptions can be dangerous. At least, that's been my experience.  In the cartoon at right, the people on second floor assume that the loud music must be coming from the young man's apartment above them.  Instead, it's coming from the older folks downstairs.  

My earliest negative experiences with assumptions came while I was living in Japan.  That's where I learned that not everyone thinks and feels the same way.  If I had continued to live all my life in the same area where I grew up, I might not have had experiences that challenged my belief system.  I learned that not only were my own assumptions dangerous, but that I had to watch out for the assumptions of other people. Assumptions are generally based on our notions of roles that we play in society (parent, child, husband, wife, teacher, student, boss, subordinate, etc.).  Each culture has slightly different expectations for these roles, and they are, for the most part, unwritten rules.  A wife in the United States, for example, has different assumptions about her role with respect to her mate from a wife in Japan.  A boss in Japan behaves quite differently in certain situations from an American boss.

I've also become aware that our expectations are molded, as well, on the relative position of our racial group in society, on whether we are male or female, married or single, and whether we are part of the majority or minority in any area of life, such as religion, ethnicity, nationality, place of birth, or economic status.  A Christian white male may never have his assumptions challenged on his home turf, but if he should travel to a country where Christians and whites are in the minority, he will have a rude awakening.  That same Christian white male will have very different assumptions from a black man of the Muslim faith, even if they both live in the same city, only a few blocks apart.

I can recall waiting for an elevator in an office building with a group of Japanese men.  As soon as the doors opened, all the men rush into the elevator, and I realized that I had expected them to wait for me to enter the elevator first.  The experience happened so fast, and it took a while for me to understand that the situation bothered me because my expectations had not been met.  Then I had to think hard about what those expectations were, and why I had them.  Why was it so important for me to enter the elevator first, just because I was a woman?

Another time, I was having a meal at my parents-in-law's home, when my Japanese husband picked up his empty rice bowl and began to tap it on the table.  I asked him what was wrong, and he asked me in an exasperated voice why I hadn't noticed that his rice bowl was empty.  I told him if he wanted more rice, he should have asked for it.  He pointed out that my mother-in-law had purposely placed the rice cooker near my place at the table for a reason.  It was my job to dish out the rice, and I was never to leave a man's rice bowl empty. I was stunned.  I found out later that the youngest adult female in the home is automatically supposed to serve the rice, and my husband was right: I was never to allow the men's rice bowls to sit empty.  When I didn't behave according to their expectations, my parents-in-law didn't just assume that I was unaware of their customs.  Rather, they assumed that I was a "bad wife."

I still run into situations, occasionally, that trip me up, but at least I am more aware of – and more accepting of – people's behavior that is based on assumptions.  Meanwhile, I try hard not to make assumptions of my own, and I strive to remain aware of my own assumptions, so that I can see situations more clearly and react to them more appropriately.  :-)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Shining Your Own Light

Today is Tuesday, November 26, 2013.

The Pāli Canon is a collection of scriptures in the Theravada Buddhist tradition written in the Pali language.  It is the most complete early Buddhist canon.  It was composed in North India and preserved in oral form until it could be written down during the Fourth Buddhist Council in Sri Lanka in 29 B.C.E. It is composed of three parts.  One part is rules for Buddhist monks and nuns, one is discourses attributed to Buddha or to one of his disciples, and one is general philosophy, psychology and metaphysics.  The discourses are thought to be the direct teachings of the Buddha.

According to the Pāli Canon, as Gautama Buddha lay dying, one of his young disciples, Anan, began to weep.  Buddha asked him why he was cryng, and Anan answered, "Because the light of the world is about to be extinguished, and we will be in darkness." 

Buddha's answer to his disciple were the last words he ever spoke:  "Anan, Anan, be a light unto yourself!" 

All true spiritual teachers have encouraged their followers to shine their own light in the darkness, even though most of us would be happy just to bask in the light of the spiritual greats.  It's much harder to face the darkness and shine your own light.   

How can we shine our own light in the darkness?  Here are some more quotes that give us a clue. 

“You cannot get sick enough to help sick people get better. You cannot get poor enough to help poor people thrive. It is only in your thriving that you have anything to offer anyone. If you’re wanting to be of an advantage to others, be as tapped in, turned in, turned on as you can possibly be.”

- Esther Abraham-Hicks, inspirational speaker & author.

“Only by its own roots does a tree stand tall and only by its own light does the sun shine brightly and bring life to our world. So it is with you – only when you’re trusting, loving and rooted in your true Self will the life that is your highest potential begin to manifest. Only when you are walking on the path of your highest potential will you ever be able to shine brightly and bring light to the darkness in others.”

- Jackson Kiddard, author & polymath (expert in a number of different areas)

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

- Marianne Williamson, best-selling author and speaker.

Our individual challenge is to find a way that we can shine our own personal light in the darkness.  When each of us shines his or her light, the darkness has no power over us.  :-)

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Invisible Thread

Today is Monday, November 25, 2013.

An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance.  The thread may stretch or tangle, but will never break.  – Chinese proverb

I suppose I could quibble about a thread that is both red and invisible at the same time.  If there is truly some sort of thread – energy, perhaps? – that connects us, it is definitely invisible, that much is clear. Imagining the thread as being red is certainly a great way to visualize the concept, so I can't really argue with that, either.  OK, so I'll bite: an invisible red thread.

The next question would be: why?  Why are we "destined" to meet certain people?  If you believe, as I do, that life is a learning exercise for Souls, and that we learn from each of the people we meet, the question is mostly answered.  But couldn't we just meet and learn from people without being "destined" to do so?  

The idea of destiny implies some sort of forethought or planning.  Is it true that our lives are already planned out?  If so, what about free will?  

I believe that we, as Soul, do participate in a planning process, or at the very least, come into agreement with the planning process before we are born.  Souls who haven't been in human form very many times may have much more help from their spiritual advisers to choose the basic elements of each lifetime.  Every single thing is not chosen in advance: free will does indeed exist.  Each lifetime is fleshed out in broad strokes before we are born.  We, ourselves, add all the little details. 

It's like signing up for a college course in biology.  We know we need to learn biology for a career in the medical field, for example.  We know we will be learning about physical characteristics of plants and animals, and about various life processes.  We know we will probably have to do some experiments for the course, and that we will have to take a test or two.  But the actual, day-to-day lessons are unknown to us, and we have no idea what will be on the test.

Life is like that, too.  We know in advance that we really need to learn patience, for example, or humility, or perseverance.  We agree to enter a lifetime whose elements conspire to help us learn whatever qualities we aspire to.  The rest is up to us.  

Sure, once we get here, we can decide not to complete our agreement, just as some people skip classes while in school.  We do have free will.  The problem is that the lessons don't go away.  They will be there the next time around, and we will have to learn them, eventually, in some lifetime or other. 

Before birth into a given lifetime, we also make agreements with other Souls to learn complementary lessons.  One person is learning about freedom while another is learning about restraint.  One is learning the consequences of exerting power over others, while those others are learning the consequences of allowing others to have power over them.  

Mitch Albom illustrated this idea well in his book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven.  In the book, a fellow meets five people whose life paths intersected with his own, and he learns how his actions affected them, and how his own life was affected. 

Think about your own life and think about the people who have had an impact on your life so far.  What have you learned, or what are you learning from these people?  What issues did you or are you working out with them?  Why do you think you agreed to appear in each other's lives?   What do you think you have contributed to their lives?

Remember that the people to whom you are connected by the Invisible Red Thread are not necessarily related to you by blood.  They may be friends, co-workers, teachers, classmates, or neighbors.  They may include people you know very well or people you meet only briefly, as if by chance.  :-)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Forcing Kids to Say the Pledge of Allegiance

Photo credit:
Today is Sunday, November 24, 2013.

OK, this hits close to home.  Sioux Falls is only about 5 miles from where I live.  It's a very small city with a population of 159,908 as of 2012, located in extreme eastern South Dakota. 

On November 14, Fox News reporters Megyn Kelley and Trace Gallagher were doing a story about how the Sioux Falls School District had handled the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance. The school board had been asked by a group of local veterans to require recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance from all students in grades K-12.  The board agreed with the vets, and did vote to require the pledge in the elementary and middle schools, but they felt that the way high school classes are scheduled, the pledge would not be able to be said consistently, so they did not require it for high school students on a daily basis, but only for high school assemblies.  The vote was unanimous.  Previously, although the elementary students have always said the pledge, the middle and high school students have not done so since the 1970s, so the effect of the board's action was to expand the use of the pledge in Sioux Falls public schools.

This isn't what came across in Kelly and Gallagher's report on Fox News, however.  Kelly said, 'A school board there has decided there's just no time in the day to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, despite a desperate attempt from a local vets group to keep the pledge."   

"The veterans, by the way, are not giving up," chimed in Gallagher.  "They say they will continue fighting to see if they can get the pledge reinstated."

Sounds like the board actually refused to allow the pledge at all, doesn't it?  And that's what a lot of parents thought when they heard this report on Fox News.

You have to understand that this is a pretty conservative community, located in a conservative state.  And it's a relatively small community, where people know other people. And some people started to threaten the board members.  One person said they should be "lined up and shot."  And there are a lot of gun owners around here, too. 

So where did Fox get the story?  Well, it was reported on November 14 on KELO News and KDLT News, and on November 12, the day of the board meeting, on KSFY News.  The KELO and KSFY stories included photos of the actual board meeting.  The KDLT story did not.  

According to school board member Kent Alberty, the person whose name was on the byline, "...wasn't at the School Board meeting, didn't interview any members of the School Board, didn't interview the person who spoke to the School Board, but then the ran this story and didn't have in the story the fact that we actually expanded the policy."  Alberty didn't name names when he contacted KSFY to complain, but if he was referring to the person who wrote the KDLT story, he was talking about Breanna Fuss, who interviewed for her story the principal of a school in one of the small towns surrounding Sioux Falls.  She also included in her story, a statement that people who oppose requiring the pledge think that the Pledge of Allegiance is a feature "of totalitarian states, like Nazi Germany."  An incendiary statement, if there ever was one.

It isn't clear which local story Fox got their information from, but they obviously did not verify it very carefully, and they certainly framed it in a way that gave the wrong impression. As far as I'm concerned, this is "yellow journalism" at its worst.

The school district has acted to remove all personal information about the school board members from its web site, for safety reasons, and it has been surveying parents about their wishes in the matter.  It seems clear that at least 70% of parents would like the school to require the pledge up to grade 12.  If this is the case, the board will have to find a way to make the pledge a standard feature of the high school day. 

I'd like to point out, however, that the population of Sioux Falls is not as homogeneous as a lot of people think.  Since the year 2000, it has grown by nearly 30% – that's a lot.  Part of that growth can be traced to the expansion of Sanford Hospital and the Sanford Health Care facilities.  It's true that the population is overwhelmingly white, at 84% in 2009.  As of that same year, statistics show that 4.6% of the population of the city was foreign-born, and the vast majority of those foreign-born citizens of Sioux Falls came to the United States after 1990.  Many of them still don't speak English very well.  The statistics did not state why they came.

Some of them may be refugees or immigrants, but others are most likely just visitors, here to get a university degree or to work for a time in the Sanford Health facilities.  (I was hospitalized twice last November, and the vast, vast majority of the doctors who attended me were foreigners!) A number of them have chosen to bring their families to the United States while they are completing their studies or their jobs here, and they put their kids in Sioux Falls schools.

In the high schools for the 2012-2013 school year, there were 6,588 students, of whom 459 were classified as ELL (English Language Learners) and 82 were classified as "migrant," which generally means Spanish-speaking students from Mexico.  The ELLs and migrant students comprised only 8% of the high school population.  The total population for middle school was 4901, of whom 396 were ELL and 69 were migrant, a total of 9% non-native speakers of English.   In the elementary schools, the combined population was 11,397, of whom 1,277 were ELL and 168 were migrant, 12.6% of them non-native English speakers.

In other words, the number of kids whose first language is not English is increasing, although it's still hard to notice them in a crowd of mostly white kids.  In the future, the number of foreign-born students may actually increase.  

Think of it this way: If you or your spouse had a chance to study or work in Saudi Arabia, for example, and you decided to move the whole family there for the experience of living abroad for a short time, and if you put your kids in a Saudi school, what would happen if they required your kids to bow down to the Saudi king and recite a pledge of fealty to the king every day?  Would you make your kids do it?  Would you keep them in that school?  Or would you lobby the school to allow your kids to stand respectfully while other kids made their pledge?  

Here's the thing, one thing we hold very dear in this country is freedom, and that means the freedom not to be coerced into doing something.  That's the strength of this nation.  At events for adults, we don't force people to salute the flag or say the Pledge of Allegiance.  We don't force people to sing the national anthem. Isn't it OK if the kids are simply asked to stand respectfully while others are saying the pledge?  Do we have to force kids to say the pledge if they don't want to?  

It's certainly a good thing for kids to study the words to the Pledge of Allegiance so that they know what it is all about, and it's fine to give students time to say this each day, if their parents want them to.  But I really think it's not a good idea to force anyone to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  

And I think it's really important for national news agencies to get their facts straight.

And no, I don't think it's a good idea to line up the school board members and have them shot, just because you don't agree with them.  Sheesh!   :-(

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Half Empty or Half Full?

Today is Saturdray, November 23, 2013.

It doesn't matter if the glass is half empty or half full... Bee grateful that you have a glass, and there is something in it.

I've always heard that, when presented with the classic question of whether a glass is half-empty or half-full, a pessimist will declare that it is half-empty, whereas an optimist will say that it is half-full.  The idea of being grateful for the glass has never entered into a lot of people's heads, including mine, on occasion. 

While it is true that our attitude about life determines what we decide to make of our circumstances, it's also true that sometimes we simply have to accept life as it is, without having an opinion about it.  It's just experience, after all, and no matter what we decide to do, or indeed whether we make a decision or not, life is what it is, and something will happen. We will be given an opportunity to learn something from it, if we choose to do so, and at the end, we will be given a chance to make some sense of it all.

Some of our greatest realizations and achievements come at times in our lives when we might consider the glass to be half-empty, when we are struggling, when our problems are threatening to overwhelm us.  It's when we are feeling content that our impetus for growth is stunted.

The other day, a dear friend of mine asked her Facebook friends if they would share some turning points in their lives and how their choices brought them to where they are today.  I was amazed at all the experiences that were shared.  The turning points that people shared were all experiences that the vast majority of us might label as "negative," and we would most certainly describe them as "uncomfortable."  I have no doubt that, at the time, the people thought their glass was half-empty.  In fact, I think some of them thought their glass was completely empty!  

In story after story, these people described a situation in which they were required to confront fears, call on inner strength, accept responsibility for their actions, and transcend real and perceived boundaries in order to solve a problem or get out of a negative situation.  All are filled with gratitude for the experiences of their lives that have brought them to the place where they find themselves today.  :-)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Reining In the Power of the Filibuster

Today is Friday, November 22, 2013.

A filibuster is a type of parliamentary procedure where one person or a group of people try to delay or prevent a vote by means of unlimited debate.  The word comes from the Spanish term  filibustero, which originally came from the Dutch word vrijbuiter, meaning "privateer, pirate, or robber.  It was first used in its current legislative meaning in 1853.  It's interesting that the term originally meant "pirate or robber" because a filibuster essentially takes over the proceedings much like pirates taking over a ship, and it robs the people of the opportunity to have a proposal voted on.  Whether it is successful or not, a filibuster ends up wasting valuable time.

In U.S. federal government, the filibuster is currently used only used in the United States Senate, where the minority party has more rights than in any other legislative body in the world.  The filibuster was used in the House of Representatives only until 1942, when a permanent rule was created that limited the duration of debate. It is thought that the reason the House acted to curb the filibuster much sooner than the Senate is that the House of Representatives has grown so much larger than the Senate.  (The House has 435 seats with a varying number of representatives for each state, according to population, whereas the Senate has only 100 seats, exactly two seats for each state.) 

Currently, only thirteen states allow filibustering in their state legislatures.  Those states are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine (theoretically), Nebraska, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.  It must be noted that most of these are thought of as "red states," where conservatives are in the majority.

The notion of the filibuster was famously romanticized in popular culture by the 1939 movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, in which a simple country politician uses it to postpone a vote that has been rigged by corrupt politicians.

On November 21, 2013, a rule was finally created that limited the filibuster in the Senate, as well, and given the fact that filibusters have been used extensively during the first and second Obama administrations, many people feel that it is high time the Senate followed the House of Representatives' example.  

Until the rule-change, most major legislation needed to have a 60% majority (called a supermajority, to distinguish it from a simple majority of anything over 50%) in order to pass, because according to the Senate rules, the only way a filibuster could be ended was if "three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn," (in other words 60 out of 100 senators) were present to invoke "cloture," or a quick end to the debate. 

The vote to change the filibuster is known as the "nuclear option" by its opponents and the "constitutional option" by its proponents.  The Senate voted 52-48 for the change, which requires only a simple majority vote to end a filibuster of certain executive and judicial nominees, not including Supreme Court nominees. A three-fifths supermajority is still required to end filibusters on nominees for the Supreme Court. 

Why did Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid call for this vote?  If you look at the figures in today's graphic, you realize that the filibuster was used specifically to delay or abort presidential nominees an inordinate number of times since President Obama took office.  Reid's immediate concern was getting three of President Obama's nominations for U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit approved.  

The change means that if president's party holds a majority in the Senate, he or she is virtually assured of having nominations approved without obstruction.  If minority parties want to bring up objections to a nominee, they will have to bring them up fairly in debate, rather than rely on a filibuster to block the nomination.  What if the president's party is in the minority?  Simple: he can just veto any bill that comes across his desk. The Republicans are now saying that the voters can change the Senate majority from Democrat to Republican in the 2014 mid-term elections, but as I just noted, even if this happened, all President Obama would have to do is veto bills that were passed by a Republican majority. 

If the Republicans had not used the filibuster to excess in the last few years, I suspect that the Democrats would have simply considered it a "necessary evil" to maintain a system of checks and balances, but the obstructionist tactics of the opposition party have worn everyone's nerves pretty thin, and the current Congress has the lowest approval rating ever, at only 9% approval, among the American people. 

Many conservatives have been concerned that there are too many "activist" (read: liberal) judges are sitting in our courts.  The fact is that the federal judiciary is evenly balanced at the moment, with 390 GOP-appointed judges and 391 Democratic-appointed ones.  However, there are 93 vacancies, and since the Republicans finally made the Democrats angry enough to invoke the "nuclear option," they have done themselves out of a chance to keep that figure fairly evenly balanced.  

Those who are sick and tired of obstructionist tactics in Congress are heaving a giant sigh of relief right now that at least some things will not trigger a filibuster.  Only time will tell how the vote to limit the filibuster will affect Congress in the future, or whether the change will make it easier for some future dictator to take over the country.   :-/

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Meatless Mondays

Today is Thursday, November 21, 2013.

I was going to wait and post this on a Monday, but then I realized that if people really wanted to try this idea, they might want to take a few days to think it over.  

The Meatless Monday movement was begun in 2003 in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  In 2009, city governments began to launch Meatless Monday campaigns in which they urged their residents to refrain from eating meat at least once a week.  Ghent, Belgium had the honor of being the first city to do so, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, is the most recent addition to this group of forward-thinking communities. The campaign is active in 29 countries. 

But why Monday?  Couldn't it be any day of the week?  It could, actually, but in Western culture, Monday holds special significance as the beginning of the work week, and it is associated with the idea of making a fresh start.  If you've ever started a new diet or exercise routine on a Monday, you know what I'm talking about.   As well, there's something to be said for using a particular day of the week, every week, to set a new habit into our consciousness. 

Skipping meat just one day a week is not only good for you, it's also good for the health of the nation in which you live, and good for the planet, as well.  Studies show that you can live longer and reduce the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity by going meatless.  Besides, when you eat foods such as beans or peas instead of meat, you get more fiber, protein, folate (a water-soluble B vitamin), zinc, iron, and magnesium, and less fat.  

How does going meatless help the planet?  For one thing, you can reduce your carbon footprint.  Did you know that the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that the meat industry generates just about one-fifth of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions?  It's obvious by now that greenhouse gas emissions are accelerating climate change all over the planet.  Because the demand for meat continues to grow, at present, something has to be done, because it is critical that human beings seriously curb carbon emissions.  Sure, we can burn less fossil fuel, but efforts to do this depend a lot on governments and big business.  Right now, it's hard to force companies to burn less coal or produce more fuel-efficient cars.  Going meatless is a personal decision that can be made without running the idea through a contentious committee or submitting it to a vote.

Another way that going meatless helps the planet is that it reduces the amount of water usage for livestock.  Did you know that an estimated 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water go into a single pound of beef?  By contrast, soy tofu produced in California requires only 220 gallons of water per pound to produce.  What a difference! 

Going meatless also helps us reduce our fossil fuel dependence.  An estimated 40 calories of fossil fuel energy go into every calorie of feed lot beef in the United States.  Only 2.2 calories of fossil fuel energy are needed to produce one calorie of plant-based protein, such as beans or peas.

The link to the Meatless Monday campaign above leads to a great website where you can find a lot of information, such as meatless recipes, a list of restaurants that are participating in the Meatless Monday campaign, celebrities that are going meatless,  and plenty of articles on the benefits of going meatless.  In addition, if you want to start a campaign in your local area, there are downloadable toolkits and posters to help you.  On the site, you can sign up for an email newsletter or find a local contact in your country.  As well, there are links to the blogs of people who have pledged to go meatless on Mondays, and you can register your own blog or website as you take the Meatless Monday Pledge.  :-)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Rethinking Your Bottled Water

Today is Wednesday, November 20, 2013.

If you had to choose one or the other, would you consider water a "need" or a "right"?  

Be careful with this one, because the question is trickier than you think.  If you said it is a "need," you would be correct, because human life cannot exist without water.  But many of us, myself included, would say it is both.  Remember, however, that I said you could choose only one, not both.  There's a reason for this: when the question came up back in 2000 at the World Water Forum, it was hotly debated by some of the world's largest corporations, including Nestlé.  What do you think the president of the Nestlé company said?  

He wanted to call it a "need," but not a "right."  You see where this is going, don't you?  He's got his customers in his pocket.  He's telling them, "You need what we're selling, but you don't have the right to it for free.  You will have to buy it from us."  At that conference 13 years ago, water was, indeed, defined as a "need," and that's why the president of the company tells people that they have no "rights" to water.

Do you drink Nestlé Pure Life bottled water?  Or do you drink one of the many other brands produced by the same company?  You don't think so, you say?  If you drink any of the following, you are drinking water produced by Nestlé or a subsidiary of Nestlé.  

The list includes Acqua Panna, Al Manhal,  Alaçam, Aqua Spring, Arrowhead, Baraka, Buxton, Cachaantun, Calistoga, Carola, Contrex, Charmoise, Ciego Montero, Cristalp, Da Shan YunNan Spring, Dar Natury, Deep Spring, Deer Park, Eco de los Andes, Erikli, Frische Brise, Fürst Bismarck, Gerber, Ghadeer, Glaciar, Henniez, Hépar, Ice Mountain, Klosterqulle, Korpi, La Vie, Levissima, Los Portales, Minéré, Montclair, Naleczowianka, Nestlé Aquarel, Nestlé Pure Life, Nestlé Selda, Nestlé Vera, Nestlé Wellness, Neuselters, Ozarka, Pejo, Perrier, Petropolis, Plancoët, Poland Spring, Porvenir, Quézac, Recoaro, S. Pellegrino, S. Bernardo, Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, San Narciso, Sainte-Alix, Saint-Lambert, Sohat, Springs, Theodora, Valvert, Viladrau, Vittel, Water Line, and Zephyrhills.
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My brand is Ice Mountain, and I thought it had nothing to do with Nestlé.  In fact, I was congratulating myself that I wasn't drinking Dasani, bottled by the CocaCola Company, or Aquafina, bottled by PepsiCo.  (So much for feeling superior.)

So if your bottled water brand is listed above, do you know much about the Nestlé company or its business practices?  Well, I didn't, either, but there are some stories out there that are very disturbing.  Maybe you've already heard about this, and more power to you.  If so, you beat me to the punch on this one.

Basically, what the company is doing in many different areas of the world is draining groundwater, using it to make their bottled water, then forcing people to buy their own water back. Nestlé has moved into Pakistan and has been using up the water supply, rendering entire areas of the country uninhabitable just so they can sell mineral-enriched water to those who can afford to buy it.  The poor people, who can't afford bottled water, have to get their water from wells, which are now running dry, and their children are getting sick because of it.  

One example: the residents of the village of Bhati Dilwan have seen their water table sink hundreds of feet since Nestlé moved into the area.  The only water the poor people have to drink is a foul-smelling sludge.  This isn't only happening in Pakistan, however.  It's happening all over the world, particularly in third-world countries, where the vast majority of people are much too poor to afford bottled water.

Did you know that dirty water kills more children in the world than AIDS, malaria, war, and traffic accidents combined?  This situation needs to change, and fast.  Nestlé's business practices must be exposed.  It's fine to sell bottled water to people if that's what they want to buy, but to deprive the world's poorest people of a basic need for survival is absolutely unacceptable.

What can you do?  

1. Here are some more articles for you to read. 

Nestlé: The Global Search for Liquid Gold

Poisoning the Well?  Nestlé Accused of Exploiting Water Supplies for Bottled Brands

The Story: Bottled Life  (This is about a documentary film that has been made.  It is available on iTunes right now.)

2. Consider signing a petition here or here or here or hereEach of these petitions is about water from a different source.  You can use Google to find more petitions.  Try typing in "petition against Nestle" and see what you get.

3.  Look at the list of bottled waters given above and see if your favorite is on the list.  If it is, find another brand that you can live with.  :-/

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Ohio Walmart Holds a Thanksgiving Food Drive for Its Own Employees

Photo credit: Our Walmart
Today is Tuesday, November 19, 2013.

A Walmart store in Canton Ohio is organizing a behind-the-scenes Thanksgiving food drive for its employees.  In the workers' area there are several large plastic storage bins, as pictured, with a sign that reads, "Please donate food items here so Associates in Need can enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner."  The drive has been held for the past few years, according to Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg.  Last year's drive benefited 12 people, who were nominated by their co-workers to receive the food.

I think this is a great idea, and it does truly show that there are people out there who care for one another.  On the other hand, it really does play up the fact that the vast majority of Walmart employees work only part-time, for minimum wage.  Who can afford to live on that kind of salary?  

Lundberg seemed offended by the fact that the food drive is being reported by the media in a way that casts aspersions on Walmart, but the fact remains that Walmart is notorious for its low wages, lack of benefits, and refusal to allow workers to unionize.  Meanwhile, the company earned $15.7 billion in profits last year, alone.

If Walmart were to pay its employees better and give them basic benefits, particularly an employee health benefit package, maybe they would be able to meet "unexpected life events" a bit more readily, and they wouldn't need a food drive so they could afford to have Thanksgiving dinner.  :-/

Monday, November 18, 2013

How a Gratitude Journal Works

Today is Monday, November 18, 2013.

A lot of people from different spiritual paths have been posting what they are grateful for on Facebook lately.  Maybe it's because they are gearing up for Thanksgiving, but I truly hope that they will continue the practice after the holidays are over. 

What's the secret of a gratitude journal?  It's simple.  It's all about focus.  In this physical world, you get what you focus on.  If you are focused on your fears and worries, you will get what you are afraid of or worried about.  If you are focused on love, you will get love in return.  And if you focus on gratitude, you will start looking for more things to be grateful for – and you will find them.

Yesterday I decided to download an application for my relatively new iPhone that would allow me to find my phone if it were stolen.  I could sync the iPhone to my Mac, and look for my phone using the Mac – or I could look for a stolen computer with my phone.  But I realized once I had downloaded this application that my computer's operating system was out of date, and incompatible with the iPhone app.  

Fortunately, Apple had released its newest operating system (OS), called Mavericks, as a free download.  I decided to take advantage of this.  It took the application a long time to download (very rare, these days).  I thought for a while that it was crashing, because the text box where I normally type in my Apple ID and password, were curiously blank.  There was a blue "OK" button in the box, but the box had no text, and the blue button had no "OK" on it.  I realized that if I waited for a few moments, that I could type in my password, anyway, and the download finally started.  Then I had to install the application, and that took a long time, too.  

Finally, I restarted the computer and logged in – only to find that all my files were gone!  This is a very rare event for a Mac user when upgrading the OS.  I've heard more than one PC owner crying that his or her files were lost or overwritten, but Mac owners don't generally have this problem.  I found the the files for my novel were still intact in Google Drive, but I had not backed up anything else there.   That was very stupid of me. 

The thing that upset me the most was that I had just completed a slide show on PowerPoint about how to read the hiragana syllabary of Japanese.  I had painstakingly typed in the hiragana characters for the presentation, and had used my favorite graphics application for the image files.  One of the first things I realized was that the graphics application I had depended on for years would no longer work on the new OS.  So I went to the Apple Store and bought a graphics application that might prove useful.  Then I spent hours figuring out how to use it so that I could remake the presentation.

I finally decided to close what I had done and check in on Facebook.  Before I could do that, however, a dialog box announced that there were some important applications that needed to be upgraded, so I started those upgrades.  When they were finished, my computer had to be turned off and restarted, and I had to log back onto the computer.  This is when I discovered that I'd inadvertently created two new IDs.  I had thought I couldn't use the old ID, but now I saw that I could, too, use it.  So I logged into the older ID and guess what: there were my files!   

The next thing I did was try to delete the two newer IDs that I made.  Well, that took quite a while to accomplish.  

I'm grateful that I found my files, and I'm grateful that I have learned a lot of new things since yesterday, but I sure did spend the day differently from the way I had envisioned it.  I'm also glad that so many of my friends have been posting what they're grateful for, because they have reminded me to be grateful, a well.  After all, I would never have learned some new ways to do old tasks if I hadn't upgraded my OS.  

Just as we have to learn new things when we upgrade to a new operating system on a computer, we also have to learn new ways to solve our problems in life when we wish to move forward.   I'm grateful for an experience that reminded me of this.  :-)