Monday, September 30, 2013

Nature or Nurture

Nature versus nurture usually refers to the impact of one's genetic load versus environmental factors on the development of personality and behavior. While both are undoubtedly partners in the tango, my vote goes to nurture as the leading man, or woman if she's a dominatrix, in the rotating mirrored ball of existence.

Surely Hitler must have been born with some pretty feisty genes, but had he not been rejected by a Parisian art academy and haughtily dismissed by fellow painters in Paris, WWII might have averted. Hitler did a jig in front of the Eiffel Tower when his troops invaded Paris and settled in for the duration. He could not contain his glee; he now owned the city that had once snubbed him - truly a sore loser, this mad conqueror.

And then there is the story of Ted Kaczynski, the Unibomber, with a last name as phonetically twisted as his mind. He was skipped two grades in elementary school and entered Harvard at age 16; this age differential, which began in childhood, immediately insured his status as a social outcast. 

Ted was also unwittingly subjected to an experiment by the CIA on gifted students while attending the almighty Harvard; in the guise of studying young genius, the government tormented these young elite to see how well their stellar brains could withstand pressure, in a shocking case of conspiracy, the university played along. Not a good recipe for awkward Ted, who had been cast as the outsider geek since a young age. It is no mystery that his bomb targets were people in the educational field, as his tolerance for ridicule morphed into murderous payback.

And then the opposite scenario: kids from the belly of the beast, the worst slums of Venezuela, are taught to play instruments in the now famed Venezuelan Youth Orchestra. Instead of being left on the streets to a life of hopelessness, with nothing left to lose and at great risk, these young ones are given worth, substance and salvation.

Or the case of my father, who was sired by a garment worker with a third grade education and survived thanks to the Great Depression welfare programs. When dad graduated from high school, his father found him looking at for hire ads in the newspaper. His father informed him that he was not going to work but rather go college, so that he could be "...better than him." Years later, when my father had proved his mettle in the business world, he was the glow in his dad's eyes.

For better or worse, in all the above cases it was a human being(s) whose decisions sealed a fate or fates, whose ripples spread outward into unfathomable dimensions. Every action counts, large and small...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Top Money, Top Dog

Wolf Blizter of CNN posed a question to a few million watchers: what if Tiger Woods, world renowned golf star, was given the option of either being remembered as the highest paid player in history, or alternately, the number #1 top ranked pro of all times?

The origins of golf date back to 15th century Scottland but as official record keeping only began in the late 19th century, one would need to consult the akashic records to purvey the top talent of former eras, then adjust for historical inflation. As current data keepers would not deem this a reliable inquiry, Woods could never really know the truth of his status amongst the gene pool of golf prodigies over the ages.

That aside, if one accepts current data from the number crunchers, the fame versus money question is quite interesting but hard to answer without knowing certain facts. 1) What is Tiger's net worth and is he satisfied or does he want more? 2) How much has as the richest player made to date, and what is his earnings forecast until he reaches an age too old to swing the club mightily? 3) Is Tiger as  competitive with the balance sheets of other pros as he is on the green?

For the sake of argument, let's assume that Woods already has as much money as he wants, which is an iffy assumption to begin with. It seems that money is like heroine; the more you have, the more you want - as if a fortress of gold can secure one against the calamities of life, including death.

If Woods perceives that he has "enough," then the logical conclusion would be that #1 top player of all times is the prize beyond measure. But this too is a slippery slope, as sports players tend to best those who came before them; once a goal has been achieved, it naturally sets the bar for the next one to leap over.

People often get caught between two alternatives because that's what they are given as choices. The rare being, independent in spirit, will realize there is a third choice outside of the box, where the boundaries delineated by others, fitted to cover one's own playing field, don't apply.

What if Woods chose not to compare himself to others, whether it be for the most money or the best scores ? What if he simply played golf because that's what he loves - following his path wherever it may lead?

When we simply cultivate what is uniquely ours, and develop our own authentic self, then there is no such thing as better or worse and we are simply worth what we think we are worth. Nothing more and nothing less. 

Given this truism, the possibility of self-love could be realized. So if one thinks the choice lies between money or fame, how about lifting the lid off the box and escaping into a new world of possibility: how much self-love could we generate in this one lifetime?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Dead Man's Earning Power

It was recently reported that Michael Jackson's family is suing for almost 2 billion dollars in money lost from future earnings that he would have made had he still been dancing his tootsies off on stage, or crooning into a studio microphone that would digitize his voice into infinity and beyond.

The scofflaw doctor who injected him with a lethal dose of sleepy-time is already doing his time in prison. He closed his Beverly Hills practice to dope Jackson on his world tour for a mere $150,000 a month. Therefore, he can't be fleeced for anything from the Jacksons or AEG, as certainly his legal fees far surpassed his salary, which he never even received.

Actually, Dr. Whatshisname should take his lead from the Jackson family and sue them and AEG for loss of future earnings as a would-have-been Beverly Hills doctor had he not-have-been a Michael Jackson tour doctor. Not to speak of his pain and suffering for this fatal error in judgement and lack of doctor smarts. After all, how much fun can it be for a man accustomed to Armani suits and a clientele of A, B, C, and D list stars to be in a Federal pen?

Please, people of the legal world. Have you all gone insane for even hearing this case of the Jackson family? Didn't MJ have a life insurance policy and if not, wouldn't that have been his oversight or that of his management? Is it the tour company's fault that he was a drug addict, an open secret in the music industry long before his "come back tour" which ended up being his "bye bye pre-tour movie?"

And just because he blew all his previous earnings on schlock for Neverland and lawyer's fees for little boy toy accusers, whose fault is that? If we all have karma, and we are the prime movers of this karma, who can be at fault for the mess left in his wake except himself, unless one wants to blame his parents, the usual suspects.

I really do wish MJ's children well, as they are innocent players. And it must be truly painful for his relatives to lose a son, a brother, a cousin, an uncle. But the greed-fueled desperation of the Jackson elders is the very same greed they showed when they pushed a hugely talented and very small boy, little Michael, into the spotlight for the fulfilled prophecy of big bucks. The neurosis of that world is what curtailed his future earnings and not the profit motive of AEG which is, after all, a thriving business American style - all about the money, not the honey.

If this is the trend, then Vincent Van Gogh's descendants should sue every art auction house, collector and museum in the world for the future earnings he did make, which never went to his namesakes, let alone the poor devil himself. Now that would be fair.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Life As Oxymoron

For those unfamiliar with the word "oxymoron," it is a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction. For nascent etymologists:

Oxymoron is derived from the 5th century Latin "oxymoron", which is derived from the Ancient Greek: ὀξύς oxus “sharp, keen” + μωρός mōros "dull, stupid", making the word itself an oxymoron. -Mac Pro Dictionary (Fare thee well, Daniel Webster.)

The designation human being, taken in its entirety, is an oxymoron. People frequently say, "He's only human," inferring that a troubling action or frailty stems simply from the hazards of being a two-legged. But the second part of the moniker "being" infers something far more life affirming: non-neurotic, laid-back, relaxed, alert, calm, aware, in the moment, chill, being as opposed to doing, and so forth and so on.

The most extreme cases of 'human frailties in action' are psychopaths who live normal lives 97% of time, often with nice families in suburban houses, who have a part time job as a serial killer and/or rapist. Unless one gets caught and goes to jail, it is also a nonpaying gig.

And then we have sociopaths such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Pinochet, Idi Amin and other infamous characters. They committed atrocious crimes against humanity, yet were kind to their dogs, cats, plants, children, mistresses and wives, usually in that order.

Yet one needn't be an oxymoronic aberration where kindness co-inhabits the same body as murderous activity. When I was young, single and making the rare trip to the supermarket, I observed with horror mothers screaming at their toddlers as they whined and reached for candy or any other bright colored package designed to elicit the reaction of a child: "Gimme gimme."

If the child didn't respond to the common command, "No!" or "Be quiet!" or stoney silence (the passive aggressive technique), next came the whack, luckily to the backside and not on the other cheek. The more the little one screamed, the more the whacks kept coming, and the more I condemned those cruel mothers.

And then I became a mother myself, at the supermarket, waiting impatiently for a two-year old who stood transfixed in front of a shelf load of goodies or cheap plastic toys of vivid hues. After 30 seconds of patience I would descend on my child with an emphatic, "No!" or "Be quiet!," having learned that telling a child that sugar or red dye are not beneficial for his/her health is like telling a rock to stand up and do the boogie woogie. Although I never smacked any of my kids in the market (and only twice in private) an outside observer might have seen me dragging them forcibly away from the candy shelf towards the produce section...and deemed me a monster mom.

Everyone can recall times of sadness, times of joy, times of rage and times of calm; times of fear, times of hope, times of depression and times of euphoria. All of these contradictory emotions are a configuration of atoms that form the paraxoical human being.

Like the word oxymoron itself, our life is a whirling blender of ups, downs and upside downs. Perhaps that is why Oneness stands as the prized state of consciousness; when all the contradictions inherent in the human being are resolved into a whole, unified field of energy; a state where one feels complete, focussed, energized and caring.

The grand finale is the oxymoron of all oxymorons: every second that we are alive, we are dying. This downer is also an upper; gratitude for whatever time is allotted to us mortals can be the very thing that keeps us in forward motion, despite all evidence to the contrary.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Health Uncared

In the United States, government-assisted health care for all ages has been centuries in the making. In a mystifying act of governance, our forefathers deemed it important to insure free education for their citizens, but not medical care. Excuse me sires, but if one is sick, injured or severely disabled, one can't go to school. Or work. Or take care of the ones in the beginning and the others at the end.

Why didn't anyone figure this out when our government was cobbled together? Maybe G. Washington, T. Jefferson,  J. Adams and other power brokers had a terrible fear of leeches, bloodletting, or hack saws, thus avoiding the subject by the sin of omission.

Now that we have anesthesia and antibiotics, it would have been logical for a smart Congressman or woman to vote for free universal health care, at least by the end of the 19th or 20th century. As it stands now, Obamacare resembles a Lego construction executed by a spatially challenged five year old, or 64 year old for that matter. Because... insurance conglomerates such as Blue Shield are hell bent on keeping their huge profits, despite the newly passed universal health care bill. In California, state-of the-art hospitals will be considered "out of network," and only a small roster of doctors will be considered "in network" and be reimbursed at reduced fees.

The right-wing, a.k.a. the highjacked moderate Republican Party fears that government-funded healthcare would make us a socialist country, and we all know that God is anti-socialist and for sure a virulent anti-communist. So while neo-Nero's fiddle as southern states burn and northern states freeze, we better look into grandma's herbal remedy book and grow herbs in pots, or start a leech farm. And moonshiners, don't forget your craft, cause when doc gets out the hacksaw, we're gonna need some powerful brew to ignore the sound of grinding bones.

If this sounds medieval, so is the thinking of big business and the congresspeople whose offices they have bought. An enlightened society takes care of the basic needs of its citizens while granting individuals the freedom to acquire "more," should "more" be desired as the fruits of their labor.

Call me a hopeless dreamer. Often I do feel hopeless. But dreams are born of imagination and new worlds unfold at the behest of our invisible wild side. So as mankind gallops across the centuries, may the good dreams manifest on earth and may the nightmares vanish with the light of dawn. That is the prayer for today.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Different Shit, Same Day

For every thought, deed or action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Welcome to life in the dualistic, karmic world. Therefore, the September 20th blog "Same Shit, Different Day" sits perfectly in a mirrored universe.

The thought du jour comes from a memory that haunts me when it haunts me, imprinted on my brain thanks to the all-powerful medium of film. In a documentary about the Holocaust, an elderly female survivor recalls a beautiful spring day in the French countryside, home to the Catholic boarding school she was attending. The flowers were in bloom, the blue sky was filled with puffy angelic clouds, and the tall grasses were waving in a soft spring breeze at the edge of a virgin forest.

She loved this dewy morning; as a Jew being passed off as Catholic, she felt safe from the human carnage that raged around her oasis - until a convoy of Nazi soldiers roared up the circular drive to her school. Some local rat scum devil had reported her.

Surviving Auschwitz but without a family to which she could return, she exhibited a rare survival quality that enabled her to start new life without staring vacant eyes. What struck me most were the visuals of her former chateau-school, still intact and filmed 50 years later on a beautiful spring day. Global warming had not yet ruined spring in the French countryside.

How could such terrible events take place under sunny skies and warm breezes, Mother Nature at her best? Why didn't the earth cry out, rumble and shake, or hurl bolts of lightening from her thunderous heights? And how could she continue radiating her beauty when the creatures inhabiting her body were so behaving so heinously?

Looking on the bright side, us human predators may kill each other and try to kill Mother Earth, but she will survive and rejuvenate long after our species has passed on. The powers of life on planet earth are mighty...and if we learn to tune in to her magnificence as she floats through a vast galaxy, we too could shine like the sun and bloom like the flowers on a spring day.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Neurotheology is a field of study that measures the impact of spiritual/religious practices such as prayer, meditation and positive thinking on the human brain.

The Dalai Lama has long been interested in bridging Western science and Eastern philosophy in order to find a common language. Smart thinking. He regularly gathers leading scientists for symposiums, not to proselytize Tibetan Buddhism, but rather to find a way to translate what is meaningful and beneficial into a Western framework that can easily be assimilated.

Despite an atheist background, I have been a practitioner of meditation and prayer for 45 years. Thus, when I received an email spam that made it through the firewalls and filters into my inbox (reminding me of the sperm that gets the egg) with "neurotheology" in its title, I restrained my semi-automatic delete impulse and pressed open.

After a hearty introduction from Dr. So and So in the opening video, he goes on to tell us cyberstudents that there are 47 positive physical results from the power of prayer.

Wow! I can't wait to listen to the rest of the 15 minute video to hear about all the wonderful things meditation can do for me -  if only I did it longer and more often. But then an alarm bell goes off as the doctor adds, "...but there is one prayer pitfall that can make you sick!" Having just recovered from cancer, this particular factoid might be a critical one; have I been praying the wrong way all these years, horror of horrors?

Pen in hand, ready to write down all the life-saving information about prayer, a unexpected big downer comes crashing into my proverbial head. I have to buy his friggin newsletter for "pennies a day" (which adds up to $50 a month BTW), to find out how to radically improve the human condition.

Do-gooders do have to make a living, but the rest of the online video kept repeating the phrase, "click on the orange button that will appear at the bottom on the page" to order said newsletter; a non-stop marketing ploy meant to wear down even the most resistant consumer.

Me thinks, if he were for real, wouldn't he just tell us the 47 benefits and more importantly, warn us about the one prayer that will make us sick, just because he cares? And then perhaps peddle his wares if we want more in depth instruction?

One of my most beloved advisers Steven C. used to say, "Ah so, this too we must accept."

In Steven's memory, today I accept the fact that Dr. So and So is a such and such, and determine that my "pennies a day" will go to a cause more worthy than his taunting cyber-dragnet for small change that adds up to big change.

Monday, September 23, 2013

International Peace Day Upended

September 21st was International Peace Day. Perhaps the founder of this day purposefully chose the Fall Equinox -  a day when light and dark are in balance, a detente.

Apparently, 4% of the world population are aware of International Peace Day, at least thinking about being peaceful if not being peaceful. As the origins of an action begin with a thought, maybe a smidgeon of people on this planet really did contemplate non-violence on that noble day.

Unfortunately, Somalian jihadists were not contemplating the meaning of International Peace Day when, on that very same date,  they massacred 70 plus non-Muslims: they actually checked religious affiliation before pulling the trigger, sparing those who could recite a seminal Islamic prayer. The killing field was an upscale mall in the Nairobi suburbs; innocents were gunned down in what now seems to be a copycat crime -  mass murder of civilians with AK47's in spots where daily life takes place. 

Apparently, the gunmen are part of the 96%.

Global citizens rightly look upon this act with horror; it was even the top headline in the New York Times. (Farewell, Wiener texting updates). After all, who can't relate to a leisurely trip to the shopping mall, particularly if you are an American consumer or the citizen of a country where those steel and concrete temples of materialism have taken root.

In another scenario, on International Peace Day a few years ago, the Taliban were approached and after some negotiation, agreed to let aid workers into areas of conflict, promising to stop the killing for that one day. The result - the humanitarians in the region were safe to travel to formerly off limit regions to dispense aid. The Taliban kept their word and thousands of children were vaccinated, with long term positive results.

The Afghani scenario is more puzzling to me than the Nairobi mall murders. It is impossible to truly understand the mindset of a person(s) capable of gunning down random humans as fast as possible for "an idea," but even more weird is that one could be a killer and say, OK, for one day I will let peace reign and then I will go back to slaughtering.

How is it possible for a Taliban fighter to grant humanitarian aid for one day in the spirit of International Peace Day but decide that it is only a good idea for 24 hours? Wouldn't one think that someone capable of this generosity would feel so good about it that they would extend that olive branch a little longer, and then a little longer, and then a little longer until peace was a lasting one?

Or perhaps it is an exercise in cruel power; man playing god and choosing who will live and who will die by his will and his will alone. In the case of the Somali jihadists who spared Muslims in the Nairobi mall, and the Taliban who granted peace for a day, apparently they thought Allah was granting them the power to make these choices.

For those who believe in life after death, or heaven and hell, perhaps there is some solace in knowing that all these killers most surely will go to hell. But for those who feel that every moment counts, may there be a groundswell of light, a tidal wave of good, that washes over the world as each one of us decides to throw our weight into 'compassion in action.'

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Slithering Man

Unless one has been living on a planet in a distant galaxy, it is common knowledge that the internet is now used for matchmaking. Entrepreneurs are getting quite creative - or desperate. Apart from Christian Mingle, which advertises every three minutes on TV with "God's match for you," there are sites to meet fellow wine lovers, Jews, gays, the over 50's set, married people looking for a fling, professionals making over $100,000 grand a year, ad nauseum. You name it, you'll find it.

A lonely policewoman, tired of the macho guys back at home, decided to seek out her soul mate in cyberspace. From the heart of Africa, she found solace in a man from Ghana, who, like all internet Romeos, presented himself as handsome, kind, rich and especially in love with this women who responded to his foray into ladyland.

They actually had a stimulating exchange of emails, and when he proposed to her, she arranged to go to Ghana. Now remember, the woman is a tough gunslinger who knows the racket. Not a shrinking violet, she plans to call his bluff, with only a sliver of hope that he might be 'real.' Sounds like jolly fun.

Not expecting the guy to show up, she arranged a meeting at her hotel once she landed in questionable territory. Most people would chastise her for taking this gambit too far, but as a cop, in all likelihood she had a concealed weapon on her and good aim to boot -  a decided advantage under the circumstances.

Much to her surprise - or dismay - the fellow did show up. But he didn't waltz into her room as the dashing prince of computer lore. He dragged himself in by his arms, his paralyzed body lifelessly following muscular upper limbs. A childhood victim of polio and without the means to buy a motorized wheelchair, let alone one powered by human effort, he demonstrated quite a lot of  willpower and determination.

Now remember, this man is capable of concocting a conversation so enticing, so loving, that said woman flew halfway around the world to check it out. Within that crippled body was a human being - yes, capable of an internet scam but also endowed with enough hope, heart and/or courage to come clean with the real deal.

The lady's knee-jerk and final response was, "Go slither back under the rock you came from." Then she slammed the door behind the soles of his feet as he exited.

This cautionary tale raises a most important question for you and only you to decide: what was real and what was a lie in this scenario?

 As for me, the rock tumbler of life is hurling stones at my heart.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Love Thy Lama

This title does not refer to a four-legged creature indigenous to the Andes. That would be a llama, although I love them too, especially for the endearing way they spit their little llama words and look down at me with big black googly eyes.

The lama to which I refer is a teacher of Buddhism, Tibetan style. Some things Tibetan might seem mysterious or incomprehensible to the western mind, and not for all tastes. However, my guide speaks English, gleaned from the hippies he met in Nepal during the 1960's. A respected teacher of Buddhism, he nonetheless found a kinship in these liberated children of materialism. Formerly and forever a hippy myself, we get along famously.

Some say that a spiritual teacher is meant to challenge you, to bust your egotistical chops and stretch you beyond your limits until the bonds of self-serving mind are broken. To me, this sounds like a medieval torture chamber and nothing to sign up for with unbounded glee.

A real teacher, like a real friend, is someone who cares about your well being and by inference, has something to teach you; a guide who knows the path and has a light to illuminate the way. However, unlike the attitude of gratitude culturally ingrained in our Eastern brethren, deep devotion to a spiritual teacher is not a particularly American tradition, as our country was founded by Protestants. Protest-ants. 

And then there are proud folks like my father; he foamed at the mouth when I first adopted a guru in 1971. (Guru means "dispeller of darkness and revealer of light.") The first time daddy saw me bow to my guru, a flash of red light literally flew out of his eyeball - 'seeing red' and mad as hell. He saw my gesture of respect as "grovelling" and unbefitting an Ivy League college graduate who should have been a lawyer and not a devotee.

Blind faith is a self-descriptive term, and not a mindset to be emulated. On the other hand, loving one's lama/guru is founded on a knowingness; once one has chosen a teacher wisely, the natural outcome produces a thankful quality transcending the norm. 

A true spiritual teacher, with whom one has a deep connection, can be a savior of sorts...saving one from ignorance, hatred, jealousy and a myriad of other unattractive emotions/behaviors. While having a guru is not for everyone, to the naysayers who scoff at the idea, I would respond that it is like a good marriage. Hard to find, but when you've got it, respect it, cherish it, and love it with all your heart.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Same Shit, Different Day

My brain is normally abuzz with all sorts of thoughts. Some of the more creative two-leggeds (a Native American phrase not meant to ostracize people with less than two limbs but to distinguish us from animals) spew forth countless inventions and creative designs, most of which are never produced in the real world. I only have one genius invention rattling around my brain and anyway, no technology on the planet comes close to making it possible. Otherwise, my thoughts tend to run more in the philosophical vein than in the production vein.

There are so many things to write about, talk about, think about, but today the only thing that comes to me is something a friend of mine once said when asked how she was faring: "Same shit, different day."

Perhaps my malaise is prompted by the news that House Republicans have voted to gut Obamacare of funding, an insurance plan that is the only hope for people like me and countless others who are in robust health but have a history of a toenail fungus or some such threatening icky thing. And heaven help the truly sick or injured ones.

Or perhaps my unenthusiastic reaction upon leaving dreamland is due to the California sun disappearing behind a mist of gray fog, a boon to overheated Angelenos and their plant friends but a curse on my mood. 

Or the news that a lady in New York took off two days of work to stand in line for fourteen hours outside the Apple Megastore to get the new iPhone 5s, only to find out that they were fresh out of her fetish. Undaunted, she left for another Apple store location, promising to sleep for a few days after her ordeal was over. Duh, that means four missed days of work. Let's hope her job isn't airport security at JKF.

Has the world gotten even crazier today than it was yesterday?

Germane to this question is an answer given by a Tibetan lama during one of his talks in the USA. He had been meditating in a cave for over twelve years in the depths of Tibet when a villager interrupted his life-style to tell him the Chinese were coming for him shortly. He had been recognized as an incarnation of a great lama at the age of five and when the Chinese got word of it, they nailed his little hands to a wooden school desk. Having had this childhood experience, he understood that being reacquainted with the invaders would not be a good thing and escaped over the mountains into India, a country that welcomes Tibetan refugees.

During his teaching, a member of the audience remarked that things were getting worse and worse every day in this age of Kali Yuga (the Dark Ages in Americanese). The lama retorted that turmoil, strife, war, injustice, murder, theft, torture, the annhiliation of entire cultures has always been happening somewhere on this planet. 

Plus les choses changent, plus elles restent pareilles - translated as - "same shit, different day." Sounds more elegant in French but us Americans get right to the point, except when we don't.

Expectations are a dangerous thing, so lest anyone think that the world is all bad, or the world is all good, or the world is sometimes good and sometimes bad, one things is for sure. Having a pre-ordered menu for what life is meant to serve us is a recipe for disappointment that leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Better to wake up, in every sense of the word, to possibility of the moment. Then who knows what the day might bring? It's up to us to choose.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Karl Rove and the Pope

These days, humanitarianism is the only religion worth practicing in our global village. However, the globalism to which I refer does not apply to mall developers who advocate branding our planet with Starbucks, McDonalds, Walmarts, and Radio Shacks in every mega-complex east and west of the Mississippi.

I am an anthropologist by training. Thus, I cherish cultures for their unique habits, costumes, languages, headgear (especially of the beaded and feathered kind), and the myriad of other doodads that make people magnificently unique - and OK, their religious beliefs too. Note: I say "beliefs," as opposed to direct experience with an All Powerful Something-or-other.

Propagating humanitarian philosophies hit a basic level that does not negate individuality. Universal values such as human compassion, empathy and a responsibility for one's fellow wo-man are basic to our nature and transcend all differences. At the core of all varieties of human expression, there is a river that runs deep: smiles are universal. So is caring for the young and in the best case scenarios the sick and the old.

And this is where strange bedfellows - Karl Rove and the Pope - have gotten my vote today, for the first time in my own life on planet ocean. Yes, today Karl Rove chastised his fellow House Republicans, the monsters of his own creation, for wanting to shutdown the government unless Obamacare is revoked. He wants to keep this new healthcare law, eons in the making and a godsend to many of us. Wonder of wonders, what new humanitarian world have I woken up to this morning?

Perhaps Karl Rove has a family member with cancer, or someone who takes blood pressure medication and sleeping pills when they fly to another time zone - which DISQUALIFIES THEM FROM HEALTH INSURANCE the way it stands now, until Obamacare is enacted.. Could it be that some bizarre stroke of personal compassion has slipped into his heart?

And then the Pope, who is a refreshing change from a long line of bloodsuckers that twisted Christ's message of universal Love into a church of bigoted doctrines. Today, the Pope chastised his clergy for focusing too much on rules and regulations which disenfranchise a large number of the faithful, including the homosexual and the ones who want to control how many children they have in this dangerously overpopulated planet.This new breed of religious leader also gets my vote; one who cares more for his flock than outdated rules set in place for god knows what nefarious political/economic reasons over the centuries.

I applaud anyone who can evolve and change with the "what is," to see and understand that we need to live together in order to survive together. So today, I tip my invisible hat to the most unlikely candidates for exhibiting at least a smidgeon of common sense...Karl Rove and the Pope.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Empathy Not For Humans Only

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, one of the most basic prayers is that all sentient beings achieve enlightenment - sentient beings connoting anything that has a face or demonstrates an aliveness in any way, shape or form. (Let's hear it for the plant kingdom too.)

Although enlightenment is a spiritual goal that is mentioned frequently in sacred texts and in the vernacular, I have no idea what that means. We can talk about enlightened activity, and in that sense one could postulate that it means compassion, love, wisdom, good acts, and so on. But according to the great teachers of the ages, the last obstacle to enlightenment is the desire to become enlightened - possibly because that desire implies an emphasis on the 'self,' which is always a sticking point if one wants to claim that his or her motivation is selfless or unconditional.

Lest this discussion turn into an exercise in theological masterbation, I will cut to the chase. Apparently, mice, as well as chimps, pigs, elephants, humans, etc. demonstrate empathy towards others in distress, usually members of their own species - although You Tube provides us with numerous examples of interspecies loving-kindness. (My favorite is the hundred year old tortoise who adopted a baby hippo after a tsunami of historic proportions swept them downriver, away from their usual hangouts.)

I have never eaten a mouse for dinner, but certainly cows, pigs, fish, chickens and many a plant have found their way into my cooking pot. Now that I know that virtually every sentient being demonstrates empathy, the logical conclusion is that a bevy of other noble qualities inhabit their brains as well.

Really, do we want to eat someone or something that cares about their fellow beings and possibly even us? (Cultures who eat dogs, beware of an especially negative karma.) My recent aversion to chowing down animal flesh/fish, accompanied by a kinder, gentler attitude towards grains and vegetables, now makes sense. Some subconscious mysterious message filtering into my conscious brain informs me that one should not eat their own.

At the very least, if we continue to eat our friends that share Mother Earth with us, it behooves us to say a prayer of thanks for their sacrifice in giving up their lives so that we may eat and live. If this sounds close to a certain world famous historical figure of Biblical proportions, it is, in truth, a similar sentiment.

Thank you, all beings, for your contribution to the interdependent world in which we live.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

It's All Relative

This is a delicious, nutritious dish served up by a gourmet chef somewhere in the recesses of the American South. At first glance, one might think it to be escargot (a.k.a. snails, the kind I vanquish in my garden), the choice of Francophiles and bone fide French citizens. Upon closer inspection, it is a singing insect that fills the night air with a piercing sound that reassures the listener that pollution hasn't killed off every living creature yet -  the cicada, apparently the "other protein."

Astute analysts of our food sources show that raising cattle for beef consumption has far-reaching, detrimental effects on the environment that even contribute to global warming. (Go figure. McDonalds may be an even greater culprit than General Motors for our ever-increasing crazy weather patterns, not to speak of our ever-increasing girths.)

So, our little singing friends might be an answer to the devastating effect that hamburger and steak lovers wreak on our stratosphere, not to speak of the health care system. 

Perfect solution? Yes and no.

My gut reaction to the cicada dish (nauseating) harkens back to a time when I was in 7th grade - the era of middle schoolers, as in sweet young ones who are rapidly turning into mega-brats as the ravages of puberty descend upon them. 

It is lunch hour in the fluorescent-bathed school cafeteria, and I have brought a tuna sandwich from home with lots of mayo and crunchy celery squished in between two slices of Wonderbread. A little squirt with slicked back hair hails me over to his table, smiling with such charm that I plop down my tray across from him. Before digging in, I head for the drinks counter for my apple juice carton; in those days Coke was not de rigueur.

Fast forward: half of a tuna sandwich down the gullet, but me thinks that the celery seems overly crunchy. Curiosity compels me to open the second right triangle and behold - a bevy of fried grasshoppers interspersed amidst tuna flakes, celery and mayo; dead as dead can be although if they were still moving, my horror would have quadrupled.

The little hoodlum across from me laughs manically as he pulls out his extra stash of dead hoppers, proving that he is the source of this prank. As for me, my usual voracious appetite is gone, as well as sandwich half number 2, thrown directly into the trash.

This begs the question: I never tasted anything 'bad' in my tuna, just something extra crunchy. And with my current knowledge that insects are actually an excellent source of protein, with as much flavor variety as a garden filled with herbs, then why the extreme aversion, even now, as I contemplate the artfully displayed nouvelle cuisine?

The cause is something called "cultural relativity." Which means in laymen terms, whatever we have been taught since birth that falls within the range of customary and reasonable we accept. Whatever is foreign, different, or unknown in our small world is deemed unacceptable, repulsive, dangerous, or benignly weird.

As our tribes, towns, and cities become globalized, we are now exposed to a larger array of behaviors than ever before. Cultural relativity is challenged to become less relative and more universal -  which means opening our minds and noticing what our judgmental inner voice is telling us when we encounter "the other."

While I think that I will never be a convert to the cuisine of the creepy crawlers, there may be a time on planet earth where we will be grateful to our insect friends for their sacrifice. In this spirit, I applaud that Southern chef for his bravery in advancing civilization and daring to propose a viable solution that crosses the boundaries of cultural relativity and pushes them into a bigger playing field. 

If the US is to remain a global player, then wake up shoppers of America! Over 2 billion people in 80 countries already consume1,400 different species of arthropod. Who knew?

(photo courtesy of HOM MOD, Andrew Tarant)

Monday, September 16, 2013

It Takes Two to...?

"Most men are cheaters—you know that, don’t you? I could meet a cheater tomorrow if I wanted to. But I’ve had enough men. I’m 98 years old, what the hell do I want a man for? What can I give him? What can he give me? Nothing."

This tidbit from a soon to be centenarian (not withstanding premature death) is reassuring; old age doesn't necessarily equate with mildewed moxy. But it brought up an interesting point. In certain LA circles of the female persuasion, a good deal of men-bashing occurs, usually with a hilarious "men are pigs" pronouncement that is the ending to a sordid tale of romance gone wrong.

Then logic sets in. Doesn't a straight man need a woman to participate in the undercover sex game? For every male cheater who is castigated, what about the woman who agreed? Albeit, certain philanderers tell little fibs and say they are single, so women, wise up. Do a background check before accepting the crown jewels if you have any doubt. Cyber snooping is frighteningly easy; sites abound on the internet if you have even a modicum of researching smarts.  For the really big spender, a $19.95 investment can deliver the dish, unless your current suitor is a CIA agent. (You're in luck if the dude is an FBI agent. They are too cocky to hide their extra-curricular activities while on duty, as was recently revealed.)

I once asked my husband about his life as a single man. He is handsome, highly educated (and intelligent), French, born and raised in Paris. While he demurred from giving me any bait that would allow for a gory cache of trivia, he did remind me of one important factor. It takes a woman to create a heterosexual male cheater. And he also clued me in to the fact that many a married woman is open season as well because..."they are the most desparate." Bon Dieu.

Some may blame the above feedback on the infamous French culture. However, nowadays, the more woman that enter the work force in the US, the more the playing field is leveled with regards to who is the cheater and who is the cheatee -  one of the fringe benefits of our quasi-equal workforce.

In truth, we go through the birth process alone, squeezed and shoved through a narrow pulsating passageway. We also die alone even if surrounded by loved ones, or hospital machines, or in a deserted no man's land under a bridge. In between birth and death, we live in our own heads, guided by our singular perceptions and projections, totally accountable for what goes on between our two ears.
So as we maneuver through this in between time called life, the best way to survive what has been termed "the war of the sexes" is to propose a peace treaty. If we regard each other as human beings first and foremost, one being in many bodies with real hearts and real feelings, then perhaps the male-female duel will fade into the distant past as a relic of less civilized times.

In the meanwhile, whether you are the hunter or the hunted, keep your wits about you; no-holds-barred-awareness is the key to survival...and better yet, well being.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Love Under a Rock

Today I received a You Tube video from a wonderful friend of mine who is a trance channel; to sum up the video's message: "You are Loved." For the cynical non-believers, suspend your critical mind for a moment and listen, even if reading is not technically an auditory activity. And if you don't know what a trance channel is, google it if you so desire.

The channel came to my aid about twenty years ago when it was revealed that several of my under-aged loved ones had been sexually molested; not violent assaults but slimy 'cop a feel' maneuvers to their private parts, in both cases committed by supposedly trusted elders.

The turmoil that ensued was extremely painful. Although one can never know the extent of the others' pain, or how their perceptions would inform a future view of themselves, I certainly know how it affected me. A benign world turned into a hell realm of shattered beliefs. Righteous anger arose in my inner warrior that smites all wrongs...except that this warrior was shackled in a dungeon, imprisoned by shame and fear. Despite a fervent wish to do something, paralysis blanketed every contemplated move.

Because I come from a family where nothing was discussed openly except for opera or school marks, no role model existed for confronting deeply problematic issues. In my family of origin's philosophy, there were no hidden tributaries if one pretended they weren't there - except like water dripping on a rock, over time that solid mass will succumb to attrition; the body and soul eaten away by the lie of denial.

Enter stage right the trance channel. In her professional office that looked like a run-of-the-mill therapist's domain, a perfectly attractive, actually beautiful woman of middle age greeted me with the information that she doesn't remember anything once she goes into trance and her guide takes over.

Thank god, my inner shame tells me. We wouldn't want a real person to see my rotting wounds or to witness the seething anger blanketed by a phony smile of rational acceptance.

As the blue-eyed blonde drifted into her shut-eye zone, a deeper voice with a strange accent issued forth; sweet, gentle and with an accent decidedly different from the Los Angeleno now slumped in her chair. Tamaara, the disembodied one, directed me to express my feelings. 

Let out my real feelings? What a novel and totally frightening idea. But since no one was looking, I stood up and took a well-placed large stick next to an equally well-place large floor pillow and began smashing its soft tufts. I will also admit to screaming, "I hate you" and other obscenities at the top of my lungs, directed at the perpetrators who had stolen young (and old) innocence.

I won't exasperate readers with the content of my next ten sessions, but by the time we were finished, the psychic Rotor-Rooter had performed a great service. I learned that unreleased shame, fear, anger or guilt, powered by emotional cowardice, are toxic. I learned that "...there is nothing to fear but fear itself," to coin a famous oxymoron. And most importantly, I understood that beneath every turbulent, misguided, negative, vengeful thought/emotion/action is a desire to love and be loved.

If we were all able to look at each other - victims and perpetrators alike - as human beings searching for equilibrium, saftey, and yes Love, often in ways that range from inapproriate to monstrous, then maybe the knots that bind us personally and collectively would begin to unravel.

Because after all, at the core of all being, We are Loved.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Putin's PR

When the New York Times published an Op Ed piece by Vladimir Putin on September 12th, 2013, they handed him the perfect bully pulpit. Let's put our hands together for freedom of the press.

A coup for the leader of Russia, he managed to stir up quite a brew of conversation amongst dueling pundits on TV news. I do recall thinking that the Op Ed piece was very American in its syntax and wondering what Russian employee of the former Soviet state had such linguistic savvy.

It turns out that this column came from the bowels of American culture; a PR firm in New York was paid 1.8 million dollars by the Russian state to handle its image in the US. And that sum was the firm's fee for less than a year's worth of work.

The world is upside down. The children of the proletariat revolution pay huge bucks to the children of capitalism to promote the children of the proletariat who are not longer the proletariat but still wear the garb of their forefathers. It just proves that money is still the green energy (as in greenbacks, better known as dollars - not environmentally friendly fuels) that drives the world; whichever horse has the most money on it wins in this rigged race.

Way back in the 1980's, a wise person told me that in the 21st century, one would not be able to believe what they see with their eyes or hear with their ears - that intuition/extraordinary insight would be only way to decipher the truth from the illusion. It seemed like an odd concept to me at the time, but then again that was before Photoshop and sophisticated software programs were able to alter reality with great realism.

In this geo-political chess game, I find myself in a unique position: the "don't know" frame of mind, one that is prized by Zen practitioners but is an interesting place to find myself - she who always has a decidedly emphatic position on everything.

Thus, today my practice is to practice; perhaps in between my thoughts, a fresh arising will clear the fog, at least for now.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Warning: Your Thoughts Have Power

Why do some children from disadvantaged homes materialize well being while others fall into a gray zone of tedious survival or worse?

First, one would have to define terms. In our "more is better culture" the immediate association is that poverty is the primary disadvantage while affluence promotes well being. True, adequate medical care, nourishing food, decent housing, a safe neighborhood and access to schools with books and seats does provide some baseline insurance. But realistically, outward material things are "not enough."

In 1960, my mother did her PhD thesis on this very subject; she targeted children from Harlem, which was then a prison without walls for the descendants of slaves (although it was also a breeding ground for amazing music and other art forms). All of the young ones in her study came from disadvantaged environments in that their basic life needs were not regularly met. And yet some excelled in academics while others fell behind, unable to hold onto numbers and letters, an all important skill in the Information Age.

Her findings? It was the expectation of the teacher which separated the wheat from the chaff. For the little ones who inspired the teacher's positive reinforcement, they thrived like baby plants in a greenhouse. Those who were deemed undesirables followed the pattern of a fulfilled prophesy from the authority figure of the classroom; as they were no good in the teacher's eyes, they became no good at what they were there to do.

This all important finding, duplicated by others over the years, applies to animals as well. Elephants, for example, learn much more quickly when they are rewarded with treats for doing their schtick correctly. Those that are poked, hit, stabbed, or starved by their trainers sometimes give their owners their comeuppance - in the form of death by trampling.

One could apply this formula to all sorts of venues of human endeavor, from child rearing to geopolitics, to what you tell yourself about yourself (notice, key concept here). Thus the cautionary advice, given mostly to myself, and now offered up to "others" -

 Warning: your thoughts have power!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

News Pastries

News appeals to me like a patisserie to a pastry lover. If you have ever gone into one of those dens of iniquity in Paris, France or Garden Grove, California, it is a tormenting experience. Tough choices to be made at every turn; a chocolate croissant or a tarte aux pommes; a brioche or an oven-warm baguette slathered with butter and jam...

When I open my email inbox every day, I am confronted with a similarly tempting array; a plethora of news stories from sites which have already filtered out the best of the best stories, not to speak of the online NY Times edition. I scan the headlines looking for the juicy tidbits that will fill the mind with "ah-has!" informing my world with new information that either confirms old information or introduces new ways to rouse my ire and stoke the fire of righteous indignation. And then there are the stories that are bypassed as mere static for the brain.

An almost infinite variety could be offered for discussion but then we would have to be super computers, not humans with limited concentration or time choices. But two goodies stood out today that I would like to serve up as food for thought.

Menu A
Vladamir Putin's Op Ed article in the NY Times: a kinder, gentler Vladamir has now shown his face to the American public. You know, the guy who likes to jet ski and ride horses, the regular guy who is just like us fun loving Americans. Although his ever-so-sane plea to use the United Nations as an arbiter in the Syrian conflict is a good one, his memory is highly selective. Kind of like a parent who says, "Don't do as I do, do as I say." Does anyone remember the fable Little Red Riding Hood or the Trojan Horse that the Greeks used as a ruse to enter the city of Troy? Or perhaps another interpretation for the less cynical: could this be the dawning of the Age of Aquarius?

Menu B
Who knew that Facebook might be the petrie dish for a global explosion of MPI? Mass Psychogenic Illness, historically known as “mass hysteria,” is when people unconsciously believe they've been exposed to the same toxic experiences as others and then experience the same symptoms although they have not in reality been exposed to those toxins. Believed to have been the disorder of those poor little witchlettes that were hung following the Salem witch trials, apparently the same MPI disorder has just been spotted in that very same town of old. Luckily for this modern group of teenage girls who are hiccupping and nose twitching en masse, the only trial might be one invented by a drug company to patent a new block buster medicine. The concern of the social scientist studying this peculiar behavior is that the Facebook might provide a novel way of spreading MPI just as effectively as town gossip was in 1693.

And for whoever has taken time out of their precious day to read this blog, here's the news of the day -  a wish for you - that everything that comes your way today be for the highest and greatest good of ALL.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Kindness New York Style

It is pure happenstance that I find myself in New York City on this infamous date. Apart from the collapse of the World Trade Center, it is also the day that my mother’s dearest sister and stand-in exhaled her last breath on this big island.

If New Yorkers have a bad rap for being rude or pushy, let me dispel this illusion poste haste. Our supposedly laid-back lady from Southern California found herself pushing into elevators ahead of polite New Yorkers, impatiently weaving and dodging her body as fast as her feet could carry her, cutting through hoards of people on Fifth Avenue like a car on a Los Angeles freeway trying to angle for the fastest lane to nowhere, and being reminded by one very brave waiter and one tired cab driver that “...this is New York, it’ll get done."

People on the streets and in the shops seem downright relaxed...not as in lounging by a poolside relaxed, but born of a conservation of energy whereby their focus is intent but not overwrought.

Perhaps there is a reason for this seeming reversal of cultural behaviors. According to social scientists, the higher one climbs on the ladder of affluence, the more likely a person is to isolate, put one’s interests ahead of others, and exhibit the usual run-of-the-mill narcissism of the privileged. While I am not in the 1% by any stretch of the imagination, I am used to living on top of a foothill, on a spot with only one silent neighbor on a slightly higher foothill above me. Furthermore, the location of the town was “planned” so that there are parking spaces everywhere and special bike lanes for the fit and free. Negotiating for a little piece of turf is not an issue.

New York City, on the other hand, is a veritable beehive.

Home life takes place on a vertical plane and the sweet little parks one finds interspersed amongst the traffic and the cement sidewalks have just enough vegetation to make one weep for a forest. 

But with the huge mass of humanity packed into one long skinny island, there is a plus. People have to interact. People have to see other people constantly, incessantly, to do anything or go anywhere. Instead of fighting it, New Yorkers seem to flow with the energy of this teaming mass of humans, cars, trucks and vertical stacks of compartments called apartments.

The deficit of compassion from those who can afford to isolate comes at a cost; a loss of empathy for fellow humans beings. So while we all enjoy quiet, space, and abundance of all kinds, let us remember that we are part of a whole, a throbbing mass of humanity that must respect the "other" to preserve sanity and fan the flames of tolerance, compassion and respect.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Praying Atheist

I was raised by left wing, devoutly atheist Jewish parents from the Bronx. (If the NSA is reading this, not to worry. After their heyday as union organizers in the 1930's, they became quite adept at Capitalism and my childhood in no way bore a resemblance to the proletariat.)

As a first grader and bona fide progeny of my relations, I actually refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance in the daily homage required by our public schools. Besides, I thought everyone was praying to something scary; “two witches stand” under a flapping red, white and blue flag unfurling in the gusting wind. Only years later was it revealed that the words were “to which it stands,” a decidedly more benign language.

I didn’t find my own path until age 19, although I wasn’t looking for anything. “It” found me. My mother had taken me to Chichen Itza, home to spectacular Mayan pyramids, as my college major was anthropology and mom was terribly education oriented. Never did a hint of gossip escape her lips; every word she uttered was designed to bring logic and clarity to life on planet earth. She was a wonderful woman who never indulged in the pleasures of a group of girlfriends, whose chitchat could be detected humming through the telephone wires encircling suburban bedrooms like vultures over their prey.

Mom was also a trusting soul, as she allowed my inner rebel to ditch the organized tour of the pyramid site and set off on my own. Relief. The tourists straggled out of the area to lunch on tortillas and such, never noticing that a certain 60’s girl in a miniskirt had gone missing from their midst. I climbed the steps of a magnetizing pyramid and stood perfectly still at its great height, with no one to talk to…an aloneness foreign to me except as a toddler when my college professor mom was at work teaching and I was left with a non-nanny.

In this stillness, the jungle rushed to the foreground, strangely silent yet deafening in its presence; a wall of intricate green plant patterns hiding another vibrant wall of growth extending into the foreboding zone.

A translucent column of light descended from the sky and entered the crown of my head. As it continued traveling down my body, filling every cell with tingling energy, I got “high” for the first time in my life. As this predated psychedelic experiments and I had never smoked pot, it is entirely attributable as a mystical experience.

Years later, I learned that I was standing on the pyramid considered the most sacred in the Mayan world. Small wonder. And this is how I became the atheist who prays to the omnipresent energy of creation. God is not a Him, but even if God were a separate entity, the feminist in me would never accept an all pervading force as male, as that would mean the female had been cast out, an error of omission with long-reaching consequences.

The energy that connects us is potent, alive, transparent, and real. It is not owned by any one of us but is the collective property of all living things. It is not outside of us looking down from on high. It dwells within us and between us, leaving no space unoccupied.

We are one connected being.

Between the Frying Pan and the Fire

When the first inklings of a pandemic started brewing in late January, I was in Bodgaya, India, the place where the historical Buddha attai...