Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ngram view of Meditation

This morning I reviewed 5 million books (5 billion words) looking for references to meditation and forms of prayer. Oh by the way, I had a little help from Google Labs.

It all started with a TED talk that I watched Friday night by Erez Lieberman Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel. In this talk they demonstrated the free Ngram Viewer from Google Labs / Google Books. What a cool tool. When you enter phrases into the Ngram Viewer, it displays a graph showing how those phrases have occurred in a corpus of books (e.g., "English") over the selected years.

What word or phrase should I look up first? Since I have had an interest in meditation, I decided to look up the occurrence of the word "meditation" in books from 1700 to 2000.

This is fascinating because there is a distinct peak around 1820, a fairly deep valley between 1920 and 1940, and full recovery by 2000. It is also interesting to note two smaller shoulders around 1930 and 1980. It is not entirely clear (to me) what the Y-axis means (especially when we get to phrases later), but I interpret this to mean that at both peaks (1820 and 2000) the word "meditation" occurs about 10 times per million words examined (0.001 %). The valley is at 4 per million.

So I wanted to see how this compares with the word "prayer."

The word "prayer" has a distinct peak around 1840 that is eight times higher than "meditation" (83 per million), after which this is steady decline to 21 per million around 1975. Notice that there is no recovery after 1940 and only a slight recovery after 1980 to 26 per million. The curve for "meditation" is the same as in the first graph above, but on a different scale.

Next I wanted to compare "meditation" to the words "mysticism," "mystic," and "mystical." Note the timeline starts at 1800. This is a busy graph, so we should look at one line at a time. The "meditation" graph is in yellow here. I find it highly curious that the graph for "mystic" (red) is nearly upside down from "meditation" with a peak at 9.5 per million around 1930 and a steady decline since then, with no recovery. "Mysticism" is lower and parallels "mystic" but with less of a decline after 1930. The word "mystical" (green) is also similar except that it recovers after 1940 and remains steady since 1960.

Since the words are related, it should not be surprising to see a similar shoulder around 1930, but that does makes me curious about what was going on then. It is also interesting that of these three words, only "mystical" recovers after 1940 while the other two have continued to decline. Strange too (or not) that all four of these words are within the range of 3-12 per million. For comparison purposes, the word "centering" is found infrequently until the early 1900s, but since 1920 it has been relatively stable between 1.6 and 2.4 per million, with a slow decline since 1940.

Next I was interesting in comparing and "transcendental meditation" with "contemplative prayer." Notice that we begin with 1900 in this graph and also note that the Y-axis is greatly expanded (showing a much smaller range). The phrase "transcendental meditation" (in blue) does not occur until about 1960, after which it rapidly rises to 0.016 per million or 16 per billion. There is a distinct peak at this point and then it declines to half that or 8 per billion and levels off since 1990. By contrast, the phrase "contemplative prayer" has had a nearly linear growth since 1910 until it is over 6 per billion by 2000. For comparison, the term "centering prayer" was essentially unheard of until 1970 since which time it has had a linear increase to about 1 per billion. I then added the single word "zen" to the search, and was somewhat surprised to find that its occurrence does not dwarf that of these phrases, although it has enjoyed an increase since 1950, the low point of this century.

So I then compared four kinds of prayer: "contemplative prayer," "intercessory prayer," "meditative prayer," and "centering prayer." This graph starts at 1950. Maybe I should not have been, but I was quite surprised at how closely the lines for "contemplative" and "intercessory" prayer line up. It is almost as those they almost always occur together (even in the same sentence). The nadir is not distinct, but occurs around 1970 (2-3 per billion), and both have steadily increased to nearly 7 per billion.

What makes the above observation all the more remarkable is that before 1950 these two phrases did not parallel at all. "Intercessory prayer" peaked at 14 per billion around 1850 at a time when "contemplative prayer" was quite rare.

One might wonder if the incidence of the phrases has anything to do with the incidence of the adjectives themselves. Apparently not. (Range 0-3 per million.)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What troubles you?

We all have worries. Facebook makes this clear. Some of us share our troubles more openly than others, but reading Facebook for a week shows that we all struggle with something. Maybe it is a family concern, losing a job, damage from a storm, or a sick pet; the list is endless. It is normal (and appropriate) to get caught up in these worries, and it is not unusual to be overwhelmed by them. We simply don't have the energy to focus on yet one more thing.

You all have great hearts. If I were to ask for help with a personal struggle, dozens of you would be right there offering to help. Yet if I were to ask you to think with me about a more global issue, most of you would scroll right on past. That is normal; I do it too. Today I am asking you to pause another minute or two and read what is on my mind and in my heart.

Many of you know that I support organizations that help feed the hungry and provide clean drinking water for those without. Because these issues have a personal face they appeal directly to my compassion. The topic I want to discuss with you today, however, often seems less personal. The topic is climate change and global warming. Climate change can appear impersonal because we make it into an economic or political issue; we talk about "carbon dioxide" and "green house gases" or about fuel efficiency and alternative forms of energy. How impersonal is that? But then one day I read about the thousands who will suffer as coastlands are flooded with the rising oceans. I see the destruction left in the path of killer tornadoes and once-in-a-century hurricanes. I watch the children starving from famine caused by the drought in Somalia. These tug at my compassion again.

If they tug at yours, you might still feel powerless. It is easy to be overwhelmed, both by the magnitude of the problem and by your own important concerns. Maybe your emotional energy is running on low right now. Fortunately, Facebook makes it easy to begin simply by raising awareness. You can do as little or as much as you are inclined to do.

  1. Click "Like" on the Facebook link to increase interest.
  2. Post a "comment" on that link to show your support.
  3. "Share" this link on your wall to spread the word.
  4. "Like" the following pages:
    Climate Reality |
    Stop Global Warming
  5. RSVP to 24 Hours of Reality event.
  6. Post a "link" to Climate Reality Project
  7. "Donate your Facebook" to 24 Hours of Reality

Now, I know that some of you are probably skeptical. You will claim we don't know for sure that the natural disasters I mentioned above are related to global warming. Some of you might even say we can't prove that global warming is due to human activity. All I am asking today is that you keep an open mind. In my studied opinion, the scientific evidence that climate change is real and that it is cause by human activity is undeniable. Are specific weather events the direct result of global warming? I grant that the evidence for this is not as incontrovertible, but it is quite solid nonetheless. For those who want to dig deeper, see: Science of Global Warming

Of course a few of you will remain unconvinced. You will claim this is nothing more than a big hoax, the result of political hype, or a grand conspiracy. Again I appeal to you to keep an open mind. These are the kind of accusations that were made against the science smoking and health while hundreds of thousands of Americans were losing their lives due to smoking. The tobacco industry set out to perpetrate a lie. Now everyone knows the truth about smoking.

Compassion means "to suffer or endure with." We all suffer troubles of one sort or another and these may overwhelm us. It is easy to become absorbed in our concerns. My purpose in this project is to raise awareness of ways we can take a step outside of our concerns and respond with compassion.

Science of Global Warming

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Concerned about mercury?

If you aren't, you should be. This topic came up a few weeks ago in a Facebook conversation about the government regulations requiring light bulbs to be more energy efficient. The argument was that the government should not take away our right to use inefficient bulbs if we so choose. The "market" should control usage. Maybe we just like incandescent bulbs better, or maybe we are worried about the fact that the new compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs contain mercury. It seems wrong that our government should force us to use products that create toxic waste. Should we be concerned about mercury? After digging deeper this is my answer:

  • Yes, we should be concerned about mercury, and
  • The mercury case against CFL bulbs is entirely bogus.

Mercury is a naturally occurring but rare element in the Earth's crust. The element and most of its compounds are extremely toxic causing harm to the brain (especially developing brain), heart, kidneys, and immune system at all ages. Fortunately the toxic effects are not caused by low levels of mercury, but unfortunately mercury is difficult to eliminate, so it tends to accumulate in the body over long periods. A highly toxic form, methylmercury, builds up in fish, shellfish and animals eat fish. About half of the mercury in the atmosphere comes from volcanos and other natural sources, but mercury is an often overlooked and serious component of man-made air pollution. The five biggest sources may surprise you.

  1. Coal-fueled power plants (40-65%)
  2. Gold mining (11%)
  3. Coal-fueled cement kilns (6%)
  4. Chlor-alkaline plants (3%)
  5. Trash incinerators (3%)

What about CFL bulbs? Even if disposed of improperly, fluorescent bulbs of all kinds would never represent more than a fraction of a percent of the total mercury pollution. If recycled properly, on the other hand, they are perfectly safe and cause no pollution whatsoever. Here are a few links about recycling bulbs.

If we are concerned about mercury pollution, which we should be, and if our concern is genuine rather than an excuse for complaining about energy regulations, we should look on CFL bulbs as one means of lowering mercury emissions by lowering consumption of electricity produced by coal. Those who use mercury content as a reason to repeal the energy regulations say almost nothing about long fluorescent bulbs found in their workplaces, businesses, and shops (even in their own homes). Most ingenuous, they are silent about coal-fired power plants. They claim to be worried about mercury, but obviously they are not.

The problem with digging deeper is knowing where to stop. Each of the above sources of mercury pollution deserves a discussion of its own.

  1. Proposed Turk Power Plant in Southwest Arkansas
    ("clean coal" controversy)
  2. Toxic jewelry and the new gold rush
  3. The Ash Grove Cement kiln in Forement, AR
    (pros and cons of tire-derived fuel)
  4. Ashton Chemical Chlor-alkaline plants in Ohio and El Dorado, AR
  5. ENSCO (El Dorado, AR) and Reynolds Metal (Arkadelphia)
    toxic waste disposal

Sunday, August 14, 2011

An Experiment in Giving

It is with some trepidation that I write this entry about giving, my hesitation stemming from reading Matthew 6:3-4:

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (NIV)

Nevertheless, I am writing anyway because: (1) I currently have almost no blog followers, and (2) I won't post a link on Facebook (which is how most readers find my posts) for a while, maybe a month or possibly up to a year. Besides, what I am doing is not exactly secret anyway. Here is the experiment.

For an unspecified period of time, I have decided to make a $5.00 donation to a worthy cause in the name of each of my Facebook friends on their birthdays. I will inform them of their gifts by posting on their Facebook walls. Why am I doing this? First, I hope each one will feel honored; that is my intent. Second, this is a more personal way of raising awareness for causes that are important to me. Third, mutual friends will be able to see the posts and others may be inclined to give too.

Here are my guidelines. (1) These donations are in addition to, and apart from, my family's main charitable giving, which is to our church (St. Margaret's Episcopal Church). (2) To make it easier to donate a number of small amounts to various causes, I have chosen to use (Facebook app). (3) These gifts are to be as non-controversial as possible. For example, one of the causes I would like to support (and raise awareness of) is reducing or eliminating climate change. I will, however, only donate to this cause in the name of those who (to my knowledge) support this cause too. (4) No gifts will be political. (5) Here is a partial list of the organizations I will start out supporting. I may or may not edit this list as time progresses.

  1. Oxfam America
  3. -
  4. Freedom from Hunger

Incidentally, I have never been a big financial supporter of political causes, but for the coming year I have decided to make no political contributions whatsoever. This is partly just a personal decision, and partly in support of Howard Schultz (Starbucks) in his effort to boycott political contributions.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Could I Ever Become a Republican?

The short answer is "Never!" The long answer is maybe I am one already. Is this craziness? Well, a few weeks ago I read a conservative pundit who drew a distinction between being a Republican and "republicanism." I decided to look up the latter term and here is what I found.

According to, republicanism stresses: "(1) the importance of civic virtue, (2) the benefits of universal political participation, (3) the dangers of corruption, (4) the need for separate powers, (5) a healthy reverence for the rule of law, and (6) the paramount value of political liberty." Hmm. What is there not to like about this definition?

  1. Take civic virtue. "Civic virtue helps people understand their ties to the community and their responsibilities within it." (Sarah Bosin) Robert Putnam (Bowling Alone) defines three civic virtues: active participation in public life, trustworthiness, and reciprocity. Yes! We could definitely use more of these. On one hand, there is a tendency in our country toward individualism and disconnection from community. On the other, we increasingly define "community" as those to who look and think and act just like us. In this narrow sense, "community" becomes a divisive concept, leading to suspicion, bigotry, and hatred. What we need is for our sense of community as a nation to be restored.
  2. This means that all must be actively invited to participate in public life. At a minimum this requires that all are encouraged to vote and that each vote count. More than this it means that all are encouraged to speak and that each voice is heard. It requires that the rights of the minority and the weak are protected, and that the disadvantaged are given an opportunity to rise above the confines of their dispossession. Admittedly I made this last leap rather quickly. The connection between universal participation in public life and the need for equal opportunity may be questioned by some. Furthermore, the means by which equal opportunity should be afforded is not entirely clear. In particular, the role of government in all of this is open to discussion (see below). Nevertheless, I assert here that the link between participation in public life and opportunity is real and it is important.
  3. The dangers of corruption are beyond controversy. No one would argue the fact that corruption in government, business, law, or religion is undesirable. The word corrupt comes from the same Latin root as rupture, and it literally means "intensely broken." It implies something good gone bad, something originally sound now broken. Corruption, it seems to me, is the exact opposite of civic virtue. It is putting individual desires ahead of the needs of the community. Closely related to corruption is the notion of waste. The causes of corruption are many, but among the most common are money and power (and often together). Another might be fear. If republicanism stands for preventing and rooting out corruption and waste, then I am all for it.
  4. One way to guard against corruption is separation of powers. This idea formally refers to the branches of government with their distinct roles, a cornerstone of our republican form of government. Yet the concept is even broader than this, from separation of church and state to an independent media, including unbiased regulation on many levels. The problem is that none of these protections is fool-proof. Each of the entities just named is subject to the forces for corruption. The principle, however, is sound: Power must be shared. A "republic" is not a monarchy, nor is a republic in my opinion an oligarchy or plutarchy. A republic is a form of government of the people for the people.
  5. The key that allows a republic and the sharing of power to be feasible is respect for the rule of law. No individual or group is above the law. All are equal under the law. No one will openly disagree with this premise, though many try to circumvent the law for their own purposes. And many want to argue about who should make the laws, who should get to interpret the laws, and how.
  6. "From these concepts, one paramount value stands apart -- political liberty. Political liberty entails not only freedom from government interference in private affairs; it also places great emphasis on self-discipline and self-reliance. Political liberty keeps government out of individuals' lives (unless to do this threatens the republic as a whole); it also prevents the government from becoming a guardian to its individuals. The role of government in a republic is to safeguard the collective republic." (

When I began this exercise my purpose was to dig a little deeper into the history and philosophy of republicanism. What I am posting here hardly scratches the surface. The Wikipedia article on republicanism discusses a number of other definitions in which a republic may be considered compatible with plutarchy, oligarchy, even a (constitutional) monarchy. Digging deeper, I also spent some time considering libertarianism in view of Point 6 above. My point is that I am having trouble deciding where to stop digging. Once one breaks the surface of political philosophy, there is so much to be excavated. This morning, for example, I read one of Federalist Papers comparing a republic with a democracy. Fascinating topic (not to mention James Madison's incredible writing style). Furthermore, once one "gets to the bottom of" political philosophy, the relationship to economic theory begins an even deeper excavation. It never stops.

So why bother? I do not have the resources (particularly the time) necessary to do justice to any of this. Moreover, political philosophy is not even my primary interest. I am much more interested in social issues, for example, or religion and spirituality, or health and fitness. Nevertheless, I cannot escape the politics. (1) most of the "non-political" topics in which I have an interest end up having political implications, and (2) in any case, my civic responsibility is to be as informed as possible and to be an active participant. So ...

Could I Ever Be a Republican? The longish answer is that I already am a small-'r' republican. I embrace all six of the basic tenets of republicanism listed above, particularly the first five. In principle I also agree with the sixth: political liberty. Where I have an issue, I suppose, is in: (a) what kinds of things threaten the republic as a whole, and (b) the difference between becoming a "guardian" of and promoting the welfare of its individuals. To quote James Madison (entirely out of context): "It must be confessed that in this, as in most other cases, there is a mean, on both sides of which inconveniences will be found to lie."

The short answer in the first sentence is that under any present circumstances, I could never be a capital-'R' Republican. In my humble opinion, the present Republican Party does not stand for the first five tenets above and has gone way overboard on the sixth. I know this is an unsupported blanket statement that requires digging deeper. For what it is worth, I am not exactly happy with the present Democratic Party. The only thing I can do to help fix our broken system of government is to inform myself and be willing to become more active.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Decision I Made Today

To be honest, the discussion about the national debt and the debt ceiling is over my head. As citizens we have an obligation to be as well-informed as possible, yet when the best experts on the topic are miles apart in their analyses and recommendations, what are we to do? I have tried to read all sides of the discussion and post links to the articles and ideas that seem most accurate or the wisest to me, but who knows?

Today I simply want to focus on one aspect of this conversation, the impact on healthcare. Here again I can claim no particular expertise, even though I have worked in healthcare all of my life. By this I mean that I have no training or experience in healthcare finance and administration. Still, my "expertise" in this arena is greater than for, say, banking or mortgages or the stock market.

This morning Kaiser Health News (KHN) reported hints of another debt deal this weekend that includes possible Medicare cuts. From the reports quoted, it is hard to say what kinds of cuts are included, but it is no secret that many Republicans have called for deep cuts in Medicare. Yesterday KHN surveyed the media coverage of possible fallout for healthcare of a default. For example, from CNN Money
"[Some physician groups] have started to warn their members that a possible default means their Medicare paychecks may not get mailed. ... In 2010, the federal government paid out $515.8 billion in total Medicare benefits to health care providers, including doctors, hospitals, nursing facilities, home health care centers and pharmacies. ... The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services declined to say whether Medicare payments to health care providers would be affected if a default occurs" (Kavilanz, 7/29).
Yesterday was the 46th anniversary of Medicare. On the website Physicians for a National Healthcare Program (PNHP) Dr. Margaret Flowers argues that the Republican and Democratic plans for Medicare and Medicaid are misguided and that the push for privatization will accelerate costs and deaths. This article was picked up by the Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA) and then under the title "Medicare is the Answer, Not the Problem." A few days earlier, Robert Reich (whose opinions I have come to respect greatly) made the same arguments on KevinMD.

Now I acknowledge that this topic is much broader and much more complicated than can be covered in a posting here. I also admit that many aspects of Medicare need overhaul. Therefore it is not my intention here to "make the case".

My intention is simply to give a small bit of the rationale for why I have (today) decided to join Physicians for a National Healthcare Program (PNHP).

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Conversation about the Debt

My experience with Facebook conversations, at least those started by individuals, is that a length of 64+ comments is unusual. And when it does happen, that is often the end of it. I would like to continue this conversation.

The conversation I am referring to is here. First, I admit that the cartoon that started it was provocative. It was deliberately so, and for that I can hardly apologize, but I also admit that it is an exaggeration. That is what cartoons do. But the conversation that ensued brought up much more substantial issues, which I hope will result in further (and hopefully) deeper discussion.

The issue that started all of this was the need to raise the debt ceiling. I think we all agree that Deficits Do Matter and that reducing rather than raising the debt should be the goal. No one disagrees, right?

Andrew suggested that Congress should just refuse to raise the debt ceiling. "We can't spend more than we bring in," which we just agreed is the goal. "Then it is up to the president to determine where cuts are made. He can choose to 'default' or not."

Not so fast, says Cheryl. "They already drank the beer--it's gone." Yes, we need to figure out how to stop deficit spending, but to simply cut programs and services in a massive way is also irresponsible. Surely some of the programs and services for which our taxes are paying are wasteful and unnecessary, but massive across the board cuts are not the answer. Brett says we can find plenty of places to cut without "having to cut funding for things like children's hospitals." (I should hope so.) But Doug points out that perhaps the departments that Brett wants to eliminate or fold under another department serve an essential service. In any case, eliminating whole departments cannot take place (responsibly) within a few days.

While we are talking about spending, MOST of us would agree that defense spending is something we should consider reducing dramatically. I put MOST in all caps, because there might be some who disagree. Nonetheless, the wars in Afghanistan and Irag are costing us enormous amounts of money that we can ill afford, and frankly with little benefit to show for it. Had I been an congressman at the time, I likely would have voted for the military action (war) in Afghanistan, and given the information available at the time I might have even agreed to going into Irag. In hindsight (always 20/20) I definitely would not agree to the invasion of Iraq, and might not even agree to going into Afghanistan. Though Bin Laden is now dead, it can be argued that he won that exchange.

Whatever else you think about the original motive for going into Afghanistan, it is clear that massive spending on both wars is a significant reason behind our deficit spending now. Then there is the question about the "illegal" war on Libya. Reasonable people (like Doug) find valid reasons for humanitarian intervention in Libya and elsewhere. I am inclined to believe this might be the case, but Brett has helped bring me back to my core beliefs (from when I was back in Kansas City) that war is wrong, anytime, anyplace. This is not necessarily a conservative view, but I applaud Brett for coming to and advocating for this position.

On the flip side, I posted a link to suggest the crisis is not one of spending, but a crisis of revenue. This is an area where I expect lots of differing opinions, so let me be clear that my own opinion is just that, opinion. As I see it, however, much of the current deficit crisis is a direct result of the Bush tax cuts. When we talk about letting these expire, the uproar is that if we raise taxes on the richest Americans again, they will withdraw and not create much needed jobs. I see no merit in this argument whatsoever. When the rich get tax cuts they do not spend it on new jobs. Period. When the rich are taxed they do not stop creating jobs as a result. The ONLY thing that they respond to is demand. If the middle class is spending, entrepreneurs find ways to meet the demand. Period.

This brings me to another underlying theme, which is the widening gap between the rich and the poor in this country. This deserves a post in its own right, but suffice it to say that this widening gap is not good for the economy, nor is it good for our society. I am not saying that it is the job of government to rob from the rich and give to the poor, but I do believe it is the role of government to establish policies that protect the poorest and curb the greed of the rich. That is a gross over-simplification, I admit, and a more nuanced analysis is called for. But I'm just sayin'.

Finally there is the issue of government regulation. I will just tell you that in my own industry (healthcare) I complain as much as anyone about unnecessary regulation, whether it is from "voluntary" organizations, such as the Joint Commission, or whether these regulations are from government such as CMS and the State Health Department. Such regulations often seem unnecessary and counterproductive. In my saner moments, I recognize that these regulations have served a HUGE role in improving healthcare overall in this country. For example, central-line infections used to be thought of as an unavoidable risk. Such infections are now rare and considered entirely avoidable, largely because that is the expected standard from a government agency. Despite my gripes, healthcare is better for it.

I agree that regulation can be excessive, and probably often is so. But I will also tell you that "voluntary" self-regulation has many, many examples of complete and miserable failure. Is there a middle ground? I should hope so, but those who advocate no regulation, government or otherwise, simply do not want to see reality. Yes, regulations sometimes get in the way of true progress, but they also protect the innocent from exploitation and worse.

So much for my soap box. I believe there is room for disagreement and civil disagreement. I welcome comments.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

When is Outrage Appropriate?

Earlier today I posted a link on Facebook to a NY Times article about executive pay at large companies rising nearly 25% last year. My comment was, "why are we not ALL outraged by this?" A short time later I posted on my status that I was enjoying a cup of Luwak coffee that we had brought back from Indonesia. Obviously I was in a better mood.

Actually I was not in a bad mood when I posted the NY Times link, and I was not "outraged" in the sense of "feeling" any kind of anger or rage. I was simply "disturbed." I was disturbed by the unfairness, not for myself. I have no complaints, nor do I have any reason to complain. I was and am disturbed that a few individuals are extravagantly rewarded for a mild (and possibly transient) upturn in the economy, while millions have seen almost no improvement in their lot, rarely through any fault of their own and many of whom are children.

Early this morning I was tempted to post another link on Facebook, What if You Held Class War and No One Showed Up? In reaction to right-wing Marco Rubio's criticism of President Obama's recent press conference, writer Kevin Drum responds:
"For about the thousandth time, my mind wanders over the past ten years. Republicans got the tax cuts they wanted. They got the financial deregulation they wanted. They got the wars they wanted. They got the unfunded spending increases they wanted. And the results were completely, unrelentingly disastrous. A decade of sluggish growth and near-zero wage increases. A massive housing bubble. Trillions of dollars in war spending and thousands of American lives lost. A financial collapse. A soaring long-term deficit. Sky-high unemployment. All on their watch and all due to policies they eagerly supported."
So why did I not post that link?. After all, I happen to believe there is considerable truth in it, not just in the quote above, but in the entire article. But the fact of the matter is that the deeper I dig into questions about the economy the more complicated it becomes.

Moreover, it seems clearer and clearer to me that much of the problem is partisanship. Both sides seem more intent on seeing the other side fail than in solving the real problems of real people. Another case in point is that several of my Facebook friends have recently posted links to articles from the conservative or right-wing viewpoint. I thoughtfully read these articles to get another viewpoint, and in all three cases, the purpose of the article was to be critical and tear down the other side. In none did I find any suggestions for ways to make our nation better.

Several times, many times actually, since I joined Facebook, I have forsworn ever posting any thoughts or links of a political or economic nature again. There are plenty of other issues to update my FB friends on, things like safe drinking water, human rights, human trafficking, child abuse, religious tolerance, spiritual development, and more. But even though I do not have all the answers, maybe very few, nonetheless economic and political issues have very real moral and spiritual implications. So I will try to be more circumspect in my postings, and especially try to be better about not polarizing these issues, but I cannot stop speaking out.

No doubt there will be times when my ire will be provoked. There will surely be times when moral "outrage" is called for. But never should I hope to distance myself from my friends. If we disagree, and we may well, my goal would be to step back a bit and find a way to dialog. 

So let me end with another link. This one is to How the Left and the Right can Unite from Yes! Magazine. I have read this article carefully at least twice and mostly agree with it. I have not yet taken the time to research Yes! Magazine, but I intend to. Here is a quote from David Korten.
"If those on each side of America’s deep political divide could see the merit in the arguments of those on the other, we might come together as a powerful citizen alliance. We could break up concentrations of corporate power, get money out of politics, end senseless wars, achieve an equitable distribution of wealth, downsize government, and hold politicians accountable to an authentic popular will. That is an agenda that principled conservatives and liberals should all be able to get behind."
I like that so much, I may even post a link to it separately. Have a nice day.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Climate of Denial

A case in point is the link I posted on Facebook earlier this evening. It is an article written by Al Gore for Rolling Stone magazine, which was picked up by Reader Supported News. The article is excellent: comprehensive, accurate, and entertainingly written. But it is long. Those among my friends who are most likely to read it are already convinced.  For all the others, here is the bottom line:
So how can we make it happen? How can we as individuals make a difference? In five basic ways:

1. Become a committed advocate for solving the crisis.

2. Deepen your commitment by making consumer choices that reduce energy use and reduce your impact on the environment.

3. Join an organization committed to action on this issue (such as and, but there are many other good ones).
4. Contact your local newspapers and television stations when they put out claptrap on climate.

5. Above all, don't give up on the political system. Even though it is rigged by special interests, it is not so far gone that candidates and elected officials don't have to pay attention to persistent, engaged and committed individuals.

To make our elected leaders take action to solve the climate crisis, we must forcefully communicate the following message: "I care a lot about global warming; I am paying very careful attention to the way you vote and what you say about it; if you are on the wrong side, I am not only going to vote against you, I will work hard to defeat you — regardless of party. If you are on the right side, I will work hard to elect you."

This is not naive; trust me on this. It may take more individual voters to beat the Polluters and Ideologues now than it once did — when special-interest money was less dominant. But when enough people speak this way to candidates, and convince them that they are dead serious about it, change will happen — both in Congress and in the White House. As the great abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass once observed, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will."

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Little Bit Deeper

Without much free time available, I am likely to grow this blog slowly, but I am looking for a place to explore a few topics (and share those explorations) in greater depth than is possible, say, on Facebook. In fact, the whole idea came about from my Facebook activities. To be more specific, I noticed that some of my friends would post links to pages, but give no clue about what they find interesting or what their own thoughts are.

So my first approach was to avoid publishing links on Facebook without also posting at least a brief explanation as to why. I soon realized, however, that many topics require more thought than this allows, so I started writing "notes". This was more satisfying, but notes, too, have their limitations. They are not easily indexed, for example. My next idea was to develop my own web page, and I may do this yet, but that takes a lot of work, and for the kind of explorations I'm interested in undertaking a blog is more ideal. Furthermore, although I do not expect many comments, having the infrastructure to allow comments seems like a good idea. So here I am.

In broad strokes, I would like to dig deeper into: (1) religion and spirituality, (2) human rights and human dignity, (3) health and healthcare, (4) education and the arts, (4) environment and energy, and (5) economics and politics. Actually, it was the political arena that got me thinking along these lines in the first place. On Facebook it is easy to post a link to an article or editorial espousing a given political opinion, but the typical outcome is polarization. As a result, I tend to avoid political opinions as much as possible. To ignore political realities, however, is irresponsible. Therefore, to the extent that I do write about politics, I hope to be able to explain my views in ways that promote dialog rather than yelling past each other.