Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Full Circle

Full Circle

I have an identity crisis.  I've been a prolific consumer of philosophy so much that I no longer am able to categorize this information into something cogent or meaningful in my life. The act of studying is much easier than the art of practice where all the nuts and bolts of one's belief system gets worked out.  Admittedly, I'm a bit of a Nihilist and am suspicious of such intoxicating claims of one's purpose or meaning.  I find it all to be a bit exhausting and intellectually futile.  Conversely, I do endorse the concept of a journey or path.  In some sense, this is objective in that it is the sum of your collective experience and can be measured for such indicators as happiness, success, or improvement.  It's not to say these indicators aren't a bit arbitrary but are adaptable to one's own interpretation.  So, to put more concisely, I believe energy invested in the journey is beneficial and energy invested in the "purpose" or "meaning"  behind the journey, in an existential sense, is purposeless.  This is why I run afoul with religion as its primary reasoning is deductive.  How can you deduce knowledge or truth from something that has no experience or reality in the strictest sense of the word.  Contrarily, inductive reasoning builds off of what we have experienced, collective or otherwise, and establishes a foundation from which we can build.  Inasmuch, it is in this inductive theory that we can prescribe ways to live in accordance to our own values.  Religion is also absent with respect to prescribing a way to live in the here and now with the exception of a few ambiguous and outdated guide posts.  From this end, my views or attitudes regarding the existence of God have not changed in the most rote sense; however, I'm finding myself less critical with respect to self empowerment. 

The concept of self empowerment is clearly not a new idea.  It began in Greece over two thousand years ago and evolved into a highly populated isle at Barnes and Noble.  The latter is probably why I've openly mocked the self improvement/empowerment movement of recent.  It feels more like a marketing drill than a place to identify sacred truths.  Clearly this is an extension of my nihilistical disposition.  Secretly, however, I've been very attracted to many of these ideas/concepts related to self transformation for quite some time.  As a young child I would wake before sunrise to burn a candle in my closet, light some fragrant jasmine, and chant some affirmation I found in a book at the Austin Public Library.   I suppose I was trying to connect with the Universe to gain purpose or meaning.  Later in my teens I found myself blowing air into some strange, antiquated instrument all while trying my best to memorize Hebrew chants from the Old Testament.  Nonetheless, as I aged and grasped onto the foundation of science, I shifted my philosophy to Atheism echoing the writings of Bertrand Russell.  It was at this intersection that I stopped pursuing knowledge in a personal sense.  It was instead shifted to academics.  I left behind the mystical musings of my childhood only to, twenty years later, recognize that both the concept of Atheism and Religion are much opposite sides of the same coin.  While I still don't believe in a God, I refuse to label myself as an Atheist any longer because it has no real meaning.  It tells nothing of who I am, what I do believe, and entraps my being in yet another deductive paradigm.  All that being said, I've realized that real contentment, self transformation and the like come from looking inward.  Most religions, in the Western tradition, give lip service to this concept but offer no real tools for deep introspection.  So, I thought that left me with Eastern philosophies for which I have a sophomoric understanding.  What I missed though, is the many Greek and Roman schools of philosophy  which resemble more Eastern traditions but with a little more self righteousness than their Eastern counterparts.  So, having examined, at least on the surface, the ideological principles of both Stoicism and Zen, I feel I some tools to begin moving forward again with reshaping my own philosophy. 

Now, back to my identity crisis.  Of recent, I've started meditating, expressing gratitude, and accepting my thoughts for what they are - thoughts.  I have made significant changes over the past several months.  All have been positive but as I have turned inward, I've taken note of several areas in my life where I'm simply not living in accordance to my values.  This has led to a series of self questioning leading to an uncomfortable and destabilizing emotional state.  The little Nihilist in me questions the existence and validity of these values in the first place.  So, I began a list of those things important to me and began tracking my time and energy to determine how much of my energy is being wasted on things flippant to my priorities but necessary to sustain the life I've built.  As I've build a life intertwined with my many different people, my personal changes appear to segregate me from both my prior self and those around me.  It is here where I need more advanced tools to help me with my transformation and to help me find courage to move inward.  Unfortunately, I don't know how to access these tools other than trolling down the self-section with an angry and often times witty Nihilist on my shoulder.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Dreaming 2011

Well, I surely was hoping to be more punctual with my blog posts, but this year has taken off with significant speed and not as much direction as I had hoped for.  Let me say, before moving forward, that my political and social rants are much easier for me to collect my thoughts and write about the world as I see it; however, when I take a more personal route, things can get a little unorganized.  I apologize in advance.  Anyhow, I feel I have been in a rut for the past couple of years.  Much of what was happening was not by design or hinged on purpose.  I found myself reacting to circumstance instead of truly acting out through intention.  So, in October of 2010 I made a decision and subsequent commitment to get out of my comfort zone and begin drafting a life with a little less dormancy and a little more exploit.  My drive was to begin living like I was dreaming and start making my wishes come true.  Yes, this sounds clich├ęd and unoriginal I know, but nonetheless, there is truth in familiar places. The last couple of months in 2010 were rough and boiled over with a lot of candid self discovery which led me to begin taking small steps, no matter how uncomfortable these steps forward may make me feel.  For those of you that know me my natural disposition is that of a shy thinker who enjoys watching events unfold and adores a bloviated critique from the safety zone of my couch.  This is nothing more than a slow and pathetic way to live and the void has climaxed allowing me to find the courage to take the first couple of steps.  Instead of another predictable list of "things to do" or dusty resolutions, I have simply dedicated three  or more days a week where l impose a healthy dose of feeling uncomfortable.  Yes, for me it is that simple.  If it feels uncomfortable and causes a little suffering and sacrifice it is not only overdue but much needed.  I did not make a plan, carve a path, but rather let that path evolve naturally based upon my natural strengths and inclinations.  I have found that I have already begun making subtle yet healthy changes which I believe will last a lifetime. 
The initial step forward was with my diet.  I'm not going to lie, I love food of all flavors and it clearly was beginning to show.  So, for the first 21 days of the year, I gave up all meat and dairy and existed on a completely plant based diet.  This was clearly an uncomfortable foot forward especially seeing I was still cooking meat based meals for the rest of the family.  Nonetheless, it allowed me to eat with more purpose and pay closer attention to the foods I was choosing.  I also found some incredible dishes I would never have tried if I had not left my comfort zone.  Now, to be fair, many years ago I was a vegetarian so I always felt consuming less meat was a moral issue not only for human health but for our environmental health.  So, this may have been easier for me then say someone who loathes vegetables and culinary exploration.  Keep in mind, I don't and didn't intend to transition full time to a vegan diet, but I do limit my meat/dairy intake to only a couple of times a week. 
The next step was to try and become more social (Facebook does not count!).  I have very strong political ideas and am a pretty outspoken Atheist, which puts me at odds with about 90% of our population especially when my two favorite discussion topics are religion and politics.  I hate small talk.  So, I did what every Atheist would do, I started an Atheist book club, Denton County Secular Society, and to my surprise, the group is growing fast.  I have always felt a drive to be involved in my community and/or help organizations that aim to make positive change in this world.  I did not want to simply write a check to a charity, but rather strive to be part of something so I volunteered to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society by participating in their Team In Training Program.  What would make me more uncomfortable then soliciting money from strangers and training to hike 16 miles with some of the greatest people I have yet to meet.  So far this has been an extremely humbling and great step forward.  I can't pretend to understand what it is like for people battling cancer, but if I can make a positive impact by hiking 16 miles and raising money to fund blood cancer research then that is what I will do.  So, if you would like to help me out in this cause, please visit my fundraising page at:
Lastly, I have the best job in the world and feel like I'm part of the lucky few who love what they do for a career.  I cannot imagine going to work anywhere else but in the classroom.  Education is a passion of mine and I believe every child deserves to evolve their own passion for learning, after all this is an innate human characteristic.  The classroom has not always been a comfortable place.  I have had to learn to speak in ways foreign to me and have had to gain the confidence to lead a classroom, which is surprisingly harder then it appears.  But getting comfortable is what I fear so I have begun to commit to spending some of my time both delving into education research on a weekly basis as well as spending more time mentoring individual children.  It is sometimes hard to navigate outside your comfort zone when you feel so comfortable doing what you do, and it appears to be working, but I'm still working on my personal growth in this area.  I am, however, excited about the possibilities. 
I understand this blog post takes odd form from most of my other writing, but I wanted the opportunity to put on paper what I intend to do this year and how I intend to make the world better for it, even if only in very small ways.  I can't wait to see what this year will bring!  

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Coyote and the Clown: Why I abhor Rick Perry

I understand many outside of Texas don't follow Texas politics and I surely wouldn't if I resided elsewhere, but unfortunately, Texas is my home.  And while we certainly don't have a legacy of first-rate Governors, we have more than our fair share of half witted, silver spoon fed, cowboy boot wearing, rednecks who happily fill the void.   Before I move on, let me offer a disclaimer that my distaste for Governor Rick Perry will likely result in a lack of emotional civility and every reader should pursue their own appropriate precaution.  I will try to avoid picking on Perry for the little things like the fact he was a cheerleader in college or perhaps he is the reason why we should not allow Aggies into political office, but I can't make these promises.  Instead, I will try to focus on the primary reasons I dislike, loathe, and despise the existence of Rick Perry (okay, a little harsh but I have little respect for the man and wish he would move to Oklahoma).  These three areas of discord are his positions on education, business, and his relentless support for state sponsored murder despite his lack of support for state sponsored healthcare. 
I will stay brief on the topic of education simply because it is his most egregious position and even a fair amount of state Republicans are in disbelief at the  mess Gov. Perry has created.  As most are aware, the Federal Government stipulated that every state would have to submit applications demonstrating their willingness to increase standards and competitiveness in six domains in order to receive Federal funding for education otherwise referred to as "Race to the Top."  Of the fifty states, only four states elected not to apply for funding, Vermont, Alaska, Texas, and North Dakota.  While it can surely be surmised that Vermont, Alaska, and North Dakota, all very rurally populated states, found that the process and costs of competition would outweigh the gains and therefore elected not to participate.  On the other hand, Texas was eligible for top tier status qualifying the state for the largest award.  Unfortunately, Gov. Perry did not want to subject our children to the influence of the Federal Government and instead subjected our children to higher classroom ratios, longer school commutes, book shortages, deteriorating schools, increased violence, falling academic performance, and a diminished and bleak outlook for the future.   All this during a time when Texas schools are seeing an increase in special education and ESL needs and continued population growth not to mention greatly needed infrastructure development.  I will forgo mentioning his position and role in the arrival of conservative propagandized text books. 
My blood is boiling.  Moving on, let's discuss his role in propagating big business at the expense of Texas citizens.  There are two essential areas to focus in this regard, insurance premiums and electricity.   Texas residence pay astounding homeowners' insurance premiums equal to double the national average.  You may think that because we have lower construction costs (thank you illegal immigration) or no state income tax that we can afford higher insurance premiums; however, there was only one reason a rate hike was approved and that was to line the pockets of insurers in the state.  Think of this as a gift to these insurers for all their warming campaign donations.  It is unfortunate to mention, but these insurers still have not settled the claims from Hurricane Rita, in 2005.  In fact, Gov. Perry has fought every single piece of insurance reform legislation in the state. On the flipside, Governor Perry rejected 555 million from the Federal Government to sustain unemployment compensation insurance.  I guess there is one type of insurance the Governor does not like.  Now, he later overturned his position to appease the masses and critics in his own party, but he still only took half the allotted amount.   He surely would not wanted our children to be in debt to the Federal Government, but I suppose debts to privatized institutions are okay. 
Just as Perry allowed the insurance industry to run amuck, he has allowed the states electrical providers to rack up millions in profits as Texas reports the highest costs of utilities in the nation.  Do you remember when we were told utility deregulation was going to lead to more competition reducing our cost of energy?  Guess what?  Since deregulation, Texas has witnessed a 80% increase in household electricity bills with Dallas and Houston having the highest costs in the nation.  I love you free market!  Now, Perry supporters would argue there are resources for those that cannot pay their high electrical costs through a fund known as System Benefit Fund.  Well, unfortunately, over half of this fund is used elsewhere and never makes it into the hands of the poorest in the state.  I wonder where it goes. 
Lastly, is a topic I hold close to my heart.  Capital Punishment, shared by 35 states in the U.S. and in countries like Iran, Pakistan, Congo, and Syria, is next only to Jerry Jones and the Cowboys in Texas in terms of popularity.  Texas has created a system which minimizes appeals and expedites executions at a rate not seen by any other state.  In fact, of all 137 countries that allow the death penalty, Texas executes roughly 1% of all those executed worldwide.  We also have the highest number of wrongly accused and the most cases overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Where does Perry come in?  We had an extremely popularized case in the state involving a man by the name of Cameron Todd Willingham who was brought up on charges for murdering his three little girls in a house fire.  The only problem was the evidence clearly was shown to have been falsified and later evidence proved the contrary.  Perry was advised of the evidence, but let the execution proceed and Mr. Willingham was put to death on February 6, 2004.  If only we put as much resources into saving lives as we do in executing lives then we might just not need to murder our citizens. 
Made In Texas: George W. Bush And The Southern Takeover Of American PoliticsThese are only a few areas highlighting the incompetency's of Governor Perry.  I truly don't believe there is a honest bone in his body.  From his encounter with a coyote while jogging to his $40,000 monthly lawn maintenance costs (he is renting a house while the Gov. Mansion is being repaired) I think the man is both a coward and a creep and is a disgrace to all Texans.  I beg for someone to enlighten me otherwise.  While Texas has been prosperous for the past couple of decades, it has had little to do with our Government and a lot to do with our natural resources and illegal immigrants who have broken their backs building our society. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Biblioaddiction & Rehabilitation

For anyone that knows me understands I'm a biblioaddict.  I can hardly begin my day without a book or magazine in one hand and hot cup of coffee in the other.  On those days where this ritual is disrupted, I am not a happy person and dare I say am quite grumpy.  I acquired my psychopathological disorder at an early age.  Even when I was a scrawny, underdeveloped teenager, I loved books, though I must confess I did not read all that rested on my shelf.  It was something about the way they felt, the aroma of a used book, the transcendence of knowledge being passed down from one era to the next.  It was about the personal relationship I had with each book.  Well, at first anyway.  Overtime, my collection grew until it consumed my apartment, then my house, and finally my house and my attic.   You see, once I acquired a book I could not divorce myself from its covers.  Fortunately, I have been working through my issues. You can think of this as sort of a bibliorehab.  I have recently inventoried my books, sold many, donated some, and even discarded a few.  It truly hurts to type those words.  Nonetheless, these books were taking over and let's face it, I'm sure there is some underlying deep psychological issue at play here.  As time went on, my collection grew thinner and thinner and I can happily report is currently at a healthy ratio considering the other items residing in my home. 
Now, I must confess, I have cheated slightly.  I have discovered E-readers, and while fervently  opposed to such devices at first, I now feel comforted by their existence.  You see they will allow me to house the thousands of books that will allow me to bury my deep emotional instability and at the same time not assume any actual real estate.  This is surely a win-win.  There is no doubt I will sorrowfully miss the smell of a good used classic, the crisp pages of a NYT bestseller, and the feel of a shiny plastic cover. The E-readers are much more sterile, but they provide me with new tools and I honestly move through books quicker (probably because I'm not smelling, touching, and providing strange affection to my hardback friends).  As they say, you can only take one day at a time, one foot forward, one gallant stride into the unknown and soon enough you will be whole again. 
The initial purpose of this post was to track and share what I am currently reading or have read in the past couple of months.  Perhaps this may lead to others reading some of my recommendations or providing me with some good recommendations.  I am always searching for my next read.  Well, without further ado, my list is a s follows:

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Why I am not a Republican

While I typically find it more pragmatic and constructive to define what I am versus identifying what I am not, I am compelled to do just the opposite in this case. You see, I am politically moderate even though many would classify my perspectives as excessively and colorfully Liberal. The reason is simply the Republican Party of today has deeply deviated from its positions of yesteryear. It is observable in much of today's Democratic legislation, which originated and was advocated for in the Republican Party. These issues include "cap and trade" and the current version of the Healthcare Reform Act. We have the Republican legislators of the 80's and 90's to thank for these antiquated ideas. So, instead of identifying my own personal political paradigm, I find it more constructive to identify why America should not only run from the Republican Party of today, but in fact be deeply concerned by the party platform and skeptical of its membership. I will articulate three areas where the party serves to choose, not the people of the United States, but the interest of large multinational corporations, many of whom originated and operate outside of the United States. These three areas include foreign policy, domestic policy, and social issues.

Let's begin with foreign policy as this is the primary focus of the Republican platform. Across the board, with a few exceptions, the majority of Republicans believe in free trade. What is free trade? Well, this notion came to full actualization during the 80's under Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher. The primary goal was to radicalize the IMF and World Bank to not only make recommendations to developing countries requesting debt relief or emergency loans, but to stipulate conditions for said loans. For example, one stipulation may be for a country to open its borders to outside commercial interest and to privatize government protected industry. This does not sound all bad until you realize that many of these sovereign countries had U.S. installed or backed dictatorships that elected to privatize protected industries against the will of its citizens. The end result included rapid local unemployment, exploitation of natural resources, and slave labor style working conditions for the affected countries. This is why when I hear Republicans use words like freedom and liberation I sigh in disbelieve because it either means the utilization of our military for economic means (Iraq) or it means the toppling of a regime via economic policy including using our influence at the IMF and World Bank to dictate bad policy. You might suggest that these policies, despite how destructive to foreign countries, benefit the United States. Well, that is the pitch; however, there is no evidence of said claims. In fact, since the Regan years we have only seen the widening of economic discrepancy in this country along with deflating international competitiveness because the aforementioned policies benefit MNCs who have no loyalty to any sovereign country but to its shareholders and to its profitability. I could surely write a book on this section alone but let's proceed.

Next, let's dissect the domestic agenda of the Republican platform which is intertwined with the above foreign policy. I don't believe there has been a free trade agreement House Speaker Boehner has not voted for but he surely has voted NO for supporting aid to those American workers who were disenfranchised by these agreements. This reflects a microcosm of the deeper and more expansive philosophy held by most Republican that suggest we should work hard to serve MNCs and then rely on a position of "self reliance" when managing the displacement of the American workers suffering from this destructive policy. The Republican vote against the Healthcare Reform act is an extension of this policy, which keeps employees dependent upon business for its healthcare. The "right to work" status many states seek effectively strips workers of their right to organize effectively and keeps these workers subject to less wages, poorer benefits than unionized members, and has led most Americans to transition from a one income family to a two income family. If you don't believe me, please check out the corollary statistics between union membership and household income. Do you remember when we were told that removing the unions would strengthen our productivity and subsequent global competitiveness? Well, it never materialized. We produce less and we are less globally competitive. I speak to this because the current Republican Platform seeks to enhance this position by going after Teachers and other state/city employees in an attempt to break up their ability to organize and reform these areas with an end goal of privatization. Again, this does not benefit the American workers but corporations who have an international not American agenda. This is only one example of many but for purposes of brevity I will move on.

The area where I disagree vehemently with Republicans is with its social agenda. This agenda serves to propagate fear among Americans which arouses support for Republicans among voters. However, most Republicans have little interest in implementing their social agenda unless it serves corporate interest, which in most cases it does not. If Republicans cared as much about these iconic social issues such as abortion, immigration reform, gay marriage, or prayer in school these issues would have long been resolved. We have had more than our share of times when Republicans dominated the three branches of government in the last thirty years yet there has not even been one realistic push for any of these issues. Why? Because the corporate interests don't share these same values (if you can call them values). Both global and domestic corporations support gay marriage, abortion and are laissez faire with respect to religion and all of them reap the rewards of illegal immigration. In short, these social issues are lures to attract voters particularly in the South and West who are highly religious. And let's not forget about global warming and other environmental issues which I should not have to elaborate on who Republican leaders side with.

In closing, let me say I don't pretend that what has happened to the Republican party starting with Nixon is not shared by several members of the Democratic party. In fact, both parties are shockingly similar in so many ways that I am reluctant to identify with the Democratic platform. However, I believe the Democratic party is the lesser of two evils and I can find good conscious among more of its membership. I also believe with the rise in power of MNC that we need to strengthen our federal government to better watch guard our society from intervening outside interest and preserve the rights embedded to all Americans in the Constitution as the individual is unlikely to accomplish on its own.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

To Give or Not to Give! An Essay on Charitable Giving.

There is something intrinsically human about helping people in need whether this entails a hefty donation to your favorite charity or giving your time to make positive changes in your community. While I would never discourage either the giving of money or time, perhaps we should examine how our money is being spent and how our time is being utilized.

First, let's start with our money. Our motivation, quite candidly, stems from the fact we all know someone with a horrible disease and have seen firsthand the negative consequences these disease cause and most of us have lost a loved one to such a disease. Or we identify a need in our society to protect the most vulnerable which include our children. According to Forbes, the top ten charities in the United States include three medical foundations claiming to support research development to combat specific diseases. The remaining attempt to fight homelessness, poverty, and protect children. So, what is wrong with supporting these organizations or the thousands of others that claim to foster programs to relieve these social and medical ailments? In regards to medical research, the vast majority of scientific breakthroughs in medicine and pharmaceutical science do not come from these organizations/foundations. In fact almost every major medical discovery was void of any connection with major charity organizations or medical foundations. Where did they come from? Universities throughout the United States and beyond. Even more alarming is these discoveries were often made by accident. You see, research is very methodical and planned; however, the conclusions often lead to surprising discoveries or at least new questions to ponder. It is rare that a scientist who focuses only on trying to undertake one type of cancer or other disease arrive at the answer. The odds of this happening are slim. So, what are your donation dollars doing when they are sent to medical or health non-profit organizations? Well, they simply fund awareness and prevention campaigns. This is surely not a bad thing, but you should remember your dollars are unlikely going to find a cure. If you are looking to help change the world by donating your dollars to an organization that may truly make a difference by developing a cure to a specific disease, consider donating to your favorite research institution or university. Sadly those performing the research are struggling to secure every dime and would be grateful for your support. Unfortunately, this is difficult to do understanding the current grant process universities employ. If only there was an organization to match researchers with potential donors.

What about those organizations that serve and protect children, the elderly and the homeless? While I would argue these organizations utilize their donors' money in more critical ways, giving money may not be the best way to serve these groups. This is where I advocate we need more people to serve with their time. However, try giving your time to smaller, local organizations versus large national and multinational groups. The advantage to giving your time (or even money) to smaller groups is simply they are typically more effective at helping out with specific problems affecting your community. Further, they are often run by all volunteer boards with little or no operating costs and have a more targeted focus. These organizations thrive on altruistic giving and I can't think of a better way to truly "get involved" than to see the child or homeless individual you are helping be served by your efforts. Also, consider other ways of giving that many often forget about or dismiss as something they could not do. One such example is foster parenting. In 2010 463,000 children lived in foster homes. There is a critical need for foster care parents and while this will not be right for everyone, perhaps this rewarding role is right for you. Lastly, be politically active in your community. Too many Politicians get elected in local races that truly don't reflect the values of their constituents. This is because voter turnout ratios for local elections often reflect less than 15% of the population. So, stay active and vote for social and economic programs that will protect and serve the underserved in our society.

Let me just reiterate that giving of any kind is a positive action and I do not aim to discourage this activity. I do encourage more people to be engaged and understand what and how their money or time is being used for. Lastly, be cautious of national religious organizations as many of these groups consistently end up on the "worst charities" list because they endure excessively high administrative costs. Now, get out and serve your community!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Let's Get Started

The mission or objective of this blog is to discuss social and political issues to enhance understanding, nurture empathy, and generate new ideas on how to live. Too broad? Well, I did this intentionally as I have a myriad of interest and a diverse group of friends and did not want to limit the conversation. It is my goal to post almost daily, but surely there will be days when this does not happen. I invite all to engage in the conversation; however, I hope this is done with civility and respect for everyone. I will start with my inaugural post tomorrow, February 2, 2011.