Jul 4, 2014

Freedom – what in the world is it?

July 4, 2014 Rota, Cádiz, España

If you're like me, you frequently see images on Facebook with pictures of Ronald Reagan standing in front of an American flag with the caption in big type - “Freedom”. And probably down at the bottom there will be some smaller text with the message the authors really want you to accept.
And when I read the comments, I see quite a few knee-jerk reactions to the word “Freedom”.
OK duhh, who is against freedom? Not many of us, and yet we seem to take the word at face value without examining what it means. So let's look at it a bit.
Here in Europe, the word Freedom doesn't seem to come up nearly as often. But America was born as a nation of small merchants feeling strangled by the taxation and control of England. So the word got into our vocabulary and has remained as a high expression of patriotism.
So what does it mean? Well, I suppose the highest form of freedom is the ability to do whatever you want whenever you want. Sounds good, no? But what kind of world would that give us? To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, your right to swing your fist ends just short of your neighbor's nose. Yup, the other side of Freedom is Responsibility. The study of Ethics is all about resolving the right of the individual to act freely and the right of everyone else not to be harmed by that action. It is not a simple conversation...

It gets even more complicated when we move to “do whatever you want”. Hang with me on this one, please. Whatever we want should be pretty simple, no? I assert that what we want doesn't happen in a vacuum. It comes from the possibilities in our culture. Alas, ever since the emergence of mass culture supported by the media, maybe starting in the 1950's, Americans have been bombarded by misinformation provided by the public relations industry. Perhaps you have seen the series Mad Men? It shows the advertising industry as it began to feel its power at the beginning of the television age. The characters discuss ways to influence the thinking (and feelings) of the public about their products. I hate to say it, but public relations is all about distorting the truth to favor the client of the moment. That's a nice way of saying “lying”.
Now here is when we get back to the topic of Freedom again. I assert that during the Nixon years, when the flower children were taking to the streets, the Powers That Be got seriously alarmed at the radical change in public thought. And it didn't take a handful of millionaires very long to figure out that, for a few paltry millions each, they could fund activities of the new public relations industry and begin to influence public thought. I doubt that they ever really appreciated how powerful their efforts would be.
We have now seen three generations of Americans who have been subjected to an increasingly manipulated reality (at times Brainwashing is too strong a word, but in other cases it seems spot on). Having grown up in this brave new world, it always seemed natural to us and we cheerfully accepted the Orwellian social class – consumers. We were born into consuming and never thought to question whether materialism leads to a life we would like to live. Well, most of us didn't question it. So now we are conditioned to want things that our grandparents could have cheerfully lived without.
And just as surely as we have been taught to want products, we have also been taught to want certain political outcomes. Few of us are political scientists or sociologists and so the political outcomes that are paraded in front of us as the solution to all the nation's problems just get accepted, largely because they come from the media. We have an irrational trust for things that come from the media. This is strange because almost everything that comes from the media is a lie! Does X brand soap really get our clothes whiter than Y brand? Probably not, but they say it will.

So even what we think we want is shaped by the public relations industry. That is sobering, but to fully appreciate the truth of that statement is to begin to regain some freedom. So paradoxically, when we see the picture of Ronald Reagan in front of the American flag with the banner FREEDOM across the front, real freedom is the ability to realize that we are being manipulated and that reality is probably quite different than what the caption at the bottom of the graphic would assert.

Feb 25, 2014

The Ceremony - making every day Valentines Day (La Ceremonia - haciendo que todos los días sean San Valentín)

The Ceremony     (La Ceremonia en español debajo)

Quite by accident, I invented a romantic ritual that has become an essential part of the daily routine.  First, let me explain how it came about.  I was raised by English parents. Neither of them knew how to express love and affection.  As a result, I was almost never hugged or touched.  So I grew up a bit reserved when it came to expressing affection.  I have tried to overcome this all my life.  But the need became even more urgent when I entered a relationship with a Spanish woman who was the total opposite - warm, expressive, and very physical.  I was afraid that she would find me cold and unloving (which I am not once I get started).

So I invented The Ceremony.

So what is it?  It's a wordless way of saying "I love you" in a way that is undeniably true. At the most basic level it is a long naked hug. Yes, naked!  Skin to skin. Chest to chest, belly-buttons to belly-buttons. There is an energy that passes between bodies that is beautiful and for me has always been one of the most enjoyable components of sex.  But the Ceremony is not about sex.  Certainly sexual energy is present, but the intent and the actual result is to experience most directly the existence of We in a way that is normally not present in daily living. Given how important our relationships are for our happiness, a few moments dedicated to just being together is a very good investment of time.

Let me describe possible ways to practice the Ceremony in more detail.  It is probably best to do it in the morning upon awaking (although repetitions at night are not penalized).  We allow at least 15 minutes which means that, if we have to get up to catch an airplane at 3 AM, we set the alarm for 2:45.  The Ceremony is sacred and I doubt if we have missed it more than a few days in a year. I like a little baroque music in the background - streaming www.sundaybaroque.org on my phone provides the ambiance.  Then you just melt into each other's arms.  There are no rules, but usually it is better if you don't talk. Just feel the energy and transmit love. Since we are retired, we don't usually have to rush out in the morning, so we may linger in bed for quite a while.  You can fall asleep in each others arms; or talk; or give caresses, or maybe it leads to sex. But the end result is something so gratifying that it is the highlight of the day.  It is hard to have a bad day after such a good beginning.  And my lady never feels that I am too cold and "English".

Let me mention sex here because although older people find the Ceremony mildly arousing sexually, younger people, especially men, will certainly become fully aroused at once.  That is natural and not a problem. Adolescent men have had to learn to ignore arousal.  In the Ceremony, being aroused is just there in the background. But for the Ceremony to be about love, the man needs to avoid trying to change the subject. Sometimes the most loving thing a man can do is to not push for sex. That said, the energy between the two people will be what it is and there will be many times when moving on to full sexual expression is the most natural thing and all the more sweet because it starts in an expression of love.

I recommend trying this for a week and see what happens.

La Ceremonia (disculpan mi castellano)

Por accidente, inventé un ritual romántico que se ha convertido en una parte esencial de nuestra rutina diaria. En primer lugar, permítanme explicar cómo se produjo. Yo fui criado por padres ingleses. Ninguno de ellos sabía cómo expresar amor y afecto. Como resultado, casi nunca me abrazaban ni me tocaban. Así que crecí un poco reservado cuando se trataba de expresar afecto. He tratado de superar esto toda mi vida. Pero la necesidad se hizo aún más urgente cuando entré en una relación con una mujer española que era todo lo contrario - cálido, expresivo y muy físico. Tenía miedo de que me encontrara frío y sin amor, ya que yo no soy así.

Así que me inventé la Ceremonia.

Entonces, ¿qué es? Es una manera de decir sin palabras "te amo" de una manera que es innegable. En el nivel más básico, es un abrazo largo piel con piel. Sí, desnudo!  Los pechos con los pechos, ombligo contra ombligo.  Hay una energía que pasa entre los dos cuerpos que es mágico y para mí siempre ha sido uno de los componentes más agradables del sexo. Pero la Ceremonia no se trata de sexo. Ciertamente que la energía sexual está presente, pero la intención y el resultado real es experimentar más directamente la existencia de Nosotros de una manera que no está presente en la vida diaria. Considerando la importancia de nuestras relaciones personales para nuestra felicidad, unos momentos dedicados solamente a estar juntos es una muy buena inversión de tiempo.

Permítanme describir posibles maneras de practicar la ceremonia con más detalle . Probablemente es mejor que hacerlo en la mañana al despertar (aunque las repeticiones en la noche no se penalice). Permitimos que por lo menos 15 minutos, lo cual quiere decir que, si hay que levantarse para coger un avión a las 03:00, hay que definir una alarma para 02:45. La ceremonia es sagrada y dudo que hemos perdido más de un par de días en un año. Me gusta un poco de música barroca en el fondo - "streaming" www.sundaybaroque.org en mi teléfono proporciona el ambiente . A continuación, sólo se derriten en los brazos del otro . No hay reglas, pero por lo general es mejor si usted no habla . Solamente siente la energía y transmitir el amor. Ya que estamos jubilados y no tenemos que salir corriendo por la mañana, podemos permanecer en la cama por un buen rato. Usted puede quedarse dormido en los brazos del otro, o hablar, o dar caricias, o tal vez conduce al sexo. Pero el resultado final es algo tan gratificante que es lo más destacado del día . Es difícil tener un mal día después de un buen comienzo tan agradable. Y mi señora nunca se siente que soy demasiado frío e "Inglés "

Permítanme mencionar el sexo aquí porque aunque las personas mayores encuentran la Ceremonia ligeramente estimulante para relaciones sexuales, las personas más jóvenes, especialmente los hombres, sin duda se convertirá totalmente excitado con el contacto físico. Eso es natural y no es un problema. Hombres adolescentes han tenido que aprender a ignorar la excitación. En la Ceremonia, la excitación puede existir en el fondo. Pero para la Ceremonia de ser sobre el amor, el hombre necesita intentar evitar el cambio de tema. A veces lo más amoroso que un hombre puede hacer es no presionar por sexo. Dicho esto, la energía entre las dos personas será lo que es, y habrá muchos momentos en los que de pasar a la expresión sexual plena será la cosa más natural y aún más dulce porque comienza en una expresión de amor.

Recomiendo probar esto por una semana y ver qué pasa .

Feb 24, 2014

On Terrorism....

The War on Terrorism is another of the failed domestic wars from our government, along with "wars" on drugs, poverty, etc.  But it has destroyed the constitutional rights that made our country a source of pride.

Wikipedia defines terrorism as violence conducted for a political purpose.  It first began to be called that in the 1850s and since then has had a growing impact, especially since the arrival of television and mass media. I assert that terrorism will continue to exist wherever there are desperate people who want their message to be heard and don't have access to mass media.  Now that terrorism is a known technique, there is no way that it is going away.  Like it or not, terrorism is going to be with us forever.  And no government activity is going to change that.

Like all governments, after 9/11 ours wanted to convince us that they were going to do everything possible to prevent another such occurrence.  And with the Patriot Act and subsequent changes, they tell us that we are now safer. But in the process they have managed to eliminate most of the rights provided by the constitution to protect the individual from the government.  I will not comment on the growing body of evidence showing that 9/11 was a staged event except to note that it gave the government an excuse to eliminate a lot of civil rights that were a burden to the plans of the military-industrial complex and the highly profitable national security industry.

If we really wanted to get rid of terrorism, there is one sure way to do it.  If we had a global agreement between all possible sources of media that there will be no reporting whatsoever on terrorist attacks or activities, terrorism would virtually cease to exist.  There are few people bloodthirsty enough to want to kill innocent people if they will not get attention from doing so.  Of course, terrorist attacks are very "newsworthy" and a source of profit for the media, so we won't hold our collective breaths for that solution.

But since terrorism isn't going to go away, what about our lost civil rights?

I assert that we cannot continue as we are with our government running amok, spying on virtually everyone in the world; ordering the murder of individuals that it "believes" to be enemies; intervening in the affairs of other sovereign nations; all on the pretext that all of that is necessary to protect our citizens from terrorism.  It is not pleasant to realize that a survey done in most of the nations of the civilized world has shown that the United States is considered to be the greatest existing danger to world peace.  You would never come to that conclusion listening the the American media, but living in Europe we have another vantage point.

Since terrorism is here to stay, we need to restore the civil rights that have been taken away while conducting activities to protect the citizens in an intelligent way.  What do I mean by that?  We have to see that there is a cost/benefit consideration at work.  Yes, we need to screen airline passengers.  There is an obvious benefit in traveler safety.  But there is also a significant cost in lost time and inconvenience - as well as issues of personal privacy.  We need to accept that we cannot, on a day-to-day basis, do everything possible to eliminate terrorism.  And that means a certain acceptance of risk.  It is unpleasant to contemplate, but do we want to suspend civil liberties forever to eliminate some casualties? How many more casualties would we have if we had the civil liberties we grew up with?  There is a balance between casualties and freedom that is difficult to reach.

I assert that our best course is to return to the constitutional rights that we have enjoyed since the enactment of the Bill of Rights.  And then we need to take all the intelligent precautions possible given those untouchable rights.  For instance, since we seem to be having terrorist attacks from single Islamic individuals between 18 and 40 years old, then to not give such persons extra attention in screening is just plain stupid.  Sure you can call it "profiling", but to body searches on an 85 year old grandmother from Duluth just so that you can do body searches on everybody is just plain dumb.

I personally am willing to assume some extra risk in order to have civil liberties. Ultimately, if we keep losing civil liberties and the government becomes more repressive, we are in danger of having more domestic terrorists - that is what the government will call anyone who tries to resist it.  The government seems to be anticipating that, having bought the Dept. of Homeland Security enough bullets to kill everyone on earth.  I do not know if the vacant internment camps shown on the internet are in fact part of some government plan. I didn't start out as a conspiracy theorist, but the evidence keeps growing.  The revelations of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange cannot be easily dismissed.  My greatest concern is with the willingness to quickly define those who disagree with the government and want to protest as terrorists.

As individuals, our only way to return to our constitutional liberties is to continue to speak out and demand that change.  We need to make that an issue in elections.  Our government is no longer very democratic, but if the demand is great enough, eventually it will respond.

Feb 21, 2014

Ideas to repair a broken system....

February 21, 2014  Rota, Spain
I am assuming that you share my conviction that the United States has become a nation that requires some serious repairs.  I think about this a lot and finally decided to put down some concrete suggestions.  I'll present them as problems and proposed solutions. To cover this much ground in a blog, I can't be academically rigorous. These ideas are offered in a general form to those with open minds. The opinionated may not agree.
The philosophy that is the basis for the following suggestions is simply that I believe that government must exist to serve the public - all the public.
Big Money has corrupted our political process to the point that it no longer represents nor serves ordinary people:
As a first step to eliminate systemic corruption, we need to free our politicians from the need to accumulate huge campaign funds in order for them to win elections. Even the most ethical politician has little chance of election unless he/she accepts money with strings attached,  Most of our current legislators spend an inordinate amount of their working time on fundraising.  In addition to eliminating donations to politicians we need to prevent our elected officials from getting all their information from lobbyists.  Here are some ideas:
1) There shall be no campaign contributions to any individual politician.  Acceptance of direct contributions shall be a criminal act. Contributions to political parties shall remain legal but all such contributions shall be registered publicly.  Political parties will disburse funds to their candidates as best serves the electoral strategies of the party.  In no case shall a contribution from a corporation or individual exceed $5000.
2) General elections shall occur no more than two months from the primary elections.
3) Television and radio political messages shall be provided at no cost by the media companies as part of the cost of using public airwaves.  Time and support shall be provided equally to all candidates.  Clearly this will reduce considerably the quantity of political advertising, giving the candidates only enough time to define their positions on key issues and to present their qualifications.  Negative advertising shall not be allowed.  Paid advertising on behalf of candidates from persons or organizations who wish to influence the election shall not be allowed.
4) The voting process, whether traditional or electronic, shall be conducted only by public agencies with scrutiny from representatives of the political parties.  No part of the electoral process shall be contracted to private companies.
5) Presidential elections shall be conducted as a popular vote.  The Electoral College shall cease to exist.
6) Elected officials shall document all public contacts, whether in their offices or in private social events.  This record shall be available on their webpages for review by their constituents.  That would include listing their golfing partners...
7) General lobbying shall cease to exist.  Politicians will not receive private visits from persons outside their constituencies unless that person has direct business with a constituent.  In cases where politicians need to be informed by corporation/s in order to vote on an issue, such presentations shall be made in public meeting rooms.  In the event that national security is involved and such meetings can not be open to the public, then there shall be a representative of the Department of Justice present to ensure that no illicit offers are made. The Dept. of Justice shall monitor the activities of politicians and those who have private contacts with lobbyists shall be reported on their own websites and in the event of a repeat, shall be removed from office.
8) Agencies within the Administrative branch responsible for regulating in the public interest shall not employ persons who have ever worked in businesses that are being regulated by the agencies.  Those who currently exist shall be transferred.
9) I saw an article somewhere on the web that had an idea that would reduce the impact of lobbying.  It would create a new webpage for every new bill proposed in Congress.  It would work like Wikipedia where many authors could contribute, but whenever a contribution turns out to be not true, it is deleted.  In time, the comments that are supported by facts will remain.  Since much lobbying is based on lies that are not discovered by the general public, they will not be able to force their viewpoint into the comments.
Obviously, the above list of changes would have huge resistance from those who benefit from the status quo.  None of this is likely to happen given our current circumstances.  However, it serves us to create a list such as this to see that there are some possible options.  Without dialogue we are unlikely to change anything.
In the interest of brevity, I have listed simple solutions and it may not be clear why some of the items were presented.  I leave it to the considerations of the reader.  In truth, all of the numbered items above could have been better presented with several pages of discussion - but then who would want to read that?
Our National Defense has become a for-profit enterprise which has caused our government to conduct military activities that are not in the interest of the American public.
In no case should military activity be conducted by an organization that will profit from that activity. I assert that our national defense is best executed by persons who have no financial stake in military activity and who have taken an oath to defend the constitution - as sworn by all regular military personnel down to the lowliest soldier.
1) The United States shall not contract for any military services whether those services are actual mercenary services as seen in Iraq, the gathering of information to be used by the military, or any other service.  All such services shall be performed by uniformed active-duty personnel who have taken an oath to defend the constitution.  In the absence of qualified personnel, a program of training and recruitment shall be established with compensation adequate to attract talented staff.
2) Procurement of weapons systems shall be based on the defense of the United States against actual or potential military danger based on the following military mission:
3) The Department of Defense shall be just that - for the purpose of defense from external danger.  That shall not include threats to the interests of American corporations abroad.  Nor shall any part of the Department of Defense intervene in the affairs of foreign sovereign states.
4) The Department of Defense shall meticulously account for all public funds - there shall be no secret budgets for black ops.  Given the huge amounts of money involved, the Department of Justice shall establish a section to audit military budgets and to scrutinize commercial contacts of the military.
Our Financial and Banking system has evolved into a system that benefits a small elite while creating significant risks to the world economy and harming ordinary citizens.
Few of us really understand the complexities of the financial system.  I assert that this is intentional and serves to obscure malfeasance.  I propose the following:
1) There shall be no financial instruments that cannot be understood by a 12 year old.  That would eliminate derivatives, credit default swaps, and any number of other arcane instruments.
2) Banks shall return to the traditional definition of banks - guarding savings of the citizens, facilitating payment of debts, and making loans.  Investment of the customer's savings shall not be a part of the definition.
3) Debt shall not be bundled and sold.  In the event of the sale of a mortgage or other such instrument, the sale shall be done on a one-at-a-time basis with the buyer receiving documents showing exactly what property and persons are involved.
4) The agencies responsible for supervision of the financial system shall be purged of industry insiders. Such supervision shall be vigorously conducted in the interests of the general public.
5) A study by leading economists shall be launched to examine possible options to the Federal Reserve and possible ways to return to a currency backed by something of tangible value (like a kilowatt of energy).
Our system of trade relations with other nations benefits multinational corporations while harming ordinary citizens.
The corporations have used their political connections to alter our trade relations under the ideology of the benefits of Globalization.  This has proven to be a huge benefit to those corporations, emerging nations, and shipping companies.  It has proven to be a disaster for the American middle-class.
1) Return to a limited system of tariffs to remove the advantage of using cheap foreign labor and reward production and manufacturing in the United States.
2) Eliminate existing trade agreements not in the interests of the general public.
3) Make the health of the middle-class the guiding principle in trade relations.
Corporations have acquired a power and immunity from legal control that gravely harms the general public.
Corporate corruption is endemic without consequences for the corporation or it's officers.  It would appear that corporate ethics are primarily based on profits for the shareholders.
1) Congress shall enact a system of laws defining criminal corporate behavior and associated penalties. These shall be based on the best interests of the general public.
2) Corporate officers shall be held personally responsible for corporate behavior with criminal sanctions when justified.
3) Actual or attempted influence of the political process shall have legal sanctions and penalties.