Metacentricities

  • I love this country... I hate this country... I love this country... It is my home.

    I woke up early this morning, and given that I wasn't working today, I decided to watch the inauguration on TV. Of course, it's quite the event. And since I'm watching it on MSNBC, the color commentary doesn't annoy me all that much.

    I find myself surprisingly happy to watch Obama be sworn in. It's fun to watch the happiness of the crowd, and I have to admit, if I was there, I'd be happy too. And of course, the celebration and ritual is uplifting. It's meant to be.  And the truth of the matter is, there is a part of me that is proud of this country.

    You say, "proud?" How is that possible? How is it possible that I am proud of this country? The country that enslaved my ancestors, wiped the Native Americans off the continent with disease (purposely spread, in many cases) and force of arms? The country that props up dictators all over the world, and allows the extraction of precious resources at the expense of people who live near them. The country that sends drones to kill people all over the world, not really to "preserve freedom" but to continue to make enemies that we'll then be forced to fight. The country that coordinated a police response to lawful, peaceful Occupy protests all over the country. The country that allows a simply staggering (and, frankly, criminal as well as insane) level of economic disparity. This rich country that can't get it's act together to give everyone health care, or child care. I could go on, and on, and on. You get the picture. You know all of this.

    But if we step back and zoom out, things look different. We are inaugurating the first African-American president - something that I did not believe would happen …

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  • Food, Part 3: The Spiritual and Ethical

    Food is not only a biological necessity - it has been endowed with spiritual significance in most traditions. Perhaps this is because it is a necessity of life.

    In Christianity, the core ritual, communion, is centered around food. It is a remembrance of the final meal that Jesus had with his followers. That meal itself was quite significant for them: it was the passover meal, the celebration of the freedom of the Jews from slavery in Egypt.

    Most spiritual traditions include some sort of blessing over the food before eating. Native American spirituality included rituals of thanksgiving and respect at the end of a hunt.

    I am a panentheist. A panentheist is someone who believes that God interpenetrates every living being. God is more than that, which is why I'm not a pantheist. But I do believe that there is some of God in every creature, and that means there is some of God in every meal. I find deep spiritual meaning in the cycle of life--all of the cycle of life. I've written about it before.

    People make many ethical and spiritual arguments about what they choose to eat. There are spiritual traditions that forbid some foods. For example, Hinduism and Buddhism forbid eating meat, Judaism and Islam forbid pork, shellfish and other foods.

    People who don't follow a specific tradition may choose to be vegetarians because they feel that they don't want to harm animal life. Some people are vegans because not only do they not want to harm animal life - they don't want to benefit from animals in captivity. I do appreciate those arguments, and have chosen, at varied times in my life to eliminate (or greatly limit) my intake of animal protein. And I am also very aware of the ethical/political arguments about the carrying capacity …

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  • Food, Part 2: The Economics of Food in the US

    In the mid-1960s, the federal government developed the poverty threshold based on the "thrifty food plan." It was a plan based on the knowledge at the time, that the average family of three used 1/3 of their after-tax income on food. If you are a standard US family now, you spend way less than that - about 6%.

    We spend less on food than anyone else in the world. In comparison, Kenyans spend almost 1/2 of their incomes on food. And although this is extremely recent historically, we have come expect spending so little of our income on food. Remember the recent "Dairy cliff," the threat that people might have to spend \$8 for a gallon of milk because of the expiring farm bill? Well, it's the farm bill that we have to thank for low food prices.

    Basically, it goes like this. In the 1970s, the government focused on the production of huge amounts of corn, wheat and soy, on large farms, using what was then cheap fossil fuels to aid production. And cheap corn, soy and wheat flooded the food system, which converted all of that into a wide variety of foods, as well as eggs, dairy and meat. In fact, our food system is basically centered around one thing: making as many calories as possible as cheaply as possible.

    On its face, given the context of a growing population, that's not necessarily a bad thing. As a country, you want to make sure that your populace does not starve. But the problem is that the cheapest calories, especially as transformed by the food industrial complex into addictive items for our consumption, are not the best calories for us. I think we're learning, slowly but surely, that this probably isn't a good thing.

    Because of this legacy …

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  • Food, part 1: The Biological (and personal)

    Food is necessary for human survival. It also is a core part of our culture. It has deep religious significance in many traditions, so much so that many traditions tell you what you can and cannot eat, and when you can and cannot eat it. It's complicated, and as a culture, Americans are making it even more complicated still.

    Food is something that intrigues me greatly, so I'm going to spend some time writing about it. This part, is about biology and health, and food's role. I might expand on issues relating to our food production system in a later post. I'll also touch on spirituality and economics in this series. I might even talk about cooking, one of my favorite activities ever.

    In my life, I've mostly been an omnivore, with some periods where, for health or ethical reasons, I've chosen to limit the kinds of food I eat. At times, I've been a lacto-ovo vegetarian and a pescadarian (vegetarian who eats seafood.) More recently, I was a vegan because of a flare up of pancreatitis, but now that I no longer live in the city, that has cleared up, and I'm back to being mostly an omnivore (with some refinements I'll describe in some detail.)

    Food, in a biological sense, is either other organisms, or their products. That's it. There aren't any other things we can eat that will give us nutrients. Ultimately, even carnivores are dependent on plants (or blue-green algae in the oceans), which are dependent on the sun. It is, then, the sun, through a very complex set of biological processes, that keeps us alive. Every day, we eat the gift of the tiny part of the sun's energy that reaches this planet.

    We are deeply a part of the biological system of the planet …

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  • Fact-based faith

    A few days ago, I saw the documentary "What's the Matter with Kansas?" It was filmed in 2006 before Obama became president. One of the profiles is of a family that goes to a mega church (and they spend a fair bit of time filming that church's pastor preaching), and at one point, the family visits the Creation Museum (yes, there is such a thing).

    One thing that continually strikes me when I hear fundamentalists talk is that it seems that they have completely turned off the critical thinking switch. Maybe, there never was one in the first place. My favorite part of the film is when they are filming in the museum, in the exhibit that talks about creation. From what I can tell, the exhibit only details the Genesis 1 version of events, and not the Genesis 2 version of events.

    The thing I can never get is how people can believe in the literal truth of the Bible, enough to insist that a hundred and fifty years or so of scientific research is fatally flawed, and the world is really only 6,000 years old, and yet completely miss the fact that the two versions of the origin story in Genesis are mutually exclusive! The creation events come in a different order. For instance, in Genesis 1, God creates the plants on the third day, and humans on the sixth day. But in Genesis 2, God creates humans (well, Adam) before God creates plants. At the moment, I don't actually know anybody who believes in the literal truth of the Bible, but if you come across one, ask them, and tell me. (Actually, I found this extremely convoluted explanation. Oh, and then there is this one. Um, really?)

    I'm not a Wesleyan (nor a Methodist), but I …

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  • What if we all owned our own work?

    You all already know I'm not a fan of Capitalism, or at least how it is practiced in most of the world at present. And, I'm not a fan of Communism, either. As I've said before, I'm basically a libertarian socialist (or a social anarchist, I'm not sure which of those two phrases I like better, even though they basically mean the same thing.)

    But one thing that is very good about the current state of things is that it is easy for people to work for themselves. Of course "easy" is relative. In practical terms, if one is unemployed, especially in a field were jobs are really hard to come by, it would probably be as easy to spend all those hours figuring out how to make money on your own, than looking for a job that isn't there. Of course, if you are already employed, then making the jump to work on your own is harder.

    And working on your own is risky. There's no weekly/monthly paycheck. No health insurance guaranteed, no nice retirement benefits automatically accruing. It can be hard imagining living that way, especially if you have kids. But you can start out slow. Start out part-time. Put your toes in the water, as it were.

    Some business ideas (like massage therapy, or acupuncture) take training or degrees (and that means money.) Some business ideas take working capital (like opening a restaurant, or a store.) But many business ideas don't need either. And I'm not taking about those manifestly exploitative "work from home" schemes you see in advertising. I'm talking about working for yourself, really for yourself.

    One of my heroes is Bo, a Vermonter, who, with a clever idea and a silkscreen printer made a business for himself, and even has employees now. For …

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  • Fear, Hatred and Delusion

    We heard, yesterday, about one horrific act of violence. And we all weep with the families of those who have lost their little ones (and older ones, too.) It is something that is hard to understand, hard to even fathom. Yet... yet... it's not, really. It is simply an inevitable result of our culture.

    Nerf Machine gunChildred grow up in a culture of violence. Letting kids play video games where they can kill whatever they come across, or watch an action movie is considered much, much better than letting them watch people making love on the screen. Nerf guns and super-soaker guns look more like assault weapons than anything else.

    We live in a culture that is dripping in real guns, too. There are almost 90 guns for every 100 people in the US. Far higher than any other country in the world. Most people who own guns own more than one.

    So this is what happens: There is a mass shooting. The press reports it nonstop. There are vigils, memorial services, stories of the heroes and heroines who saved lives. There are the inevitable questions about the motivation of the killer, and hand-wringing about security. There are calls for tougher gun control laws. The NRA and others spend a lot of money fighting everything, so nothing happens. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Earlier this year, after another tragedy, I blogged about following the money. But it isn't just the greed of the gun manufacturers, or those who are so afraid of their fellow human beings that they fall for the delusion that a gun will keep them safer, or the militia who stock up on weapons because of the hatred of the emerging diversity of this country. It's all of our delusion that living in a violent society doesn't have inevitable, tragic results …

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  • Doublespeak

    Men in picket lineI quickly read over the headlines this afternoon, and caught site of the phrase "Right to Work." And I read a few of the snippets there for what was happening in Michigan, which is yet another attempt by a state to limit the power of unions. I find it fascinating that this phrase has been used completely unironically by people wanting to limit the power of unions.

    In 1948, George Orwell wrote his famous and iconic dystopian novel, 1984. I read it first in the early '70s, before I really understood much about the world, and the way it works. I read it again around 1984ish, I think just to remind myself of what it said, and assure myself that dystopia hadn't come true. It's probably about time that I read it again.

    And of course, it hasn't come to be reality, although many would argue that many parts of it have. In broad strokes, the major oppressive forces in the book of mass surveillance and constant war have arguably come to pass, although quite milder in form and effect. But we are awash in doublespeak. We don't quite hear "war is peace" but we do certainly hear "we assure peace through military strength." So much so, that many people who call themselves progressive agree with that statement. Of course the only thing we assure with military strength is... military strength.

    "Right to Work" is another one of those un-examined examples of doublespeak. "Right to Work" laws are supposedly meant to prevent "forced unionization" - that is, an employee "gets to choose" whether or not to join a union. But what does this mean, really? It means a weakening of unions, and when unions are weak, there are always fewer jobs at lower wages. Hmmm, really? "Right to Work?"

    We live …

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  • Now that we almost have gay marriage, can we get rid of it?

    I came out to myself in 1982, and to everyone else in 1985. You remember what that was like, the early 80's right?   It was just beginning to be OK to tell people you were gay or lesbian, or bisexual. That is, if you lived on one of the coasts. (I lived in Cleveland, OH, at the time, which basically almost counts.) It was the beginning of a long, tragic period of dealing with the AIDS epidemic. For lesbians, it was the middle-to-end-ish of the lesbian separatist movement.

    I was being a good graduate student, I was only really observing what was going on for lesbian separatists at the time. My personal philosophy of life didn't quite fit, anyway. But there were a lot of them around me in Cleveland Heights, where I lived. And it was interesting, for sure.

    I remember having discussions about monogamy, which is something I've never thought was an especially good idea for human beings to aspire to, even though personally, I've yet to have more than one romantic attachment at a time. And lifelong monogamy... human beings are not birds. None of our closest relatives are monogamous at all, and only about 5 percent of all mammals form life-long pair bonds. I have no earthly idea why people think humans should do it. (I'm not saying that no one can do it, people do. I am saying it is absurd to generally expect it.)

    Anyway, back then, among lesbians, marriage was considered something between unnecessary, and, well, you know, aping the patriarchy. It just wasn't on the agenda. The right to freely live one's life without discrimination - that was on the agenda.

    But, you know what happened? People got older, they settled down into mainstream life. They had kids. They got Subarus. The reality …

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  • Making Mistakes

    As a black queer woman, I've experienced my share of racism, sexism and homophobia. Between having some class privilege, and what I've chosen to do, and where I've chosen to live, these have had a relatively small impact on my life compared to many others. Perhaps this has led to my current thoughts and approaches to racism, or perhaps it's my spiritual perspectives, I'm not sure.

    I think there are three kinds of racists: Deliberate, clueless, and striving. Deliberate racists are (generally, but not always, white) people who feel that other races (a concept which, by the way, does not exist) are inferior in some way or another, and society should be set up to reflect that. Clueless racists are "race-blind", and they "have a black friend." Striving (really anti-striving) racists know they are racist, and are working hard to understand it, and how it operates in them.

    Now I happen to think that every single one of us is, in a sense, racist. For most people of color, the racism is inwardly-focused. (Like really, why is it that the cultural norm for black women is to straighten our hair?) No one can grow up in this society without being formed by the culture of white supremacy.

    One of the things that I think has made it so hard deal with racism is the fact that often, people make it really hard for anyone to make mistakes. This example actually inspired this long blog post. First, I don't mean to pick on this person - I've read a lot of her stuff, and really appreciate it. She's a fellow traveler, as it were, another black, crunchy Buddhist. And I also don't mean to diminish her feelings about what happened - they are important to talk about. But I have to call this …

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