Monday, January 31, 2011

Egypt +

It’s not surprising that the Egyptian people are fed up with an authoritarian regime, nor is it surprising that they would take to the streets once the prospect of getting rid of their repressors seemed real. Revolutions are not new. Our forefathers did it. The French did it. The Russians did it. It’s not a rare phenomenon.

What is surprising is that the full force of the Egyptian military and police have not been brought to bear to kill, terrorize and put down the rebellion. The Chinese did it in ’89. The Burmese have done it on more than one occasion. The Soviets did it whenever they felt their rule was threatened. See Hungary, Czechoslovakia, etc. The Iranian leadership, even though they themselves gained power through a popular uprising, put one down last year. In Syria, the current Assad’s father handled a Muslim Brotherhood revolt in Hama by pretty much destroying the entire town. And so on.

Why hasn’t Mubarak used brutal means to suppress his people during the past week? Either he feels he can ride out the storm without making fundamental changes and thus doesn’t need to employ such measures or he feels he can’t survive and would rather preserve his legacy by putting new people loyal to him in charge and ‘gracefully’ retiring.

I suspect it’s more the latter. If he watched what happened in Tunisia when the dictator Ben Ali was forced to flee and his buddies who were left behind tried to maintain power without him – and couldn’t – he’s smart enough to see the handwriting on the wall. It won’t take long for us to know whether his ego will overcome his instinct for self-preservation. In any event, Egypt has already crossed a threshold and will not remain the same. At least in the short-term this will be good for Egyptians. It might not be so good for the Israelis and Americans.

Other autocrats in the Middle East have also got to be worried. Assad has begun saying the right things. It’s possible the changes for the better he’s allowed in Syria in recent years will get him off the hook. Jordan? Yemen? Algeria? And others? Time will tell.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Keeping a Positive Outlook

Today’s afternoon update sent by the New York Times has 10 headlines. Here are 6 of them:

1. Broad Protests Across Egypt Focus Fury on Mubarak

2. Amid Protests, Ex-Lebanon Leader Assails New Premier

3. In Regional Tumult, Iraq Sees Warning

4. ’98 Embassy Bomber Is Sentenced to Life Without Parole

5. U.S. Home Prices Slump Again, Hitting New Lows

6. British Economy Shrank in Fourth Quarter

It’s sure encouraging to see how well everything is going.

Have a nice day.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Message #10 - You are a Prisoner of Your Beliefs!

This is one in a series of messages:

Reality is what you take to be true. What you take to be true is what you believe. What you believe is based upon your perceptions. What you perceive depends upon what you look for. What you look for depends upon what you think. What you think depends upon what you perceive. What you perceive determines what you believe. What you believe determines what you take to be true. What you take to be true is your reality.

You are a Prisoner of Your Beliefs!

I know you are a broad-minded person. Sure, you’re willing to let me challenge your point of view. Of course you look at all sides of every issue and don’t try to prove that how you see it is the right way to see it. No one would possibly think that you have a strongly held belief system to which you are attached.

Yeah, right!

Don’t be offended. You’re about as broad-minded as the rest of us. You see the world through a prism that you have created. The prism consists of countless decisions you’ve made about how things are. So when you look – at a situation, a person, the world, you don’t have a choice. You are looking through your customized prism, i.e., your beliefs.

To be abstract, if your prism is colored red and I tell you to look at the beautiful blue sky, you will say, with total honesty, that what you see is a red sky.

You don’t live life in the abstract, however. So when you talk with a person who you have decided is boring, that person will bore you. If you see someone else who your belief prism tells you is interesting, you will pay attention to what she says.

Now notice something. These are not new beliefs that occur to you in the moment. Your beliefs are decisions from the past that now appear as reality in the present. Sure, at some point, when you first met the boring person, you did have a choice. You could decide what you thought about him. And you did, probably instantly. He’s boring. And that became the truth for you.

And yes, you have the power to replace a boring prism with an interesting prism, but you rarely do that. That would mean you are admitting you’ve made a mistake, that you have been wrong. And you’d rather retain your belief than question the accuracy of it. You are locked in, imprisoned.

It’s worse than that. It you remember you have a choice and can change your opinion that would be useful. But you forget you have that power and instead operate on automatic. Without thinking, you respond in a way that is consistent with the previous conclusions you’ve reached.

So the boring remains boring. And the interesting remains interesting. Which serves to validate and reinforce your beliefs. It’s called a vicious circle. Thus, the future turns out to be very much like the past. Things tend to repeat themselves. As Edna St. Vincent Millay said:

Life is not one thing after another,

It’s the same damn thing over and over again.

You live in a culture that worships answers. And because you want to be seen as a valued member of the group, you go along to get along. You become an Answer Worshipper just like everyone else. You develop a point of view. You want to understand. You don’t realize that when you say you “understand” something you’ve given up on other ways of seeing it. Your beliefs become self-imposed limitations. Your beliefs have you by the throat.

You shouldn’t win the gold medal for having the best answers. It should go to those with the best questions. But here’s the problem. The longer you’re alive, the more educated you become, the more attached you are to how much you know, all that creates a conspiracy that has you focus on the answers and lose sight of the questions.

Kids ask the best questions. At a Children's Science Workshop in San Francisco, a teacher asked 3rd and 4th grade students to write down things they wonder about:

  • "How can the plug get electricity from the plug hole?"
  • "I wonder about where the toilet water, pee and poo goes to."
  • “I wonder how a bullet is strong enough to kill someone.”
  • “Why are we going to die?”
  • "I wonder how cell phones could communicate with other cell phones by having an antenna."
  • “I wonder how airplanes don’t fall on the ground even though there is still gravity.”
  • “Who was the first person alive?”
  • “I wonder why girls and boys act different.”
  • “How do you make an iPod?”
  • “Who made up words?”

If I had asked you to come up with ten questions, could you have done as well as these eight year olds?

You may be out of practice at asking questions, but at some point back in the day you were good at it. Fortunately, it’s not too late to rehabilitate your ability. Your biggest challenge will be to put your love of answers on hold.

Don’t jump to a quick conclusion here. I didn’t say answers are bad. Or that you shouldn’t have points of view. Or that it is useless to understand. Not at all. I want you to see that when you rely on predetermined conclusions, assumptions or presuppositions about some one or some thing you limit your freedom to think creatively with fresh eyes.

You’re in charge of what you believe. You didn’t inherit them. You made them up. You put them in place. You’re the one who says they’re true. So you’re the one who can question them and change them if you choose to.

You always have a Get Out of Jail card at your disposal. You don’t have to be a prisoner of your beliefs!

Monday, January 17, 2011


No bad news focus today. How about a few miracles?

In a relatively peaceful election the Sudan is voting to split itself in two. The Christian and animist south will part from the Muslim north. A Miracle!

The Jets beat the Patriots. A Miracle!

The temperature got up to 60 yesterday in San Francisco. A Miracle!

The post office will not raise the price of first class letters this year. A Miracle!

There’s a chance the Italians will actually indict Berlusconi for sleeping with a 17-year-old girl. A Miracle!

San Francisco has a Chinese mayor. A Miracle!

Brett Favre is actually going to retire this time. A Miracle!

The current Pope says he now has proof of one miracle by the last Pope, which means he (the last one) only needs one more miracle to be eligible for sainthood. A Miracle? Nah. It’d be a miracle if the road to quick sainthood for John Paul II got slowed down or derailed.

Any miracles you’d like to add to this list? Be my guest.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

In Case You Missed It

I usually don’t read Tuesday’s Science Times section of the NY Times carefully. I skim it. Today I decided to look more closely. Here’s my takeaway:

They could have titled the section “Disagreements.” For example:

Their lead story is all about whether the dwarf planet, Eris, is bigger than Pluto. It’s a scientific argument about mine is bigger than yours.

They follow with the news that the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology is going to publish a report about the existence of extrasensory perception. And so there is a big expert scientific brouhaha about whether ESP is an appropriate subject for such a respected journal.

And there’s more. The paramaceutical company Sirtris has halted clinical trials on resveratrol, the ingredient in red wine that many think can extend life. Why? Because many others think resveratrol research isn’t going to lead anywhere. Meaning they don’t think it will be a moneymaker for the company.

Will you burn more calories sitting at your desk if the thermostat is turned down? The consensus is yes, a little. It’d be better to walk up and down a few flights of stairs. About the temperature? If you shiver you’ll burn more calories. But this isn’t ideal, because if you’re fat you’ll shiver less. And besides, if you’re trying to write or use the computer these involuntary muscle contractions will get in the way. (Really, this is all in today’s Science Times.)

Another contradiction: La Nina, which we’re having right now, typically brings dry conditions to Southern California. But recently the Southland has been deluged with heavy rains. What’s going on? “Clearly, to this point, the pattern has not been panning out for Southern California,” said Michelle L’Heureux, a meteorologist with the Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Camp Springs, MD.

There doesn’t seem to be any disagreement with a new study that says an extinct flightless bird from Jamaica that belonged to the ibis family used its non-flying wings as clubs, perhaps to battle predators or fight among themselves. There is some confusion about when or why these club-winged ibis’ became extinct. Probably because their membership in the club was cancelled.

One more and then I’ll stop. A new study says that early humans and Neanderthals had about the same longevity. This information creates a problem for those who believe that a longer life span helped humans to survive while Neanderthals died out. The scientists now say we need to better understand fertility and infant mortality rates to determine what happened. Sounds like an intelligent thing to do, and I’m not even a scientist.

Maybe I’ll pay more attention to the Science Times in the future. Or maybe not.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Glimpse of the Day

I regularly receive the Rigpa Glimpse of the Day. I particularly like this one:

Nothing has any inherent existence of its own when you really look at it, and this absence of independent existence is what we call “emptiness.” Think of a tree. When you think of a tree, you tend to think of a distinctly defined object; and on a certain level it is. But when you look more closely at the tree, you will see that ultimately it has no independent existence.

When you contemplate it, you will find that it dissolves into an extremely subtle net of relationships that stretches across the universe. The rain that falls on its leaves, the wind that sways it, the soil that nourishes and sustains it, all the seasons and the weather, moonlight and starlight and sunlight—all form part of this tree.

As you begin to think more and more about the tree, you will discover that everything in the universe helps to make the tree what it is; that it cannot at any moment be isolated from anything else; and that at every moment its nature is subtly changing. This is what we mean when we say things are empty, that they have no independent existence.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Depends On Your Frame Of Reference

I remember the first time I saw a world map made in India. The U.S. was way off to the side. India was in the middle. Every map I’d ever seen had the U.S. in the middle where, we would say, it belongs. Tell that to the Chinese, boys and girls.

So – a few things that are yawners for most Americans:

The newly elected president of the Ivory Coast is behind a barricade in his hotel, put in place by the old president he defeated so that the new guy can’t take power.

In Pakistan, the Punjab governor is riddled by 20 bullets in the back courtesy of a disgruntled member of his security guard, who is then cheered and showered with rose petals when he shows up in court.

The English cricket team beats the Aussies and keeps the Ashes.

A Hungarian will be president of the European Union for the next six months.

There is civil unrest in Egypt, Nigeria, Greece, Italy, Algeria, Tunisia, Jordan, and . . .

In Sudan, they begin voting Sunday to decide whether to split the country in two.

Chelsea, last year’s Premier League champions have won only two games in their last ten. Liverpool, a perennial ‘big’ team has lost 9 out of the 20 they’ve played in the league this season.

Corruption scandals in India are threatening the stability of the government.

And so on . . .

And yawners for the rest of the world:

John Boehner seems to cry every time he opens his mouth in public.

A report on the gulf oil spill blames everyone involved.

Playoffs in the National Football League begin tomorrow.

Facebook will or won’t do an IPO.

Snow removal in New York City didn’t go well.

U.S. students lag most of their counterparts in other developed countries.

We’ve got an immigration problem.

Dead birds are falling from the sky in Arkansas.

And so on . . .