10-19-08 8:11  •  Not just theism

Seana: I know God is real. I FEEL that the Lord is there in my life, he makes me happy and fulfilled with what I have even if I don't have "proof" he exists. My faith in him is proof enough for me. How could I not belive? I have a blessed life.

It is not necessary to be a theist to have a "blessed" life, and this kind of life does not lead inevitably to theism as the only possible explanation.

I know many people who have extraordinary, wondrous lives, filled with good fortune and grace. They have joy and appreciation in the good times, patience and strength in the hard times. They are enriched and fulfilled in learning, practical and successful in doing, and they have love, hope and community to sustain them in loss. They have outstanding moral character.

They are not theists. Yet I'm sure they would say that they are not missing anything essential to fullfillment of the human experience.

The point is, it is possible to have it all without God. Therefore, "blessed life=God" is not the only possible conclusion.

10-19-08 8:11  •  Obama and Socialism

Fearful: Obama wants to turn us into Socialists!!

Why are you so down on Socialists? Have you got something against the Swedes? They have a great country. They are healthy, well educated and very well taken care of. They have freedom of the press, freedom of expression, and an elected legislature, just like we do. They consistently rate very high approval levels for their system and their government. They are one of the most financially successful countries in the EU.

A little dose of socialism might make us more like them. Would that be bad?

Fearful: I know very little about Sweden. I had heard that they had the highest suicide rate in Europe - or was it the world? - but that was all. I therefore did a quick Internet search. I found out that they are lame and floundering, according to this site.

I would take the source you listed with a grain of salt. Any web site whose statement reads "We believe that to maintain freedom, our political institutions must be founded upon faith in God..." has obviously got a prominent agenda.

To look at the other side, here's a few other sources:


Sweden and Denmark top in quality of life

Norway has been the proud winner of surveys studying and comparing the quality of life around the world, but now has been left behind by its Scandinavian neighbors, largely due to a relative lack of social equality. The good news is that Norway was a close third, newspaper Dagsavisen reports.

"Norway has always among the top five countries. There is very little difference between the top countries, and one should remember that when you are on top of the list, there is only one direction to go," Professor Richard Estes at the University of Pennsylvania told Dagsavisen.

Estes is the man behind the international index WISP which measures the quality of life in 163 nations using 40 different social indicators.



Swedish Mental Health:

Suicide: Suicide rate in Sweden (12,4 per 100 000)

Suicie rate in US by State:

Rank State [Division] (2004 rank) Deaths Rate 1 Montana [M] (2T) ....................... 206 ...........22.0
2 Nevada [M] (2T) ......................... 480 ...........19.9
3 Alaska [P] (1). ............................. 131. ..........19.7
4 New Mexico [M] (4). .................. 342. ..........17.7
4 Wyoming [M] (5). ......................... 90. ..........17.7
6 Colorado [M] (6). ........................ 800. ..........17.1
7 Idaho [M] (7) ...............................228 ...........16.0
8 Arizona [M] (11). .........................945. ..........15.9
9 South Dakota [WNC] (13). ......... 121. ..........15.6
10 Oregon [P] (10) ........................... 560 ...........15.4
11 Oklahoma [WSC] (14). ............... 522. ..........14.7
12 North Dakota [WNC] (29). ........... 92. ..........14.5
13 Arkansas [WSC] (20). ................. 400. ..........14.4
13 Tennessee [ESC] (18T). ...............856. ..........14.4
15 Utah [M] (9). ............................... 348. ..........14.1
16 West Virginia [SA] (8). ................255. ..........14.0
17 Kentucky [ESC] (16T). ............... 566. ..........13.6
18 Florida [SA] (15) ......................2,347 ...........13.2
18 Kansas [WNC] (16T). ................. 362. ..........13.2
18 Maine [NE] (21). .........................175. ..........13.2
21 Washington [P] (18T). .................822. ..........13.1
22 Missouri [WNC] (22). .................727. ..........12.5
22 Vermont [NE] (12). ....................... 78. ..........12.5
24 Mississippi [ESC] (23). ...............363. ..........12.4
24 New Hampshire [NE] (39T). .......162. ..........12.4
Conclusion - many states in the U.S. have higher suicide rates than Sweden.


A few health statistics:

Greenest Countries - Most Livable Places 2008
4. Sweden
23. United States

4 Sweden
24 United States

Health Performance Rank By Country
Sweden 21
United States of America 72

Infant mortality rate - total(deaths/1,000 live births)

174 United States 6.37
176 Cuba 6.04
213 Sweden 2.76

Child Well-Being In Rich Countries 2007

Rank 2 Sweden 5.0
18 Hungary 14.5
19 United States 18.0

Here's an article which looks at both sides of the Swedish picture:

The new face of Swedish socialism

Swedish snapshot A: Shows a taxed-to-the-eyeballs welfare state where the government grabs more than 52% of the country's GDP—the highest percentage of any industrial country. A Swedish businessman who earns Euro200,000 a year gets to keep just 49% of his paycheck. Of OECD countries, only France comes close to Sweden in taxing its most successful businesspeople (for complete tax data on 33 countries, see "The tax grab 2001," Forbes Global, Feb. 5).

Swedish snapshot B: Shows a booming economy bubbling with entrepreneurial activity. Growth is predicted to be 3.5% for 2001; inflation, 1.7%; unemployment, 4% (less than half the European average). In 1999, according to the European Information Technology Observatory, Sweden ranked first in the world in investment in information technology and telecommunications. Venture capital is pouring into Sweden, and labor productivity is rocketing: From 1990 to 1999 productivity climbed 47% in Sweden, against 39% in the U.S. and 31% (on average) in the EU. Last year, Sweden topped the global standings in R&D spending as a percentage of GDP with 3.7% (in the U.S. it was 3.1%), according to the OECD.

How to reconcile snapshots A and B? Is Sweden a bloated welfare state? Or a People's Republic of Entrepreneurs?

The answer is that it's a mixture of both.



The upshot is that a good combination of socialism and capitalism seems like the optimal system, which is exactly what what I have always advocated. Rapacious cut-throat capitalism, as practiced in the U.S., has certainly not put us high on the charts for any ranking other than wealth. And wealth does not equal happiness. Nor are we likely to remain high even on that list in the forseeable future.


Particularly interesting, I thought, was that the more right-wing sites listed it as a major liability that Swedish people get so much time off of work. They complain mightily that Swedes have more sick days, more vacation days and more time spent on professional sabbatical than any other nation.

In my opinion, that is hardly a liability. It's a selling point!

Tired of working your ass off? Like to enjoy life instead of spending every day as a wage slave? Move to Sweden!

Fearful: I always thought the key to getting ahead was working hard.

Right out of the gate, this phrase is laden with assumptions that are almost never challenged. First of all, why is it important to "get ahead?" Ahead of who? Is life a race? Must you win? Must you consign others to lose? Are the resources of life so scarce that the only way to survive is to claw our way in front of the pack, crushing those who stand in our way?

Another assumption is that there is some kind of link between "working hard" and having success. It rarely works that way.

One example is the people who actually work the "hardest" in our society, those involved in hand labor, like picking fruit. You would not wish work this hard on anyone. Long hours, little rest, back-breaking tasks for almost no pay. Migrant laborers work their asses off with the hardest work we have and very few have ever "gotten ahead" doing this.

A more familiar example might be the stay-at-home-mom. Most people agree this is hard work, yet no one ever suggests that we need to pay moms to do it, and no mom ever "got ahead" minding her own household. She is not motivated by the greed of financial gain. Raising your own children and keeping your own home is a labor of love and most women who do this are doing it willingly, to the best of their ability, with no thought of renumeration. It is not necessary to bribe people with "money" to get people to do good work that needs to be done.

Fearful: I don't want the government doing this for me.

Again, misconceptions. One is that "the government" is something other than just us. What our "government" does is us doing things for ourselves. Another is that socialism involves the government doing things for us that we would prefer to do. People can do what we want, a good government will not stand in our way.

Lastly, many people seem to have a very strong impression that while WE want to help ourselves, everyone ELSE wants to sit back and "let the government do it for them." There are plenty of other people who are no different from you in wanting to do for themselves. The stereotypical "lazy welfare slob who watches soaps all day" is used to play on our emotions and suggest that most people are incapable of working as hard as WE do. But this description applies to a tiny segment of any society.

Most people are fairly good at doing what it takes to get by, regardless of the circumstances, if there is any way that they can. Social groups can ease the burden on everyone by working together and sharing the load. However this is anathema to our culture.

Fearful: I've always been one to give and help where I can.

Most people are.

Fearful: But I guess I am a capitalist at heart.

If you were raised in the United States, it is very unlikely that you have been involved in many conversations where the merits of other alternatives were discussed.

Fearful: Wow, you really read way too much into my opinions.

I apologize. I don't have any problems with your opinions. Your opinions gave me a place to start in explaining my opinions, that is all.

Fearful: At this time, my husband is a SAHD, so that kind of blows your argument on that one.

I'm sorry, what argument are you referring to? Please, substitute stay-at-home-parent if that makes it easier to understand. And, I certainly did not suggest paying primary caregivers. I used this as an example of people who work hard without thought of pay.

My point was that hard work often does not result in "getting ahead" and that monetary gain is not required to prompt hard work.

Fearful: And how on Earth, do you get me bashing people on welfare?

I am very sorry, I did not mean to imply that you were bashing welfare. I specifically said, many people, not you. I meant that a) most people bash welfare, and b) most people think that no one would ever work unless we threaten or bribe them.

Fearful: And yes, I have had the chance to discuss economical issues with people from other countries...

If that is the case, why do you think capitalism is necessary to prompt work?

Fearful: I guess what makes me a capitalist is not seeing where wanting to be compensated for my work is greed.

You are overstating my position. Compensation is not greed and I didn't say it was. However our system does have a hugely distorted perception of what appropriate compensation is.

In any case, ordinary working people at the bottom of the scale, who are merely being compensated, are not the problem. They did not destroy our economy. It was destroyed by promoting the savage greed of those at the top. Cheating is greed. Hoarding is greed. Crushing others just to accumulate wealth is greed.

Fearful: I like the fact that there are opportunities there for me and my children.

Opportunity is not dependent upon capitalism.

Fearful: Maybe to you I am greedy.

You don't seem greedy, and I didn't say you were. However in capitalism the winners are determined by who is the greediest. Greed is specifically rewarded over any other characteristic.

Fearful: But I don't get this mind frame where all wealthy people are evil and greedy.

Nothing applies to "all" of any group. I didn't even mention evil. However many wealthy people are indeed very greedy, which is how they became wealthy.

Fearful: I don't think the wealthy should feel guilty for having things.

I don't remember mentioning guilt at all. How they "feel" is entirely irrelevant. However "having things" is not very important and yet most people think it is more important than anything else.

Fearful: Why is it so okay to bash people for success?

Calling the greedy "greedy" is not bashing. And discussing the merits of socialism is not bashing. And, success that can be measured in money is the shallowest and lamest kind of success.

Fearful: Most people I know in the upper tax bracket work very hard, very stressful jobs, and often work long hours as well.

This seems kind of stupid. If they don't like it, but do it anyway, just for the money, what does that say about their greed? Working very stressful jobs for very long hours is a waste of your life, particularly if you are already wealthy and you could afford to take it easy.

Fearful: I like that people can have some choice into their lifestyle, and that if they are not happy where they are, they can change that.

Where did I say that people should not have a choice in their lifestyle? Right now most of the people in the lowest brackets can't just "change that" no matter how hard they work. Our system usually allows "lifestyle choice" only for the wealthier, while offering only servitude and subjugation for the poor.

As for me, I have no desire for money and would just as soon have a lifestyle which doesn't involve money at all. However, we are forced to play the capitalist game in order to survive. There's no "lifestyle choice" for my lifestyle choice.

Fearful: But just out of curiosity, how many working people do you know that would keep going to work if they stopped getting paid?

Most of them, actually. There are many people who love to work. I can give you an example - a very wealthy relative of mine already had enough money to retire and live like a king for the rest of his life at age 35. He sold his business and took it easy for a few years. Then, he got bored of sitting around and started taking some consulting jobs. Soon he was back to working a few hours every day, not because he needs the money, but just because he likes it and he is good at it.

People enjoy serving causes they support. People enjoy gaining expertise and then using it. People enjoy taking care of what needs to be done. People enjoy helping others and managing projects and accomplishing goals and crafting works of excellence. There are many reasons why people would work without money.

Fearful: Obama feels the poor and people that won't work or get an eduction to better themselves should be taken care of.

Some people might find this misguided but it is hardly evil. Also I think this is a mischaracterization of the goal.

Fearful: He thinks the people that earn a living and try really hard to give their families a good life should pay for the people that are unwilling to do the same.

Everybody thinks that only they are willing to try really hard and that there are massive hordes of people who are unwilling. However this is not true. There are very few people who are flat out unwilling to try.

Our system has created conditions where many are unable. That is not unwilling.

Fearful: So he thinks the government should pay more money to these people to sit on there butts.

I don't know anyone who is proposing "giving more" to any particular individual. I think they want to be able to help larger numbers of people who need it in more ways.

Fearful: Where is this money gonna come from?

How about the bloated military budget?

Fearful: We worked hard for our money! We don't want to just give it all away now.

Why do you say "all"?

Fearful: I don't want to be dictated on where my money is going.

You are currently dictated where your money is going. Mostly to fund military efforts.

Fearful: Not to mention if they want the same money we make then they should go to college for eight years then they can.

If college was free and mandatory, I would agree with you. However, as it is, not everyone can just "go to college for eight years."

College is extremely expensive. There are not enough scholarships for everyone who wants to go and most people don't qualify. Loans are extremely burdensome and also not universally available. Many people have to work to eat and also raise families and don't have a lot more time for college on top of that. It would take them a lot longer than eight years.

"They should just do what I did" is a common fallacy. Not everyone can just do what you did.

Also, "the same money" is a strawman. People are quick to say that the goal of socialism is to give everyone "the same money" so that they can dismiss socialism out of hand. However no one is actually proposing this.

Fearful: You can bash all you want but, it is the truth and I will say it if I want.

I don't think discussing socialism qualifies as bashing. I don't think your opinion necessarily equals "the truth." And no one is trying to stop you from saying anything.

Ladylike: What are some of the things that everyone should have in a socialist America?

Enough to eat. A place to get out of the weather. A full education. Health care. That's it.

We almost have this now. We already have a lot of it. We don't have to become "a socialist America" to ensure our citizens have the basics. Some very minor changes to our current system would accomplish this easily. And our whole country, every single citizen, would benefit from having a healthy, well-educated populace.

Ladylike: How about people who work several jobs to make ends meet, should they be encouraged to quit working one job to go on government assistance?

No. A single full-time job should pay a minimum wage which is sufficient to survive on.

Fearful: Well, I am not for a government that pays my bills, buys my food, pays for my house, controls my healthcare, wipes my ass, etc.

No one is proposing this.

And, no one seems to have a problem with private corporations controlling their healthcare. At least we have a say in what our government does. We have no say at all in the actions of private corporations.

Fearful: I think there are going to be freedoms lost.

Which ones? Be specific.

Fearful: A question... which freedoms would you be willing to sacrifice for this Utopian society where all are on the same level in all areas?

No one has ever proposed that all people be on "the same level in all areas." This is a misnomer that is applied to make it seem ridiculous. However this is not what socialism means.

10-18-08 8:11  •  Resource-based Economy

Beth: What is your opinion of The Venus Project?

Beth, I am forever in your debt for bringing this site to my attention. Thank you! Here are a few initial thoughts:

VP: Money is a social convention, an agreement if you will.

I would hope people will notice that this is what I have been saying here for months.

I find it absolutely heartbreaking that the entire world is poised to suffer terrible deprivations from food shortages when there is actually plenty of food. The problem is not the amount of food. The problem is that the food distribution system is based on money, and the "money" is all screwed up. People were so greedy to accumulate "money" and inflate "money" that the money no longer has any recognizable value that we can agree on.

Food will rot in the fields and in the warehouses, while people will starve in the cities, just because the massive convoluted imaginary economy we have constructed is not workable and cannot be maintained. Our economy is based on false, unworkable precepts, like: some people deserve food more than other people. Only some people should be educated. Life for most should consist mainly of toil. Those who excel should not help those who struggle. Your worth consists of what you can acquire.

It is absolutely insane we will allow the food to rot while billions of people starve just because we cannot get past our need for this imaginary thing that has no actual value. If we could forget the stupid money for five seconds we could work together, but instead we will panic and tear each other to shreds...all over imaginary "money" which no longer has any meaning.

The "money" system we are using now is just a big trap to trick the people into giving their lives and their power to those above them. The problem is, in the money system everyone is a slave - at the lower end, most peope give their lives and labor to their employer and receive just enough to scrape by in return, as if forty hours of their week is somehow only worth one thousandth of what another person's is worth. Tragically, even people at the upper end are slaves, forced to savagely exploit millions of their fellow human beings and suckered into believing that their own self-worth is measured in their possessions.

It is interesting that when I was a little girl, about eleven, I came up with an imaginary society which used a system very much like this. I thought that people should freely recieve what they needed, and freely contribute what they were able to, and the two should not be reined together. I told my parents and my teachers about this and every single person laughed in my face and said it was the stupidest thing they ever heard. They told me, "It just doesn't work that way."

I said, "But, can't we just decide how it works? We could decide to do it that way and then do it." Everyone said, no, we can't. But no one was ever able to explain why not.

If you can't imagine a world where people are driven by impulses other than greed (at the top and middle) and fear of starvation (at the bottom) then think about the society imagined by Gene Roddenberry when he created Star Trek. In his imaginary world, people are driven to make, build and learn for the sheer joy of creation, accomplishment and discovery. In this system there is still plenty of competition for social ranking, but it is based directly on accomplishment, achievement and merit, rather than on artibrary monetary measures (which are supposed to reflect merit, but in practice usually do not.)

This may be fiction, but it shows that at least some people can conceive of a different and better kind of human arrangement.

I suppose the real question is, will this ever happen?

I don't see it in our lifetimes. I forsee that there will be massive global upheaval, resource wars, killing and starvation on a scale never before imagined, and our entire landscape will be laid to waste in the process. Generations from now, whoever is lucky enough to survive the conflagration will realize that what we had never really worked. They will look for something fairer and kinder and more uplifting, and then perhaps they will see the wisdom of a resource-based economy. I just hope by then it is not too late.

Too bad we can't bypass all the suffering and savagery and just do it now. Upon viewing this site, my heart soared at the thought that some few people really do understand...only to immediately break in sorrow that most do not and never will, and because of that, we bear the seeds of our own destruction.

Beth: The problem is, those at the very top are happy with the status quo. They will do anything & everything in their power to keep things the way they are. We "little guys" hardly stand a fighting chance against their might so long as they control the money and our access to basic necessities that cost us money.

We "little guys" have a few things going for us. For one thing, there are a fuck of a lot more of us than there are of them. For another, at any moment, if we wanted to, we could quit buying into the whole stupid system and find another way to organize ourselves. The traps the rich are using to coerce us are ineffective if we do not grasp after the bait.

If people were to eschew materialism and consumerism, we would not be continously handing our power to the capitalists.

Just as an example, we could all turn our own front yards into gardens and grow our own food. That would seriously cripple the Wal-Martization of society. For another, we could abandon Windows and use an open source solution like Linux. That would end the stranglehold of Microsoft on computer infrastructure.

The only reason they have power over us is because we agree that they do. We can just shake off that agreement. We don't have to fight them. We can just ignore them.

10-18-08 2:11  •  Socialism

Allison: What do you think of this brochure for the American Socialist party?

A-Z, I want to thank you for posting this. I printed it out and carried it around with me today so that I could give the document a thorough read and think through the subject as they have presented it. Here are some reflections on what they had to say:

Brochure: Democratic Socialists do not want to create an all-powerful government bureaucracy. But we do not want big corporate bureaucracies to control our society either.

This is one of the things I have never understood about our society. People often say, "I don't want the government making my decisions for me!" but they don't seem to mind one bit that big corporations are making our decisions for us.

The government, at least, is elected to serve us. The heads of corporations are elected by nobody and have no reason to serve anything other than their own narrow self-interests. How this could possibly be better than making our own decisions through our elected representatives is beyond me.

Brochure: Resources are used to make money for capitalists rather than to meet human needs.

Again, I do not understand this. How did we ever end up thinking that natural resources belong to some people and not to others? How is it that natural resources benefit only a few? How did arbitrary claim stakes end up the system for deciding who owns what land, or what mine, or what well?

For instance, in Oklahoma, a lot of land is owned by the descendants of the people who got here first in the land rush, even before they were officially allowed to stake a claim. (They were called the "Sooners.") But the people who claimed this land broke the rules to get here first... why is that still a valid claim? What about the Native Americans who used this land as their hunting grounds for thousands of years? Why is this land "ours" and not "theirs?

If your name is next to a lot number in a hall of records somewhere, the land is "yours" and no one else's. People act like that is a writ by the hand of God, but in truth it is completely arbitrary and there is no rhyme or reason at all to how it got that way.

Brochure: We don’t agree with the capitalist assumption that starvation or greed are the only reasons people work.

These are exactly the levers I mentioned in another thread earlier today: "If you can't imagine a world where people are driven by impulses other than greed (at the top and middle) and fear of starvation (at the bottom)..."

I don't see how threats (starvation) and bribes (greed) really constitute a fair system of motivation. People in non-monetary societies work together to accomplish things because they are fun, or because they need to be done. Why should we be any different? We aren't.

I certainly don't help my husband because he pays me, or help my children because I would die if I didn't. I can function perfectly without threats or bribes and I'm sure everyone else can too.

Brochure: ...as well as the conservative myth of the virtue of greed.

Boy would I like to see this myth busted.

Almost every major religion and system of thought has an injunction against greed. In Christianity it is among the seven deady sins. In Buddhism it is considered one of the three mind-poisons.

However in our society we glorify greed. We bend over backwards to make excuses and justifications for the greedy. It's loathsome.


A dose of socialism would bring a big improvement to the selfish, winner-take-all greed-is-good system we have in place now. In conjunction with democracy, it would provide a better quality of life for most people than what they are getting now. But, believe it or not, these are only steps towards an even more advanced system which I can envision. For all its improvements over capitalism, socialism is still monetary-based. And for all its improvements over monarchy, democracy is still tyrannical - the tyranny of the majority.

Someday, in the far distant future, I can imagine a human society in which everyone is truly free from want, free from undue constraint, and participatory in their own destiny.

I hope we can survive long enough to get there.

10-17-08 2:11  •  Love the Rich!

CBAmom: We have to stopping bugging the rich guy! Tax him too much, attack him for being wealthy, and he just may not stick around anymore. In fact, he might just move overseas where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.

Good riddance.

He already moved his factories to CheapLaborLand and his corporate headquarters to Offshore Tax Haven Island. If he doesn't like this place, and he doesn't have a shred of patriotism or loyalty, then why should he be here?

If that guy leaves it will make more room at the top for someone else to make it big.

10-17-08 1:11  •  Is Swarm Enlightened?

Joe: Can humans attain enlightenment?

Swarm: Sure, why not?

Joe: But, how?

Swarm: Practice.

Joe: Practice? Have you, yourself, have achieved enlightenment?

Swarm: Can't you tell?

Joe: What do you mean by that?

Swarm: I mean that if you can't tell, it's no use for me to just say "yes" or "no."

Joe: Well, sure, but I don't trust you to report honestly. Is there any other way I could tell?

Swarm: Question Changeling, who knows me personally.

"Enlightenment?" I can't speak to that point. However I can give some specific examples.

1) Swarm doesn't argue. In the ten years we have been together we have had maybe two fights. We have our disagreements, and we both have very strong personalities, but we are almost always able to settle them and get past them without the destructive practice of arguing. He knows how to do this and he taught me to do it too.

2) Swarm doesn't have problems. Circumstances come and go, things change, difficulties arise...and always, he calmly examines the situation, chooses a course of action, sets it into motion, and then goes ahead enjoying life and being happy. He evaluates, course-corrects, and then moves forward. He has exactly zero angst about life.

3) Swarm practices non-attachment. During the last month while everybody in the U.S. has been crapping their pants watching our entire economy spinning into a death spiral, Swarm has not lost one moment of sleep. He calmly evaluated our finances, made an adjustment or two, and went back to appreciating the truly important things in life. His wealth can never be lost because it is not measured in money.

4) Swarm is deeply respected by everyone who knows him. Our friends, even ones we haven't seen in years, call him when they face a life crisis, to ask for specific advice. He is known for being able to see the real dynamics of a situation and focus on pragmatic solutions which really work.

5) Swarm is a wonderful partner and father. He is concerned, attentive, loving and patient.

6) Swarm is deeply, truly happy. He gets an amazing and magnificent level of enjoyment out of life.

I don't know if this constitutes "enlightenment." But I completely agree with him that it is a result of practice, because he has demonstrated this practice to me, showed me how to do it, and by taking up the practice myself, I too have learned how to live a truly happy life.

It's not important what it's called. What's important is that it really works.

10-17-08 8:14  •  Racism and Slavery

Whitey: Racism doesn't exist anymore! Well, maybe. But if racism does still exist it has nothing to do with that slave crap.

Actually, racism against African Americans has a lot to do with that "slave crap." Slavery is so horrific, and such an affront to what people know in their hearts is right, that the only way such an institution can be maintained is to foster a culture of demonization. The subject race has to be thoroughly vilified and sub-humanized for people to be able to live with themselves and sleep at night when they are perpetuating such a system.

You can end slavery with the stroke of a legislative pen. But it takes generations to overcome the sub-humanization which deeply permeates the culture.

We have made tremendous strides against racism which we should all be very proud of. But no one should be surprised that lingering after effects remain.

Allison: Wise words from a wise woman. Unfortunately, I fear that words such as these fall on deaf ears far too many times.

10-16-08 9:14  •  Quitting Smoking

NicFit: Has anyone out there quit smoking? How did you do it?

I smoked cigarettes heavily for about twelve years. I was at about a pack-and-a-half a day. However I quit smoking in a very unusual way and it worked great. That was over ten years ago and I have never looked back.

My then-husband and I were computer programmers so we wrote a software program to quit with. For a couple of weeks we walked around with little charts tucked into our cigarette packs and put dots on the charts to track every time we smoked. At the end of two weeks we entered all the data into a program we wrote which analyzed our peak smoking times.

For example, from 8 - 12 we didn't smoke much because we were working, but from 12 -1 we smoked a ton because we were on lunch break. We always smoked a lot more after dinner. We smoked much later on Friday and Saturday nights. Etc.

After the data was compiled, we had the computer print out our smoking times for us. The program would list a bunch of times throughout the day, concentrating them during the peak hours. The only thing we had to do was wait until the next time on the list to smoke.

The trick was, the computer printed out the times, but it printed one less time each day.

My ex smoked less than I did, so it only took him twenty days to quit at one less cigarette a day. It took me thirty days to quit.

The last week or so was really weird. I started to get a buzz from the tobacco again like I had way back when I first started. But the decline was so gradual and easy that I never had any withdrawals.

On the last day, I had one cigarette time at 3:42. We had already gotten rid of all the other cigarettes in the house but that one. I smoked it and then put it out and said goodbye to cigarettes forever.

We modified this program to work for several friends of ours and everyone who tried it quit.

I don't know if this would work for everyone but it sure did for us. Part of the reason was that we were just so proud of the idea we really were invested in showing that it could work.

Allison: What can I say!? Fantastic doesn't cut it. Amazing.

10-15-08 9:14  •  ppd

Karen: When I had postpartum depression, every said, "Get over it, get some help and meds and quit dwelling on it."

How does one "get over" having suicidal thoughts or having thoughts about harming your child? How am I supposed to "get over" and "quit dwelling" on the fact that I wanted to end my son's life? How am I supposed to "get over" the images that popped into my mind of my son drowning or suffocating? They haunt me everyday. How am I supposed to not feel guilty and like a horrible mother for the rest of my life because I had those thoughts?

You don't have to worry about the rest of your life. For one thing, that is not here now, and you only have to worry about now. For another, time itself will take care of a lot of this. A few years from now you will have some perspective and all this will seem a lot less serious.

In the meantime, there is one very important trick you can learn, and that is how to change what you are thinking about. When you notice that you are having thoughts you don't like, you really can stop thinking that and start thinking about something else.

That's really all there is to it. Your guilt and worries and fears are only sustained by your thinking about them. When you shift focus they are gone.

Look at it this way. If you were dwelling sadly on some past mistake, and then suddenly a life-threatening situation arose, you would immediately forget all about the past mistake and turn laser-like focus of attention onto what was occuring before you and how to handle it. The past mistake and all of the associated guilt and sadness and angst disappear while you figure out what to do in the present.

The trick is to cause that attention shift to happen without the life-threatening circumstance to help.

This is exactly what Zen meditation is for, to learn how to choose what you are thinking. But you don't have to be some blissed-out guru in a saffron robe sitting on a mountaintop to do this. Anyone can learn this skill.

When you notice that you are having thoughts that you don't like, just gently focus your attention on the present. The sights, sounds, smells and feelings in the current moment are always there for you to think about instead. Listen to the traffic, the whir of your computer fan, the soft intake and exhale of your breath. Even a few seconds of this is enough to change your focus.

Once you break up the unwanted train of thought, decide for yourself exactly what you do want to think about and then focus on that. Each time your thoughts drift back to the worries or fears, gently focus on the present for a moment, and then pick what you do want to think about instead, and then think that.

This may sound over-simplified but that's really all there is to it. It takes a bit of practice but it gets easier fast and starts to pay off almost immediately. And learning this skill will save you so much heartache and suffering in your life.

I'm sorry about what you have had to endure, it sounds very frightening. There is no substitute for medication if you have a major chemical imbalance, and even with it you can't make something like that disappear overnight. But like most things, time and a little focus can take a lot of the strain off. I hope you find some of this helpful.

Ellie: Honestly? Thats *exactly* what i did to resolve my PPD problems. But you know what? Its brutally difficult to wrap your head around that internal ability we all have and understand it.

Nevermind trying to do that when you really are *not* thinking clearly.

It took years...literally years for me to resolve it.

Well, I'm glad for the opportunity to clarify this. My intention was NOT to address the PPD itself per se. My advice was aimed specifically at the line I quoted, addressing the lingering guilt and recriminations which Karen490 said she felt would haunt her for "the rest of her life."

Zen is helpful in a crisis, but it really shines over the long haul. :-)

Karen: RaverLady,

Thank you! You never cease to amaze me!! I'm so glad I found you on here. You have really taught me a lot.

I wish I read your response earlier. I was having a bad day today and it would have really helped to try meditation. I will definitely try it the next time I feel the need to refocus.

Thank you once again!

Nicole: Raver, as usual you are the voice of reason and truth...

Mary Ellen:So true! That seems to be Raver's job...to make us think!

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