November 30, 2011

Honouring The Life Force

OK everyone - hold still, and... say Ch'i!

Want someone to think you are unbalanced? Suggest that they don't kill the mosquito on their arm, or the fly on the wall. Or that they scoop a bug up on a piece of paper and set it free outside. They will look at you like you are a bug.

In spite of that, I must admit that there is a teeny, tiny fruit fly occupying my kitchen that is giving me trouble. At one time dealing with it would have been easy, but not any more.

For a long time my reaction to insect 'pests' was disturbingly automatic. It was the same reaction most people have - kill them. Then I began to question how I could snuff out what the Chinese call 'Chi', or the universal life force, out of a fellow creature doing me no harm.

I discovered not everyone was so careless and callous. Adherents of the Indian religion of Janism, for example, practice non-violence toward all living beings. They believe in the equality of all life, great or small. Devout Jains wear masks so they do not harm bugs by inhaling them, and sweep the ground in front of them so they do not step on anything. I was inspired by their gentleness.

I changed my approach to indoor fauna. If any insect is bothersome I take the time to transport it outside to continue its life unharmed. Instead of dispensing death I am proffering freedom, which is much more consistent with how I live my life.

But this year I am wondering about forcefully evicting insects from my warm home into the cold winter air.

Since the violent evictions of peaceful Occupy protesters across North America, I have been thinking again about the preciousness of life. How are my behaviours like those of the police?

Do I pepper spray innocent, peaceful people with caustic thoughts? Do my lifestyle choices support violence against other people? Against the environment? Against other living things, including insects? Are my insect evictions like police putting protesters out of their tents and into the cold, dark streets?

Now I am wondering if I can even evict my domestic wildlife during the cold months. Wouldn't doing so make me into a one person, black-clad, Insect Riot Squad, out to cleanse all undesirable life forms from within the confines of my own personal Liberty Square?

Military masterminds over history have tried to make killing easier by imagining the enemy as less than human, as mere insects. That wouldn't work with me - I do not want to end the life force of any living thing, human or otherwise. I have vowed to do the least amount of harm possible.

So now, no forced insect evictions till Spring, unless I am really creeped out, or there is some sort of health risk. I guess I should see what the lifespan of a fruit fly is.

November 28, 2011

No Doubts Monday

I have no doubt that the seeds of hope being sown today will reap the changes contained within. The world we envision can be nurtured into something completely new. What we believe is what we will become - think good thoughts.

The scattering of seeds has begun in earnest. The people are sowing row upon row of love, cooperation, equality, fairness, sustainability, peace, justice, and freedom. This garden will thrive, and all will benefit from the ample harvest. 

“The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.”      - Franklin D. Roosevelt

November 27, 2011

Focus On The Present

Zen says, "When eating a banana, just eat the banana."

We have to enjoy the now - there is nothing else. It is easy to get caught up in what might happen in the future. Or what you think will happen. Or what you want to happen. Or what should happen. Planning may be good, but whatever is happening, is happening right now. Don't miss it by spending time in the future, or in the past.

The best way I have found to be in the moment is by concentrating on my daily routine. It may not always be exciting, as Zen teaches, but focusing on our routines has a wonderful way of centering us in the present, where all the action takes place.

The repeated actions of routines are not things that get in the way of life - they are life, at the most basic and fundamental level. They are not to be avoided, dreaded, or delegated to others. These potentially 'boring' activities are our doorways to new knowledge and skills.

Whether I am making my bed, preparing delicious whole-food meals, emptying the sink, cleaning the toilet, baking bread, or brushing my teeth before bed, I am recognizing the opportunities for mindfulness practice and personal improvement.

As I go about daily tasks my goal is to not think about the past or the future, just what I am doing at the moment. When I achieve this focus, the hours slip by unnoticed as I willingly engage in life. Far from drudgery, the daily routine becomes a gentle and persistent teacher.

By willingly, and mindfully engaging in the minutia of life I am learning about living in the moment, and freeing my mind.

November 25, 2011

#OccupyXmas Starts Today

Now that OWS camps are being dismantled around North America, people are asking what direction the movement might go next. Michael Moore has proposed a few ideas worth looking at here. Adbusters, the Canadian anti-consumerism magazine that launched the September 17th march on Wall Street, also has a proposal.

Adbusters is reaching out to anyone concerned about corporate greed, inequality, personal debt, and the environment, when they propose the following on their website:

"Occupy gave the world a new way of thinking about the fat cats and financial pirates on Wall Street. Now lets give them a new way of thinking about the holidays, about our own consumption habits. 

Let's use today, the 20th annual Buy Nothing Day, to launch an all-out offensive to unseat the corporate kings on the holiday throne.

This year’s Black Friday will be the first campaign of the holiday season where we set the tone for a new type of holiday culminating with #OCCUPYXMAS. As the global protests of the 99% against corporate greed and casino capitalism continues, let's take the opportunity to hit the empire where it really hurts…the wallet.

On Nov 25/26th we escape the mayhem and unease of the biggest shopping day in North America and put the breaks on rabid consumerism for 24 hours. Flash mobs, consumer fasts, mall sit-ins, community events, credit card-ups, whirly-marts and jams, jams, jams!

We don’t camp on the sidewalk for a reduced price tag on a flat screen TV or psycho-killer video game. Instead, we occupy the very paradigm that is fueling our eco, social and political decline.

Buy Nothing Day is about fasting from hyper consumerism – taking a break from the cash register, and reflecting on how dependent we really are on conspicuous consumption."

What do you think? Are you game to not buy anything this holiday season in order to send a message to those who would enslave you with debt, siphon wealth to the top, and destroy the environment in the process?

Take this opportunity to use the time you would have spent making a list, driving, shopping, shopping, shopping, driving, wrapping, unwrapping, driving, and returning, to do more personal, soul-satisfying things.

Are you ready to take back the holidays and have a quieter, calmer, less expensive, more authentic Christmas? Occupy Xmas starts today.

November 23, 2011

What Can I Do With Soft Tofu?

Enchiladas can be filled with a shredded tofu mixture,
and served with Spanish rice and re-fried beans
When I began to cut meat out of my diet, tofu was one protein source that helped take its place. At first I only used firm or extra firm tofu - many recipes call for these, and they are more... meat-like. You can crumble, cube, and slice it. It can be boiled and fried. But what about soft tofu? What, I wondered, can I do with soft tofu?

Traditional tofu (non-GM) is soft, and for a while I was not sure exactly what to do with it. In recipes such as chili, or Dal, soft tofu breaks up into little micro-pieces, and has a mushy to non-existent mouth feel. But it was inexpensive and nutritious, so I kept on trying.

I tried putting soft tofu in smoothies, but that didn't really appeal to me. Then I stumbled across a method for transforming soft tofu into something completely different, when I froze a chunk (without water).

I didn't recognize it when I took it out and thawed it. The tofu was no longer a soft, smooth consistency. It was like a sponge with a more fibrous structure. I squeezed all the water out of the block of spongy tofu, then using my kitchen scissors, shredded it into a frying pan of hot oil.

With the addition of a few spices I had essentially made 'veggie ground round', a packaged soy product that simulates Mexican spiced ground beef. I like veggie ground round, but it is too expensive. Making it with soft tofu that has been frozen is much, much cheaper.

Freezing soft tofu transforms the soy into a chewier, more textured finished product. I like the mouth feel that it adds to the dishes it is added to. This form of tofu absorbs seasonings well due to its sponge-like properties.

Mexican Shredded Tofu

350 - 454 grams  - Traditional tofu (soft)
2 tbsp  - oil
1/2 - onion
dash   - Bragg seasoning
1/4 - 1/2 tsp each - cumin, oregano, chili powder
dash - salt, pepper

Thaw a block of tofu that has been frozen. It can go in the microwave to speed the process. When thawed, squeeze the water out, like squeezing a sponge. Heat cast iron fry pan on medium, add oil. Brown diced onion in hot oil.

Add cumin, oregano, and chili powder and stir for a minute or two. Using kitchen scissors, cut the tofu into pan. Add Bragg seasoning, stir, lower heat. Simmer for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve in burritos, tacos, enchiladas, and salads.

And for dessert, why not make chocolate pudding out of, yes, soft tofu. I usually think of tofu in savory dishes, not sweet ones, but this recipe makes a simple, fast, smooth, and yummy pudding. It is an excellent recipe to make if you have a block of soft tofu and are not sure what to do with it.

Soft Tofu Decadent Chocolate Pudding

Block  - fresh soft tofu
1/4 cup  - cocoa powder
1 tsp  - vanilla
dash  - salt
1/4 cup  -  sugar

Toss everything into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. You may have to mix first to break up the tofu, and/or add a bit of milk. When perfectly smooth put in fridge for 30 minutes. Makes about 4 servings.

Traditional (soft) tofu is economical and nutritious. Using it instead of meat has many benefits for the health of the planet, as well as your health.

November 21, 2011

No Exclusion Monday

This Rebellion Is Inclusive
Defenders of the status-quo say that the Occupy Together Movement consists of a bunch of trust-funders, college students, ex-hippies, and anarchists. No doubt all these groups are represented, as they should be, but this thing is much greater than that.

This rebellion is the most inclusive the globe has ever seen, and many different groups are joining together to fight a common cause.

David DeGraw, author of The Economic Elite Vs. The People of the United States of America, wrote, “When you go to Liberty Park, into the heart of the occupation, you will see a very diverse group of people with opinions across the entire political spectrum. It’s the very essence of a ground-up, grassroots organization. The OWS Movement is a decentralized, non-violent rebellion against economic tyranny.”

Fighting that tyranny are students, anarchists, and trustfunders, as well as 84 year old grandmas, aging 60s activists with big grins on their faces, and people in wheelchairs (which police consider 'insurgents on mobile platforms', and therefore summarily teargas and subdue them before they can run over the riot squad's toes).

This movement is reaching out to everyone who has ever been oppressed, and that includes us all. Yes, even the 1%. It may be a cushy oppression for them, but being smothered by all that money is oppressive none the less.

This rebellion is proving to be a magnet for those fighting for liberation from social, environmental, and economic injustice, and that has some worried.

The members of the establishment are rightfully squirming in their noisy leather chairs. This movement may lose a few tent cities, but the ideas, the passion, and the commitment for the long haul are not going anywhere. The pressure will continue until this diverse group's legitimate concerns have been addressed.

The good news, hopefully, is that since this movement is ultimately inclusive, no one will be left out. Not the police that are continuing to brutalize the press and peaceful protesters, not the billions of the world's poor, and not our own 1%. Everybody hurts.

This is about reducing the pain for everyone. This is about no exclusion. This is about a bold new world for the 100%.

Everyone will benefit.

"Cause everybody hurts. Take comfort in your friends.
Everybody hurts. Don't throw your hand. Oh, no. Don't throw your hand.
If you feel like you're alone, no, no, no, you are not alone."

- REM, Everybody Hurts

November 20, 2011

Take A Break - Celebrate Buy Nothing Day

N. America - Nov. 25, International - Nov. 26
Spending money is pretty effortless. Many are finding that debt is easy to get into, but hard to get out of. In Canada a third of people over the age of 55 won't get out of debt until they are 71! Freedom 65 is the new Freedom 55.

If you don't want to be in a similar position, Buy Nothing Day is a great place to start taking control of your finances, and your life.

Buy Nothing Day is celebrated around the world. In North America the day to go cashless is November 25, and Internationally, November 26.

Started 20 years ago by Adbusters - Vancouver, BC's anti-consumer magazine and instigators of OWS - Buy Nothing Day is meant to provide a respite from the endless spending of money that dominates our lives. It is a pause, a time to stop and meditate on what all this spending of money is for. Is it really necessary? Is it making us happier, better people?

Not spending money is a challenge. When you step back from the microscopic focus on dollar signs you see how the majority of our interactions are ruled by money. It is so insidious that it is hard to avoid and still maintain a semblance of what would be considered a 'normal' life.

But when you step back from the focus on money you see a view of the world usually obscured by the black fumes of consumerism.

On November 25/26 spend a clear and glorious day of not buying anything. Do it alone, do it with friends. It is free, and quite liberating. Exercise control over your finances and your life.

It could be the start of your Freedom 40 dream.

November 18, 2011

Occupying My Living Room And Singing Protest Songs

Celebrating the 1909 publication of the first American
protest song book, a re-issue of "The Little Red Song Book."

Like many Occupy camps around the world, protesters in my area are in the process of being evicted. Although a few occupiers are holding their ground at Occupy Victoria, a court order to remove them is expected today.

It is uncertain what kind of restrictions will be placed on future free speech gatherings in Centennial Square. Hopefully they won't be as sanitized as the ones imposed on Liberty Square in New York - no backpacks, no tents, no sleeping bags, and no musical instruments.

No musical instruments? They might be able to take away our instruments, but they can't take away the music. I wonder if singing is allowed? Humming? Clapping?

To protest these draconian attacks on our humanity, I am Occupying my living room for the day and playing protest songs.

The playing of protest songs has a long history in the peoples' fight for freedom, democracy, and equality. Every generation has their own songs, but what they have in common is the use of music and poetry to confront injustice.

Here are a few of the tunes I am inspired to sing today, with a sample of the lyrics that makes them great protest poetry.

Uprising - Muse
"Another promise, another scene
Another packaged lie to keep us wrapped in greed."

Ohio - Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young

"Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio."

The Times They Are A-Changing - Bob Dylan

"Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'."

The End of The World - REM

"It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine." 

When The Music's Over - The Doors

"What have they done to the earth? 
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn and 
tied her with fences and 
dragged her down."

This Land Is Your Land - Woody Guthrie
"The sun comes shining as I was strolling
The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
The fog was lifting a voice come chanting
This land was made for you and me

As I was walkin'  -  I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side.... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!

In the squares of the city-In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me."

Head Like A Hole
- Nine Inch Nails

"Head like a hole.
Black as your soul.
I'd rather die than give you control.
Bow down before the one you serve.
You're going to get what you deserve." 

Killing In The Name Of - Rage Against The Machine

"And now you do what they told ya
And now you do what they told ya
And now you do what they told ya, now you're under contro
Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me to. (repeat)"

Signs - Five Man Electrical Band

"And the sign said,
"Anybody caught trespassin'
Will be shot on sight."
So I jumped on the fence and I yelled at the house,
"Hey! What gives you the right
To put up a fence to keep me out,
But to keep Mother Nature in?
If God was here, he'd tell you to your face,
'Man, you're some kind of sinner.'""

Scooter Boys - Indigo Girls

"Way down south where the Maya reign
Zapata reading poetry in his grave
They said, "We're stealing from the best to feed the poor".
Well, they need more..."

Imagine - John Lennon

"Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world"

Any list like this is incomplete as soon as it is started. What protest songs would you add?

This machine kills the desire to consume

"They can't take our songs." David Crosby

November 16, 2011

Adapting To Simplification

A more sustainable, creative human is evolving

Whether motivated by economics, environmentalism, or a desire to evolve, many people are looking for new ways of doing things that are truly green, respect people, and support democratic values such as cooperation, fairness and equality. Many just want to take their lives back, and are willing to make sacrifices to free themselves.

For many, some form of downsizing or simplification will be the route that leads to the intended results. For others, the same will be how they cope with what amounts to a form of involuntary simplicity.

In both cases we must be patient with ourselves during this process, and recognize the stages of absorbing new behaviours and habits into our daily routines. It would be nice to make this as positive and stress-free as possible.

Adapting To Change

In adapting to change, there are many different levels of understanding. The levels of understanding can come at us all at once in an "Ah-ha!" moment (happened for me while traveling in India), but more commonly take place through several stages and over time (also true in my life).

First, we learn about an idea or way of doing something. In this stage we read, talk with others, and gather information. The internet, public library, community groups, and your own personal network are valuable inputs during this stage. For example, we learned about reusable cloth bags instead of plastic.

Next we have to live with the ideas for a while. After the initial exposure we need time to think, and let the new ideas mesh with what we already know. Our brains are working all the time on this absorption and integration of information. Even when you are daydreaming or sleeping, your brain is hard at work incorporating the new input.

"What will I line my garbage can with?" was a problem my brain worked on for a while after my grocery store quit offering plastic bags.

The next stage is the application of the new knowledge in our lives. A greater depth of understanding comes when you enact the ideas, even in small ways. Many people have learned valuable skills that transfer to other parts of their lives by switching from plastic shopping bags to cloth reusable ones. We are on the lookout for other areas of our lives where we can make similar kinds of changes.

At the application stage you become conscious of how the new ideas and information can be incorporated in your daily life. At this stage you may experience moments of clarity where everything seems to fit together. It feels right and good, and makes sense to you. In this case it fits with your desire for a cleaner environment with fewer plastic bag trees.

How this process unfolds will differ for everyone, but the important thing is to allow it to happen. It may take place over months, or years. Don't be impatient to learn everything at once. And don't be angry with yourself when you discover how much you didn't understand before, or for the feeling that you are not doing enough. Each little bit helps, and we must not get discouraged.

It is important to be gentle with yourself, and appreciate that you are evolving day by day while adapting to the conditions being faced in our post-capitalist decadent world. Issues  such as overpopulation, over-consumption, environmental degradation, inequality, exploitation, and social justice can all be addressed through adapting to a more simple life.

Just remember to simplify at a pace that is comfortable for you. Lasting, positive change will result.

November 14, 2011

No Obedience Monday

Obedience is the tendency to follow orders given by a perceived authority figure, regardless of the quality of either of them. Deferring to authority figures can be dangerous as highlighted by several important (and disturbing) studies, as well as historical atrocities perpetrated by people 'following orders'.

Einstein felt that fate was punishing him for his contempt for authority by making him an authority figure himself. I am not very obedient by nature either, so it felt odd when I became a teacher. Vested with authority by the government and society, I entered the classroom.

As an 'agent of the state', though, I never expected obedience from my students. Cooperation, yes. Obedience, no. When they questioned my authority (perceived or otherwise), it usually resulted in all of us benefiting in unexpected ways.

Considering the dangers of misguided obedience we would be wise to remember Benjamin Franklin's words when he said, "It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority."

Update: Obedience reared its ugly head Tuesday morning in Liberty Square in New York City as hundreds of agents of the 1% dismantled the birthplace of the peoples' push for real democracy.

I was heartened to hear that protesters in the park Tuesday night were yelling, "Disobey your orders!" at the late-night raiders.

I wonder how many police or sanitation workers refused to work that night?

The General Assembly of around 1000 citizens in the park Tuesday night was reported to be the largest, and most joyous to date, although without sleeping bags, tents, kitchen, medical area, or the 5000 volume library. Marches are planned for Thursday to celebrate 2 months of mobilization.

November 13, 2011

Oniomania: When Shopping Becomes Unhealthy

It is hard to change behaviour if it is not seen as a problem.
Do you like shopping? Do you really like shopping, really need shopping? Are you suffering from Oniomania? Are we all, to a certain extent?


Oniomania (from Greek ὤνιος onios "for sale" and μανία mania "insanity") is the technical term for the compulsive desire to shop, more commonly referred to as compulsive shopping, shopping addiction, shopaholism, compulsive buying or CB. The condition has been recognized for over 100 years.

The Condition

Although not taken very seriously by an increasingly shopping-focused world, CB is a psychiatric disorder with serious repercussions for sufferers, and those around them.

Those diagnosed with this disorder - anywhere from 10-30% of Americans - represent the far end of the spectrum. But it would seem by the global popularity of shopping that we are all susceptible to this condition to some degree. Is this what evolution has brought us to - turning the process of acquisition into an obsessive mental illness? If so, what might trigger this response?

Causes of Oniomania

Could it be the multi-billion dollar marketing and advertising industries? As a small, but growing, group of humanity acquires more wealth they also increase overall consumption. It happened in North America over the past several decades of growing wealth, and it is happening now in places like Brazil, India, and China.

Trust in me...
Marketers salivate at the exploding growth, fertile ground for opportunities in encouraging compulsive purchasing. "Let us help you spend your money", they whisper, like Kaa the Python in The Jungle Book trying to hypnotise the Bandar-log. "Trust in me, trust in me, look into my eyes..."

The hypnosis techniques that the money charmers use are glossy catalogues, television shopping channels, cybershopping, and glittery malls that smell like new stuff. The snakes of commerce are good at creating 'needs', and convincing you to meet them by trading your money for their attractive, yet worthless products and services.

Experts believe that compulsive shoppers engage in their behaviour because of a need to feel special and combat loneliness. CS think that shopping will make things better, but it is an expensive therapy that is proven ineffective.

Compulsive shopping only feels good until the initial rush wears off. It may last until you reach the car and load it up with your recent amazing purchases. Or until you get home to your partner. Or until you realize you spent the rent money. Then the guilt kicks in, and the cycle repeats.

This is a global problem now as more and more people spend money acquiring stuff as they convert themselves from citizens to unhealthy consumers (just like we did in the 1950s).

In a world that worships at the altar of shopping, getting away from it can be a challenge for even the most committed anti-consumer. It is even more difficult for  Oniomaniacs as they represent the elite athletes in the game of desire and consumption. We tend to honour them and their patriotism. What is the problem? Why change?

People chuckle at T-shirts that shamelessly announce, "Shopaholic", or, "When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping", but this is seriously harmful behaviour for many, and it is certainly bad for the planet.


So how to become less shopping oriented, regardless of where we fall on the Oniomania spectrum? As with many mental illnesses, treatment is difficult, comparable to the intransigence of hoarding behaviour.

Doctors would most likely prescribe therapy and/or pharmaceutical concoctions, but the most effective method is having a strong personal desire to make positive changes for the yourself and the planet.

First is recognizing there is a problem - we have to link our desire to shop and consume with the ongoing destruction of the natural world, not to mention our own happiness. Then we need a plan to reduce desire, and consumption through self-control.

Try starting with 24 hours of not buying anything, then progress to a couple of days. Once you get better at it, you may find you can go a whole week of not buying anything. That might feel so good that eventually most days are shopping-free.

You are liberating yourself from that shopping monkey riding on your back, and realizing the benefits.

Benefits of Kicking The Shopping Habit
  1. Spending less, saving more. Getting out of debt = freedom!
  2. With a reduced budget and no debt, you will be able to work less if you choose.
  3. You could get a lower paying job with NO responsibilities (as in American Beauty)
  4. There will be fewer things to store and maintain in your house.
  5. It feels good to live unencumbered by a constant desire for things.
  6. You will have more money for the things you really need, like food and shelter.
  7. By not shopping as much you are withholding your money from the 1%.
  8. All the time you would have been shopping can be spent doing more productive things like, writing a book, volunteering at your local school, helping a neighbour, learning to play an instrument, hanging with your partner and/or kids...
  9. With less stuff you could move to a smaller home.
  10. Your new extra time could be used to start a blog - spread the word about the joys of kicking the shopping habit.

November 11, 2011

War: What Is It Good For?

The corporate first wave assaults the beaches

The capitalist's 'War on Freedom' has been subjugating people for 500 years. Their weapons are convenience cluster bombs followed by chains of comfort. Their rewards are a docile, compliant workforce to be exploited for profit.

These seemed like improvements in the 1500s, and modernization was sure to have some rough patches. But soon the warmonger's sinister plan became evident.

  • Bombard the locals with convenience cluster bombs, stuff grenades, shiny things shrapnel, and shag carpet bombs, and this thing called 'money'.
  • After a continued assault even the most ardent free-range human will give in to the promise of more and willingly enter the work camps.
  • Develop and nurture the population's dependency on the complicated plan.
  • Remove the ability of the population to be more self-reliant and cooperative. For example: land enclosure, the destruction of social supports, and environmental degradation.
  • Make charging exorbitant amounts of interest acceptable.
Legitimizing interest built the atom bomb of capitalist control - DEBT. 

Jacob Fugger, in the 1500s, petitioned the pope to make charging interest OK. Before that it was considered usury, and was highly unethical, a sin and illegal.

Once the church denounced usury, Fugger used his fortune to make loans to the powerful of the day. The interest he charged allowed him to become one of the wealthiest, and most powerful people of all time. When kings and popes could not keep their loan commitments Fugger was able to wield his power through this unethical practice. Since the powerful could not settle the loans with cash, they paid by giving Fugger rights to their natural resources.

For example, points out Cynthia Crossen in The Rich and How They Got That Way (2000), by 1501 Fugger owned mines in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, and Spain through his financial revolution. The people of Hungary were starving, their country had a crushing debt, and foreign capitalists like Fugger were exploiting and draining their resources. The people fought back and mobs sacked and looted two of his company's plants.

The usurping of political power by bankers has continued to this day. What starts as a ground invasion by a corporate first wave storming the beaches, is followed by the scorched earth policies of the generals of banking. These generals are represented by the justifiably maligned International Monetary Fund. 

American economist, Joseph Stiglitz was unflattering with his appraisal: “When the IMF arrives in a country, they are interested in only one thing. 'How do we make sure the banks and financial institutions are paid?...' It is the IMF that keeps the [financial] speculators in business. They’re not interested in development, or what helps a country to get out of poverty.”

Just ask the people of Greece how free they are feeling these days. There the debt bomb has spread its deadly effects, not only killing Prime Minister Papandreouas' term in office, but also damaging Greek sovereignty.

Now, like in so many other countries, the capitalist invaders walk in and start to dictate the conditions of surrender. It will be bad for the people of Greece (and Italy, and soon a country near you), but very good for the capitalist invading army.

War. What is it good for? Destroying peace and freedom.

And turning a profit for the few.

November 10, 2011

Is Money Hoarding A Debilitating Mental Illness?

Past a certain, fairly modest amount, collecting more money serves no actual purpose. It will not increase your ability to survive, and may actually impede it. The super rich still get sick, and they still die. Just like the rest of us.

Then what is all the cash for? If it serves no purpose over a certain threshold due to diminishing returns, what is the drive that feeds this illness that is spreading like a cat hoarder's kittens?

2011 broke records, reports Forbes Magazine, for the number of billionaires. 1210 individuals were diagnosed this year with an extreme form of cash hoarding. Mental health experts should be looking into this before we are all affected by the fallout of this debilitating mental illness.

World's Biggest Hoarders of Cash
  1. Carlos Slim Helu, Mexico
  2. Bill Gates, USA
  3. Warren Buffett, USA
  4. Bernard Arnault, France
  5. Larry Ellison, USA
Collectively these patients have hoarded 261 Billion dollars. That is enough cash to stuff the average bungalow to the ceilings with filthy lucre.

These individuals are often resistant to treatment, and should be closely monitored.

November 9, 2011

Simple Pleasures: Making Music

"This Machine Kills the Desire to Consume"

I have always enjoyed music. Learning to play guitar was a goal of mine that I had set early in life. I was ten when I started lessons, and I was ten when I laid my instrument down. I quit after only learning a few chords.

Amazing how busy life gets after we turn about ten or eleven. The rush of life stifled my desire to be musical as I concentrated on goals society had set out for me. 1971 turned into 2000 amazingly fast. I had still not learned to play guitar.

I finally wised up to the whole work-life thing, and took a pause from all the busyness in 2001. All of a sudden I had a lot more time on my hands. Sweet, delicious, open-ended time. I felt guilty about not being busy after being on the treadmill for so long, but soon got used to my relaxed schedule.

Still, I vowed to use my time constructively to do the things I did not feel I had time for previously. Up near the top of the list - learn guitar, of course.

Even though I had a guitar in the house for a few years, I had still not picked it up. Me and it were similar ends of a magnet repelling each other. I always had something else to do. Then my radical lifestyle change gave my musical side the time it needed to grow.

What better way to fill the newly found hours than with harmonic vibrations of a beautiful instrument? I finally opened the case, and have not looked back since.

Very quickly the guitar which had previously taunted me became my friend. I enjoyed learning alone, and with Linda, about guitar and music. Also, I must give a nod to the Beatles, Neil Young, and a variety of other friends that also enjoy the simple pleasures of making music.

After immersing myself in creating music I can't conceive of how I existed before without it. Very few days have gone by in the last few years that I have not spent time making music. It has been slow going, and I have destroyed my fair share of great songs, but progress has been evident all along.

I have found an entire universe that I was unaware of before deciding to work less, and explore life more. Having more time was the key that opened the door for me, and I took advantage and stepped into musicality, a place I have always wanted to go.

Everyone has the ability to make, and enjoy music. It is a simple pleasure that I cherish, and one I would unreservedly recommend to anyone. Clap, sing, tap a toe, shout, rap, bang a drum, strum an instrument.

Resonate. Enjoy creating harmonious sounds. The world would be better off if we worked less, and made music together more.

"God respects me when I work, but he loves me when I sing."

 -  Rumi

November 7, 2011

Multitude Monday

Multitude, by Maroe Susti
It is not a matter of pretending that we are powerful when we are not, but rather recognizing the power we really have; the power that created the contemporary world and can create another.

Being a lover of books, when I read a headline about "the book of the Occupy Movement", I was immediately interested. The article was about Hardt and Negri’s book Empire (2001), and how many believe it predicted and helped shape the current wave of protests. Empire is largely what the protests are fighting against.

The only way for the rich and powerful to maintain their interests and guarantee the global order, according to these authors, is to establish Empire, or a broad global collaboration among the ruling powers.

Far from being peaceful, this collaboration is maintained through a state of violence that permeates everything, and opposes democracy. Perpetual fear is used as a tool of control.

Hardt and Negri do not give solutions to these problems. But they outline the methods that can be used to arrive at our own solutions, and they point out the most effective way to make change happen - through the power of the Multitude. This is described in the book by the same name, which is a follow up to Empire.

The Multitude consists of people showing a multiplicity of differences - different cultures, ethnic backgrounds, lifestyles, etc. Differences can be maintained while we concentrate on what we have in common.

We all share a desire for love, social justice, fairness, environmental integrity, freedom, and sustainable systems, among other things.

Today, for the first time in global history, the Multitude is able to form, and with it comes new possibilities for how we live and govern ourselves. Communication technology provides the means for enabling different peoples to come together in order to talk, explore, discover, and plan for the future.

We are the Multitude, the David that will be the end of the Goliath that is Empire. And we are exercising our power to create a better world.

November 6, 2011

We Are Reaching A Tipping Point

Living simply helps push us back from the brink, Image: Guy Billout
While looking through my writing file today I came across an old draft, and was unsure of why I didn't post it when I wrote it. The ideas are as applicable today, if not more so.

November 20, 2009

You don't need to be a Hopi elder to see that there are seriously strange days ahead. Climate change, an aging population, peak oil, H1N1, water shortages, and continued use of violence and war as the way to solve problems are only some of the things slapping us in the face.

The continuing global economic meltdown is a beast all on its own. Everything seems to be racing toward a tipping point. Are you prepared? Do you feel confident moving forward?

Those with vested interests are trying to convince us that things are improving. Or that technology will come along that will enable us to deal with all our problems. Some deny that the problems even exist.

We have been lulled into near-comatose complacency over the past several decades, trusting that government and corporate interests were aligned with the people's.

Governments around the world are lavishing our cash upon the gatekeepers of a broken system. With record debt loads, the coming years will see government, corporate and personal cuts in spending. Expect higher taxes and fewer services.

We are rapidly tipping toward a day when we will all be required to fend for ourselves, whether due to an extended power outage, water shortages, or economic collapse. Daniel Pinchbeck writes that, "the support structures upon which we have relied are dangerously corrupt and no longer dependable."

One reason I am a proponent of voluntary simplicity is that it allows me to focus on living according to my values. By living more self-sufficiently, I am reducing my dependence on, and support of, a corrupted, unsustainable system.

Radical changes in the way we live and how things are structured are needed. It will be a positive change as we readopt some of the ways of the past, and formulate new ones.

It will be a saner, slower, more sustainable life, once we adjust. It will prevent humanity from hitting the tipping point.

November 4, 2011

Occupy My Mind Camp Releases Demands

It can be done wherever you are, and no threats of eviction

A comrade asked some good questions regarding the various Occupy camps in cities around the world. (My own question is why don't we Occupy the Forest?) "How", my friend asked, "will the Occupy protesters know when it is time to go home? What are their demands, and how long will it take to implement them? When will they be done?"

Will the Multitude's War on Inequality be like the War on Terrorism, and take generations to 'win'? If so, the Occupy camps are going to need better accommodations.

Since the Occupation of My Mind, in solidarity with the broader movement, I have been working on a list of demands. My General Assemblies, which quickly achieved consensus on all points, have generated the following list:

To: The 1%

From: Occupy My Mind Camp

Subject: List of Demands

  1. Replace corporations with cooperatives. Cooperatives are "a different way of doing business, one focused on human need not human greed, where the members (who own and govern the business) collectively enjoy the benefits instead of all profits going just to shareholders."
  2. Tax those most able to pay. Consider it the cost of enjoying the advantages provided by the country that helped generate all that wealth. Not to mention the externalities, or negative effects, of generating all that wealth.
  3. Put the health of people and the planet first. People and the planet before profits.
  4. Start a War on War. Figures released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute last year showed that worldwide military expenditure in 2009 totaled an estimated $1.6 trillion. This was an increase of 5.9% in real terms compared to 2008 and an increase of 49% since 2000. That is OUR money, and I can think of better ways to spend it.
  5. Adequately fund education for all. Education is the answer to many of the world's problems. $1.6 trillion diverted from the torture and kill budget line, and allocated to global education, would go a long way. Total global public education expenditure for 2004 was $1.97 trillion.
  6. Allocate resource cards at birth to all humans. A resource card would track the consumption of each humans 'fair share' of the planet's bounty. Once you used your fair share, that would be it. This would ensure individuals use their allocation carefully, and sustainably. Very carefully.
  7. End speculation on food commodities. In this casino, increased winnings mean more starving people. Goldman Sachs alone made $5 billion in profits on commodities speculation in 2009.
Alright 1%, there it is. This is only a beginning - the list is subject to additions as they come up in future general assemblies. Although I expect immediate action, I am occupying my camp for the long haul. Several decades more if I am lucky, but time is running out.

If we see real movement toward these goals immediately (people continue to die as we hesitate) the dedicated folks tenting in the various Occupy camps can go home feeling victorious before winter sets in.

Or we could all go and support Occupy Perth for a few months. Maybe not - they were evicted a few days ago.

The 1% may have all of the money, but I am freeing my mind from their consumer shackles. As I watch the evictions taking place in camps across the world, I am more dedicated than ever to continue The Occupation of My Mind.

"Find out for yourself what is truth, what is real. Discover that there are virtuous things and there are non-virtuous things. Once you have discovered for yourself give up the bad and embrace the good." - Buddha

    November 2, 2011

    Do It Yourself Laptop Stand

    DIY Laptop stand is simple, free, and effective
    People love their laptops. The beginning of 2010 saw sales of laptop computers increase 43% over the previous year. That could be because laptops are minimal, portable tools. I like mine. But I discovered they are hot in more ways than one.

    The demise of a laptop is often described using words like 'meltdown', 'toasted', and 'fried'. This sizzling language is accurate because it is usually a heat-related issue that ends up killing a laptop computer.

    A laptop's compactness leaves little room for fans or air circulation, so they run hot. So hot that you could risk 'toasted skin syndrome' if you do extended laptopping on bare legs.

    Since excessive heat could mean the end of a laptop, a stand of some sort that allows good air circulation could be a good investment. Minimizing heat build-up in your laptop could potentially double its life.

    Tools and supplies for prototype
    In the name of making my laptop last as long as possible, I began to investigate ways to keep it cool. The variety of manufactured stands has proliferated along with the increased demand for laptops.

    A store bought stand will cost you from $50.00 to several hundred dollars, which may be worth it for the extra computer life they may bestow.

    However, in keeping with Depression survivors' advice, I decided not to buy something I thought I could make myself, and started doing some research. I found several do it yourself projects on the net. Many were creative, functional, and attractive. All cost less than the pre-built variety.

    But, I was looking for a solution that was completely free, completely easy, and built with resources and tools readily available.

    My design uses a free material many people have in their homes - the ubiquitous cardboard toilet paper roll. No tools are required other than a pair of scissors, and no expertise is necessary other the ability to measure or estimate where you make the cuts.

    New improved double-walled model
    It is imperative to cut the roll into four equal sections, or the finished stand will not be stable. On the other hand, if you mess up, toss the cardboard into the recycling and start over.

    It helps to set the laptop and stand on a rigid board of some sort to make it easier to move around. I use the backing from a block of watercolor paper, which is a rigid paper board a bit larger than my laptop. Everything is easily transportable once you get used to it.

    My prototype used a single cardboard roll. I cut four equal pieces, and placed them on the board, under the laptop. The prototypes could not handle the weight, and they pancaked over the course of a few days.

    Since then I have used two rolls and doubled up the pieces resulting in a more steady stand. The double walled version is more robust, and has proven itself over several weeks - no pancaking!

    A laptop can generate as much heat as a 100W light bulb
    I bought my laptop in 2005. It had a catastrophic meltdown last year. At that time I replaced the hard drive rather than buy new, and vowed to keep it, and my pocketbook cooler. Therefore, my minimalist DIY laptop stand.

    The laptop stand is easy to make and use, is constructed with common materials and tools, and is 100% free. It effectively lifts a laptop up about 3 centimeters, and allows cooling air to circulate around it.

    Heat is a computer killer. Extend the life of your laptop with a free DIY stand that you can build at your kitchen table.