Guest Post – I Don’t Mean To Annoy You . . .


I hope this doesn’t offend you, but do I look as though I have gained weight . . . I am almost as big as you. For jimminy sake my friend, I thought we were friends, why you want to start off by calling us fat?

You know when I was young I never put on weight like this. Come to think of it, isn’t it common for us to grow out a little as we grow older?

You know I am the type of guy that is easily influenced by the opinion of others. Yeah right, everybody’s opinion matters . . .

So, how’s it going? Before you respond with that, “Same shit, different day” line, you do realize that by asking that question I really do not give a crap about how you are actually doing, I just had to say something and didn’t have anything reasonable to say to you.

Of course I would not understand. I am old, you are young. Nothing in the years I have lived has prepared me for the problems you may face during your life. Just wait until you are older and realize you could have come to me to resolve your little drama issue, because I have already “been there, done that.’ No, I am not Korean. I am just old.

But wait! I really am good at StarCraft and I am not Korean!

I realize you are really tired. But, let’s establish what the reasons for your diminished alertness is not. You are not tired form working a 10 to 16 hour day to put food on the table, washing the dishes, doing the laundry, walking the dog, feeding the cat, taking out the garbage. doing the shopping, flushing the toilet, picking up the litter you leave in the yard every time you come home. or answering the ringing telephone. But, I do understand how much energy you use in whining and sniffling every time I ask you to do something. Take your lazy tired ass to bed, you need a nap I guess.Oh by the way, your buddy called. He wants to know if you want to go . . . I’ll call him and let him know you are too tired to go . . .

Wait just a minute! Isn’t Tom Brady an Architect? Wasn’t he the father in that show from the 70’s about marrying a gal who had a bunch of kids and so did he? They had a maid named Alice, I think.

Maybe you believe you are an offensive person. Maybe there are others that agree with you. But you cannot be anywhere near as offensive as you believe, because I let you talk to me.

Yes, America is the world’s policeman, because every time your little piss pot country does something stupid, you cry to us for help. For once, handle your own crap and leave us out of it. We are your ally, not your mother. Damn!

( OKay, so I could not help it. OM put it out there and I had to play with it for a minute. I hope I don’t offend you . . . Wait, already been there . . .

Visit me at http://richbrunelle.wordpress.com

Guest Post – Did I Have A Brush With Death Today?


No, nothing so dramatic or notable as an auto accident or a shooting. But, what would you call losing a few hours out of your day without the aid of alcohol or drugs?

I woke up around 6:00 PM, feeling as though I was lucky to even be alive this evening, and spent the next 10 minutes crying like a baby. Nobody noticed. Nobody cared. So, am I truly lucky to be alive today? Allow me to explain.

Today was an extremely hot day. Temperatures easily reached over 100 degrees and the sun showed no mercy as it beat down upon the people below. For a living, I do physical labor for the most part. I am up and down ladders a couple hundred times a day, carry loads of extreme weight and/or size, and try to put out 100% of myself accomplishing my tasks. But, this is what is expected of a man in today’s society if he wants to draw a minimum wage. The problem however is; I am a 57 year old overweight smoker.Today I believe I learned the significance of being such.

By noon today I was a puddle of sweat, was having difficulty breathing, my mind had gone foggy, and there was no escape. When lunch time came, I could not eat. I had spent the morning trying to survive the heat by consuming so much water that I “sloshed” when I walked. Shortly after lunch I told the boss I needed to go to the hospital. I felt as if I was going to vomit and was borderline passing out. Instead of going to the hospital I had the boss take me to my motorcycle which was at the company shop. My intention was to ride my bike to the hospital so I would have a ride there when released. I was barely coherent when I fired up my motorcycle to head to the hospital. I never made it there, ending up at home instead. Now mind you, I was headed for the hospital and made no conscious decision otherwise. Regardless, I ended up at home. It was likely about 1:00 to 1:30 PM at the time but I do not recall ever arriving home.

The next thing I am aware of, is it is around 6:00PM and I feel like hell. And, I do not recall ever coming home. Then the implications of my day registered to my mind and tears filled my eyes. For the first time in my life, I know fear. Not just the feeling of being afraid of something you can avoid, but the fear of realizing that today could have been my last. For about 10 minutes I sobbed like a friggin baby. Even the people in the room with me didn’t notice. Not that I would want them to. I just noted that they didn’t, thus saving me the un-necessary embarrassment. Frankly, losing a few hours of my day scares the hell out of me. This is the first time in my life that I have no recollection of what I have done, where I have been, or how I got to and fro.

My neighbor just hollered at me, asking how I felt. When I approached him just now he told me that I didn’t look like myself. He told me he saw me when I came in earlier. It seems I was white as a ghost, sweating bullets, and like I was about to Fall out.” But, I was still able to be courteous enough to stop and allow some children to pass across my driveway before I drove in. Well even as bad off as I was, I was still a gentlemen. That puts it all in perspective, maybe I won’t act like a damn fool on the way out. I guess I should not be concerned about this, they can rebuild me.

Of course, I am going to make light of this. Yes, we have the technology. They can rebuild me. They can fix what I have broke, then rebuild me. They can make me faster, stronger, and even better looking. Why doesn’t that make me feel any better. I think I should stay home from work tomorrow, perhaps find my way to the hospital/doctor’s office and let them give me a diagnostic followed by a tune up and oil change, I hope. . . . They gave ma an appointment in August and told me to come into Emergency if I had further difficulties

Most of us have one thing in common, we abuse our body. We drink, smoke, dope, work, work harder, and play vigorously. All at a cost to our body. Sure some of these things can be good for your body, but not in excess. And, many of us tend to do too much without regard for the consequences. My advice after 57 years in this life . . . Smoking is stupid, booze and dope maybe in moderation, and a healthy diet is an absolute necessity. Heed my words on this, you will be glad you did.

Do you wonder what happens to you after death? Is there an afterlife? Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? Or, do we just become worm food and that is the end of it. Is this the point when even atheists pray to God? I have led a full life, I guess. No I haven’t. I have led a “shit” life, full of bullshit and waste. I have loved and been loved, yet nothing had permanence. In my younger years I was at the top of my game, in everything. Only to lose it all once I became older. I have not yet made my mark upon this world. Will I be given a chance in the next life? Is there a next life? Oh Lord, please tell me there is another after this one . . .

http://richbrunelle.wordpress.com/

Guest Post – Drugs: Is We For Em, or Agin Em?


Allow me to start this article with a little disclaimer: I do not recommend, suggest use of, or otherwise support the use of drugs. Even your local Doctor cannot guarantee that drugs prescribed by him will not kill you, so why would anyone support their usage?
Are you aware that prescribed drugs kill more people per year than illegal drugs?
This is true. Doctor prescribed medications are responsible for more deaths and addictions than illegal drugs. This is not to say that many doctor prescribed drugs have not proved beneficial to the patients served. Prescribed drugs in the hands of children not intended for attribute to an alarming rate of addictions and other issues involving children, including death.

Are you aware that about 70 billion dollars per year are spent from our tax dollars on the War On Drugs?
70 billion dollars is a lot of money. How is it spent? Who is it paid to? Is the money serving it’s intended purpose? The War On Drugs has failed to achieve any true success, why do we keep doing the same thing, year after year, for over 40 years now?

Are you also aware that the War On Drugs has not proved itself in any way a benefit to any country involved?
Drug Cartels and Street Gangs are the only beneficiary of the War On Drugs. Cartels and Gangs are the direct result of the War On Drugs.

Do you know how many young adults lives have been ruined due to our prohibition of drugs?
In our attempt to curb drug usage in America, we have created victims out of our own young that likely would have matured to become valued members of their community and some may have become even more had they not have been caught up in the laws that reduced their contribution to society to that of a convicted felon.

How many people have lost their right to vote due to the prohibition of drugs?
When you consider the impact of Black people prosecuted for drug related offenses vs. white people for the same offenses, our prohibition of drugs may have been instrumental in determining voting during the past 40 years, allowing our political structure to have become not the making of the voter, but by those manipulating who could or could not vote.

Have you ever wondered how many deaths can be attributed to the prohibition of drugs in America?
There have been many people killed by police, many police killed by people, and many innocent people caught in the middle due to our prohibition of drugs. Do you realize that America is responsible for the deaths of people along our southern borders due to drug cartel violence. It is our prohibition of drugs that creates the incidents causing the deaths. Nobody is getting killed down there because they want drugs. They are getting killed because we want drugs.

Have you considered how much commerce is generated “tax free” from sales of drugs in America?
The illegal drug trade produces about 420 billion dollars in sales per year. That is a lot of unpaid taxation. Why are we allowing Criminals to profit from the sale of drugs, plus not have to pay a penny in taxes while we work our selves damn near to death to reach poverty level, and still have to pay taxes?

Do you really think if drugs were made legal in America today, that everybody in America would become drug addicts?
It is doubtful that drug usage and/or users will dramatically increase. Prohibition makes it cool to do drugs. Prohibition is more responsible for drug addiction based on the “cool” factor alone. Legalization would easily make drug usage less cool.

Do you understand that for over 40 years America has fought the War On Drugs, the same way, over and over again with no positive result?
After 40 years of making the same damn mistake, isn’t it time that we take a different approach to how to handle drugs in America?

While I do not support drug usage in any shape, form, or fashion . . . I support criminals getting rich while we spend billions of dollars allowing them to do so, even less. Prohibition has never worked in America. So why are we allowing prohibition to control our nation. Legalize, Tax, and Educate may be the most beneficial acts for the future of America. Consider it!

http://richbrunelle.wordpress.com/

Guest Post – Of Festivities and Farewell


Now that you are relaxing (hopefully with that  beer in your hand), let me show case another well known aspect of my place.

India is a place of various festivals (we got so many holidays for various festivals related to various religions especially during the second part of the year that I cannot wait for August to start). Sometimes they are too many to handle, but they are so varied in nature, it is fun. Here are couple of them which we celebrate with lights and hope.
Karthigai Deepam – Mostly celebrated by Tamilians, is an ancient festival of lights celebrated by Tamil Hindus on the full moon day of November/December.

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Deepavali, celebrated by the whole of India, is always accompanied by lamps, lights and fireworks.

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Well, after all the fun and festivity , it is now time to say Good bye.

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(That is the Tamil scripture of ‘OM’). Thank you OM for giving me the platform to showcase not only my photographs but also a part of my culture and my land. And hope you all enjoyed the short journey with me.

Take care & நன்றி ( pronounced as ‘Nandri’ i.e. thank you)

KG

Guest Post – A little R & R


After the last post, I guess it’s time to rest and relax a little bit. Wanna go to a beach, have a beer 1-IMG_9551

and watch the sun set with perfect harmony or would you prefer a little chaos. You can get all that and more in Goa, the smallest state of India and is very popular with the foreign tourists. 1-IMG_9709

When I went there for a week’s vacation, I wasn’t very sure if it was my kind of place. But then I just fell in love, may be because it was slightly before the actual season started (around August – September) and it wasn’t that crowded. It has its own history being in Portugese rule for a long time. The cathedral in Old Goa is one of the largest churches in Asia (as they say). And all the beaches are very well maintained. I did a sort of a video with the photographs using a Tamil song that talks about this place.

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Hope you are enjoying your virtual journey so far :)
– KG

Guest Post – Ruins and Ruminations


As part of my virtual tour through the southern parts of India, we come to a place which has ruins written all over it with lots and lots of history and religion going into this place.

Dhanushkodi, a small place at the southern tip of Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu state (my home state), is the closest point to Sri Lanka. It is said that Lord Ram (of Ramayana, one of India’s greatest Epic) went to Lanka by building a bridge of rocks from here, to rescue his wife Sita who was imprisoned by Lord Ravana. This place was destroyed totally during a 1964 cyclone and is now considered a ‘Ghost Town‘ now. Only a few fishermen live with their families there, relying on the tourism and fishing for their income. And the entry to this place is only via registered Jeep and only during a specific time interval because the water sometimes cuts the place off from the main land. During the Tsunami in 2004, it seems like the locals could see the destroyed parts of the city when the water went almost 3-4 kms inside and this place was surprisingly unaffected by the Tsunami.

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A Ruined Church

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Yesteryear’s Railway Station

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Post office and other government buildings

This place reminded me of this quote : “The sight of so many ruins destroys any desire to build shanties; all this ancient dust makes one indifferent to fame.” ― Gustave Flaubert.
– KG

Guest Post – Love on top


As promised, I am gonna take you to a place near Bangalore (India). Do you love the mountains ? Is trekking your thing ? Do you enjoy the greenery all around ?

If yes, then you should definitely visit Wayanad, which is in Kerala (a neighboring state which is also called as ‘God’s own country’ and they call it for nothing) is a beautiful district covered with hills, lakes and wild reserves. When we went for a three day trip to this place I did my first and only trek to Chembara Peak. Being there was like being in heaven. I leave you with two pictures of a specific point in Chembara Peak (a trek of 4+ hours to and fro) which is the highlight of that place.

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The heart shaped lake at the top of the hills.

The heart shaped lake at the top (2100 mtrs high)
Wanna come visit ?

KG

Guest Post – In house models


வணக்கம் (that’s Hello in Tamil and pronounced ‘Vanakkam’). This is KG (a pseudonym) here from the southern parts of India. And before I say anything else, I am so glad (and slightly nervous) to be a guest author here at HarsH ReaLiTy. Thank you OM.

I dabble a bit in Photography as my hobby (apart from reading a ton of books and listening to music all day through) and as a way to record my travels too. I blog at Books, Music, Photography & Movies , where I pen my views on all of said things and some more and also at Memoirs of my Travels , where I try and chronicle my travel to various places I have had the pleasure of visiting. As part of my guest posts, I will try to show you some part of my land through my photographs. Hope you enjoy the short journey with me as much as I do.

As part of the first guest post I would like to introduce you to my models that help me in my photography within the confines of my home. Ever since I have started to play with my DSLR I found the idols I own to be amazing models. I also like to play with the light (or lack of it) and how I can make them (idols) look all mysterious with my photographs. So without further delay, here are some of my photographs of them.

I would like to introduce you to Annapurna Devi, the god of food and nourishment, holding an utensil used to serve food.

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And this is Vishnu, who is deemed the protector and is the Supreme God of Vaishanvism.

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I always enjoy working with them. They are my silent supporters in more ways than one.

-KG

Thank you Guest Authors


I appreciate the time that people took to post on my blog and I hope you found some new connections from the experience. I have a couple Guest Authors left and then I’ll close the board down. Thank you for the interest and for sharing your thoughts with us here. To my regular readers I appreciate your patience with the influx of external posts.

Until next year,

-OM

Guest Post – Sleep in the Wind


I vault the sky – blue is a trite fancy –
the expanse is the clear color of longing

The horizon gives way
to empyreal heights
and delicious air, my face
to the eye of the sun

Is it indulgence or calling to ride
the wings of one’s own prayers?

I could sleep in the wind.

I hold onto this incarnation of
dreams but the sun revives me
from slumber on a pillow of dirt
and the sweet draught of
yesterday still in my throat,

I try not to disturb my broken wing.

Wayfarer on A Holistic Journey

Guest Post – st r u gg ling artist ii


                    my boy
          i am the shade of his sun
afraid he will burn, but

i am more than the smell of the bosom
          he has learned, to grow up and leave and cleave
                   to the woman of his heart 

                            i am the album of regrets and
                       and deficiency and forgiving

the roots that climb deep down parents' omissions

i am the redemption of the years my mother pushed 
through the choices she didn't have on grit and coffee

                 did you know? korean grandmothers don't
           have a name but Grandma in korean
     and tradition erased their childhood
  -- no one heard -- their cheerful silence was
their greatest gift to us

i am the epode on the piano
        G major 7 in improv and 
                                  syncopation
while i keep time for my family, i am the   sus pension
                                  that knows to resolve

                           the holistic heave of my jazz
              i can S C A T

                   i am the cherry blossoms that concede
              their soul in season, unabashed
         and the ones that could not    hold    on
                      their delicate dance down in death
                                  dust to dust    

                           i don't need self-esteem
                           i know Whose i am
                   but God doesn't have twins and
                   He doesn't make machines
         we are each His masterpiece

         no -- no, i don't want to roar
         that i am Woman

                           i just wish silence --
              license -- to put to paper my person

              who cares what i am
       but the earnest page
and the memories and dreams that ask not to die

i am the apology that i know what i want
         and have begun to sing before the cicada's time

                          i am the choices i live with
            am almost the books i wait
                                        wait
                                                 to write.


Holistic Wayfarer at holisticwayfarer.com

Guest Post – Five Mistakes I Made as a New Blogger


I’m still relatively new out here but I was your poster blogger for clueless newbies a year ago. I wasn’t familiar with blogs; it was a friend who introduced me to WordPress. Once he sat me in my dash and taught me how to pilot the thing, I just wrote like I was drunk. Well, writing is one thing but getting it out there another. These are some things I wish I’d known in the cyberworld fresh off the ship from Earth.

1. Don’t wait last-minute to come up with a good title. After putting in all that thought and time into the post, I would scrounge for a good title just before publishing. There were times I didn’t do justice to the text just because I hadn’t prepared. I’ve since learned: good title, good views. It’s our first – and possibly last – shot at inviting a reader in. It should be catchy or intriguing and while it pegs the topic, you don’t want it giving everything away. Though a finished post will often suggest its own title, I now sometimes mull it over before or during the writing. Point is, I don’t want to be grasping at straws at the eleventh hour.

2. Deleting a category will create 404 “Page not found” links. WordPress Support said, “all the category links assigned to the posts will become broken links in search engine results. Every time a person anywhere online clicks that deleted category link they will be presented with a 404. The exact error message they see will vary from theme to theme.” So especially if you’re starting out in blogosphere, give good thought to the categories you create. I don’t think you want detailed technical advice from me. I might break your blog. Ask Support if you’d like more information.

3. Don’t tag out the wazoo. WordPress will accept up to 15 tags and categories combined on a post. Exceed the limit, and your tags will not appear in the Reader. You are way ahead of me. I didn’t even know what tags were those first few months!

4. But everyone’s doing it. I wrestled at first with the notion that I had to step out on social media to build my blog, though I had no idea where I’d find the time. Then I came to see some bloggers are able to harness media platforms more effectively than others and I don’t need to spread myself thin trying. I don’t need to anything. It helps that I love my WordPress community of readers.

5. Good luck Ostrich Blogging. I did not know the heart of blogging is relationships. I told you: I knew nothing about blogging but that I could write my art out. I didn’t know to read other blogs or to introduce myself out here. Naturally, my readership took its time growing in the beginning. I hope your head’s not in the sand. Make friends and support others, and you’ll attract like-minded readers. Hope you do better than I did.

Wayfarer on A Holistic Journey

Guest Post – Make Him Feel Like a Man


You wait for him to text or email. You distract yourself with TV and Facebook. You wait. And wait. Oh, forget this.

You text him.

You suggest meeting up. “Uh, I’m not sure about that weekend. I might be out with the guys that Saturday,” he answers. No problem. You’re free Sunday. Or how about Tuesday after work?

Ladies, that is the problem. You are free. Free, when he’d rather you cost him something.

Men want a distance to have to travel to reach us. On wheels or across cyberspace through words he shoots you in hope. It’s the dream of being a knight, vaguely but deeply printed in their gene code. Lady Catarina didn’t rap on Sir Beef Biceps’ door to pick him up on horseback. And it’s not just physical distance I’m talking about. If you throw up all over the poor guy your deepest longings, give away your story before their time, why would he want to expend any more energy to know more? You’ve left him nothing to wonder about. I’m not saying play games. Good golly, no. Don’t be wasting time, now. I’m encouraging you to let him cross that emotional bridge to reach your heart. To win you. Not as a trophy – but why should he be proud of something he didn’t win? And win means woo.

Men like to do the chasing.

Yes, I’m aware it’s the year 2014. Even Star Wars is old. And hold on before you jump to argue that you’re a different kind of guy and like women to be more assertive or that your relationship doesn’t fit the bill. Hats off to you. I really hope it lasts. There are exceptions to everything, and I’m obviously not talking about gay people. I don’t believe women should be helpless or frail, never assertive or responsive. I know more mixed martial arts than a lot of men and rank pretty high among vocal women. But I will lay it all down to say men get in touch with their manhood when they’re free to lead – and we with our womanhood when we are pursued. I’m not trying to resuscitate the Victorian era. The dynamic goes back even farther. It’s as simple as our biology. Men are meant to physically move toward women; we are designed to receive.

You worry you’re not attractive enough, think waiting won’t do? Do you think being aggressive will make you any more desirable? Being too easy to get will only cheapen you. Yeah, I agree a lot of men have to step up, go ask Oz for some courage. But just a little boldness will go a long way when he sees anything in you that has him wanting more. He will ford rivers, cross the country, call you again and again. When you let him feel like a man, he will be the one holding onto you.

Wayfarer on A Holistic Journey

Guest Post – Sex in the City


I agree New York City is a great place to visit. But I could no longer live there or think about raising my son where I grew up. Even as young as five or six into the elementary years, I was on guard against flashers. The police went on the hunt one time, had a WANTED sketch out of the guy. His face, not the part he was flashing. So no, my childhood was not very innocent. Halloween brought the most nerve-wracking seven minutes of every year in Junior High. My friends and I braced ourselves on the bus as we pulled up in the afternoon. Sometimes we’d see the older kids waiting, raw eggs or Nair hair remover in hand. You know we ran home. I was about fourteen, home with my younger brother one day when someone tried our doorknob. Through the peephole I saw a Hispanic man wearing a white apron like a grocer or butcher. He had heard kids playing and meant to come in. Banging hard on it, I yelled through the door that I was calling the cops. He slowly turned and coolly walked away. Another afternoon in high school on my way home, the subway was packed to the core. The man in front of me took the occasion to press hard into me. I don’t remember if I literally called him out but if looks can kill, his heart would’ve stopped. My parents owned a delicatessen near home then. A minute’s walk from the store was our competition, the owner also a Korean man. He was shot one day. He lived, but of course we realized it could’ve been my father. I did worry about my parents but for the most part, I didn’t know what fear was, growing up. It was partly the push back against the everyday sense of threat and partly just who I was. I dryly told the man who flashed me and friends on the train, “I’ve seen better.”

I wasn’t the only one to have seen my share because kids in my circle were having sex. Even as young as thirteen. Though I was a zealous student all my life, I got a taste of life on the other side freshman year, and for a (very) long season cut classes. The guys I hung out with became full-blown truants. Smoking was nothing. They did pot and acid. They were sweet and kind, and it was sad watching them not want to grow up. I’m so grateful I was spared the path that opened to welcome me. The only explanation I have for the way I kept up my grades and the convictions about what was right for my body is the grace of God. But I was wrong about one thing.

Even then, I thought about the wisdom of sheltering children as a parent. I felt it was good in many ways for kids to experience the hard knocks – so they don’t turn out soft. The past few years I’ve gotten to know well-adjusted, responsible teenage girls who play with my son, who’ve made me think differently. Growing up too fast doesn’t necessarily mean maturing. These wonderful girls talk with me easily and respectfully, help me clean, love my boy, save their earnings. There’s a wholeness about them I lacked at their age coming from an emotionally fractured family. I’m humbled thinking back on the cynicism and bite that characterized me, seeing these girls emotionally healthy. The perverts, robbers, addicts, and teenage sex in the city that were my normal helped make me tough and bold but my fearlessness was the stupid kind. I didn’t have to walk the streets of Manhattan alone at midnight. The teenagers in our lives don’t suffer wanderlust or the itch of adventures in the dark. It’s awesome watching them enjoy being home. Gives me hope that I have a chance at raising a happy, loving, wise young man. Now, if only I can work on myself some more.

Wayfarer on A Holistic Journey

Guest Post – A Realistic Approach to Saving the World


I’m lucky: I’m not struggling for survival. I’m not crying myself to sleep out of loneliness or heartbreak. My most important needs are met. That gives me time to worry about other people’s problems. As well we all should: many of them will affect us all.

You’ve probably noticed: the world is in sad shape. No one would deny it—although the debate rages on about who and what to blame. But while the filibustering drones on, the standard of living for much of the world’s population is going down, and so are people’s expectations. Peace is in jeopardy in many places; resources are ever scarcer and higher in price; the weather is going haywire…. What can a person do? It’s unconscionable not to act, but we can’t afford to act foolishly. With problems so pressing, we need to focus on what will really work.

My friends and I have looked at this very carefully. We’ve considered every approach we’ve heard of, and every approach we could think of, to improve the world’s prospects and reduce the world’s suffering. We could not escape this conclusion: apart from people just plain being unselfish, every other solution we could think of was unsatisfactory.

Most proposals for “saving the world” suggest better ways of doing things, new or improved forms of international cooperation, and the like. Such changes and systems are good—and heaven knows, they are necessary. But heaven knows, too, how much the results of everything depend on people more than systems. As powerful free will creatures, we human beings should never think a good idea or an improved structure can, in and of itself, save us. How disappointed we would be!

Consider the many cases where people have taken a wonderful system and made it unworkable. Here’s a simple but telling example: the “honor system.” Why don’t we rely on that beautiful principle more often? It’s become unreliable, because selfishness has become more popular than honor these days.

Throughout history, narrow self-interest has defeated mankind’s best-laid plans, despite their theoretical promise and merit. One by one, so many great social movements, so many hopeful structures have been brought down by selfishness, laziness, and greed.

Communism and socialism are good, idealistic systems, but they failed because, without strong self-interest incentives, selfish people won’t exert themselves for the common good. Capitalism, too, is now failing, because greed and self-interest have overshadowed the positive values that could have kept it viable: strong human values; healthy self-sacrifice; and intelligent, far-sighted resource-management. Even democracy is failing, because the people have given too much power to their leaders, and participated too little in steering the ship. The examples go on and on: selfishness routinely degrades otherwise positive opportunities.

To be realistic about helping the world, we must realize the extent to which selfishness creates the woes we wish to fix—and even sabotages all our attempts to fix them. For example: When people try to give financial aid to third world countries, selfishness interferes at every turn. Greed, bribery, stealing, and corruption block progress at all levels of government, clear down to the local level. Interpersonal bickering and lack of cooperation among the recipients of aid has undermined water projects, agricultural projects, every kind of charitable benefit project, the world round. It’s maddening… and tragic.

I still actively support many good causes and promising solutions. We need to solve the problems on all levels on which they exist. But I know every solution will eventually hit the wall until selfishness bites the dust. Until we effectively reduce self-orientation itself, both individually and collectively, selfishness will continue to undermine attempts to bring about planetary harmony, or even population stability, here on earth.

Who among us is willing to pay the real cost of a right and beautiful world? The real cost is unselfishness; real caring; true cooperation and self-sacrifice—in short, less ego. If we fool ourselves that our ideals, our values, and our visions could work without effectively reducing our selfishness, we’re cruisin’ for a bruising.

To make the needed difference, we’ve got to be more than humanitarian. It is good to give a penny at the cash register, to contribute to Save the Whales, to pray for victims of famine and war, to meditate for world peace. All these things are good and necessary. But we must know, too, that impersonal forms of giving transcend selfishness to only a very small degree. Charity, unfortunately, is like removing twenty percent of a virulent tumor. To make the needed difference, we need to personally incorporate ongoing ego-transcending practices into all parts of our daily life. For example, to cooperate smoothly instead of insisting on our own way; to listen to someone else’s exciting idea before blurting out our own; to recognize and accommodate another person’s needs. Then, we’ll be helping save the world, whether our lives look conventionally “humanitarian” or not.

Sara Donna; Spiritual Living

Guest Post – Jumping to the Defense of Manhood (and Womanhood)


As a woman, I’m passionate about equality between the sexes. I’m glad that a lot of the traditional injustices in our society have been overcome. But I’m dissatisfied with the new imbalances we’ve created.

While feminism has done a lot of good, the gains have been made partly by robbing Peter to pay Pauline: we now live in a climate of pervasive disrespect for men. Nobody talks about it; in fact, most people are in denial about it.

But it’s clearly visible, like an elephant hiding behind a tiny sapling. For example, a few years ago MTV aired a shocking Valentine’s Day message. In the skit, a couple is sharing a bubble bath. The woman is eating Valentine chocolates while the man manicures her feet. He pauses; then tenderly, hopefully, offers her an engagement ring — and she spits half-chewed candies into his face.

Ask yourself: In what social climate, with what values and standards, would it be possible to air that message on national television, and get away with it?

What if the exact same skit was redone with the roles reversed: The man eats the chocolates, the woman proposes — and he spits on her. Imagine the public outrage, the hate mail! Most likely, advertisers would drop the station like a hot rock.

Anyone paying attention has recognized for many years that maleness is unfashionable in our society. All men experience this anti-male discrimination, but they don’t talk much about it. It isn’t manly to complain. And besides, who would listen?

The prevalence of anti-male mentality came strongly to my attention a while back, when a close friend of mine was working as a counselor in an organization providing intervention for men involved in domestic violence — that is, supporting them to change their aggressive patterns. She became increasingly frustrated, because the programs were largely ineffective. A big part of the problem, as she saw it, was an ingrained bias against men. The role of the female victims in instigating violence — which was more often the case than not — was, as a matter of strict policy, completely ignored in every instance in which the man became violent. The onus fell squarely, and exclusively, on the man, even when he was severely provoked by his partner’s physical violence (in many cases), and her verbal and psychological attacks (in many more cases).

I could say a lot more about how unfairly men are treated in this specific high-profile social problem. But I don’t mean to make a huge issue out of domestic violence. I am interested in it mostly as a focal point for larger issues in male/female relationships.

It’s too sad that so many men and women see each other as trophies, or competitors, or opponents in a battle of wits, words, or fists. Almost no one understands the upside potential of either gender, alone or with each other. We’d be so much better off, personally and collectively, if more of us understood it, started to live up to it, and tried to bring it out in each other.

I’m lucky enough to have known some real men and some real women, and the real thing is enough to make you worshipful! Here are some tastes of what that is, taken from some excellent descriptions I found on cardsforliving.com:

“A real man is tender, sensitive, caring, loving, devoted. He is what you need in a father, a husband, a lover, and most of all, a true friend.”… “He brings discipline, upholds standards, imparts values.”…. “A true man cuts through the problems of life with dispassion, discernment, and decisiveness.”…. “A true man is never a people pleaser. He is beyond society, convention, politics, opinion. That’s how he can make Solomon-like decisions. And that’s how he can live free — as himself.” Manhood Card

“A true woman keeps a gentle finger on the pulse of life. She hears the cries of frogs that boys abuse, the victims of schoolyard skirmishes, the victims of war.”…. “She is the champion of hearts, the ultimate resort when life seems to deny what we cannot live without.” … “Woman nurtures. She’s a river of devotion, emotion, and care — a life-giver for her man and for life as a whole.” … “Womanly emotions… put color on the page and keep life alive.” Womanhood Card

Glorifying one gender at the expense of the other will never work, because it is wrong. If we want to have fulfilling, harmonious intimacy between the genders, and peace in our homes, we’ll need to embrace the spirit of true equality and deep respect — not theoretical, or philosophical, but real respect. Neither manhood nor womanhood is respected enough right now, and both really deserve it.

- Sara Donna; Spiritual Living

Guest Post – Love and Trust – the Only Viable Alternative Lifestyle


What does your future hold? I have no doubt that for almost every person in this world, future survival will depend on cooperative communities. Not many people share this opinion with me yet, but I know a lot of people are wondering what they’re going to do if (or rather, when) the shit hits the fan. If you’re in that category, I say to you, how much do you want to bet I’m wrong? What if I’m right?

The tide is beginning to turn in people’s attitudes toward community. Many people are beginning to see the importance of community now; they’re talking about it, exploring it, trying to establish it. But it’s easier said than done. In an on-line directory of communities I saw recently, there were hundreds listed, but when I looked at how long they’d been in existence, the vast majority listed themselves as “forming” or “seeking members.” The vision may be there already, but it’s still vaporware.

The problem is, the social skills and self-transcendence required for harmonious living-together community are non-existent or inadequate in most people today. So people have good reason to fear failure, or at least serious problems and challenges, in the process of forming live-in communities.

Clearly, the obstacles to creating community from scratch are significant. But so are the incentives. There is a real time pressure on humanity to adapt to better ways of living. That slants the playing field towards the need for an accelerated effort.

Not only are living conditions on earth becoming more difficult, but it is also true that the longer one waits to correct a personal problem, the worse the problem becomes. People who are ill-adapted to trusting relationships cannot be hurt as much by trying against the odds now, as they can by waiting to try it.

So, honestly now, what’s holding people back from having real flesh and blood closeness? The obstacles are:

1. Insufficient love, which kills relationships.

2. Excessive distrust, which can get so severe as to keep committed relationships from getting started.

3. Cowardice, which prevents substantial changes of lifestyle.

Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut or magic bullet to solve these problems. There’s no technique for it, no drug that can cure you. You just have to honestly recognize these problems in yourself and sincerely want to overcome them. Then, roll up your sleeves and start tearing down those walls in your attitudes and emotions. If you really want to, and you stick with it, and you try in a good spirit, I know you will succeed.

But that takes more guts and persistence than most of us are used to putting out. Can we rely on circumstances to push us over that hump? Hopefully, you might say, when things get extremely bad, people might give in and decide to live differently. As the human race harvests the bitter fruit of our own distrust, our own cowardice, our own self-protective instincts, individuals will change. Perhaps that’s the most hopeful news about global warming, overpopulation, and resource depletion.

But must we be forced into it? Must we wait until the eleventh hour and then cooperate out of fear and self-interest? That is not the best foundation for trust and cooperation. That may not even be a viable foundation for trust and cooperation. So, let’s see the handwriting on the wall, and turn to each other in love and cooperation because we see the rightness of it.

Good luck to us. We’d better learn to trust while we still can.

- Sara Donna; Spiritual Living

Guest Post – Community – an Alternative to Living for and by Yourself


These days, in their daily lives, precious few people have a social support system worthy of the name. We’re lucky if we have even one or two people in our lives with whom we have significant affinity. We have our pen pals, our “virtual community,” but this virtual world is woefully insufficient to fill the hearts of real men and real women.

My friends and I have taken the plunge into living community, and for us, it works. Our cooperative way of living, in my opinion, represents a level of fulfillment that people want, and an advance that civilization needs, and must someday manifest. So I want to share my thoughts about that for you to consider, even if you’ve never considered a different lifestyle for yourself.

Now I know that at this point in time, the choice of living community is not even an option for most people. Many people would rather die first, before throwing in their lot with other people. As a nation, we’re too independent-minded, too distrusting, too unwilling to compromise and cooperate.

But, how long will people be able to afford to live alone? We all know it costs a lot to live on our own, and have our own car, own refrigerator, own T.V., own everything. And the price is higher than we know. As I see it, the lack of cooperative, living communities, characterized by emotional support and financial cooperation, is not only a human problem, it’s a planetary problem.

The truth is: Hyper-independence is the biggest driving force behind the consumerism that causes planetary rape and the destruction of the planetary ecology in general.

Major consumerism results from the idea that each person has to own, personally, each and every thing he or she uses. Communal living would reduce consumer spending by at least half. No other remedy can achieve anything close to that — not and still be what most Americans would call comfortable. Cooperative community achieves exceptional efficiency by virtue of a little magic trick called sharing.

What difference would sharing make to the world? A huge difference. All the bicycle riding and carpooling can’t make a difference anywhere close to just living in cooperative community. The joke is, distrusting people who have to own their own of everything, sitting there sorting those little plastic bottles in their trash, thinking this will save the world.

Look: it’s great to recycle, but that’s a drop in the bucket. The major problem is distrust, which creates the most massive inefficiency of living alone, and drives the massive consumer spending that’s sucking up our limited resources and polluting our environment. People don’t trust one another enough to throw their lot in cooperatively with one another.

In my household, we have twelve people, and one kitchen. Now, if you know anything about kitchens, you know a kitchen is the most expensive part of any dwelling. Here, we live in one big dwelling. Think about that: What if we had twelve individual dwellings, each on a little bit of property, instead of sharing one dwelling? That’s a significant difference. Did you know that a lot of people nowadays work half of their time to pay their mortgage payments? And most renters pay a quarter of their earnings for housing? That represents a phenomenal investment of time and energy — three months of work per year — just to stay out of the rain by yourself!

In a communal situation, the time required to pay for your housing would be only about one month per year. What does that mean? It means that in a cooperative community, two to five months’ time and income out of each person’s year is suddenly available for other things — like, for example, saving the world.

And what about the other expenses of living? People talk about food shortages, wasted food, and the high price of food. Food purchasing for single individuals is extremely inefficient. Most people in this country spend twice as much per person for food as we do.

So, most of us Americans are paying dearly for our individualistic ways with most of our lives. And the rest of the world is being exploited or destroyed to keep up with our inefficiency — certainly not saved.

To have a distrusting view of others is to try to live alone till the eagles grin. But economically, fewer and fewer people will be able to afford that dubious luxury. As time goes on, housing becomes more and more expensive, rent more expensive, the cost of living higher, earning power less. Already you can see in the United States, and certainly around the world, more and more people are unable to afford shelter. Eventually, many such people become homeless.

And then what? Then you find that the homeless have a very short life expectancy. The problem of disease among the homeless is enormous. They have little or no medical care. They face exposure, and horrible diet. All of this because of hyper-sovereignty, creating the inability to cooperate with people, and the lack of friends who would really rally around them when they finally lose their house.

So when people, in the spirit of distrust and hyper-enthusiasm for personal survival, follow that logic to the bitter end, the end is indeed bitter. And it is not survival conducive. That’s the irony of living for self-survival.

Unlove and distrust is killing people by the thousands already. The casualties will soon grow to the millions, unless trust is restored, and sharing and cooperation are lived. All because of insufficient love and trust, primarily. These are the causes of the social alienation.

If people were going to be practical about the thing, they would look at the trends very, very carefully and see whether or not they could start building relationships of sufficient trust and love to create a more viable living situation for themselves in the future.

Sara Donna; Spiritual Living

Guest Post – Italians vs. Puerto Ricans: In Which Racism Exposes Its Ludicrous Side


When I was growing up in Western Massachusetts some thirty years ago, there were two main racial groups in town: the Italians and the Puerto Ricans. Now, I can’t tell you what or even if the Puerto Ricans thought about the Italians, but I do know that the Italians, at least the ones I knew, hated the Puerto Ricans. You even pronounced it differently, as if it were a swear word: PortaRican.

Now, my mom was American-born and didn’t speak Italian, but her grandparents had come from the old country around the turn of the century and that was sufficient to qualify us to be at home among the Italians, so quite naturally we lived in the Italian neighborhood. With my second-generation Italian friends I celebrated the Italian holidays, worshipped Sylvester Stallone, the Italian Stallion, and tried to pick up the art of swearing in Italian from the native speakers. But I never could figure out why I was supposed to hate the Puerto Ricans. I mean, it sounded really stupid. Both groups seemed to me only slightly different shades of white, and among the older generation, both spoke equally incomprehensible foreign languages.

“It’s because they’re so poor,” my friends would sniff. “Look at where they live.”

I did. It wasn’t hard; their neighborhood was directly across the street from ours.

“They shop at Kmart,” they sneered. Back then this was the refuge of the very lowest classes. You did not want to be seen walking into or out of a Kmart. But we knew that they shopped there because we often saw them in the aisles when we were trying to pick out our shoes and shirts for school.

When I moved away from Springfield and met other Italians it became clear that Italians in general had no particular grudge against Puerto Ricans; indeed, in most parts of the country neither group is numerous or dominant enough for racial conflicts even to exist. And that’s when it finally started to make sense to me. The Italians of my old neighborhood didn’t hate the Puerto Ricans because of how they lived or because of anything specific they had done. They were simply the other big tribe in town. Natural enemies, if you will. And very likely the Puerto Ricans were equally unfond and distrustful of their Italian neighbors.

To my mind, racism, like many other isms, is inherently flawed in concept and therefore doomed to eventual failure. It may have been sustainable as long as the whites stayed in Europe and the Asians in Asia and the blacks in Africa and the Latinos in Latin America, but today’s society is so incredibly integrated that this simply can’t be the case anymore. As much as you can’t talk people out of their convictions, you also can’t talk them out of their sexual desires, and as long as people of one color continue to think that people of other colors are hot, there are going to be interracial babies who will, in turn, make more interracial babies. And at some point it becomes ludicrous, trying to carry a prejudice against people who are the same color as your grandkid or your best friend’s live-in boyfriend or you after a summer in the sun or a winter without it.

It’s difficult to detest groups that are so ill-defined. It’s even tougher to feel threatened by an ethnic population that doesn’t outnumber you and that has no more power than your own. I mean, who hates the Irish anymore? When was the last time you saw a fistfight break out between an Episcopalian and a Presbyterian? It is both the burden and the beauty of cultural diversity. Many reasons to hate other kinds of people and many more reasons not to.

So the real question is, when racism at last draws to its timely end, will that mean universal peace and cooperation? Will we enjoy a Golden Age in which all peoples are appreciated and respected, in which cultures of every kind live in utopian harmony?

I doubt it. Because if the Italians of Springfield could find reasons to hate the Puerto Ricans, then people everywhere are always going to be able to find some irrational reason to despise their neighbors. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the hate crime of the future involved sports fans being beaten to death for supporting the wrong team. Or gang warfare between those who like country music and those who like hip-hop.

It will still be an improvement. If we’re going to hate people for no good reason, at least it ought to be for a cause that’s under their control. Much more fair than holding them accountable for some characteristic that was passed down to them before they were even born.

Lori Schafer
http://lorilschafer.com

Guest Post – On Popular Music: Feminine Sexual Empowerment?


No Generation X-er could fail to have noticed the thematic changes in popular culture over the last thirty years. Styles of music change, of course, as do styles of movies, books, and other media, but these stylistic differences are not necessarily related to the themes that underlie the expressions of popular culture. A sappy love song is a sappy love song whether it’s done in the style of rock, or country, or disco, and there are plenty of these still being created and popularized every year. However, over the last several decades, American society has become far more permissive in what it will accept on the subject of sexuality. Those who were offended by Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” when it was released must surely suffer nowadays, being only able to find refuge in the ever-dwindling number of oldies radio stations, which, if you have not listened to one lately, now often in fact play music from the eighties. But even Cyndi Lauper’s ode to masturbation “She-Bop” appears tame compared to the expressions of female sexuality prevalent in the popular music of today.

The theme of David Guetta’s recent hit “Turn Me On,” provides an interesting example. The main lyrical premise of the piece, sung by Nicky Minaj, can be adequately summarized by its refrain:

Make me come alive,
Come on and turn me on.
Come on, save my life
Come on and turn me on.
I’m too young to die
Come on and turn me on.
You’ve got my life in the palm of your hands.
Come, save me now, I know you can.

At first listen, this sounds like a bold stroke of female sexual empowerment. The female is the aggressor; she demands sexual attention, perhaps even satisfaction. But listen a little more closely, and it becomes clear that even here, the woman is utterly dependent upon the man, not only for her sexual needs, but for her very life. “My body needs a hero,” she cries; “Don’t let me die young.” She literally cries out to the man for salvation, almost as if her sexuality is a burden, a drag on her very existence.

The issue is similar in Rihanna’s “Where Have You Been?” in which the singer declares:

I’ve been everywhere, man
Looking for someone
Someone who can please me,
Love me all night long…

You can have me all you want
Any way
Any day
Just show me where you are tonight.

Again, it’s the female singer’s sexuality that is at stake here, and not the male’s, yet there remains a sense of dependence on the male. Although Rihanna’s tune does not imply that death is imminent if the singer fails to find the man who will please her, it does suggest that she has been searching rather endlessly (“all my life”) for this magical being that she suspects is hiding from her. The image of a woman who’s “been everywhere” hunting for the right man can hardly be called empowering, and furthermore, her desire for a man who will “love her all night long” is unrealistic and bound to end in disappointment, particularly if this is what is required to please her. Once in a while, okay, but people need to sleep, after all. At bottom this is a song of frustration, not of desire, which actually makes it very similar in theme to “Turn Me On,” if different in form. Finally, there is nothing in the least bit feminist about the singer’s desperate cry of “You can have me all you want!” which rather only implies that she’s willing to strike a bargain, offering sexual complicity in the man’s desires in exchange for fulfillment of her own.

Of course, there’s at least some sense of fairness in that, particularly when contrasted to the odiously pathetic “Brokenhearted” by Kashmir, a nearly fifties-themed anthem of the dependence of feminine happiness on the behavior of men. This seemingly harmless, lighthearted tune features the following reprehensible refrain:

I’ve been waiting all day
For you to call me, baby
Come on, finish what we started
Don’t you leave me brokenhearted tonight.
Honest baby, I’ll do
Anything you want to
Let’s get up, let’s get on it
Don’t you leave me brokenhearted tonight.

Can you picture Jane Fonda sitting around waiting all day for a man to call her, and then blindly agreeing to do whatever he wants? But this point is so vital to Kashmir’s theme that she even repeats it in her spoken-word interlude:

Anything you want to do
I’ll be on it, too.

Which leaves one wondering whether men really like women who bow to their every whim. The women of popular culture certainly seem to think so.

Interestingly, it is Flo Rida – the well-known popularizer of the genre of “stripper” tunes – who, to me, portrays feminine sexuality as most nearly on an equal footing with the sexuality of men in his song “Wild Ones.” The opening chorus is sung by the female, Sia:

Hey, I heard you were a wild one
If I took you home, it’d be a home run
Show me how you’ll do
I wanna shut down the club with you
Hey I heard you like the wild ones…

The male voice then interjects with verses which, for the most part, are not related to the main theme of the song, and then the female chimes in again:

I am a wild one, break me in
Saddle me up, and let’s begin
I am a wild one, tame me now
Runnin’ with wolves, and I’m on the prowl…

Very interesting. Now the song is not about the particular desire of either the man or the woman; rather, it concerns two like-minded people, “wild ones,” who happen to find one another. Both parties are the pursued and the pursuer; neither the man nor the woman is dominant. However, the same theme of submission as an expression of feminine sexuality is also present here: the female singer wishes to be “tamed” and “broken.” If we’re uncertain about this, we only have to listen to the second-to-last line of the male singer in response to the female’s refrain:

Tear up that body; dominate you till you’ve had enough.

The language is harsh, borderline offensive, yet it seems to be along the line of what the woman appears to want; he promises to fulfill her desire (“till you’ve had enough”) by putting himself in control over her body. Think of the similarity to Christina Aguilera’s line in Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger”:

You wanna know how to make me smile
Take control, own me just for the night.

Finally, let’s take a look at Katy Perry’s “E.T.”, which on first hearing seems rife with brazen female sexuality. However, the story changes entirely when we consider the extended version of the song, which features the following vocal interlude by Kanye West, speaking as the extra-terrestrial:

First, I’ma disrobe you,
Then I’ma probe you,
See, I abducted you,
So I tell you what to do, I tell you what to do, what to do. . .

An odd interjection, harshly delivered, and what is most intriguing about it is how it completely alters the character of the song. Without the interlude, the piece arguably centers on feminine desire; the singer perceives the extraterrestrial as a being who is “hypnotizing” and “magnetizing” and whose “kiss is cosmic.” The refrain further reflects her desire: “Kiss me” and “Take me” are its main features. However, the additional verse switches the focus of desire from the female to the male; the alien is not only now in charge, but has proclaimed his right as the kidnapper to subject his victim to his will. In short, we now have a rape story.

But perhaps this was the underlying nature of the “kink” under discussion, after all. Consider the lines “Want to be a victim; ready for abduction,” and “Inject me with your love then fill me with your poison.” Although these words indicate submission rather than aggression, they are nonetheless suggestive of a submission which the performer finds desirable. In other words, it is being subject to the will of the alien that arouses sexual desire in the female; her sexual empowerment is derived from willingly submitting herself to it.

Disturbing, isn’t it? This again leaves one wondering whether men really like women who bow to their every whim. Or whether women really wish to be the ones to bow.

In other words, even in popular music of the new century, the sexually desirous woman is still submissive; hopelessly subject to the whims of man, and furthermore, seems to want it that way. The only difference appears to be that now, instead of begging for love, she begs for sex. Not what I would call empowering. Ultimately one must conclude that although the sexual content of popular culture has increased, and the sexuality of women in particular has grown in acceptance, that the songs of today are no more liberating than those of a generation ago. They’re just more graphic.

Lori Schafer
http://lorilschafer.com

Guest Post – Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: A Critical Analysis


Last week I decided to find a new home for my fake Christmas tree. Formerly it resided in an awkward and difficult-to-navigate corner of the basement, and I’ve finally relocated it to the upstairs closet with the rest of the Christmas stuff. Logically I know I ought to just get rid of the stupid thing. It’s a pain to put up, the branches are all bent way out of shape, a chunk of the topper is missing, and it’s still wearing tinsel from 2006. Yet somehow I’m never able to do it. It always surprises me how attached I am to that tree, even though I know full well the reason why – it’s because it’s exactly like the one my family had when I was growing up. I’m ordinarily not the nostalgic type, but to me that big ol’ fake tree with its blinking lights is what makes Christmas Christmas. That and my one other indispensable holiday tradition – 1970s Christmas specials!

Yes, it’s true – Christmas was never more meaningful than it was during that wondrous era in which we celebrated the most important holiday of a child’s year not by going to church, not by caroling, not by hitting the mall at midnight on the day after Thanksgiving, but by plopping our butts down in front of a nineteen-inch black-and-white at 8 pm on Saturday nights in December and losing ourselves in these classic tales of childish wonder. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the story of an outcast who saves Christmas. Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the story of an outcast who invents Christmas as we know it today. How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the story of an outcast who… Wait, I’m starting to sense a pattern here.

Now, I am not going to confess that I still watch these specials every year, and sometimes more than once, even with no children in sight. I will decline to admit that I have all of my favorites on both video and DVD, or that the one day of the year in which even I will almost certainly tear up is when I witness The Grinch having his big change of heart. I will, however, be happy to share my thoughts on that most thought-provoking of Claymation creations – the story of Rudolph.

Yes, because there’s more to the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer than the patently obvious lesson about the worth and value of misfits. This 1964 Rankin and Bass drama is chock full of enough subtext to satisfy the most diehard of film enthusiasts, and it is still, nearly fifty years later, remarkably evocative of the socially progressive era in which it was born. Let’s look at how.

1. The authority figures are jerks. There’s the nasty coach, who, after Rudolph’s secret is revealed, informs the other children snidely: “From now on, we won’t let Rudolph play in any more reindeer games, right? Right.” Look at Rudolph’s dad, Donner, who forces him to wear a fake nose, which is not only uncomfortable, but wholly undermines Rudolph’s budding self-esteem. “You’ll like it and wear it!” he commands. “There are more important things than comfort. Self-respect!” Consider Clarice’s father, who reaffirms Rudolph’s worthlessness by rejecting Rudolph on sight: “No doe of mine is going to be seen with a… with a red-nosed reindeer!” And how about the mean elf-boss, who yells at Hermey and then (illegally) refuses to give him his break until he finishes his work?

And then there’s the big man himself, Santa Claus. Not content with merely trashing the new elf song his pint-sized slaves have spent so much time writing and rehearsing, he quickly turns his temper to the subject of Rudolph. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” he tells Donner. For what, we wonder? For siring a red-nosed son? “What a pity – he had a nice take-off, too.” In other words, Santa is so closed-minded that he can’t even consider the possibility of putting someone who’s a little different on his team, no matter how good he is or how much potential he has. It’s the attitude of guys like him that gave rise to the idea of Equal Opportunity Employment.

The message is as clear as a bright red bulb on a foggy winter night. Don’t trust anyone over 30!

2. The one authority figure who isn’t a jerk is King Moonracer, that good-looking lion. Although he speaks smoothly and with conviction, he’s unfortunately an idiot. Every evening he circles the entire earth, collecting toys that no little girl or boy loves, and bringing them to his Island of Misfit Toys. Yet practically the first thing he says to Rudolph on meeting him is, “When one day you return to Christmastown, would you tell Santa about our misfit toys? I’m sure he could find children who would be happy with them.”

Okay, Your Highness, you may seem majestic with your wings and your crown and your cool castle and all, but you need better advisers. You’re telling me that you circle the entire earth every night seeking abandoned toys, but you never once thought to stop off at the North Pole and talk to Santa yourself? Heck, I mean, it’s not even that far – no farther than one can travel by ice floe, at any rate. The misfits may be all right, but the ruler of the misfits… Well, he obviously isn’t roaring with a full mane.

I’m not quite certain about the intended lesson here, though. Is it merely a dig at autocratic rule, or are we being taught that monarchy consists largely of pointless exercises in futility? In either case, it’s none too flattering to the man in charge – and in the end, it’s the brash young upstart who actually solves the problem of the misfit toys.

3. There’s a hint of underlying feminism. When Rudolph goes missing, Donner naturally decides to go out looking for him. “Mrs. Donner wanted to go along, too,” narrator Burl Ives assures us. “No! This is man’s work!” Donner blusters in response. But the days of mindless obedience to one’s husband are passing. “No sooner did the man of the house leave than Mrs. Donner and Clarice decided to go out on their own…” It’s also interesting that all of them – male and females alike – wind up in the cave of the Abominable Snow Monster. The buck, it seems, really was no better equipped to take care of himself than the ladies.

Notice, too, that the women aren’t jerks like the men are, perhaps because they have no actual authority. Why, that Clarice is downright sweet. She doesn’t laugh along with the others; rather, she forces Rudolph to keep his promise to walk her home. She sings to the unfortunate misfit to make him feel better. She even defends his “deformity,” declaring, “I think it’s a handsome nose! Much better than that silly false one you were wearing.” She’s kind of a forward gal, too. The way she whispers “I think you’re cute!” into Rudolph’s ear just before takeoff practice, the way she nuzzles noses with him on their first date – this is not a doe who’s suffering from sexual repression.
Strong, independent, free-thinking females – you can practically see women’s lib being born right in front of your eyes.

4. It’s about coming-of-age. Because there’s no need for Rudolph to actually get rid of his red nose. He just needs to learn to control it. Am I right? The young Rudolph’s “blinkin’ beak” goes off at random, shocking nearby observers with both the shining light and the horrible high-pitched whine that accompanies it. Indeed, his secret is discovered during one such unexpected episode – and worse, he and his friends are almost caught by The Abominable during another. But by the end, Rudolph is flicking that thing on and off on command, and that’s the point at which it becomes useful – even desirable – to Santa and the others.

“Control! Control! You must learn control!” Yoda scolds Luke Skywalker, another youngster with special powers. And what about Harry Potter? There’s a story that’s all about learning self-control. Misfit or no, Rudolph, too, must gain mastery over his body and over his emotions before he can become a productive member of society.

And that, of course, is the quintessence of growing up.

5. It’s about the growing acceptance of babies born out of wedlock. Surprising, but quite possibly true. Have you ever noticed that Hermey has rounded ears? Strange, isn’t it? Not only is he the only elf who doesn’t like to make toys, he’s also the only one with round ears. Indeed, except for his stature and classy powder-blue attire, he might not be an elf at all. He might even be – gasp – a human!

Of course, among elves, the outcast would naturally be human; the anti-Vulcan, if you will. But why did Rankin and Bass decide not to give Hermey pointy ears? Why did they decide to make him a misfit not just by personality, but also by physical characteristic?

The answer seems obvious. Hermey is – as such children used to be called – illegitimate. Because if Santa and the Missus are the only humans in Christmastown, then where did Hermey get those rounded ears? Hmm, maybe Santa’s a jerk in more ways than we thought; taking advantage of an employee – oh, no, wait. There’s also Yukon Cornelius. Maybe he popped into town one day and decided to pop in on some cute girl-elf’s cottage. Oh, wow. What if Hermey was in fact Yukon Cornelius’ son? Think about it – they reunite, escape death, hang out, solve problems together… I may have to compose my very first piece of fan fiction.

There’s no question that the ranks of single mothers grew in the sixties – all that free love was bound to have consequences, after all – and perhaps, in a time in which the term “bastard” still prevailed, Rudolph gently reminded us not to judge the child by the actions of its parents. It’s a lesson that we’ve apparently learned, because look at us today – even our most respected celebrities are having babies without ever getting married, and without having to apologize for it, either. And their children, too, are no longer scorned or held down by society because of their birth; they are quite as likely to succeed in life, perhaps to become celebrities in their own right, or even, if they’re very lucky and study hard, dentists.

Programs like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer are arguably the reason why children of my generation grew up the way we did. Consider the lessons it teaches. Question authority, especially when authority is wrong. Make your own decisions. Judge people by their actions, not by their appearance or their circumstances. Respect those who are different from you. It’s liberal thinking in its broadest, least political sense, and it was born in an era of idealism, in which people really thought it was possible to change the world; in which they truly believed that one person could make a difference.

Rudolph lights the way.

Lori Schafer
http://lorilschafer.com

Guest Post – Why We Shouldn’t Be Proud of Gay Pride


The Gay Pride festival took place a few weekends ago in the City of San Francisco. The LGBT community in the Bay Area is large enough and demonstrative enough to have prompted Oakland to host its own Pride Festival in September for the past several years. Thus, the millions of us who live here are reminded at least twice a year of the prevalence of homosexuals in our area and in the country at large.

Personally, I think it’s a disgrace. To my mind, there is absolutely no reason why the gay and lesbian community should still, in the twenty-first century, have any reason or need to hold a festival in order to discourage feelings of shame in being gay.

I mean, really, people. Homosexuals have been around for thousands of years that we know of, and probably since the beginning of humankind. Clearly they aren’t going anywhere. Get over it.

And people are getting over it. Like non-whites and non-Christians, non-heterosexuals are gradually becoming a part of mainstream America. They’re not just drag queens and theatre actors anymore, but musicians, politicians, and athletes. They’re characters on television, and in movies; characters with depth and style, not mere stereotypes of what homosexuals were once popularly supposed to be.

Yet there’s still a difference in the way gays and lesbians are handled in the popular media, and this, to me, is the crux of the matter, the yardstick by which we know that the homosexuals have not yet gained acceptance as an “ordinary” minority. Because it’s still big news when a celebrity comes out. And because so many of those roles that feature homosexual characters are not about everyday people who happen to be homosexual, but about their homosexuality itself.

And that’s a crucial difference. Living where I do, I’ve met many gay and lesbian couples and the reality is, apart from the fact that they prefer to go to bed with members of the same sex, the majority of them are essentially indistinguishable from heterosexual couples. In my experience, most homosexuals don’t actually fit the “types” you’ll see featured if you attend the Gay Pride festival. Most of them are perfectly assimilated into a mainstream American lifestyle, and many more of them would be if the heterosexual community would simply let them. Being gay doesn’t mean they have different customs and values; if it did, they wouldn’t be fighting so hard for the right to marry. Shouldn’t we be applauding their desire to make permanent commitments to their selected mates? Doesn’t that make them more like the majority culture, not less?

Yet people continue to argue about homosexuality as if it’s a moral or behavioral issue and not a biological one. For once and for all, let us please stop debating whether homosexuality is a choice. It can’t be a choice. Because if it were, who would choose it? Who would willingly volunteer to spend their lives being mocked and scorned and beaten and abused if they could help it? Who would choose to live with that fear and contempt, to spend their lives in clandestine love affairs or risk ridicule and censure? There’s no overcoming the sexual instinct. If that were possible, babies wouldn’t be born out of wedlock and prostitution would be a dead profession. If heterosexuals can’t conquer their sex drives, why does anyone expect the homosexuals to be able to?

Minorities will always be minorities, and to a certain extent, they’ll always stand out because of that. Indeed, this “melting pot” that we call America was basically founded as a haven for differing minorities, and the astonishing variety of individual cultures that have made a home here will only continue to increase as the decades pass. But the day will eventually come when non-heterosexuals won’t have to be defined by their sexual orientation. When they’ll be able to be people first and gay second. When they’ll no longer need a Pride festival to champion homosexuality. Because no one will even give a damn anymore whether they’re gay or not.

I’d like to attend the Pride festival several decades from now, when they make the announcement that it’s to be the final one. And if the LGBT members of our community don’t show up because they’re all at home with their families going about their own business, then I’ll know it’s time to celebrate the acceptance that they’ve finally achieved.

Lori Schafer
http://lorilschafer.com

Guest Post – The Human Races: Do We Think Differently?


I recently saw an episode of Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman which dared to address a very delicate topic: whether there are biological differences between the races that go beyond skin color. It’s certainly obvious that those differences exist. No one can dispute that the average African is taller than the average Asian, or that fair-skinned peoples are more susceptible to skin cancer, or that redheads are more likely to be Irish than Latin. But there’s a certain discomfort level that comes into play when we begin exploring the brain function of the different races, and this, I believe, is because no one wants to give the impression of being a racist by arguing that the brains of the various ethnic groups may actually operate differently from one another. But why wouldn’t they? It’s almost crazy when you think about it. If our bodies differ, then why wouldn’t our brains as well? Because the brain, just like the body, is bound to evolve to adapt to its particular environment. And historically, the various races have evolved in distinct parts of the globe. In fact, it would be a darned shame if the brains of the diverse peoples of the world were all the same; that could only mean that nature isn’t doing its job.

Here’s the crux of the matter, in my opinion: no one wants to say that someone is different because they think it implies judgment. And for some people I’m sure it does. But what those people are forgetting is that there is no objective good, better, best when it comes to humanity. There is no right path and no wrong path, only paths that lead to survival and paths that don’t. The best possible human for one environment may be ill-suited for survival in another. And at the rate at which our environment is changing, it would be difficult for anyone to predict what sort of human will be best adapted to life in the next century.

And this is where the ideas presented in the show begin to make a lot of sense. It examined hypotheses, for example, in which conditions like ADHD have been posited as natural developments in peoples who may have had a biological advantage in remaining constantly on the move. In other words, it wasn’t necessarily a mental defect; it could have been an adaptation. Opens up fascinating possibilities, doesn’t it? What if it turned out that obsessive-compulsive disorder actually derived from chaotic, filthy environments in which rigid controls and excessive handwashing were advantageous behaviors to the people engaging in them? I could almost see it. Like the tonsils or the appendix; we know they must have been useful at some point in human history, but we can no longer imagine why.

And, like the victim of the obsolete but nonetheless inflamed appendix, people with ADHD perhaps don’t function quite as well in modern society, which requires a lot of focused sitting. It makes one wonder as to the source of the current autism epidemic, for instance. Is the condition really just better diagnosed in the 21st century, or is it actually more prevalent, and if so, why? Consider this study, which found that the children of parents who work in technical jobs are more likely to be autistic – suggesting that the qualities required by modern-day white-collar positions are akin to those of autistic individuals. Disease, or adaptation gone awry?

But then why should intelligence be any different? Why do we assume that every race of people should have a brain that operates in precisely the same way as every other?

It’s been demonstrated, time and again, that, on average, blacks and Latinos have lower I.Q. scores than whites, while Jews and Asians have higher average scores. Now it’s been argued for decades that I.Q. is not a fair measure of a person’s intelligence, because the tests may be biased in favor of people with certain socioeconomic backgrounds, and I would certainly agree with this assessment without hesitation. First of all, the questions on an I.Q. test are essentially little puzzles, and, particularly when a time limit is involved, a test-taker who has been exposed to these types of problems before will grasp the intent of them more quickly and thus have a better chance of solving them. Even the most brilliant kid is going to need some time to figure out how the questions work if he or she sits down to take the SAT blind, and it’s a simple fact that the children of parents with money are more likely to have gotten an education that will have better prepared them for this type of exam.

Second, in spite of arguments to the contrary, there are or have been questions on these tests that have nothing to do with intelligence, but rather with exposure to facts. I saw a question on an I.Q. test once that related to the books of the Bible. The trick, it turned out, was to pick the New Testament one. Now how could you possibly do that if you’re unfamiliar with the Bible, which, let’s face it, even a lot of modern Christians are not? I have also seen numerous questions that relate to things like the names of cities. Me, I’ve driven cross-country fifteen times, so I feel pretty confident that I can differentiate the name of an American city from a foreign one, but that would not necessarily be true of someone who’s lived in one place their entire life.

Finally, brains or no brains, some people, I’m convinced, are simply better test-takers than others. They can answer questions quickly without getting frazzled, they learn or develop strategies for making the best use of their allotted time, and they’re not easily distracted by other test-takers, the tick of the clock, the announcements of the proctor, and so on. This, too, may be an evolved trait.

So I agree that there is bias in the I.Q. test, as much as in other types of standardized tests. However, it seems unlikely to me that this alone accounts for the racial differences in scoring, and that the main issue is that it simply isn’t politically correct to say that one race is less intelligent than another, even if it’s demonstrably true. But I say, so what if it is true? Since when is the “book-smart” kind of intelligence the ultimate measure of a man? Does intelligence make one happier, healthier, and more fulfilled? I mean, Ashkenazy Jews rank highest of all on the I.Q. scale. Oh yes, everyone envies the Jews; their intelligence has brought them such good fortune. Of course, it might also be argued that the Jews had to develop a higher intelligence in order to survive the challenges of a world which has often been hostile to them. No doubt, there is truth in that, even as there is likely truth in the presumption that native Africans were not required to develop that same type of intelligence in their own environment. They developed other qualities of equal or arguably even superior value.

Let’s set I.Q. aside for a moment and think seriously about this. If only roughly thirteen percent of Americans are black, then no one can deny that blacks are impressively overrepresented in professional sports, particularly basketball and football, and it seems fairly obvious that the reason is biological rather than socioeconomic. And let us bear in mind that sports are not only about strength, endurance, and build. Most modern games require strategy, the ability to work as part of a team, to plan several moves ahead, and to change course in the face of the unanticipated. None of which are qualities that could ever be tested for on an I.Q. test. And all of which are qualities which one would expect to find in a people who, until very recently in geologic terms, were hunters. Should the rest of us take offense if the blacks are, on average, proven to be better athletes?

And what of the overwhelming presence of African-American artists in popular music? Coincidence, environment, or adaptation? It was not the Emancipation Proclamation, and not the Christianization of the black community, but the music of African-Americans that secured them a permanent and highly valued place in American culture. White Americans were grooving to jazz and the blues in an era when segregation was still widespread, yet they found solid reasons to appreciate black talent in spite of the racism prevalent at the time. But why so many popular black musicians in the first place? One may argue that the black musical tradition dates back to the days of slavery – although in reality, it probably dates back to the time before. One may argue that art is derived from suffering and struggle. But then why do we not see as many successful African-American authors and painters and filmmakers as we do musicians? Perhaps it’s because black people, on average, really do have more rhythm and more tone. Perhaps it’s hard-wired into their genes because it was a necessity of their native lifestyles in ways that were not true of Middle-Easterners or Europeans. And what’s wrong with that?

This is not to say that intelligence should not be prized, too; rather that is not the be-all and end-all of human worth. When I open my browser to read my email, I don’t see the latest news about modern-day geniuses; I see gossip about celebrities and sports figures, the true heroes of our day. If we really place such a high value on intelligence, we have a poor way of showing it. Why then change the rules when it comes to I.Q.? If we don’t think it’s so important in real life, why does it matter what the statistics say?

No, the problem is not whether there are natural differences between the races, or whether it’s acceptable to acknowledge them, the problem is us; we don’t seem to be able to reconcile ourselves to the idea that what is generally true of a people is not necessarily true of an individual. If the average Latino has a lower I.Q. than the average Jew, that doesn’t mean that if you meet a Latino and a Jew together, you should assume that the Jew is smarter, or the Latino more adept at soccer. You shouldn’t assume that the six-foot-five black man is better at basketball than the mid-sized white guy because that’s what the averages say. And if you do make such foolish assumptions, you can make one sure bet in regards to the intelligence of the people involved: you’re the dumbest.

What is perhaps most interesting is that this approach to racial differentiation supports the idea that the United States of America could, objectively speaking, actually be the greatest country in the world. Nowhere else is there such an intermingling of races, and the strength of each race is increasingly present in our children and our children’s children. Isn’t it even possible that, biologically speaking, our bodies have recognized the advantages of being multi-racial? It’s not only the U.S. that’s become diversified, after all; you see it increasingly in most of the other nations of the world as well. I read once about a study that was done in which women were given men’s sweaty shirts to sniff. The scents they found most appealing were those belonging to men who carried different immunities from them. Maybe we, too, are seeking other immunities, other qualities that are more highly developed in the various races of our fellow men.

It’s foolish to judge mankind by his intelligence. The dinosaurs didn’t exactly represent the height of intellect, and they were far more successful than we will ever be, and probably lasted a lot longer than we will, too. What it all boils down to isn’t smarts or strength or compassion or beauty, but the unique combinations of qualities that exist in all humans that make them fit to survive. And in a rapidly changing global environment, the race will go perhaps not to the swiftest or the brightest. The fittest humans of the future may be those who are quickest to adapt.

Lori Schafer
http://lorilschafer.com

Guest Post – Loaded questions (Chapter 3)


Are you mad? What did I do?

Are the worst questions men ask during “arguments” and a lot of times a source of creating bigger problems within their relationships.

Ask yourselves this gentlemen… How many times has your girlfriend or spouse asked you those questions when she can clearly see that you are mad?

My guess is that she doesn’t. She may ask what is upsetting you… Attempt to fix it, or just steer clear. But chances are if she knows that your anger is directed at her, she does the latter.

What men fail to realize is that asking those questions without attempting to correct the situation (apologize, or make it right) you are only insulting our intelligence and pouring salt in an open wound.

Case and point- if you call at 11:30 and say you will be home by midnight but walk in at 3am… I may not say anything. But the next morning I have an attitude while cooking breakfast. To ask me if I’m mad is only going to add fuel to my fire and get you cursed out. Instead, apologize for coming in late and not calling. Cook me breakfast. Take corrective steps to right your wrong, don’t ask asinine questions unless you like being in the dog house…

Missjerre.wordpress.com

Guest Post – Full circle


A month ago, I was letting go of a good job in the hopes of finding my dream job. It seemed like such a tall order for my 26-year-old self, but I tried to exercise genuine faith. Opportunity came knocking on my door unexpectedly, and it has been a whirlwind of a month. Continue reading