Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thinking Big

This seems like a pretty logical "big thought".

First, the best way to help someone is to enable them to help themselves.  That was also discussed in the TED talk at the bottom of this post.

Second, recognize that information is the great enabler.  People with access to information can educate themselves and think independently (and recognize when they are being fed propaganda).

And third, conclude the best way to make this happen is to provide access to the internet for those that currently don't have it.  Some would even call it a human right.

I like the bold thought and initiative you can sense in this young man and his team of idealists.

And I think they created a good short web video to explain their idea.  Check it out (above), and then follow the link to their website, where you can see a longer TEDx video that gives some more background (and a few interesting statistics).

Bravo for thinking big.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Boys with rulers

Racing Mark Spitz, Outdoor photo exhibition, Madrid, Spain, May 2002,
Sony Cybershot, Focal length 10.4mm, Exposure 1/250 sec @ f6.3, ISO 100, no flash
© Steven Crisp  [Click on the photo to enlarge]
So, how long is your telomere?  Would you like to see how it compares to the next guy?  I kinda thought so ;-)

Well, I just came across this interesting article on how exercising keeps your cells young.  And by extension, will keep you feeling and looking quite a bit younger than your sedentary counterpart.

Of course we pretty much assumed that to be true, but this study actually measured the length of four groups' telomeres (young/sedentary, young/active, old/sedentary, old/active).  

As they say, "youth is wasted on the young", and that was reinforced here where there was no real difference in cell age (i.e., telomere length) between the younger groups. But for the older groups, the sedentary folks saw their poor telomeres shrivel up by 40%, while those active seniors had only lost about 10% length.  That's a 75% difference based on your level of activity.

So go ahead, jump in the pool like Mark Spitz (does anyone remember his "gold medal" poster?  Yeah, yeah, I heard something about a kid named Phelps, but look, Spitz kept his mustache ;-)

Or maybe take up running.  Or biking.  Or nordic skiing (great exercise when its cold and snowy outside).  Just get out there on a regular basis and exercise vigorously.  It may be the closest thing there is to the fountain of youth.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Remember Your Mortality

Remember Your MortalitySchönenberg Church, Ellwangen, Germany, February 2010,
Canon PowerShot SD870 IS, Focal length 12.85mm, Exposure 1/20 sec @ f3.5, ISO 1600, no flash,
© Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

"Life is tough ... What do you get at the end of it?  A death.  What's that, a bonus?  I think the life cycle is all backward. 
"You should die first, get it out of the way.  Then you live in an old-age home.  
"You get kicked out when you are too young, you get a gold watch, you go to work.  You work forty years until you're young enough to enjoy your retirement.  
"You do drugs, alcohol, you party, you get ready for high school.  
"You go to grade school, you become a kid, you play, you have no responsibilities, you become a little baby, you go back into the womb, you spend your last nine months floating -- and you finish off as an orgasm."
-- George Carlin

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Blind Faith

Blind Faith, Portion of the Old Bridge statue of Minerva, Heidelberg Germany, October 2010,
Panasonic DMC-ZS7, Focal length 10.3mm, Exposure 1/400 sec @ f4.5, ISO 80, no flash
© Steven Crisp  [Click on the photo to enlarge]

A funny thing happened during a get together with some friends/colleagues of mine.  We started talking about religion (we are a spirited group).  All were Christians; one was born again, another seemed to be asking new questions, and the third accepted those parts of the faith that felt right, and did not worry about the rest.  And if you were to ask, I am a-religious (against organized religion), but if anything, my leanings are toward Eastern and Buddhist teachings.

I asked if anyone had read Sam Harris' book, "The End of Faith."  No one had.  So I explained my recollection of his thesis that any religion that relies upon "blind faith" is problematic, and needs to be challenged.  The popular example, of course, are fundamentalist muslims, which some would say take their interpretation of the Holy Koran to an extreme, and the result is jihad against the infidels.  

But what makes Sam Harris' book so provocative is that he equally challenges the fundamentalist Christians.  And he does not stop there.  He goes on to challenge even moderate Christians, because they implicitly endorse a belief system (based solely on faith) that can lead to these extreme and fundamentalist views.

Well, this really upset a good friend of mine. The view was basically, "Hey, just because you lack faith, that's no reason to challenge mine."  A fair accusation, I suppose, although my intent was only to have each of us examine that premise.  It seems credible to me that problems may result out of what some might choose to call "blind faith".  And since we have different religions, with different holy scriptures, and each teaches they are the one and only true religion and path to God ... well, we clearly are in for some conflict, now aren't we?

So anyways, my friend and I made amends, and we took a walk the next day, up along Philosopher's Way and back into Heidelberg, Germany across the Neckar River via the Old Bridge.   That's where we noticed the base of a statue pictured above.  And immediately, we interpreted it as depicting "Blind Faith."  We both got a good laugh and perhaps a little insight out of that.

Fast forward to another friend whom I've only met on-line.  I was reading a blog of hers last night, and came across a video of John Shelby Spong, a retired Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey.  Boy, what an interesting perspective this gentleman has.  

So I offer you two options.  You can watch the video at the end of this post (which is about 45 minutes long, followed by some 30 minutes of Q&A (and I do recommend it).  I've also added another rather long lecture before that one, which is also very good.  But I realize those require a large chunk of time.

But after watching that video, I "Googled" John Shelby Spong and found some short YouTube videos.  They will give you a feeling for the messages and beliefs that Bishop Spong espouses (and the running time is shown in the title).  

Either way, I encourage you to dig in a little deeper, and mull these ideas over in your head.  I can tell you that they make a lot of sense to me, and resonate deeply.  And if really embraced, seem to put Love and God (or The Divine, if you prefer) at center stage, emanating from within each of us, if we will only wake up.

Namaste, my friends.  I hope you enjoy the perspectives below.

Beyond Theism -- John Shelby Spong (2:41)

Does Hell Exist? -- Interview segment with John Shelby Spong (3:17)

Honest Prayer, Part 1 -- John Shelby Spong (5:39)

Honest Prayer, Part 2 -- John Shelby Spong (6:21)

And here are the long ones if you have such interest (each more than an hour).  First is a lecture by Spong, that discusses rather graphically, problems caused by the some texts of the Holy Bible.  At time, it is as hard to listen to as it is to argue with.  It illustrates our tribal mentality, but also tries to show a path forward by rejecting these cultural, human, fallacies.  And, I think, it is quite lucid and insightful (and interspersed with humor and poignancy).

Burke Lecture:  John Shelby Spong (1:23:26)

And this is the one that got me digging in the first place.  Thanks Pat.  I always appreciate your insights and your pointers.

Exploring the Mystery of Life:  John Shelby Spong (1:16:41)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What to do about those "Talking Heads"?

Silencing the Talking Heads, Mönchehaus Museum, Goslar, Germany, August 2010,
Panasonic DMC-ZS7, Focal length 10.3mm, Exposure 1/40 sec @ f4, ISO 200, no flash
© Steven Crisp  [Click on the photo to enlarge]
Yes indeed, what to do about those "Talking Heads".  You know the ones I mean ... it doesn't matter if you sit to my right or my left.  Both sides have them.  Has it always been this way?  I think not.

Before the advent of the 24-hour Cable News Network (thanks Ted ;-), things seemed, well,  so much newsier.  Interesting how with only a limited time to learn about the days and weeks events, journalists and anchormen had to prepare well-edited, news stories.

Now it seems to me like some strange combination of entertainment, infomercial, and biased-opinion masked as news, stuck on a treadmill of repetition, interspersed with some BREAKING NEWS story that as often as not turns out to be TV's equivalent of tabloid journalism (anyone remember "Balloon Boy"?)

It really doesn't matter if the Talking Head knows what he's talking about ... just so long as he keeps on talking.  And frankly, the more outlandish and provocative his uninformed pronouncements, the better.  Makes for really good sound bites in the next 24-hour news cycle.

There is good news in all of this, however.  A lot of folks realize these "news" channels provide nothing that benefit them directly.  And they are starting to turn off the TV.  Some are going so far as to get rid of the TV.  What a life-affirming step that would be.  Worried about your lack of time?  How would you like to have all those hours laid before you each and every day to do with as you see fit?  That's pretty empowering.

And what of the "real news"?  Once again, the internet has come to your rescue and offers it up to you in whatever size, shape, and bias you want.  You are in charge.  And you can scan the headlines and only read about (or watch and listen in video clips and podcasts) those stories which really do matter to you.  Or maybe those that will motivate you.  Or inspire you.

You know this is true, deep down.  You are fully, entirely, empowered.  The next step is up to you.  What steps will you take to silence the talking heads?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Do you think it's a Mad World?

My wife heard this song on the TV, and asked me if I knew what it was.  She said it was beautiful.  I found this noteworthy, as she generally is not someone that listens to music.  So I wanted to track it down.

I found it in just seconds after a quick Google search of just a couple of words from the middle of the lyrics. Ya gotta love having our collective consciousness literally and instantly at our fingertips!  How often do we take that for granted?

Anywho -- I also found the above video on-line, and I think it provides a interesting visual to go with the song (not to mention you get to hear the song for free ;-).  I recommend you also read the lyrics below.  And if you are so moved, please let me know what you think of the message.

Mad World by Gary Jules
Songwriters: Orzabal, Roland

All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for the daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere

Their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head I wanna drown my sorrow
No tomorrow, no tomorrow

And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had
I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take
When people run in circles its a very, very
Mad world, mad world

Children waiting for the day they feel good
Happy birthday, happy birthday
And I feel the way that every child should
Sit and listen, sit and listen

Went to school and I was very nervous
No one knew me, no one knew me
Hello teacher tell me, what's my lesson?
Look right through me, look right through me

And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had
I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take
When people run in circles its a very, very
Mad world, mad world, enlarging your world
Mad world

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A Life Connected ... with your values

Do you have time for a cup of tea? If so, please go pour yourself one, sit back, and take in this video. I think you will find it eye opening.

Don't worry. I'll wait. ... Great, welcome back.

Did you watch the movie yet? Go ahead. Really, I'll wait ;-)

So I want to tell you a little story about my own adventure in this direction. It came to me in different stages, and I find it interesting as I look back on it now, how I came to these realizations.

First, the power of intention became clear to me. I realized that if we wish to change our behavior, especially if these might be deep-seated habits or cultural biases (aka, indoctrination), we need to tap into the power of intention. In fact, I posted a short blog entry on just this topic.

I applied this idea to myself. I made the decision, and then explicitly considered it my intention not to personally kill any sentient being (animal, insect, etc). I did this when I observed myself indiscriminately killing a house fly once because it was "bothering me", and wondered, "what gives me the (moral) right to do so?" What I found was not that I immediately stopped killing (for habits and conditioning die hard), but at least I now noticed it when I did it. And slowly, but surely, there became a small gap between the stimulus (a buzzing fly) and the response (slapping my hand). Eventually, this enabled my brain to be rewired (yes, neuroplasticity is real, and an awesome tool).

Now somewhere in this process I came to realize that by eating meat, I was indirectly causing animals to be killed. But wow, by the time I grilled up that hamburger, or swallowed that sushi, the animal was already dead, and my decision to forego that food was not going to bring it back, right? (Isn't it amazing how we can deceive ourselves?) Of course I was directly contributing to the demand for these animals to be killed. And finally, I read something that pushed me over the edge. It was about a woman named Peace Pilgrim and that aspect of her life story just resonated with me. I just knew it was time to give up eating meat of any kind (beef, pork, chicken, fish, etc.)

When I told one of my intellectual friends about my change, her first rejoinder was something like "you know, the only logical conclusion of such a step is to become Vegan." I politely told her I was not ready to go that far, and that I believed this partial step was better than no step at all. Such arguments (you are not going all the way) become the excuse to make no change at all, and thankfully, I wasn't falling for that trap.

I found it very easy to go Vegetarian. And thankfully, without any pushiness on my part, my wife (who is the cook in our family) decided to cook Vegetarian at home. For a while, she would still eat meat when we ate out, since Vegetarian choices can be rather limited, depending on the restaurant. I encouraged her to order whatever she wanted, so she didn't feel "trapped" by my decision. But then one day, after getting her hair done and having a chat with her hairdresser (who was also Vegetarian), she had her own epiphany and made the (moral) choice to not be responsible for unnecessarily ending the life of an animal.

Somewhere over the last two years, I had mentioned the idea of "going Vegan". And she said to me ... that is just too far to go. We regularly ate eggs and cheese, and drank milk, and frankly thought being Vegan was just too impractical.

Then, my wife was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), which for those who don't know, is generally accepted to be an autoimmune disease, which is incurable, and will get progressively worse, eventually resulting in severely impaired functionality (with a corresponding reduction in quality of life). To make matters worse, doctors do not know what causes RA, and therefore, how to prevent or cure the disease. At best, they can only treat the symptoms, and generally speaking, use powerful drugs that can have serious side affects. In short, my wife was pretty worried after conducting her on-line research about her recent diagnosis.

My first reaction was ... let's look for an alternative treatment. Either something from Eastern medicine, or perhaps something based upon diet. So I started researching as well. I came across a very interesting book: The China Study, by Dr. T. Colin Campbell. I commend it to your reading list. I think it is a great wake-up call on the standard Western diet. It also raised the alarm on the possible negative consequences of consuming animal protein (including dairy). And also postulated a theory of how animal proteins might cause auto-immune diseases by a process of molecular mimicry and gut leakage. I was pretty hungry for a potential cause and effect, and this seemed plausible.

And exactly what would be the downside? Carol was planning to continue her doctor's prescribed medication so we weren't risking unnecessary disease progression. Furthermore, based on continued research, I also came across the website and videos of Dr. John McDougall. It looked likely that a Vegan diet might well contribute to weight loss and improved health in general, and may well reduce the need for certain pharmaceuticals.

So Carol and I gave this some serious thought and read quite a few books (and many more on-line resources). We had already started to make changes in our diet -- specifically eliminating processed foods and buying organic products whenever possible. But what about all the dairy and eggs that we were eating? On one of our shopping trips, we picked up a liter of soy milk, rice milk, and soy yogurt, and put them in the refrigerator. After a week or two, I decided to give them a taste. I really expected them to be rather undesirable -- and I was very pleasantly surprised. So was Carol. We realized we could easily substitute these into our diet, and eliminate cow's milk products.

It took us longer (over here in Germany) to find soy or rice alternatives for cheese, but we are now finding some (and they are also quite tasty). Update [11/19/2010]: Funny story -- we found something called Reissen Käse. And boy was it yummy! We thought that was "Rice Cheese" (oops); really that translates to "Shredded Cheese", Ha! No wonder it was so tasty. We finally found some Soy Cheese, but it was truly unedible. We are still on the lookout. We have yet to find an egg replacement, but have enough alternatives for breakfast, that we are not finding that to be a big problem.

So now, after about 3 weeks, I am happy to report ... we are Vegans.

And here's a very interesting, unexpected, and as yet, unexplained benefit. Both Carol and I have noticed our sugar cravings have significantly dropped off. This is big news for me. I have been a candy addict for probably 45 years. We're talking rot-your-teeth addiction in my case. I have tried and failed to will myself to give up sugar and candy before, many times, and failed miserably. The eventual craving makes me cave in and usually gorge myself on an entire (big) bag of candy.

But now, it is virtually gone. Still a little craving after dinner (habitual), but easily an order-of-magnitude less than it was just 3 weeks ago. Wow. What an unexpected blessing.

Well, I've rambled on and on. I guess I just wanted to show how the decision to become Vegan can evolve over time, is not really that radical an idea, and can be rooted by many motivations (animal welfare, social justice, resource management, physical health and longevity), or in our case the final push came in a desire to search for a cure for a complex disease process. The results of Carol's personal trial will surely take time to observe; but in the meantime, we are gaining first-hand experience with what it means to be a Vegan.

Oh, and one more really important point. There are thousands of Vegan recipes out there, and the food tastes wonderful. In all seriousness, the food we are eating now is more varied, interesting, and better tasting that our previous diet. And much better for our health. I can heartily recommend two books for great recipes and to help cover some of the important aspects about a Vegan lifestyle: 1000 Vegan Recipes and The Kind Diet. If you are considering becoming Vegan, they are well worth the money.

Enjoy the food! Love the lifestyle! Live your values! And get healthy!

(p.s., just to be clear, I receive nothing from any of these links or recommendations -- I just highly recommend them each.)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Whoda Thunk It -- Spiritual Rap

I think this is just great. Please take the time to watch and listen.

Gandhi really was an amazing soul. And now we have a rapper telling his story.

Wow. Whoda Thunk It?