Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The effect of climate on religion 

In the August 2005 issue of Discover magazine is an article called "Are the Desert People Winning?", which reveals that there's yet another unexpected thing influencing spiritual belief systems; the climate that a culture develops in. While nothing in the article even hints at the concept of "You believe in what you believe in because of the conditions of the area that your ancestors came from, not because your people just happen to have the truth," as such a thing wouldn't be appropriate in a science article, since my blog is largely dedicated to spiritual exploration I wanted to bring it up, because to get at the truth we have to be willing to separate factors that are biological, chemical, environmental, etc from those that are actually indicative of "the unknown" in action.

With that said, let's jump right in:

"A striking proportion of rain forest dwellers are polytheistic, worshipping an array of spirits and gods. Polytheism is prevalent among tribes in the Amazon basin (the Sherenti, Mundurucu, and Tapirape) and in the rain forests of Africa (the Ndorobo), New Guinea (the Keraki and Ulawans), and Southeast Asia (the Iban of Borneo and the Mnong Gar and Lolo of Vietnam). But desert dwellers-the bedouin of Arabia, the Berbers of the western Sahara, the !Kung of the Kalahari Desert, the Nuer and Turkana of the Kenyan/Sudanese desert-are usually monotheistic. Of course, despite allegiances to a single deity, other supernatural beings may be involved, like angels and djinns and Satan. But the hierarchy is notable, with minor deities subservient to the Omnipotent One."

WOW!! There are so many cultures in the world, so many belief systems... and here's this basic underlying principle for why different peoples believe in one category vs another. The reason they think it works out this way is:

"This division makes ecological sense. Deserts teach large, singular lessons, like how tough, spare, and withholding the environment is; the world is reduced to simple, desiccated, furnace-blasted basics. Then picture rain forest people amid an abundance of edible plants and medicinal herbs, able to identify more species of ants on a single tree than one would find in all the British Isles. Letting a thousand deities bloom in this sort of setting must seem natural. Moreover, those rain forest dwellers that are monotheistic are much less likely to believe that their god sticks his or her nose into other people's business by controlling the weather, prompting illness, or the like. In contrast, the desert seems to breed fatalism, a belief in an interventionist god with its own capricious plans."

That just made my knees go weak; I love it when basic cause and effect de-mystifies things so thoroughly. Culture in general is involved in this too:

"Desert societies, with their far-flung members tending goats and camels, are classic spawning grounds for warrior classes and the accessories of militarism: military trophies as stepping stones to societal status, death in battle as a guarantee of a glorious afterlife, slavery. And these cultures are more likely to be stratified, with centralized authority. A cosmology in which an omnipotent god dominates a host of minor deities finds a natural parallel in a rigid earthly hierarchy."

Human nature is a very powerful thing, and it applies to ALL humans wherever they live, so it shouldn't be surprising that similar circumstances breed similar cultural elements, but this is still amazing stuff. There are other cultural things unrelated to religion that are affected that are too interesting to leave out:

"Purchasing or indenturing wives is far less prevalent among rain forest peoples. And in rain forest cultures, related women tend to form the core of a community for a lifetime, rather than being shipped off to serve the expediency of marriage making. In desert cultures, women typically have the difficult tasks of building shelters and wandering in search of water and firewood, while the men contemplate the majesty of their herds and envision their next raid. Among rain forest cultures, it's the men who are more likely to do the heavy lifting. Rain forest cultures also are less likely to harbor beliefs about the inferiority of women; you won't be likely to find rain forest men giving thanks in prayer that they were not created female, as is the case in at least one notable desert-derived religion. Finally, desert cultures tend to teach their children to be modest about nudity at an earlier age than in rain forest cultures and have more severe strictures against premarital sex."

That should make people who turn their noses up at the so-called "primitive" cultures they see on TV think twice. Although there isn't any need to point out which sort of climate the ancestors of Western peoples came from, as I'm sure we've all recognized which behavior patterns are ours, here it is:

"desert cultures, with their militarism, stratification, mistreatment of women, uptightness about child rearing and sexuality, seem unappealing. And yet ours happens to be a planet dominated by the cultural descendants of the desert dwellers. At various points, the desert dwellers have poured out of the Middle East, defining large parts of Eurasia. Such cultures, in turn, have passed the last 500 years subjugating the native populations of the Americas, Africa, and Australia. As a result, ours is a Judeo-Christian/Muslim world, not a Mbuti-Carib/Trobriand one."

Pause a moment and try to imagine what our lives would be like if we were all rain forest dweller descendants instead; it boggles the mind, doesn't it? It's not likely to ever happen, though:

"Unfortunately, the rain forest mind-set appears not only less likely to spread than its desert counterpart but also less hardy when uprooted, more of a hothouse attribute."

So, what makes a culture strong and successful is all these traits we don't like the sound of? Very grim, if true; I hope that in the modern world we'll be able to find ways to be those things without all those drawbacks.

I'd like to see more articles on this topic in the future, as I think they're really onto something. In case you're wondering why it took them so long to get started with this, it's yet another case of the traditional arrogant view of white scientists of non-white peoples, especially tribal ones, keeping us from objective study and learning anything:

"Attempts to link culture with climate and ecology have an old history... Early efforts were often howlers of dead-white-male racism; every study seemed to generate irrefutable scientific proof that northern European ecosystems produced superior cultures, more advanced morals, technologies, and intellects, and better schnitzel. Much of contemporary social anthropology represents a traumatized retreat from the sins of those intellectual fathers. One solution was to resolutely avoid cultural comparisons, thereby ushering in an era wherein an anthropologist could spend an entire career documenting the puberty rite of one clan of farmers in northeastern Cameroon."

Hopefully, the pendulum is swinging back now, and we can truly delve into what makes us who we are, both spiritually and in general; in the meantime, it's up to each of us to ask ourselves, "Why do I REALLY believe what I believe?".

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

What are they THINKING?!! 

Every so often, you encounter someone who possesses the astonishing ability to present people with the most outrageous situations without a qualm, as if they believe that everyone around them is so clueless that they'll never notice that something's wildly wrong; they certainly react with astonishment when called on the insanity of their pronouncements... or perhaps that reaction's just part of how they hope to manipulate their intended targets?

I encountered one of these infinite-gall situations today, when a Canadian company that I'd literally been trying all year to buy a European item that only they carried in North America from finally, FINALLY got their shipment in and were ready to be paid in full by those of us who'd reserved one by paying half the price some months ago; the manager I'd been in email contact with all this time sent the full bill, and I saw to my absolute horror that the shipping, which my extensive experience with getting eBay stuff from Canadian sellers told me should have been about $10, was over *$30*... and mind you, the item itself is $40, so the shipping nearly doubled the price. I sent an email politely suggesting that perhaps they'd made a mistake, and they haven't bothered to reply yet; if and when they do, I can only assume that they'll try to make it sound as if the 5 seconds it takes to slap an address label on the shipping box justifies the tripling of the shipping charge, and we'll be taking back our deposit and losing out on an item that, although cool, is far from being worth what they want for it... and THEY lose all the profit they could have had from us. What are they thinking, charging such a ridiculous amount for shipping that no American would buy from them?

You'd think it'd be harder for folks to pull this sort of thing face to face, but it sure doesn't seem to be; I remember back when I was in sales, and the office I'd been working out of was moved so far away that it was no longer reasonable for me to go there, and the moronic corporate policy was that if you wanted to report to a different office you had to go there and beg to be taken on, as opposed to just making a transfer automatic upon request, so I went to the closest office to talk to their manager... and she looked me right in the eye and said, "I think that what's best for you is for you to find some other company to handle your clients." I looked HER right in the eye and said, "No, what's best for me is for YOUR office of THIS company to handle my clients, rather than my having to waste time going to other companies and trying to get one of them to take me on when I'm not trained in their procedures"... you should have seen her face. She didn't have the grace to admit that I was right, just snippily altered her pronouncement to be that she'd decided I wasn't going to be in that office and that was that; if she didn't want me in her office, fine, but what was she thinking trying to make out like she was doing what was best for ME?

Probably the most astounding example of this sort of thing came when my husband and I were making the arrangements for our wedding. The folks that provide wedding services in general seem to make it a point of pride to try to push anything BUT what you ask them for on you, so there must be some sort of odd psychology going on with those who're about to be married that makes them infinitely suggestible, but one of the people we encountered in our search for a venue was in a whole other universe of trying to push ridiculous suggestions; she told us that she had a terrific room to show us, and dragged us across an entire complex, unlocked a door, and opened it with a flourish, saying "How about THIS for your wedding?"... and the room she revealed was a tiny, bare, dingy conference room. I'm not exaggerating; this woman, and it was made worse that this WAS a woman, rather than a man who might have no clue about what a wedding should be like, honestly thought she had a shot at getting us to agree to have our WEDDING in a room so unattractive that I can't imagine it being rented out for ANY purpose (and yes, I made the reality of the situation clear to her)... what was she thinking?

I'll never understand people like this, who are either utterly incapable of analyzing what a reasonable person's reaction will be to what they're doing, or don't care, because all they want to do is blither anything that comes into their heads, or see it as some sort of twisted game... all I can do is know that whatever the reasons are for the behavior, it's indicative of the doer not being a good bet to be in my life in any way.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Joel Osteen's latest, and being a "prisoner of hope" 

Osteen said some interesting things in tonight's sermon, as always:

He waxed poetic with "hope is called the anchor of our souls"; it might even contain a grain of truth, if my idea about positive thoughts and feelings "building" our souls is true.

A central theme, again, was that we have to know there are good days ahead, get up every morning expecting good things to happen, expecting unpleasant things in our lives to change, saying to ourselves "I know this too shall pass" when a bad thing lasts a long time... because God will fix it eventually, he'd add, but I just look at is as change being inevitable, and change for the better being overwhelmingly likely when you keep your karma clean.

He warned not to believe "never and forever lies," such as "I'll never get a promotion" and "I'll be alone forever," because "the Enemy" is the one telling you those things, and they're untrue because God can fix things for you at any time... the trick is to "enable" him to do so by your expectations. I don't know if everything is fixable, but certainly many things are, and changing your mindset is a big step in the right direction whether you think God or karma will use the change in your energy to bring you the things you want.

Osteen said, as he did last week, that you've got to stay full of hope and expectancy; the new "layer" this week is that you should look at the things that are not seen, because they are eternal, while the things that are seen are subject to change... and if a thing can change, it's not so terrible if it's bad, because you're not necessarily stuck with it, so it makes sense to have hope.

The he gave me some real food for thought; he'd already covered in past sermons how negative emotions, such as anger and fear, can cause bad things to happen, and prevent the good ones, but tonight he said that even doubt and low self esteem can keep good things from happening. On brief analysis, I'd say he's probably right; low self esteem would certainly lead to negative energy indirectly because of the countless negative thoughts and feelings that accompany it, and it's also entirely possible that a negative frame of mind produces undesirable energy as well, and doubt is often accompanied by fear/anxiety, which is intensely negative... whether uncertainty is itself a negative thing will require some more pondering to come to a conclusion about.

He sort of lost me when he started hammering at the idea of being a "prisoner of hope," because I'm unfamiliar with the term, but I looked it up and found a site with a sermon that explains it, and it's actually pretty slick, in a vaguely convoluted kinda way (the asterisks are mine):


"Prisoners of hope. These are words spoken by Zechariah this morning. It is a strange combination of words - prisoners and hope. Prison and hope seem to come from different vocabularies. Nevertheless, 'prisoners of hope' is the phrase that Zechariah uses to address the people of Jerusalem even as they witness the victorious entry of the divine king, and 'prisoners of hope' is an apt and appropriate and absolutely needful description of God's people today. We must learn what it means to be prisoners of hope.

Prison would seem to inhibit hope. A prisoner may wish he weren't in prison, but the walls and bars that surround him diminish that hope. Hope seems to presuppose a certain amount of freedom, and the lack of freedom dims that hope. I cannot hope to fly because I am a prisoner to my body. I cannot hope to retire to Hawaii because I am a prisoner to my specific economic circumstances. I cannot hope to practice surgery because I am a prisoner to limited mental and physical abilities. I cannot hope to walk into a bank and take all of its money because I am a prisoner to laws that prohibit that activity. No one is absolutely free. Everyone lives in some kind of prison, under some kinds of limitations that limit hope.

On the other hand, within the walls of prison are certain and specific freedoms. Just as prison prohibits some things, it permits others. The prison of my body may prevent me from flying, but it permits me to walk and run. The prison of my specific economic circumstances may prevent me from retiring in Hawaii, but it permits me to live in Estes Park. The prison of my unique mental and physical abilities may prevent me from being a surgeon, but it permits me to be a pastor. The prison of laws that prevent me from taking money from a bank permits me to borrow money from that bank. And even in those walled fortresses we call prisons where men and women serve time for breaking society's laws, there is freedom from want as the prisoners' physical needs are cared for and freedom of, say, thought.

In the broadest sense, then, a prison is simply a set of conditions that defines and determines one's behavior and future expectations. Prison does not take away all freedoms; it simply defines them. To say, then, that you and I as people of God are prisoners of hope is to name the condition within which our behavior and expectations are shaped and operate. ***As prisoners of hope everything we do and everything we expect are determined by hope.***

Hope, in the Bible, is fundamentally different from wish. Hope, in the Bible, is not the longing of the ten-year-old who says, 'I hope I get a bicycle for Christmas' or of the forty-year old who says, 'I hope I win the lottery.' Hope, in the Bible, is the confident expectation of good, the basis of ultimate confidence, and is always grounded in God. It is summarized in the sentence; 'My hope is in God.'"

This would appear to be a Biblical way of saying that we should fully expect good results from everything... which is just another way of saying that positive thoughts and feelings lead to positive results, which is a basic tenet of karma.

Have I ever mentioned how astonishing it is, to me and everyone who knows me, that I'm studying aspects of Christianity so closely?

Anyways, Osteen's next intriguing idea was that being a "prisoner of hope" allows God to repay you double for whatever you lost or lack, and that you have to be careful to not limit God by assuming that you'll get less, or nothing, because God can make a way for anything to happen, and will do more than you can ask or think if given the chance... and if you replace God with karma, that's pretty much what I've said about how you can make karma work for you, often in extreme and extraordinary ways, and how you have to be careful how you "project" what you want so that all the possible avenues for karma to deliver it remain open.

Another thing I've said is that karma isn't like a magic wand, wildly and instantly altering the universe to give you what you want, but has to gradually reshape reality to accommodate you, and Osteen said basically the same thing when referring to something in a person's life that's been bad for a long time and doesn't seem to be responding to prayers to God to fix it... that God's changing things behind the scenes, and then eventually it'll seem like He came out of nowhere to handle it, that it changed all of a sudden. You have to wonder why God, who unlike the engine of karma DOES supposedly have the power to act as a magic wand, would need or want to do things this gradual, "hidden" way rather than just imposing His will and moving on to other problems; it makes far more sense when I analyze how things happen the way they do when I leave out the omnipotent being who inexplicably chooses not to use his omnipotence.

It was an excellent sermon, as always... and I can't wait to dazzle my Christian friends with my understanding of this "prisoner of hope" thing.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

"If only he'd notice..." 

How many times have you heard a woman say that about her romantic partner? When a woman gets a new haircut, new shoes, new fingernail polish, whatever, she expects her man to notice as some sort of proof of devotion... which any man can tell you is just ridiculous, because men simply aren't aware of trivial stuff like that. I've seen this described as a biological thing, that the male brain has to be taking in the big picture because primitive men were in charge of spotting potential prey or predatory animals that could be anywhere in the visible landscape; women, meanwhile, according to this theory, had to be able to notice a few berries within the foliage of a bush, or the leaves of a plant with an edible tuber among the leaves of many other plants growing around it, etc, and so needed to be noticing tiny details. That all makes perfect sense; I've never heard that they studied people in current tribal cultures to see if this pattern holds true for them, or that they've got any other proof that this is anything but a slick way of explaining what our culture trains men and women to notice, though, so I don't know how much credence we can give those claims... and it doesn't really matter, because either way the reality is that straight American men tend not to notice minor elements of the appearance of things.

As the wife of a man who's worse than most in this area, I certainly get aggravated that he can't find anything without my help, even if it's sitting right out in the open, and fails to notice when he doesn't close a door all the way (despite the rats swarming just a few feet away), or that he's left perishable food out on the counter, but there's a significant upside to this, which every woman should be aware of; a man who doesn't notice stuff like the new pillows you put on the couch or that you're wearing your new earrings will ALSO not notice the things you agonize over about your appearance. You can have dark roots, stubble, or acne, you can have gained some weight, sprouted new spider veins or stretch marks, and he'll be blissfully unaware... at least, he will be until you TELL him, so quit wailing about trivial physical flaws and let him maintain the rosy airbrushed image that he sees when he looks at you.

So, ladies, if you're bemoaning that your partner didn't notice your new highlights or new jacket, ask yourself whether you REALLY want him to notice them when it means that he'd notice those new cellulite dimples on your butt and the bags under your eyes too... or if maybe you should just count your blessings.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Someone else's reasons to not have commenting 

(In one of the oddest synchronicities in a while, on the very day I had scheduled to post about a friend's decision to no longer have comments on her blog, she turned them back on; I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, especially since I was counting on what I'd written on that topic to be tonight's essay. Since the reasons she gave are interesting regardless of her current "comment status," I'm going to post them anyways; they haven't lost validity because she later changed her mind. I'm not going to go through the essay and make all the changes of case and so forth in my discussion of the quotes to reflect that her commenting is no longer "off," as to do so would make it too garbled; just look at it as a theoretical discussion of why one might not enable commenting.)

It's no secret that I don't have commenting on here to prevent the no-life cockroaches who get all in a lather about my posts from spoiling my blog for everyone with their venom; this puts me at odds with much of the blogosphere, since most bloggers not only have commenting, but also want everyone else to have it. Because the nice people of the world consistently underestimate the destructive potential of the evil ones, many of my "blog buddies" have posted to me on their sites or in their comments trying to coax me into enabling commenting, never being anything but nice about it but clearly not really comprehending why anyone would choose to not allow comments... so imagine my amazement when one of those people chose to have a comment-free blog. Because she was so kind as to share her reasons for going comment-free, and because she's one of the bloggers I like and respect the most, I wanted to present some of her explanation (used with her permission, of course) in the hopes of promoting greater understanding of why some people want their blogs to, GASP, just showcase their own ideas.

The blogger I'm referring to is the lovely and gracious Amber, whose excellent new blog is here


Those of you who followed the link in my list to her old blog know that she used to have very active comments from her many loyal readers, the kind most bloggers can only dream of; what could have made her choose to NOT have commenting on her new blog? She obviously gave this alot of thought, and here's what she came up with:

"You might notice I don't have comments up on my new blog. I don't plan on putting them in, either. I have developed certain reservations regarding blog comments in general over the past several months. It seems far too many people take advantage of the ease and public exposure of using blog comments in order to purposely cause havoc and bad feelings amongst some bloggers' regular readers. Fighting ensues, feelings get hurt, both from the readers and the blogger, and I just don't want to deal with any of that."

I'm at as much of a loss as to why most people ARE willing to let the trolls spew on their blogs as they are about why I'm NOT willing, so it's nice to see someone else describing troll behavior as undesirable.

"Plus, it seems to me that comments often become a popularity contest. Like we're "voting" for the post or the blogger. I got a lot of comments on my old blog and while I appreciated them greatly and they were a lot of fun, they also sometimes made me feel a little bit embarrassed just by the sheer numbers of them. I don't want this to be a popularity contest. I don't want to worry what it might mean if I get lots of comments or not many comments, or what if someone I know doesn't comment, are they mad at me?"

I think this is a crucial point; how can a blogger really give it their all if they're worrying about whether the readers will judge a given post worthy of commenting on... and besides, how could a person NOT start catering to the readers, if only subconsciously, to try to keep the # of comments high?

"public comments which allow any yahoo-butthole passing by to say whatever they like, whether it's true or not, without having to take any responsibility in return for what they might say."

You can't beat Amber for a great turn of phrase, lol, and she brings up the central reason that people feel free to misbehave online; no one ever holds them accountable for what they do, because we can't knock on their doors and demand an explanation for their behavior.

"Some people seem to get some cockeyed idea that they are making a public 'stand' of some type when they see comments are available on a blog, and that is so not where I want to go. If people want to make a stand, or promote their own ideas, fine; then they can get their own damn blog and say whatever they like."

That's the perfect response to those who claim that their "freedom of speech" is being curtailed because they're not allowed to say what they like on someone else's blog. Part of the reason that trolls want to be allowed to comment on the blogs of others is that they can't bring enough people to their own blogs to give them a wide enough audience for their nonsense, so they feel driven to post on more popular blogs... and of course, being evil, they want to try to assure that the innocent blogger, and all of their readers, see the ugly comments, which won't happen if they post on their own blogs.

In case you're assuming that Amber might just feel the way she does because she got inundated by trolls, here's one last quote:

"our comments on our last blogs were almost 100 percent free of any drama or unpleasantness. They were a pleasure to read 99.9999 percent of the time. "

It's the principle of the thing... and even if I could be assured of having near-ideal commenters like Amber did, as opposed to the bloodbath I'd actually have, I still wouldn't enable commenting, because I want my visits to my blog to be a source of happiness and pride, rather than tension and stress from wondering if today's the day a troll's going to show up, and I want my visitors to see my laboriously thought out ideas, NOT a bunch of abusive garbage.

Many thanks to Amber for sharing her reasoning behind her choice to not have comments; I'm happy to be able to comment on her blog again, but it was still fascinating to see what her thought process was for when she didn't have commenting.

Friday, August 26, 2005

How sweet it is; the TRUTH about aspartame 

In the August 2005 issue of Discover magazine is an article called "The Chemistry of . . . Artificial Sweeteners," which contains information that needs to be tattooed on the foreheads of people who're still making melodramatic pronouncements about the supposed dangers of aspartame.

The article begins with a little info on the sweetener that we're seeing advertised constantly these days:

"sucralose, also known as Splenda... 'Made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar,' the slogan claims, but like all other sugar substitutes, sucralose was born in a laboratory... truckloads of common table sugar are shipped in weekly, to be modified via a complex chemical process involving chlorine and phosgene gas. The result is so intensely sweet that Tate & Lyle has to cut it with 600 parts filler to approximate a natural sweetness."

It doesn't sound very appetizing, does it? (Chlorine and phosgene are toxic gases that were used for chemical warfare in WW1; they're often used in the lab, and their involvement does NOT mean that sucralose is poisonous, but it's hard not to have a gut reaction to hard-core chemicals like that.) Still, in an ever more obese nation, we need every calorie-saving sweetener we can get; we don't have the luxury of being squeamish.

I'm very gung-ho about science, but I've said before that many important discoveries have been made by accident, and here's more proof:

"Saccharin was invented in Baltimore about 130 years ago by two chemists at Johns Hopkins University who were experimenting with coal-tar derivatives. Aspartame was found in the 1960s by a medical chemist in Illinois who was investigating a drug for gastric ulcers. Sucralose was discovered in 1976 by a graduate student at King's College London. His head researcher had told him to test some compounds, but he misunderstood and tasted them instead."

Because we've been bombarded for several decades with the idea that "natural" is somehow better, some folks object to artificial sweeteners because of their UNnaturalness, and this hasn't been lost on the Splenda people:

"Of the three sweeteners, sucralose has been touted as the most natural, but that claim 'has more to do with clever marketing than with chemistry,' Walters says. Although sucralose is made from sugar, its chemical structure is significantly different: A molecule of the artificial sweetener has three chlorine atoms, whereas sugar has three pairs of oxygen and hydrogen atoms."

And here's the 1st big point about aspartame:

"the only unnatural component in aspartame is a methyl ester bond that connects phenylalanine and aspartic acid, two amino acids abundant in the human body. The body's digestive enzymes recognize aspartame as a protein and break it down much as they would a natural compound."

By contrast:

"Sucralose, on the other hand, slips through undigested, as does saccharin-a compound of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur atoms. 'The body doesn't know what to make of it, so it doesn't make anything,' Walters says."

Ugh, give me aspartame any day!!

The next big point about aspartame is:

"When the sweetener aspartame is digested, its methyl ester bond is broken down into methanol, which further degrades into formaldehyde. Both methanol and formaldehyde are toxic in high doses, but a person would have to drink 600 cans of diet soda to get as much of either substance as is contained in a single orange."

We tend to forget that ALL foods are made out of chemicals, often including minuscule amounts of poisonous or otherwise dangerous ones, and then get hysterical when any non-zero amount of anything "bad" is found in something manmade; this example gives a rare sense of perspective about that.

I like to see the relationships between our biology and what we're driven to eat (or not eat), so it caught my attention that there are:

"...more than 30 [genes] that code for bitter receptors [on the taste buds] but only a single receptor devoted to sweet. 'Evolutionarily, it makes sense,' says Grant DuBois, a chemist for Coca-Cola. 'The theory being that there are a lot of varyingly toxic bitter compounds we have to know how to distinguish between, but everything sweet can be lumped together as good.'"

They've been working hard to find better ways to stimulate that 1 receptor:

"Cyclamate is 45 times as sweet as sugar, aspartame and saccharin are 180 and 300 times as sweet, respectively, and sucralose is 600 times sweeter. But the next generation of aspartame, known as neotame, is 13,000 times as sweet as sugar, and other compounds have been isolated that are more than 100,000 times as sweet."

Can you imagine what one of those latter compounds must taste like?

There ARE some genuinely unfortunate things about artificial sweeteners:

"Even when they've been cut with fillers, none of these sweeteners can truly pass for sugar. Saccharin has a disconcertingly metallic aftertaste-not, thankfully, because it leaches aluminum from cans but because it also triggers bitter and sour receptors. Aspartame and neotame are fragile molecules that break down relatively quickly on supermarket shelves and can't withstand the heat of cooking. Sucralose can take the heat and is stable, but it lacks the bulk, the browning ability, and the 'mouthfeel' of real sugar."

But the real problem, in the minds of the uninformed, is (asterisks are mine):

"That these sweeteners were invented by chemists has long made them suspect. Saccharin was listed as an 'anticipated human carcinogen' [what a load of baloney] in 1981, sucralose has been shown to weakly mutate genes in test tubes, and aspartame has triggered fears about everything from autism to multiple sclerosis. Still, *****no concerns have held up under scrutiny.*****"

Did you catch that? Furthermore:

"Food additives have to meet much higher standards than drugs, Walters points out, because their drawbacks aren't weighed against their medical benefits."

And here's the biggie:


"Aspartame, for instance, has been studied more than any other substance in FDA history, yet it has consistently been declared safe."


All that time, effort and $ WASTED to prove that a totally safe substance was in fact totally safe. If you had any doubts about aspartame, this should be the end of them. If you hear/read anyone else spouting off about aspartame, hit them with this info; there's just no excuse for anyone to be ignorant on this issue anymore.

As for the other sweeteners:

"Sucralose has shown no carcinogenic effects in animals, even at high doses. And saccharin was rehabilitated as a safe additive in 1997, when scientists found that rats used in earlier studies had a predisposition to cancer unrelated to the sweetener."

In other words, you can drink your diet soda worry-free, whichever of these sweeteners it contains.

A few more bits of useful info:

"Although sucralose and saccharin aren't absorbed by the body, they're not quite calorie-free: The dextrose and maltodextrin that manufacturers use to bulk them up contain about a quarter of the calories found in sugar."

Translation; even if something's artificially sweetened, read the label for the calorie count.

"although diabetics choose sugar substitutes over sucrose, animal studies suggest that artificial sweeteners can also trigger the release of insulin-albeit in much smaller quantities."

Translation; if you're diabetic, keep track of your blood sugar no matter what you're eating or drinking.

I love this one:

"Studies show that people who drink sugar-free sodas can lose more weight than those who drink regular sodas"

because it's in direct contrast to what the so-called diet experts say; they claim, without proof, that you'll automatically eat more sweets to make up for the calories you lose by drinking diet soda, when the reality is that switching to a non-caloric but tasty beverage is an easy and painless way to cut what could easily be several hundred calories a day (a can of non-diet soda averages about 150 calories) from your diet.

Aspartame and the other artificial sweeteners give us that rarest of things; something for nothing. We can chug delicious, refreshing diet soda and have consumed no calories... and nothing that will cause brain tumors or any of the other medical tragedies that various nonsensical claims have said about aspartame, either, so ignore the liars and hypochondriacs and drink up.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

A sad example of the "blame the victim" mindset 

Tonight I saw an episode of "Clean House," a show that appears to combine dumping junk, organizing clutter and redecorating; it might usually be a good program, but today it was a train wreck.

Getting people to toss out the piles of stuff that they don't need and would probably never even look at again is worthwhile, but they arm-twisted the mother to give up lamps that she loved and used, and the college-age daughter to give up all of her towels but one, and most of her jeans, not because they were in bad shape or didn't fit, but just because the host decided that she only needed 7 pairs; to my mind, making it necessary for a single mom to buy new stuff to replace the excessive amount that got thrown out is NOT helping.

And it gets worse; they badgered the mother to give up a beautiful sofa that she loved, that appeared to be in excellent condition, AND a brand-new loveseat. What reason, what EXCUSE, was there to get rid of perfectly good furniture, especially with a very limited budget that meant they weren't going to be able to replace it with high-quality stuff that would have made it a good deal for the family? The mother tried to fight them for the couch, and they promised her that they'd replace it with one that was comfortable, not of "modern" styling (as she made it clear that she disliked that), and not of a horrible color to make her give up.

My husband wandered in towards the end of the show, just as they were revealing the girl's newly-decorated room. It was pretty awful (purple and green), and the mother was dismayed that they'd covered expensive wooden furniture with green paint and tacky wallpaper; she also expressed dislike of some ugly white pillows that looked like cheap fuzzy fabric wrapped around foam rectangles, and in fact probably were (this will be important later).

The family room was a thousand times worse; the poor mother was so horrified that she could hardly speak. They'd painted the walls a hideous puke green, replaced her nice sofa with an orange pillow-back one (so much for the promise of no modern styling or awful color), replaced the brand-new loveseat with a blocky chair with glaring patterned fabric, put in a rug that looked like it was made out of rope, which might be ok for a man's fishing cabin but not for a household of 2 ladies... I wasn't surprised when she started crying, because it's going to cost a fortune to fix it all, and she doesn't make much $. I kept waiting for the host to say that they'd give her her old furniture back, repaint the walls, haul out the rug, whatever it took to make it ok, but instead, she... guess what? What do you think the leader of the group that had caused this disaster by failing to obtain the woman's preferences or even to keep their promise about the sofa, and had tossed out stuff that they absolutely should have kept and worked around, had to say to the devastated mother?

First, the host tried to hammer her into saying that some aspect of the dreadful room was great; when the mother made clear that she disliked each thing the host indicated, the host responded with a standard ploy of those who don't care that they've messed up and caused harm... she announced that NOTHING could have pleased the mother, and as a corollary to that of course refused to admit that anything her group had done had been wrong or even to apologize for upsetting the poor woman. That still ticks me off as I look back on it, that the host couldn't even be bothered to offer the typical not-quite-apology of the badly-behaved, "I'm sorry you're upset" (as opposed to the proper apology, "I'm sorry that I/we took actions that caused you to be upset")... what were the decision-makers for that show thinking, to air an episode where they caused a disaster and then blamed the victim rather than apologizing?

That's not the "sad example of the 'blame the victim' mindset" that my title refers to, though; my husband supplied that when he announced that HE thought that the woman was impossible to please. When questioned, he agreed totally about the horribleness of every aspect of the new decor, and the outrageous wrongness of forcing the woman to give up the sofa and loveseat... but still maintained that the woman was upset because she was impossible to please, NOT in reaction to what had been done to her home. When I pointed out that his denial that the actual situation could be the cause of the upset made no sense, he denied THAT. When I asked him to point out something, anything, he'd seen that suggested that the woman would have complained about attractively-done rooms, or was in general hard to please, he of course couldn't, but that didn't change his mind. When pushed to reveal his line of reasoning, all he had to say was that she'd complained too many times... and apparently her having complained about the crummy white pillows was particularly significant, because, even after I reviewed with him what had been done to the woman's home, and what it would probably cost her to UNdo it, and the hardship that would entail to a single working mom putting a kid through college, his reply was, "But she complained about the pillows 3 times," by which comment he honestly believed he'd cancelled out everything else that had happened. You heard right; in his mind, no matter how many bad things a victim has done to them, no matter how terrible those things are separately or collectively, the victim is only allowed a certain # of complaints if they're to maintain their victimhood... and if they exceed that unspecified (but very small) #, then magically they not only cease to be the victim, they somehow inexplicably become the wrongdoer, deserving of contempt rather than sympathy. He refuses to accept that a victim has the RIGHT to address EVERY upsetting thing that happened to them, the right to BE upset, and, because of that upset, that they have the right to complain multiple times about each thing, in accordance with what human nature would tend to make people do under those circumstances.

And yes, he applies that warped thinking to ME... and I scorch him to the bone every time, believe me.

Those of you who lack my emotional armor-plating should be very, VERY wary of this sort of attitude from the people in your lives, because it tells you that anyone holding it is a relentless screw-up, or a relentless wrongdoer, or, worst of all, a sociopath, because only these sorts of people come up with ways for victims to become the ones to blame, and totally lack not only sympathy, which is bad enough, but empathy for the sufferings of others.

A nice person allows, and even expects, a victim to say "ouch," and to say it as many times as the # and degree of wrongs done to them engender in someone of their personality; if you want a sweet, sensitive romantic partner, watching how they respond to a non-stoic victim is the best acid test there is.

A final comment about complaining; if things have happened that you just don't like, as opposed to things that are actually upsetting, the unfortunate reality is that nearly everyone will judge against you after a fairly small # of complaints, so, once you've indicated that some situation or thing is not to your liking, you need to just bite your tongue and fake being ok with it, because people are generally unable to distinguish between someone faced with many things deserving of being complained about and someone who's just a complainer. Why does human nature so often lead to kicking people in the head when they're already having a hard time?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

More precious than gold 

What do you suppose I might be referring to? Friendship, love, health, or something similarly trite? Those things are all terrific, but most people have them, at least some of the time, and what's on my mind is something very few people have, the value of which is enormous; a top-notch dentist.

There was an article in Reader's Digest some years back describing how a man had gone to dentists all over the country to test their ability, not to mention their honesty, by having them examine him and tell him what work he needed done; the dreadful result was that they came up with analyses that were all over the map, from very extensive procedures costing many thousands of dollars to no work being required... and most distressing of all, a non-trivial # of these quacks were so busy inventing work that he allegedly needed that they completely missed the work he actually DID need (which had been determined by a panel of experts from, if memory serves, the American Dental Association).

How much confidence do you have in what YOUR dentist says, and what do you base that on other than wishful thinking?

Unlike non-surgeon doctors, who make $ just from seeing you, not from actually doing anything to you, dentists make their $ from doing procedures on you... so why would we ever think that they're only telling us that we need what we objectively do in fact need?

For anything other than the most trivial surgical procedures, we rush to get a 2nd opinion... but who gets a 2nd opinion for even the most major dental procedures? I know people who've been told they need dental work that equals the cost of a luxury car, and they never questioned that much less asked another dentist to verify it... despite the $, despite the pain that's always involved with dental work, despite the fact that once you mess with a tooth you have to keep messing with it, often to a steadily greater extent, for the rest of your life, despite even claims that teeth need to be removed, although dealing with dental implants, bridges and dentures, or a permanent gap, is no joke.

We wouldn't trust a surgeon, who has wildly more medical training than a dentist, to automatically tell us the right thing even with the best of intentions, so why do we blindly go along with what any and every dentist says without question?

It's not just by doing unnecessary multi-thousand dollar work that dentists stick it to you; they also have some very common scams that patients are still falling for. Here are the primary examples:

Scam #1: "You've got fillings with mercury in them, and mercury is dangerous, so they need to be drilled out and replaced."
Reality: Drilling those fillings out will release FAR more mercury into your body than having them for your entire life will, so they shouldn't be touched unless it's necessary for other reasons.

Scam #2: "Those fillings are old and worn, so they should be drilled out and redone."
Reality: Every time you drill a filling out, a bigger hole gets made, and eventually it can't be re-filled and needs to be replaced with a crown, so you should NOT have fillings removed unless they're falling apart and validly need to be replaced... the claims you see that fillings that you've had for as little as 15 years "have to" be replaced are pure BS.

Scam #3: "Those wisdom teeth need to come out."
Reality: If someone's talking about the problems they had after their wisdom teeth were removed (and there are almost always problems, as it's a serious, ugly procedure), and you ask them what kind of problems they were having with those teeth that led to the extractions, the answer usually starts with, "None, but my dentist said..." Dentists, and their buddies the oral surgeons, love to tell you that your wisdom teeth are impacted, that they'll never break through your gums, and this goes x10 if the teeth are actually trying to come out and you're feeling discomfort... and they see the chance of making a quick buck from you fading fast. Although there certainly ARE people who truly need 1 or more wisdom teeth extracted, in general there are 2 categories of people; those who listened to the dentists' dire warnings and had the teeth pulled, and those whose wisdom teeth grew out and are still there.

If your dentist has never tried to pull any of these scams on you, congratulations, you might have a keeper; otherwise, you might want to find someone more honest.

Now, what makes MY dentist so great, so great that you can't become a new patient of his unless a current patient recommends you, so great that, although he doesn't take insurance, we still went to him even when we were forced to pay for dental coverage as part of a health plan and had to pay him out of pocket on top of that?

1) Every time I go in for a cleaning, he comes in towards the end, questions the dental hygienist about my teeth and gums, questions ME about what's up in my mouth, and then has a look for himself... and he either remembers all about me or is re-reading my records every time I come, because he's totally up on my dental history.

2) Both my husband and I have fillings 30 or more years old, and, not only has he never suggested replacing them, he told my husband, when asked, that his policy is to leave fillings alone unless an actual problem develops.

3) Needless to say, those old fillings have mercury; when questioned, he gave the correct answer about the danger of drilling them out vs leaving them in.

4) My lower wisdom teeth are only partly out, and come out a tiny bit more each year, with a few days of mild pain each time; despite this, he has never mentioned taking them out until today, when for the 1st time I was in his office (for a cleaning) with the back of the left side of my mouth all inflamed from the latest round of growth... and when I described my fear of dry socket, infections and such, not to mention the pain, he nodded and said that it was a matter of my preference because it wasn't doing any harm at this time.

5) When my husband had a wisdom tooth that was giving him so much pain that he couldn't function, and probably technically needed to go to an oral surgeon, he confided his fear of general anesthetic to the dentist, who agreed that, since it was partially broken through, he could give removing it a try, and was in fact successful.

6) When one of my wisdom teeth developed a cavity a few years back:
a) His recommendation was a filling, NOT to yank it.
b) He sat down with me to discuss my painkilling options, particularly that one of the 2 things that would normally be given together could cause the heart to race, and that my standard anxiety level is so high that it might be unpleasant for me... and then he let ME choose which way to go (I didn't have the 2nd drug).

7) When my husband had a cavity filled recently, the dentist gave him the option to have NO pain-killing agent, which I'd never heard was possible; apparently, it's just standard among dentists to pump novocaine and such in there even if there shouldn't be any actual pain (!!!), and this dentist doesn't want to inject drugs if he doesn't have to. My husband chose to go drug-free, and had no pain during or after the filling.

8) His family is committed to dentistry; his father was an orthodontist (and he still has some elderly patients that used to go to his father), and his son just completed dental school.

I spent most of my life with an enormous fear of dentists; I didn't see one for 15 years, literally, until the dry-mouth caused by meds I took for several months made me afraid enough of the grim possible effects on my teeth and gums to finally go. When I tell you that my dentist is wonderful, and I trust him, then, that's saying alot. If you don't feel that way about YOUR dentist... isn't it time to do something about it?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Odds and ends 

I generally don't see my mother for several months at a time, which makes any alterations in her appearance really stand out because they don't sneak under my radar by virtue of happening gradually, and when I saw her recently, I noticed that she'd developed... I don't even know what to call it, because we use the term "double chin" to refer to rolls of flesh under the jaw, but what she has now is REALLY like a chin, a protuberant "chunk" of flesh that's about where the so-called "turkey wattles" show up, but it's not an empty flap of flesh like a wattle. My mother is nearly 70, and it's reasonable to expect that she'd be getting these sorts of things, but she'd looked more like 50 until this happened, and now I suddenly have to see her as an old woman... it's vaguely disturbing.

Far more dismaying is the situation with my grandmother; although she's in her 90's, she's been very sharp until the last couple of years, where her mind, and unfortunately her hearing as well, have been going... and now mother reported that she's not even getting out of bed until someone shows up at her apartment to get her going, and my aunt has reported that she's "fading fast," not physically, but mentally, which really is worse... and the amazing woman who was one of the few lights of my early life is nearly gone.

The Hitchcockian swarm of rats out in our patio area that I wrote about on 8-11-05 continues, and has even managed to worsen; they ate through the doorframe of our shed, and tunneled under it, and it appears that what we 1st thought were baby rats may in fact be mice... 2 species of rodent running around together, which I'd never heard of, and wish I could be spared now. And that's not the only vermin problems we're having; I has several weeks where I was getting 2-3 earwigs per night crawling around where I sit on the floor with my laptop, then a week or so where a steady flow of pinhead-sized spiders were lowering themselves down from the light fixture overhead right in front of my nose, then our problem with moths, which have been eluding our attempts to stop them from reproducing in the food in our pantry for nearly a year, wildly escalated when they got into the kibble we had for some of our mammalian visitors and we were suddenly killing them 100 at a time (and that's NOT a typo), and THEN, grossest of all, I've now spotted 3 of their revolting larvae, which are normally never seen outside of food packages, creeping around in the open... one on a wall, one fell down from the ceiling onto my papers, and the 3rd was crawling around on my keyboard when I came back from a bathroom break tonight.

Words cannot describe how horrifying this has all been, or how ready I am for the hot weather to be over, and with it the "vermin season."

On a lighter note, I've seen an amazing thing in my searches for socks on eBay; there are an unbelievable # of people auctioning USED socks, "very well worn" socks, and I've even seen socks with mended spots and holes being sold in big lots for more per pair than new ones would cost... when did used socks become a valuable commodity? Did I miss a memo or something?

And finally, a little food for thought; for far too long, we've been seeing bone-thin genetic freaks portrayed as the height of beauty, and in recent years we've seen some plus-size ladies, varying from somewhat chunky to seriously Junoesque, being (rightly) put forward as also being beautiful, although when used for marketing purposes they've appeared in ads for makeup rather than ads for clothes or in which they'd be the sex that sells a product... but where are the women in the wide, wide spectrum between emaciated and chubby? With the exception of the current Dove ads for firming cream (as part of their "Campaign for Real Beauty" that I posted about on 8-2-05), I can't think of a single ad for anything that shows normal-sized women, and can't think of a single actress or famous woman who exists in that no-woman's-land. No clothes are designed for women and girls in this weight range; we have scaled-up clothes that were designed on skinny fitting models. Fashion and other women's magazines that purport to give clothes-picking advice for every figure type routinely skip over the sort of woman who weighs enough to have hips and a butt to work around, and maybe bigger thighs than she'd like, but not enough to qualify as "curvy" or "hourglass" (which requires big boobs). Will our culture EVER get away from the extremes and address regular-sized women somewhere other than one company's moisturizer ads, or are we too unglamorous to bother with?

Monday, August 22, 2005

The latest from Joel Osteen 

I was taking notes while watching Joel Osteen tonight, so I've got alot of quotes rather than just a summary; I actually watched the sermon a 2nd time to try to be as complete as possible, because he covered a wide range of points, including some new ones:

Osteen was still focusing on the power of thought in tonight's sermon. He said that fear and worry lead to a "negative frame of mind," which makes the connection between fear and negativity that's crucial to understanding why bad things happen to good people; in other words, you can be a virtual saint, but if you're fearful/anxious/worried that creates negative energy that draws negative things into your life. He made the repeated point that fear activates "the Enemy's" power and faith activates God's power; he said it just like that, as if we could tap directly into the power of these beings at will as easily as flipping a switch... and who knows, maybe we can (if they exist, which the jury is still out on due to lack of evidence). He tells us that we need to raise our "level of expectancy," because we get exactly what we're expecting; this appears in the Bible where Jesus said "According to your faith be it done unto you." Osteen believes this happens because "God meets us at the level of our expectations," but it's perfectly in agreement with my idea of karma, because if you're expecting something you're focusing energy in the shape of that thing, which tends to draw it to you.

He advises us to "call the things that are not as if they already were," which is a new one from him; intriguingly, this is what a variety of pagan and new-age belief systems say to do, and is essentially what the various visualization techniques try to do as well. He warns that "expecting the worst opens the door to trouble," that if you expect the worst, negative things begin to happen; it fascinates me endlessly that he makes these sorts of karmic proclamations when the standard idea of Christianity is that God is supposed to give you what you deserve, not what you expect or think about... and this is why I continue to watch Osteen religiously, as it were.

He got more intense about the idea of controlling one's thoughts; he asserts that you can have no access to God's power unless you discipline your mind, no "victory" unless you control your "thought life." I've become increasingly fanatical about not letting myself think about things that I don't want to call forth, and the idea that the power of karma (or whatever) might be available as a result of "disciplining" my mind is an appealing one, especially since I HAVE seen karma work more and more to my benefit the more I've channeled my mind into the "right" thoughts.

The next thing Osteen said was, "the only doorway 'the Enemy' has into your life is through your thinking"... in other words, that you can fight off the temptation to misbehave if you're in control of your thoughts, if you can stop them when they begin to go astray. It makes perfect sense, even if you take "the Enemy" out of the equation, which of course I do.

Osteen then touched on the value of belief, that "believing that good things will happen activates God's power" (he had quite a few repetitions of this idea of "activating power"), and then went on to say that, and this is a new one on me, "we give life to what we believe by what we say... when we verbalize a thought, it takes on new meaning"; that's a concept I'm going to have to spend some time pondering, because, although talking sends out energy and thus obviously has some influence, he's clearly seeing something more than that, and his intuitions about karma are so powerful that anything he suggests is, to my mind, automatically worth taking a look at.

And finally, we have; thinking about something "gives it more and more life," our thoughts are powerful and what we expect is powerful, and to have a "life of victory," you need a disciplined mind, and to "cast down wrong imaginations"... as good of a summary of the relation of thought to karma as any, although he of course wouldn't see it that way.

Your thoughts shape the course of your life; keep a positive mindset and focus on what you want, and amazing things will happen... and does it matter whether the ultimate source of that is karma or something else?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

An inexplicable emotional reaction 

Here's something that I've never told anyone, that I'm so used to brushing aside as meaningless that I haven't ever contemplated that it might be meaningFUL until a couple of hours ago; I'm not entirely sure what made it stand out in my mind today, but my best guess is that perhaps the discussion I had with a friend about spiritual issues this evening got my mind working... or maybe it was just the right time for me to start thinking about this.

I was watching "Babylon 5" on DVD, and I'd gotten to the episode where the mysterious alien ambassador Kosh has to leave the "encounter suit" that he's hidden in for 2 seasons and show himself for the 1st time, in order to save Captain Sheridan; the encounter suit opens, light streams out, and we see that Kosh is... an angel. (Each witness sees him as a being of light, complete with white robe and wings, of their own species; a true masterstroke, even by the ultra-high standards of this brilliant series.) As soon as the angelic form is shown, and not even fully human in appearance yet, I got a lump in my throat and the prickling of tears behind my eyes... despite the fact that there's nothing remotely sad about what's going on, and, as I've seen this episode many times, I knew it was going to happen and had no cause to be surprised into getting carried away.

I remember the video for the song "Stranger in Town" by Toto, which, true to the lyrics


suggests that a man being sought by the authorities is in fact Jesus; each time the video got to the point where the man, as he was being captured, spread out his arms in the "on the cross" position, I'd get that same reaction.

Every time I've read Ray Bradbury's classic short story "The Man," in which there is in fact a man (who's clearly supposed to be Jesus), one we never actually "see," who has brought love and peace and healing to the inhabitants of a planet and then supposedly gone, and gotten to the end, where the belligerent one of the astronauts has gone charging off trying to hunt "the man" down, and those members of the crew who chose to stay on the planet just to be in that aura of goodness are told that "the man" is in fact still there, waiting to meet them... I get the same reaction.

I was given no religious indoctrination as a child, spent most of my life as a hard-core atheist, and then a few years as an indifferent agnostic before branching out into what you might call non-mystical metaphysical agnosticism... so why, WHY, have I had these ridiculously intense reactions to certain types of fictional representations of Jesus (and occasionally angels) my entire life? Not to Bible stories, or philosophical discussions, or mentions in Joel Osteen's sermons, or any of the countless images I've seen over the years, but only in this sort of "Surprise!! It's Jesus/an angel here among the humans!!" storyline. WHY?

Any hard-core Christians among my readers will likely see this bizarre phenomenon as something like, "You know the truth, and that's why you have that reaction," and, while I'm not denying that it's a possibility, and freely admit that I can't come up with any other explanation, it just doesn't make sense that if I were having some sort of perception of God, Jesus, angels, whatever, that I'd get it via scifi stories and rock videos... does it?

Clearly, even in my most fervidly atheistic days, I was picking up on something, but what? WHAT? Is the important point in the stories that I react to that the "religious figure" is among us, but disguised or otherwise unseen? If so, that means... what, that I've encountered Jesus or angels in human form, or had them nearby, and that's why these sorts of stories resonate for me?

There just isn't an angle I can see to approach this by that doesn't sound crazy, but the feelings are THERE, so...

Whatever force is responsible for these feelings, please send me some enlightenment.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

It's time to stop compromising 

I remember a guy I dated once many years ago saying something that horrified me at the time; that he thought that having to compromise in a relationship meant that it was a BAD relationship. That seemed crazy, because, since any 2 normal people will have many instances when they don't want the exact same thing at the exact some time, unless 1 of them was unimaginably submissive there'd be endless times when they'd have to come up with a decision that both agreed with... and how could they do that if they didn't compromise?

I've been with my husband for more than half of my adult life, and I've discovered an astonishing thing; compromise, which everyone I've ever encountered other than the aforementioned guy has sung the praises of, is actually NOT a good thing most of the time, because it means that NEITHER person is getting what they want, and if the members of a romantic couple are regularly encountering situations where neither of them can get what they want, that probably IS a bad relationship.

I can just hear the howls of protest, but think about it; sure, you can come up with situations where a compromise creates an outcome that's satisfactory to both parties, usually when they want basically the same thing and it's only the timing, the amount of $ to be spent, or something else of that nature that's at issue (eg getting a $20k car rather than a $15k or $25k car), or when neither really dislikes the other's preference and they can alternate without hardship (eg Mexican food today, Italian food tomorrow)... but other than that, doesn't compromising really mean picking something that neither prefers, but neither hates, which means that neither person has given in, or been dominated, but leaving both parties dissatisfied?

Perhaps this is why folks these days ignore the fact that a too-similar partner can quickly become boring and predictable and look for partners they have alot in common with; to avoid what are essentially no-win situations under the guise of compromising. The sad thing is that most people willfully ignore those ultra-important things for which there's no possible compromise; you're either married or you're not, you either have kids or you don't, you can only live in one place (unless you're wealthy and are both your own bosses), it's very unlikely that you can alter your level of sex drive, etc. Just as bad are the things for which there ARE technically compromises, but that are too emotionally-charged for many people to be willing to maintain a compromise long-term about, such as how $ is to be handled and how children should be raised. We've become a nation of gray areas, but some things are still black and white... and that means that sometimes people who love each other won't be able to be together and be happy, no matter HOW passionately they believe that there's a compromise for everything.

Being able to compromise is a sign of maturity, and knowing how to achieve a fast and fair compromise is an important skill needed in all sorts of interactions with other people, granted, but within our own homes, within our most personal relationships, we want things to be the way we like them pretty consistently, and we do NOT like having to discuss, or "discuss" (which means "argue" for people too touchy-feely to admit they're doing anything as unevolved as arguing) too many things that'll lead to outcomes that satisfy neither us nor our mate... and that means we need to focus on other ways to decide who gets to have what they want, ways that don't involve endless negotiating or neither person ever getting what they prefer (needless to say, both halves of a couple need to be willing to follow these guidelines, and be mature enough to stick to them, for any of this to work):

1) If it's something you don't care about, and the other person does, do it their way.

2) If neither person cares that much, once one person makes a suggestion, the other should say "ok."

3) When making a purchase significant enough for both parties to be involved (such as furniture, appliances or vehicles), instead of each person checking out the options, falling in love with one, and fighting to the death over it, assign one person the decision-making power, and the other person provides a REASONABLE list of requirements for the item, and has veto power to ONLY be used in cases of failure to fulfill the agreed-upon requirements or the belated realization of some other SIGNIFICANT requirement for the purchase. (For example, for our most recent car purchase, I told my husband that I wanted an American car with functioning air conditioning, above the size of a compact and below a certain dollar amount; he did some research, went out and bought the car.)

4) For certain things, decide that one particular person should reasonably have the final say; for example, my husband's the tech-ier one, so he makes the final decisions about equipment purchases, and I'm the one with a clue about decorating, so I make the final decisions about stuff for our home.

5) Whichever partner is the bigger screw-up should make up for it by letting the other person have their way; the more they screw up, the more they should give up having their way.

6) Whichever partner has the higher sex drive should stack the deck in their favor by letting the other person have their way in other areas.

7) Make the liberating decision that you do NOT have to stick to traditional forms; you do NOT have to eat the same thing for dinner, go to bed at the same time, get up at the same time, watch TV together, or any of the other lock-step stuff we associate with couplehood... so if you have different schedules or needs, do your own thing when it's convenient, as long as you're making time to be together too.

8) Periodically, when you feel emotionally able, choose to GIVE the other person their way as a gift, and enjoy how happy it makes them.

9) Feel free to use barter or bribery to get your way; they make both people happy, and so are valid options.

10) Don't try to change the other person's preferences; either learn to live with them, and work around them, or accept that you're not compatible.

My husband and I have about as little in common as possible without one of us being from another planet, and we manage pretty well with these methods; if you're tired of compromising and not getting what you want, give them a try.

Friday, August 19, 2005

My odd mid-life crisis 

Technically, you're supposed to be at least 40 to have a mid-life crisis, and I'm not there yet... also, technically, I already HAD my mid-life crisis when I turned 35, when I realized I officially wasn't "young" anymore and freaked out big time... but my husband and I are referring to my current weird obsession with my underwear as my mid-life crisis, so let's just call it that for the sake of consistency.

It actually started out with a pair of jeans; they have ankle zippers trimmed with ruffles, and have been a favorite of mine for about 15 years... at least, they WERE until my husband washed them and then put them in the dryer too long, and they shrunk so much that I could only wear them if I didn't breathe, GRRRRRRRRRRRRR. I kept meaning to wedge myself into them, get them wet, and move around as much as possible in them until they dried, which stretches them out but is REALLY unpleasant, but a couple of years went by without me doing it (did I mention that it's REALLY unpleasant?); then, a few weeks ago, I realized that a hot day was just the right time to be in cold, wet denim, and was going to grit my teeth and do it... and then I thought, "I'll look like a fool if I'm middle-aged and wearing jeans with ruffles," folded them up and stuck them in the Goodwill bag. I got a deja vu feeling, and remembered when 30 had been looming over me, and I'd gritted my teeth and given away all the clothes and jewelry with hearts and/or rainbows, and the embarrassingly large collection of sailor blouses my mother had given me (despite her loud protests of "you're never too old to wear a sailor blouse"), and tossed out all my dark, dramatic makeup, and all the ultra-bright makeup, and, hardest of all, my beloved frosted pale-pink lipstick.

Something must have clicked in my head, because my mind started running through everything I wear, checking to see what else might not be appropriate when I hit the big 4-0... and this is where I got launched with this underwear frenzy, because the only thing I could think of was my 2 pairs of pink ankle socks with lace-trimmed cuffs, which I charged over to the bureau, dug around until I located, and tossed in the Goodwill bag. I started gathering up the socks that I'd yanked out in my search, and it occurred to me that I didn't LIKE some of them, and that REALLY got me going; I dumped out ALL my socks and started separating out the ones that weren't cute... and then I noticed that a few pairs looked a little worn, and decided that I wasn't going to wear any socks that looked old... and THEN I noticed that some were stretched out across the tops, and decided that I'm too old for droopy socks, so I deep-sixed them... and started pulling the tops of all the socks to see if any of the elastics made that distinctive crackling sound that means they've died, and throwing them in the trash.

I didn't have time to do a thorough check right then, but I've kept at it, and am also targeting socks that had been gifts (a pair with Tigger on them was high on the list) that I'd previously felt obligated to keep, and plain socks that I had nicer ones of the same color, and... I got rid of ALOT of socks. So many that I went on eBay to get some new ones (even with shipping, you can get them cheaper than in the store, oddly enough), and they've started arriving in the mail; did you know they even MADE blue leopard-print socks?

Then, we were at my mother's house a few days ago, and I went into my old bedroom and collected the last of my socks that were still there in my old bureau; some I got rid of, some I'll probably get rid of later, and a few I'll keep... and it felt like a milestone to finally have all of my socks out of my mother's house, after all these years of being married.

That should've been pretty much the end of it, but then, while arranging the socks in my underwear drawer, I started looking speculatively at my panties; I've always been fairly anal where panties are concerned (which is sort of appropriate when you think about it, lol), and have a policy of throwing them out as soon as they show any signs of wear (because what if I got hit by a truck and had to go to the hospital, remember that standard maternal line?), but I looked through them anyways, and discovered a terrible thing... I had PLAID panties. Plaid FLANNEL no less, courtesy of my insane mother. I haven't worn them since I got married, for reasons I'm sure I needn't explain, but they were THERE, and I decided I couldn't stand it a moment longer, so I started digging around; 1... 2... 3... 4... when did I get FOUR pairs? I gathered them up and marched into my husband's study, where I announced, "Look at this!!" I waved them at him for emphasis. "I have FOUR pairs of plaid panties, and I HATE plaid, and they're flannel, and only someone like my mother could think that flannel is a proper fabric for panties, and I HATE them, and I'm not keeping them for one more minute!!" I brandished them angrily at shoulder height to punctuate the point.

With a classic "indulging the deranged female" expression on his face, my husband replied, "Well, sure, if you don't like them get rid of them; buy yourself some new ones." "Yes, I'll go on eBay and get some new ones!!" I exulted, flinging the panties away and trotting off to the computer... only to discover that there are countless size 5, 6, and 8 and above panties on eBay, but very few 7's, and all sorts of thongs, boyshorts, and other weird styles but very few classic bikini style, and lots of blah solids, and obscure cartoon character designs, but very few nice patterns, and that a scary # of companies still use synthetic fabrics when that's an absolute no-no if you're prone to yeast infections, and... out of the 30 pages of available auctions, I found ONE that had a couple of pairs that I might get, and that's IT. :-O

I complained to my husband about this, adding that I'd obviously have to look for panties at Wal-Mart, which was really a bummer because I'm never anywhere near one and it'd be a major inconvenience, and then said jokingly, "I should make YOU go and get me some panties, since you go by there all the time"... and he said "Sure, I'll get some panties for you-after all these years, it's high time I bought underwear for my wife." I assumed he was joking. He wasn't. I asked, "Won't you be embarrassed?" He said, "Yeah, but I'll get over it." I asked, "What if people think that you're too much of a geek to have a woman, and that the panties must be for YOU?" He said, "I don't think they'll think that." I said, "They MIGHT" and stuck my tongue out at him. He stuck his tongue out at me. After several rounds of tongue-sticking, I explained what was necessary to pick out a nice set of panties from all the unusable stuff; he insisted that he can handle it, so I'm gonna let him try... and this will be the 1st time in my life that a man has bought underwear for me, can you believe it?

I think this brings us to the end of the mid-life crisis... but wait, a couple of pairs of black socks were looking kind of faded, now that I think about it... hang on, I'll be right back...

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Musings on buffets 

The all-you-can-eat buffet is a common thing in America; virtually everyone has been to one, and most of us have been many times over the years. One of the many fascinating discoveries I made when I got online and began talking to people from other countries is that the inclusion of these sorts of restaurants as a part of one's very culture is primarily an American thing; I can't tell you how many times I revealed on a forum or in a chatroom that I'd gone to a buffet, only to have people from several different countries ask me about it because they'd never been to one, or even never SEEN one. There are certainly restaurants in other countries where you can serve yourself from a buffet, although often only in big cities and/or in tourist-heavy areas, but the idea of having the set-up we have HERE, where even small towns usually have places you can go and choose from an insane # of dishes and settle in to consume as much food as possible without exploding (which is how most Americans behave in these places), the idea that the entire point of these restaurants is to make a pig of yourself rather than just to be able to choose which foods you'd like, is surprising and puzzling to foreigners; for the most part it never seems to occur to non-Americans that it'd be "fun" to eat more than a reasonable meal's worth of food.

This alone tells us why Americans are so much fatter than other people.

If you go here


you'll find the corporate headquarters of Old Country Buffet, Country Buffet, and HomeTown Buffet; these restaurants are in 36 states, claim on their site to offer about a HUNDRED different dishes, and will have lines leading into them virtually every hour they're open every day of the week. If you've ever been in one of these places, you know that no matter how hungry you are, how careful you are to not take too much of anything, or how picky of an eater you are, you'll NEVER be able to eat all the things you'd like to have... but you'll try, because once you see and smell the food, once you start tasting how good it is, you become an eating machine, lost in a daze of comfort-food bliss (do other cultures even HAVE comfort food, or is it only Americans who see high-fat food as a way to improve their emotional state?).

Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes is another very successful buffet-style eatery; it never ceases to amaze me that people flock to a place where all there is to eat is soup, salads, breads, and a few pasta dishes, but apparently lots of folks don't mind forgoing a main course as long as they can eat all they want. One of the worst food-related experiences of my life occurred in one of these restaurants; my then-boyfriend, insisting contrary to everything I'd heard from other people about the food that I'd be able to eat there, harangued me into going with the promise that if I looked around and decided I didn't like enough of what they had to make a decent meal we'd go back to the cashier and get a refund, and then I could pick a place for us to go to. We went in, and one glance at the food told me there was no chance, but he demanded that I go look at everything before deciding, so, after reminding him not to take any food himself, which he AGREED to, I marched around all the counters, none of which had anything I'd touch on a bet, and headed back to tell him so... only to find him with a heaping plateful of food which he was already eating from!! In response to my infuriated questions, he replied that he was certain that, despite what I'd said, I'd magically come up with a way to make a meal out of what they had, so he figured it was safe to break his promise and start eating. So stubborn was he in his stupidity that he actually went so far as to point out food items that he thought I'd be able to eat, for each of which I listed every ingredient and how much I loathed all of them, and inquired what he based his belief that I could eat those things on... he of course had no answer, because as always he was basing his opinions on the fantasy of how he wanted things to be, not on reality.

I sat at a table with him with a tiny portion of soft-serve, the only thing in the entire place I could consume, and which I could only have a little of on an empty stomach without throwing up, cursing him for his game-playing while he wolfed everything on his plate, and then we left, having gotten the worst value for food dollars in the history of the world; we then went to a fast food place so that I could finally have a meal, and he could finish his. Luckily for him, I forgave him; in return, he's spending the rest of his life making sure I get everything I want foodwise.

There are various ethnic buffets that exist here and there, but the one you can find nearly everywhere is of course Chinese; lately, taking a cue from the previously-named restaurants, some clever folks have opened up chains of Chinese (or sometimes "oriental," which means they add a little sushi and maybe a couple of vaguely Thai dishes) mega-buffets, where you can go and get all the familiar dishes, some weirdly exotic ones, some even weirder things like French fries and fried chicken, and of course a zillion kinds of dessert. And that's what got me thinking about this topic; I got an ad in the mail for a local one of these places, where I've been known to eat enough eggrolls, potstickers, spareribs, cream cheese wontons (which I vaguely suspect may NOT be an authentic dish, lol), orange and kung pao chicken, and sweet and sour pork to feed a family of 4... which is why it's been a while since I've been there, and why I'm eager to go again.

I am, after all, VERY American.


My friend Nico, whose terrific blog is here


has told me that, although the term "buffet" isn't often used in Australia (we only sort of speak the same language), all-you-can-eat setups are common in her city, Newcastle... and, and I'm quoting her so that no Australian readers feel dissed, that "Australia is the second fattest nation on Earth." Coincidence?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

In awe of a hawk 

The most majestic species of wildlife sharing my suburban neighborhood is the hawk; they can often seen gazing contemptuously down on non-flying species from atop lamp posts and rooftops. Some time ago one of them made an unfortunate discovery... that my patio is bursting with over-fed birds. This shouldn't have actually been a problem, as hawks hunt by flying over their prey, folding their wings and dropping, then snatching the victims up at the end of the drop; birds under a patio cover are thus outside of their biological programming... but that hasn't stopped him from trying.

I remember the 1st time I saw the huge male hawk fly through the patio area; his 6-7 foot wingspan caused a WHUMP and rattling of windows like a sonic boom. The birds saw him coming and flew every which way, but they needn't have bothered, as the hawk had no idea about swerving, swooping or grabbing; he didn't even try for any of the fleeing birds, because he just didn't know what to do. We've had several other fly-throughs, and caught him perched on the fence a few times... and all the banging and yelling I could manage didn't faze him in the slightest.

A few days ago, I saw a different hawk, which appears to be of the same species but smaller (about 2 feet tall plus tail) and with plainer coloring; a female, we assume. She was on the fence, craning and twisting her neck to see into the dense foliage over the patio cover, scoping out the many birds that she could hear and probably at least sporadically see; her instincts don't including extracting food animals from within the cover of trees and bushes, so she didn't do anything... at least not then.

I saw her again today, and if I hadn't been smart and grabbed the camcorder and filmed her, I'd think by now that I'd dreamed what I saw, because it's so hard to picture a hawk acting the way this one did. It started with my hearing my biggest windchime going wildly, which in the absence of a hurricane meant that something had banged it; my 1st thought was that some rotten kid had reached over the fence or thrown something at it, so I ran to where I could see the patio, but didn't see anyone. Assuming that the culprit had run off, I went back to the computer... and a couple of minutes later, another of the windchimes was ringing loudly, so I sprinted back in time to see the cause; the female hawk was just settling back onto the fence, flapping erratically and obviously disoriented. As I saw again in another couple of minutes, she was launching off of the fence, flying gracelessly around the patio even though the little birds were long gone, and then struggling to get back out without hitting anything; her wings are too big for her to do so easily, which is why she was hitting the chimes, especially with her already being off-kilter because she was doing something atypical for her species. I was stunned when she tried again, and was finally successful at what it turned out that she'd been attempting; my patio cover is made of several overlapping layers, and she'd been trying to insert herself between the lowermost layer and the one above it, so that she could reach up through the gap and endeavor to snatch a bird from the branches draped over it... this is so far from anything a hawk normally does, so physically difficult given the size of the bird and the smallness of the target area (not to mention the necessity of having dead-on aim when flying sideways, which she needed multiple tries to achieve because it's not a skill she has), and required so much thought and analysis to devise that plan, that... what can I say, I'm still dazzled that a wild bird came up with such a thing.

But that's not the end of it!! She wasn't able to reach any birds from where she was in the patio cover, although she certainly tried; the tweeties might have been curious as to what the hawk was doing there, but none of them stayed close enough to the lower branches that she could stretch to for her to reach them. Finally, she backed out of the tight space and flapped awkwardly back to the fence, when she hopped back and forth, looking ticked off and frustrated, craning and twisting her neck as she had the last time, checking things out, with her avian brain clearly going 100 miles an hour. Then, she did her final amazing thing; she flew straight at an overhanging tree, not up to the top where a hawk would normally go, but right through the leaves onto the lowest branch; as I watched slack-jawed in amazement, she began to clumsily but determinedly hop and inch her way upwards along the branch, towards the birds. She wobbled back and forth, fluttered her wings fruitlessly in the tight space, and kept trying to move up the inner part of the tree. She got up farther than I'd have thought possible, then slipped and lost a few feet; at that point, the air conditioner came on, and this startled her enough that she sort of jumped away from the tree and flew away... she never came back, but I bet she's not done trying quite yet.

Normally, I'd say you had to see it to believe it, but *I* saw it and I STILL don't believe it; you expect a predatory bird to have SOME ability to think, but to see one analyzing a situation far from what it's genetically designed to handle, and coming up with ways to try nab a bird without risking tangling her talons in the foliage (which could easily lead to her being trapped there and eventually killed by a cat) was truly awe-inspiring. When I told my husband about it later, he was duly impressed; he commented that, although he grew up in a rural area, he'd never heard of anyone having experiences with wild creatures like we do, or rather mostly *I* do, all the time here in the middle of the suburbs, far from anything rural or wilderness-ish... he didn't believe it when I told him back when we 1st met that animals are drawn to me, but he sure believes it now.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

An interesting program on telepathy 

Tonight, on the National Geographic channel, I saw a show called "Naked Science : Telepathy, Researchers study the power of the mind." Here are the highlights:

1) Twin sisters; one got in a car accident in the Australian Outback, the one in America felt "indirect pain," knew instantly that the other one had been injured, and began calling friends in Oz to try to find out what had happened. (The narrator made a big issue about how there's no proof that the American twin felt the pain at the exact same time... but what if she felt it 10 minutes later, how would that make it any less psychic, lol?)

2) Another set of twins reported having the exact same dream, just from different points of view.

3) Yet another set of twins; one got in a car accident, the other immediately felt pain in same place she was injured (sternum).

4) a) Twin boys, widely separated with the one designated the receiver being wired up to monitor his vitals; when the "sending" one was startled with loud noise, the other reacted a fraction of a second later. They blindfolded the sender and had him reach into a jar for candy, but encounter ice instead... and again, the receiver reacted right away, by taking in a breath, his blood pressure going up, and his pulse rate shooting up.

b) When the boys were babies, the mother was changing one with her back to the other, and the one she was working on started to cry, and then scream, and, when it occurred to her that he might be reacting to something wrong with his brother rather than something being wrong with him, she turned around to see that the other baby had rolled into the pillows and was suffocating, and had already turned blue (he suffered no lasting ill effects, luckily).

c) The mother is convinced that they feel each other's pain; she described cases where one of them had a knee infection or kidney pain where it was the other twin that was crying and complaining of pain.

5) a) Joe McMoneagle was a so-called "remote viewer" for the Army intelligence project "Star Gate"


for over 20 years, during which he, and the others in the program, psychically pinpointed enemy bases and reported various images picked up from enemy territory. An impressive example they gave of this was that when he was asked to see inside a new, large building at Severodvinsk (in the former Soviet Union), he described images that made it clear that it was a submarine factory... which seemed ridiculous, as the building was a half mile from the shore and had no water access at all. Eventually, though, a bulldozer was brought there and used to dig a trench, which, when filled with water, gave the gigantic new sub a way to get to the ocean. McMoneagle received the Legion of Merit... which is hard to imagine he would have been given if, as skeptics claim, he never actually saw anything.

b) To test his abilities, they had someone unknown to him take a bunch of pics around San Francisco, which were then sealed up, one chosen at random, and the woman told to go there and try to transmit images of where she was. McMoneagle drew pictures and gave verbal descriptions that were an excellent match for her location... so much so that another man, given copies of these things and of pics of the different locations, was able to correctly pick the one she was at.

6) In Scotland, studies have been done using a Ganzfeld test, which is where a receiver is made comfortable and relaxes while listening to white noise, and then a sender tries to transmit images from video clips chosen at random (other testers have used photos or other sorts of images for the tests). The receiver gradually zeros in on the correct images, and the sender tries to emit reinforcing thoughts when the receiver gets closer, and pushes a button when the receiver hits it dead on... and the receiver, who was wired up on her fingers to test some aspect of her vitals (I yelled at the rats on the patio and missed that part), reacted to the button being pushed.

7) a) They put a mother and daughter into "EEG caps" with electrodes to measure brain activity, had them meditate to create an alpha state, showed the mother a checkered pattern that changed abruptly, causing a blip on her readout... and a tenth of a second later, the daughter's brain reacted the same way. Some receivers are able to perform well beyond what chance would predict, and one of the researchers commented that he went into it being skeptical, but that they'd run out of ways to try to explain away what they were seeing.

b) Putting the receiver inside an MRI scanner showed that the part of brain that receives visual input seems to be stimulated when the receiving is going on.

At that point, my possum visitor showed up (I'll blog about him soon), and I missed the last couple of minutes of the show while I was filming his antics, but this at least gives an idea about what they're up to on the fringes of science... and demonstrates that they're STILL getting results they can't explain.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Joel Osteen and the power of thought 

Before I dive into a serious post, here's something exciting: an episode of the most recent attempt at "Twilight Zone" came on tonight, and... do you remember the classic episode "It's a Good Life," where a cute little boy (played by Bill Mumy) has godlike powers, and uses them in a horrifying way? They made a follow-up to that, called "It's Still a Good Life," wherein the cute little boy is now a man with a child of his own... starring Bill Mumy and his own daughter, Liliana, AND Cloris Leachman who played the mother in the original episode!! I wasn't paying attention at first, but when I heard Mumy's voice, which I instantly recognized due to my intense "Babylon 5" fanhood, I looked up from the computer and devoted my full attention... and it was FAB, so be sure to watch it if you get the chance. :-)

Ok, here's the heavy stuff:

Joel Osteen has circled many sermons around the importance of banishing negative thoughts (and emotions) from your mind, because thinking like that can cause bad things to happen, can bring forth "The Enemy" (aka the devil), and can "program" you to be unhappy and dissatisfied even with an objectively good life; the concept of negativity drawing in more negativity is of course a karmic one, although naturally he doesn't see it that way.

In a recent sermon, his topic was how you needed to think about things that you wanted to happen over and over; again, this is part of my theory of karma, that the "shape" of energy you send out can determine what comes back to you, and that the more energy you pour into that shape with thoughts and feelings, the more powerful the "draw."

In tonight's sermon, Osteen has finally gotten around to talking about the other basic "rule" of karma; that having positive thoughts (and feelings) causes positive things to come into your life. He makes a particular issue about how it's necessary to control your thoughts, that you CAN do so, that you can't just think "any old thoughts" but must banish any negative ones that try to enter your head, and instead fill your mind with hope and the belief that good things are coming, that each part of your day will be good, and in general to have positive thoughts about everything, especially about those things that you want to receive or bring to your life... and that this will MAKE good things happen. Of course, he always means that God will be the cause of all this, and I know people who believe that God created karma to serve His will, but in the absence of proof all I can believe is that karma alone is behind it; I choose the force of nature rather than the deity, as only the former type of thing is proven to exist.

And speaking of karma vs deity; on 7-25-05, I posted an invitation to whatever deity that might be out there to "expand my awareness," and also asked karma to "send me information to settle the question of the existence of any forces in the universe that would be considered deities by human beings." On 7-26-05, I had what I accurately termed "a freaky day," with so many improbable things happening that it seemed inescapable that they came as a reply to my request... but from what source? Was it karma reacting to my calling it forth, or a deity trying to get through to me?

This is where spiritual stuff gets tricky; you'll get what you ask for, but if you ask stupidly you don't get what you actually WANTED... which would seem to argue against the existence of God (Allah, Goddess, whatever), who's supposed to know and care what we want and so theoretically should be responding to that rather than the form of the request, but then again part of worship of a deity includes prayer, which tells us that asking for things directly is somehow important... I've gotta ask a Christian friend about this one, it's an interesting point. In any case, the problem here is that I asked karma and any existing deities for something at the same time, which in hindsight was pretty dumb, but in my defense I didn't imagine that I'd possibly get an immediate and major response without a clear source. So, let's give it another shot, and hope that any powers that be are willing to exert themselves again for me so soon:

If there is a deity or deities out there, by any name, I ask that you make me aware of your existence in some way not attributable to the workings of karma.

Stay tuned.

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