Thursday, December 27, 2012

In 2013, I Resolve to Stop Beating Myself Up

When I was young, New Year’s Eve was spent listening to the Top 40 music countdown with Casey Kasem and playing monopoly with my parents and siblings. I also wrote down my New Year’s resolutions and took them very seriously. Sadly, most of my self-improvement ideas revolved around body image and social popularity. Starting even when I was still too young to wear a bra, I was resolving to lose weight every new year. I resolved to dress more fashionably. I resolved to stop being so shy around boys. In short, my New Year’s Resolutions displayed a sad lack of self esteem, and my bitter attempt to gain a sense of self-worth through social acceptance. My New Year’s Resolutions were just one more way to beat myself up over not being pretty enough.

When I grew up, I realized that my flaws were really virtues. My wide hips, I learned, could easily birth a ten pound baby despite my small frame. My shyness, I learned, is a virtue considered attractive to the kind of man whom I would want to be with. I also learned that I perhaps too often put myself aside in order to accommodate others. I started looking at myself more clearly to try and pinpoint why I don’t have what I want in life.
One weird thing I noticed was that I habitually ate the broken cookies, leaving the good cookies for the others, while other people generally go straight for the biggest, best cookies. I wondered why I did that. Years later, I noticed that even though I was going to bed hungry in order to preserve food for my children to eat tomorrow, someone else was waiting until we went to sleep and eating all the food! At a certain point I realized that some people habitually make use of other people’s selfless sacrifices without giving it a thought. While I was reducing my ego to the size of a mustard seed, working hard to change myself in order to be what other people needed me to be, I was inviting others to take advantage of my generosity. My strong love for my children eventually forced me to note that Mommy needs to be centered in her own self in order to adequately protect them.
There are two personality extremes: the Narcissist and the Neurotic. The Narcissist believes that others exist to serve him, while the Neurotic exists to serve others. The Narcissist blames others for everything, while the Neurotic takes personal responsibility for all the problems in the world. Both types operate from a self-esteem deficit.
The results of excessive Narcissism are obviously dangerous, but an out of control Neurotic will also reach a point of destructive anger – because everything the Neurotic does for others – all that eagerness to please – is motivated at heart by a deep need for others to return the same level of concern. The Neurotic person is not actually engaging in selfless acts out of selflessness. He is trying to earn love.
The Narcissist covers up his lack of self-worth by imposing himself upon others. He takes whatever he can get away with, and he when he gives, he gives in order to make a public display of himself, to gain public recognition, so that other people will then feel obligated towards him. In the mind of the Narcissist everyone “owes” him.
Well, guess what I figured out. Actions cannot earn anyone’s love, not even righteous actions. If someone took a bullet for someone else, he might be owed some appreciation. But love is something more like God’s grace, it happens only when the heart opens without any obstruction. No one – not even God – can truly love you or work miracles through you, if you are not being yourself. If you are bending over backwards trying to please people or accommodate people, they might be thankful. But love can neither be earned nor owed.
True Love is something like oxygen that swooshes in to fill a vacuum, which is created when a person gives up worship of everything that is not God, and submits to Reality. Our lives are all sparks of light emitted from the Everliving. When we connect with other people in God’s love, we are creating something like an electrical circuit of energy flow. The light does not belong to you or me, but it becomes brightest when the energy is flowing freely without ego obstructions. The path of Love is the Middle Way between Narcissism and Neurosis. It requires developing a Conscience about how we treat ourselves. It’s meaningless to love your neighbor as yourself, if you don’t love yourself.
The New Year’s resolutions I will make this year will not be about how I can be less of a person to take up less space in the world. They will be more closely aligned with how I can stoke the fire of life energy at the core of my being. I believe that in so doing, all the other parts of my being will become better aligned with my true purpose.
I will spend more time identifying and working to fulfill my desires. I will not postpone my life too long for others. I will shop, cook, and eat as much as I want, to the extent of my ability. I will make time for play. I will make time to sleep. I will buy myself the winter coat and the summer sandals I’ve been doing without all these years. I will spend more time alone. I will spend more time socializing. When I get cranky, I will figure out what I need, just like I did with my babies. I will stop trying to cope with my situation by expecting less. Instead, I will visualize what I want and then take the steps to reach my goals. I will set fire to my anger instead of wallowing in it. When the devil is trying to destroy you, the best thing you can do is keep trusting that God created us all to fulfill our true potential in life, like a plant reaching for the sun. Living well is the best revenge.
The most radical thing we can do for change, to create a world of healthy, happy, peaceful people, is to start taking care of ourselves and stop giving away our personal power. Only when our light is shining brightly and steadily can we light the path for others.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Fracking Requires Oversight

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a relatively new way of extracting natural gas or oil from shale by exploding the rock with pressurized water mixed with chemicals. Scott Tong writes in Marketplace that fracking has “unlocked a new geologic door to fossil energy.” The drilling is done horizontally, which means fewer holes are able to extract larger amounts of gas. 

It also means that an oil company could extract gas from the ground beneath your house, or underneath local wildlife preserves. 

The upsides of the domestic gas and oil boom include less dependency on foreign suppliers, jobs for Americans, and new businesses opening to cater to the needs of the industry. However, serious hazards are involved – water, soil and air contamination have long term consequences – plus more immediate dangers like huge explosions that could wipe out entire neighborhoods. If steps are not taken to regulate this growing industry more effectively, the results of fracking could end up being far more costly in the long run than any short term economic benefits.

In the US, oil and gas companies are privately owned, and they compete against each other. The government does not own the mineral rights below the surface of the earth, even when it’s below a National Park. The oil and gas industry is one of the most powerful lobbies in the United States. They have been able to fight environmental regulations and get exceptions. 

The government is currently extremely limited in its ability to oversee the fracking process and to ensure that safety measures are in place. Environmental departments are already generally understaffed, so to create an environmental department capable of inspecting hundreds of thousands of oil wells, all the underground piping and the related paperwork puts an unreasonable burden upon taxpayers. Yet, because of oil companies’ legal rights, the government cannot get overly involved in their affairs until after a crime is committed – or to help with evacuations and clean up after a spill or leak has occurred. 

Another serious obstacle in the way of public safety is that the law usually puts the burden of proof on the accuser. The victim of environmental poisoning must prove that his sickness was caused by the nearby drilling. Many homeowners do not test their well water for contamination until after there is a problem. The law requires them to present previous documentation of the well not being contaminated before the oil company started drilling, in order to make the claim that the drilling is responsible. Even if recent contamination can be proven, the homeowner still has to demonstrate how those particular contaminants were created by what process and by which oil company. This is far beyond the scope of power of ordinary individuals. Most private citizens are not in a position to determine the exact sources of pollutants. The oil companies themselves don’t even have accurate maps of where all the underground pipes are located.

Many neighborhoods and towns are organizing their own environmental watch dog groups to do scientific research, collect data and keep records in order to pressure the government to be more vigilant about inspections and more firm in punishing violations so that they do not recur. 

Even George Mitchell, the oilman who discovered and developed fracking techniques, wants Americans to stiffly regulate drillers, especially small, independent players.

“I’ve had too much experience running independents,” Mitchell says. “They’re wild people. You just can’t control them. Penalize the oil and gas people. Get tough with them.” 

All the research shows that thousands of oil wells are not being inspected regularly by the government. When the wells are inspected, safety violations are found. Inspection procedures for the piping and other elements of the process do not even exist. 

One Texas community founded the Gardenville Accountability Project after being utterly run over by Berry Petroleum. They are well organized and fighting back, documenting abuses. Berry has plans for 300 wells in a 12 square mile area. None of the land owners own the mineral rights under the surface. On December 6, 2012, Dan Boggs, president of Gardendale Accountability Project listed multiple and frightening problems on their community blog:

“As I write this there is a gas pipeline fire after an explosion down the road a few miles from Gardendale near a small community. Our prayer is that no one was hurt. Last night in Gardendale there was a 10 barrel oil spill from a well. Some reports have oil shooting 75 feet into the air. This morning (the second time in a week) we had noxious fumes drift over our home. It was reported to the health dept. and the TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality). I suspect both releases were from the same well. Recently we have had a gas flare FALL OVER and threaten homes. Another gas flare fire shot flaming liquid high into the air and sent black smoke belching into the sky. How long will our representatives ignore the health and safety hazards they allow in our communities?”

A former pipeline executive told Fort Worth Weekly, “The truth is, it’s just insane to have wet gas around schools. Yet you go down to Vickery and Horne and turn north and see pipes right across the street from a school. And all pipes leak over time. They corrode and rot out, and the initial builder sells out, and you wind up with some jackleg [company] with little insurance owning the lines, not being able to maintain them properly.” 

Gas can soak into the ground around the pipeline. You can’t see it, smell it, taste it. And then boom! The maze of underground pipes is so complex that when an explosion happens, it is often difficult to determine which company it belongs to, so they can shut off the valve. Emergency crews do not even have access to the gas shut-off valves.

The lack of regulation by the state and local governments is “simply gross negligence.”

Royce Don Deaver of Houston, a pipeline engineer and expert witness in pipeline explosion cases, considers pipelines to be a relatively safe way to move gas, but only if they are regulated properly. Stronger, thicker steel construction is particularly important in an urban environment, he said. 

“The solution is there. It’s just money. But the cost issue is so great that pipeline companies are not going to do it unless they’re pushed. And the way things are now, regulators don’t have scientists telling them what to do.”

Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project has compiled data on the immediate health effects of fracking on Texans. They conclude that the state’s present regulations, laws and enforcement policies are far too weak. Each year, hundreds of thousands of oil and gas wells – 53 to 91% of wells in the states studied – are operating with no inspections to determine whether they are in compliance with state rules. When inspections do uncover rule violations, the violations often are not formally recorded. When violations are recorded, they result in so few penalties that they provide little incentive for companies to not offend again.

Earthworks reports: “Not only are the resources for dealing with the health and environmental impacts of gas production insufficient to meet the scale of the boom, but state regulators consistently downplay the risks, take sides with industry against landowners, and respond to complaints feebly, if at all.”

Where drilling goes, contamination, burning nostrils, and health problems follow. Affected neighbors are forced to buy bottled water, and in some cases, must even buy water to bathe. 

“It’s ruining us,” Bartonville resident Kelly Gant told  The New York Times in February 2011. She said her 14-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son have had severe asthma attacks, dizzy spells and headaches since a compressor station and a gas well were set up near her house about two years ago. 

“I’m not an activist, an alarmist, a Democrat, environmentalist or anything like that,” Ms. Gant said. “I’m just a person who isn’t able to manage the health of my family because of all this drilling.”

In 2009, Wolf Eagle Environmental sampled the air in Dish, Texas and confirmed the presence of high concentrations of carcinogens and neurotoxins in air near or on residential properties.

When the millions of gallons of contaminated water used for hydraulic fracturing returns to the surface as “flowback,” this toxic soup requires permanent disposal in deep sealed wells. The question of how to prevent fracking water from returning to the normal water cycle presents a scientific problem like storing nuclear waste. 

Fracking is too profitable to go away anytime soon. Scientific advances are expected to make the process more effective and we hope, more safe. In the meantime, certain states are trying to place limits on what the oil companies can dig up in order to preserve natural beauty. New York and Pennsylvania have placed a moratorium on oil development in certain areas. 

Don Barber told Mother Jones. “The federal government sold [Americans] out when they exempted fracking from the Clean Water and Air Acts. Federal and state governments are not advocating for the civil society. There’s only one level left. That’s the local government, and it puts a tremendous load on our shoulders.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Fighting Key to Marital Happiness?

It is widely taught that the most important quality in a potential spouse is high moral character. Yet, many people still choose their life partner based on superficial desires of the ego such as beauty or wealth. Since both beauty and wealth are temporary, such marriages often cannot withstand the test of time.

However, sometimes, in their quest to secure a relationship with a person of high moral character, people are still drawn towards superficialities. Often, even deeply religious people dream of a spouse whose style of dress will match their outfit. They want a spouse who will increase their status in the community. They should belong to a certain family or a certain social class. Many single people have a long checklist of things that they are looking for in a person before they will even consider them in marriage.

Most people wish to find the perfect mate, with whom they can agree on all things. However, no matter who you choose, all married couples fight. Some will eventually learn to tolerate each other. But that is not the same thing as being happy! They key to marital bliss is in how you fight, say psychologists.

Therapist John Gottman says he can predict how long a couple will last, not by studying how well a couple gets along, but by studying how well a couple doesn’t get along. A relationship is only as strong as its weakest link— how a couple handles their challenges.

Generally speaking, people from the same cultural or religious background will experience less friction in marriage than people from very different backgrounds. Yet, shared beliefs are also no guarantee of happiness. Someone who is very dogmatic about religion might adopt a judgmental and narrow-minded approach to disagreements, even going so far as to imply that to disagree with him is to disobey God. Even deeply pious people might be hyper-sensitive, whiny, passive aggressive, or overly critical at times. 

Therefore, it is not usually enough just to seek a “suitable match.” What we should really seek is a partner who is spiritually and emotionally capable of what Aristotle called a “Relationship of Shared Virtue.”

The number one thing to look for in a potential spouse is not perfection, but their sincere interest in engaging in continued personal growth through relationship, suggests Karen Salmansohn, author of “Prince Harming Syndrome.” 

“After all, if your partner doesn’t value growth, he won’t be ready to deal with non-fun, inevitable conflicts in a high integrity way,” writes Salmansohn.

“Good character values not only come in handy on a day-to-day basis, but during those eventual, inevitable times of conflict. If you and your partner do not value putting in the effort of acting with strong character values during times of disagreement, disappointment, stress, crisis, temptation, sadness, monetary-challenges, illness, vulnerability, misunderstandings—then your relationship will always suffer… 

“Take the time to find out if your (potential) partner values embracing empathy, listening, direct communication, honesty, loyalty and growth. After all, a guy’s character will always be the determinant behind his choosing to be naughty or nice—thereby making you feel sad or happy.”

You know you are in a healthy relationship when being together makes you feel happier and improves your life. Unhealthy relationships make you more unhappy, insecure, unsafe, or just plain frazzled! But negative communication patterns can be overcome through patience, wisdom and compassion.

Relationship therapist Arhata Osho advises: “It’s good to acknowledge and remember that those who choose to not be friendly… are likely dealing with their own issues while of course, denying it. It’s rarely the person who is ignored’s fault… they may be dealing with more than you or I can really help them with. Be open to them coming around, or not… Be free to be your real self, and move toward those few who cherish the same way! A loving person just accepts everyone for what they choose to be.”

Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, Ph.D, author of “Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom,” writes that when you recognize the deeper wants of others, they feel seen and are less likely to be reactive: 

“Consider any significant relationship: How does it feel when they misinterpret what you want? Or worse, when they could care less about understanding what you want? Ouch.”

“During an interaction with someone who is difficult for you – or while reflecting about the relationship as a whole – try to see the deeper wants in the other person, behind the acts of thought, word, or deed that have bothered or hurt you… and if you like, try to figure out less harmful ways to fulfill (them),” continues Hanson.

We all have some bad communication habits that we learned in childhood. While unhealthy communication styles often stimulate the worst parts of ourselves to come out, healthy and positive relationships support our spiritual growth so that we can gain the strength to transcend bad habits and even addictions.

This is why Muslims say, “Marriage is half the faith.” It is not enough to simply be married. The marriage relationship helps a person develop themselves spiritually by providing causes for conflict.

Each conflict provides a couple with the opportunity to learn how to go beyond ego reactions such as fear of abandonment and learn to see another person’s point of view. Disagreements which are handled in a good way will lead to a deeper, more meaningful relationship. Therefore, the secret to a happy relationship is in the way you fight. Happy couples learn from their fights. Arguing in the best way means seeking truth, wisdom and inner beauty together – not defeating the other person. 

“As you live deeper in the Heart, the mirror gets clearer and clearer,” wrote Rumi.

The less ego we project upon a conflict, the more purely the Light of the spirit shines through us, and ultimately, the closer we are to God.

Friday, December 07, 2012

As court martial approaches, support for Bradley Manning grows

In 2010, 22-year-old Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning was charged with leaking classified information to Wikileaks, which was widely seen as a catalyst for the Arab Spring that began in December 2010.

Asia Times reported that the documents revealed “US war crimes, including the video of US soldiers in a helicopter gunship enjoying themselves murdering civilians walking along the street as if the soldiers were playing a video game.”

“According to the US Military Code, US soldiers are required to make war crimes known. However, the law on the books provided no protection to Bradley Manning,”  wrote Paul Craig Roberts.

Last week, Bradley Manning’s defense faced off with military prosecutors in Ft. Meade, Maryland to argue that all charges be dismissed because of “unlawful pretrial punishment.” This hearing was second in importance only to the court martial.

Manning testified about his treatment at a military prison in Quantico, Virginia. He can only see natural light as a reflected gleam from a window down the hall when he holds his head to the door of his cell and looks through the crack. His 6ft by 8ft  cell contains a toilet that is in full vision of the guards. When he needs toilet paper, he told the court, he has to stand to attention and shout: "Lance Corporal Detainee Manning requests toilet paper!" Held in solitary confinement and prohibited from exercising, Manning testified that he is “authorized to have 20 minutes sunshine, in chains, every 24 hours.” Expert witnesses stated that these harsh restrictions are worse than Guantanamo Bay or even death row.

Military judge Colonel Denise Lind announced that Manning's court martial, which had been set to begin in February, would now be delayed until March 16 at the earliest, due to the debate over his unlawful confinement.

Under the most severe of the 22 counts he faces – "aiding the enemy" – Manning could be detained in military custody for the rest of his life. In a proposed plea bargain, Manning would admit to leaking a battlefield video file, classified memos, Iraq war logs, Afghanistan war logs and other classified materials. He would also plead guilty to wrongfully storing classified information, in hopes of a lighter sentence.

Meanwhile, peace activists around the world are pushing for dismissal of all charges. Protests at Fort Meade, recruiting centers, and US embassies demanded fair treatment for Bradley, considered by many to be the most important whistleblower of our time.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire and Adolfo PĂ©rez Esquivel published a letter of support in The Nation on December 3, 2012, which stated:

“We Nobel Peace Prize laureates condemn the persecution Bradley Manning has suffered, including imprisonment in conditions declared “cruel, inhuman and degrading” by the United Nations, and call upon Americans to stand up in support of this whistleblower who defended their democratic rights...

If Bradley Manning released the documents, as the prosecution contends, we should express to him our gratitude for his efforts toward accountability in government, informed democracy and peace.”
Ray McGovern, a high-ranking retired C.I.A. analyst, called Manning “our friend” and “a hero.”

Bradley Manning Support Network is asking all people to submit photos of themselves holding a sign that reads “I am Bradley Manning,” to show the world that people from all walks of life believe the public deserves to know the truth. Their website, states:

“Whistle-blowers play an important role in a democracy, and by revealing evidence of unpunished war crimes, as well as secret corporate influence on U.S. foreign policy, Bradley Manning acted in the interest of American citizens.”

Commentator Glenn Greenwald wrote, “Manning has been subjected for many months without pause to inhumane, personality-erasing, soul-destroying, insanity-inducing conditions of isolation similar to those perfected at America’s Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado: all without so much as having been convicted of anything.” 

David House, a 23-year-old MIT researcher who befriended Manning after his detention (and then had his laptops, camera and cellphone seized by Homeland Security) is one of the few people to have visited Manning several times at Quantico. He describes worrying changes in Manning’s physical appearance and behavior just over the course of a few months.

President Obama's state department spokesman, retired air force colonel PJ Crowley, resigned after publicly condemning Manning's treatment.

According to chat logs released by Wired Magazine, Manning clearly believed that he was a whistle-blower acting with the noblest of motives.

Manning told hacker Adrian Lamo that the leaks were intended to create “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

Manning described to Lamo the incident which first made him seriously question the US government. He was instructed to work on the case of Iraqi “insurgents” who had been detained for distributing so-called “insurgent” literature which, when Manning had it translated, turned out to be nothing more than “a scholarly critique against PM Maliki.”

“I had an interpreter read it for me… and when i found out that it was a benign political critique titled “Where did the money go?” and following the corruption trail within the PM’s cabinet… i immediately took that information and *ran* to the officer to explain what was going on… he didn’t want to hear any of it… he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding *MORE* detainees… i had always questioned the things worked, and investigated to find the truth… but that was a point where i was a *part* of something… i was actively involved in something that i was completely against…” wrote Manning.

Lamo reported Manning to US authorities.

“The government's radical theory is that, although Manning had no intent to do so, the leaked information could have helped al-Qaida, a theory that essentially equates any disclosure of classified information – by any whistleblower, or a newspaper – with treason,” writes Greenwald.

79-year-old former military analyst Daniel Ellsberg, who is often praised for his 1971 leak of the Pentagon's secret history of the Vietnam War, said that Wikileaks' disclosure of government secrets on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and thousands of diplomatic cables was “exactly the right thing” to do. Ellsberg once faced criminal charges over his leak, but they were thrown out by a judge.

But military law experts told The Huffington Post that the odds are low that his charges will simply be dismissed.