Friday, October 21, 2016

Learning to Be Confirmation Unbiased

During the presidential election season, all over social media, people post "evidence" that comes from sources with one political leaning or specific intention. While none are truly unbiased, there are ways to sort through the muck. One great way to manage is to find information that challenges our views. To do that in a fair manner, one should give as much passion and time to seeking out unpleasant information that is opposed to our beliefs and stances as one gives to finding information that supports current beliefs.

If you already lean toward specific ideologies and beliefs, and then only seek circles of information that consistently confirm and never challenge that framework, there's a term for it, "confirmation bias", and chances are, your ideologies and beliefs are shaky, at best. At worst, those beliefs can kill people, when those with such bias are allowed to effect legislation and rules for the rest of us, or when average people decide to allow their biases to affect others' right to life and freedom.

Challenge your comfort zone and welcome others of and in the world to take you out of your personal status quo. Through allowing others to challenge our beliefs, our beliefs are either fortified, adjusted, or they are changed altogether.

It's how we learn and grow. Changing your mind or not being able to make up your mind is not weakness, it is strength. It fortifies and grows the mind to be flexible in thinking. And sometimes, issues are so complex, once we allow more information in, there can be no cut and dry solution or stance, because reductionism marginalizes and trivializes.

Anyone who truly understands an issue can argue for or against that issue with equal fervor and breadth, because they can explain all sides.

It gives us greater ability to be able to protect ourselves against tyranny and injustice when strategizing in a geopolitical sense, in business, or in our personal lives. And when need be, it also adds a sense of humility and compassion to our stances, so we are able to deeply understand the view of our supposed enemy.

So, challenge your mind's comfort and step outside the norm. Take a different path home and see what you find.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Gentle Friends

When I was a baby, my mother purchased a Lenox china 3-piece porcelain gift set that she saved and used as I grew a bit older and more capable of handling such wares.  The series was known as "Gentle Friends" and featured unique rhyming couplets on both the plate and bowl.  The plate reads, "Our world is full of sweet flowers blooming bright and gay!  We love the things that make life good and bring us happy days!"  The bowl, which I used more often, read, "I should never feel alone, wherever I may be. So many gentle friends are near whom one can scarcely see."

That last rhyme, the one on the bowl, resonated with me throughout my life.  I am definitely one who stops to smell the flowers.  In fact, when I was very young, about six years old, I'd often be late for school, despite leaving home in plenty of time, so that I could watch a cloud float by, say hello to a dog, chase a butterfly, or literally stop to bury my face in the neighbor's flowers.  I always found peace in nature and I never felt alone, even when I seemingly was. My childhood, while I was able to lose myself in Nature, was often met with great difficulty, obstacles, and sometimes immense sadness and fear, markedly different from the way an ordinary child's life usually is.

Well, I'm not sure what made me think of it- perhaps it was Facebook adding a new "bio" feature to tell the public something about oneself that made me think of that little rhyme, that it should be my motto. I wondered who wrote it. Did Lenox have poets on staff, ready to whip out timeless bits of lifetime wisdom back in 1976? So, I did a search and found a poem by American poet, Abbie Farwell Brown called, Friends, and when I read it, it made me cry happy tears.  It really does embody a huge part of my life's philosophy in a beautifully simple way. While even a small child can understand the words, sometimes the simplest words, no matter one's age or sophisticated wisdom, hold the truest, most profound meaning:

How good to lie a little while
And look up through the tree!
The Sky is like a kind big smile
Bent sweetly over me.

The Sunshine flickers through the lace
Of leaves above my head,
And kisses me upon the face
Like Mother, before bed.

The Wind comes stealing o'er the grass
To whisper pretty things;
And though I cannot see him pass,
I feel his careful wings.

So many gentle Friends are near
Whom one can scarcely see,
A child should never feel a fear,
Wherever he may be.


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Helping you with Retrograde Mercury- January 2016

As of 8 AM ET, that zippy, full of energy planet we all know and love, for seemingly wreaking havoc, went retrograde as if to say, "Fuck your New Year!" But let's take a look at what's happening in the world and maybe, I can help you make the best of spitfire Mercury.

Firstly, before even looking at the transits, fair warning for retrograde Mercury dictates the following:

  1. Do Not Buy. Well, don't buy anything that has electronic components and refrain from making large purchases.
  2. Do Not Sign. Negotiate, but do not sign contracts, as they will be imperfect and flawed.
  3. Do Not Trade. The Market is usually awful at this time.  People get ripped off, scammed, conned. Caveat emptor.
  4. Mail is Delayed. If you have an important deadline, plan well in advance.  Be patient if you are the recipient.
  5. Travel is Delayed. Traffic is a mess, flights are delayed.  Plan ahead.  Pack your bags the night before.

If just looking at Mercury (the little glyph that looks like a stick figure wearing a half-moon hat), it is making some short-lived angles to Venus and Mars, with slower Jupiter in tow.  Lasting until the 10th, is a square to Mars.  It is imperative that thinking come before action.  With Mercury falling back to Capricorn and Mars sitting in Scorpio, in the next few days, we might find ourselves involved in some nasty altercations, if we are unable to curb the actions our brains want us to take.  This aspect will be highlighted in society by battles for control of power- this could mean anything from parent/child relationships, to opposing countries... little pissing matches that can get very ugly.

Mercury's sextile to Venus in Sagittarius and its trine to Jupiter in Virgo mean that people will have sharp tongues, especially in the name of perceived "truth".  Unlike Venus in Libra which tends toward diplomacy, Venus in Sag cuts through the quick with honesty.  Sagittarius is ruled by Jupiter, Mercury's opposite.  Virgo is also Mercury-ruled.  So, if you are one of the people who is going to use this energy to push thoughts or ideas in the name of indignant "truth" (which is really another term for Ego), be cautious not to gloss over details, as the universe, and society-at-large, also feels this push as equally as you and it will not take kindly to the manipulation of honesty at this time; and on the flip side, it will reward those who are truly working toward reasonable truth... so Big Mouth, Beware!

I'll update tomorrow and will add information for the next coming days, because soon, the Sun, Mercury(R), Pluto, and the Moon will all be in Capricorn, and an added semi-square with Venus and Saturn in Sagittarius will enable further discussions as people push for unwavering truth.

Overall, I'll say that the Sun in Capricorn trine to Jupiter in Virgo gives people the greatest ability to really weed out the bullshit.  If you have been treated poorly and unjustly, now is the time to plan and meditate on how to speak out, and might be a great time to act if other aspects of your chart are favorable.  If you must act, stop and think, first.  If you're a Gemini, get one of those adult coloring books that are all the rage and a whole bunch of pencils, markers, and crayons to sit with until this all blows over- try to remain argument free, because it won't fare well for you in the end.  For Virgo, I generally say the same thing, but with Jupiter in Virgo and with its trine to Pluto, go for it, Virgo, and expect unexpected positive gain.

Until tomorrow!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

From Our Cold, Dead Hands (A.K.A. Thank You, Bartender, Pour Me Another)

I listened to a sound bit of Nevada Assemblywoman, Michele Fiore's interview with BBC Radio Live at 5 Breakfast broadcaster, Nicky Campbell. Not being familiar with either party or the event leading to the interview, I listened in as unbiased a fashion as possible. Campbell was lambasting Fiore's opinion about one's right to own guns. Sarcastically, Campbell struck, clearly attempting a provocation of emotional response from listeners to lean toward his perspective— that Fiore was in someway deranged for sending out a Christmas card depicting her adult family members holding various guns. Campbell mentioned a particular statistic that stated, "Given the fact that more Americans have been killed in gun crime incidents since Bobby Kennedy's death in '68...than have been killed in all conflicts dating back to the War of Independence. Now some people might see this card and think, 'That's absolutely repulsive.'" From there, there was a discussion about more "facts", where Fiore stated that terrorism is a bigger threat to America than guns. Campbell "fired" back with another factoid, as he stated that, "There's a greater threat from firearms than terrorism, excluding 9/11...over eleven thousand have been killed by firearms, compared with 31 deaths linked to terrorism." No sensible person, except maybe Fiore or others who dare to ignore statistics, would disagree with Campbell's assertion.
Based upon Campbell's statement, just how many people have been killed by guns since Bobby Kennedy's death in 1968? In searching for those precise terms, I discovered this original source from the December 21, 2012 PBS News Hour broadcast with guest, Mark Shields. In the conversation, Shields stated the following, "You know, Judy [Woodruff], the reality is — and it’s a terrible reality — since Robert Kennedy died in the Ambassador Hotel on June 4, 1968, more Americans have died from gunfire than died in all the — all the wars, all the wars of this country’s history, from the Revolutionary through the Civil War, World War I, World War II, in those 43 years." On January 18 of the following year, Politifact ran a follow-up piece that detailed just precisely what the total number of deaths were from all conflicts of war up until that point.  Using data from 2010, it appeared that 1,171,177 American deaths occurred from the Revolutionary War through to Iraq.  The number of firearm-related deaths from the time of Robert Kennedy's death is 1,384,171.
The National Institute of Health's, National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism 1997 report on the Epidemiology of Alcohol Problems in the United States makes one take a closer look at, perhaps, a more or equally troubling issue.  I find difficulty in accepting a War on Gun Ownership, as we continue to promote, without discussion and without regard to true consideration for human well-being, alcohol. We blatantly disregard the fact that alcohol related deaths are close to three times the rate of gun related deaths. We promote and glorify a drug that has destroyed more lives than, maybe, we will ever be able to count; still, we struggle to merely research alternative therapies (because, let's call a spade a spade, all you drinkers self-medicate, no different than any other person's choice to self-medicate, albeit, considering any of the litany of ways one may do so).

I am a person whose family (on either side) has never owned, nor will ever own guns, and I've never even shot a real gun, though I once proudly hit a target bullseye from 50 feet away when trying my neighbor's BB gun. As someone who has not wanted to own a gun, I am finding it difficult to criticize those in our society who claim that "the government wants to take away our guns." At first, I thought they were all a little cuckoo, but one by one, each major media outlet from every corner of the globe began a harsh campaign against Americans and our vast gun ownership to the point of some small, practically insignificant (for the intent and purpose of finding the smallest fish in the biggest sea) assemblywoman from Nevada getting criticized and heckled on an International radio show. Indeed we live in a small world, a tiny Earth with a massive agenda. 
Here are some facts according to the NIAAA, taken from the above epidemiological paper:

  • About 1 in 3 traffic fatalities is alcohol related.

  • When adding together other kinds of deaths like suicide or homicide, car accidents, or diseases, alcohol is the 3rd leading killer of people in the United States behind cancer and heart disease.

  • Nearly one-half of drowning, gunshot, and homicide victims were found to be positive for alcohol use.

  • Regular drinkers have 2 times the risk of death from stroke than non-drinkers.

  • 40% of people on probation for criminal offenses were under the influence of alcohol at the time they committed the crime. 

    According to the Secretary of Health and Human Services Tenth Special Report to Congress on Alcohol and Health, the following are also true:
    • Approximately 14 million Americans—7.4 percent of the population—meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol abuse or alcoholism.

    • The overall economic cost of alcohol abuse in the U.S. in 1998 was estimated at $184.6 billion. Using the average rate of inflation of 3.37%, that means that the total economic loss due to alcohol abuse in 2015 was $238.5 billion, though the CDC estimates are much higher. 70% of those losses were due to decreased productivity caused by premature death or illness.
    The fact is, since Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, the estimated total number of alcohol-related deaths per year is 88,000.  In other words, in the past 47 years, there have been an estimated 4,136,000 deaths in the United States directly attributed to alcohol.

    If we compare the number of alcohol-related deaths to the number of gun-related deaths, or,

    4,136,000 alcohol related deaths / 1,384,171 gun-related deaths, one is 2.98 times more likely to die from alcohol than one is from a firearm.

    To be fair and so the reader understands where my personal compass points, it's important to note my thoughts on both alcohol and guns:

    I love a delicious alcoholic beverage now and then, especially my favorite and very hard-to-find beer, Samichlaus, or a margarita made with silver tequila and Chambord.  I have many positive and negative, personal anecdotes I could share about alcohol, beginning with being busted by a Philly cop on Algon Avenue when I was 11 years old (I was brazenly walking with a 12oz bottle of Budweiser, right down the sidewalk, in broad daylight) and ending with waking up in the middle of a field when I was 13, as Tommy and I vomited like the Corsican Twins for several hours after cutting school and downing a bottle of Seagrams 7 whisky. 

    I do not believe in glorifying alcohol and I also believe that people drink because it is the only cheap, legal way for people to alter their consciousness (not withstanding the millions of Americans who are hopped up on prescription pain killers), since cannabis and other, much safer means of consciousness alteration have been wrongly demonized and halted in their research due to the War on Drugs, harsh drug scheduling, and mass government and media propaganda. 

    While not being a fan of guns, the skill of target shooting has always seemed like it might be fun. I also like certain gun designs and can appreciate the level of destruction guns wield, whether or not the user's intent is considered right action by the masses. I have also had positive and negative experiences with guns, though mostly negative.  
    In my mind, gun control is a great idea when it comes to criminal background checks, psychiatric evaluation, and requirements for gun safety education.  I think people should be able to own all the guns they want, assuming other criteria are met, and I oppose restrictions on magazine capacity or type of gun.  Lastly, I don't really feel safer knowing people have guns, but I also accept that history has shown it's better to have an armed citizenry when it comes to protection from tyrannical government oppression.

    I think our president, who bottles his own beer in the White House, has done a great job during his terms in office through measures such as aiding economic recovery, health care reform, and by reducing the number of non-violent offenders held in prison, but he, along with other government leaders, fueled by a vast media campaign, is drawn toward gun control.  I can't help but ask why, in light of the undeniable facts, such a campaign exists. It really is enough to make a person paranoid that there is a clear anti-gun agenda centered on logical inconsistencies, to not only "take away our guns", but to create a world campaign to shame Americans in the world at-large, through sensationalized journalistic drivel as portrayed by the likes of Nicky Campbell and others.  

    If we are worried that crazy people have guns and will shoot us, well, why can't we agree to compromise and say that certain standards must be met that make us all feel safer?  Why can't we have national incentive programs for states that enact laws promoting gun safety, like mental health background checks or mandating gun safety education?

    Through all of my opinion or personal standpoint, no one, at least no one who is honest and agenda-free, can deny that society's focus on which bad guy to destroy in the vast battle of Good vs. Evil should definitely move the scope of its focus away from guns and onto the likes of heart disease, cancer, and alcohol, the three deadliest, most destructive factors facing Americans today.

    Friday, August 8, 2014

    Your Slow-Cook BBQ Pulled Pork Recipes Suck- Well, most of them anyway

    I grew up in a family that rarely served pork, with the exception of weekend bacon and the occasional breakfast sausage link from the diner-like restaurant my grandparents would take us, the "Gingham House" on Castor Avenue, now the location of a Brazilian steakhouse and luncheonette.  Occasionally, our mother would make baby back ribs with a homemade, ketchup-based barbecue sauce, but that was the full extent of my pork experience.

    In the past couple years, I've delved into the realm of the "other white meat". And lately, BBQ pulled pork has crossed both my palate as well as my kitchen.  I've tried making it now about half-a-dozen times, as well as slow-roasted other pork cuts, like tenderloin, for years. Finally, I found a recipe that works. I promise, that if you listen to me, your pulled pork will be stellar.

    Every time I made it, I used different pork roasts, but the one that works best is a bone-in pork shoulder. Also, forget the need for alcohol like hard ciders, ales, or stouts.  If we're really roasting, the meat doesn't need to sit in any additional liquid, other than its natural juices and steam that that comes from a new tip I find is key to slow cooking.

    For last night's dinner, I used two 3-4lb bone-in pork shoulders. If you were making a beef roast, you would brown the meat, but in this case, it's not necessary at all.

         -First, prepare a dry mixture of 1/2 to 1 C of light brown sugar and combine
          with 1 T each of paprika and chili powder, 1 tsp each of garlic and onion powders,
          1/2 tsp of mustard powder, and 1/2 tsp of black pepper.
          Mix with spoon until well blended.

         -Trim away excess fat and cut off skin from pork shoulder, if still intact.

         -We have an old slow cooker, so now is when I like to turn it on and preheat to
           about 300 degrees.

         -Grab that meat and start rubbing, using your extremely clean hands to rub the
          dry mixture into the meat, lightly covering all sides and little nooks.

         -Using Pyrex ramequins, or some other oven-safe containers that are small
           enough to fit inside your cooker, drop 4-5 drops of Liquid Smoke natural
           mesquite into each of the 2 ramequins and add enough water to nearly
           come to the top of the containers. This will add incredible flavor as the
           liquid steams.

         -Close your lid and walk away for 5-8 hours- you don't have to do a thing.
          If you're dying from anticipation as your house fills with amazing aromas,
          you can take a peek and even taste a little piece of the edge to see how it's
          coming along.

         -In a 1 qt saucepan, add 1/2 C of ketchup to just under 1/2 C of yellow mustard
          (I like to use Woeber's Sweet 'n Spicy), 1/4 C brown sugar, 2 T naturally
          fermented soy sauce (if you can't do fermented food items, you can omit
          the soy and just use water), and 1/2 tsp of black strap molasses. Stir gently
          over low heat until sugar and mustard are fully blended, with no lumps.
          Remove from heat.

         (I chose not to make a lot of BBQ sauce because the meat is already quite
          sweet and packs a lot of flavor, it will also be exceptionally tender. This
          is simply my preference, so if you're really into loading your meat with sauce,
          by all means, don't let me stop you. Just give it a try first before deciding.)

         -Since my slow-cooker pan has a ceramic coating, I like to take the meat
          out and place in a large, Pyrex casserole dish (depending on how much meat
          you are preparing, you can use something as small as a loaf pan for one,
          small shoulder).

         -Using two forks, begin pulling them in opposite directions to shred the pork,
          taking care to remove any large, unsavory pieces of fat or tissue. Remove bone
          and discard. Your pork will come apart easily and with little effort.

         -Drizzle 1/3 to 1/2 the BBQ sauce over the pork, stirring and fluffing the pork with
          a fork. Some people suggest putting the pork in the oven at this point to
          create a crispy finish, but there is no need to potentially dry out your meat.
          Serve hot.

         - Use remaining BBQ sauce for individual plates.

    VoilĂ ! The best pulled pork you've ever had in your life. If you try this recipe, let me know how it worked for you and whether you stuck to this recipe or deviated and added your own, culinary genius.

    As an endnote, what prompted me to post my recipe was a friend who posted this recipe on her Facebook page that called for using dry soup mix and cola. It was out of the sheer need to save all of you, like an evangelical who is willing to egotistically force you toward saving your souls, I did it all for you.

    Wednesday, August 28, 2013

    The Only One for Me Is You

    The more I read about Syria and think of the past couple decades of middle eastern world affairs, the more it becomes clear that the objective is disruption of the entire Islamic world- religion? Oil? I don't know the "whys", though many people have their own ideas.

    I do know that we all suffer in the consistent demoralization of humanity, sitting by, as those who blanket us in security are the monsters in the night who terrorize the hopes for peace. When I say "we", I mean all people of this planet.  Remiss of nationalism or any other "-isms", my choice is not to take sides, nor do I place blame with entities that I or mass culture deem responsible.  I understand that at the core of everything, each person is taught that Survival of the Fittest reigns over the land. I know that we are taught, from the moment the umbilical cord is cut and the oxygen from mother to child is ended, that we must breathe on our own, or perish.

    It literally gives me pain to think of others' suffering- it doesn't matter how or in what fashion the pain occurs, just that it exists.  It's a real pain that I feel in my heart when I think of everything from the macro, planetary aspect, to the micro, of a dying child. It's a lot to shoulder that I, individually, am responsible for everything that exists whether positive or negative. What a heavy burden.

    Fortunately, the burden is shared. Collectively, we are the same one at heart.  So, sing, dance, chant, pray, meditate, fund-raise, build, create, be that one consciousness that decides Peace. There is enough for all of us if we just change the way we think.

    The long-standing beliefs of aloneness and separateness are at the core of humanity's progress and its demise. One mustn't toss out progress in place of collective oneness.  A recent study published in Nature Communications, coupled with common sense, determines that teamwork and cooperation are what propel society into survival.

    This very moment of the Now is a chance to transform the energy of perpetual fear and suffering into one of perpetual motion of compassion and peace.

    You are enough.

    This is enough.


    Thursday, August 8, 2013


    This morning, I was having a shitty feeling for a few moments, which upset me, because I was emotionally responding to an Internet thread... talk about a double-edged sword. I mean, no one likes allowing one's self to become upset at all in some negative ego response, let alone when it is due to Internet strangers. So, I stood up to look outside my large, floor-to-near-ceiling, front window.

    On the top of where the deep, green, creeping juniper arches, there was a bright, handsome, male cardinal eating berries. In swooped a male blue jay whose immense size put the cardinal on high alert. He, too, began munching berries, but at the flat base of the plants, closer to the house. Then, just as the scene triggered an early childhood wish to be able to see both of these birds together, something amazing happened: a butterfly dashed across the yard, the female cardinal appeared on a pine tree branch, a bumblebee flew to the vinca and hopped from flower to pink, trumpet flower. Goldfinches arrived on their thistle seed-filled sock feeders and a common northern mocking bird landed in the driveway, which led my eyes down to see a pair of mourning doves scouring the ground for treats.  At that moment, the sun burst through the fluffy, white clouds that mostly blanketed the sky, revealing bright blue that reflected on the lake, where a silhouetted squirrel hopped over the landscape's horizon.

    It was a scene right out of Snow White.

    The collective whole was symbolically telling me to not be so serious about something so trivial when, if I just open my eyes and release my silly, hurt self, there is so much beauty to be seen which helps the ego to rest peacefully and just let it flow into a new moment, being ever-present.

    Just in case I forget what matters, the universe is happy to remind me and, fortunately, I am grateful to receive her song. I guess it does the same for others in whichever way they need to be shown. For me, that comes in the form of reminding me that there is so much more that is seemingly, infinitely smaller and equally, infinitely larger than a moment that will, ultimately, be nothingness.

    Little bit harder, just a little bit more,
    A little bit further than you've gone before.