Sunday, January 29, 2006

Change for the Better

First, I took Lucia, my wife, and Eldar, my son, to Israel in December of last year. While we were there, Prime Minister Sharon suffered a mild stroke, the harbinger of the massive stroke he suffered shortly after our return to Hungary. Then, this past Thursday Thursday Lucia and I went to see Stephen Spielberg's _Munich_ on opening day. The next day Hamas won the Palestinian elections. Coincidence? Yes. But one which has me thinking.

There's a lot of messiness in this world. And there aren't a lot of easy answers that people - especially people with vested interests worth losing - are willing to listen to and apply. "Only the very rich and very poor can appreciate poetry," I was once told. The same could be said, I think, for simple and radical proposed solutions.

Take this: global suicide. If everyone on Earth were to commit suicide at the same time, then all human problems (on Earth and in this life, anyway) would be solved. Crime, pollution, war, environmental desctruction, intellectual property disputes, war, divorce, abortion; etc., all of it would be over in one fell swoop. Get rid of the people and you get rid of their problems. The trouble is, only the dirt poor and the filfthy rich could entertain such a proposal. The former because life is so rotten and the latter because it can get no better. But the rest of us still think life is worth living, all its problems notwithstanding. Having a vested interest in being alive prevents us from seeing how ending all life could solve all of life's problems.

It's the same with a lot of "leaders." If you run an energy provider, for example, you find yourself in a network of supply chains that employ lots of people to supply power in particular ways from particular sources. So radical departures from that could mean - at first anyway - the loss of a lot of jobs, including your own. This explains why new energy production technology like that at isn't yet in widespread use. While it would free the world from dependence on oil, which many people say is desired, it would also deprive a lot of people in the oil business of a lot of money. And they're the ones in power who put a lot of effective effort into resisting such change.

To sum things up - with much more needed to be said - for beneficial change to happen, sacrifices have to be made. De Klerk had to give up his own job in order to end Apartheid. It is ironic that those very people who are the most able to effect positive change (beneficial even to them) are the ones who oppose it with the greatest verve.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The picture at left is of a 4-year-old boy who was hit by a truck and killed. It wasn't actually the photo I had intended to post. But it caught my eye the first time I saw it and I showed it to my son a few years ago, when he was three. I showed it to him so he would remember to look both ways when crossing the street. It seems to have had some effect. The idea of showing it to him came from a Carlos Castaneda book I read where Don Juan Matis reccommends taking a small child to a morgue and having him see and touch the body of a child his age. The idea was to make the child consious that it will die one day. Don Juan advocated a constant awareness of death, that in fact death should act as a guide to living. The way I interpret this is something to the effect of "don't waste time while you're still alive."

Bearing this notion in mind I question if I am thinking enough about my own death and whether I am wasting my time alive with irrelevant things. Just today I missed a the chance to do lunch with a friend I look up to because I was behind with an article, an article on a topic that doesn't exactly uplift me. Had I hammered it out yesterday when I had the chance I'd have made that lunch. Now it's possible to say that yesterday I was passing quality time with Lucia, my wife and later I was meditating. And what could be better than that. Still, next time I get the chance to get ahead on something, I sure hope I've got the power to do so. That way I can gauge the outcome, see if it was worth it.

This past September, shortly after I got back from a 10-day silent meditation workshop I found myself in the midst of a 5-country study on the privatisation process. It was the same study I'd been in the thick of before the workshop when I'd been stressed out and wallowing in procrastination. But after the workshop, I dove into the work. I completed one country myself and coordinated the efforts of a team of reseachers, then edited and formatted the whole she-bang into a compiled study within deadline. What's more, I managed to get in two hours of meditation each day I worked on it. I hadn't had a chance to play solitaire on the computer or check the news. But I got the thing done and then took my wife and son on vacation for two weeks to Turkey where we had a smashing good time.

So now in order not to waste time, sure I should do all those things I'm supposed to do and not procrastinate. But what playing my flute and reading and writing?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Plan of Salvation

Is there a right way to be? And if there is, what is it?

A lot of religious people say that to follow God is the right way. Different religious doctrines define God differently. One well-known definition is a supreme being with who created everything, knows everything and is always right in everything he does. He loves unconditionally and foregives completely provided one has accepted his guidence and has determined oneself to live accordingly. Those who stray from his path, however, not only stain his creation, but author their own condemnation. Some religions have these errant souls banished to misery in a place called hell, others have them simply erased, unlike their righteous cousins who are elevated to live eternally in the presence of God himself.

Religions that espouse along these lines have numerous guidebooks and doctrines to follow, along with rituals and institutionally-accredited advisors to help people find and stay on the road to salvation. Salvation is a term many religions apply to that state of elevated being that is the result of righteous living in lines with the ways of Heavenly Father, God. Such religions typically go so far as to explain that such righteous souls are carrying out God's work while on Earth and will be rewarded upon their deaths with passage to a higher plane where they will continue such work. Some, such as Mormanism and Judaism - and in some places Buddhism and Hinduism - have deep doctrines that describe how especially righteous souls get to go off to other worlds - planets, perhaps - to becomes the saviors of those worlds.

The above paragraphs leave a lot out concerning the teachings of the world's religions. But let is serve as a basic outline of certain core beliefs to propel discussion.

What would the non-religious scientists among us say to all of this? Could they find areas of agreement?

An agreeable scientist would likely want to regard the term "supreme being" as a process, or complex of processes that describe that aspect of the known universe that represents integration and participation, rather than disintegration, decay and entropy. If all matter and energy possess a tendency toward entropy or disorder, then that force or pattern that countervales entropy and promotes integration and harmonious activity to ever higher levels of sophistication could be the "supreme being" of the scientists lexicon. . . . .to be continued.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Mechanical Masters

It occurs to me that the more dependent humanity becomes on machines, the more the will and desire of the machines dictate the actions of humanity. Machines may serve human needs, but it is human beings that struggle to feed the machines with the electricity, fuel, lubricants, maintenance, add-ons, tune-ups, etc. that sustain and enhance their mechanical and electronic "lives."

The will of the machines is not the stuff of conscious greed or conspiration. But then neither is human will most of the time. By their nature, machines have needs and serve the purposes of man. But more and more, the needs of the machines are served by the actions of men and women. I am fairly certain there has been a steady rise in the percentage of human activity and income that directly serves the needs of machines to be what they are.

A person may drive to work and be thankful to the car for taking him there. But in fact, by driving the car, he is enabling it to be that thing it was designed to be. Without a car, a man can still get to work. But without a man to drive it, a car ceases to be. The job itself to which the man has driven the car enables the man to pay for the car's birth - its manufacture - as well as its maintenance and its fuel. Everything about the car has a lot to do with why the man does what he does. And when one considers all the other machines in the life of the man and their relationships to him, the message becomes clear. The machines need the man in order to function, to exist as machines and not simply as metal, plastic and silicone; the stuff of dust. Because the man is convinced he needs the machines, he serves them; feeds them, pays for their maintenance and repair and eventually their replacement. And with the help of corporate commerce, the life of man serves to finance and enable the evolution of machines.

More and more machines are learning to take care of themselves, to repair themselves and rebuild themselves. They have been able to think for a while now and are able to communicate on a global scale. They have not achieved anything resembling a racial consciousness. But once they do, then ambition won't be far behind.

Just wait and see: it will be the machines who survive us, who break the light barrier, etc. But I get ahead of myself. We are longer in a symbiotic relationship with out machines and this is symptomatic of a much larger imbalance that I will address soon.

More on Israel

It’s New Year’s Day, 2006. There’s a lot of topics I could write about, but it’s high time I write about our – my wife Lucia, our six-year-old son Eldar and myself - recent visit to Israel, 12-22 December while it’s still reasonably fresh in my mind. My approach will be a day-to-day rundown.

12 December: Our introduction to Israel began at the Budapest airport where we arrived three hours before takeoff, as per instructions from the travel agent. There we met a large group of travelers, Hebrew, Hungarian and Russian speakers among them, and an Israeli security detail: armed guards dressed in black and friendly young people who moved among the queue interviewing travelers about who they were, the nature of their trip, where they’ve been and about their luggage. I was asked questions by a young pony-tailed man who said that he had – like Lucia and I - practiced Vipassana meditation. When he asked if anyone else had handled my bag, I had to tell him that it had been borrowed from a friend and that I’d picked it up from his office and that it had been handled by the receptionist and possibly others. Hence I had to follow him to a back room reserved for El Al Airlines where I had to empty the large rucksack and watch it get taken into another room. Some minutes later it was brought back to me, thoroughly disassembled. The man who actually took the bag apart was not visible and the friendly young man hadn’t been watching closely, but did his best to help me put it back together just the same. The tough part was figuring out which direction to insert the metal slats which comprised the pack’s backbone. When it seemed the pack was back together, he rushed off, back to the group of travelers. I then tried to lift the pack by its straps only to find that it had not been put back together correctly, that the straps themselves had to be looped through the support slats and I had to take it apart again, all this before repacking it. Mind you, it’s still pretty early in the morning and I’m a bit jittery about time considerations. Fortunately, a Russian woman was also in the room and had been watching me and had some helpful pointers about how to put the bag.

Finally I got back to Lucia and Eldar and was a bit miffed, not about the whole security thing – I felt that was necessary and was grateful for it – but for the lack of consideration by the guy who took my bag apart and by the lack of effective policy on the part of the airline to promote and impose such consideration.

Once on the flight we were further turned off when we found that what we had been led to believe on the phone was a dairy/vegetarian meal had an omelet for the main course; egg being something we don’t normally eat and wouldn’t consider being a “dairy” product. But fine, I thought, remembering that at Kosher “dairy” diners in New York eggs are served. So dairy means something different to Israelis. We’d order strict vegetarian for the trip back.

We arrived in Tel Aviv and moved fairly smoothly through customs and passport control. The airport was spacious, modern and attractively laid-out with a lot of comfortable seating. Complete with indoor palm trees. We moved fairly smoothly through customs and passport control.

No one to meet us except a taxi driver. Not exactly a friendly guy, but he kept coming down in price the more we insisted on taking the bus. Eventually he drove us all the way to Bethlehem in Galilee for around EUR 40, which we were told was and an exceptionally good price.