Archive for June, 2009

The Thinker

The illusion of fidelity

(I am in Salt Lake City attending the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I have attended a lot of seminars and worship services and heard a lot of sermons. Although not an ordained minister, in the spirit of this extraordinary week of learning, I offer my own sermon for your consideration.)

Death and infidelity are in the news. Michael Jackson’s death (whose cause is at this time unknown) has had the effect of directing more traffic to my site, principally to this 2005 post where I said I believed he was a pedophile. A jury subsequently disagreed with me but no one would dispute that Jackson was one odd bird. I am not too surprised he died early. Bizarre people like Jackson often do. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards may be exceptions to the rule. Even I cannot deny Jackson’s talent. He was more of a rubber dancer than Fred Astaire and he oozed talent and creativity.

Also entering immortality is the actress Farrah Fawcett, who burned an indelible impression in the minds of forty or fifty somethings like me. Her swimsuit poster with her toothy grin and cascading blonde tresses was ubiquitous in teenage bedrooms and college dorm rooms in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Fawcett though was something of a surprise, eventually shedding her bimbo image and proving herself an excellent actress in made for TV movies like The Burning Bed (1984). General box office success unfortunately proved more elusive.

Both Jackson and Fawcett are my peers, so their untimely deaths make me wonder if I will draw the short straw from life too. There is no way to know. I have done much to lower the odds of dying in middle age and there is much more I could do. I get enough Buddhism from my wife to know that death is in our nature. At best it can be postponed. We all ultimately return to the stardust from which we came. It is our destiny. We are impermanent. In fact there is nothing permanent except change.

Perhaps the stars are aligning strangely because in the news we have both untimely celebrity deaths and newly revealed cases of infidelity among prominent politicians. Is it just circumstance or could there be a link between these prominent deaths and all the recent episodes of infidelity in the news? I think there is a relationship.

I believe that the animus of infidelity, at least in middle age, are not so much character flaws but aging. As our date with death becomes more real with every passing year, inevitably you have to examine your life and the choices you made and wonder if the fit is still good. I am certainly not the same person at age 52 that I was at age 28 when I married, nor is my wife. Unlike South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and his wife, my wife and I exchanged no traditional pledge of sexual and emotional exclusivity on our wedding day. I was perhaps a bit prescient even then that if I made such a pledge I would eventually prove myself a liar. Perhaps Mark Sanford and his wife would have been smart to do the same thing. It is hard to say for sure but in my case I suspect by not excluding sexual relationships that fooling around lost much of its allure. Of course it is also far easier to avoid infidelity when mindful of the consequences of doing so in this modern age, which could easily be disease and which could potentially be deadly. In my case fear of death helps triumph over the seven year itch.

My wife and I are clearly the exception. For most married people, the idea of keeping the fidelity door even slightly ajar is a ghastly idea. It is not so much an issue among Unitarian Universalists like me. My suspicion is that vows of sexual fidelity are more likely written out of marriages performed in Unitarian Universalist churches than expressly stated. I did promise to love my wife with all the energy I could muster. Based on my experience this may be much harder than traditional vows of sexual and emotional exclusivity. Paying close attention to her feelings and listening to her with an open heart day in and day out for twenty plus years have been at once both a joy and a burden. No fleeting sexual liaison could or should mean as much as this enormous effort of sustained time, attention, caring and concern, which continues nearly twenty four years later.

Most infidelity though is not really about the sex, but about the heart. Affairs that are strictly sexual but lack emotional depth are generally forgivable. Those where cares and concerns move from the spouse to another generally result in divorce. It is clear that Mark Sanford’s affair fell into the latter category, given by his own admission that he spent five days in Argentina crying. Why did he do it? Why did Senator John Ensign, Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer or Former Senator John Edwards? I have seen pictures of their wives and in each case I think it cannot be because their spouses are ugly hags. Most are exceptionally attractive and personable women. I suspect the infidelity is due to the anxiety of watching sand drop through the hourglass of their lives and wondering, Is this it? I suspect that in most cases they found their relationships with their wives enriching, but not enriching or exciting enough to wholly fill their emotional and sexual needs or to close the gap of anxiety created by their aging.

The honorable thing of course is not to have an affair, but first divorce your spouse and then put yourself on the market. This is nice in theory, but hard to do in practice, particularly if you have children and especially if you are a politician. Politicians rise by selling an image of themselves, and you believe that voters must buy into the image of a superman in order to trust you with their vote. You must be smart, personable, persuasive, a terrific husband, a wonderful father as well as a man of faith, character and deep convictions. This is fine but of course it is almost always an illusion. Almost no one possesses all these gifts. Even if they do for a time, sustaining it for a lifetime is often very hard to do. We have our nature and our mortality working against us.

I hate to break this to all the heartbroken wives (and husbands) out there, but at some point fidelity in a marriage is almost always self delusion. You are most likely to find fidelity in someone who is simpleminded or whose emotional needs are easily satisfied. If you find someone like this, it helps if you are the same way yourself. However, if you marry someone who is ambitious like any politician of stature and they never fall off the wagon, consider yourself exceptionally fortunate.

Men buy into fidelity because it is the price they have to pay to live with a woman. A wife gives a man not only steady sex (a very hard thing for a man to get) but also a social stature and connections that cannot be acquired as a bachelor. Many pledge fidelity with the highest intentions only to discover that they did not know what they were pledging. How could they really, since they had not experienced the reality of a long term marital relationship? In a way, marriage is like giving a new driver the keys to a new and shiny Camaro that he lusted after but requiring them to never drive another car.

Fidelity will always be tentative. It will always be a daily decision by each spouse to continue to be faithful. In reality philanderers like Mark Sanford emotionally left their marriage long before trading furtive emails with distant romantic prospects. Fidelity can perhaps be realized through the application of sufficient doses of societal guilt, but this is a technical fidelity, not fidelity of the heart. Fidelity of the heart, when it is achieved, is realized only through the sustained commitment by both partners to invest enormous amounts of emotional energy (time) in the relationship. It requires daily mindfulness, daily intimate communications and it often gets harder the longer the marriage lasts. Even then there is no guarantee that with the application of regular high dosages of emotional energy that it will succeed. Every day in a marriage offers the potential for infidelity.

Why is this? It is because time changes all things, including people. We buy into marriage and the notion of fidelity because we want to believe that at least one aspect of our life can be unbreakable and unchangeable and endure even beyond death. This is the promise and illusion of love. While love itself is real, it can be realized only through the flawed talents of ordinary people. The nature of the universe of course is just the opposite. Nothing is permanent. Nothing endures forever. The participants in a marriage are going to find that who they are will change over time. Hopefully both will change in ways that will keep the relationship flourishing and engaging. But there are no guarantees and as time progresses the odds are stacked against the spouses.

Perhaps it is better to be like the Buddhists and live in the moment, appreciating the richness of each day with your spouse. When infidelity comes knocking on your door, it is going to pierce your soul like a knife through the heart. What is really dying though is the illusion that you can remake the ways of nature. The pain of infidelity though does not have to last forever. People can and do move beyond its pain all the time. Something will come along to replace the feeling that will be hopeful and more healing. This too is a part of life. Hope, loss, suffering and the rebirth of the spirit come with the territory of being a human.

All souls are adrift on an endless sea. Seas may be calm or stormy but the sea cannot be calm forever. It must churn itself up into a frothy white at some point. So too must souls.

The Thinker

Unitarian Universalists invade Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City is one of the great cities to arrive at by air. You descend over the tops of the Rocky Mountains. You feel like your plane may scrape one of the summits, and then gently descend into the Salt Valley. Even in late June you can still see some snow on the mountains. The city unfolds around you as you approach from the south. Out the window I watched the Great Salt Lake glimmering in a setting sun. Unlike the busy hub of Atlanta where I had left, Salt Lake’s airport is rather serene in the evening. It is also unusually close to the center of the city. A few volunteers with the Unitarian Universalist Association greeted me as I descend toward baggage claim. They noticed my Serenity T-shirt and giggled. They should have known I was a UU just from the T-shirt. A shuttle to my hotel awaited. Fifteen minutes later I was at my hotel, the Little America Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City on a warm and dry Tuesday night.

Salt Lake has grown up since 1996. The Salt Palace Convention Center is still there but the mall across the street has been torn down. Condominium skyscrapers are going up in their place. Some of these buildings are so high that they tower over nearby Temple Square, a sort of Vatican City for Mormons. All this construction suggests that mammon may be Utah’s real religion. Yet within a block or two of the convention center there are plentiful vacant storefronts. Utah, like much of the west, is hurting in this economy. Still, the city seems to be shrugging off hard times and building for a boom they have faith will arrive eventually. Its leaders are thinking strategically. There was no light rail system back in 1996, but it has arrived in 2009. I can pick it up at a stop a block from my hotel, but it is better to walk the five blocks or so to the convention center for exercise.

Preparing for the Banner Parade at the UUA General Assembly, Salt Lake Ctiy

Unitarian Universalists from across the world have arrived in Salt Lake to occupy the city, or at least its downtown. The plentiful Mormons are happy to have our business, and seem a happy bunch in general. I know I am not in Northern Virginia when I cross the street at a crosswalk in the middle of the block and the cars actually stop. In Northern Virginia or DC such a brazen act would likely get you run over. Their economy may be close to being in shambles, but the people of Salt Lake City never forget their manners. Even the tough looking types will offer a pleasantry when you pass them on the street.

The UUs tried to string a five story high banner from the convention center, but it didn’t quite work. “Standing on the side of love” is the theme of this General Assembly. One of the ways we are standing on the side of love is by standing up for marriage equality for same sex partners. In this reddest state in the Union, this could be dangerous. Salt Lake City though is a tiny dot of blue in an otherwise deeply red state. It has two versions of a city paper and a progressive Democratic mayor. Perhaps this is because the city, white as Wonder Bread back in 1996, is now becoming a tad Pumpernickel. African Americans can be seen unloading baggage at Salt Lake City airport, and Hispanics can be found as hotel maids and working at the local Wendys. Perhaps the whites of Salt Lake City no longer wanted these jobs.

A few of us representing the Reston, Virginia contingent of Unitarian Universalists manage to meet up Wednesday night in the exposition hall at the Salt Palace Center. As this is my first General Assembly it is both exciting and comforting. I am very much at home, with or without members of my church, for we speak a common language and share similar values. It has gotten to the point that I can spend five minutes or so with anyone and tell with an eighty percent probability whether they are a UU or not. The normal signs would be a hybrid automobile and a Darwin fish on the rear fender, but in person you can often tell from the way they look – it’s a certain crease around the eyes. There are other clues, like the chalice that many are wearing as jewelry. The flaming chalice is the symbol of Unitarian Universalism.

Still, there is a big difference between attending a service at your local church and being in the presence of four thousand other UUs at an opening plenary session and service. Frankly, I found it a bit overwhelming. The plenary session started out with a banner procession. Each congregation has a banner and they paraded around the enormous room with their banners to the great applause of fellow UUs. While the vast majority of UUs are centered in the United States, we had UUs from Africa, Europe and the Philippines in attendance also. Outgoing UUA president William Sinkford delivered a report to the membership that I found surprisingly stirring. You might think a relatively small faith like ours might not have made much of an impact these last eight years, but you would be wrong. From opposing the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to being at the vanguard of marriage equality, to our outreach to the Muslim community, UUs have made great strides under Rev. Sinkford’s leadership. We also have had two unwitting martyrs. A new association president is to be voted in later this week. The campaigning is hot and heavy on the convention floor. Should we choose a Hispanic man or our first woman as president? Either one, like the African American Bill Sinkford, would demonstrate that our largely white congregation is becoming more inclusive.

It is not often that you attend a worship service with four thousand people. Only the pope gets bigger venues. The service, which followed the plenary session, was both stirring and moving. Hearing our signature hymn, “Spirit of Life” sung in four different language (including Hungarian) was touching, as was the “Passing of Peace” where we offered peace to the people sitting around us, in some cases going more than a few rows back. The service had the theme of atonement. Unitarians were one of the religions selected to help “civilize” Native Americans after they were sent to reservations in the 19th century. In retrospect, this was a great injustice. We made a public apology and had our apology accepted by one of the native tribes. There were few dry eyes in the house.

The exhibition hall showed me the amazing diversity of UUs. There were booths for pretty much every conceivable variation of UU you could imagine, from the humanists, to the Buddhists, to the UUs who think Jesus was divine, to the polyamorists.

Ironically, UUs are still largely silent about the polyamory community. If they are going to stand up for love, why not for those who want to love more than one human being at the same time? Right now we are being largely silent. I imagine this will change in time too. I spoke to the polyamorous UUs and told them I couldn’t figure out how they could juggle more than one loving relationship at a time. They are certainly charting a brave new frontier in love.

Today I attended three seminars, but by far the most interesting was the Theology for a Secular Age course, part of the UU University series. It is being taught by the minister of the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in New York City, the Rev. Galen Guengerich. He may be the best speaker I have ever had the pleasure of listening to, a man of great learning and insight. The seminar resumes tomorrow at eight a.m. so I must be to bed early. I don’t want to miss a word!

Tomorrow will be another day of fellowship and learning.

The Thinker

Blogging at 35,000 feet

Well, this is cool! I am blogging from 35,000 feet. Granted, the first 10,000 feet are still not Wifi accessible, but perhaps that will change too. For $12.95 I can buy myself about three hours of high speed Internet access, at least on selected Delta flights. Other carriers are probably offering similar services, or will be soon. Moreover, the quality of the service is as good, if not better, than what I get at home via our Cox cable service. The times, they are a changing, and not always for the worse.

I am on my way to Salt Lake City to attend the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Having been a Unitarian Universalist since 1997 or so (and in spirit much longer, I just didn’t go to services) I figured it was about time to attend a General Assembly. This is an annual meeting where UUs from across the country come together and discuss denominational business. It is supposed to be a lot of fun and very interesting. Look for posts on the GA during the week. I will not exactly be alone since other members of our congregation will be in attendance too. When you are surrounded by thousands of UUs, you are never really alone. Of course most will be strangers to each other, but we are all the same in spirit. I am hoping it will feel a bit like coming home to the home you never quite had. I figure that if Muslims are expected to make one pilgrimage to Mecca, perhaps UUs should make at least one trip to a General Assembly too. I hope to learn a lot, but also to clarify for myself just how down the UU rabbit hole that I want to go. Thus far my association has been more tangential than dedicated and has consisted of participating in a covenant group and teaching religious education.

This trip is also unique in that it is something I am doing by myself. I travel quite a bit by myself, but so far it has all been business related. My wife, a Buddhist, had no particular interest in attending. Here I am age 52 and this is the first vacation that I have ever done on my own. It is sort of like being single again, at least for a week. There is no family to visit on the other end. There is also no spouse and/or child to drag along. If I get overwhelmed by the intensity of it all, my hotel is a few blocks away. I can distress by computing from my hotel room or hanging out at the pool. I strongly suspect that I will have no problem finding ways to fill my time. The typical problem at these General Assemblies, I have been told, is trying to do too much. There is simply too much going on.

I mentioned to a colleague where I was going and she said “what is Unitarianism?” I am amazed that in 21st century America so many people have not heard about Unitarians or Universalists. There is often at least one UU church in any community of a significant size. There have even been Unitarian presidents of the United States, although at the time they were not known as UUs, but stuck usually said they were deists. Thomas Jefferson was a Unitarian, at least in spirit. If you are curious to learn more about Unitarian Universalism, feel free to check out the association’s web site, or my tag archive on the subject, or just keep reading. To the extent I have time to blog this week, I will be posting my thoughts on the General Assembly.

Unitarian Universalists are basically religious liberals, without a professed creed, with their roots in Christianity but who are for all practical purposes not Christian. Some UUs consider themselves Christian and a UU service definitely has a church-like feeling to it. Most UUs would consider Jesus to be a great teacher, but only a few think he was divine. It is a sort of “none of the above” religion, where no creed is required for membership, where you simply come as you are, hang out in fellowship, try to do good things, and work toward tolerance and social justice. Perhaps a majority of UUs are like me: officially atheist or agnostic. We also have pagans, wiccans, Buddhists, gays, bisexuals, transgendered, the polyamorous and pretty much any type of odd non-denominational faith you can think of. In general UUs are a tolerant bunch.

We are also overwhelmingly Caucasian. If there is one deficiency in my religion, this may be it. I expect the General Assembly to resemble a Republican convention. My wife rightly points out that her Buddhist temple is very multicultural. In some ways I am jealous. I am also hopeful that over time UUs will become more culturally diverse too. Our current president is African American, but that will probably change this week as we elect a new association president. Unfortunately, I am not one of the delegates, since each congregation only gets four votes. I am sure whoever we pick will be someone of a similar vein to Rev. Sinkford.

However, I don’t give myself too much grief about being part of a “white” denomination. The congregation is so white, not because it tries to exclude people of different colors, but because its roots are European, and Europe is predominantly white. It was imported into the United States where it flourished and where mostly white people lived. Just as certain southern Baptist associations are overwhelmingly African American and it is okay, it is okay that UUs are overwhelmingly white. We do have two African Americans in our congregation, so we are not exactly pure white, and a few Hispanics and Asians too. Those of color whom we attract tend to be comfortable among whites. UUs also tend to be intelligent and overeducated. This can be daunting to some.

So I look forward to a week of fellowship, learning and song. While I do not particularly enjoy being away from family, it is not a bad thing to have a week to myself to do things that interest me far away from home. It helps me figure out who I am and where I want to go as a person in this next phase of my life.

The last time I spent any time in Salt Lake City was in 1996. Back then I remarked how Wonder Bread the city was. Perhaps in the thirteen years since it has become more culturally diverse. In any event, given that Utah is overwhelmingly white I suspect that most UUs will feel at home there. Given our religious and political liberalism, we may give the local Mormon population something of a shock. I hope I am there to witness any fireworks.

The Thinker

Iran’s metamorphosis

Some of you may have been wondering when I was going to talk about the civil unrest underway in Iran. Like many of you, I have been too caught up in events there to give it much analysis. Moreover, I do not know that much about Iran other than what I know about it from watching the media. Unquestionably, the recent election was rigged. The massive street protests and the predictable crackdown underway are compelling and heart-wrenching to watch, even if the snippets we see are posted days or hours later and taken from hand held cell phone cameras.

I do not know if a new Iranian revolution is imminent or whether a harsh repression by Iran’s clerics will stifle dissent for a generation, such as what happened in Tiananmen Square in China some twenty years ago. I do know that theocracy is not a natural fit for a country that is so well educated and technologically advanced. This means that Iranian clerics, if they were wise, would be working toward measured political accommodation of the people rather than repression.

Unfortunately, when you live in a theocracy you tend to get stilted thinking rather than pragmatism. Just as Pope Benedict cannot see reason when it comes to contraception, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will not adjust his notion of pure Islam to accommodate the reality that is modern Iran.

Much of the unrest is a consequence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s attempts to turn Iran into a modern state. You cannot build a great state when it rests on the foundation of uneducated minds. It takes engineers, scientists, academics and many learned people to get there. In short, you need a society where education is valued and where modern technology is embraced. Iranians have done a remarkable job of embracing technology. The third most used language on the social networking site Twitter is Persian. Pictures of the rallies in Tehran show a crowd where cell phones were as numerous as the hundreds of thousands of protestors.

It is likely that Shi’ite Islam (as Ayatollah Khamenei interprets it) is not compatible with 21st century technology. Yet, this technology is here to say. Satellite receivers are technically illegal in Iran, but are pervasive nonetheless. Attempts to disrupt unwanted communications only lead to clever ways to circumvent these limitations and, to the extent they succeed, breed anger, hatred and resentment.

There are some societies where the culture accepts a high level of government censorship and control. China appears to be one of them. I am betting that Iran is not one of these countries. Iran is also an overwhelmingly youthful country. For many Iranians, the Iranian revolution is at best a distant memory or happened long before they were born. However, they do understand the present and the power of what they have in front of them, and they like their Internet connections and cell phones. Moreover, Iranians are a very chatty nation, with reputedly the highest number of bloggers per capita in the world. If Khamenei were reading tealeaves, he would be wary, if not very afraid.

It may take a generation or two, but widespread higher education (which has been underway in Iran for a generation) opens minds, broadens perspectives and retards insularity. In the United States, if you look at where the most highly educated people live, you will also find fewer churchgoers and greater tolerance for different ideas, cultures and beliefs. I certainly see it here in the Washington Metropolitan region. We have long been a melting pot of various ethnicities and cultures. Our attitudes are correspondingly relatively progressive.

With this in mind, perhaps our foreign policy toward Iran needs to be rethought. During the last presidential campaign, Senator John McCain was caught on camera (obviously in an unscripted moment) singing “Bomb, bomb Iran”. The implication was that the country was so intrinsically evil that there was no reasoning with Iranians, so we might as well bomb them into submission. It should now be clear that such actions would prove counterproductive, alienating the educated and increasingly liberal components of Iran who are becoming a majority. I am willing to bet that should a new Iranian revolution succeed then the next government will be far less hostile toward Israel. Educated Iranians already understand that the purpose of Ahmadinejad’s fixation on Israel is to cover his own deficiencies as a leader.

Repression may work in Iran for a month, or a year or possibly even a decade. However, the forces that have been unleashed in Iran because of this clearly fraudulent election cannot be kept bottled forever. A newer, more pragmatic and more progressive government will emerge from Iran in time. The United States should practice patience. The Iranian people have come around. In time, so will its government.

The Thinker

The Ten Percent Solution?

One of the reasons to read The Huffington Post is to get your celebrity kicks. I have to confess I don’t care too much about what celebrities are doing, Jewel Staite being the possible exception. Yet, it was on Huffpost that I read about the latest celebrity yo-yo dieter, in this case the actress Kirstie Alley. For a while Alley was a spokesman for Jenny Craig, which was not only financially remunerating for her but also allowed her to lose seventy-five pounds. She eventually parted ways with Jenny Craig to come up with her own diet and sell her own dieting book. She would be wise not to write any for a while. Alley put the seventy-five pounds she lost back on, and an additional eight more pounds to boot, for a total of eighty-three pounds. Now she plans to take it off again and get back to the svelte 140 pounds or so she was when she did Cheers. Good luck Kirstie.

Alley is an egregious example of a yo-yo dieter. She has plenty of company but the rest of us struggle with our weight without the glare of publicity. I too have struggled, though thankfully I never got more than twenty-five pounds above a healthy weight. I have tried a number of diets over the years too, including the Carbohydrate Addicts Diet and the South Beach Diet. For a time, both diets looked like solutions for me too. Both were ultimately a waste of my time and money.

It is too early for me to claim victory. I have claimed it before only to find myself slacking off and find the pounds had returned. However, I have reached a milestone, losing ten percent of my weight in about five months. No, I was not on Jenny Craig, which would make little sense in my case as they market primarily to women. Nor was it Nutrisystem. I am on Weight Watchers. I have this simple advice for Kirstie: if you really want to lose weight and actually keep it off, try Weight Watchers this time. There is no guarantee you will succeed with Weight Watchers either. However, I can say that after following their program these last few months I can see the results on my scale and in the extra number of free belt notches. Moreover, I have a realistic expectation that this time I will keep it off for good.

Here is the problem with virtually all the diets out there: they may succeed in helping you lose weight, but they will do little to help you keep it off permanently. That is actually fine with the diet industry. They do not want you to keep it off permanently. If you do, they have lost another customer. No, they would much prefer you take it off, get sloppy, put it back on, then give their diet another go around. If you cannot, well, there are plenty of other diets to choose from, and they need your money too.

Any diet will let you lose weight if you follow it. Only a few though have a decent track record helping you keep it off once you have lost it. Weight Watchers is a big commercial company too, and I am sure they get their legions of yo-yo dieters too. Nonetheless, if you want to lose weight and keep it off, you should stop the Jenny Craigs, the Nutrisystems and the Slim-Fasts and do Weight Watchers instead. After you lose the weight, you will at least have a decent chance of keeping it off permanently. This is because Weight Watchers is one of the few diet companies out there whose business model involves not only helping you lose weight but helping you keep it off once you have lost it.

How hard was it for me to lose ten percent of my body mass? You might expect I spent much of the last five months eating celery and carrot sticks, but that is not the case. Mostly I ate things I already liked. In many cases I ate less of what I already liked, and changed portion sizes and ingredients so that what I ate was less caloric, higher in fiber and lower in fat. Did I suffer? If I had to rate my suffering level with Weight Watchers compared with any other diet plan, with 1 being no suffering to 10 being massive suffering, Weight Watchers was about a 3. Most of the other diet plans were in the 7-9 range.

How was this possible? Mainly, I watched what I ate, exercised portion control and kept track of what I was eating. With Weight Watchers, you learn to practice a few simple rules like “eat the filling foods first”, manage hunger through small snacks, assess the impact of what you are eating through their Points system, and eat your daily point allocation. If you want to eat more, exercise more. They have a way to calculate your bonus points via your exercise level. There are also extra points you can use over the course of a week on those days when you feel you are suffering too much. Truly, it is not that hard. Are you listening Kirstie?

Since you can eat at least some what you want, you may find yourself like me getting creative. I eat the filling foods first, but I also find creative substitutes for other foods I enjoy. Whole wheat bread is healthy, but still has more calories per slice than I would prefer. A high fiber English muffin though is only 100 calories. Cut in half, with a teaspoon of butter on each half and you have something quite tasty and dense in your stomach for less than 200 calories. It comes down to choices. The big greasy slice of pizza may be out but an occasional Lean Cuisine pizza may be okay. After a while you may find, like me, that you don’t need to count points anymore because you eat many of the same sorts of foods you used to and you know what and how much you need to stay on track. In any event, the weekly weigh in helps enforce discipline that may be lacking. I think it is essential in keeping you honest.

I am not entirely there yet, but I am close to the point where my new eating habits are becoming automatic. I now find that although I could have fancier things to eat for lunch, I want a salad. I can dress it up in a way where it is filling and satisfying. My weight loss coach was very pleased when she recently announced that I lost ten percent of my weight. She said this is a key indicator of people who can develop the habits to keep the weight off permanently. By the way, unlike many yo-yo dieters you should lose weight slowly. About a pound a week is ideal. Have patience. If you lose a pound a week, in a year you weigh fifty pounds less and you are much more likely to keep it off too.

I am planning to keep losing weight even though I passed the ten percent threshold, with the goal of getting my weight down to the day I was married, which was probably the last time I was at that weight. Then I will do my best to stay there. I will use my blog, in part, as a reminder to keep at it.

I hope you can learn from my experience. I think celebrity diets are a waste of time. Find a diet program that works with your eating habits and has some track record for helping you keep the weight off once you have lost it. There is no painless approach to weight loss but plans like Weight Watchers are the only ones that have any realistic chance of succeeding in the long term.

If your freezer is full of food from Jenny Craig or Nutrisystem, you might as well chuck it because these diets at best will only succeed in taking off weight for a while. Keeping weight off permanently and developing new habits, like eating better and exercising more, is what you really need. A diet is only one component for reaching this goal. You need long-term health. This is a completely different game, but it is the only plan worth having.

The Thinker

Following Jewel Staite

I am still trying to figure out this Twitter thing. Its success is counterintuitive. I can see why it is interesting to follow a conversation, but its 140-character limitation (made necessary by the maximum of 160 characters allowed in cell phone text messages) would seem a fatal liability. Granted, it is nice to be able to push an instant message to the most lame and technology impaired devices, i.e. non-internet accessible cell phones. In time, the text message barrier will be overcome. All cell phones, even the cheap ones, will be Internet accessible. 160-character text messages will become as obsolete as Morse code.

In fact, if you want to follow someone or a conversation, doing it via a cell phone text message is inefficient, even when limited to 140 characters. Most cell phone networks charge per text message. Tweets are nothing if not voluminous. Moreover, tweets are not exactly instant. The closest we have to real real-time electronic conversation is instant messaging. Otherwise you have to wait until your Twitter client decides to poll for new tweets or Twitter can push the tweet to your cell phone. For most of us, if we really want to follow someone in real-time we had best be Internet accessible, and using a desktop application like Tweetdeck.

Granted it is neat to watch comments on trending topics on Twitter, although like anything else the vast majority of these tweets are about as interesting as a chat room conversation. When following a hot topic like the Iranian elections you might learn something in a Twitter topic that you will not find any other way. Yet Twitter, like any other social medium, is on the cusp of being abused. I had a “lady” follow me the other day (I have a number of Twitter accounts) who is your run of the mill sex scammer. If I follow her because she follows me, I am an unwitting accomplice in her spam network. Like the voluminous spam on Craigslist, without rigorous controls that I doubt Twitter can fully put in place, Twitter is likely to turn into 98% spam in no time flat.

While I try to figure out what Twitter means by reading erudite articles like this one, I watch the other Twitterer in my house, in this case my wife, to find out what she is doing with Twitter. Aside from following her host of online friends, she is also following celebrities. Fortunately, her taste in celebrities is rather specialized, people like Eddie Izzard and this guy. So I thought I would follow a celebrity to see what all the fuss is about. I decided to follow Jewel Staite.

Most likely, you are saying, “Who the heck is Jewel Staite?” That’s a good question because she is hardly a well known star, and at best she is a minor movie star. She is more of a television actress than a movie actress, most recently known for her character Dr. Jennifer Keller in Stargate: Atlantis and as Kaylee Frye in the short-lived Fox TV series Firefly where I fell in lust with her. Jewel played the ship’s grease monkey, but she had all the attributes I was looking for in a lust object: cute, apple cheeked, young, attractive, sweet, but with a smoldering sensuality. Although Canadian, she seemed more American than apple pie, the perfect sort of girl to have next door, fall in love with and live with happily ever after.

Kaylee is of course a character, but what of the actual woman Jewel Staite? What would I glean from following Jewel? She may be a minor celebrity but as of this morning, she has 13,927 followers whereas I have eleven people following me. Is Jewel anything like Kaylee, or Dr. Keller? It is hard to say for sure. With 13,927 followers Ms. Staite clearly doesn’t need any stalkers, so what she does reveal about herself is necessarily pretty superficial. Good for her. Some politicians could learn to be more discreet about what they post on Twitter.

Jewel is married which would be a disappointment if I were not twice her age and married myself. Having spent years hanging around Josh Whedon and the Stargate: Atlantis crowd, unsurprisingly many of Jewel’s friends are fellow actors, directors and producers. It sounds like work in Vancouver has been drying up, so she is currently in Los Angeles. From her tweets, I learn intimate details like she currently has a head cold, but stopped by a Borders yesterday anyhow. She has a passion for food (which suggests that she has an excellent personal trainer) and can be found at somewhat obscure LA area restaurants. She is no vegetarian. She also likes the theater and recently saw Michael Winslow in concert. Dark colored toilet seats disturb her. Does she have a germ phobia? Is this too much information?

Watching Jewel through the filter of Twitter is like watching someone through a pane of translucent glass. You sort of know what’s going on but mostly you do not, seeing shadows and hearing muffled voices but missing context. Still, it is clear to me that Jewel and I live in largely different universes. If real life put us together, I am not sure we could hold a conversation that lasted more than a couple of minutes. She likes good tacos, and I know of a few places locally, so we could perhaps do a light lunch or something. Or perhaps she could stop by to see me on her way to Paris. She recently intimated she had booked a hotel room in Paris.

If the translucent glass between Jewel and I were somehow clear glass, perhaps there would be much more of interest to discover. More likely I would become disillusioned. I know intellectually that actresses put their pants on one leg at a time just like me, but somehow I hope there is more there than someone like me, an ordinary human being. From Jewel’s tweets, she appears to be ordinary too. I doubt she would find much of interest about me, but perhaps she is brainy enough to find my blog interesting. It is clear that aside from our age differences we are on vastly different paths through life. We inhabit the same planet, breathe the same air, speak the same language and have inherited many of the same customs but there is not much else from what I can tell from watching her through Twitter.

Which means there is probably not much point in following her, so at some point I will probably unfollow her. I hope in the years ahead she dazzles us with her fine acting ability. It is likely that whatever her age I will find her attractive. If I am to follow a celebrity, perhaps I need a woman closer to my age and whose intellect appears to be more aligned with mine. I hope Madonna tweets.

I do agree with her about dark toilet seats though.

The Thinker

Things I know about health care reform

I would hope most of these points on health care reform would be obvious, but based on the debate in Congress, apparently not.

  • Just as there is no free lunch now for health care, there will be none after we are done reforming health care. It is going to cost a ton of money no matter what happens or does not happen. In the end, doing nothing will be far more expensive than creating universal health care.
  • The first decade of universal health coverage is going to be particularly expensive. There is no way around it. This is because there are forty seven million uninsured Americans and their health is often poor. Treating their chronic problems is going to be very expensive. For many of us who are insured, our health is poor too. We eat too much, exercise too little, and have too many bad habits. Often, we also do not particularly like who we are and where we are in life. In short, we are a seriously messed up people, physically and psychologically. This is due in part to our pretension that we are all rugged individualists when in fact we are all intimately tied together in a mutual codependent relationship. What do you think all those roads, bridges, railroads, telephone lines and networks mean, anyhow?
  • The reason a public health care plan is being opposed has nothing to do with socialism, but profit. The American medical industry is hugely profitable and the powers that be want to keep it that way. In short, profits come before people and as a result, people are needlessly dying or living in unnecessary misery.
  • While there is much we can do to control health care costs, in the end costs will only level off if we get off our fat asses, lose weight, kick our bad habits, and live healthier lifestyles in general. In short, we have to grow up and face the music. We need a government that tells us this truth and provides incentives so we will choose to get there.
  • A public plan will deliver quality care for lower cost than private plans. America’s public plan may not turn out to be as well thought out as health care plans in places like Europe. By squeezing out the middleman, it will be more affordable than any plan private industry can put together. Moreover, private industry knows it, which is why they are fighting so hard against a public plan. It is their death knell. Just look at the administrative cost of Medicare, Medicaid and the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan and compare these expenses with our private health insurance administrative expenses. The latter are many orders of magnitudes more expensive.
  • A public health plan would only be socialist if the government owned all the hospitals, doctors’ offices, labs and clinics in the country. That is on no one’s radar. However, a public health plan would require universal insurance coverage and set uniform standards for patient care. This is not socialism because the government does not own the means of production. It is no more socialism than the FAA is socialist because it directs the air traffic.
  • A workable American version of a universal health care plan would have three levels of service: basic, silver and gold with the level of care rising depending on your ability to pay. This is because, despite our pretensions, America is class conscious, so we will want a higher level of service based on our ability to pay. Those of us who can afford gold service will want to flaunt it.
  • We already are paying through the nose because we do not have national health insurance. The cost is manifested in our emergency rooms and added on to premiums paid by the insured. All things being equal, if the uninsured contribute to their health care, it drives down premiums for the rest of us.
  • President Obama is right in that we cannot move in a revolutionary way from our current system into a single payer system. A single payer system is a likely final destination. We can get there by letting private plans compete under standardized rules with a public option. A single payer system will emerge when it becomes clear that the private sector cannot be profitable while delivering the same level of care as the public plan. When this happens, no one will shed a tear except those currently reaping windfall profits.
  • Medicare and Medicaid already prove the government can run health care systems. They exist because the private insurance market did not want to serve these markets. Private industry does not want to offer affordable health plans to the uninsured or the uninsured would have them. What are we afraid of?
  • Despite the American Medical Association’s position, most doctors’ offices would be thrilled to accept a modest fee to do away with the nightmare of dealing with insurance companies. Their paperwork is costly, burdensome and adds no value to patient care.
  • Rugged individualism is a nice virtue but incompatible with 21st century medicine. When it comes to medical care, we all go down together or we all rise together. This will provide plenty of incentive to make a workable and universal system.
  • An effective compensation system will reward solutions rather than reimburse for tests.
The Thinker

Financial Winners and Losers

For most of us the current recession, already the longest lasting recession since the Great Depression, is an unpleasant reality. 345,000 jobs were lost in May, which raised the official national unemployment rate to 9.4%, the highest in over a quarter century. While the trend is improving, this is still very bad. The Labor Department estimates 14.5 million Americans are unemployed. If you include the underemployed and those who gave up looking the unemployment rate is 16.4%. Many of us can look at our investments and find they are worth half of what they were before the recession started. Stock market indices reflect this trend. Meanwhile, real estate prices keep plummeting. Surplus homes abound, as financially distressed people walk away from their mortgages. All these statistics document that the economic pain is pervasive and widespread.

Yet despite all this pain, there are winners out there, many of whom are profiting from our pain and losses. Fahreed Zakaria, a Newsweek columnist, recently documented some of them. China’s Shanghai Index is up 45%. Brazil’s stock market is up 38%. Indonesia’s market is up 32%. Retail sales are 15% higher in China this year than they were a year ago. In India, car sales are up 4.2% compared with a year ago. All these countries are expected to grow this year while most of the rest of the world’s economies will contract. Learning why these countries are bucking trends is interesting. What it amounts to is that they are not overburdened by debt. Consequently, they have plenty of money to spend and invest. For cash rich countries like China, right now the world is a bargain. That is why they are buying foreign energy companies and purchasing mineral rights. The effect is to rapidly extend their influence across the world, simply because they own more of it.

Americans are belatedly discovering that not all forms of wealth are equal. The value of stocks and homes in particular are directly tied to the current state of the economy. When the economy tanks, they lose proportionate value. When the economy tanks severely, your house can have negative worth, flipping from an asset to a liability. Stocks too have little value if you need to sell them in a recession. Many Americans today feel compelled to sell their stocks, usually acquired through a 401-K plan, simply to survive. They do so in part because whatever meager savings they had acquired have been spent trying to hold on to their lifestyle. On the other hand, savings are more tangible as well as reliable. Perhaps that is why Americans are belatedly getting the religion: an old-fashioned savings account is good, not bad. Savings rates, which were at 0% before the recession are now at 5.7%. However, savings accounts do not offer a complete panacea either. The reason we bought stocks and houses in the first place is that inflation often ran ahead of on the marginal interest we might have earned on any savings.

Like the Chinese, Americans who find themselves cash rich in this recession now have an opportunity to shop for bargains. Our nation is now one big red light sale. With a few exceptions like health care, there are bargains everywhere, but particularly in housing, stocks and commodities. The smart Americans who kept their jobs and have sizeable stashes of cash should be scooping these bargains up.

Like most Americans, I do not have huge sums of readily available cash to invest. What amounts I do have I am tempted to invest in good undervalued stocks. Take General Electric. GE is perhaps the best-managed company on the planet, having sat on the Dow Jones Industrial Index since 1906. Its stock price actually slipped below $6 a share briefly in March, largely due to its financial subsidiary. It is currently trading at around $13 a share, but over the last decade, its price has been $30 to $40 a share. Shrewder investors than me may see red flags in owning GE stock, but I suspect it is a bargain. Likely, many other well-established companies out there can be purchased at a substantial discount too, only because the current economy substantially discounts their long-term worth. Their worth is discounted in part because people have to sell stocks to turn into cash to pay immediate expenses.

What lessons can we learn from this miserable experience so we do not repeat it? One may be a lesson I learned in 1988: unemployment sucks. I have remained fully employed since then because I have remained a civil servant. Private industry is certainly important, and in the short term often pays better than the public sector, but it is also inherently chancy. Having a steady paycheck during turbulent times is a great blessing. In my case, it is also a blessing to know there is little likelihood that I will be fired if the economy tanks further. As a civil servant, I will never be a millionaire. On the other hand, I should have steady employment. Moreover, when I retire I will have a pension to draw from, as well as social security and investment income from my 401-K. While I am unlikely to retire to a lavish estate in the Hamptons, neither am I likely to eat dog food in retirement. I am likely to have what now seems to be vanishing: a real retirement that should include occasional trips to exotic locations as well as good medical benefits, which are increasingly important as I age. I was not thinking about these things nearly thirty years ago when I first joined the civil service, but in the current economy, my decision looks smart. If you feel like a piñata from the last couple of years, perhaps it is time to consider some place other than private industry as a career, whether it is government service, a religious institution, a non-governmental agency or a nonprofit. There is no requirement that you have to spend your life in rough career waters.

Speaking of careers, if you have looked behind the unemployment numbers, the value of advanced education should now be clear. While people with bachelor or better degrees were affected by the recession, as usual they did better than those with just high school education. Where were the most jobs lost? Simply drive through the rust belt. Manufacturing took the biggest hit, and manufacturing jobs tend to require fewer skills. Also disproportionately affected were service related jobs that depend on the economy. When people have less money, they travel less, so we have lots of unemployed pilots, flight attendants and baggage handlers. When people have less money, they are not buying houses, which is why many realtors are working part time at best. With less money in circulation, there is less need for bankers, stockbrokers and securities dealers. The lesson: advanced education reduces risk of unemployment as well as usually pays better. Advanced education is needed not just because it pays better but because our world is more complicated. It needs increasingly more people with the advanced skills to manage and understand it.

I hope that some of us are learning to be thrifty. As someone raised from children of the depression, thrift came naturally to me. Apparently, it did not to many of my generation, because so many are overleveraged. The recession should teach us that many of the things we thought were necessities are luxuries. A family does not necessarily need two cars. My family survived on one car until I was out of the house. You don’t have to shop at Harris Teeter when a Shoppers Food Warehouse will do. You don’t need to buy shoes at Neiman Marcus; you can get a decent pair at Payless. If you are smart, you will funnel the difference into savings.

And speaking of savings, if you are rich enough to put in money for retirement but not rich enough to have at least six months of expenses in a savings account, perhaps you should at least be channeling some of that investment money into a savings account instead. In actuality, six months of living expenses is considered on the low side. You would be wiser just match your employer’s contribution into a 401-K (or perhaps put just 3% if they offer no match at all) and funnel the extra into high yield savings accounts. Unless your job is very secure, have the goal to accumulate at least 75% of your yearly expenses into a savings account.

By saving money instead of borrowing it, you make yourself more financially secure and you help turn the United States into a creditor nation again. Until 1978, we were the world’s largest creditor nation. Now we are the world’s largest debtor nation. The United States still has the world’s largest economy. These dynamics can be turned around, if we take time to learn from this recession. If we do it right, the next time a global recession rolls around we will be prospering like China and Indonesia instead.

The Thinker

Review: Iron Man (2008)

What is it with America’s fixation on superheroes? It seems we generate superheroes in infinite combinations and many of them prove their moxy by eventually leaping off the comic book page and into our local cinema. That is the case of Iron Man, but at least Iron Man, like Spider-Man, cannot claim supernatural powers. Just as Peter Parker was able to create a sticky formula that let him swing from building to building, Tony Stark was able to use his gifts as the genius behind Stark Industries, a prestigious and innovative defense contractor, to encase himself in a steel suit that comes equipped with a number of nifty mobile devices.

Robert Downey Jr. plays the eccentric inventor, entrepreneur and playboy Tony Stark. I was surprised by director Jon Favreau’s pick for this role, which was unconventional, but Downey actually does a convincing job with this character. Moreover, as action-adventure movies go this one is significantly more engaging than most of them, even if its plot leaves little to the viewer’s imagination. Stark is a pragmatic genius who hopes his next generation armaments will intimidate potential enemies into meek compliance. He feels this way until he pays a visit to Afghanistan and gets captured by a group of guerilla fighters who I assume are aligned with the Taliban. It is hard to tell and doesn’t really matter. The main thing is that Stark is a valuable asset to the enemy, who want him to reproduce one of his newest signature weapons. Instead, very improbably, Stark manages to construct an iron suit instead, which allows him to escape. The incident is transformative. Once back safely in his California digs Stark denounces violence and attempts to change the course of his company toward more peaceful pursuits. As you might suspect this does not go over well with stockholders. In particular, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), the company’s CEO is not amused and works hard to change Stark’s mind. Stark though prefers to hide in his laboratory where, except for occasional interruptions from his comely personal assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), he works to improve the shattered Iron Man prototype suit he left behind in Afghanistan.

It turns out that Stane is much more jealous of Stark than he is an admirer and this conflict will eventually manifest itself with many special effects. Stane wants to prove his mojo too and works to develop his own much bigger Iron Man suit, thereby proving his superiority and masculinity, while also hopefully saving Stark Industries from the evils of developing peaceful technologies.

Downey seems to be having fun playing Stark. He manages to make Stark rather fun and interesting. Women are his plaything, but he his real passion seems to be his laboratory and his cute robot which aids him in assembling his Iron Man suit. It takes a party for him to see his slinky secretary Pepper in a romantic light. Clearly Pepper has had the hots for him for many years, but they have had too many years in an employer-employee relationship for either to seriously consider a more intimate kind of relationship. Paltrow too is convincing as Stark’s Girl Friday. Their cute banter helps enliven the movie which probably would otherwise have gone somewhat flat.

The special effects are not that special, at least these days, so by themselves are not much incentive to see the movie. Fortunately, the story at least moves briskly and never drags. We do not spend enough time with Stark to find him irritating. Also the romantic tension with Pepper Potts hits just the right notes to be engaging without becoming annoying. The villains, which include Terrance Howard as the Afghani warlord Rhodey, are at least not your typical one dimensional villains and draw your interest. The scenes in Afghanistan are quite convincingly done. Naturally Stark has to save some villagers from impending injustice, but most of the action seems to be confined to Los Angeles where Stark and Stane get to engage in some amazing pyrotechnics.

While not as much fun as the recently released Star Trek, if action-adventure films are your love and you missed Iron Man, you should definitely pick it up for it is engaging and enjoyable. Iron Man definitely rests in the top twenty percent of this genre.

3.2 on my 4.0 scale.

The Thinker

Can being “prolife” be anti-life?

If you pay attention to the news you have read about the murder of Dr. George Tiller. He was gunned down yesterday at his church in Wichita, Kansas by alleged murderer and “prolifer” Scott Roeder. Tiller was one of a small number of surgeons willing to provide late term abortions. He is hardly the first surgeon to pay with his life for providing abortions and he is unlikely to be the last. In fact, the National Abortion Federation has chronicled over 6000 acts or attempted acts of violence since 1977 against abortion providers, including eight deaths. Unsurprisingly, Roeder had close connections with the most extreme elements of the so-called prolife community.

Clearly many Americans feel passionately on the issue of abortion. If convicted, Roeder will be one of the virulent ones who felt murder was justified to prevent what he saw as other murders. Moreover, if convicted there is a significant possibility that Roeder will also be murdered, not by a pro-choice supporter, but by the prolife state of Kansas, which often executes first degree murderers.

I have noticed that being “prolife” rarely means being pro all life.  I doubt you will find many so-called prolifers who are also vegetarians. Sizeable numbers, and probably a majority of prolifers are also pro-capital punishment. This seems a reasonable inference in Kansas, which is heavily “prolife” but also heavily in favor of capital punishment. As has often been noticed, prolifers seem far more concerned about making sure pregnancies are carried through to birth than they are concerned about the babies after they are born. Many are glad to saddle mothers for the cost of their unplanned or unwanted offspring too. Whether conceived as a result of rape or incest, it doesn’t seem to make any difference to these folks. It’s all about principle. For them, life begins at conception. Never mind that when fertilization occurs the blastocyst is inert for an extended period of time, unless it comes in contact with the uterine wall and then gets lucky. Even so, Mother Nature provides all sorts of obstacles to keep many pregnancies from coming to term. I have a sister who miscarried. She certainly did not want to miscarry. You have to wonder though about some in the prolife crowd. If life is sacred, should all pregnant women also be required to take drugs to reduce the likelihood of miscarriage? Should they be charged with a crime if they miscarry and had not taken all possible recourses to prevent the miscarriage? I have no doubt that to many on the extremes the answer is “absolutely”.

Mother Nature does not intend all pregnancies to go to term. This too is entirely natural. There are millions of women who have needed abortions to save their own lives. In the mind of many prolifers, since they cannot deal with moral ambiguity, it is better to risk both the life of the mother and the fetus than to ensure one of them will survive. This is being prolife.

Maybe it is just me, but I suspect that people whose moral positions are absolute about anything are mentally deficient. We know from experience that life is ambiguous. It is built into our universe at no less than the subatomic level, as anyone who has studied quantum physics knows. To survive in this world we must all come to grips with the ambiguity that frames life. And yet, to absolutists like these ultra-extreme prolifers, they would prefer to ignore this uncomfortable reality. The cycle reaches its paradoxical and tragic nadirs in incidents like yesterday’s murder of Dr. George Tiller. The very incident is both tragic and rife with irony: that for some who value life more than anything, they must take it away, thus proving the paucity of their argument beyond ambiguity.

Absolutism is bound to twist and pervert the glorious dysfunctional ambiguity which is our natural world. Consider what our world would be like if we were 100% “prolife”. At the macro level there would be many more humans on the planet than we already have, many of them with serious and lifelong disabilities. There would also be many needlessly traumatized mothers, many of them who would not survive childbirth. Arguably we cannot sustain the people we already have on the planet, as witnessed by the resultant poverty and disease which tragically kills tens of millions of us every year. To the extent we add more humans on the planet, we further erode the mutual ecosystem on which all life depends.  The result of being “prolife” is to help ensure a reduced standard of living for those of us who are already alive and to make life for future generations of humans even more wretched and miserable. Ultimately, being “prolife” means being anti-life in general, pro-misery and anti-environmental.

If we are lucky, the best result for future generations will be similar to what is already unfolding in China: compulsory family planning. This is the most humane and environmentally benign way to deal with rampant population growth and a planet that cannot sustain this growth. Much more likely though will be larger and more brutal wars, genocides and suffering on scales that are hard for us to currently fathom. This will unfold in a world of diminished resources where we all fruitlessly try to ensure we get the life we want at the expense of someone else. Whatever form of homo sapien emerges from this dark future will be far more brutish, uncaring, inhuman and anti-life than anything alleged killer Scott Roeder will dish out in a single act of murder for the sake of some insane absolutist principle.

Perhaps it is time to embrace the ambiguity which is life here on earth. It may be the prolife thing to do.


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