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Forgiveness Is The Sweetest Revenge.

November 18, 2013

You ought to be sorry when bad things happen, right?

In 8 years of marriage my husband has never uttered the words I’m sorry. You might find this odd however, after speaking with other women I realize that my husband is not the only man who does this.

My wife heard me say I love you a thousand times, but she never once heard me say sorry.
Bruce Willis

The challenge in our relationship comes in our philosophical and cultural difference about the two words “I’m sorry”.

Sorry Is Not Enough-2

Me: I believe that you should accept responsibility for your actions and try to make it right by taking a first step and apologizing.

Him: Sorry doesn’t fix anything. The action has already been committed so sorry will not help.

As you can imagine, this becomes problematic when raising our children. At 35 years of age I reflect daily on my Life and there are SO many things I wish I could apologize for; had I known better.

So of course, as a mother I believe it is my duty to teach my children how to apologize.  But, our ongoing battle and discussions have made me dig a little deeper into just what apologizing means to him and if maybe, MAYBE, he might have a point. But, I beg to differ.

In fact, as the world becomes a global village, apologies are growing increasingly important on both national and international levels. Communications, the media, and travel have drawn the world ever closer together. Ultimately we all share the same air, oceans, and world economy. We are all upwind, downstream, over the mountains, or through the woods from one another.

We can’t help but be concerned with Russia’s failing economy, Eastern Block toxic waste, Middle Eastern conflicts, and the rain forest, whether it be for reasons of peace, fuel, or just plain oxygen.

In this international community, apologies will be vital to peaceful resolution of conflicts. Within the last several years alone Nelson Mandela apologized for atrocities committed by the African National Congress in fighting against apartheid; Exxon for the Valdez spill; Pope John Paul II “for abuses committed by Christian colonizers against Indian peoples”; former Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa for Japanese aggression during World War II; and Russian President Boris Yeltsin apologized for the massacre of 15,000 Polish army officers by Soviet forces during World War II. And that’s only the start of it.

Probably no language function has been in the news more lately than the function of apologizing. Week after week, the famous as well as the infamous stand before the public and apologize or, in any case, receive demands for apologies. Hardly a week goes by without some apology or other making the news – often the front pages.

It seems like it should be such a simple thing, teaching your child or student to say “I’m sorry” when an apology is called for. But far beyond simply repeating a conditioned response, truly understanding the nature of an apology and being able to deliver one sincerely requires a level of social competence that many adults find difficult.

As parents we want to teach our children empathy for others. It’s part of teaching them that they have an impact on their world and the people around them. Teaching our kids to say “sorry” encompasses all sorts of good things, like making friends and sharing, so it makes sense that “sorry” is one of our first verbal lessons. In some ways we intend this word as a hinge, linking the behavior of one child to the feelings of another, and it makes sense to put it this way because we want those connections to be made in our children’s minds.

However, “sorry,” as a word, often turns up empty, while hurt feelings (or body parts) persist. This is why it becomes important to emphasize to children that the word isn’t just a word, it is also an action. We, as parents, need to watch for the “sorry” that becomes nothing more than a behavioral escape hatch, leaving the conflict largely unresolved.

Some argue that a full apology requires many more elements than just those two words, such as acceptance of responsibility, an expression of genuine remorse, an offer to make amends, and an excuse-free explanation.

After a fight and before forgiveness often comes an apology. But saying “I’m sorry” comes more easily for some people than it does for others. There is even a new study that suggests that specific personality traits offer clues about whether a person is likely to offer a mea culpa.

To me, the biggest stumbling block to apologizing is our belief that apologizing is a sign of weakness and an admission of guilt. We have the misguided notion we are better off ignoring or denying our offenses and hope that no one notices.

On the other hand, sometimes apologies come too easily and too frequently, as when we apologize for things that are clearly not our fault, not in our control, or otherwise unworthy of apology. Examples include apologizing for being hurt by someone else’s offense, apologizing for being over-sensitive, apologizing when someone else bumps into you, and apologizing for apologizing.

It seems “I’m sorry” is infamous for its inadequacy. It often seems flippant, insincere, or incomplete, as in “I’m sorry you feel that way” or “I’m sorry, but…”. Wayward public figures are notorious for inadequate apologies, especially those that involve a failure to own up to wrongdoing.

Academic research has found that accusations of wrongdoing are often made in hindsight based on what psychologists call the “curse of knowledge.” The curse of knowledge exists when the outcomes of a decision are used to evaluate the quality of a decision in hindsight. In other words, once the outcome is known for a decision made under conditions of uncertainty, everyone knows whether the decision was good or bad. The old saying, “hindsight is 20/20” relates to this phenomenon.

So will two words fix it?

Sadly, it’s a common mistake.

We as parents and caregivers often fall into the trap of looking for a formula that saves us from having to think all the time. We’re busy. We’re stressed. Analyzing every single conflict situation that comes up with our children is sometimes difficult, sometimes downright impossible, given the other demands on our time and the frequency of the conflicts. We’re hanging out for a short cut, a magic solution.

Siblings or peers fighting? Someone must be at fault. Therefore someone needs to apologize. If we can work out who’s to blame and make that sorry happen, it’s all sorted.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Sorry, as a word, means very little to kids. It’s a thing that’s required, like “please” and “thank you,” but kids say it largely to appease adults, and the word has very little in the way of meaning or impact. It’s a word without identity; you can’t point to “sorry,” and it’s not a cat or a sandwich or a ball at the beach. Even as a feeling it is hard to identify.

It’s not happy or sad or hungry or tired, it’s just a thing you say when you’ve done something wrong. If you accidentally spill some cereal on the table or leave the car door open, you have to say you’re sorry. If you eat your sister’s cookie, you’re sorry. And, if you pick up a Lincoln Log and hit your brother over the head with it because at that moment you absolutely, positively hate him, still, you’re sorry. So what does it really mean? What is its purpose?

I’ve been told sorry doesn’t fix the hurt. It doesn’t take away the pain; doesn’t mend the broken pieces like super glue is supposed to it just smoothes it over and brushes away the shards and sticks an ugly band-aid on top and expects everything to be ok.

I’m sorry doesn’t mean anything anymore to anyone it just something you say to make the other feel like you really are but you’re not and if you are it doesn’t matter because sometimes the wound just goes too deep stitches couldn’t even repair the damage.

Even if there was a doctor who worked on hearts like a mechanic works on an engine there’s no way to fix a broken metaphorical heart it has no real shape no real place of being.

That’s because words are not magical. Words are not erasers; they cannot make bad actions go away. Only good actions can start to make bad actions feel okay.

We all know adults who constantly apologize for their bad behavior, then tomorrow or next week do exactly the same thing again. Where do you think that starts?

So, I’ve come to learn that the real point of an apology is forgiveness. And, forgiveness should never be based on the apology. In fact, if you think about it there really are few instances when the one who has been hurt will be fully satisfied by the apologetic response. The hurt remains and the insult apparent. To our little girl, she fully expects retribution for anything her brother has done to her. Raising little boys who fight it out on the “battlefield”, girls are a bit more of a challenge as they seek a “courtroom” so to speak.

They are looking for judgment and enforcement of the verdict. However, God has told us to forgive. In fact, God goes so far as to say that if we choose to be unforgiving then we cannot experience God’s forgiveness. What we seek from God is fully contingent on how we choose to treat others.

When we seek from others what is outside the boundaries of our personal expectation than we close the door to that opportunity of blessing in our life. Essentially, “If it’s not good enough for them, then it is not for you!”

With that in mind, forgiveness is absolutely imperative for those who seek a relationship with God.

The most common cause of failure in an apology–or an apology altogether avoided–is the offender’s pride. It’s a fear of shame. To apologize, you have to acknowledge that you made a mistake. You have to admit that you failed to live up to values like sensitivity, thoughtfulness, faithfulness, fairness, and honesty. This is an admission that our own self-concept, our story about ourself, is flawed. To honestly admit what you did and show regret may stir a profound experience of shame, a public exposure of weakness. Such an admission is especially difficult to bear when there was some degree of intention behind the wrongdoing.

It can be difficult to admit being wrong (we are well-equipped with psychological defenses and self-serving biases to protect us from facing the possibility that we messed up), and it can be scary to make oneself vulnerable to the possibility of rejection, since an apology, no matter how heartfelt, does not always elicit forgiveness.

That is why a genuine apology offered and accepted is one of the most profound interactions of civilized people. It has the power to restore damaged relationships, be they on a small scale, between two people, such as intimates, or on a grand scale, between groups of people, even nations.

If done correctly an apology can heal humiliation and generate forgiveness.

Yet, even though it’s such a powerful social skill, we give precious little thought to teaching our children how to apologize. Most of us never learned very well ourselves.

We tend to view apologies as a sign of weak character. But in fact, they require great strength. And we better learn how to get them right, because it’s increasingly hard to live in the global village without them.

Live and Learn. We All Do.

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War Does Not Determine Who Is Right – Only Who Is Left.

November 14, 2013

From a country long served by its armed forces and a region long buoyed by the men and women who make up those forces, we joined the chorus saying, “Happy Veterans Day“.

The phrase was a trending topic nationally on Twitter Monday as people shared well wishes and pictures of family members.

But, in a war between nations, we must look closely at what we mean by the term “enemy”.

cost-of-military

Do we mean someone who is completely evil and must be destroyed if everything we hold good is to be preserved? If we engage in this kind of mythic thinking, do we then consider the lives of “enemy” civilians, including women and children, expendable to preserve the good for which we struggle?

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the Great War ended. This is the origin of Veterans Day. In Great Britain and many countries of the former empire, it is Remembrance Day. World War I cost more than 16 million lives, another 50 million to 100 million from the war-related 1918 flu pandemic, toppled four empires and birthed the Soviet Union.

It is often believed that wars and military spending increases are good for the economy. But, the fact is that most economic models show that military spending diverts resources from productive uses, such as consumption and investment, and ultimately slows economic growth and reduces employment.

As we approach the 100th anniversary of the war’s beginning, attention should be paid, even to the economic issues.

War has influenced economic history profoundly across time and space. Winners of wars have shaped economic institutions and trade patterns. Wars have influenced technological developments. Above all, recurring war has drained wealth, disrupted markets, and depressed economic growth.

War is widely thought to be linked to economic good times. The second world war is often said to have brought the world out of depression, and war has since enhanced its reputation as a spur to economic growth. Some even suggest that capitalism needs wars, and that without them, recession would always lurk on the horizon.

Today, we know that this is nonsense. The 1990s boom showed that peace is economically far better than war. The Gulf war of 1991 demonstrated that wars can actually be bad for an economy.

Wars are expensive (in money and other resources), destructive (of capital and human capital), and disruptive (of trade, resource availability, labor management). Large wars constitute severe shocks to the economies of participating countries. Notwithstanding some positive aspects of short-term stimulation and long-term destruction and rebuilding, war generally impedes economic development and undermines prosperity.

Because of what economists call the “broken window fallacy”.

Specifically, if a window in a store is broken, it means that the window-maker gets paid to make a new window, and he, in turn, has money to pay others.  However, economists long ago showed that – if the window hadn’t been broken – the shop-owner would have spent that money on other things, such as food, clothing, health care, consumer electronics or recreation, which would have helped the economy as much or more.

If the shop-owner hadn’t had to replace his window, he might have taken his family out to dinner, which would have circulated more money to the restaurant, and from there to other sectors of the economy.   Similarly, the money spent on the war effort is money that cannot be spent on other sectors of the economy.

Indeed, all of the military spending has just created military jobs, at the expense of the civilian economy.

The United States has been at war for more years than it has been at peace. War is not a “last resort,” something we fall back on when diplomacy, sanctions and other tools fail. It has become our normal condition. Within just the past two decades, we have been engaged in two Iraqi wars and an ongoing war in Afghanistan, and perhaps soon we will be at war with Iran.

We justify these adventures in terms of spreading freedom abroad and making our world safe for democracy, but we are accomplishing neither. Meanwhile, badly needed resources to confront a range of domestic challenges are redirected to the war efforts.

Maybe it is time to reconsider how readily we prepare for and engage in war?

The “business” of war and the arms industry is another shining example of the upside-down logic of the current economic paradigm. Governments spend money on technologies of oppression instead of tools for development – to the tune of 1.7 trillion dollars per annum. And while almost every other business produces products that positively contribute to society in some way, there can only be one possible Return On Investment for this business: death or destruction.

The products of the arms industry are designed to destroy what we normally invest in during peacetime; the lives of other human beings and physical infrastructure and technologies of human civilization. Nothing epitomizes more the anti-human values of the current economic system than the business of war; the ledger books of arms manufacturers show massive arms sales in the billions of dollars yet not a single human life or destroyed building is accounted for.

During times of crisis, real or imagined, we are fond of saying “all options are on the table.” We hope diplomacy, sanctions or other tools will work. But the world now knows we are more than ready to opt for the military option. If we ever suffered from a “Vietnam syndrome,” in which we hesitated to take military action, we have overcome it.

President Obama so warned Iran in his speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) last spring. This is not to suggest that our leaders would not prefer diplomacy or other tools short of war. But somehow, some way, we have found ourselves almost always at war somewhere.

Corruption is rife at the very top level of arms manufacturers throughout the world.

BAE’s guilt was just the most public example showing how Europe’s largest defense contractor paid 100 million dollars worth of bribes to the Saudi government in order to win their 44 billion pound contract. This bribery exposed hypocrisy at the highest level of both UK business and government.

There is no morality to arms sales and the bottom line is profiteering at the expense of human lives.

By global enculturation of people into violence and creating a global economy which is dependent on the sales of war machinery, we cannot help but contribute greatly to the causes and conditions of violence in the world and to the destabilization of peace itself.

The arms industry continually plays on people’s fears and reinforces the false logic that war is necessary for peace. For ultimately, once weapons are created, anybody with any agenda can access weaponry thru a combination that has historically been proven to work: ideology and/or money. Authentic and long lasting peace is not in the best interest of the arms industry.

In order to keep itself running and earning large profits, the military industrial complex must encourage fear, distrust and conflict to exist in the world.  To do otherwise would be an act of suicide.

Those who support the status quo are those who count and, therefore, see their careers advance with the help of government contracts, while opponents are dismissed as irrelevant or worse. The real challenge is not how we can carry out war more efficiently or effectively to subdue our enemies, but rather to find alternatives to war. As Randolph Bourne observed shortly after World War I in his classic book War and the Intellectuals, “The real enemy is War rather than imperial Germany.”

We could replace Germany with a host of countries since that “war to end all wars.”

Despite the many costs, it is increasingly evident that we are not effectively spreading freedom abroad or making the world much safer for democracy. At the same time, growing challenges at home are increasingly starved for resources as we maintain the warfare state and struggle with a debt crisis.

Our leaders point with pride to democracy and freedom as core American values. But these values are compromised by what continues to be our permanent war economy and the routine use of war to resolve conflicts abroad and preserve our “unchallenged” position in the world.

But there are broader costs that generally go unrecognized.  The unseen scars are often as painful as the ones seen. But most are explained away as the inevitable collateral damage. From My Lai in Vietnam to the civilian murder spree in Afghanistan in March resulting in seventeen deaths, apparently at the hands of one US military officer, we regret such incidents but acknowledge that in times of war not everything and everyone can be controlled. Even the most strategic missions and surgical air strikes are going to have unintended casualties.

For decades, Seymour Melman, the late professor of engineering and author of the classic book America’s Permanent War Economy, documented the vast material and human costs of war. In addition to the obvious lives lost (among our own military as well as that of our enemies, along with innocent civilians), there are the trillions of dollars spent on military hardware, and often we do not even know where the money is spent.

In 2001 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, “We cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions.” Additional human resource costs include the training of engineers who devote their careers to designing weaponry instead of building more energy-efficient schools and office buildings, more fuel-efficient modes of transportation, more affordable homes, along with longer-lasting roads, bridges and levees.

Military expenditures do create some jobs and profits for some businesses and investors, but those jobs and more, along with equally if not more profitable investments, could easily be found elsewhere.

Perhaps more costly have been the compromises, if not corruption, of our fundamental values and identity as a nation. American exceptionalism has taken a wrong turn. The basic pursuit of knowledge, along with the freedom and democracy that knowledge should inspire, is often distorted as teachers, scholars, religious leaders and others are encouraged to support war at the expense of the more humane goals and values we presumably espouse.

Just as wars’ costs and outcomes affect economic conditions and evolution, so too do economic conditions and evolution affect war. Causality runs in both directions.

Veterans Day dishonors living and dead veterans. It ignores longstanding US imperial lawlessness. It airbrushes from history decades of what matters most.

It includes militarism, raw aggression, permanent wars on humanity, mass killing and destruction, exploiting resources and people, seeking unchallenged global dominance, and creating unspeakable human misery.

It’s got nothing to do with national security. It’s not about making the world safe for democracy.

Propaganda glorifies wars in the name of peace.

Nations are destroyed to liberate them. Plunder is called economic development.

Imperial lawlessness is called humanitarian intervention.

Ruthless dominance is called democracy. Monied interests alone benefit.

Veterans Day should condemn wars. It should feature ways to end them. It should prioritize never again.

It should remember Lincoln at Gettysburg, saying:

“(W)e here resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Remembrance should be contrition. It should pledge peace. It should honor anti-war activism.

Clearly, warfare is not a cost-effective form of social and economic welfare.

We like to think of ourselves as an innovation nation, but our government is a warfare/welfare state. To build an economy for the 21st century we need to increase the rate of innovation and to do that we need to put innovation at the center of our national vision.

The long debate over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka: Obamacare) for example, was almost entirely about welfare and redistribution, about dividing the pie. During this debate how much did we hear about health innovation?

Putting innovation at the center of our national vision is not simply about spending more money. An innovation nation would think about all problems differently.

To all of you out there who have served: Thank you and God bless.

Live and Learn. We All Do.

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The Greatest Of All Illusions Is The Illusion Of Control.

November 12, 2013

As a mother, I’ve always intended to put my children’s well-being in God’s hands. But the truth is, from pregnancy on I’ve felt responsible for feeding them, protecting them, and loving them. I’ve been under the illusion of control when it comes to my family.

As a parent, I often convince myself that somehow I can control outcomes for my children. Even as someone committed to treating children with respect and honoring their inner voice and authority, sometimes I still hold onto this illusion of control.

illusionOfControl8x10

But, the illusion of control robs our children of their own experiences in life. It robs them of the fundamental right to feel what they feel without judgment from us. It can force them to conform to our expectations to get what they need because they fear that we will judge their feelings.

Rather than accept where they’re at, we try to change them and the outcomes.

This illusion has its roots in childhood.

As children, most of us had the experience of the adults around us controlling (or at least trying to control) many aspects of our lives. We were told that when we grew up, we could make the rules. But as long as we were children we had to live by others’ rules.

We grew up believing that there was a time when we would be in charge and in control. By example, we learned to try and control the people around us. Sometimes this need to control was internalized and we became perfectionist, trying to control ourselves.

Control is an illusion. There, I said it. Accept it and move on. You are not in total control of anything at all. You can have some control of some things, but total control is not achievable. Take these examples – you are not in total control of your own mind. If you were, then you would not think of a pink elephant when I tell you not to think of a pink elephant, but I will bet you money that you thought of one.

You are not in total control of the way you feel. If you were, then you could just stop being anxious and stop worrying about everything right now and never be anxious again. And, you are not in total control of your behaviors. If you were, then you could stop blinking your eyes while being awake for the next 5 hours.

So, we are not in total control of our own feelings, thoughts, and behaviors – therefore there is no way we will be in control of anyone else’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors either.

Control is one of humankind’s greatest illusions. Let’s face it—even with all the information available and expansive educational preparation—unexpected events often interfere with our plans and our best efforts to control an outcome or an event (and even ourselves!).

www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhfXa6IaY5U&w=560&h=315

You physically are a group of over sixty-trillion living cells that do what they do by themselves. Every second, there are trillions of things happening inside our bodies that keep us from dropping dead, and we have no control over it.

Blood is being pumped, cells are being created, hormones distributed; a trillion things out of our control have to happen just for us to digest food, and we are not even aware that it is happening right now.

People are aware of the fact that they are not in control of the inner workings of their bodies, but most people are not aware of the fact that they do not control what is going on outside of them either.

Most people believe they are in control, and the exact opposite is the truth.

The dance of life: God/life leads and we follow in the dance of life. In other words, the physical environment does something, and your inner environment (mind) reacts to it.

We are under the absolute control of our environments.

You get hungry you eat, need money you work, the phone rings you answer it, get cold you put on a coat, get hot you take it off, and if you have an itch, you scratch it.

Then there is larger environmental control; where and when you are born, if you are rich or poor, educated, talented, healthy, looks, sex and race, etc.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKAVChETvbE&w=420&h=315

The easiest way to check if we are in control or not is to just look for someone that does not die like everyone else. No one beats death, not even the faith healers, and no one wants to die. The fact that everyone dies and in less than a hundred and fifty years tells you with no doubt that we are not in control.

Control is a deep, deep need.

Perhaps the deepest need people have is for a sense of control. When we feel out of control, we experience a powerful and uncomfortable tension between the need for control and the evidence of inadequate control.

Note that the need is for ‘a sense of control’, not just for ‘control’. This need around how we feel about control is much deeper and has a wider scope than just seeking power and the control it brings.

If you’ve ever seen somebody put on a lucky jersey so that their favorite team will win, you have watched the illusion of control in action. This cognitive bias is the tendency for human beings to overestimate the amount of influence they have over outcomes that they actually cannot affect.

Psychologist Ellen Langer first discovered and named this bias in the 1970s. In one of her experiments, subjects were given lottery tickets; either at random or allowed to choose their own. The subjects then had the chance to trade in their tickets for other tickets that had a higher chance of paying out. The subjects who had chosen their own ticket were less likely to part with it than those who had a random ticket. Though the lottery was random, the subjects acted as if they felt their choice of ticket had some bearing on the outcome—demonstrating the illusion of control.

Because control is such a core part of our fallen human nature, so is the false belief that there is an A action that will lead to the B result we want, if we can just figure out the right formula.

Missing from our belief system is the conviction that God will give us the grace to deal with the pain of living in a fallen world. Thinking we are on our own, we become obsessed with getting rid of the reality of a fallen world.

We are likely to spend much of our day unknowingly focused on trying to fix things in the world that are broken or that have the potential to cause pain. But God has never commanded us to repair the damage of the Fall. He simply asks us to trust him one day at a time until one day He makes things right.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jq8KdFDB0P0&w=560&h=315

We think control guarantees us the life we want. We try to control because we’re trying to guarantee the outcomes we think we need. Obviously, the benefits to having control are very attractive. We think if we can achieve our Outcome Focused Goals, we could create heaven on earth and we would be perfectly happy.

Unfortunately, trying to create heaven on earth is more likely to create hell on earth for others and ourselves. Ironically, our efforts to try to control things can often cause us to be more out of control.

The illusion of control can lead us to make bad decisions or take irrational risks. It can cause us to engage in magical thinking—like the wearer of the lucky jersey above—or even believe in the paranormal.

When things don’t go as planned, you have a choice – look outside or look inside. Looking outside is about control and looking inside is about lack of control.

When you look outside, what you’re saying is the universe didn’t behave per the plan, and you’re going to teach it a lesson. You’re going to tighten the screws until it does what you want; you’re going to add personal energy (probably all your energy) to lock things down; you’re going to control what must be controlled so the universe follows your plan.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2so7Rw3UGY&w=560&h=315

The look outside approach can work, for a while. You can put your fingers and toes in all the holes; you can make sure everyone does their job; and you can be the master scheduler for the universe, but only for a while because the universe has limitless energy and you don’t.

And while your control-the-world strategy looks like it’s working, it’s not – not even in the short term. The universe is playing you – it’s sucking your energy while you tread water. The universe isn’t stupid – it knows you can’t last.

At its core, the universe likes to teach; and when you fight it head-to-head, it wants to teach you about opportunity cost. While you spend all your energy wresting it to a draw, it prevents you from moving forward. It wants you to learn you have finite energy and to be thoughtful about how you spend it.

I don’t know about you but, in the midst of my Life’s chaotic moments this article reminds me that the entire purpose of all that we do as parents is to “…[train] yourself out of the job.”

Live and Learn. We All Do.

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I Am A Conservative, But I Am Not A Zombie.

October 28, 2013

Do you believe in zombies?

The prestigious Archaeology Magazine has posted research detailing evidence of a zombie outbreak in ancient Egypt near Hierakonpolis approximately 5000 years ago.

Yes, Archaeology Magazine!

The intrepid archaeologists posited that these zombie attacks were caused by a viral culprit:

Zombie-Humor

The idea that zombies are supernatural beings needs to be discarded. They are not the Spawn of Hell, although, they certainly look the part. They are, or were, people who were infected by the Solanum virus. The virus creates a zombie by eating away the frontal lobe of the brain for replication, thus destroying it. The virus mutates the brain and allows the brain to remain alive but dormant and without the need for oxygen. Once the mutation is complete, approximately 23 hours from infection to fully functioning zombie, the ghoul will be on the unending search for living human flesh, thus spreading the infection.

If you don’t believe, have you at least noticed that zombies are the new black? They’re everywhere, and they have a plethora of fans. On TV there is Bite Me, Ugly American and Team Daryl which was spawned by The Walking Dead (chosen as the #1 Show on Television).

A Google search of ‘zombies’ yields 117 million hits.

There are actually three different kinds of zombies. All of them are like humans in some ways, and all of them are lacking something crucial (something different in each case).

Hollywood zombies. These are found in zombie B-movies. Their defining feature is that they are dead, but “reanimated”. They are typically rather mean, and fond of human flesh. The zombies pictured on this page are mostly Hollywood zombies (though I’m informed that the one at the bottom is really a ghost demon). An expert tells me that the name should be “Pittsburgh zombies”, since the most important zombie movies were made in Pittsburgh, but somehow it doesn’t have the same ring.

Haitian zombies. These are found in the voodoo (or vodou) tradition in Haiti. Their defining feature seems to be that they lack free will, and perhaps lack a soul. Haitian zombies were once normal people, but underwent zombification by a “bokor” through spell or potion, and are afterwards used as slaves.

Philosophical zombies. These are found in philosophical articles on consciousness. Their defining features is that they lack conscious experience, but are behaviorally (and often physically) identical to normal humans.

Both the fear of contagion and the fear of predation are hard-wired into the human central nervous system. In other words, these are the cross-cultural,‘instinctive,’ pre-cognitive and pre-linguistic buttons that the modern zombie pushes.

The word zombie, the living dead, has its roots in West African/Haitian vodou religion. Historians and anthropologists trace the origin of zombies to the folklore of several tribes in western Africa, from Ghana to Nigeria. During the slave trade of the late 1500s through the 1800s, persons from these regions were spirited away from their homes to till the plantations of the Caribbean and the European colonies, bringing with them the voodoo culture of magic and spells.

The zombie as represented in film symbolizes a mindless, soulless being with the desire to consume the living, as opposed to the vodou zombie who exists to do the bidding of its master at all costs. At its most basic definition, the term zombie refers to a person who is no longer thinking for themselves. In the case of the West African/Haitian culture, this person is a slave.

Like humans, zombies came out of Africa. There they led rich lives being worshipped as Congolese snake gods (nzambi). The ability of certain snakes to use poison to paralyze their prey was ritualistically imitated by tribal priests, who then proclaimed themselves able to resurrect the dead as well. In such vodoun or Obeah cults, the term nzambi migrated in meaning to “spirits of the dead.”

Transported to the Americas, vodoun took root in Caribbean slave culture, mating with indigenous religions to spawn zombies, zumbies, jumbies, and duppies and spreading northward to the continent. By the 17th century vodoun was strong enough to trigger the Salem witch hysteria of 1692. Tituba, a Carib Indian slave bought by Samuel Parris in Barbados and brought to Salem, filled her young mistresses’ heads with vodoun notions like invocation of the devil, possession, trances, animal familiars, and the sticking of pins into “poppetts” (dolls) made to resemble enemies. The girls’ psyches broke down, alternating between hysterics and catatonia. Tituba was among the first arrested and was the first to confess, in lurid detail—yet she survived while 24 others did not.

To this day, voodoo is prominent in western Africa, Haiti, New Orleans, and parts of the Caribbean Islands.

Although most cultures would consider the zombie to be a fictional creature, zombiism (i.e., being a zombie) is rather common in Haiti, with instances of people being reported dead by loved ones, only to be spotted fully reanimated and wandering around town several weeks to several years later. In Haitian and African culture, zombification is a punishable offense on the same order of severity as murder.

What is lacking from the historicist or contextualist account of zombies is an accurate understanding of the psychology that underlies the fascination and repulsion that zombies engender. All cultural concepts are engaged in a struggle for survival, but that struggle is not fought in some disembodied ether – it’s fought in people’s minds.

What’s on people’s minds is determined by their experience and their culture, certainly, but also constrained and, in the first place, enabled by genetics. People are disposed to be interested in a limited range of things, to be afraid of a limited number of things.

Although we fear the zombies we see portrayed in film, most may, on some levels, subconsciously relate to the symbol being communicated. We use the term “mindless zombie” in a defaming manner toward those who are perceived as blindly following those not deemed fit to follow. If the leader or organization is not one in which one can pledge loyalty, then they are seen as manipulative and unworthy of anyone’s fealty and those that follow them are regarded as mindless due to their failure to perceive the true nature of the organization others so easily recognize. The zombie as defined here is not one to be feared but is one some may pity or even worse, scorn.

Exploring the zombie as a cultural symbol forces us to confront the mind/body issue that many films fail to address. Where religion struggles with the mind/body issue as a reality, science approaches it as a philosophical exercise whose results focus on concepts that would prove the plausibility of a consciousness in artificial lifeforms which result in an artificial intelligence. The transference of the consciousness from one physical vessel to another is a widely accepted theme in a majority of science fiction television shows and films–from the alien technology used in the Stargate Universe that allows a person to swap bodies millions of light years apart to the transference of the human consciousness into a cybernetic form in the upcoming television series Caprica.

This concept has remained a major topic of religious and philosophical study for much of humanity’s history. Both the concept of a “mindless zombie” and the theory of a dualistic human state–the separation of mind and body– is at the core of Joss Whedon’s television series Dollhouse. The significance of this study raises the question not only of the consciousness remaining viable apart from its original form but also whether the body can exist without the consciousness? If the body is capable of existing without a consciousness, is the vessel or shell still a person? The theoretical plausibility of zombies raise the much deeper issue of personhood and as such makes our understanding of the culture symbolism of zombies even more crucial.

The zombie taps into deep-rooted, ancient fears that extend far back in to our hominid lineage and beyond: notably the fear of contagion and the fear of predation. Humans are equipped with ‘elementary feature detectors geared to respond to biologically relevant threats,’ as Arne Öhman has spent a life of research demonstrating, and we react strongly and predictably to features that seem to represent ancestral dangers, even when the source is only a fleeting shadow in the twilight, flickering images on the silver screen, or indeed mental images procured by ink on paper.

There is a clear pop-culture fascination with zombies. Forget Halloween costumes. They’re dragging themselves along on a hit show, “The Walking Dead,” on AMC, holding conventions, taking part in protests and lurching in “zombie walks” through cities from Toronto to Omaha, Nebraska.

Part of this, I’m sure, is just an expression of our culture’s enjoyment of seeing violence performed on seemingly deserving subjects: Zombies can be killed in a variety of creative ways, and since they don’t feel pain and are already dead, there’s apparently no need to feel guilty about it.

But what if this fascination is about more than just gross-out gore and action thrills?

What if it represents a subtle, subconscious understanding that something is wrong—spiritually wrong—with our culture.

Zombies represent the appetite divorced from everything else. They are incapable of judgment, self-awareness, or self-preservation. Though they still move and act, they are not really alive. They hunger and are never filled. And they aren’t just hungry for anything—they specifically want to eat the living, and even more specifically the brain, seat of rationality and self control.

In Pauline terms, they are the sarx in its purest form. Without a soul to control it, the flesh is a slave to its own desires. The rise in popularity of zombies, then, may reflect a rise in anxiety over the elevation of appetite in modern life, a popular recognition that appetite has gotten out of control, and that unchecked, unreflective, and immoderate appetite is a form of death.

It’s this symbolic potential that seems to be behind the recent zombie film resurgence.

Zombies may inspire fear within those who witness them in popular culture, and this fear can be compared with the same emotions that people might experience when they encounter the unknown. Some of the fears brought on by zombies include fear of brain dysfunction, fear of death, and feelings of hopelessness. Zombies, in turn, make these fears into something concrete, something we can reflect upon from a safe distance, as opposed to more active methods of facing our fears, such as high-risk activities like sky diving or bungee jumping.

It’s not always subconscious, actually; Romero’s Dawn of the Dead overtly uses zombies to satirize consumerism. The humans are besieged by the walking dead in a shopping mall, and one of them says that the zombies have gathered there because that’s where they always went in life. Shaun of the Dead uses zombies in the same way, though more humorously. It takes a very long time for Shaun to realize that all of the shambling, vacant-eyed, disgusting people around him have actually become zombies, as their behavior really hasn’t changed all that much. (At the movie’s end, Shaun’s friend Ed’s lifestyle doesn’t seem to have changed at all after his own transformation into a zombie.)

The zombie phenomenon is very interesting theologically, as it’s sort of a “return of the repressed” way of recognizing the deadness of appetite-driven modern culture. As we become more and more zombified, as our culture becomes ever more adept at amplifying our desires through advertising, pornography, and a media culture obsessed with gratifying every appetite, we can see the inevitable results of that process shambling along on their rotting legs.

Another fascinating feature of most modern zombie stories is that, most of the time, the zombies themselves are not actually all that dangerous.

They’re usually slow and clumsy, almost never use weapons, and are too mindless to formulate any tactics. They just plod forward toward their victims, and only their numbers, persistence, and resilience to damage make them much of a threat.

No, what really makes things scary for the protagonists in a zombie story is not the zombies’ power, but the humans’ own weakness.

The survivors in Night of the Living Dead could have easily withstood the besieging zombies if they had stayed cool-headed and followed their most intelligent member’s plans. But instead they degenerate into infighting and hysteria, and that gives the zombies an opening to overwhelm them.

The theological lesson here is that it’s the frailty of our human wills that gives the sarx its power over us.

When we’re faced by naked appetite, we are all too often defenseless and paralyzed. And of course, the worst fate that can befall the victim of a zombie—far worse than being eaten—is to be turned into a zombie oneself. What seems at first like merely an external physical threat can get inside us, corrupt our humanity, and turn us into just another mindless, ravenous drone.

There is never just one meaning to a symbol as rich as the zombie. People have feared many things in many different guises over the centuries, but some fears are eternal and universal.

Zombies have come to occupy a very prominent spot in North American popular culture. This popularity has spilled over into other aspects of everyday life, making zombies a reoccurring metaphor in politics and economics, as well as the natural sciences and mathematics.

As a sub-genre of post-apocalyptic stories, since WWII zombies have reflected society’s concern with crises such as political conflict, social and cultural change, and economic decline. Yet, since the crystallization of the modern zombie in George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), zombies have also contained an under-current of environmental anxiety in addition to political, social and economic anxieties.

Zombies are historically contingent, and stand-in for specific types of environmental anxieties that shift and evolve to reflect the times.

Mainstream interest in zombies has steadily risen over the past 40 years.

Vampires have become sexy, mummies CG, monsters sympathetic, but no horror baddie remains as au courant as the lowly, lurching zombie.

It’s not just television, books and films that are cashing in on zombies. Preppers, as seen on National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers are spending millions to survive a zombie apocalypse (and other end of world scenarios). They are buying land, growing their own food, stockpiling weapons and designing zombie proof bunkers. In today’s culture, zombies are major players and big business.

Zombies are a value stock. They are wordless and oozing and brain dead, but they’re an ever-expanding market with no glass ceiling. Zombies are a target-rich environment, literally and figuratively. The more you fill them with bullets, the more interesting they become.

Roughly 5.3 million people watched the first episode of “The Walking Dead” on AMC, a stunning 83 percent more than the 2.9 million who watched the Season 4 premiere of “Mad Men.” This means there are at least 2.4 million cable-ready Americans who might prefer watching Christina Hendricks if she were an animated corpse.

In most films, zombies are created when man-made events produce genetic mutations in normal humans. In either scenario, we have a person who is no longer in control of their own life. Helpless, and at the mercy of their new nature, the zombie’s only option, as depicted in modern film, is to band together and rise up and devour the living. In many cases this act does not free the zombie but only adds to their number those who now shamble forth and fight with them.

A person who has been zombified, or transformed into a zombie, can have a blunt affect, dull gaze, and almost stuporous behavior, characterized by a lumbering gait and simple, repetitive vocalizations and movements. Most medical evaluations would characterize victims of zombification as having mental disorders such as catatonic schizophrenia. The aforementioned traits have been incorporated into the current interpretation of zombies found in modern film and media.

What makes that measured amplification curious is the inherent limitations of the zombie itself: You can’t add much depth to a creature who can’t talk, doesn’t think and whose only motive is the consumption of flesh. You can’t humanize a zombie, unless you make it less zombie-esque. There are slow zombies, and there are fast zombies— that’s pretty much the spectrum of zombie diversity. It’s not that zombies are changing to fit the world’s condition; it’s that the condition of the world seems more like a zombie offensive.

People instinctively know to avoid the kind of toxic substances that over evolutionary time constituted a lethal threat to our ancestors, such as rotting meat.

That’s because natural selection has fine-tuned our perceptual apparatus to be on alert for such substances: those of our ancestors who cried yuck at the sight of decomposing flesh were more likely to propagate their genes than the ones who dug in happily.

Over time, the rot-lovers became extinct, and the human population today is united in its innate aversion to spoiled meat. This is an experiment you can do at home: purchase a packet of steaks, let it sit on the kitchen counter for a week and a half, and then open it and smell the roses. If your response is less than enthusiastic, that’s natural selection protecting your genetic material from a potent threat, right there.

New thinking tells us that consciousness itself is an evolutionary adaptation, and it is easy to see how being self-aware helped us survive.

But consciousness also can limit what we see. It allows us, even encourages us, to live in denial of the biggest new threats. For ruling establishments especially, the pressure to keep people oblivious can be all the more acute because admitting to big danger directly threatens legitimacy.

As Stephen King has pointed out on numerous occasions, horror fiction is so often about ordinary people trapped in extraordinary circumstances, and about their efforts to cope.

Humans care supremely about humans, and the motives and thoughts of other people is an ever-lasting well of interest to most of us. Just witness the prevalence of gossip anywhere, or the contents of most fiction throughout the ages. It’s all about what makes people tick, about human nature.

Zombie stories, too; zombies are attention-grabbing and salient in themselves, to be sure, but concerns and speculations regarding human nature usually make up the bulk of the thematic structure of zombie stories. It’s hard to imagine a story pitting zombies against squirrels or groundhogs being much of a blockbuster or bestseller (not to mention zombies vs. polyatomic ions, or the Zombie War on the Fibonacci Sequence). People are interested in the human element.

So zombies tell us more than just that Hollywood likes to come up with new ways to show gore. They also tell us about our own souls. When we watch or read or play a story about them, we see ourselves as both zombies and the victims. We know it, but we don’t realize it. What we need to realize is that we’re already undead, and that the only cure is regeneration.

Live and Learn. We All Do.

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The Only Thing That Interferes With My Learning Is My Education.

October 14, 2013

The new Federal education standards known as Common Core, are stirring up a big argument around the nation.

The standards have been in existence for a while and are now becoming an issue because they are just recently being put into effect across the country.

If you are not aware of what this is; Common core refers to a set of standards that are intended to provide clear goals for what students are expected to learn, and include a series of benchmarks in English and Math that all students will have to meet by the next school year.

COMMON-CORE-CLASSROOM

The standards apply to students from kindergarten through 12th.

This cure-all wonder drug – the Common Core, short for the Common Core State Standards Initiative was cooked up by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. And, this magic potion promises to cure America’s education ills, according to its Mission Statement:

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.

Before these standards were set, states came up with education benchmarks that were unique to each and every state.

Common Core tries to make sure all students, nationally, are on the same level, and was created by Governors from across the nation as well as education commissioners.

45 states have adopted the Common Core standards.

In 2014, there will be testing to correspond with the Common Core standards, after they take full effect.

Specifically, the Common Core claims to cure the ills that have long plagued America’s education: inequality and inefficiency. “Common standards will help ensure that students are receiving a high quality education consistently, from school to school and state to state. Common standards will provide a greater opportunity to share experiences and best practices within and across states that will improve our ability to best serve the needs of students.”

So how wonderful is this wonder drug? There is no empirical evidence at the moment to make any judgment since no one has taken it yet. But common sense can help.

It is important to remember that although they are referred to as Federal or National education standards, the Federal Government did not create them. They are referred to as this only because the majority of states have chosen to adopt them, and they are aimed at being a national set of standards.

The misnamed “Common Core State Standards” are not state standards. They’re national standards, created by Gates-funded consultants for the National Governors Association (NGA). They were designed, in part, to circumvent federal restrictions on the adoption of a national curriculum, hence the insertion of the word “state” in the brand name. States were coerced into adopting the Common Core by requirements attached to the federal Race to the Top grants and, later, the No Child Left Behind waivers. (This is one reason many conservative groups opposed to any federal role in education policy oppose the Common Core.)

Like so many education reform initiatives that seem to arise out of nowhere, the Common Core State Standards is another of these sweeping phantom movements that have gotten their impetus from a cadre of invisible human beings endowed with inordinate power to impose their ideas on everybody.

For example, the idea of collecting intimate personal data on public school students and teachers seems to have arisen spontaneously in the bowels of the National Center for Education Statistics in Washington. It required a small army of education psychologists to put together the data handbooks, which are periodically expanded to include more personal information.

Nobody knows who exactly authorized the creation of such a dossier on every student and teacher in American public schools, but the program exists and is being paid for by the taxpayer.

Already hailed as the “next big thing” in education reform, the Common Core State Standards are being rushed into classrooms in nearly every district in the country. Although these “world-class” standards raise substantive questions about curriculum choices and instructional practices, such educational concerns are likely to prove less significant than the role the Common Core is playing in the larger landscape of our polarized education reform politics.

The curriculum replaces the classics with government propaganda. According to the American Principles Project, “They de-emphasize the study of classic literature in favor of reading so-called ‘informational texts,’ such as government documents, court opinions, and technical manuals.” Over half the reading materials in grades 6-12 are to consist of informational texts rather than classical literature. Historical texts like the Gettysburg Address are to be presented to students without context or explanation.

The Common Core, however dressed, shares the fundamental spirit with NCLB: standardization of curriculum enforced with high-stakes testing. In fact, the Common Core comes with more force on a larger scale. The side effects will be even more significant.

“If you had a stomach ache, if you were nervous, if you were lethargic, if you needed energy, if you had tuberculosis, if you had asthma, all sorts of things. It was going to cure what you had.” That was historian Dr. Howard Markel talking about cocaine, a wonder drug praised by the medical researchers, doctors, and great minds in the 1880s, including the likes of Thomas Edison, Queen Victoria and Pope Leo XIII. “I take very small doses of it regularly against depression and against indigestion and with the most brilliant of success,” wrote Sigmund Freud.

“And today begins a new era, a new time in public education in our country. As of this hour, America’s schools will be on a new path of reform, and a new path of results.” That was President George W. Bush talking about the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002. “Our schools will have higher expectations,” he continued, “Our schools will have greater resources to help meet those goals. Parents will have more information about the schools, and more say in how their children are educated. From this day forward, all students will have a better chance to learn, to excel, and to live out their dreams.”

Today, we know that cocaine is indeed potent, in fact, so potent that there is an ongoing expensive battle against it.

And Bush’s NCLB? Every state is trying to get out of it, some even willing to trade it with a worse set of demands from Arne Duncan.

All medicine has side effects. When it cures, it can harm the body as well. Put it in another way, there is no free lunch. Everything comes at a cost.

Education cannot escape this simple common sense law of nature for a number of reasons. First, time is a constant. When one spends it on one thing, it cannot be spent on others. Thus when all time is spent on studying and preparing for exams, it cannot be spent on visiting museums. By the same token, when time is spent on activities not necessarily related to academic subjects, less time is available for studying the school subjects and preparing for exams. Second, certain human qualities may be antithetical to each other.

When one is taught to conform, it will be difficult for him to be creative. When one is punished for making mistakes, it will be hard for her to take risks. When one is told to be wrong or inadequate all the time, it will be difficult for her to maintain confidence. In contrast, when the students are allowed freedom to explore, they may question what they are asked to learn, and may decide not to comply. Finally, resources are a finite as well.

When a school or society devotes all resources to certain things, they don’t have them for others. For example, when all resources are devoted to teaching math and language, schools will have to cut out other programs. When more money is spent on testing students, less will be available for actually helping them grow.

Diane Ravitch has exposed many cases of education wonder drugs or silver bullets in her outstanding must-read book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education and other writings. She writes, “…in education, there are no shortcuts, no utopias, and no silver bullets.”

The Common Core has not been tested. If anything, standards and testing in the U.S. have not amounted much in curing the ills of inequality and inefficiency.

When I first read about the Common Core State Standards, I cheered. I believe that our schools should teach all students (except for those who have severe learning disabilities), the skills, habits and knowledge that they need to be successful in post-secondary education.

That doesn’t mean that every teenager must be prepared to enter Harvard, but it does mean that every young adult, with few exceptions, should at least be prepared to enter their local community college. That is how we give students a real choice.

I confess that I was naïve. I should have known in an age in which standardized tests direct teaching and learning, that the standards themselves would quickly become operationalized by tests. Testing, coupled with the evaluation of teachers by scores, is driving its implementation. The promise of the Common Core is dying and teaching and learning are being distorted. The well that should sustain the Core has been poisoned.

Written mostly by academics and assessment experts—many with ties to testing companies—the Common Core standards have never been fully implemented and tested in real schools anywhere. Of the 135 members on the official Common Core review panels convened by Achieve Inc., the consulting firm that has directed the Common Core project for the NGA, few were classroom teachers or current administrators. Parents were entirely missing. K–12 educators were mostly brought in after the fact to tweak and endorse the standards—and lend legitimacy to the results.

The standards are tied to assessments that are still in development and that must be given on computers many schools don’t have. So far, there is no research or experience to justify the extravagant claims being made for the ability of these standards to ensure that every child will graduate from high school “college and career ready.” By all accounts, the new Common Core tests will be considerably harder than current state assessments, leading to sharp drops in scores and proficiency rates.

We have seen this show before. The entire country just finished a decade-long experiment in standards-based, test-driven school reform called No Child Left Behind.

The tests showed that millions of students were not meeting existing standards. Yet the conclusion drawn by sponsors of the Common Core was that the solution was “more challenging” ones.

This conclusion is simply wrong.

Don’t judge teachers by their students’ scores. Test scores are a poor measure of a child’s quality and an even worse measure of the quality of teaching. Moreover students’ performance on tests is the result of many factors, many of which are beyond the control the teacher. Thus it is not only unfair to judge a teacher based on test scores, but also ineffective—research has shown that test-based incentive programs do not lead to improvement of student achievement.

There has been no bigger change in ten thousand years of recorded human history than the overwhelming transformation of society and commerce and health and civilization that was enabled (or caused) by industrialization.

We’re so surrounded by it that it seems normal and permanent and preordained, but we need to lay it out in stark relief to see how it has created the world we live in.
In just a few generations, society went from agrarian and distributed to corporatized and centralized.

In order to overhaul the planet, a bunch of things had to work in concert: Infrastructure changes, including paving the earth, laying pipe, building cities, wiring countries for communication, etc. Government changes; which meant permitting corporations to engage with the king, to lobby, and to receive the benefits of infrastructure and policy investments. “Corporations are people, friend.”

Education changes, including universal literacy, an expectation of widespread commerce, and most of all, the practice of instilling the instinct to obey civil (as opposed to government) authority.

None of this could have happened if there had been widespread objections from individuals. It turns out, though, that it was relatively easy to enforce and then teach corporate and educational obedience. It turns out that industrializing the schooling of billions of people was a natural fit, a process that quickly turned into a virtuous cycle: obedient students were turned into obedient teachers, who were then able to create even more obedient students. We’re wired for this stuff.

A hundred and fifty years ago, adults were incensed about child labor. Low-wage kids were taking jobs away from hard-working adults.

Sure, there was some moral outrage about seven-year-olds losing fingers and being abused at work, but the economic rationale was paramount. Factory owners insisted that losing child workers would be catastrophic to their industries and fought hard to keep the kids at work—they said they couldn’t afford to hire adults. It wasn’t until 1918 that nationwide compulsory education was in place.

Part of the rationale used to sell this major transformation to industrialists was the idea that educated kids would actually become more compliant and productive workers. Our current system of teaching kids to sit in straight rows and obey instructions isn’t a coincidence—it was an investment in our economic future. The plan: trade short-term child-labor wages for longer-term productivity by giving kids a head start in doing what they’re told.

Large-scale education was not developed to motivate kids or to create scholars. It was invented to churn out adults who worked well within the system. Scale was more important than quality, just as it was for most industrialists.
Of course, it worked. Several generations of productive, fully employed workers followed.
But now?

Nobel prize–winning economist Michael Spence makes this really clear: there are tradable jobs (doing things that could be done somewhere else, like building cars, designing chairs, and answering the phone) and non-tradable jobs (like mowing the lawn or cooking burgers). Is there any question that the first kind of job is worth keeping in our economy?

Alas, Spence reports that from 1990 to 2008, the U.S. economy added only 600,000 tradable jobs.

If you do a job where someone tells you exactly what to do, he will find someone cheaper than you to do it. And yet our schools are churning out kids who are stuck looking for jobs where the boss tells them exactly what to do.

Do you see the disconnect? Every year, we churn out millions of workers who are trained to do 1925-style labor.

The bargain (take kids out of work so we can teach them to become better factory workers as adults) has set us on a race to the bottom.

Over the last three generations, the amount of school we’ve delivered to the public has gone way up—more people are spending more hours being schooled than ever before. And the cost of that schooling is going up even faster, with trillions of dollars being spent on delivering school on a massive scale.

We spend a fortune teaching trigonometry to kids who don’t understand it, won’t use it, and will spend no more of their lives studying math. We invest thousands of hours exposing millions of students to fiction and literature, but end up training most of them to never again read for fun (one study found that 58 percent of all Americans never read for pleasure after they graduate from school).

As soon as we associate reading a book with taking a test, we’ve missed the point.

The industrialized mass nature of school goes back to the very beginning, to the common school and the normal school and the idea of universal schooling. All of which were invented at precisely the same time we were perfecting mass production and interchangeable parts and then mass marketing.

The common school (now called a public school) was a brand new concept, created shortly after the Civil War. “Common” because it was for everyone: for the kids of the farmer, the kids of the potter, and the kids of the local shopkeeper. Horace Mann is generally regarded as the father of the institution, but he didn’t have to fight nearly as hard as you would imagine—because industrialists were on his side.

The normal school (now called a teacher’s college) was developed to indoctrinate teachers into the system of the common school, ensuring that there would be a coherent approach to the processing of students. If this sounds parallel to the notion of factories producing items in bulk, of interchangeable parts, of the notion of measurement and quality, it’s not an accident.

The SAT, the single most important filtering device used to measure the effect of school on each individual, is a (almost without change) lower- order-thinking test.

The reason is simple. Not because it works.

No, we do it because it’s the easy and efficient way to keep the mass production of students moving forward.

School’s industrial, scaled-up, measurable structure means that fear must be used to keep the masses in line. There’s no other way to get hundreds or thousands of kids to comply, to process that many bodies, en masse, without simultaneous coordination.

And the flip side of this fear and conformity must be that passion will be destroyed.

There’s no room for someone who wants to go faster, or someone who wants to do something else, or someone who cares about a particular issue. Move on. Write it in your notes; there will be a test later. A multiple-choice test.

Do we need more fear? Less passion?

The notion that an organization could teach anything at all is a relatively new one.
Traditionally, society assumed that artists, singers, artisans, writers, scientists, and alchemists would find their calling, then find a mentor, and then learn their craft. It was absurd to think that you’d take people off the street and teach them to do science or to sing, and persist at that teaching long enough for them to get excited about it.

Now that we’ve built an industrial solution to teaching in bulk, we’ve seduced ourselves into believing that the only thing that can be taught is the way to get high SAT scores.

We shouldn’t be buying this.

We can teach people to make commitments, to overcome fear, to deal transparently, to initiate, and to plan a course.

We can teach people to desire lifelong learning, to express themselves, and to innovate.

And just as important, it’s vital we acknowledge that we can unteach bravery and creativity and initiative. And we have been doing just that.

School has become an industrialized system, working on a huge scale that has significant byproducts, including the destruction of many of the attitudes and emotions we’d like to build our culture around.

In order to efficiently jam as much testable data into a generation of kids, we push to make those children compliant, competitive zombies.

Human beings have, like all animals, a great ability to hide from the things they fear.

The universal truth is beyond question—the only people who excel are those who have decided to do so. Great doctors or speakers or skiers or writers or musicians are great because somewhere along the way, they made the choice.

Why have we completely denied the importance of this choice?

It’s clear that the economy has changed. What we want and expect from our best citizens has changed. Not only in what we do when we go to our jobs, but also in the doors that have been opened for people who want to make an impact on our culture.

At the very same time, the Internet has forever transformed the acquisition of knowledge. Often overlooked in the rush to waste time at Facebook and YouTube is the fact that the Internet is the most efficient and powerful information delivery system ever developed.

The change in the economy and the delivery of information online combine to amplify the speed of change. These rapid cycles are overwhelming the ability of the industrialized system of education to keep up.

As a result, the education-industrial system, the one that worked very well in creating a century’s worth of factory workers, lawyers, nurses, and soldiers, is now obsolete.

I don’t think it’s practical to say, “We want what we’ve been getting, but cheaper and better.” That’s not going to happen, and I’m not sure we want it to, anyway.

We need school to produce something different, and the only way for that to happen is for us to ask new questions and make new demands on every element of the educational system we’ve built. Whenever teachers, administrators, or board members respond with an answer that refers to a world before the rules changed, they must stop and start their answer again.

No, we do not need you to create compliance.

No, we do not need you to cause memorization.

And no, we do not need you to teach students to embrace the status quo.

Anything a school does to advance those three agenda items is not just a waste of money, but actually works against what we do need. The real shortage we face is dreams, and the wherewithal and the will to make them come true.

No tweaks. A revolution.

Unfortunately there’s been too little honest conversation and too little democracy in the development of the Common Core. We see consultants and corporate entrepreneurs where there should be parents and teachers, and more high-stakes testing where there should be none. Until that changes, it will be hard to distinguish the “next big thing” from the last one.

Whatever positive role standards might play in truly collaborative conversations about what our schools should teach and children should learn has been repeatedly undermined by bad process, suspect political agendas, and commercial interests.

Transparency in the traditional school might destroy it. If we told the truth about the irrelevance of various courses, about the relative quality of some teachers,
about the power of choice and free speech—could the school as we know it survive?

What happens when the connection revolution collides with the school?

Unlike just about every other institution and product line in our economy, transparency is missing from education. Students are lied to and so are parents. At some point, teenagers realize that most of school is a game, but the system never acknowledges it. In search of power, control and independence, administrators hide information from teachers, and vice versa.

Because school was invented to control students and give power to the state, it’s not surprising that the relationships are fraught with mistrust.

The very texture of the traditional school matches the organization and culture of the industrial economy. The bottom of the pyramid stores the students, with teachers (middle managers) following instructions from their bosses.

Changing school doesn’t involve sharpening the pencil we’ve already got. School reform cannot succeed if it focuses on getting schools to do a better job of what we previously asked them to do. We don’t need more of what schools produce when they’re working as designed. The challenge, then, is to change the very output of the school before we start spending even more time and money improving the performance of the school.

The simple way to make something different is to go about it in a whole new way. In other words, doing what we’re doing now and hoping we’ll get some- thing else as an outcome is nuts.

What’s the point of testing someone’s ability to cram for a test if we’re never going to have to cram for anything ever again? If I can find the answer in three seconds online, the skill of memorizing a fact for twelve hours (and then forget- ting it) is not only useless, it’s insane.

In a crowded market, it’s no surprise that people will choose someone who appears to offer more in return for our time and money. So admissions officers look for the talented, as do the people who do the hiring for corporations. Spotting the elite, the charismatic, and the obviously gifted might be a smart short-term strategy, but it punishes the rest of us, and society as a whole.

The opportunity for widespread education and skills improvement is far bigger than it has ever been before. When we can deliver lectures and lessons digitally, at scale, for virtually free, the only thing holding us back is the status quo (and our belief in the permanence of status).

School serves a real function when it activates a passion for lifelong learning, not when it establishes permanent boundaries for an elite class.

If the new goal of school is to create something different from what we have now, and if new technologies and new connections are changing the way school can deliver its lessons, it’s time for a change.

Here are a dozen ways school can be rethought:

• Homework during the day, lectures at night
• Open book, open note, all the time
• Access to any course, anywhere in the world
• Precise, focused instruction instead of mass, generalized instruction The end of multiple-choice exams
• Experience instead of test scores as a measure of achievement The end of compliance as an outcome
• Cooperation instead of isolation
• Amplification of outlying students, teachers, and ideas Transformation of the role of the teacher
• Lifelong learning, earlier work
• Death of the nearly famous college

In an open-book/open-note environment, the ability to synthesize complex ideas and to invent new concepts is far more useful than drill and practice. It might be harder (at first) to write tests, and it might be harder to grade them, but the goal of school isn’t to make the educational-industrial complex easy to run; it’s to create a better generation of workers and citizens.

The best tactic available to every taxpayer and parent and concerned teacher is to relentlessly ask questions, not settling for the status quo.

“Is this class/lecture/program/task/test/policy designed to help our students do the old thing a little more efficiently, or are we opening a new door to enable our students to do something that’s new and different?”

Parents were raised to have a dream for their kids—we want our kids to be happy, adjusted, and successful. We want them to live meaningful lives, to contribute and to find stability as they avoid pain.

School is at its best when it gives students the expectation that they will not only dream big, but dream dreams that they can work on every day until they accomplish them—not because they were chosen by a black-box process, but because they worked hard enough to reach them.

What do you think?

Live and Learn. We All Do.

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Raw! Raw! Raw! That’s The Spirit! Right?

October 9, 2013

The raw food lifestyle has inspired an enthusiastic, soul-stirring movement across the globe and much of this excitement can be credited to Cherie Soria, who instructed and encouraged a host of devoted followers, entrepreneurs, and fledgling chefs.

Fueled by her desire to bring good health, weight loss, energy, and a youthful constitution to millions, Cherie joined with Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina, both registered dietitians, to lead the way toward a raw food health revolution.

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The raw-food movement continues to make converts, thanks to a devoted group of individuals and celebrities who embrace the belief that an all-raw food diet is the best diet. The idea that stirs the most enthusiasm for this diet is the contention that cooking both destroys about fifty percent of the nutrients in food, and destroys all or most of the life promoting enzymes. Raw-food enthusiasts commonly make the claim that “cooked foods are dead foods.”

But, are cooked foods really dead foods?

Many people advocate eating raw food because animals eat raw food and stay healthy, or because raw foods contain a little more of some nutrients. However, the subject is more complex.

We are not like the animals. We think more, we worry, we go to work and do not sleep enough, and most people’s digestion is weak, unlike that of the animals.

Vegetarian animals, in particular, often have very complex or multiple stomachs, such as cows and goats, in order to digest raw vegetables. Human beings lack these.

For hundreds of thousands of years the evolving human race had eaten its food raw, but at some time between the first deliberate use of fire–in Africa in 1,400,000BC or Asia in 500,000BC (depending on which theory happens to be the flavor of the month)-and the appearance of the Neanderthals on the prehistoric scene, cooking was discovered.

Whether or not it came as a gastronomic revelation can only be guessed at, but since heat helps to release protein and carbohydrate as well as break down fiber, cooking increases the nutritive value of many foods and makes edible some that would otherwise be inedible.

Improved health must certainly have been one result of the discovery of cooking, and it has even been argued, by the late Carleton Coon, that cooking was the decisive factor in leading man from a primarily animal existence into one that was more fully human’.

Whatever the case, by all the laws of probability roasting must have been the first method used, its discovery accidental. The concept of roast meat could scarcely have existed without knowledge of cooking, nor the concept of cooking without knowledge of roast meat.

Eating raw food is necessary for good health and is an important feature of a healthy diet. But that does not mean that one’s entire diet has to be raw to be in excellent health. It also does not mean eating an all-raw diet is the healthiest way to eat. It is healthier to expand your nutrient density, your absorption of plant protein and your nutrient diversity with the inclusion of some conservatively cooked food in your diet.

Generally speaking, the larger the mammal, the larger its brain will be. Humans are a bit of an anomaly among primates, however, because we have the largest brain and number of neurons, but not the largest body. Great apes, for instance, have much bigger bodies than humans, yet much smaller brains.

How humans came to be so well endowed in the brain department has long been a mystery – but many theories abound, including the predominant one of access to animal-based omega-3 fats from seafood.

Another theory suggests it may, in fact, be cooking that allowed humans to develop so much brainpower.

Your brain is a major consumer of the calories you consume in a day. Even though it makes up only about 2 percent of your body mass, it uses 20 percent of your calories!

The size and number of neurons in your brain is, therefore, largely dependent on the number of calories you can consume in a day. Ancient humans had to graze constantly to find enough calories to live on, much the way apes and gorillas do today. There are only so many hours in a day, and raw, mostly vegetable, foods do not contain many calories, which together put a metabolic limitation on how big the brain could grow.

Researchers believe that it was the shift to a cooked-food diet that gave humans the extra calories they needed to allow their brains to get bigger.

“Absent the requirement to spend most available hours of the day feeding, the combination of newly freed time and a large number of brain neurons affordable on a cooked diet may thus have been a major positive driving force to the rapid increased in brain size in human evolution,” the researchers noted.

They speculated that gorillas would need to spend another two hours a day eating to gain the extra caloric intake to allow their brains to grow as big as humans’, and pointed out that the cooked foods were likely easier to chew and digest, and may have released more calories in some cases.

In 2008, researchers similarly concluded that human brains “smartened up” – allowing for the use of tools and the creation of art and religion – due to the extra calories that became available when cooked food became widespread.4 Eating cooked meals, they said, would have lessened the energy needs of the human digestive system, thereby freeing up calories for the brain.

Gathered around a blazing fire, our ancient ancestors probably huddled to pass the archaic kebab, munching cooked meat and figuring out how they might share it and plan to get more of it. Eating cooked food allowed these early hominids to spend less time gnawing on raw material and digesting it, providing time–and energy–to do other things instead, like socialize. The strenuous cognitive demands of communicating and socializing forced human ancestors to develop more powerful brains, which required more calories–calories that cooked food provided. Cooking, in other words, allowed us to become human.

A new paper examines the metabolic restrictions of a raw diet, and suggests that our primate cousins are limited by their inability to heat their dinners. It bolsters the cooking hypothesis of Richard Wrangham, a primatologist and professor of biological anthropology at Harvard who believes cooking is our legacy.

Brazilian biomedical scientists Karina Fonseca-Azevedo and Suzana Herculano-Houzel note that the largest primates do not have the largest brains, a perplexing question. Encephalization (a larger brain size per body size than you’d expect) has long been thought to be a key feature setting humans apart from other primates, and mammals as a whole, but there is no consensus on how or why this happened.

“We consider this disparity to be a clue that, in primate evolution, developing a very large body and a very large brain have been mutually excluding strategies, probably because of metabolic reasons,” the authors write. They’re the first to try and quantify these limits.

“You would think, ‘Surely people have thought about this stuff before,’” Wrangham said in an interview. “But nobody has ever thought about the fact that cooking gives you more energy.”

This is a central thesis of Wrangham’s 2009 book, “Catching Fire.” He argues that the control of fire allowed early hominids to not only cook their food, but obtain warmth, allowing them to shed body hair and in turn run faster without overheating; to develop calmer personalities, enabling social structures around the hearth; and even to form relationships among men and women–in short, to become human.

“My day job is studying chimpanzees in the wild, and I have often studied feeding behavior. I have tried to survive on what chimps eat,” he said.

Really?

“If I don’t have any food with me, I just eat what they eat. And that told me that what they eat is totally unsatisfying,” he continued. “I thought about what would happen if humans had to live like chimps. And that took me very rapidly to the conclusion, within a few minutes, that as long as we’ve been human, it’s hard to imagine how we could live on raw food.”

Wrangham’s ideas follow the expensive-tissue hypothesis. That concept predicts an inverse relationship between brain size and gut size–to accommodate a large, human-sized brain; our guts shrank relative to our primate cousins. Imagine the potbelly of a gorilla, Wrangham notes. This paper doesn’t even address gut size, just the requirements of our hungry brains.

“In order to be able to apply a sufficient number of calories to the brain, you have to be able to cook your food,” Wrangham said. “You can only afford to have a brain if you can supply a lot of energy to it.”

The idea is that raw food just doesn’t provide enough calories. You have to get out more than you put in, and raw food takes a lot more work (meaning calories) for your muscles and organs to chew and digest, resulting in a net decrease in the amount of calories available for the rest of your cells.

But you can only spend so many hours of the day eating–there must be time to sleep, forage and procreate, too. This limits the amount of calories you can get per day, and it turns out this is directly related to how many neurons you can grow, according to Fonseca-Azevedo and Herculano-Houzel.

The duo crunched numbers to figure out the metabolic costs of a human-sized brain, which is the third most energy-expensive organ in the human body, ranking below only skeletal muscle and the liver in terms of metabolic needs. The more neurons the brain has, the more energy it needs.

If we ate an only-raw diet, to maintain the body size we humans possess, as well as the number of neurons our brains possess, people would have to eat for more than 9 hours per day, they found.

Cooking does some of the work of digestion for us, as Wrangham puts it.

“Molecules are moving faster under the influence of heat; they are breaking up or shaking apart from each other, and that’s essentially what happens in digestion, the denaturating of proteins,” he said. “They lose their structure, and become more accessible.”

As an example, he and others have investigated the effects of cooking on starch molecules and humans’ ability to digest cooked versus raw grains. Simply cooking starchy foods increases the net energy gain by 30 percent, he said.

“The grains themselves represent long chains of glucose, which are very difficult to digest until they have been gelatinized; you are opening up these chains,” he said.

Take, for example, a simple white sauce of flour and butter. You have to stir constantly over even heat, letting the water in the butter invade the starch molecules in the grain. “Then you get this change in consistency, where the whole thing becomes a continuous colloid, and the starch grains have become gelatinized. The result is that it will be easier to digest,” Wrangham said. “Our body pays fewer calories for the digestion.”

Certainly, there are benefits to consuming plenty of raw fruits and vegetables. These foods supply us with high nutrient levels and are generally low in calories too. Eating lots of raw foods is a key feature of an anti-cancer diet style and a long life. But are there advantages to eating a diet of all raw foods and excluding all cooked foods?

The answer is a resounding “No”.

In fact, eating an exclusively raw-food diet is a disadvantage. Excluding all steamed vegetables and vegetable soups from your diet narrows your nutrient diversity and has a tendency to reduce the percentage of calories from vegetables in favor of nuts and fruits which are lower in nutrients per calorie.

Raw vegetables are dramatically low in calories and we probably only absorb about 50 calories a pound from raw vegetables. Our caloric needs cannot be met on a raw food diet without consuming large amounts of fruits, avocado, nuts and seeds.

Unfortunately, sloppy science prevails in the raw-food movement. Raw food advocates mistakenly conclude that since many cooked foods are not healthy for us, then all cooked foods are bad. This is not true.

The idea that stirs the most enthusiasm for this diet is the contention that cooking both destroys about fifty percent of the nutrients in food, and destroys all or most of the life promoting enzymes. It is true that when food is baked at high temperatures—and especially when it is fried or barbecued—toxic compounds are formed and most important nutrients are lost.

Enzymes are proteins that work to speed up or “catalyze” chemical reactions. Every living cell makes enzymes for its own activities. Human cells are no exception. Our glands secrete enzymes into the digestive tract to aid in the digestion of food.

However, after they are ingested, the enzymes contained in plants do not function as enhancements or replacements for human digestive enzymes. These molecules exist to serve the plant’s purpose, not ours. The plant enzymes get digested by our own digestive juices along with the rest of the food and are absorbed and utilized as nutrients.

Contrary to what many raw-food web sites claim, the enzymes contained in the plants we eat do not catalyze chemical reactions that occur in humans. The plant enzymes merely are broken down into simpler molecules by our own powerful digestive juices. Even when the food is consumed raw, plant enzymes do not aid in their own digestion inside the human body. It is not true that eating raw food demands less enzyme production by your body, and dietary enzymes inactivated by cooking have an insignificant effect on your health and your body’s enzymes.

Plant foods do not supply enzymes that aid in their digestion when consumed by animals. Our body supplies exactly the precise amount of enzymes needed for digestion; we are not ill equipped to digest normal food. The plant enzymes are broken down into simpler molecules by our own powerful digestive juices and even those that are absorbed as peptide size pieces (or with some biologic function) do not function to catalyze human functions.

So it is not true that eating raw food demands less enzyme production by your body. A healthy body produces the precise amount of enzymes needed to digest the ingested food appropriately and the enzymes our body uses for other processes are unique to our human needs and are not present in plants. We make what we need from the proper materials.

Recent studies confirm that the body absorbs much more of the beneficial anti-cancer compounds (carotenoids and phytochemicals—especially lutein and lycopene) from cooked vegetables compared with raw. Scientists speculate that the increase in absorption of antioxidants after cooking may be attributed to the destruction of the cell matrix (connective bands) to which the valuable compounds are bound.

In many cases, cooking actually destroys some of the harmful anti-nutrients that bind minerals in the gut and interfere with the utilization of nutrients. Destruction of these anti-nutrients increases absorption. Steaming vegetables and making vegetable soups breaks down cellulose and alters the plants’ cell structures so that fewer of your own enzymes are needed to digest the food, not more. On the other hand, the roasting of nuts and the baking of cereals does reduce availability and absorbability of protein.

Only small amounts of nutrients are lost with conservative cooking like making a soup, but many more nutrients are made more absorbable. These nutrients would have been lost if those vegetables had been consumed raw. When we heat, soften and moisturize the vegetables and beans we dramatically increase the potential digestibility and absorption of many beneficial and nutritious compounds.

Many vitamins are water-soluble, and a significant percent can be lost with cooking, especially overcooking. Similarly, many plant enzymes function as phytochemical nutrients in our body and are useful to maximize health. They, too, can be destroyed by overcooking. However, we cannot paint with this brush of negativity over every form of cooking.

When food is steamed or made into a soup, the temperature is fixed at 100 degrees Celsius or 212 Fahrenheit—the temperature of boiling water. This moisture-based cooking prevents food from browning and forming toxic compounds. Acrylamides, the most generally recognized of the heat-created toxins, are not formed with boiling or steaming. They are formed only with dry cooking. Most essential nutrients in vegetables are made more absorbable after being cooked in a soup and water-soluble nutrients are not lost because we eat the liquid portion of the soup too.

We also increase the plant proteins in the diet, especially important for those eating a plant-based diet with limited or no animal products.

Multiple studies have demonstrated that the beneficial antioxidant activity of cooked tomatoes is significantly higher than from uncooked tomatoes. Scientists speculate that the increase in absorption of antioxidants after cooking may be attributed to the destruction of the cell matrix (connective bands) to which the valuable compounds are bound.

It is true that vitamin C, folate, B vitamins, and certain minerals are water-soluble and can be destroyed by cooking; but vitamin C contributes less than one percent to the total antioxidant activity of fruits and vegetables. For example, the main antioxidant activity in apples is provided by classes of chemicals called phenolics and flavonoids, both of which are made more available by cooking.

If you compare raw broccoli to steamed or frozen broccoli, about 25 percent of the vitamin C and about 20 percent of the selenium is lost during cooking, but the other 20 commonly measured nutrients show only an insignificant change. Raw-food advocates are not accurate when they claim that 50 percent of nutrients are lost with steaming. A closer estimate would be 10 percent.

Cooking corn also has been shown to significantly boost its antioxidant activity, despite reduction in vitamin C. When the ability to quench free radicals was measured, cooked corn outperformed raw corn by between 25 to 50 percent. Cooking corn releases a compound called ferulic acid, which provides anti-cancer health benefits. Ferulic acid, a phytochemical, is unique in that it is found only in very low amounts in fruits and vegetables, but is found in very high amounts in corn. The availability to the body of ferulic acid can be increased 500 to 900 percent by cooking the corn.

In conclusion, eating lots of raw foods is only a feature of a healthy diet. Like most things in life, most who practice the raw food diet did so with blind faith, thinking it was the end all and be all.

This is NOT true.

Live and Learn. We All Do.

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You Can Kill A Man But Not An Idea

October 5, 2013

What is Hajj?

Hajj in the Arabic language means aim, destination or purpose (qasd). The reason is clear: Hajj is the ultimate journey of loving submission (‘ubūdīyah) and conscious surrender (riq) to Allāh.

Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam and it is incumbent upon every able Muslim to carry out this journey in order to purify himself for God.

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Every year more than two million Muslims, from 70 different countries, travel to Makkah and Medina with the purpose of undertaking the great obligation of Hajj. It is an exemplary example of equality and unity when the pilgrims gather together for Hajj.

Muslims who belong to different nations, cultures, social and economical status are all dressed in two pieces of unsown cloth. All perform the same rites. There is no difference of rich and poor, all stand in front of their Lord in submission and humility.

Hajj provides a unique opportunity for Muslims to meet each other, understand each other, increase in love, get closer, improve and resolve relationships. It is from the blessings of God during Hajj that one is in continuous opportunity to gain good deeds by treating one’s Muslim brethren in the best way. And aid the poor and needy, which is also from the means of achieving great rewards from God.

The Hajj is a journey full of symbolism, for it represents the soul’s journey towards God. Each stage and each aspect of the pilgrimage is replete with profound meanings about life, worship and realities of faith, especially the love and awe of God.

The hajj carries immense symbolic significance, representing the oneness of the Islamic community (the Koran speaks of the umma wahida, the one community of the faith). The ritual that cuts across all sects, with some differences, suggests common bonds that stretch, geographically, from the Middle East to Africa and Asia and into the Muslim minority communities of Europe, the Americas and Australasia; and temporally from now to Judgment Day.

The hajj is also viewed as an affirmation of the equality of all believers. The simple white cloth that pilgrims don, and that some retain to use as a burial shroud, represents humility before God but also negates the hierarchies and inequalities that otherwise seem important in life.

Linguistically, Hajj means, ‘He prepared, or betook himself, to or towards a person… or towards an object of reverence, veneration, respect or honor.” [E.W. Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon (Cambridge, England: The Islamic Text Society, 1984), vol: 1, p. 513]

In the Sharee’ah, Hajj means a specific journey to Makkah during the designated month of Dhul-Hijjah, for the performance of Hajj as an act of worship to God: “The Hajj is (in) the well-known month (i.e. 10th month, 11th month and the first ten days of the 12th month of the Islamic calendar).

Most people do the pilgrimage for religious reasons of one kind or another. For many people, the pilgrimage is done as an act of devotion. For others, it is done to ask for benefits, for themselves or others, living or dead. Still others do it as a quest for enlightenment, or at least what they see as possible progress along that path. All of these are religious ideas.

Whatever their specific reason for doing the pilgrimage, nearly all pilgrims see the pilgrimage as a sacred activity. Many take vows. Many will vow to refrain from anger, alcohol, or sex during the pilgrimage, taking vows to abstain from what they perceive as “worldly activities” that seem to be out of place in the “sacred” realm of the pilgrimage.

Pilgrim‘ and ‘pilgrimage’ are words that have carried a range of meanings over the centuries.

Perhaps the most significant pilgrimage that any of us will ever undertake, however, is the spiritual pilgrimage.

The English term ‘pilgrim’ originally comes from the Latin word peregrinus (per, through + ager, field, country, land), which means a foreigner, a stranger, someone on a journey, or a temporary resident.

It can describe a traveler making a brief journey to a particular place or someone settling for a short or long period in a foreign land.

‘Pilgrimage’ is a term, which can be used to portray an inner spiritual journey through prayer, meditation or mystical experience. In some faiths and cultures, withdrawal from the everyday world into a monastery or hermit’s cell, choosing to enter into a physically restricted life of isolation and silence, is seen as a way of setting the soul free to travel inwardly.

The people of the world are usually aware of two kinds of journey.

One journey is that which is made to earn livelihood. The second one is that which is undertaken for pleasure and sightseeing.

In both [of] these journeys, a man is impelled to go abroad by his need and desire. He leaves home for a purpose of his own, he spends money or time for his own requirements, therefore, and no question of sacrifice arises in such a journey.

But the position of this particular journey, which is called Hajj, is quite different from that of other journeys.

This journey is not meant to gain any personal end or any personal desire. It is intended solely for God, and for fulfillment of the duty prescribed by God.

[You] will be unable to appreciate fully the benefits of Hajj unless you keep in view the fact that each and every Muslim does not perform Hajj individually but that only one single period has been fixed for Hajj for the Muslims of the whole world, and, therefore, [hundreds of thousands] of Muslims jointly perform it.

Historically, the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) performed the Hajj towards the end of his life. It can thus be seen as the conclusion of his mission, or as the conclusion to his life. It can also be interpreted as a summary of one’s life on earth.

On the one hand there is the physical Hajj, which is specific to those who embark on the physical journey towards Makkah. Conversely there is also another level of Hajj, a Hajj that we are all a part of – the “Hajj of Life”. This is our journey through life. In it, there are various stations, challenges, decisions etc. Such is the life on earth.

Meaning that we are to see ourselves as travelers or wayfarers, embarking on a travel. However, wherever we stop our stay is never permanent. Such is our journey in this world, temporary, and not permanent.

The journey inevitably comes to an end, as we must return home. This is our true abode. Our hearts must therefore not be too attached to this world as it is not the end itself, but rather it is the means towards the end.

Journeying to a place of special significance plays a part in almost all cultures and religions. The goal may be a site given prominence by particular events, the shrine of a saint or other significant figure, or a remarkable geographical feature.

The journey of Hajj can be considered as a spiritual and physical healing program or journey, because it touches upon different aspects of the human self.

Every nation and society has a center of unity where they get together to worship God. They see prosperity and culture as relics of unity. People of the society get to know each other and understand each other’s difficulties. They form a unified front to remove these difficulties and achieve their goals.

Unity is vividly observed in the great pillar of Hajj, which is repeated every year and for which millions of Muslims gather from all over the world. They represent the Muslim ummah with all its different races, countries, colors, and languages. They gather in one place, at the same time, wearing the same garment and performing the same rites.

They make one stand in the same monument. They proclaim the oneness of the Lord of the worlds, submit themselves to His law, and show their unity under His banner. They announce to the whole world that they are one nation although they come form different countries and homes. They perform the rites and stand in the open areas of Makkah, where bodies become close to each other, faces meet, hands shake, greetings exchange, tongues communicate, and hearts reconcile. They meet for the same purpose and intention.

Differences in social class, wealth, race, and color vanish within these feelings and rites. A pure and solemn atmosphere of brotherhood, serenity, affection, and love prevails. In a world engulfed in dispute and division, it is a great blessing for a person to have the ability to enjoy this atmosphere of complete peace. In a world where discrepancy is the prevailing system, they (pilgrims) enjoy an atmosphere of equality. In the face of the world’s grudges, hatred, and disputation-feelings all too characteristics of the modern life-pilgrims experience a feeling of love and harmony.

Though the facilities and surrounding s around Mecca and vicinities have altered in modern days, the rites of pilgrimage and the bonds of national and international brotherhood among pilgrims have remained unaltered throughout centuries. This adds to the uniqueness of Hajj.

In this great fusion of the Muslim community, often under utmost intense conditions, all the pilgrims once together will finally get separated and return to their respective homes with hearts filled with light and minds filled with new concepts. The spiritual benefits of Hajj can be clearly estimated when the modern mind returns home utterly transformed.

In Islam there is a wisdom and purpose behind every ritual. Some of these wisdoms we know and some we don’t. The rituals we don’t understand or are unclear to us are a mere test of our obedience to the Omnipotent Lord. It is just like a corporation where a boss might give the worker a task, which he doesn’t understand. This doesn’t mean that the task is not important; there might be many reasons behind assigning such a task, one of which could be test of obedience and loyalty. The boss might want to know the level of obedience of the worker before promoting him to a higher position in the company.

Every action and ritual in Islam has a purpose. If we lose the essence and purpose of a ritual, then it becomes an empty shell with no fruit inside—meaning the benefit of the action is lost. Hajj like any other pillar of Islam has purpose, manners, virtues, values, rewards and benefits.

The Rite of the Wanderer, or the Symbolic Pilgrimage, is entirely puerile and unmeaning, unless we have learned in what ideas it originated, and what its authors intended to represent by it.

This symbolic journey is also emblematical of the pilgrimage of life, which, man soon enough discovers, is often dark and gloomy, surrounded by sorrow, and fear, and doubt. It teaches him that over this dark, perplexed, and fearful course lays the way to a glorious destiny; that through night to light must the earth-pilgrim work his way; that by struggle, and toil, and earnest endeavor, he must advance with courage and hope until, free of every fetter, and in the full light of virtue and knowledge, he stands face to face with the mighty secrets of the universe, and attains that lofty height, whence he can look backward over the night-shrouded and tortuous path in which he had been wandering, and forward to sublime elevation—to more glorious ideals, which seem to say to him, “On, on for ever!”

Such, then, is the grand and inspiring lesson, which this Symbolic Pilgrimage is perpetually repeating to the brethren. Let them study it well, and labor with faith; for it announces a progress in science and virtue, which will reach through eternity.

As long as man continues to live in this world, his soul and body are not separate. Man’s body is a manifestation of his soul and the acts of the body are manifestations of his inner feelings. In the same way that physical acts represent spiritual acts, the physical acts push the soul towards spiritual journey.

The Hajj consists of the Hajj of the Body (walking, standing, collecting and throwing), the Hajj of the Mind (performing the rites with understanding) and the Hajj of the Heart (performed in total submission to The Almighty).

The Ka’bah is not the destination; it is the starting point of one’s commitment to cast away one’s bad ways and to begin afresh a new God-centered life. 

The pilgrim is like a drop of water that has become part of the river that is flowing to its origin, the ocean of Eternity.

In essence, hajj is man’s evolution toward God; his return to Him. It is a symbolic demonstration of the philosophy of creation of Adam, the first man. To further illustrate this, it may be stated that the performance of hajj is a simultaneous show or exhibit of many things.

It is a show of creation. It is a show of history. It is a show of unity. It is a show of Islamic ideology. It is a show of Ummah, the community of Muslims. That is why, it is said in the Quran: “And proclaim unto mankind the hajj. … That they may witness things that are of benefit to them.” (Quran 22:27-8)

Our modern mind is at times so much engaged in the material pursuits of life that we sparingly find time to respond efficiently to the yearning of our soul. The retreat and solace found in Hajj fill this void by procuring a spiritual bliss and peace to our body, mind and soul.

The pilgrimage is daily life. The way you live your life during the pilgrimage becomes the way you live your daily life afterwards. Pilgrim’s lore is full of stories of miracles of reformed sinners, of people who have changed for the good. I’ve never yet heard a story of a pilgrim who became worse after doing the pilgrimage. Of course, some people probably have returned from the pilgrimage unchanged or changed for the worse, but they aren’t part of pilgrimage lore precisely because the pilgrimage is seen as a positive transforming experience. That’s what people expect to happen — change for the better, one way or another.

Progress is one of the basic themes of the pilgrimage. This idea of progress, progress within and of the mind, is central to ideals of the pilgrimage. Whatever your current level of mind, you can progress to the next level.

Though the pilgrimage is cast in terms of sacred activity, the sacred and the secular are so thoroughly blended that the distinction between the two breaks down. This teaches the lesson that there is no essential difference between the two. As a result, the improved person who has finished the pilgrimage goes back to that other everyday life, ready for further progress.

While the Persian mystic Mansur al-Hallaj famously thought that the hajj could be done in one’s own home as an inner journey, other centers have developed throughout the Muslim world. Karbala and Qum for the Shia, Nizamuddin/South Delhi in India and Dewsbury in Yorkshire for the Tablighi Jamaat, and Kaolack in Senegal for the Niassene Tijaniyya Sufis are just a few examples of the many other forms of pilgrimage that exist.

Like the great pilgrimage to Mecca, they assume a spiritual significance beyond the act of travel and, like them, are subject to political and social contestation.

While it obviously constitutes physical movement from one place to another, it is pre-eminently a journey of the mind, projecting believers across space and time, even often in the process overcoming barriers of gender and politics.

The external acts of Hajj symbolize the spiritual stages of the prophets and the Imams. Hajj is a display of the spiritual journey of the devotees and the stages of servitude.

All of these behaviors will lead you to enlightenment. It doesn’t matter whether you do them during the pilgrimage, at work, at school, at home, or when going about your life in town. In fact, what matters is not when or where you live this way. What matters is that you do live this way.

Live and Learn. We All Do.

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To Lift Or Not To Lift, That Is The Question: Isn’t It?

September 24, 2013

Lea-Anne Ellison of Los Angeles was probably just posting a photo of her late-pregnancy workout routine on the CrossFit Facebook page to prove that pregnant women aren’t delicate little flowers. But of course she has been met with a whole mess of people wringing their hands and feigning intense moral outrage that she isn’t doing what pregnant ladies are SUPPOSED to be doing.

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You know, sitting around, knitting booties and singing to her baby nestled in her stomach and daydreaming about baby names. Lea-Anne has two weeks to go before her due date, and I’m going to assume that since this mom is a fitness enthusiast, has two other kids, and is a 35-year-old grown ass women, she knows what the hell she is doing. But the Internet knows better!

The 35-year-old posted one of them on the Crossfit Facebook page earlier this week with a caption that read: “8 months pregnant with baby number 3 and CrossFit has been my sanity. I have been CrossFitting for 2 1/2 years and … strongly believe that pregnancy is not an illness, but a time to relish in your body’s capabilities to kick ass.”

Good for her, right?

Definitely not, according to the hordes of people who have come out of the woodwork to condemn her. People said it was “sickening,” irresponsible, and “silly.”

“This woman is a disgrace. Pregnancy is a time to take care of your body and be gentle, not test it to the limits,” said one commenter.

From another: “Stupid female…”

Really?

While it’s commonly advised that pregnant women shouldn’t lift heavy things, this woman isn’t just any pregnant woman. She’s been doing CrossFit for years, is clearly in amazing shape, and this weight is likely not strenuous for her based on what her body has been doing. Pregnant women should be careful, yes, but they do not need to — nor should they — give up exercise. Still too often it seems women who continue sports and exercise get more criticism than those sitting home eating pack after pack of Oreos.

Reality Check: Pregnancy is the ideal time to get moving. The real hazard is inactivity, which contributes to excess weight gain, high blood pressure, aches and pains, and a higher risk for Cesarean section and gestational diabetes.

The Daily Mail reports for most women, being eight and a half months pregnant means taking it easy, sitting back and hoping that Junior will put in an appearance before too long.

To Ellison’s critics, I say this: You are not in her body. You cannot possibly know what she feels she needs. Do you think a woman is stupid just because she’s pregnant?

Pregnant women are bombarded with messages about what to do and what not to do during their pregnancies. For the most part, this messaging is helpful. Science hasn’t always known that what the mother does during pregnancy actually affects the baby. There was a time when a pregnant woman was thought of as two separate entities, where mom was just the womb and the baby was a perfect and impervious growing organism.

Women used to continue smoking and drinking during their pregnancies without a hint that doing so might harm their babies. Today, this knowledge is common sense. However, in some ways—smoking and drinking aside—a lot of unknown territory still exists with respect to how other health behaviors influence pregnancy and birth outcome. I can imagine a day 20 years from now when people will be aghast at what we did not know.

The genealogy of lifting traces back to the beginning of recorded history where man’s fascination with physical prowess can be found among numerous ancient writings. A 5,000-year-old Chinese text tells of prospective soldiers having to pass lifting tests.

If pregnancy, labor and postpartum were athletic events (I think this is where we lobby for a new definition of “triathlete”) and if I were a coach for these events, I would want to know what training program would help my athletes perform at their best yet would not cause injury or harm.

When elite athletes prepare for their respective competitions, their training programs are designed around the physical demands of the event: their training focuses sharply on the components of fitness they need to develop in order to win or succeed. In fitness and coaching, this principle is called “specificity of training.” This principle is the general rule or belief that training programs should be designed and performed with the relative desired training outcome in mind (e.g., velocity specific, muscle-action specific, energy-source specific).

The continual advancement of our understanding of how the human body adapts to different exercise stimuli will continue to cause experts to argue about the “winning” workout for their respective elite athletes.

Nevertheless, the basic principle is undeniably true: an organism will adapt to the stimulus to which it is subjected. Suffice it to say that moms-to-be are about to enter the fitness challenge of their lives, and the winning program must improve strength and must be functional.

Lea-Ann Ellison is an established, professional body builder. She’s been doing it for years, and just because she’s pregnant doesn’t mean she has to stop. It means she has to think a little more carefully, sure. But I’m betting good money that she has made the necessary adjustments to accommodate her precious cargo.

There was a time when exercising during pregnancy was considered taboo. Women were told to be careful and take it easy. Today’s pregnant woman knows that a healthy pregnancy, that includes exercise, results in both physical and emotional benefits.

A well-designed program requires a solid understanding of physiological and anatomical changes that occur during pregnancy.

The most trusted source aside from your own doctor is the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

In this era of prenatal Pilates videos and Oh Baby! toning classes, most women know that exercise during pregnancy is safe. Yet when it comes to the particulars—Is it OK to work my abs? Do I have to quit running? Should I keep my heart rate low?—myths and misconceptions that hold women back persist. “There’s still a lot of fear out there that stops pregnant women from exercising,” says Sara Haley, a prenatal fitness trainer.

To put your mind at ease, here’s a reality check on prenatal fitness myths that just won’t die.

1. Exercising when pregnant pull nutrients from your baby. MYTH. Your baby takes what it needs from your body, regardless of whether you’re burning calories while exercising. You should be eating enough to cover your own calorie needs as well as your baby’s (estimated at an extra 300 calories a day in your second and third trimester).

2. Running while pregnant is unsafe for the baby. MYTH. If you were a runner prior to discovering you were pregnant, it’s fine to continue running, as long as it is at a moderate exertion, and you feel comfortable. I kept running until about 36 weeks – albeit at a slower pace!

3. If you didn’t exercise before you were pregnant, it’s not safe to start now. MYTH. Here’s what’s not safe: going from a sedentary pre-pregnancy workout to exercising at a high intensity for an hour a day. If you haven’t been working out before, start slow. Aim for five minutes of exercise to start, then add five minutes every day, until you can comfortably get through 30 minutes a day (that’s the recommended exercise prescription from ACOG!).

4. You must keep your heart rate at or below 140 beats per minute. MYTH. This actually was an ACOG recommendation once, but based on further studies, it was modified in 1982 to keeping exertion at a moderate level. Yup, 31 years later, and the same outdated advice is still being doled out! What’s ‘moderate’? You should be able to carry on a conversation, but not be able to sing. What’s moderate for you might seem easy, or impossibly hard for someone else, so listen to your own body!

5. Lifting weights while pregnant is too stressful on your joints. MYTH. It’s totally safe to lift weights while pregnant, with a couple of modifications. Make sure you’re not holding your breath, don’t exert yourself to fatigue, and avoid anything where you feel like you’re bearing down. After the first trimester, you should avoid laying flat on your back, so switch to an incline bench.

Doing yoga for strength training instead? You should keep in mind that relaxin, a hormone produced during pregnancy, loosens your joints and ligaments to ready your body for childbirth. So, if you’re doing a pose, and you notice your flexibility is way better, you may want to ease up a little bit. It’s definitely worth looking for a specialized pre-natal yoga class, so you know your instructor is aware and informed about teaching pregnant women.

6. Doing sit ups while pregnant will squish the baby. MYTH. Your baby is pretty secure in there, you don’t have to worry about bending at the waist. For the first trimester, sit ups are no problem, but by the second and third, you should avoid laying flat on your back, so it’s easier to skip them altogether. It is a great idea to do exercises that strengthen your stabilization muscles in your abdomen throughout your pregnancy — examples for you to try are planks, push ups, using cables or bands for chops, and pelvic tilts. Don’t forget the kegels!

There is an irreverent attitude that pervades CrossFit.  Limits are pushed because people in CrossFit challenge the status quo.  They workout in boxes, yet think outside the box.

I think people are just jumping on the judgemental band wagon because Lea-Ann is pursuing a rather strenuous pastime. If the mom-to-be was doing pilates we wouldn’t bat an eyelid, but with weights we all have a fear that they’re dangerous.

Maybe it’s because most women are scared of weights!

But, weight training doesn’t have to be scary. When approached in a safe, sensible way, lifting weights can act as the boost you need to jump-start your weight loss and body composition goals—not to mention that it’s a practical way to help make day-to-day activities easier to accomplish. From carrying groceries to shoveling the driveway, every activity including pregnancy and delivery becomes much easier when you have more muscle to work with. This type of ”functional fitness” is more than just trying to get a six pack; it’s about helping your body work more efficiently as a complete unit now and in the years to come.

Remember every single leader, movement, and organization that has ever wanted to create greatness has had to challenge the status quo.  Pioneer CrossFit moms are opening a new scientific frontier.

You Go Lea-Anne!

Live and Learn. We All Do.

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Related Posts:

http://hermeticahealth.me/2012/09/28/on-pregnancy/

http://hermeticahealth.me/2013/01/09/lift-like-a-man-look-like-a-goddess/

It’s Friday the 13th! It’s Only Bad Luck If You Put It In Your Head.

September 13, 2013

It’s Friday the 13th, and millions of people are on edge, fearing a calamity with personal or global repercussions-a broken leg, a stock market crash, or the trigger pulled for World War III.

What has made the people so afraid that flights are avoided, days are feared, and tragedy is expected? The culture perceives Friday the 13th synonymous with DEATH.

But truth be known – 13 IS LIFE!
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Why all the anxiety? In short, because the fear is ingrained in Western culture, according to experts.

Legend has it if 13 people sit down to dinner together, one will die within the year. The Turks so disliked the number 13 that it was practically expunged from their vocabulary (Brewer, 1894). Many cities do not have a 13th Street or a 13th Avenue. Many buildings don’t have a 13th floor.

It’s been estimated that [U.S.] $800 or $900 million is lost in business on this day because people will not fly or do business they normally would do.

There are so many different kinds of phobias. Some people suffer from heights, some from crowds; others cringe at the sight of spiders or snakes. But what is the common phobia called Triskaidekaphobia?

Triskaidekaphobia (from Greek tris meaning “3″, kai meaning “and”, and deka meaning “10″) is a superstitious fear of the number thirteen.

Triskaidekaphobia, fear of 13, implicates deeper meaning to all numbers, and by inference, all symbols. Human history has infused 13 with special meaning, dark and portentous. It is infused with importance by the mystical, the magical, and the purveyors of the occult.

As to the significance of thirteen, all are aware that it has come down to us as a number of ill-omen. Many superstitions cluster around it, and various explanations are current concerning them. Unfortunately, those who go backwards to find a reason seldom go back far enough . . . But we must go back to the first occurrence of the number thirteen in order to discover the key to its significance.

Numbers have long been seen as expressions of cosmic order, possibly deriving from ancient Babylonian observation of regular cosmic events, such as night and day, the phases of the moon and cycles of the year.

In many cultures numbers are full of symbolic meaning and in some culture numerology have an influence on the future.

To the ancient Egyptians, we’re told; life was a quest for spiritual ascension, which unfolded in stages — twelve in this life and a thirteenth beyond, thought to be the eternal afterlife. The number 13 therefore symbolized death, not in terms of dust and decay but as a glorious and desirable transformation.

Though Egyptian civilization perished, the symbolism conferred on the number 13 by its priesthood survived, we may speculate, only to be corrupted by subsequent cultures that came to associate 13 with a fear of death instead of a reverence for the afterlife.

The 13th letter of the English alphabet is M, which finds its roots in the 13th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, “mem” (meaning mother), which was the ancient Phoenician word for water. The ancient Egyptian word for water was “moo.” M is the most sacred of all the letters, for it symbolizes water, where all life began. It is the root of the word “mother,” and relates to the evolutionary destiny of Africans, African-Americans, and all people of African descent who are ruled by the number 13.

Viewed symbolically, numbers represent more than quantities, they also have qualities.

Leonardo Fibonacci discovered a mathematical pattern found in the structure of LIFE. It is the mathematical pattern, which creates seashells, flowers, plant stems. This formula is reflected throughout the breeding patterns of rabbits, bees, and even in the quantum multiplication of electrons. The formula for LIFE is the sum of two preceding numbers, starting with the ONE.

(1) + 1 + 2 + 3+ 5+8+13 (all life begins in the ONE)

13 (thirteen /θɜrˈtiːn/) is the natural number after 12 and before 14. It is the smallest number with eight letters in its name spelled out in English.

The number 13 is the number of origin; it is the complete number for the Universe.

The fact that the twelve are all connected in the center is the thirteenth. Thirteen is the number that bonds multiplicity into oneness. For example: There are twelve tribes that are bonded into their father Israel (Yaakov). Israel is the thirteenth. The meaning of the number thirteen is the bonding of many into one.

The spiritual significance of the number thirteen (13), which as reflected by the thirteen attributes of Mercy relates to a transcendent dimension of Godliness. This transcendence enables one to infuse spirituality within our material world.

The Sacred Power of 13 brings and carries the frequency resonance of Transcendence of matter and the embodiment of ascension, the new earth frequency code, Unity and Oneness, Mary Magdalene, Mother Mary, Shekinah and Sophia; natural rhythms coming into balance and sacred order; taking back your power through the sacred divine feminine.

The 13 vibration is a part of the holy alignment and healing.

There are 13 lunations in a year, and 13 lunar cycles in a solar year.

The Moon travels across the sky every day by 13 degrees.

In music, the chromatic scale is composed of 13 notes – 8 whole notes, which are represented by the white keys on the piano, and 5 half tones, which are represented by the black keys. The 13th note becomes the first and last note of the octave.
The image of The Flower of Life, which contains all of sacred geometry, is composed of 13 systems of information that come out of the fruit of life. Each of these 13 systems produces a set of geometries that delineate and describe in detail every single aspect of our reality.

You get to these 13 systems of information by combining female energy with male energy. In sacred geometry, curved lines are female while straight lines are male. One of these thirteen systems is created by connecting the centers of all the spheres in the fruit of life.

If you do, you come up with a figure known as Metatron’s Cube.

Although no one can say for sure when and why human beings first associated the number 13 with misfortune, the superstition is assumed to be quite old, and there exist any number of theories — many of which deserve to be treated with a healthy skepticism, please note — purporting to trace its origins to antiquity and beyond.

In ancient times the number 13 became a number of fear and superstition because the 13th card of the Tarot is the card of Death, and is pictured as a skeleton (the symbol of death) with a scythe reaping down men in a field of newly grown grass where young faces and heads appear cropping up on all sides. This image later became known as “The Grim Reaper,” and it was ascribed to the planet Saturn. In medieval England the standard fee of the hangman was 13 pence – a shilling and a penny…

But 13 is not an unfortunate number, as is generally supposed. And it can be clearly shown that 13 is not only the most cherished number of the United States, but also the most fortunate number for Africans, African-Americans, and people the world over of African descent. We shall begin with the United States:

It is well known that the number “13″ is the number of the United States of America. The United States began with 13 colonies. The original U.S. flag had 13 stars, representing the initial 13 states. It also contained 13 stripes, 7 red and 6 white. The American seal also bears witness to the number 13 in its composition.

The U.S. shield contains 13 paleways or stripes, which represent the 13 original colonies. The shield is not fastened to the eagle, but spread across in front of it, as if held there by the unseen Hand of God. 
In the eagle’s beak there is a scroll, representing the proclamation of liberty and freedom, and justice for all: the Constitution of the United States, based on the laws of God and the Torah which God gave to ancient Israel.

On the green side of the dollar bill there are 13 steps in the pyramid of the Great Seal. The motto above the pyramid, which reads “Annuit Coeptis,” has 13 letters; the eagle on the right side has a ribbon in its beak that bears the motto “E pluribus unum,” which contains 13 letters. The eagle has 13 tail feathers, and on its breast there is a shield of 13 stripes. In one talon the eagle holds 13 arrows, and in the other an olive branch with 13 leaves and 13 berries. Over the eagle’s head are 13 stars that form the six-pointed “Star of David.”

The phrase “July the Fourth” contains 13 letters and the number 4 (1+3), the birth number of the U.S. (July 4, 1776), which leads us to the real reason why the “founding fathers” chose this date as the official birth date of the United States.

The motto “E Pluribus Unum” means “One from Many,” or “Out of many, One.” It represents UNITY; the FIFTY united States of America! This One nation combines the peoples and ethnic groups of many different nations and peoples from around the world: out of many, ONE.

And if we remained faithful to the laws of God, this national UNITY would be preserved forever. But if we BREAK God’s laws, then the very unity we possess will become disunity and division – the “unity” will become a memory, a distant dream, forgotten in onrushing calamity and cataclysm.

The Number 13 Promise is a “two-fold” promise. It always involves man and it always involves God. It always has seasons, times, circumstances in which God and man participate.

The number “13” does not mean “evil,” but rather it is a most powerful God-given promise that will change the world for ever.

Live and Learn. We All Do.

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When The Music Changes, So Does The Dance

September 12, 2013

As we all know, Miley Cyrus was the conduit that brought twerking to the mainstream consciousness. This is unsurprising.

A few months ago, Cyrus uploaded a YouTube video wearing a onesie and twerking to a song called “The Wop.” Frankly, Miley can’t move like the Twerk Team (who’ve accumulated millions of views on YouTube and a significant underground following).

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According to some, Miley’s recent MTV VMA’s performance was a master class in how to become an unintentional comedy masterpiece. She “twerked” badly and stuck her tongue out. It was weird and awkward.

“Twerking” isn’t new. If people took the time to explore the root of what’s been dubbed as the “twerk,” they’d realise its origins lie in West Africa. The roots of twerking are rich. Variants of the dance exist in most places where there’s a high concentration of people of African descent.

Imagine bellydancing, but with a greater emphasis on hip and butt movements. There’s lots of popping of the butt and swiveling of the hips.Imagine bellydancing, but with a greater emphasis on hip and butt movements. There’s lots of popping of the butt and swiveling of the hips.

Its ubiquity may seem sudden, but mainstream media’s merely catching up to something that’s existed in black global culture for years.  It’s rhythmic and complex, the footwork’s intricate and even though the body is blending different rhythms, it all manages to flow like water. Sadly, twerking has been branded, and is now being fetishized and ghettoised.

The evolution of many of today’s rap music lyrics has resulted in the sexualization of a dance that has been long embraced by cultures outside of North America. Several different cultures have been “twerking” for years without being labeled as stripper-like and provocative. In cultures outside of North America, dances often similar, if not identical to the popular twerk, are something you do with your friends and family as a gesture of musical appreciation and unity. Such dances also often play a big role in a nation’s identity, and a primary reason why they are not viewed as sexual can be attributed to the nature of the lyrics that accompany the music.

Perhaps twerking doesn’t have the technical depth or chronicled history of ballet. It isn’t viewed as a dance scholarship worthy discipline like tap. However, it has an equally interesting history. And when done properly, it takes tremendous skill and attention.

So, there must be some good reason why humans like to dance.

Dancing played a vital role in the lives of the ancient Egyptians. All social classes were exposed to music and dancing. “The laborers worked in rhythmic motion to the sounds of songs and percussion, and street dancers entertained passers by.”

Throughout the ancient Mediterranean, in sculpture and painting, dancers are shown with their heads thrown back, or turned aside, away from the simple directional focus that characterizes other forms of movement. The dancer is not looking where she is going. What does it mean that dancers are so often portrayed stepping in one direction while their eyes are turned back, or to the side, but in any case, do not serve clearly to lead the body straight? It means that the dancer is not entirely in this world, or else, she is both here and elsewhere, her eyes drawn to the unseen landscape.

While she is completely in her body, hyperaware of her physical nature, at the same time the dancer is participating in an internal vision. Hearing other music or seeing other terrains, her head turns to that direction. The dancer’s vision, or her failure to rely on ordinary vision, reinforces her liminal power. What is the nature of the threshold she crosses? Perhaps, like the dancers from the 18th dynasty tomb of Keruef in Thebes, she participates in the journey of the dead from the mortal world to the place of eternal life.

Some gestures are particularly likely to contain spiritual meaning. The gesture of lifting the arms is a particularly spiritually powerful one. A terra-cotta figure of a goddess from prehistoric Egypt, now in the Brooklyn Museum, lifts her arms in an open circle above her head. Her gesture is all-inclusive, all-encompassing, a statement of eternal presence and comfort and blessing. It is hard for a dancer to look at this figure without feeling a responsive, imitative movement in her own body. The goddess’s very slightly off-center pose seems to imply a motion through time, space and meaning that is both fluid and eternal.

Other deities share this form of representation. A Cretan goddess of healing and comfort holds her hands upraised in a more approachable, less celestial version of the gesture. Figurines of the Cretan “snake goddess” hold in their outstretched hands the snakes that symbolize her elemental power.

In Egyptian art, the gesture of upraised arms is typical of the goddess who both protects and creates. In a painting from the tomb of Ramesses VI, Hathor holds a human in one hand, the sun disk in the other, showing her role in the creation and nurturance of both human and celestial worlds. The two positions, worshipper and deity, are cast in the same light, the same dynamic of generosity and respect. The lady Anhai is shown in her 20th dynasty Book of the Dead as having been judged worthy of eternal life. She carries the feathers of life in her hands, upraised in gratitude, both a triumph and a prayer.

This gesture occurs outside of the Mediterranean as well; it is virtually universal.

The trf was a dance performed by a pair of men during the Old Kingdom. Dance troupes were accessible to perform at dinner parties, banquets, lodging houses, and even religious temples. Some women from wealthy harems were trained in music and dance. They danced for royalty accompanied by female musicians playing on guitars, lyres and harps. However, no well-bred Egyptian would dance in public, because that was the privilege of the lower classes.

It has been the habit of complex civilizations, both Eastern and Western, to divide the world into masculine and feminine oppositions: public and private, light and dark, reason and irrationality, action and receptivity. It has also been their practice to privilege the masculine and to hold the feminine qualities as necessary yet less desirable. Also, commonly, men are felt to have individual direction and ambition, while women are considered more important in their collective aspect as the wives and mothers that provide the background for the masculine drama.

The image of women as vessels has been used to undermine feminine creativity. Lesley-Anne Sayers comments on the tendency of dance criticism to speak differently of male and female roles: “[I]n art, women become and embody, men create.” The woman is the object the man paints or sculpts, the ballerina is the canvas on which the choreographer creates. But the concept of embodiment is not in itself a derogatory one. It all depends on your point of view.

If you understand the dancer as an emptiness to be filled with something not herself, of someone else’s choosing, then the image can turn exploitative. The dancer is an object in the viewer’s gaze. But if the dancer is the subject, the one who approaches the fountain from which she wishes to fill herself, the one who chooses what to bring her audience and in fact brings it to them — then this is a particularly feminine form of creative power.

In the Judeo-Christian and Islamic worlds, religion emphasizes humble adherence to moral rules. Conventional religious thought tends to separate the body from the purer instincts of the soul. To a world that holds this view, and which is structured around hierarchies in which order, power and reason are primary, the gentle chaos of this dance can be terrifying. Here is a source of spiritual feeling that arises from the body, that is expressed through the body, that may even cause stirrings in the bodies of those who watch as they are drawn into the eternal movement.

Here is a way to approach the liminal territory of escape from the here and now, an escape both into oneself and beyond one’s time and place. Such liminal experience is one of the great offerings of religion. It is also one of the great offerings of sex. And this dance form is a blending of these instincts, the spiritual and carnal, in a motion that transcends time, speaks individually and universally, and fragments into insubstantial yet vital memory.

No wonder dancers are so often misunderstood, their art dishonored. The ability of the dancer to speak so intently and so physically of these depths is a frightening thing.

Bellydancing is the last vestige of goddess worship in the Middle East and is in danger of becoming extinct. Bellydancing began as ritual for childbirth preparation in the ancient Middle East. Before Islam and Christianity, when the Mother Goddess was worshipped, sex and childbearing were sacred. During this time, many societies were matriarchal, and bellydancing was performed by women for women.

Today many Middle Eastern countries forbid women to perform the dance. During the 1950′s, bellydancing was declared illegal in Egypt. After a popular uprising ensued, the government repealed the ban with one condition — that dancers no longer show their stomachs. (That law still remains in effect.)

Why is bellydancing being stopped? Dallal, a professional Mideastern dancer, thinks, “The anti-bellydancing sentiment and reactionary religious extremism was because dancers had such charisma and strength that the audience was compelled to silence by the lift of a dancer’s arm driven to frenzy by a dancer’s union with the drumbeats.

“Perhaps the Arab men are afraid of the tremendous power in the hands of women when they perform this dance.”


Music was one of the favourite cultural traditions of the Arabs in the days of the Prophet Muhammad (sws). Music and musical instruments were frequently used in worship rituals. It was also employed in the expression of delight and sorrow. Music accompanied wars and festivals too.

A study of the traditions ascribed to the Holy Prophet (sws) reveals that not only did he express his likeness for Music but he also encouraged others to play it on festive occasions. Some reliable narratives in this regard make it clear that the mother of the believers, ‘A’ishah (rta) listened to songs in the very presence of the Holy Prophet (sws).

The Holy Prophet (sws) himself is reported to have encouraged people to use music on wedding ceremonies. On his migration from Makkah to Madinah, the women sang welcome songs on the Daff and the Holy Prophet (sws) expressed his approbation of this. At another occasion, a professional female singer and musician approached him and requested him to listen to her song.

Islam is a religion of moderation and does not approve of either extremism or negligence. It does not prevent people from having entertainment; however, it provides the rules that regulate this entertainment. At the same time, Islam does not tolerate any kind of entertainment that contains haram (unlawful) or even leads to haram behavior.

Dancing can be either between women, between men, or mixed between both sexes. It is allowed for women to dance together unless it involves revealing any of the woman’s `awrah – that is, the parts of the body between the navel and the knee – in front of other women. It is also allowed unless the dancing means that mandatory obligations will not be carried out or if it coincides with unlawful acts.

In this regard, Dr. Su’ad Salih, professor of Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) at Al-Azhar University , states:

Islam is a religion of moderation; it does not prevent singing and dancing, but it forbids anything that stimulates people’s desires, whether it be among men or women. Women are supposed to observe good manners if they dance in front of other women. They should not exceed the limits by doing anything that stimulates desires and incites evil. There are many cases where women are tempted by other women.

However, if a woman dances in front of her husband, then there is no restriction, as it is a way of cementing relations between spouses – and this a key pillar of establishing the Muslim family.

Dance is perhaps the most prevalent art form across all cultures. When accompanied by music, it is most commonly associated with festivities and the human mating ritual. From the ancient belly dancers of Babylon, to the strippers of modern-day Las Vegas, the rhythmic gyration of a female body is one of the most common demonstrations of sexuality in society.

In this context of courtship through poetry in motion, anthropologists will surely add to the pantheon the act of “twerking,” the upside-down, spread-eagle, butt-jiggling dance move that has permeated YouTube, Instagram, and the internet in general.

Despite the symbolic subjugation that is overtly perceivable in their movement, dancers of the twerk, or, as they are called, the Twerk Team, assume a semblance of power in post-feministic self-objectification. They’re “taking it back,” so to speak.  Rather than a display of sexual availability, twerking is more often likened to a display of physical flexibility and power, intended for an audience of impressed people of both genders.

Booty dances exist in various forms throughout the African Diaspora, and in Africa, and dance in general has long been a medium through which people of African descent worship, express creativity, communicate, pay homage to ancestors and spirits among other functions. Yet booty-dancing as an art form continues to be derided maligned and dismissed as inconsequential or obscene, and the black women doing the dances are objectified, seen as hyper-sexualised and disgusting.

In times past, we might have swung our hips from side to side in time with the rhythm to celebrate fertility or female sexual energy or in the worship of certain deities. Today, the many forms of booty dances retain some similarities, yet each is unique, and they continue to develop and gain popularity under different circumstances.

Dance is the art of the body. As newborn babies, we experience and express everything through the body. We do not differentiate between our senses and how we respond to them. Feeling cold or hungry, we cry. Our first movements are instinctual explorations. As babies, we are literally not sure of the difference between ourselves and the world. Where is the end of me and the beginning of my mother?

As we leave infancy, we learn two things that are particularly relevant to how we later dance. One is language. We learn to say exactly what we want, to ask for “juice” or “a story.” But when we gain this ability to be precise, we obscure the fact that our needs are really not precise. We may want a complex form of comfort, but only be able to ask for “juice.” Language gets you some things but loses you others.

Dance allows us to return to the more evocative and exploratory, but far less specific, language of the body, to express ideas too complex to be spoken in words.

The other thing we learn is body language, the communicative subtexture of our world.

We absorb nuances of stance and gesture. We learn what gestures and attitudes are praised, and which ones elicit disapproval. When, as children, we learn these physical textures, before we even learn to dance, we have left our primal state and entered history. We are, for life, members of the culture we grow up in. When we dance, we dance the dances of our people.

Bodily movement is an adaptive necessity as well as a human birthright. As humans, we move for many reasons. We move for pleasure, communal bonding, ritual, and self-expression. When movement becomes consciously structured and is performed with awareness for its own sake, it becomes dance.

All cultures have their own body languages, their own physical web of meaning. They also have their own ways of making dances. The act of dancing is defined differently by different peoples, and is of course valued differently, and put to different uses. But there are some universals in the human practice of dance, and one of them is time.

Dance ethnologist Joann Kealiinohomoku begins her definition of dance, “Dance is a transient mode of expression, performed in a given form and style by the human body moving in space.” The transience she begins with is vitally important to the historical, cultural and spiritual meanings of Middle Eastern dance. Dance happens in the field of time. It occurs in the present, and then it exists only in memory. A physical piece of art, or a written work, is there to be seen or read or touched again and again, to reveal new facets of itself. But dance vanishes from the material world.

Any new facets of a dance performance can be uncovered only in our own unreliable memories. And although we are now, after millennia of dancing, able to capture performance on film, we preserve only the visual aspects of dances. All of us are painfully aware of how little of the experience of the dance a video conveys. The real dance is fragmented into as many different memories as people who shared it.

Dance is intrinsic to most women as a form of expression, although many women have become disconnected from this. Dance is meditative, healing, and empowering. It bridges the sexual/spiritual gap that most women have lost, touching all levels of existence: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Sacred dance, tapping into inherent, primordial movements, is as ancient as creation itself. It can help women reconnect to the creative and sacred parts of themselves.

From the beginning of time, sacred movement, song and story have brought people together – at times of seasonal ceremony and celebration, as part of everyday life and life passages, in daily renewal and meditation. The Dances of Universal Peace are part of this timeless tradition of Sacred Dance.

The intrinsic value of dance is not separate from its instrumental benefits. The byproducts of learning dance include the instrumental benefits of physical health, emotional maturation, social awareness, cognitive development, and academic achievement.

Dance is helpful for children’s development of a strong sense of self as an emotional and social being. Preschoolers developed language, movement, and collaborative skills to express their ideas in a school dance program. Children created and named their own poses, learned ways of breathing to apply in different emotional situations, mirrored others’ movement, incorporated different emotions into their movement, and participated in free movement. Children became receptive to each other, which helped to develop their social cognition and raised their self-awareness of their bodies in that space and time.

Clinical applications are a long way off, but dance research is giving scientists insight into the purpose of this human phenomenon. After all, people around the world and throughout history have elaborated greatly on that ancient impulse to move to a beat. But while the whole-body convulsions of African folk dancers seem so different from the stiff posture of Irish dancers, these and many other cultures often use dance within their courtship and mating rituals, says William Michael Brown, PhD, a psychologist and dance researcher at Queen Mary University of London and the University of East London.

This Western construction of dance as inherently sexy and meaningless, arose in part because dance happens and vanishes in the field of time.

We are shaped by our culture. Our body language, our understanding of gesture, and our physical relationship to the world are formed by the culture we grow up in. Our definition of sexuality, gender roles, and what happens between dancer and audience, are shaped by our culture.

In today’s dance world, where we are open to so many powerful images of dance from so many different sources, these different possibilities of nuance in traditional movement have a deep impact on both our deliberate and our instinctual interpretations of the dance.

Dance uses our most primitive and most nuanced vocabulary, the gestures of the body. Dance speaks truths too important to be defined in words, too pleasurable to be spoken except through the body.

Americans dancing for American audiences may seek to express the same eternal truths as an Egyptian dancer performing for her compatriots. But audience, body language, the whole culture, are different, and so the form of the dance is different.

We dance our history. We dance in the bodies that were shaped by our culture. We dance as the individuals we are.

If you want to twerk, do it. It’s fun. But be aware of your motivations for doing so.

Live and Learn. We All Do.

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