Thursday, May 31, 2007

It's Not As Bad As You Think

They did not live in vain, those that came before us, for we are here.
- Yves Theriault, Canadian writer, Aaron, 1954

Maybe you don't want to know this. Maybe you believe that the world is worse than ever before, that the End Time is near. If that is the case, you should save yourself because what follows won't agree with your doomsday beliefs.

We have a tendancy to believe that the world is getting worse, that people are behaving worse, the violence is on the increase, that children misbehave much more than when we were children. In short, that the world in its present state is a poor thing to have to pass along to the next generation.

That may be the bubble you have created for yourself, but it doesn't fit with the reality that is our history. That may be the impression you get from the media, but the media strive more than anything else to make you afraid so that you will give them more of your attention, time and money.

According to United Nations statistics, the world is a safer place than it has ever been in human history. To begin with, the world has normally had around 30 wars ongoing through most of our history. We have 26 now, perhaps as few as 24 depending on where you draw the line.

While the United States, for example, has far more crime than it did half a century ago, it also has far more people in far less space, with fewer resources in many cases. Simply put, more people means more crime.

Indians worry that their crime rate is burgeoning, especially in their large cities, but the population of India has doubled in the past half century. Just over 50 years ago, when India gained it independence, 10 million people died in skirmishes while trying to migrate one way or the other between the new Pakistan(s) and the new India (India was divided into three--arguably four if you include Kashmir--parcels when the British left).

True, we have the power to obliterate the entire planet many times over using nuclear weapons. But the only country that has ever used such a powerful weapon was the US, over two Japanese cities, and those atomic bombs were far less powerful than today's nuclear arsenal.

Nobody wants to press the button. They know what would happen. Not only devastion far worse than that in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but similar weapons would be in the air heading for their own location before their own weapons struck their targets.

Let's look back at some tragic times in the past century. Joseph Stalin had up to ten million people killed during his time as the supreme leader of the USSR, but Stalin never did anything that would cause harm to himself. Hitler had over twenty million lives snuffed out during the Holocaust, plus many more as a result of the war, but he never did anything that would harm himself until the Allies were outside his bunker and he shot himself.

Hitler was, by all accounts, crazy, yet even he would not do anything that would harm himself or that would allow his enemies to harm him until it was obvious that he had nothing left to live for.
We may worry that some madman may acquire nuclear capability and wipe the world we know into history, but nothing in human history should cause us to believe that it would happen.

Leaders, mad or not, don't even consider anything that would end their dreams of world domination. They want power, not self destruction.

The world has always been a violent place. Humans have always been a violent species, perhaps the most violent of any since we kill each other with little provocation. But the ones of us who die by violent means are unlucky, just as the ones who die of disease or injury are unlucky.

The vast majority of us live fundamentally similar lives from one year to the next. We have people killing themselves slowly by smoking or taking heavy drugs or driving at breakneck speeds, but we don't give them much notice. They present a much greater risk to our safety than nuclear holocaust or climate change, but they don't warrant a spot on the nightly news.

(Smoking is a danger to non-smokers? My mother, who never smoked, died of lung cancer from inhaling second hand smoke from my chimney-smoking father--who also died of lung cancer. It's more common than you think.)

Rather than listening to doomsady scenarios propagated by the media, we should be making our own lives better. Not making ourselves richer, because wealth never made anyone happy. Making our lives richer.

Those who live rich lives inevitably make the lives of those around them better and make the world in general a better place.

It's better than worrying about bombs and violence. Worrying never did a lick of good for anyone, ever.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to help make every life a little better, one at a time.
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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

There Is A Way To Make Things Better

The wisest mind has something yet to learn.
- George Santayana

Santayana, a distinguished philosopher, knew about a lifetime of learning and why it was necessary. He imparted much advice about how to live a satisfying life.

The first schools for formal learning taught philosophy as their main subject. Philosophy taught about life and since the ancient Greeks often didn't live to a very old age because they were often at war, knowledge about life needed to be taught to young people before they needed it.
Today we teach people how to cope with life after they already have problems, in the offices of therapists, marriage counselors or prison psychologists.

One bit of advice that seemed to pervade Greek philosophy was the need for continual learning, a lifetime of self education.The concept of lifelong learning has received new breath in recent years as we have discovered that our recent ancestors learned too little about life over their adult years. This resulted in social (community) problems of unparalelled proportions.

The twist on the ancient theme these days is that job security is so undependable that we need to continually learn new skills and knowledge bases in order to be prepared if our present job disappears. However, the rate of personal problems among our society--not the least of which are a divorce rate over 50 percent and mood altering drugs being the biggest selling pharmaceuticals--testifies that even today's adults that are learning new skills don't know enough to be able to cope with the rigours of their lives.

When a greater proportion than ever before of citizens are behind bars for criminal offences, people gobble mood changing drugs prescribed by their doctors, others use "recreational" drugs regularly, the numbers of homeless people is soaring and private homes are no longer secure because drug users need to break in to steal stuff they can sell to buy their addictive substance of choice, we need to acknowledge that something is wrong.

Our solutions to the problems are to put more people in prison, prescribe more drugs and idolize more movie stars whose behaviour is aberrant or outright anti-social. Our solutions don't seem to be working.

If we can't cure the problem, then we must prevent the disease. We must equip young people with the knowledge and skills they need about life before they destroy their own. Or have a family, break it up and leave children to learn the lessons of life the hard way, on the streets.

That's not happening to every family, but then not every family has their house broken into, their children hooked on drugs or office rage making the workplace a dangerous situation either. Murder and suicide are both, in many places, at all-time high levels.

It's time we learned our lessons.

Teach the children.

Teach children what they need to know instead of what industry wants them to know to populate their workplaces. Teach both, but make sure the kids learn about life and learn life skills.

Right now, many of them know almost nothing about life. Except that there is something wrong with it. They're learning that the hard way.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to tell it like it is about life's trials and the needs we have to learn about how to cope with them.
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Monday, May 28, 2007

Preparing For Your Next Stage Of Life

Learning to live is learning to let go.
- Sogyal Rinpoche

As much as we long for security, for consistency and for our world to remain enough the same that we will still recognize it tomorrow, that's not the way the world operates.

In nature, nothing is secure, so no animal or plant can be certain that it will not be trampled or eaten that same day. Nothing remains the same indefinitely. Even rocks wear away so that a mountain becomes a seabed or desert.

We all want to keep our loved ones with us, but we might lose any one of them within the next day. Or they may lose us. Letting go of people who comprised an important part of our life is hard. We can keep memories, but even those memories can be harsh sometimes and the bad ones stay with us.

What many people have the greatest trouble letting go of is their hurts and what caused them. In some cases they carry grudges with them for many years. While they suffer emotionally from holding onto their grudges, the people who caused the hurt usually carry on their own lives as if nothing had ever happened.

Many times, to them, nothing did happen that they intended or that they knew about. The hurt perceived by one was committed innocently and unknowingly by the other. That's life. Not many people hurt others on purpose. Yet people get hurt anyway.

Often our greatest hurts result from deception or betrayal. These violate the trust we have put in someone, which is like their ripping away a piece of our life.

There are no easy answers to letting go. Those who have the ability to let go of what would otherwise harm them have coping skills that many of us lack. Learning coping skills is part of the emotional development of childhood.

As children we want our parents to always remain the same. Parents would like their children to remain at the same stage sometimes as well. Neither gets their wish. As children have far fewer resources than adults, they need the security of knowing who and what they can depend on, who they can trust, who will never abandon them.

One of the saddest facts of adulthood is that we can never be certain who and what we can depend on, who we can trust and that the people we care about will never abandon us. Part of the preparation that is a coping skill for these disappointments is to have a plan devised for what we would do if one of these "unthinkable" events occurs.

Tragedy happens. If we have a plan to put into place when and if it does, our transition to the next stage of our life can be much easier to bear.

Lives do not remain the same. We can prepare for change.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to help people manage life's tough times by preparing strategies and contingency plans.
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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Can You Make New Friends?

Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?
- Thomas Wolfe, novelist (1900-1938)

As depressing as this quote sounds, it's actually the key that opens an understanding of human nature that can bring a person internal peace and give him a tool by which he can manage more easily the stresses of dealing with others who are unreasonable. And to make friends.
That in itself is a grand statement. However, let's think it through a little further.

We are strangers even to ourselves, in a sense, because we make decisions daily that we didn't anticipate having to make and those decisions affect our lives. If we choose to watch a movie, for example, we choose to eliminate the possibility of doing other activities, of learning new things, of having new experiences, of meeting new people, of facing new opportunities.

Not that watching a movie has anything inherently wrong with it, any more than any of the other options listed. It's just that we can't do many other things when we choose to do one in particular. A movie can change a person's life just as much as meeting a new friend or business associate, creating something new in the basement or riding a bicycle across the country.

Because each little decision we make during a day in effect alters the course of our lives (some only minimally), and the situation works the same way with a spouse, parent or child, we tend to know very little about even those closest to us. We may think we know them well, but we don't even know what they are thinking for more than a few brief moments in any given day.

What we do know are ourselves and our experiences. When we generalize about the world based on our own experiences we may often be wrong because others don't perceive events and choices similar to ours the same way we do. We know ourselves but others are not like us. We are unique in many ways.

As Wolfe said, each of us is a stranger to all others (at least to some extent) and alone unto ourselves for much of what we do and think.

Then it becomes important how we treat our time of aloneness and how we interact with others when we have the opportunity. Being alone is a reality, but being lonely is a choice made by those who decide to not enjoy their own company. That may sound cruel to lonely people, but the fact is that those who are lonely either don't like their own company or don't know how to befriend others. Either way it's a choice.

Most people learn their skills of socializing through experience. That is, accident and coincidence play a large role in how most of us learn to interact with each other.

Social interaction skills can be learned. Some colleges have evening courses with this as an objective. However, most people who learn their social skills from lessons do so in therapeutic situations, such as from therapists. Sometimes specialized non-profit companies provide sevices for people who want to enhance their social skills.

We can't decide how much of our own company we are prepared to enjoy unless we have the skills to allow us to enjoy the company of others when it suits our pleasure. That is, we can't decide to be alone if being alone is the only option.

Mounting courses to teach people the skills of social interaction (how to make and keep friends) requires a bit of work, but it can be done by ordinary folks who get together with others who want the same thing. Finding others with the same desires and objectives is, in itself, an act of communication and social intercourse.

It's easier to make friends if you get together with others who share the same goals as you. If you want to start something of this nature, talk it up among those you know and those you meet even casually. Or put a carefully worded note on a notice board about your interest (perhaps with a web email address for contacting). Eventually you will have a few who want to make something happen together.

It's not only a form of self help, but a way of helping others. Helping others or working together with others is the way that most friendships begin.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make the though things about life a little easier to understand.
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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Let's Scare The Hell Out Of Them

A good scare is worth more to a man than good advice.
- Edgar Watson Howe, novelist and editor (1853-1937)

This quirk of human nature ranks among those for which we have the most evidence. But why?
Advice may come at us from various sources. Some of those sources, such as strangers or those we know little about, we consider suspect because the other person has not built up a track record of truthfulness and dependability on which we can base our trust.

Some non-trustworthy sources include the many people we see frequently, but we know base their conclusions more on feelings and a minimum of facts than well studied research. A man who has always bought the same brand of car and whose father may also have always bought that brand will almost certainly advise you to buy that brand because he believes it's the best. To that man, the most familiar is the best.

Most of us know many people who will offer advice at the drop of a hat, whether those people themselves even consider their advice worthy. Some may be strong supporters or opponents of one political party at one time because of some news they heard or read that they especially liked or disliked. When asked (some volunteer), they will give that opinion of the day about which party is best or worst. A few days or weeks later their opinion could change because of different information.

Even advice from a reputable source such as a medical doctor may be disregarded if it means inconvenience or a change of lifestyle. "Lose weight? Why? I'm perfectly healthy."

That kind of attitude is a continuation of what some call the invincibility of youth, their belief that they will never die.

If they have a heart attack or receive a diagnosis of diabetes where their life must change or end, a new lifestyle, diet change or exercise takes on new importance and new meaning as an adaptation worth making.

This human characteristic is so well known that scientists, among others, have adopted the strategy of making proclamations in threatening terms in order to get public attention and grant money for study.

The number of studies of climate change (aka global warming) underway in the world today are too numerous to count. We always hear reports about evidence that supports the climate change theory of warming because that evidence tilts politicians and universities more in favour of giving grants. Evidence that contradicts the warming theory receives little attention because non-scare tactics don't work.

Today science wants to scare people, just like the movies, because it gets them money. Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth used the power of film and the evidence of science to make a political statement.

Between advice that no one will take and threats that are real or propagandized theory is reason. Reason, however, depends on the conveyor of information to communicate considered facts and theory well and thoroughly and listeners who can think and are prepared to consider evidence on all sides before reaching a conclusion.

As hard as our education systems try to teach our young people to think and to consider all alternatives and evidence, the world outside the classroom works tirelesly and feverishly to teach them that thinking is not necessary if they will only listen to the message presented to them. The messages are devised by mass communication experts who get paid to twist people's minds in favour of their boss's product or service.

Television and movies, the ultimate thought-stoppers, remain active for many hours each day in most homes. Now corporations put their soda machines in schools and pay for exercise equipment with their corporate logos emblazoned on them so that students don't have to move far away from their teacher to get a message that they don't really have to think.

Before we become a society of knee-jerkers who react better to threats and propaganda than to reason, we should teach the skills of reason and effective communication of arguments to young adults.

Will our whole economic system collapse if people think about what they do, what they eat and what they buy before they do it?

That's what the threat is.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to put some reason back into society before we become atomatons.
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Friday, May 25, 2007

How The U.S. Is Bankrupting Itself

We will bankrupt ourselves in the vain search for absolute security.
- Dwight David Eisenhower, U.S. general and 34th president (1890-1969)

Fear of their security, among Americans, has existed since well before the War of Independence. The British so needed income from its colonies to support its huge empire which it maintained largely through military occupation that it hounded its colonists in North America for taxes until they could stand it no more.

The Declaration of Independence gave colonists the right to carry weapons with them in case the British attacked unexpectedly. Though the British never did resort to that kind of military tactic, US citizens have feared an unexpected attack from someone ever since.

Not only are Americans allowed to be prepared for a sneak attack of the type that the British might have launched over two centuries ago, but also special interest groups have acted publicly to continue to have their fellow citizens fear unexpected attacks. Today people attempt to protect themselves from are murderers and terrorists.

Studies have not clearly shown concrete benefits of carrying weapons, though propagandists claim otherwise. No one is certain how many lives have been saved over the past two centuries because people who were attacked or about to be attacked had weapons they used to kill the attacker. Or whether those who carry guns would actually use them in an attack. Canada, which has about the same number of guns per capita as the US, has one-tenth the rate of death from guns.

The media are complicit in the continuance of this fear of attack by broadcasting and printing stories about violence, especially on a personal level. These help people to conclude that they live in a violent and risky environment, one worth great caution and one that produces fear.

At the national level, President George W. Bush used the inbred fear of foreigners, those of a different religion, skin colour, costume and facial hair to parlay his Administration into the leadership of two wars. Few Americans have all of these fears and few will admit to any.

Fought simultaneously, these two wars cost US taxpayers more than two billion dollars per day (some estimates say as high as three billion). To finance these wars, the US has borrowed heavily and will continue to borrow huge amounts of money to support military activity in countries that few believe present any immediate threat to US security. Imminent threat to security is the cause that gives the president the legal right to declare war.

While at-home violence among its own citizens costs far more lives than the foreign wars, these social problems receive little financial support other than the building of more prisons and the hiring of more law enforcement officials. The US has a greater percentage of its citizens behind bars than any other country in the world. Many jurisdictions can't find enough funds to hire more professionals to handle the immediate problems which steadily get worse.

However, the wars get the money because Americans have been trained to believe that foreign threats (real or imagined) present greater risks than home-grown ones.

President Eisenhower's caution about spending too much in an unachievable quest for absolute security rates more notice today than ever before.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to put life's tough questions into perspective.
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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Life Advice From The Bard

Have more than thou showest; Speak less than thou knowest.
- William Shakespeare, 'King Lear,' Act I, Scene iv

In other words, hold some things back, keep some things secret.

In an age when we seek transparency and honesty, not wanting others tohide anything for fear that we can't trust them, this advice fromthe Bard seems counterproductive. But the advice speaks to somecircumstances, not to all.

It particularly involves the depth of knowledge and skill that we revealto others. Shakespeare advises that if we want others to continue torespect us for our skill or our knowledge, we must continue to have moreto reveal than we have in the past or people will treat us as used upmerchandise. In his own case, he could write a new poem or a play for aparticular audience.

The advice doesn't involve secrets, because keeping them can lead totragedy over a long period of time. The only reason for having a secretis so that a person need not face up to the truth at the moment. Keepingsecrets may delay our facing up to them, but the truth seldom remainshidden for a lifetime.

In the 21st century, we have a great advantage over those of the past interms of the depth of our knowledge. With the internet at hand, we cancontinue to accumulate knowledge and dispense our newly acquiredknowledge as it seems appropriate. A world of knowledge is at ourfingertips and that world is growing daily.

Skills are most often learned alone, even when others are present. Thatis, each skill we master results from our own efforts, and only our ownefforts, even if someone else provided guidance. So we can practise askill in private or when and where others are not paying attention, thenshow it off in public later. An Olympic athlete is an example, where theperson trains for endless hours in private (even if in a gym) in orderto show off in public for a few seconds or brief minutes.

Shakespeare's advice does not necessarily mean that we shouldn'tcontinue to show others and help others with what we know and the skillswe have. But if we do, we need to continue whatever process we have usedto acquire new skills and new knowledge so that we have more in reservewhen it is needed.

Fortunately for us, so many people do not learn much new that even smallexamples of our depth of knowledge and skills may impress them.

You received this valuable tip from the same medium that is the greatestsource you could ever find for new information and skill advice.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to give each person some reasons to be proud.
Learn more at

Who Am I? Who Are You?

A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.
- Mark Twain

This is a tough subject to deal with because it touches on existence, individuality and even personality.

We are, at any given moment, at least two people. One is the person we believe we are and the other is the person someone who is with us thinks we are. If we are with more than one person, each has his or her own impression of who we are.

All are wrong.

It's impossible for us to know ourselves completely because our lives, experiences, influences, health history and so on are so complex. Others have even less data by which to understand who we are.

Now, let's consider who we think we are. Who we believe we are is the composite person we have in our head. I am me only within my own brain. No other part of me, be that external or internal, is anything more than an appendage to who I am. Each part of me is a tool I use to manipulate myself through the world I perceive for myself.

I am, in effect, a individual personality I constructed in my brain. My life is a construct based on how my brain perceives the world around it from the input it receives from my senses. My brain can accept or reject any sensory input, choosing what it wants to internalize, then add input of its own--dreams, fantasies, information from so-called sixth or seventh senses. From this my brain constructs a slightly revised version of who I am each day.

If my brain can pick and choose input it wants and add or interpret the way it chooses, then the me that presents himself to the world may come off differently from the me that my brain has devised.

I have read a few authors who claim that time they spent in prison was the most free period of their lives because behind bars they were not subjected to so much input and influence from external sources. On the other hand, most of us know of supposedly "free" people who feel they are imprisoned within their present lives.

You can be comfortable or free if that is the way you choose to think of yourself. No one controls what happens within your brain except yourself. What your brain does is who you are.
Or you can be a prisoner of the life you choose for yourself.

You will never be happy if you choose to be unhappy. You will never be successful if you refuse to accept what you do and have as success. You will never find a relationship in which you are compatible with another person if you believe that your way of life is the only one worth having.
No one else is like you. You are unique, not by birth but by choice. How much you want to share your life with another is your own choice.

Poor people can feel free and comfortable though the rest of society around them thinks otherwise. Rich people choose lives for themselves in which there is little flexibility--one course to take, no stepping off the path.

If you want comfort and happiness, choose it for yourself. When you get up tomorrow morning, look at all the marvellous things around you that are there to make your life rich and worthwhile. Choose carefully and wisely.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to show that comfort and happiness are available and accessible for everyone if they choose to accept them.
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Monday, May 21, 2007

How People Use Propaganda To Twist Our Minds

You can't separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.
- Malcolm X

Malcolm X was a key leader and a powerful personality in the Black Panther movement in the US during the 1960s. He led a violent life and he died a violent death.

This quote is a propaganda statement. It's a call to fight, though it disguises itself as a quest for peace. How can fighting a peace be linked? With the word freedom.

"Freedom" is always used in an argument as a propaganda term calling for a need to fight. "You have to fight for freedom" is the way the word is usually used, though not in those words. "Freedom won't come naturally. The oppressors won't grant freedom voluntarily" are argument statements that follow.

Malcolm used the global objective of peace as his way of calling for violence, in his way of thinking the only way to achieve it.

The false logic of fighting a "war for peace" was used before Malcolm and has appeared several times since. Supporters of ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq used this as one of their arguments for the initial invasions of these countries. That and the infamous weapons of mass destruction argument.

"War for peace" should be considered a logical contradiction, by definition of the terms. Yet propagandists have linked their call to arms to the global quest for peace among all peoples as if the two make sense together.

Peace cannot be granted to anyone, any more than freedom can. These concepts are personal. Each can exist only in the mind of an individual.

The law may provide that an individual may sit anywhere on a bus or that an interviewer may not discriminate against an interviewee based on skin colour or some other feature over which they have no personal control. But that is not freedom, nor is it peace. These are laws which involve procedures and eventually votes in a legislative body, with much lobbying before the votes. Neither the concept of peace nor freedom enter into the process, except as propaganda devices.

Interestingly, a survey of people about what the terms freedom and peace actually mean to them turns up a wide variety of interpretations. Yet they are used in propaganda messages as if everyone agreed on their meanings.

Propaganda is an integral part of the life of every person, no matter where in the world they live. It's purpose is to persuade the listener or reader to a particular line of thought using language and thought devices that are not necessarily logical. They are just supposed to sound good to people who don't understand what others are trying to do to their minds.

Similar arguments toward violence or war used by propangadists include defending a way of life and appealing to patriotism or nationalism. Yet we can see milder forms of propaganda by watching any television commercial.

High school students should take a course in propaganda so they understand what propaganda is, what its devices are and how others use it to influence them. Including how others use it to persuade them to do things that will eventually end their lives or destroy their health.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make the complexities of life a little clearer to understand.
Learn more at

Friday, May 18, 2007

Damn you, King, We Want To Think!

A king can stand people fighting but he can't last long if people start thinking.
- Will Rogers, humorist (1879-1935)

For "king" we can substitute any national leader. Prime Ministers for example seldom last more than a decade because voters find more and more faults with their decisions and their failures tend to become more glaring as the years roll on. Tony Blair may be the most significant Prime Minister of the UK in modern times, but choices that made him look good in the past now seem weak, thus his popularity has plummetted.

US citizens were enthusiastic enough about the work of President George W. Bush in saving their nation from terrorists and getting the job done at home that they reelected him in 2004. Mr. Bush has likely done much more to improve the operation of the administrative arm of government within his second term than he did in the first, but his popularity is now at an all-time low due to an unending war and its devastating costs.

Do national leaders really not want their voters to think? Evidence around the world suggests that leaders would prefer that their people not examine their policies too closely or there would be revolutions or a changes of leadership. Non-thinking people can be made into followers much more easily than thinking ones.

This tendency is so strong that it is literally changing the complexion of international policy. Human rights issues held high priority in the United Nations when western countries held more voting power than the countries of Africa, Asia, eastern Europe and South America.

Now that the voting has evened out at one vote per member, influential nations of the Middle East, Asia, Africa and South America are pressuring their fellow UN members to kill any previous initiatives toward human rights. The greatest abusers of human rights, such as Iran, are exerting the greatest pressure for the United Nations to back away from any involvement in human rights.

As a result, we have a genocidal war that threatens to become pure genocide in eastern Africa but the UN can't put together any plan to stop it. Stopping it would require stopping the very groups that the human rights abusers of the UN support, financially, militarily and morally.

If the situation in the United Nations can be taken as an example, the world is moving more toward preventing citizens from thinking so that the leaders can do what they want without fear of retribution.

In world affairs, numbers count. Those numbers can be legal money exchanges, but they can also be in the form of votes, military support or cash under the table. As oil is a quantifiable commodity, it too can be considered a way for numbers to count.

Interestingly, the people who ultimately foot the bill for most of the tragedies of the world are citizens of rich countries who don't think enough about what effect their activities have on the rest of the world. Among the greatest abusers of human rights, for example, are countries that have the most oil reserves. Include Russia in that group because it has potential revolutions simmering under the surface in many parts of its huge country, and lots of oil.

What we in countries where people are rich enough to have computers and more vehicles than we have drivers per family do has a trickle down effect on people in the poorest countries and those with the most oppressive regimes.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make the truths about world affairs easier for us to recognize.
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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Can Bill Gates Make Friends?

Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.
- Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft and world's richest man

Set aside the magnificent irony of the Microsoft chief, whose company has more unhappy customers than any other in the world, since Microsoft has done little but create more new problems with each succeeding operating system beyond Windows 98 and ME. Microsoft has not learned what its customers want, instead focussing on what is best for Microsoft.

For "unhappy customers" in the quote we can substitute mistakes and failures, including errors of omission. Many products today offer warranties on their products, but trying to get any of them to honour their warranty is like pulling teeth. If you phone or write to most companies, their first question is usually a variation on the wording "What did you do wrong?"

True, in the past many people have cheated on warranty claims, but their cheating happened most often because the product they bought performed not nearly as long as they expected or had a right to expect given the warranty period. Poor engineering or poor quality management made cheaters out of many honest people.

Toyota will take over as the world's largest auto maker within a couple of months of this writing. The three major North American auto manufacturers and many in Europe struggle every year to make a profit, let alone a good profit.

Most people I have spoken to agree that Toyota's quality is superior to that of the North American products. Even though Toyota's prices for the initial purchase are higher and its parts are priced considerably higher, people buy the cars that they believe will give them the best service over a long period of time. Even cars a decade old reflect this in their resale prices.

Wal-Mart became the world's largest retailer a few years ago. Wal-Mart may have many weaknesses, but its product return policy has an excellent reputation. They have learned that customers stay happy and return to buy more when they know they can return products that don't work out for them for some reason.

Dependability and service stand at such low levels in customers' minds for so many businesses today that people will flock to any business that offers good service and dependable products. Provided the price is reasonable and enough people know about the business, people continue to buy service and dependability.

In our personal lives, we can learn the same lessons. The man who services my car complained one day that almost no one stops by his place just to visit as a friend. He is usually in a grumpy mood, though he can be charming when he is in a good mood. When I have stopped at his place to chat, he usually doesn't manage to find time. The man has no friends because he doesn't know what people want from a friend. He is old enough to have learned and he must have lost many potential friends over the years.

I have met many people who have been married more than twice. Most complain that their second (and third) spouse had the same weaknesses, bad attitude and habits that the first one had. Many women have found themselves in abusive relationships several times. These people didn't learn from their mistakes, didn't learn what made their "customers" turn bad on them.

Personal relationships don't come with warranties, unless you call a prenuptual agreement some sort of guarantee. People have one chance to form each lasting relationship and many opportunities to destroy them.

First we must make the right choice of person with whom to develop a relationship. Then we must know what is needed to cement a relationship and keep it together through its ups and downs. Without that second condition, the relationship will fall apart at the first sign of serious trouble.

Mr. Gates may be the world's richest man, but I wonder if he follows his own advice on a personal level. Does Bill Gates have friends that don't care about his money? Has he learned what people really care about in a friendship?

As for Windows, we can only hope that someone comes along with an operating system that works as well as its advertising says it does. No one at Microsoft seems to be paying attention to the complaints of its customers.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to show the connectedness of many of life's activities.
Learn more at

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Eventually The Mask Must Come Off

We love flattery, even though we are not deceived by it, because it shows that we are of importance enough to be courted.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher (1803-1882)

Flattery has become an old fashioned word, but the concept is as fresh as ever. Today we call it "little white lies."

Flattery means excessive or insincere praise. While we would rather have the sincere variety of praise, we seem prepared to accept the insincere variety if it is presented in a convincing manner and if we don't have to work too hard to receive it.

Women wear cosmetics, jewelry and expensive clothes and pay large sums of money to have their hair done to attract the attention of others. Most are quite happy to have others notice what they have done, especially so if the praise is more effusive than a passing comment.

Men do something similar but their presentation is more subtle and the praise it receives more understated than for women. They look for the glances at shoes, suit, tan or hair style, making themselves aware of the bit of extra respect their temporary status has earned them among their peers or those at other levels of the business hierarchy.

The entire fashion, jewelry, cosmetics and plastic surgery industries revolve around creating a false sense of value based on appearance. No one really believes that their value depends totally on their appearance, except models, porn movie stars and possibly debutantes, but enough emphasis is placed on it by western society that in many environments it is taken very seriously.

Those who want to be courted, as Emerson put it, understand that they will receive the attention they desire for reasons that are not associated with who they really are. It's all a mask, but one that most people accept as necessary.

Earning honest respect for what they have accomplished takes too long for most people, so they strive for the false attention that purchased products and services can buy them. Most television stations and networks exist because of revenues they earn from promoting products and services that people could easily live without.

Flattery works, though temporarily. At some point the fancy clothing, makeup and jewelry must come off, the gel washed off, the mask removed. The bank loans must be paid. Then the relationship--whatever it is--must be able to hold up based on other values and attributes or it collapses.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to show flattery for what it really is.
Learn more at

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What Makes Us So Great?

Wonder is what sets us apart from other life forms. No other species wonders about the meaning of existence or the complexity of the universe or themselves.
- Herbert W. Boyer, co-founder of Genentech, Inc.

Are we really the only species that "wonders about the meaning of existence or the complexity of the universe" or ourselves?

In truth, we don't know that. What we know for certain is that we can talk and think and wonder. And we know that we have no ability to communicate with most animals and only a minimal ability to communicate with a very few.

It has been written and told in times past that no animal except humans has a sense of humour and that is what sets us apart from other living creatures more than any other. The person who originated that observation was not familiar with recent studies of chimpanzees and dolphins, which both seem to have senses of humour.

Chimps like what we would call the slapstick style, while dolphins like a playful form of humour. We don't know what either animal calls their own sense of humour, or even if they know that we have our own. We play with them and consider ourselves superior, even though we don't understand them.

While we have the ability to put animals into cages and they do not, we don't know for certain if the reason is that they appreciate the freedom of not living in cages whereas humans encage themselves in houses and apartments, cubicles and offices at work. Other animals apparently value freedom more than we do.

But then, they're dumb, aren't they? Or we think they're dumb. In fact we know that they communicate with each other freely and easily, whether through the air or through water. Whales communicate over huge distances through water (hundreds of kilometres in some cases), but we humans have trouble making ourselves understood under water unless we have special technology or we can lip read each other's faces.

No doubt Boyer and his company have done some marvellous things in the biotechnology industry. He doesn't consider the possibility that other animals don't care about technology because they have more interesting (and frightening) matters to occupy them. Other animals live on the edge of danger every day, whereas we humans seek out such adventures for excitement.

Almost every animal that kills does so for food. Only a few kill for sport or for select parts of their prey, but their kills provide food for many other animals that do not have the ability to find enough protein for themselves. We won't call that altruism since surely only we humans have that quality. Not many of us at that.

We kill by intention, often for the sole purpose of destroying another person. Especially if that person happens to represent someone farther up in the hierarchy who leads a country in war. But sometimes because the other person has annoyed us or we want the shoes or jacket he is wearing. Or because we feel hurt because we were dismissed from our job.

No one would deny that humans are different from other animals. But which is more powerful, our wonder or our ability to destroy willingly and needlessly?

Every other animal adapts to its environment or it dies. As large parts of Africa desertify and the middle of the USA heads in that direction, are we adapting by altering our immigration rules, by proving living accommodation elsewhere for the displaced and starving people, by changing our habits so that we can help to keep them on their native land or by changing our political boundaries so that these people can move to more comfortable places to live?
No, it's up to them to adapt, not us.

The number of television programs and promotions for charities that feed starving people suggest that we are not adapting to changes unless we are the ones affected. Even our United Nations requires that acts of genocide must be proven by tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths before it will vote to send in troops to help make peace. That is slow adaptation to tragedy.

With technology we tie people into offices and factories and kill others in massive numbers in other countries. Other animals don't do that.

But other animals can't wonder either. At least if you believe Herbert Boyer.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to put our truth and our wonder into perspective.
Learn more at

Monday, May 14, 2007

Where We Are Most Missing Out

Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.
- Carl Sandburg

Since this quote ranks right up there with motherhood and milk for babies as a bland head-nodder, let's put it into perspective.

Time is a human creation. Humans are the only creatures on earth that keep track of time and the only ones who care about it. That is, we care that time exists at all.

However, as creators of time, we feel we have it within our control. We have all of today and the rest of our lives. It's endless, so far as the way we treat it. Indeed, mostly the only people who care about the passage of time are those who sense that theirs is nearly over.

So we have plenty of time, until our time is up. But we don't really. That kind of thinking is based on extreme ignorance of the realities of life. It befits primitive humans, not modern ones. Ignorant people, not knowledgeable ones.

What we do today most certainly does affect the rest of our lives. Human bodies are remarkably resiliant, it's true, but abusing them continuously over even a short period of time can result in trouble later. Sunburns, for example, can result in skin cancer two or three decades later, even if we recover fairly quickly from them at the time.

Poor nutritiion works for an amazingly long time without causing us much apparent harm. But in our elderly years the physical grief that long term nutrition deficit causes is quite severe. Grief in old age manifests itself in different ways, depending on the person, but putting it down to plain bad luck is like a gambler putting his poverty down to bad luck after he played to win for so long that his money ran out and he lost his job and his family.

It doesn't end there, our destruction of the future due to our messing around in the present.
Survey parents of twenty-something children about how well prepared they were when their first child was born and a large majority say that they were not well prepared at all. Having been through the process, they are much more knowledgeable about what little kids need and when they need it than they were when their kids were small.

Again let's put this into perspective. The first six years of a child's life are critical to how the child grows and develops, physically, intellecually, socially and emotionally. Their ability to think and solve problems forms during these years more than later. If the right stimuli are not available when little kids need them, they are poor problem solvers as adults. Not only that, they will tend to turn to destructive habits such as addictions because they can't cope with their adult problems they way they should be able to.

So we have inexperienced young adults lacking in knowledge and skills about child development during the early years raising children during their formative years. By the time the adults know, the kids are past the critical stages where the best development patterns could have been in place.

This is not good planning. It may be how it's done more than any other way, but it's not good for kids and it's ultimately not good for the community they live in.

In centuries past when grandparents tended to live with their adult children (or at least nearby), the grandparents provided guidance on child rearing to their children and applied their learned knowledge directly with the young grandchildren. It's now more common for grandparents to see their grandchildren far less. The effects are being felt.

If society changes in one way--call it the megasociety syndrome--then it must also change its ways of raising children. Other than by dumping them into daycare and hoping that someone can do the job right there. We need to have parenting courses for young adults, or even for high school students. New parents now flock to Lamaze classes so they want to do their parenting the best way they can. They want, so we should provide.

We need to give them that opportunity.

Before too much time passes.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to put the needs of today into perspective for the future.
Learn more at

Sunday, May 13, 2007

God Is Not Likely On Your Side

The problem with being sure that God is on your side is that you can't change your mind, because God sure isn't going to change His.
- Roger Ebert, film-critic (1942- )

For a being that most people acknowledge exists and agrees that no one knows anything about Him or can know anything about Him, there certainly are lots of people who have a great deal to say about God.

This is an outright contradiction. A being can't be unknowable yet people attribute all sorts of characteristics, values, forms, habits and so on to Him.

Worse, because so many people believe the dross that has been devised by religious creative writers, others sour in their belief in God, often giving up the belief entirely. Atheists despise organized religion more than they disbelieve in God. What they don't believe in is the God that the religions have created to make themselves comfortable.

Surely organized religion is the worst thing that has ever happened to God. Humans, self-proclaimed as His greatest creation (term used loosely here) have been God's greatest failure. Nothing proves that God is not perfect more than the humans who claim they are God's most perfect creation.

We lie, we cheat, we steal, we mistreat each other, virtually all animals and plants and the planet itself, yet we still feel comfortable about forgiving ourselves and have confidence of finding our places in heaven when our time comes.

If, as the Abrahamic religions claim, man was created in God's image, then we have truly trashed our creator. We have shamed Him.

For a being that is omnicient, God must be forgetful, we devoutly hope. If God is omnipotent and holds power over everything, why did He allow humans to devise so much that is destructive (including hell, a human creation for humans)?

Ebert's quote, though it seems to make sense, is a slap in the face to all who are hypocritical.
Let's hope that the hypocritical ones feel confident enough to turn the other cheek. But don't count on it, they usually don't.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to rip the faces off two-faced hypocrites.
Learn more at

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Do You Know Who's Cheating You?

Propaganda is a soft weapon; hold it in your hands too long, and it will move about like a snake, and strike the other way.
- Jean Anouilh, playwright (1910-1987)

The word propaganda refers to information which is used to promote some cause, according to the dictionary. However, this meaning ignores the negative connotations of the word. For example, when you learn that Joseph Goebbels was the Minister of Propaganda for the Hitler regime and the person mainly responsible for the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany, you better understand the context in which propaganda is used most in recent years.

President Bush of the US and Prime Minister Blair of the UK used "information" about supposed connections between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda and intelligence reports about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Saddam's Iraq as devices to take their countries into war in Iraq. Both of these informations were not only wrong, but it seems likely that the leaders knew the reports were false before the war because they had reports to the contrary before they declared war on Iraq and Saddam's regime.

Look what holding onto their propaganda too long did for Hitler, Goebbels, Bush and Blair. Hitler and Goebbels both committed suicide, Blair is retiring as his popularity is plummetting and Bush--whose popularity is at its lowest point ever--doesn't know which way to turn to keep his troops in Iraq without funding.

In general, we don't like propaganda. Yet many people welcome it daily on their television sets. TV commercials, especially those by big companies, are nothing more than propaganda with makeup. People accept it because they believe the commercials and the companies don't do any harm and because their sponsorship brings their favourite programs to them free.

The very popular movement to address the problem of global warming (more properly called climate change) has garnered a huge amount of support, especially as people see their weather changing for the worse: summers hotter than ever before in memory, temperate pine forests being eaten by bugs that never travelled that far north before, Antarctic ice shelves crashing into the ocean and so on. Voices in opposition to the movement and its motives are weak by comparison.

Global temperatures actually cooled a little last year. The Antarctic ice mass has increased since 1979 and interior temperatures have cooled. Climate change is, in fact, the norm, not climate stability. Our ignorance of the history of climate causes us to believe whatever "facts" scientists who desperately want grant money to study their pet projects tell us.

Global temperatures have increased in the northern temperate zones by 1.6 degrees over the past century and a half. But the Little Ice Age that held sway for over 400 years before that and ended only in the mid 19th century would account for at least a slight rise in average temperatures. The burning of massive amounts of coal in Europe, for example, had been going on for ages before the Little Ice Age ended. Coal, the worst greenhosue gas emitter, didn't end the Little Ice Age in a hurry.

When we hear speakers such as Al Gore claim that we must act quickly or we will all be doomed to devastating results such as flooding of coastal cities, we should ask ourselves what they have to gain by their campaign. If the planet has been warming for 15 decades and ice caps have been melting steadily over that same time, why have no coastal cities flooded?

Propaganda campaigners amass so much information that they throw at us so quickly that we tend ot believe them because they seem to know what they are talking about. However, they do not address arguments contrary to their positions. They do not present all sides of an argument, just the one they intend to win with.
Climate change is natural. The Sahara Desert used to be savannah. Before that it was a massive freshwater lake. The planet's largest freshwater lake is still there beneath the Sahara sands, in fact, up to one kilometre below the surface. Where that water reaches the surface, the desert blooms and people grow lush crops.

Rather than panicking about global warming or climate change, we need to address the problems that it will inevitably bring upon us. For example, some parts of the USA will desertify while a large part of Canada that sits over solid rock (Precambrian Shield) will become subtropical, but we won't be able to grow crops on it. Cities may become unlivable because of smog and high temperatures, so we need to either build domes over them and clean the air or move people elsewhere.

We need to address the changes, not worry about the effects. That will require us to think about someone other than ourselves and those immediately around us. It means that we will have to prepare for changes that will benefit our grandchildren more than ourselves.

Our planet will soon have seven billion people. More and more of them will live in countries that can no longer support human life, or at least can't grow enough food to feed their people. That will mean necessary migration on a massive scale. That requires changes in our system of political boundaries and a global plan for implementing something that makes sense and is sustainable. It's going to happen whether we plan or not. If we don't, global war will likely result.

It means that there is something more important than our worries of today. Our worries of today are the result of propaganda from people making us believe that some things are critically important to our lives when in fact they are merely events that happen in any life and they will pass.

See the following resources to support the above:

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to put the tough questions of life into perspective.
Learn more at

Friday, May 11, 2007

Ten Things Schools Don’t Want Parents to Know

Schools have a mystique about them among many parents because teachers accomplish things with children that non-educators can't fathom or even grasp the degree of their influence on their children. Teachers, some believe, have techniques and skills with which they work wonders on children, much as surgeons work mysterious wonders in an operating room.

In order to maintain the myth and mystique, school boards remain quiet about matters that parents should know about. Teachers, concerned about maintaining their primary source of income, stay mum as well.
Since, legally, teachers function with authority similar to that of parents (teachers act in loco parentae), it makes sense that teachers and parents should be on the same page with respect to the development of the children they grow.

As a parent, grandparent or community-minded citizen, you deserve to know situations and conditions that may exist in schools in your neighborhood.

While the following are generalizations, meaning that there are many exceptions, there will be far more denials and claims of exceptions than real exceptions. These are some harsh truths about education.

(1) In general, teachers do not work well together, in team teaching situations, for the collective benefit of students. Teachers traditionally have been sole masters or mistresses of their domains. They join together as team players for special events, but most prefer to work independently, with one teacher and one class of students.
Working together in team teaching situations requires teachers to each give up some of their autonomy, and to expose themselves, as professionals, to the scrutiny of their peers. In general, teachers don't like that. Though they may be confident and competent, they dislike being judged or compared to other teachers by their peers.
Despite the fact that children might benefit from exposure to the strengths of two or more teachers in a team teaching situation, most kids experience both the weaknesses and the strengths of one teacher in one classroom at one time.Teachers working together to pool their strengths benefits children. A teacher working as the lone adult in classroom makes teachers feel more secure.

(2) School boards often do not give teachers enough training in new curriculum for the teacher to function competently and confidently. With an already heavy teaching load, teachers find new curriculum for which they are not well prepared added stress. Sometimes new curriculum arrives as a thick book just before a school year begins or even in the middle of a year.
Communities expect teachers to work wonders with the development of children in their charge. School boards expect teachers to become instant experts on curriculum that the boards have not thought out far enough in advance to produce months ahead of time and train their teachers appropriately.
Often, new curriculum is added without removing old curriculum, meaning that teachers must force-feed children at an unsustainable rate for children to learn. This stresses both children and teachers.

(3)Teachers often receive no new resources or money with which to purchase supplies or resources to support new curriculum. Sometimes new curriculum does not even include places where new resources may be purchased.
Commonly, old curriculum has poor resource support within a school, so teachers may use out of date materials, now-inappropriate stuff available in the school from times past, or they must scour the internet for material to provide for the curriculum needs of their students.
When they must resort to using the internet, legal considerations regarding copyright of material may not be accounted for. To secure material without infringing copyright, teachers may resort to a lecture style--teacher at the front, children listening at their seats--which young children find difficult to follow, meaning that some will miss the core of the lesson.

(4) School boards assume that teachers who must teach multiple subjects, such as in the lower grades of elementary (grade) school, can be competent and effective with all of them. This doesn't make sense. It stands to reason that each teacher will have subject weaknesses, such as the inability to carry a tune in music, underdeveloped art skills, a poor understanding of skills needed for physical education or even a lack of understanding of how children learn mathematics. Neither teachers colleges nor curriculum address these deficiencies. Teachers are not taught enough.
School boards and districts make assumptions and presumptions about both teachers and children that simply could not be supported by evidence with real people in the classroom.

(5) Teachers find discipline uncomfortable because they feel at risk from parents who disagree with whatever methods of punishment or retribution they chose. Traditional forms of punishment such as beating with a strap, standing in a corner facing the wall, shouting abuse or wearing of a dunce cap have no place in today's schools. Yet neither do bullying, drugs, students abusing teachers or students carrying weapons.
When parents hear how one errant student has been disciplined, they may incorrectly assume that all misbehaving children are treated alike. In practice, methods of discipline vary with the child and with the offence, as they should.
How to manage an errant child creates stress and even fear in some teachers. Panic attacks and hyperventilation among teachers, events unknown to students of the past, show themselves more often in today's schools. No teacher wants to have to discipline a child. Discipline puts the teacher at greater risk than the student being disciplined.

(6) Too often, school boards treat children as commodities on a production line, where the success of the teacher depends on the proven progress of the child in matters of intellectual development. What is best for a child (in total) may take lower priority than the child passing certain tests to determine progress against an arbitrary scale on which there may be little agreement among professionals. Quantity, rather than quality, dominates methods of evaluation in many jurisdictions. Final marks may be adjusted according to a scale, rather than being recorded as raw data (actual marks on the tests).

(7) Many teachers leave the profession within a few years, not because they dislike teaching, but because the stress is too much to bear. Stress breeds fear. For example, some school boards require teachers to administer medications to children with allergies or hyperactivity disorder and the teachers may be held legally liable for any errors that may occur while they also tend to the constant needs of 30 other children. The average teaching career in the United States lasts five years.

(8) It's not easier to manage 25 to 35 children in a classroom than two of your own children at home. Teachers don't wield magic, they use techniques they have been taught or that they have learned through experience. If those techniques are not in line with what children have learned at home, the kids may falter or even fall back in their development. Standards of expectations of children at home may differ from those at school, in which case the children tend to favor the one that enforces less responsibility and costs less work. While children lose in those circumstances, teachers suffer frustration because different children in a classroom choose to work by different standards from each other. Teachers find themselves in a losing struggle to provide a level playing field for all children. Equality, yes, but by what standard?

(9) Curriculum is set not according to the capacity of each child to learn, but according to how good the topics will look to other adults. Learning styles of children vary greatly, as do the speed at which they learn and the amount of new information and skills they are capable of absorbing in a given period of time. A child who learns slowly or not in a style that is compatible with the teaching style of the teacher, thus garnering low marks on class tests, may gain more knowledge and skills over a long period of time than the "average." Yet the child may suffer humiliation while in school due to an undiagnosed disability and may endure accusations of laziness.

(10)One of our basic needs is the need for touch. While touch is very important for people of all ages, it is especially important for the smooth development of children. Through touch, children can feel secure in an ever changing world. By the very nature of schooling, children's lives change constantly. Touch allows them some comfort to know that they have a solid and dependable adult they can count on, someone who is with them throughout the day.

Parents can provide the soothing and comforting touch that children need while they are at home. Many school boards forbid teachers from touching children, for fear of litigation accusing their teachers of improper touching of children.

For fear of litigation, school boards insist that children fail to receive touch they may need at any given time during fully half of their waking hours. Some children thrive in this insecure environment. Some don't, especially if they don't get enough loving touch at home.

These factors each play a role in the dynamics of education in your community. Your children, grandchildren or neighbor's children may survive and thrive in such a convoluted learning environment, but not all children do. Some can't cope. In years to come, they become inmates in our prisons, residents in our mental hospitals, patients for a proliferating profession of therapists or gobblers of mood suppressing drugs.

No one denies that our children deserve the best possible education. It's necessary that schools provide positive and helpful conditions for children who may be at risk of having problems coping with life later, as well as for well-adjusted children.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about real and inexpensive solutions to personal and community problems most people think are inevitable evils of modern society. They aren't. We just have to look in the right place.
The Writers' Collective (publisher)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Why Having Fun Can Be Risky and Panic Inducing

The prospect of a long day at the beach makes me panic. There is no harder work I can think of than taking myself off to somewhere pleasant, where I am forced to stay for hours and 'have fun'.
- Phillip Lopate

The irony of this statement strikes everyone, but its significance may not. Going to the beach has traditionally been an occasion to have fun. Yet it causes Lopate to panic.

Many people in western societies have lost track of their objective of happiness on their way to "have fun." A person today is judged by his income, his position, his status and his wealth. Having fun may be part of that judgment, but it's not part of being happy.

By comparing where he believes he is on each of these scales to where he believes he thinks he should be or where he believes others think he should be, a person's life has become focussed on work. Our lives are evaluated by our work. Who we are is determiend by what we do for a living. Our worth is calculated by how ostentaciously we spend our money.

This is not true of everyone. But it's certainly true of those who consider how they will look more than their needs when the buy a vehicle or a home, when they decide where to school their children, what clubs to belong to and how to hold parties.

Paying attention closely to how we are judged by others is not the way to happiness. Happiness is a personal objective that must be undertaken without significant reference to the opinions of others. Our duties and responsibilities are important, but the opinions of others as to what we should do will not cause us to be happy.

The person going nearly twice the speed limit on a highway through a city is not concerned about where his next meal is coming from. But he may be secretly concerned about his lack of power in many areas of his life. Excessive speed is one way to take control--to hold power--in a life that is largely controlled by others, by creditors, by employers, by family membersm by a desire to do better than he is doing now. By what others think of him.

In a radio interview by a broadcaster from Napa Valley, California, last year I was asked how to decline drugs offered at parties the host goes to, as drugs were apparently the norm for every party he attended. A radio host from Los Angeles this year had trouble following our conversation because he was drugged up at 6:20 a.m. local time. For many people, recreational drugs have become the escape mechanism of choice when they have no other means to have fun.

Ask people you know what they do to find happiness in their lives and many will tell you how they "have fun" by doing something illegal or risky. A few will have genuine answers, showing they know what happiness is for them. A minority will admit that they have no idea how to be happy.

Yet "the pursuit of happiness" declared as an objective in the US Declaration of Independence continues to be an objective, even if a large portion of the population has little idea how to achieve it.

In today's fast paced world, people need to be taught, while still children, what happiness is for those who are truly happy and how to achieve this state or course of life. Unless we are taught about happiness, we may not find it because others bombard us all day long with pitches designed to make us believe that we can buy it. Happiness can only be made, not bought.

As peculiar as it sounds, Happiness could be part of a health course offered in high schools. Given the rates of emotional and social problems among high school students today, the course should be taught in the earliest years.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to put happiness back as a realistic life objective.
Learn more at

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Should Religions Be Able To Influence Governments?

A cult is a religion with no political power.
- Tom Wolfe

Hidden beneath this deceptively simple statement about religious cults is a much larger statement about religions in general. Religions do have political power.

More importantly, religions themselves have unelected leaders who have as much power over the constituents of their religious community as any elected political leader. The supreme religious leader may undergo some election process to achieve his position, but that election is among his peers, not those at the grass roots level, the ones who support the religion with their donations.

But aren't politics and religion quite different from each other? Not at all. In the western world, religious leaders used to be the same people as the poltical leaders until the separation of church and state. In the USA today there is some reason to believe that the separation may be trying for a reconciliation to some extent.

In the Middle East, religious leaders influence political leaders greatly. In Iran, for example, we know that President Ahmadinijad reached his position through an election. But the election was influenced by the supreme religious leaders, the ayatollahs, who determined whose name would be allowed to stand on the ballot and whose could not. Iran's parliament passes no legislation that is not approved beforehand by the ayatollahs.

If we go to the Far East, to China and Laos, we find Communist governments. Communism is ostensibly the opposite to a theocracy. However, study of the way communism in these countries plays out makes the student see how non-religion has become a form of godless religion of its own in these countries. The supreme party leader is treated with the same respect and has similar power to the supreme leader of a large religion, quite different from what happens in democracies.

Religions do have power over the behaviour of people within their respective communities, which is effectively what elected political leaders have over their constitutents.

The big question which Tom Wolfe does not touch in his quote is whether religious leaders should have power over the behaviour of those who do not subscribe to their religions. At present, in countries where church and state are legally separate, religions use the media (many of which are owned by their followers--about 90 percent of the radio stations in the US are owned by religious conservatives, for example) as propaganda mechanisms to preach their message in the form of news and public affairs programs.

Those who believe that religions should be able to influence politics should be reminded that no country that has an official political affiliation today has much strength in the international economy. Most are poorly managed and poverty abounds. Western countries only surged ahead economically in the past half millennium once the church's influence over the politics of the state was separated at the end of the Middle Ages.

History says that when religion and politics are bedfellows, poverty results and corruption is a common consequence.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make some of the tough questions of life a little clearer.
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Monday, May 07, 2007

When Prominent People Look Like Fools

The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.
- Sir William Preece, chief engineer of the British Post Office, 1876

Imagine how Preece would feel if he knew that today we can play television programs and movies, take pictures or videos and display them on the internet, write and check email as well as exchanging voice messages iwth today's cell phones. Soon we will also pay for our purchases using our phones when we reach a checkout desk.

It should be noted that people in the UK today often receive two snailmail deliveries on weekdays and one on Saturdays, so Preece's successors were not asleep at the wheel.

This quote reminds me of several relating to computers and the internet, most of which you have likely read so I won't bore you by repeating them. The most outstanding of these was Bill Gates declaring that 64 KB of memory ought to be enough for anyone.

How can such prominent people be so far off in their predictions? For one thing, most of them were middle age or older when they made their now-embarrassing declarations. As people get older, they want their world to remain the same as much as possible because it has taken them so many years to gain a reasonable understanding of it as it is (was).

However, nothing remains the same, in nature or in human lives. That which appears to maintain the status quo is most likely decaying beneath the surface. The only constant in this world today is change.

Many people are not prepared for major changes in their lives, such as when they lose their jobs or their spouses. The kinds of skills necessary to cope with the downturns of life form part of the emotional development that children are supposed to go through as they grow toward adulthood.

Many don't get enough coping skills. Their parents either don't know what to teach them or they believe that children should not be "burdened" with possible tragedies that might befall them later in life. Just mentioning the words drugs, alcohol, suicide, Prozac, therapist, murder, divorce and abuse is sufficient to remind us that not nearly enough people have the skills they need to cope with their lives.

Coping skills can be taught. They aren't being taught by enough parents today, maybe because the parents don't know the skills to teach their kids or maybe because they lose the opportunity to teach them at the right time. How many parents have been shocked by news of their children being arrested for drug use or being pregnant before it had even occurred to them to teach their offspring about these topics?

The only way to ensure that the emotional development of each child is addressed properly and each stage's components effected at the right time is the way we have always managed matters that parents could not handle on their own: we turn it over to teachers. It only makes sense for teachers to cover matters of emotional devleopment (as well as parents) so that every child will have the same ability to cope with the ups and downs that life will throw at them.

A few decades ago students could expect that the company that hired them when they left school may employ them for their entire careers. Today it is more likely that a person will have ten quite different jobs through their working lives. Most of them will be like careers in themselves.

Kids need to know not only how to get their first job, but how and when to pursue a new job and to secure the skills needed to do the new job (career) when the time arrives. They need to know what to do when they are dismissed, other than to apply for social assostance.

They need to know what to do when change smacks them in the face. Those things are teachable.

You can talk with your friends and neighbours about this, maybe get together a presentation to make to the principals of local schools. One success in one school and word will spread until entire school distrincts will adopt your plan.

Someone has to get the ball rolling. I nominate you.

Just talk to people about it. Emotional development is as important to a child as itellectual, physical or social devleopment. Schools today mostly address intellectual development according to their prescribed curricula.

Get talking about it. You can save a lot of lives from being messed up in the future.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make life's toughest problems a little easier to understand and to provide some solutions that everyone can follow.
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Sunday, May 06, 2007

To Hell In A Handbasket Begins To Look Good

This above all: to thine own self be true;
And it must follow, as the night the day;
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
- William Shakespeare, 'Hamlet,' Act I, Scene iii

Surely this quote is remembered almost as often as any other by the Bard. "To thine own self be true." Be honest with yourself, then you won't have to worry about being honest with others.

Honesty used to be considered a virtue. In today's world that is dominated, controlled with a neck throttle, by industry, honesty qualifies as a characteristic of suckers according to the prevailing ethic of business and politics.

We know that President Bush and likely Prime Minister Blair were aware of more than one intelligence report clearly stating that Iraq had no known weapons of mass destruction when they moved their militaries into Iraq to take down Saddam, claiming that their primary purpose was to get rid of weapons of mass destruction. (That even defies logic. Would you attack a country you knew had such weapons that could wipe out any military unit that entered that country?)

Recently we have learned that Chinese sources of chemicals intentionally sent a supposedly safe chemical to the US containing toxic melamine that eventually poisoned many pets through prepared foods.

More recently reporters have revealed evidence that other Chinese chemical producers have sent a toxic substances to various countries of the world (mostly to poor countries such as Bangladesh, Argentina and Nigeria) to be used in those countries as food additives. The chemical was supposed to be plain, safe glycerin, but was actually a (mislabelled) component of anti-freeze.

In the recent past we have had giant corporations such as Enron and Worldcom destroyed by greedy industrial leaders who received humungous pay checks for posting false profit statements to drive up their stock prices, leaving multitudes of people bereft of the nest eggs they had saved for their retirements.

Divorce rates in most western countries where couples promised to love, honour and cherish, through good times and bad, have soared past fifty percent, reaching close to 66 percent in some countries. The only reason that the divorce rates have come down in a few countries is that fewer couples have been getting married, preferring instead to cohabit, so they don't fall within the divorce statistic.

Most young people, if they are even familiar with the word 'virtue,' couldn't name more than a couple of the traditional ones. Following their role models on television and in the movies, many value sex until the fire goes out over finding lasting love with a soul mate with whom they stay for a lifetime of adventures.

Spend some time in civil court or watch some of the "judge" shows on TV to see how often the perpetrator makes the victim out as real the bad guy.

Meanwhile almost everyone laments the fact that you can't trust anyone any more.

What went wrong and how did it go so wrong so fast? Some point out that the decline in popularity of honesty began when "God" was removed from the classroom (or when "prayer" was removed). This is partly valid.

One of the primary functions of religion is to teach values and morals (sometimes ethics as well) to the adults and children of their respective congregations. At the same time as anything related to religion was removed from schools, teaching of ethics and values was removed and the curriculum was expanded exponentially so that teachers have no time for non-curriculum matters such as morals and values in many schools.

If the first job of those responsible for the formal education of children is to prepare them for life as adults. If we want honesty and trust to return to our people, we must teach these values to everyone. To be certain that every child gets the same message, teachers should be given the responsibility for teaching the same lessons to every child.

The present system doesn't work. Instead of crying and bitching about how bad things are in our communities, we need to start putting the responsibility for educating children uniformly and comprehensively into the hands of the people whose responsibility it is to teach children.

But doesn't that include parents as well as teachers? Of course. We have the choice of either giving parenting lessons to new parents or adolescents about what their responsibilities will be to teach their kids or let the first batch of children who have received values and morals lessons grow to be parents themselves. Even that slipshod latter method would have everyone covered within a generation.

Doing nothing hasn't worked. Leaving it to someone else to do the job for us hasn't worked. Those who have done nothing have no right to point the finger of blame at others who have tried and may have failed.

If you want honesty, be honest yourself. Then show others by your example. And teach every child you know why it would be better to be honest than to be dishonest and untrustworthy.

When you can't trust anyone, your life is set up to adopt fear as a way of coping. Fear is nothing but destructive.

Or our communities, our countries and our world will just get worse while we blame someone else for not doing their job.

Be honest with yourself. That's what you really want.

Bill Allin
Turning it Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make the ugly realities of life plain and easy to understand, and to give solutions where needed.
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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Why There Are So Many Miserable People Around

Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of a great fear.
- Bertrand Russell, philosopher, mathematician, author, Nobel laureate (1872-1970)

Fear changes everything. Man, woman or child, a person experiencing fear will not act the same and will not make decisions and choices in the same way they do when their fear is at a manageable minimum.
While security is a myth as no one can live in complete security unless they withdraw from the world into a shell of a life, many people live in an excess of fear as if it were normal.

Fear is not normal, except in the sense of apprehension that prevents us from doing foolish things that could result in injury or death. Fear is made entirely within ourselves.

People who live in fear flock to places of worship that offer them solace and comfort, protection from that which makes them afraid. That protection is worn as an invisible cloak in the same way that the same people wore their fear previously. They believe in the protection with the same devotion with which they believe in their fears.

Some join extreme political parties or support measures that are extreme within mainstream parties, believing that if the "bad guys" are somehow corralled and suppressed the world will be a better place. Whether the bad guys eventually are rounded up and silenced is not as important as the feeling of power over others that passing laws that restrict the behaviour of other people not like themselves gives them. Power as a security factor works at the grass roots level as well as the top levels of politics, industry and the military. Physical and emotional abuse are the most common forms of fear showing itself as power over others.

The most usual form of withdrawal from some aspects of society as a result of fear is addiction. The addiction could as easily be to television, movies or bingo as well as to gambling, alcohol or racing cars. These are all distractions, at the start, from the causes of their fear. Excessive participation in bingo or watching an inordinate amount of television or movies has a longer term effect on a person's life than the more familiar addictions (with damage not as severe as drugs or some other forms), but it does change people.

In general, fear makes people close their lives in, making them smaller. The unconscious attempt to control their lives by building walls around them also results in generalization and prejudice. For example, a fear of Middle East terrorists by a white North American (at least terrorists from the Middle East) might show itself as a dislike for or prejudice against Muslims in general, or for people with beards or for people with olive skin colour.

While most fears happen as a result of unfortunate accidents of fate (such as claustrophobia resulting from watching a movie about people escaping through a tunnel dug under the wall of a concentration camp), some are knowingly and consciously taught. A fear of terrorists is an example of the latter.

Of the 6.5 billion people on earth today, only an insignificantly small percentage of us have died or been injured by a suicide bomb or a sniper. Given a choice between protecting themselves from terrorist attacks or reducing climate change (aka global warming), more people would choose the protection even though the likelihood of their being harmed by a terrorist is far less than that of being struck by lightning.

Though statistics are not available, the percentage of people who openly express fear that they will lose their jobs in the near future or who strongly dislike their jobs is many times as great as the percentage who go about seeking a new job to avoid these unpleasant eventualities.

Not much is logical about the decisions of people who are afraid. They can't be depended upon to act in logical ways all the time. Given that adopting fear unnecessarily is itself illogical, the irony is striking.

If you know someone who is afraid of something, you can only help them if they want help to overcome their fear. If they don't want help, nothing you do can change their minds. In the sense of being devoted to their fear, fearful people are like addicts. A person with a fear can be reprogrammed, but this is a long, difficult and exacting process that the lay person would know little about.

You can walk away from someone you know who has a fear or be with them for comfort when they break down or fall apart from not being able to cope with their mounting fear. If you stay with them, you must be prepared to exercise a great deal of tolerance and compassion. Fearful people can be pretty hard to get along with. But they don't choose to be that way.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make the miserableness of some people easier to understand.
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Friday, May 04, 2007

You Aren’t Perfect. Get Over It.

Take everything you like seriously, except yourselves.
- Rudyard Kipling

To take yourself seriously means that you believe you are more important than anyone else in your life.

To take yourself seriously means that you believe everything you do is so ideal as to be unimpeachable.

To take yourself seriously means you don't want to allow for the possibility that a contrary opinion to yours, by someone else, is less worthy than your own, no matter how important that opinion or position is to the other person.

To take yourself seriously means that you refuse to allow that someone who offends or hurts you, intentionally or not, can be forgiven because they are somehow an inferior segment to the human species.

Take what you do seriously, not yourself. What you do is who you are. What you do is inviolable, while what you say may not be dependable or even truthful.

To take yourself seriously means that when the time comes, you may not be prepared to forgive yourself for grievances you have caused to others or to yourself. In order to forgive yourself, you need to give yourself enough slack, which means to not take yourself too seriously.

You aren't perfect. You will make mistakes, even with the best of intentions. The more seriously you take yourself, the harder you will find it to forgive yourself. This may not seem important if you have not reached middle age, but it will become more important as you get older and begin to compare your life to what it might have been under different circumstances.

To take yourself too seriously means to burn your bridges behind you. If you do that enough, you will find yourself living in a very small world when you get older. Your small world will not be big enough to accommodate the changes that happen around you and make you feel isolated.

Kipling said that you should take everything you like seriously. Understood after those words and before "except yourselves" was his advice that you should like yourself. If you can't like yourself, who you have made yourself to be, then you will never be happy. You can find excitement, even buy it, but you won't be happy. You will never find tranquility and contentment in your life if you don't like yourself.

You will also have to like others, despite all their faults, misfortunes, mistakes, weaknesses and disabilities. If you don't like others, you have little hope that they will like or love you. You need to be able to forgive them no matter what they do, or do to you, if you want them to like and love you. They aren't as perfect as you would like them to be.

First you must like yourself, but not so much that you can't forgive yourself for your mistakes, your faults and your follies.

You aren't perfect. Get over it. Everyone else knows it. The more you try to make others believe you are perfect, the more imperfect you will seem to them. You don't really want others to believe that you smile at yourself glowingly when you look in a mirror. Admiringly, maybe.

Taking everything you like seriously (except yourself) means that you will give your best to each task you undertake. That will bring you respect (sometimes grudgingly, sometimes jealously, usually positively) and encourage people to want to associate themselves with you.

In the final analysis, what you do with and for others will count most.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to put some of life's tougher questions into a clearer light.
Learn more at