Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Why Everyone Should Celebrate Christmas

No matter what religion people subscribe to, or which ones they steadfastly avoid and ignore, everyone seems to have an opinion about Christmas and its celebration. This article will attempt to shed light on truths about Christmas while steering clear of emotional arguments.

People celebrate Christmas for two fundamental reasons. One, the purely secular reason, has been going on in some form likely since the early days of human civilization thousands of years ago. The winter solstice has just passed in the northern hemisphere, where a large majority of earth's human population lives. Days will get more hours of sunlight as the weeks pass and the promise of the renewal of plant life and the return of migrating birds sustains people through long, cold and often snowy days of winter weather.

The Romans adopted the earlier celebration of this turning point in the natural year, calling it Saturnalia. While Saturnalia is well known today for its extended periods of sexual promiscuity--early autumn was a good time to give birth, best for both mother and child--and heavy consumption of alcohol, it was also a time for eating heartily, gathering with friends and family, exchanging of gifts and having fun in favourite ways.

We continue a similar tradition of celebrating the Christmas period today, with less emphasis on sex. The secular component of the event lives today as much as it has for thousands of years. The "over commercialization" of Christmas is nothing more than businesses meeting well expressed and traditional needs of people to have a festive period during the days of few hours of daylight, too much cold weather and too much snow.

Those who believe that Christmas has been taken over by industries to peddle their wares believe more in a religious celebration of Christmas. Christians may consider Christmas a somber time when they should consider the birth of Jesus of Nazareth some 2012 years ago. They consider Jesus to have been the founder of their religion.

He wasn't, and therein lies a cause for confusion.

Jesus was a Jew. He never claimed to be anything but a Jew. The Dead Sea Scrolls, which seem to reflect the teachings of Jesus--in many cases word for word as recorded in the Bible--have recently been proven to be the work of a group of Jewish monks known as Essenes. If Jesus could quote Essene works so accurately, it's likely he spent at least some of his "missing years' in an Essene monastery. In his time, the Essenes were ascetics, living simply and sparsely. Considering how Jesus lived during his years of teaching, his life too was simple and sparse.

Jesus never claimed to be THE Son of God. He wouldn't because he believed that every man and woman has the potential to join the Kingdom of God, whose members are each a child of God. In fact, whose members are each a part of the universal whole of existence, thus part of God. The Kingdom of God, as Jesus taught, is here and now, not after death. He taught that God is within each of us--not up in some mysterious heaven--and may be found by searching within. He told people to follow his ways, which meant to do as he did to achieve the mystical experiences he had. He wanted people to find God today, not live for some promised reward later.

Jesus never spoke a word to suggest that he intended to found a church. In the fourth century C.E. several religious books were rewritten to then form what Christians know as their Bible and that version called Peter the founder and first leader of a new church. In fact, we now know that the real Peter was a rough and coarse fisherman who was unlikely to be either a leader or a good speaker. James the brother of Jesus was more likely to be the one to continue the work of Jesus after the crucifixion. And Mary of Magdala, whose work was buried by the Christian church in the fourth century and whose reputation was disparaged in the sixth century when the pope called her the unnamed whore in one of the Bible stories, but whose real work and value are recorded in the Nag Hamadi's so-called Gnostic Gospels.

Judaism considers Jesus of Nazareth to have been one of its prophets. Islam mentions both Jesus and his mother, Mary, in the Qu'ran and considers Jesus one of the prophets in the history of its religion. In fact, Islam does not downplay the significance of Jesus at all, it only values the words of Mohammed (570-632 C.E.) higher because he was the most recent prophet.

Jesus was a man of peace and love. His teachings were all about both peace and love. Didn't he destroy the tables of the merchants outside the temple in Jerusalem, suggesting that he had hidden violence within him? Unlikely. That story is almost certainly a tale added well after the death of Jesus to make him look more powerful in the world of his time. Can you even imagine someone wreaking the destruction Jesus supposedly did outside the temple and not being punished for it? According to the story, he was neither arrested nor imprisoned for this blatant act against his own church. Supposedly he just walked away and the incident forgotten. Not likely.

"Love they neighbour as thyself" and "Peace on earth" are the two statements most often attributed directly to Jesus. Few other words are associated with Jesus as his words are only recorded in some 24 instances in the Bible. Everything else is hearsay and folk tales invented after his death to make him seem greater than a normal man.

The non-commercial celebration of Christmas is, in fact, more a celebration of the words of Jesus than about the birthday of the founder of Christianity. As calculations based on words of the Bible would put his actual birth date around September 24, December 25 is more symbolic than actual.

December 25 is a day set aside to recognize the dual messages of Jesus--peace on earth and love thy neighbour--not to recognize the birth of a man we know precious little about. Other than what has been invented about him by Christianity and other religions.

Those who value the concepts and want to see the coming to pass of peace on earth and love of others will set aside some time around the Christmas season to give them some thought. We remember the words of Jesus, that are now over two millennia old. They won't die. However, they can only come to fruition when more of us practise them in our lives.

Christmas is about gift giving. It's also about peace and love. We're big enough to be able to give them all.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to teach their children all the lessons of life, not just the ones in school curriculum.
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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Science on the (Beneficial) Edge

Science on the (Beneficial) Edge

Scientists have been known to take some goofy and destructive directions--not surprising for people who often believe they are intellectually superior to the rest of us--but some studies lately show themselves to be clearly beneficial for humanity.

You and Your Superpowers

Have you ever wished you had superpower strength like comics stars Superman or Iron Man? Even if your strength is not what it used to be, super strength potential may be only a few years away.

Researchers at Raytheon Sarcos in Salt Lake City, USA, have developed a wearable exoskeleton that not only won't weigh you down, it will give you extra strength.

Raytheon developed the suit for the military so that one soldier can hoist a 200 pound missile into a plane or shove obstacles out of the way in pursuit of the enemy. It's not bullet-proof or explosion-proof yet, but that's in development as well.

The exoskeleton consists of an upper and lower suit so that a person can climb into it as easily as getting dressed. As it requires a minimum of training to operate, eventually it will be offered to people who have various weakness disabilities and to the elderly who lack the strength and agility they had in their youth but still need to climb stairs and move furniture.

Hydraulically powered joints not only mimic human movements, they sense movements of the wearer and assist with that very same action. If a wearer wants to lift something heavy, for example, the suit will act like a set of outside (the "exo" part) muscles and make the lifting job easier.

Developed by University of Utah mechanical engineer Stephen Jacobsen, with funding from the US Department of Defense, the suit should be ready by 2015.

Rebuilding Yourself from the Inside Out

MIT materials chemist Angela Belcher was always different, even as a child. She would try to invent things in the family garage, out of scrap materials. Trouble was, everything she invented had already been made. Then she grew up.

In college she "fell in love with large molecules." She found that she could manipulate them to build things. She wrote her doctoral thesis on how the abalone uses the same proteins to build a rough outer shell as well as a pearl-like inner shell. All the gastropod had to do was shift the sequence of the proteins to create the different textures. She thought it pretty amazing. "If organisms like the abalone have precise control at a genetic level, I realized it might be possible to program an organism to grow other kinds of material. Why not use genetic information to build a protein that can grow a semiconductor?"

Along with about 30 students and postdocs at MIT, Belcher has now programmed viruses to grow various inorganic materials such as nanoscale semiconductors, solar cells and magnetic storage devices. Returning to her earlier love of biology, she has also used yeast cells as scaffolding to build other living cell components. She envisions one day being able to rebuild a human body cell from the inside, using much the same methods as our bodies already use when they are working properly.

The National Cancer Institute is currently funding her to find peptides that can enter the body through the bloodstream, then go to target areas and specifically identify cancer cells. From there it would be a relatively small step to ridding a body of cancer through internal warfare.

If You're A Bad Guy, You Won't See It

Gilles Brassard, of Canada's Université de Montréal, takes a radically different approach to computer security from most people. While Albert Einstein would have been comfortable with most aspects of today's computers, he wasn't too thrilled with quantum mechanics. He particularly didn't like the fact that some things at the nano level could be in two different places at the same time, and especially that if you looked in one place they would be in the other.

Brassard thinks that's exactly what computer security needs.

The professor of computer science uses exactly that feature in quantum cryptography to ensure that if the wrong person--or an unintended person--views an encrypted message, it will say something different from what the intended receiver is supposed to read.

Brassard also works with others, such as Christopher A. Fuchs of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, in Waterloo, Canada, to determine how quantum physics might fit into the structure of the universe. He suspects that the universe behaves not according to waves and particles as most physicists believe now, but according to information theory axioms.

Maybe if you look at the universe from the right point of view, it's not as weird as it seems.

Medical Nanobots with Sperm Power

Though reproductive biologist Alex Travis doesn't collaborate with Angela Belcher, they work along similar lines. Travis wants to build nanobots--mechanical rather than biological--that can go into the body to repair whatever is needed. But what could power something so small?

Travis became fascinated with the power utilized by sperm cells that support each other and compete with each other on their way from the female vagina, through the uterus to the fallopian tubes. He knew he could engineer a nanobot to do stuff like clear a blood clot or repair damaged organs from the inside if he could only duplicate whatever powers those sperm.

It turns out that sperm use a process called glycosis to make a biological fuel called ATP from the same glucose that powers the rest of the body. That's the simple version of the explanation. Travis plans to use a 10-enzyme glycosis chain within the tails of mouse sperm--what makes the sperm's tail flail back and forth so vigorously--to power a nanobot.

He will have to modify the enzymes a bit so that the nanobots will continue to work once they reach their destinations. Unlike sperm that die of exhaustion once they achieve their goal. So far he has modified two enzymes on the chain so that the mouse sperm does what it's supposed to do with a nanobot stand-in. Now he wants to modify the other enzymes so they will perform other functions in the process.

When it all comes together, medical nanobots will use the body's own fuel--plain old sugar/glucose--to power themselves to specific body locations to complete tasks such as killing cancer cells or repairing faulty heart valves.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to know what children need, not just what adults believe they need, to grow into balanced and competent adult citizens of a better world. It's not what most adults think.
Learn more at

(Primary resource: Discover, June 2008)

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Is Freedom Really Worth Fighting For?

Here lives a free man. Nobody serves him.
- Albert Camus, writer, philosopher, Nobel laureate (1913-1960)

The concept of freedom has as many interpretations as there are people who use the word.

We fight wars in the name of freedom. We insist that people who have been wrongly convicted and incarcerated be freed because freedom is a basic human right. What the concept of freedom means is confusing.

Politicians manipulate our thinking on various subjects by hinting or clearly stating that our freedom will be reduced or confined if we do not support the action they advocate. It motivates fear, which is what gets them elected.

Freedom is a great political football because nobody is clear about what it means. Most times the word is used, it means whatever the user wants it to mean.

Whatever freedom is, the concept exists between the ears.

Is it worth fighting for? If you can't think for yourself and tend to take your view of the world and your opinions of the parts of it that affect you from others, it's not worth fighting for. You have given up your freedom voluntarily already.

Freedom as a tool of political persuasion is only used--can only be used--with people who have already given up their right and ability to think for themselves. When we see how many wars are fought in the cause of freedom, we can see how many people don't think for themselves. Many people don't think at all, they just follow.

People such as The Mahatma, Mohandas Gandhi, who was jailed many times for annoying the British with his peaceful insistence (resistance) that the UK free India, and democracy leader and Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Ki, of Burma, under house arrest for years, did not consider their freedom to have been removed. No matter where they were (or are) they could think for themselves.

Their freedom to move around from place to place was restricted, but their freedom of mind was not--could not--be taken from them.

Are you free? Because you read, because you choose to seek out information and opinions on various subjects, you certainly are free. Or you have greater potential to be free, whether you adopt it or not.

You may listen to input from a variety of sources, but you don't make up your mind on any subject until and unless you have learned more than enough on which to base a sound decision.
If freedom is based on the unfettered ability to think, isn't everyone free, almost by definition?

By definition, yes. By choice, no. Too many people allow their minds to be manipulated by others who have something to gain by having them as allies or supporters. Look at the effectiveness of most advertising and religions as examples of how propaganda can be used to have people voluntarily give up their freedom.

Follwers listen to one line of thought and adopt it as if it were inherently good and right and the only possible choice. It's like two siblings fighting over something and mom supporting the first one to explain their case to her. The first one to make a good case get the most supporters.
No one can take away your freedom of thought. The only way you can lose that is to give it away.

Why do so many people give away that right? They aren't taught it at school. At home, kids have to follow the ways of the family, at least when they are younger. At school, kids are taught that the teacher's way is the right way. Even at the college level students learn that it's risky to take a position on a paper that is contrary to that of the teacher because a low mark may result.

People who enjoy true freedom of thought generally do not voluntarily go to war. Some may take leadership roles and send others into battle. They don't go themselves because they value their own freedom.

The freedom to think.

We can teach this. The world won't fall apart or be bombed out of existence if we teach freedom of thought and support freedom of expression. It's not just a clause in a constitution. Freedom can be a way of life.

It's only a risk when too many people allow themselves to be persuaded that it's a dangerous thing to allow others to express their opinions.

Freedom of thought and expression is embedded in the constitutions of many countries. Yet people in those countries give away that freedom when they accept the fear mongering by leaders who want opinions that differ from their own to be suppressed.

We have nothing to fear from differences. We only allow ourselves to be afraid when we don't have exposure to all sides or positions of an argument or issue.

Those who limit our exposure to differences of opinion or forms of art or anything else want to remove our freedom of thought, our freedom to make our own choices. The more we restrict our learning of information about differences, the more we sacrifice our freedom.

When we imprison our own minds, all that's left is our bodies. And they are no more sophisticated than the bodies of other animals or plants. Bodies aren't intelligent, they just are.

We can teach the freedom to think. We can teach it in schools. We simply need to teach boundaries with it, such as when freedom of thought becomes licence or anarchy that impinges on the rights of others.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to teach children how to think for themselves.
Learn more at

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Genius: It's Not for Everyone

Genius: It's Not For Everyone

Many people associate the Nobel Prizes--identified by one science magazine as "the big kahuna of genius awards--with public recognition and financial reward for achievement reached as a result of genius. It doesn't necessarily work that way.

For example, William Shockley, winner of the Nobel Prize for physics in 1958 for inventing the transistor, was refused admission to a study of genius as a child because his IQ (Intelligence Quotient) was not deemed to be high enough.

In 1968 Luis Alvarez won the Nobel for his work on elementary particles. He had been excluded from the same study as Shockley. As kids, they must have lacked something. Maybe it wasn't genius they lacked, but the ability to write tests and score high marks.

The genius study began in 1928 when Stanford University prof Louis Terman--a strong supporter of IQ tests--wanted to find out how many geniuses were around. Terman defined genius as anyone who could score 140 or higher on standard IQ tests of the day.

None of the children in the study--known as "Termites"--has ever won a Nobel Prize.
Not that they were all failures in life. Termite Jess Oppenheimer invented the TelePrompTer and Termite Norris Bradbury once led the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

October is the month when the year's Nobel winners are announced. If you haven't been contacted, you likely didn't win this time around. Can you find out if you were at least nominated? Yes, but you'll have to wait for 50 years. That's how long the Nobel Committee keeps its lists of nominees secret.

Many outstanding geniuses of the 19th and 20th centuries--at least the male ones--gained reputations as guys who liked to bed the ladies. They include Richard Feynman, Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell. (Sorry if that burst your bubble about Albert. Apart from a scampish attitude, he had a smile and grin that melted many a heart. Look how popular his image is even today.)

How could geniuses, notoriously considered as geeks, become ladies men? One theory suggests that geniuses--at least the ones who become well known--have an inherent tendency toward risk taking. Einstein once said that if a new idea isn't considered absurd at first, it will go nowhere. It takes chutzpah to make it successful and widely accepted. Risk taking is considered to be linked to higher than normal levels of testosterone.

William Shockley and eugenicist Robert Klark Graham set up the Repository for Germinal Choice, in Southern California, in 1981. That was essentially a sperm bank for Nobel winners and well known geniuses. Women could buy a fair chance at having a child with a high IQ through artificial insemination.

Unfortunately, Graham died in 1997 and the sperm bank for geniuses closed in 1999 after a huge amount of negative publicity.

Having a high IQ is no guarantee of financial security in life. Geniuses are notoriously poor managers of money, likely because their focus in life is elsewhere. A study at the Ohio State University Center for Human Resource Research showed that those with average and lower than average IQs were as good at saving their money as bright people.

Einstein is reputed to have lost most of his Nobel money on bad investments.

You don't usually find geniuses as CEOs either. Many are socially inept, not great people managers.

Is real genius in fact a form of mental imbalance, even a disorder? Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger identified a form of autism--known today as Asperger's syndrome--where a person engages in intense absorption with a very narrow range of special interests. Google "savant syndrome" to find some of them. Think A Beautiful Mind.

Asperger believed that for outstanding "success in science and art, a dash of autism is essential." He believed there is a clear link between mathematical and scientific genius and the form of autism named after him.

Talk about absent-minded geniuses, the term was almost invented for Norbert Weiner. The inventor of the field of cybernetics was the poster child for absent-mindedness.

He once forgot that he had driven his car to a conference and took the bus home. Finding his car missing from his driveway, he reported it stolen to the police. Let that scenario play itself out in your head.

Sometimes genius doesn't even help toward success in the working world. In the 1990s, Bell Labs found that its most productive and valued electrical engineers were not the geniuses it employed. The best were those who had good rapport with their coworkers, were able to empathize, were cooperative, persuasive and had the ability to build consensus.

How intelligent are our nearest DNA relatives? In 2007, Kyoto University conducted three memory-based intelligence tests using chimpanzees and college students. Take a moment now to picture that.

Ready? The top scoring chimp beat out all the students in the first test, tied with a few in the second and came out on top again in the third. You just knew it had to end that way, didn't you?

But are chimps the smartest animals? Sadly we can't pit them against Alex, a gray parrot that died last year at age 31. Alex was widely believed to be the smartest bird ever. He could identify 50 objects, seven colours and shapes and quantities of up to six.

If that sounds lame, remember that it was people who designed the tests. How would you stand up in an intelligence test designed by a parrot or a chimp? Think it couldn't happen? That's because you don't have the ability or skills to think on their level. Most animals are much smarter than we give them credit for. We just think they're not as bright as us because we design the tests.

Most of us don't have a clue about how to communicate with animals. Our pets can usually read our moods and attitudes based on our behaviour easier than we can read theirs.
Getting back to genius and intelligence, you may be able to boost your own intelligence. Australian scientists at the University of Sydney and Macquarie University claim that intelligence can be raised, at least in the short term, by taking daily doses of 5 mg of creatine. Creatine is a compound found in muscle tissue.

In any event, your intelligence can drop if you don't use it. Like any other kind of body function such as muscles and nerves, it's use it or lose it with intelligence. It's not like money in the bank. Keep your brain well exercised or you will lose what you have now.

Senility is a preventable disease. Getting old is inevitable, getting stupid is not.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to grow children who are well balanced socially, emotionally and intellectually as well as physically.
Learn more at

[Primary source: Discover, October 2008]

Saturday, September 06, 2008

You, Me And Bucky's Balls

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
- Buckminster Fuller, polymath, master innovator ( 1895-1983)

Buckminster Fuller never saw a mountain that was too high for him. From wherever he was, he was able to imagine what the view would look like from the top of that mountain.

Nor did he ever try to change the system. He could always see the faults with the system and devise ways to create a new system that was better in many ways. He was the 20th century version of Leonardo da Vinci.

He was known to work on plans for houses, cars, boats, games, television transmitters and geodesic domes at the same time, all designed to be mass-produced using the simplest and most sustainable means possible.

His last home was built in a forest, over top of a stream, so that visitors could see the stream flowing beneath their feet as they walked across the floors of some rooms. The house leaked rain in, the generator to take power directly from the stream didn't work so well and some of the building materials didn't last so long. Bucky didn't fix them. He died. Had he lived, the house would have become a masterpiece of engineering, not just a masterpiece of design.

Buckminster Fuller thought differently from most people. Where most people could see walls blocking their way, Fuller simply chose to begin his mission on the far side of the wall.

He tended to take basic concepts such as physical laws, then use them to create something that took best advantage of the best characteristics of those laws. He didn't necessarily do what most people do, begin with a problem and go looking for a solution. He looked at what he wanted to finish with and tried to find the best way to achieve that goal.

Many people thought Richard Buckminister Fuller was crazy. By the standards that most of us use, maybe he was. He assumed that most of what people did was done because those before them had done it that way. That's the way progress was made and that's how the world came to be the way it is today. Fuller thought many of our ways were clumsy and fundamentally wrong. So he looked at problems differently.

To him, every problem had a solution that was simpler, cheaper, stronger and more elegant that what people were producing at the time.

Try it yourself the next time you have a problem to face. Assume that the usual way of doing things is wrong and look for something easier, simpler and more manageable. Start with what you want to achieve, your goal, then work backward.

Don't worry if you don't find something innovative. That will only mean you fit in with the vast majority of us.

No matter what your opinion of Buckminster Fuller, whether your liked his designs or not, his name will live on when people speak of Buckyballs and fullerenes (also known as buckminsterfullerenes). Imagine an empty cage with 60 carbon atoms that is stronger than you can imagine and you will understand why they are now and will be in the future so important so so many people.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to grow kids who can be innovative, not just products of the normal school system. (Fuller flunked out of Harvard.)
Learn more at

Friday, September 05, 2008

When Is Lying The Right thing To Do?

Today I bent the truth to be kind, and I have no regret, for I am far surer of what is kind than I am of what is true.
- Robert Brault, software developer, writer (1938- )

It's tough to argue against kindness. Each act of kindness that each person does makes the world a better place.

However, is it ever an act of kindness to bend the truth? Let's consider some possibilities.
First of all, an old saying goes: a half truth is a whole lie. What does truth look like when bent to look like something different?

I can understand why someone would want to avoid blurting out to another person, "You're ugly." But ugliness is a position on the scale of beauty. Moreover, not just ugliness but everything on the beauty scale is a matter of personal opinion, a subjective judgment that may not be shared by others. In general, when a compliment doesn't speed to the lips, it would be better to remain quiet.

What's ugly? Was the Elephant Man ugly? Joseph Merrick (inaccurately called John Merrick in the film of the same name) had a head shape that bore almost no resemblance to that of an ordinary person.

Merrick never imagined himself as handsome. He was, in the estimation of many, a very charming man. Though some of his admirers were no doubt fascinated with the extreme distortion of Merrick's head from the norm, many enjoyed his company. A great many people in this world would prefer to be admired for the enjoyment they give to others in their company than to have average looks. Thus, I submit, Joseph Merrick had a beauty about him that thousands of people admired. Ugly? Not a chance.

It's a sad person whose self esteem depends on their looks rather than on the many other admirable qualities and talents and skills that generate genuine admiration. Was Beethoven ugly? Van Gogh? Leonardo? I use these names simply because they are familiar to people around the world. I have beautiful paintings and music in my home by people few have ever heard of. Many might not like them, but most realize that calling something "ugly" is merely the personal opinion of one individual.

"You look beautiful in that new dress, dear." Some people expect to be lied to, even count on it from their loved ones. I wonder what people who expect to be lied to and want flattery about their clothing and appearance would think if they knew that others they will see in public think as negatively about their appearance and clothing as the lying loved one does. Does a woman really want to go out in public with a dress that looks terrible on her, feeling confident because her husband lied to her about it?

If the husband really cared about the appearance of his wife, he would go with her when she shopped for the dress and express his true opinion then. For a husband to leave an opinion until the last minute is as unwise as a wife leaving the enquiry until the last minute.

My first wife loved good quality black and white clothing combinations. She wore them constantly at work and received many compliments from those who worked for her. She had (she died many years ago) a "winter" complexion. Not one for false flattery, I seldom issued compliments on her outfits unless they were hanging on a hanger. I did, however, compliment her one day years before we were married. She wore a red sweater and a red pleated skirt (I love pleated skirts, especially box pleats and kilts) and I told her how great she looked (she looked stunning, but I didn't want to go overboard in front of her mother). She was offended because she claimed it was an old outfit and she hated it.

How would it have benefitted my wife to be told she looked beautiful in black and white when she looked washed out? Indeed, if I had known about "colours" then, I would have recommended that she try bright primary colours. She likely wouldn't have listened--she never did, dying with loads of regrets about how many bad decisions she had made in her life. I am colourblind anyway.

If the truth must be negative, maybe the solution is to find ways to convey it in such a manner as to make it seem like good advice.

How does it benefit someone trying to become an author to praise a manuscript that is dreadful? That person could literally spend years improving a manuscript that should have been used to start a fire. A bad story can never be beaten into submission until it's a good story.

Bending the truth, as Robert Brault claims to have done, is no advantage if it causes the listener to make unwise decisions or faulty judgments based on it. Someone looking for praise needs more than a lie. A person who accepts a lie as if it were truth, and knows it was flattery, lives a false life. We all live false lives to some extent, but we don't have to embrace it as a lifestyle.

When asked for an honest opinion, the choices should be between a sincere compliment or a constructive suggestion as to how to improve the objective under discussion. No one likes destructive criticism. Constructive criticism requires skill and practice, but it's learnable.

People gain more from constructive suggestions than they can ever benefit from allowing themselves to be deceived by lies.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to grow children who can separate truth from flattery and who seek constructive evaluation as a way to improve themselves.
Learn more at

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Your Potential For Magnificence

Nothing will get better so long as you believe the other guy is wrong. He will think you are mistaken, or at least that you misunderstand the situation, or he will deny responsibility.

Nothing changes unless the change you want begins with you. You are the only person whose life is totally within your control.

A snowball rolling down a hill will gather both mass of other snow and momentum until it reaches enormous proportions and has enormous potential energy. Yet only one person is required to make the original snowball.

If everyone says that it's someone else's job to make the snowball, all the potential is lost. Someone must get their hands cold or everyone will take the heat of failure.

If you want the world to change, change yourself first. The world will take note of your marvellous improvement or change and want to have the same for themselves. The world loves a bandwagon, but someone has to hitch up the horses.

Be the change you want. You will be the evidence that it works.

Nothing beneficial has ever happened because of a negative attitude. From a sour look to a war, everything negative fails to make progress or improvement. Those with negative attitudes seldom want to work together with others, except for their personal gain. The old saying that "war makes enemies out of friends" holds true at a personal level as well.

When Jesus of Nazareth advised everyone to "Love your enemies," he didn't mean like your mother or your lover. In his time, everyone was either an enemy or a friend (ally), so he advised us to make friends. Enemies converted to friends can be the truest and most dependable friends of all.

Blaming someone else is personal and selfish. Helping someone else, such as working together to solve a mutual problem, can make friends out of enemies. Making friends is an outflow of self. Making enemies is a costly and selfish way to spend emotional energy.

Someone must always make the first move to make something right and better. You are the only person whose will and whose actions you control.

Start making that snowball and you will be surprised at how many people will join you to push it toward the hill.

When you want to roll a snowball down a hill, always push, never pull. Others like to push, but few like to pull. If you want to make the snowball bigger, just as with a problem, never pull it toward yourself.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to grow children who will build rather than destroy, create rather than break down, experience joy rather than depression.
Learn more at

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Schools Teach Children To Be Mindless Consumers

One of my greatest pleasures in writing has come from the thought thatperhaps my work might annoy someone of comfortably pretentious position.Then comes the saddening realization that such people rarely read.
- John Kenneth Galbraith, Canadian-born American economist (1908-2006)

Alas, Mr. Galbraith's statement bore more truth than even he may have realized.

First of all, a Canadian study a few years ago for McLeans magazine showed that only six percent of Canadian adults read more than three books per year. Considering that many people read books related to their work--indeed, must read them, such as medical doctors and other professionals, to stay up with advances in their respective fields--the number of people who read for pleasure, including those who read nonfiction simply to learn more, must be tragically small.

Although I have not seen similar studies relating to citizens of the USA or other western countries, I have no reason to believe that their reading rates would differ from those of Canadians.

Oh, we read, most of us. We read junk mail delivered to our homes, prodigious quantities of emails that serve us no good, internal memoes that usually mean nothing to us in our workplace and news in newspapers, magazines or on the internet. Those news sources that we choose ourselves tend to be biased, as all news sources are. The news sources we choose tend to all be biased in the same directions, preventing us from getting confused by a wide variety of opinions.

Thus we come to believe that our news sources present a fair and reasonable assessment of the news of the day. If our chosen news sources don't cover a story, it can't be important. Or we simply chose to believe that all other events are of lesser importance such that they don't deserve to breach our personal intellectual radars.

Thereby we funnel ourselves into comfortable grooves where we believe that most other people in the world think like ourselves. It may not be true, but we believe it's true, through practice and habit. Thus we come to take comfortably pretentious positions, as Galbraith noted.

When something that someone says or writes violates the sanctity of our cozy corner of thought, we think that person or organization must be on the fringe, likely dangerous because it might cause others to come around to its position. As we have persuaded ourselves that those who do not think like us are not "normal" or "average" or right, some of us feel it necessary to expunge the sources of such anti-social thought from public consciousness. We bitch and criticize and condemn.

We believe it is only right, indeed our duty, to prevent seditious thoughts from invading the minds of innocent people ("Save the children!") to the possible extent that others begin to think differently from us, in progressively larger numbers.

Eventually, the "we" referenced above get old, become disregarded by the younger generation in power, die off and join history as "those who thought differently in those bygone days." Some of them were strong supporters of slavery, believing that some people (always the social group to which they belonged) were naturally superior to others and had the right to treat them like pets or hunting prey.

The original aboriginal tribe of Newfoundland, Canada, for example, whose skin colour most likely resembled the "red skins" that Europeans began to call all natives of North America, were literally hunted into extinction, for sport. The unsociable Beotuk Indians had a habit of covering their exposed skin with red ochre, making them sufficiently different that Europeans thought they should be eliminated as a threat to social purity.

After that we had men who thought women so intellectually stupid that they should not have the right to vote, to equal pay for equal work, to be treated without abuse or to receive compensation if they were chucked out of their homes by their men (owners) who got tired of them.

Even today we have men in some western societies who believe that war is the only way to subjugate inferior peoples. Our leaders--who may be among these people--may tell lies to persuade enough voters to support going to war with ultra-sophisticated weapons and smart bombs against people who can only defend themselves with knives, rifles and stupid car bombs. Somehow there are still people who will believe that making war is the only and best route to peace.

You can see how pretentious the positions of such people must be, that they will believe the lies of the leaders who secured their positions in the first place by lying to those same people to get elected.

John Kenneth Galbraith, a brilliant man who believed his calling was to teach in a university and to write for university students and graduates, had no answers to the dilemma he posed in our quote. Yet there is a solution. And it's a simple one. And extraordinarily cheap.

Teach the children what we want them to know and to be able to think their way through pretentious and lying positions posed by others who want little more than to twist their minds into believing that their lives only have value if they do what their leaders tell them.

Our school systems are set up on a model that prepares young people to be the workers and consumers of the future. That is their whole purpose. And they do it well. But they don't have to teach creative and eager children to be dull automatons who simply do what their corporate employers want them to do and buy what they are told to buy in advertising.

The primary responsibility of parents is to teach their children what they need to know to be competent and confident adults. Many parents today don't do that. They leave that job to schools, even if they naively want to limit and control what the schools teach to the corporate model.

The situation today is not hopeless, as many believe. Change is possible, but only if people talk about it and find ways to teach new parents what they need to know about raising their children effectively and in a healthy manner.

When enough parents teach their own children properly, without leaving it to schools to do the job many parents abdicate, the school systems will eventually change.

Right now too many parents are too concerned about ensuring that the schools their children attend teach to the corporate model. We can talk about his situation until enough people understand how their minds have been manipulated and how the minds of their children are being molded in ways that are unhealthy for them and for the country.

Just talk about it.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to grow children who can think for themselves and who need a guide to show what to teach their kids and when.
Learn more at

Friday, August 29, 2008

Why So Many Women Get It So Wrong

For a woman, finding the right man to love her the way she wants to be loved, to be a good father to the children they create together and to provide a healthy, vibrant, creative and enjoyable family environment that will last a lifetime is almost impossible.

Why? While there are many reasons, a few stand out.

Most commonly, a woman goes looking for the wrong guy. Back in prehistoric days, a woman wanted a strong man, the best warrior in the tribe, someone who could provide for and defend her family. If he was good looking, even better. If he fertilized other women, so be it, so long as he looked after the best interests of her family.

That attitude persists today, even though almost everything else in life has changed. Women still want the handsomest, strongest, sexiest guy with demonstrated ability at leadership as he gathers other guys to follow his lead. Anyone who doubts this should check out how girls in the latter years of grade school and in high school tart themselves up for the guys. They may want to be treated as sweet and innocent, but they look and act like hookers because they know what guys like to look at.

No question, guys like to look at attractive women. If they could, they would take every one of them to bed. But they wouldn't necessarily want to spend their lives with them.

If I guy can score with a girl who looks and acts like a hooker, but not have to pay fees, he considers himself a winner. And so would his buddies. But guys don't want to marry hookers, because...they have proven that they have too many other sexual interests. Girls who look like hookers and put out sexual vibes like hookers may get the attention of guys, but those guys don't want to marry them.

The same applies to the captain of the football or basketball team, or any other jock who looks good stripped to...well, stripped. While most girls are attracted to these guys, many have none of the other qualities a woman should be looking for. That "get the best possible male to mate with" attitude persists even though we no longer live in tribes.

The best warrior in the tribe in prehistoric days seldom lived past age 24, almost never past age 30. Since the tribe did much of the teaching of children anyway, getting the best set of genes seemed wise. The warrior would always be busy with matters other than those relating to the family, and women knew that. Today, the same guy would be a terrible person to depend on for personal and family values.

Today, most men live past 30. It's the next 50 or 60 years after that the women who marry them can't stand.

Very few of the skills a young man learns in high school apply to the fulfillment of responsibilities of a family man. We don't teach the skills that families need, that women should be looking for. So young women continue to want the best looking guy they can get. And when they marry and he fails to satisfy the needs of her or their children, they can't figure out why.

The most popular girls and guys in high school get so used to constant attention from members of the opposite sex that they continue to want that attention into college, into their work lives later and into their time as parents. They don't need commitment, they need attention. Girls should want a life partner who gives attention, not one who seeks it from them.

Girls naturally favour men with confidence. Whether in men or women, confidence is the most important characteristic of beautiful people. An average looking person with lots of confidence and a big smile can be a sex symbol. Just look at the stars of movies, only they have the addition of makeup to make them look even more perfect. Brad Pitt may be great for the imagination, but few women could tolerate spending a life with that kind of man.

As great as confidence is--I firmly believe it is critically important to a person's well-being--it does absolutely nothing to make a man a better husband, lover, father, provider or planner. Confidence is but one characteristic of a person. That characteristic can be taught and learned. Most people who have confidence learned it by themselves, though it can be learned by taking classes of various kinds.

Those who don't have confidence in themselves and their abilities and strengths should take a class to learn how to show confidence, to feel confident.

Men need more skills than confidence, good looks and rippling muscles to be good husbands, fathers and long term friends. For a woman to depend on the looks of a man as the main feature she loves and wants would be the same as a man loving a woman because she has breast implants, a tummy tuck, butt rounding, a nose job, reconfigured ears and a hair transplant. Every study ever done shows that most men don't want those features in a wife and mother. A majority of men want "natural" women, no matter if they have body features that are not perfect.

Women shouldn't depend on good looks and popularity as characteristics that will make a man a good husband and father. In fact, nothing about the appearance of a man, good or not so good, can be held as predictors of what he will be like as a husband, lover, father, provider, friend or sleepmate.

Advice to women: When looking for a mate, search for one who has the characteristics you want in a man for what you want to do with him in the years to come. If one you like doesn't have those characteristics, make sure he is the kind of man who will gladly learn what he needs to know. If he won't, look elsewhere, quickly.

Advice to men who have read this far: The same applies to you when looking for a lifemate. Paris Hilton or Salma Hayak or someone with the name of Diaz or Cruz may be great to ogle, but they won't necessarily have the characteristics you want at home. And they will always want the attention they get now from other men.

It's not just a matter of caveat emptor. It's a matter of looking for what you really want rather than wanting someone who looks good but has nothing else to offer that you will find valuable in the years to come.

Think ahead. Unfortunately, most people don't get better with age. If you want a partner that will, look for that characteristic before you settle.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to grow children who know how to cope with the needs of their lives instead of depending on television and movies to tell them.
Learn more at

Sunday, August 24, 2008

We Are Killing Ourselves But Not With Global Warming

It takes a certain maturity of mind to accept that nature works as steadilyin rust as in rose petals.
- Esther Warner Dendel, writer and artist (1910-2002)

Despite the fact that we are, each of us, part of nature, we understand almost nothing about it.
We have medical healers whose primary function is to make it possible for nature to heal itself within our own bodies. We have psychological healers whose objective is to keep us talking until we can figure out answers to our own problems.

We have those who would have us believe that we could live within nature comfortably if we would only stop destroying it. Not true. No living thing lives comfortably within nature. Living things within nature are all about struggle, not about comfort. Living things that are comfortable either become food for other living things or go extinct because they cannot change. Nature changes constantly.

We have those among us who would have us believe that we can alter nature on a global scale. Those people are either the victims of propaganda or its perpetrators. Take global warming for example. No one disputes the fact that the planet is warming. The dispute is over whether what we do can influence it irrevocably or whether what we experience is simply part of a natural cycle.

Should we believe climatologists whose income depends on our believing what they say so that they can continue to sell their fear mongering collections of "facts" to the media? These people can't even predict the weather. Where I live in eastern Canada, the government forecaster predicted a hot and dry summer for three months. The weather was so cool and wet until mid-August that the summer insects had not yet emerged and the trees had not changed from their late spring colour of light green.

We have scientists who believe they can make definitive statements about God, about the future of medical science, about how powerful humankind is that it can influence the very existence of nature, yet it can't tell me for certain if it will rain this afternoon. Or if a tornado will tear the roof off my house. Or if an earthquake will destroy the rest of my house.

We want so much for nature to not change. We want to know that we have not destroyed it and we would know that by the fact that nothing within nature would change. Yet if one thing we know for certain about nature it's that nature forever and constantly changes. New life continues to pop into existence and other life goes extinct. We don't even know how, for certain. Call it evolution or creativity, but we don't really know how it all comes about.

We know that about 65 million years ago a great percentage of land life went extinct as a result of an asteroid landing near the Yucatan in present day Mexico. Yet why did it take over 1500 years for the die-off to complete if the explosion created an instant global cloud? The age of the dinosaurs ended, for sure. But what the fear mongering scientists want us to believe is that it was the cloud that ended the dinos, not the fact that climate was changing naturally around the world and where the dinosaurs lived there was no longer sufficient vegetation to support the giant creatures. Not much vegetation for them in Alaska these days, for example, is there?

About 225 million years ago almost all life on our planet disappeared--about 97-98 percent. Nature seems to have recovered, as it did after the later asteroid collision. It will recover from us too.

If we should be concerned about anything related to human production, it's that we put half a million chemicals into our air--some of them poisonous and these have caused us health problems to an alarming degree--not that the planet is warming. Of course it's warming. There was a mini ice age lasting about 400 years that ended just over a century ago. What should we expect to happen when an ice age ends?

We know that air's ability to hold moisture doubles with each ten degrees increase in temperature. As the air warms, it has more ability to absorb moisture when it passes over the 75 percent of our planet that is covered with water. More water in the air equals, what? Clouds.

Clouds block sunlight, which is the sole source of heat for our atmosphere. Less sunlight reaching earth's surface means a decrease in air temperature. And where are all those flooded coastal cities we were warned about 15 years ago when the climate models said that many low lying cities would be drowned in 15 years?

Get over it! We are not powerful enough to change nature. We aren't even powerful enough to save ourselves. How many millions of humans die each year of starvation while rich countries throw more than enough food away as waste? How many millions die of AIDS when we don't even have the will at an international level to teach methods of protection against HIV infection and to distribute drugs that could extend the lives of most HIV positive people for decades? That includes HIV infected parents who could support their children instead of dying and leaving them to starve as orphans.

Instead of huddling in fear of what we are doing to ourselves that most of us can't do anything about, let's stand up and tell our governments to do what is right to save the humans alive today from our own self destructive practices. I could count on one hand the number of countries that are in the process of doing positive things to help their people and others around the world to live better and healthier lives. One of them is Iceland, but how influential is that tiny island in the international community?

We only need be afraid of the future if we do nothing about improving it by our actions in the present.

No matter how much we fear the future, nothing will change by our fear. Nothing will improve because we are afraid.

Change only happens when someone does something.

Human rights took a huge leap forward after Adolf Hitler tried to take over the world and killed millions of people in the process. Do we require something that dramatic to recover from for us to make small changes ourselves and to encourage others to make small changes as well?

Even those of us who are not afraid will accomplish nothing to improve humanity and the condition that life on our planet exists in if we do nothing.

As Canadian rock singer Neil Young stated in one of his albums, rust never sleeps. Nature forever changes. If we don't want nature to change, too bad for us. If we do nothing about improving life on this planet as it is--including conditions that kill millions of our own--we have good reason to worry over things that happen naturally. Worry is the hiding place for those who do nothing.

Worry is the refuge of the terminally stupid. With emphasis on the "terminally."

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents, teachers, social leaders and ordinary folks who want a methodology for teaching children what they should know, not just what industry wants them to know as worker/consumers.
Learn more at

Saturday, August 23, 2008

What If You Couldn't Live Another Week?

Much misconstruction and bitterness are spared to him who thinksnaturally upon what he owes to others, rather than on what he oughtto expect from them.
- Elizabeth de Meulan Guizot, French author (1773-1827)

My first thought upon reading this quote was about how many people severe the primary relationship of their life because their partner isn't giving them what they want or need, without considering what they could do for themselves. That is, the partner may disappoint with what he or she gives, but do the disappointed ones do enough for themselves and do they do as much of what they should for the other partner that disappoints?

Before we think about how others disappoint us, let's consider how much we may fail ourselves and how much we may neglect to give to the others.

What should we give to others? What do we owe to others, especially to those to whom we are not committed?

There's the hitch. There is no reason why we should not be committed to every other person on the planet, to every other animal on the planet, to everything on the planet. If we do not commit to them, why would they take any interest in committing anything of themselves to us?

So we breathe the air they pollute. We drink the fresh water they poison. We read of how they kill each other, how they enslave each other, how they abuse each other in inhumane ways.
We can't do anything about that, can we? After all, they don't care about us, so why should we care about them?

We don't care about them. Only about what they do. Yet we don't give a fig about what they may think of what we do.

What do we do? Do we starve, as possibly 20 percent of the humans on the earth are doing today? Or at least their health is destroyed through malnutrition, a problem over which they have no control.

By what measure of ethics or morals is it correct that we allow anyone on this planet to starve or to be starved when more food exists than the world population can eat?

A study was done in the UK recently that showed that 25 percent of the starving people of the world could be saved and made fairly healthy on the nutrition in the food the British throw away as garbage. Every bit of food that is not consumed by customers in restaurants, for example, must be thrown into the garbage, by law.

We have no reason to believe that the amount of nutrition thrown away as garbage by the people of the United States, as another example, would be any different by percent than that in the UK. If the numbers for the US match those from the UK, then starvation could end on this planet if all the nutrition thrown away by Americans were fed to the starving people of the world. The United States is that big and has that amount of wealth that its people can throw away food that would save the lives of every starving person.

In some villages in Africa, almost no adults remain alive because they have all died of AIDS, leaving the remaining children to fend for themselves. Do those children deserve to die because their parents contracted AIDS and had the effrontery to die?

Do the people of Darfur deserve to starve to death (those that are not raped and killed by militias) because the government of Sudan is corrupt and keeps food aid from its own people? Decades ago we put men on the moon, can we not find ways to air drop food to those starving people?

Using a headset or VOIP phone I can speak to anyone anywhere on the planet that is connected by some telecommunications system. In the parts of the world with the fewest numbers of people with internet capability (excepting at the poles, on mountains and in deserts), at least some of their neighbours are starving. Lack of internet capability or minimal capability equals poverty beyond what most of us can imagine. Poverty always means that someone is starving. Always.

Our television networks, news services and NGOs tell us about places where people are starving and where medical assistance is impossible because they have no supplies. We Tsk! Tsk! and wonder why no one does anything to help them.

If there is one sin that every religion would agree on, it's letting people starve to death when there is more food on the planet than would be needed to feed everyone. The world's greatest and most widely agreed upon sin.

But those starving people do nothing to help us. They just selfishly keep on starving and dying.
What would you do if you had gone for over two weeks without a bite to eat? If that were true also of your neighbours and the rest of your community, would it turn quickly into something resembling Darfur? It would unless police kept control and others in your country felt compassion for you and your community, enough so to send food to save you. Remember how little police could help in the aftermath of Katrina, in New Orleans?

No matter what you may think that others owe to you, they may feel that they owe nothing or very little. If they are well fed and healthy, they may think that your starvation or extreme illness or disease means little to them unless you can do something for them. Those people include well fed and healthy elected politicians.

If you were starving or dying from some effect of malnutrition, what could you do for those who had the ability to save you?

Well, you aren't starving or dying. What are you prepared to do see that the people who are get what they need?

If you have what you need, but do not help others, you commit the world's greatest sin.
To expect those who are starving to save themselves and to reorganize their communities is unreasonable because you could not do it yourself. They may not be able to help themselves.
You can.

Figure out how.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to grow children who care as much about what they can give to others as what they can acquire from them.
Learn more at

Friday, August 22, 2008

How To Know If You Have A First Rate Mind

The third-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the majority.The second-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the minority.The first-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking.
- A.A. Milne

The third rate mind never goes anywhere because it is constantly being led by the nose, always follow the behind of those who lead. Think politics, religion or the products of big corporations (as a consequence of constant unrelenting advertising).

The second rate mind always feels that it is going against the flow, which it is. In this case, the minority usually believes that its way is better than the ways of the majority. These people believe that their way is better for humankind, whether morally, politically, religiously, ecologically or any other -ly. It is comforted in knowing that, though a minority, they think alike with their fellow believers.

The first rate mind usually thinks alone. He or she knows that their way of thinking goes against the trends of humanity, but takes comfort in truth rather than in comradeship. He or she is used to being thought of as wrong or as kooky or as a bit too far off base.

The first rate mind sometimes wonders if he or she is weird, a social misfit or the result of some form of genetic mutation. Any are possible, but the real reasons may commonly be found in their unusual upbringing in their first few years of life.

The first rate mind may be sociopathic or totally benign and peace loving. He or she may be a criminal, a drug addict or an inmate in a psychiatric hospital. Or a teacher, firefighter or member of any occupational group. The ones suffering from anti-social behaviours may result from bad decisions made in the heat of the moment, of good decisions made that go against the law or social norms or of being thought so different that he or she doesn't know how to cope with problems in their personal life that others just plug through but that he or she take as unsolvable or intractable.

The third rate mind is always appreciated at the moment for being "average," in synch with the majority way of thinking.

The second rate mind is usually considered to be inept by the majority because they just don't "get it," but cool among his or her group.

The first rate mind is always appreciated more after their death than before, even if they are recognized for their genius while they are alive.

For the third rate mind, perfection is being with the majority.

For the second rate mind, perfection is elusive, but possible if enough people could just see how they have been thinking the wrong way.

For the first rate mind, perfection is not a consideration because it cannot be reached. Each success is a plateau, a step leading to the next challenge. Every step of progress brings with it its failures, which lead to new challenges, which result in new projects.

To the third rate mind, society would be much better if the radicals would just get onside.
To the second rate mind, society is made up largely of third rate minds who can't tell their whatchmacallit from their thingamajig.

To the first rate mind, everyone is insane, differing only in their degree of insanity and their preferences for ways of showing it.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to grow children who have no trouble telling their whatchmacallit from their thingamajig. And who know right from wrong at the right times.
Learn more at

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What's Paris Hilton Up To?

Adulthood is the ever-shrinking period between childhood and old age. It is the apparent aim of modern industrial societies to reduce this period to a minimum.
- Thomas Szasz, author, professor of psychiatry (1920- )

I can imagine Dr. Szasz reading this quote again with his tongue stuck so far into his cheek that his cheek goes red, chuckling at his wit until he nearly falls off his chair. I would if I were in his shoes.

Let's examine it more carefully. At first blush it seems to say that modern industrial societies (those whose corporations control social norms, usually with the blessing of their respective governments) want to keep people in a childlike state of mind for as long as possible. Then when they realize that they are no longer kids (around age 40-45 in many cases), they have a brief period of adult behaviour and thinking before their bodies ease them into old age.

In the cottage area where I live, people flock from the Toronto region on weekends where they promptly stock up on the marijuana supply they will need, then fuel up their all-terrain vehicles, personal watercraft and chain saws so they can act like the wild teenagers most never were. These people are mostly men, all with at least some white in their hair, what's left of it.

Their great fear (perhaps loathing would be a better word) is growing old. In their attempts to recapture their youth, most completely miss playing out the mature, responsible adult stage, the one that most of us would consider the age of people who would control the governments of their country and operate businesses and industries that keep people employed and the economy moving.

To ensure that they are not considered "age inappropriate" to their children and teenage kids, they supply the young generation with the same toys (downsized for the younger ones) that they use themselves. Thus the kids don't care if their dads act like teenagers because they have the same adult toys as their parents.

Can these (formerly called) middle age men provide good role models for their children? By not taking responsibility for the welfare of their own lives (take that where you will), they provide no good example for their children to follow. An example, yes, not a good one. If anything, what they eat and drink and otherwise consume (drugs, for example) silently but effectively teaches the kids that the need for taking responsibility for the safe and fulfilling conduct of their lives is not necessary.

Obesity is rampant in this generation, as it is in the younger ones, because they eat mostly prepared foods (bolstered by chemical preservatives, loaded with fat, salt and sugars). They spend almost all of their time with their knees bent into a sitting position. Standing is limited, walking is rare, genuine exercise is not in evidence. Generally speaking, if it burns gasoline or produces alcohol, it's good.

Meanwhile, these aging children take advantage of the tolerance our bodies have for abuse and misuse. They do this through their "adult" years, until the body can't take any more and breaks down. Heart attack, cancer, osteoporosis, the usual effects that visit a body that can't take the wildness of teenage life for decades in a row.

Now they turn to prescription drugs to get them past pain, high blood pressure and cholesterol, brittle joints and atrophied muscles. With more and more people living to the century mark these days and most living into their 80s and 90s, that makes for a very long period of old age.

Are they ready for it? Sure, they have their pensions, insurance plans and investments in place so that they can pay for whatever therapies they need, for decade upon decade. One insurance company touts a "Freedom 55" plan, likely for those who won't be healthy enough to work until a more reasonable age for retirement.

What happens to that period of mature adulthood in between childhood and old age, the one that Dr. Szasz said societies are trying to shrink? Look at how often CEOs of large corporations are in civila court, in prison or in debt and look at the people we have running our countries to see that we seem to have no mature adults (or not enough) to run either our corporations or our governments. Look at how many people follow the misadventures of Hollywood tabloid types, apparently loving the fact that they don't get into as much trouble as Paris Hilton any other of the tabloid stars.

The "serious" adults compare themselves to wealthy people who manage to make themselves public figures without any qualifications other than the fact that they are rich and they can commit outrageous deeds. ("You're fired!")

I have no idea how wild and careless Dr. Szasz may have been in his younger years. I do know that now he is a wise observer of life.

Might he want to be president of his country, the USA? No. He's not that dumb. Beside, he has devoted his life to healing, not to killing.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to raise children who will be well balanced adults who can take the responsibilities we need them to take to guide their country and the younger generations.
Learn more at

Monday, August 18, 2008

This Is Who Controls Your Life And The Lives Of Your Kids

Men are born to succeed, not fail.
- Henry David Thoreau, American author, poet and philosopher (1817-1862)

Well, heck, that sounds simple enough.

So why doesn't it work?

Because to succeed, a person must have the tools to succeed and the attitude that the goal is possible. In other words, a person needs a good work ethic, something to do and the means to do it.

Easy again.

But most people settle for less than what they are capable of, then either overwork to benefit their employer or underwork in the mistaken belief that only partial success at work does not equal only partial success in life.

If the original statement is correct, then why are most people not feeling successful, fulfilled and personally complete?

We don't teach to success of the individual. We teach success for the nation. We teach that success for corporations is good. We teach that our working to keep corporations successful is good. We teach that spending every bit of income we get is good, that it should make us happy and keep the economy rolling.

But we don't teach to individual success. That is, we don't teach to success of the individual on a massive, nationwide scale.

What we do teach individuals is that they should have the skills to satisfy employers sufficiently that they will keep us employed. We almost never teach entrepreneurial skills because that would be counter to the benefit of corporations.

Ask most teens why they will continue with their education past high school and you will hear "so I can get a good job" more than any other answer. In other words, "so that I can get a good paying job." Hopefully, one that will not disappear when the employer downsizes because it has not forecast future markets correctly and has lost money, so needs to cut staff to show more profit or minimize losses to satisfy its shareholders.

We don't even teach our children what it means to be successful, other than that they will be happy being constant consumers. Which few are, really. Again, ask a teen what it means for an adult to be successful and the answer will most likely be related to a secure job with good income (with which to buy lots of stuff).

It's not my purpose to teach you what success is. I know what it is for me. But it took me a few decades of searching to learn.

You need to learn what success is for you. What it really is. What it really means to lead a fulfilling life.

Then teach it to every kid you know.

Schools don't do this. Their purpose is to train employees to be good workers and consumers.
Corporations control the curriculum. If you doubt this, check the name brands on all kinds of products in today's high schools and even in grade schools. Including in text books.

First you must learn what success in life really is. Then teach it to others, both adults and children.

How many people, on their deathbeds, have claimed that they should have worked harder or that they should have spent more of their money in order to make their own lives and the lives of their family members better? Corporations want us to believe that we should follow that line of unthinking.

Learn, then teach. It's what we are supposed to do. Corporations took that responsibility from us because we walked away from it ourselves.

When you teach children what is meaningful in life, don't report it to your employer. The employer won't like that. Just do it in private.

A recent study (actually several of them) showed that large corporations were set up to be sociopathological (amoral, capable of violence or spreading fear without feeling guilty). It's part of their corporate ethic.

This is the power that will control the destiny of your children unless you change what your kids believe.

If you don't like it, do something about it. Talk it up. Social change happens only when enough people believe that children should be taught differently. Every socially acceptable norm of today was once a radical idea. Then people talked about it.

So talk. It's easy.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to have a time scale, content and methodology for teaching children what they need to know to lead successful lives.
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Sunday, August 17, 2008

It Takes A Lot Of Stupid People To Make A War

Religion--freedom--vengeance--what you will,
A word's enough to raise mankind to kill.
- Lord Byron, poet (1788-1824)

Almost every war is fought under the banner of a religion. Though the religion may not be the primary purpose of the wars, such as it was during the Christian Crusades to "free" the Holy Land from those of another religion, the God or gods of the religion of the perpetrators of the wars are always invoked to bring success to the cause. In the case of the Second World War, for example, both the Allies and the Axis powers firmly believed that God was on their respective sides.

While communism purports to be non-religious, even anti-religion, the power of the state (thus of its leaders) is treated like a religion. Russian leaders after the Revolution insisted that they be treated as gods as they transformed many independent eastern European states into components of the USSR, just as the Caesars did to make the empire of Rome. The Caesars appointed themselves gods as well.

Every religion that claims to have a monotheistic God at its head preaches peace. Even Hinduism, which has thousands of gods when studied one way, has one God above all--a God very similar to the God of the Abrahamic religions--with that God having many facets to his personality and his interests, according to many Hindus. Hinduism and its offspring, Buddhism, are surely the most peaceful religions in the world. They not only teach peace, they insist that their followers practise it in their daily lives.

If most of the people fighting in wars today do so under the banner of a God who teaches that peace is the right way to live, then all soldiers who kill are heretics. To use a modern day western term, they are terrorists. Indeed, in wars such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq, both sides refer to the fighters of the other sides as terrorists. To the Taliban of Afghanistan and the Sunnis and Shiites of Iraq, the US and its allies are terrorists.

And they are terrorists, on both sides. Albeit, they may have been persuaded to kill by their employers or their religious masters--persuaded in ways that should properly be called brainwashing or mind-bending.

Being persuaded to kill for your religion, for your God who teaches that peace is the only way to live, is an indication of stupidity.

If two people meet on the street, get into a debate that becomes heated and their anger rises to the surface, those two are expected to find ways to settle their differences. Usually that involves dialogue until the issue is settled, often through compromise. In fact, if the argument becomes physically violent, both could be charged and imprisoned.

States are not held to that standard, even those states whose individual citizens are expected to settle their differences without resorting to violence. Somehow, the leaders of those states are exempt from the standards they set for their own citizens. They are granted the right--indeed, some claim, the duty--to lie to their citizens to make them want to fight a war, to want to kill an enemy who only became an enemy because the leaders would not settle their differences through dialogue.

While we could say that someone like Adolf Hitler could not be stopped through dialogue when he tried to conquer the world by taking over country after country in Europe and Africa, we could also note that Hitler was elected by people who wanted Germany to regain the power it once had, but had lost by the Kaiser (the German form of the name Caesar) losing the First World War. The German people of Hitler's time believed that they had a God-given right to dominate their part of the world.

Russia--at least the leaders of Russia today--believes the same thing about eastern Europe. Only they do so without resorting to religion. They use the old standby "The bad guys are trying to hurt us again" to terrorize rogue provinces within Russia and in neighbouring territories in former Soviet states as excuses to invade and/or bomb them.

That excuse was used by the US and their allies to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, even though the US leaders knew that only one organization (al Qaeda) was behind the attacks of September 11, 2001. In fact, nothing inspired the expansion of al Qaeda's membership around the world so much as the US and its allies invading those countries. The people of those countries don't feel liberated. They know that the US-led coalitions literally created the enemies they fight today in those countries.

It's public knowledge that the US supplied weapons to both Osama and Saddam. Then it turned against these men when they became powerful enough to influence the buying of weapons from countries other than the US and to direct the flow of oil away from the US and its allies in western Europe.

It's also public knowledge that Bush supporters--the most influential ones who paid the way of the US into Afghanistan and Iraq--are and were weapons manufacturers and the owners of oil concerns in the US and many offshore locations.

The German people were duped by Hitler in the 1930s. The Russian people are duped by Putin and his puppet president today. The American people were duped into voting George W. Bush--the self-appointed "war president"--back into power in 2004 and show many signs that they may be willing to vote his successor into power in November, 2008.

This world has many killers, most of which are supported by their respective governments and religions. It has far more people who want peace. But those who want peace are prepared to play stupid and allow the war terrorists to take power and run roughshod over their rights. They quietly sacrifice their rights and their future of peace to those who are prepared to speak loudly, threateningly and often.

Where citizens are allowed to remain ignorant, uneducated, or where they are brainwashed into believing that bad guys in other parties or in other countries are out to get them, there will be war. In the vast majority of countries of the world--countries with far less power and facing much greater economic risks than the US and Russia--the people know what peace is. They respect what peace is and what they stand for as people who support the ways of peace.

But in countries where people can be brainwashed or are stupid or uneducated, war is the rule. War is the rule, not the exception.

What we adults teach our children is what they will believe as adults. As we look around the world today, we can see what the children of yesterday have wrought with the beliefs they were taught as children. Peace in most places, war in some.

War is uncivilized. The leaders who practise it are throwbacks to a less civilized form of humanity. Those who believe them deserve to be their prey. They deserve to be eaten, but not to eat their more advanced fellow humans.

Teaching children is what we do. We either do it in formal settings such as schools or places of worship or we do it as role models, by acting the roles we expect our children to follow when they come of age and take control of the future of their country.

Children learn from us, one way or another.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to grow children who will become educated and peaceful adults, instead of the mindless followers and believers of self-defeating propaganda that we have in so many places today.
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Friday, August 15, 2008

Stuff You Should Know About Oil

Let's clear up some misconceptions about oil first. The fossil fuel whose price has skyrocketed recently and whose utility we cherish to run our cars, our furnaces and a load of other machines does not come from the bones of dinosaurs that were crushed 65 million years ago. Nor does it come from the bodies of all the animals that died in the Biblical Great Flood.

Crude oil doesn't even come from the bodies of billions of crustaceans like crawfish and mollusks like snails that died and whose bodies fell to the floor of the oceans millennia ago. Despite what we may have been taught, even that number of little animals could not have produced the amount of oil that we have used over the past century and that we plan to use over the coming one until the last drop is set aflame.

Nope, petroleum, crude oil, Texas tea, whatever you call it, began with pond scum. Call it zooplankton (that contains some tiny crustaceans and fish larvae) and algae if you like, but when you see it on top of a body of water such as a swamp, it's what we call pond scum. By no small coincidence, and to our great benefit, these little creatures (algae are technically very simple plants without roots or leaves, but that contain chlorophyll) are among the oldest and most abundant life forms on our planet. They have each contributed their tiny droplet of body oil to the pressure-cooker-like crush of rock under earth's surface for billions of years.

Algae may be tapped soon to soak up all the excess carbon dioxide we put into our air--they would turn it into oxygen. Sounds like a good plan. But, back to oil.

Knowing that oil is lighter than water, thus always floats on top of water when it gets the chance, you may wonder why all that oil didn't come to the surface and cover our planet. Actually, most of it did, over time. And, over the same period of time, it was gobbled up by bacteria that thrive on oil. That same bacteria is now used to soak up crude from oil spills.

The oil we pump and burn is but a small fraction of what was below the surface long ago. The oil that's still down there is caught in pools beneath rock so it can't rise to the surface.

Oil companies spend about $150 billion looking for new reserves each year. A large majority of holes they drill are "dry holes" that have nothing to give us but dust.

Penguins preen themselves after being doused with crude from an oil spill. To prevent their killing themselves by ingesting the stuff, thousands of them have been fitted with little sweaters that were knit for each one. (Believe it. As crazy as it sounds, it's true. It may be the only way to save them .)

Many states and provinces have a system on each gas pump whereby the volume is automatically adjusted according to the ambient temperature. Ontario's gas pumps, for example, adjust the volume to what it would be if the temperature were 15C (59F). But adjustments are only made occasionally and usually during the daytime. Buy your gas at night when the temperature is cool and the gas has more substance in the same amount of volume as during the daytime and you will get more gas for your buck.

On hot days, try to keep your car windows up if you are travelling at high speeds because the wind drag causes your car's engine to work harder, thus use more gasoline. At highway speeds, air conditioners use about the same amount of extra gas as having your windows down. But at slower speeds having the windows down is more economical than using the AC.

Every 100 pounds of stuff you remove from your vehicle should improve your fuel consumption by two percent. That may seem like a small amount, but carrying the extra weight all the time is like having a slow leak in your gas tank. There's another reason for not carrying your mother-in-law around in your trunk all the time.

What we call gas, gasoline, petrol and some other name I can't recall in eastern Europe (it may be benzene) was once the waste product from the refining of crude oil to produce home heating oil. Refineries used to burn gasoline constantly to get rid of all the waste they had. Then someone decided that burning could be used more efficiently by powering an internal combustion engine.

Now, when will some bright light find a good use for the still-radioactive plutonium waste from nuclear reactors so that we don't have to bury it in old mines and under mountains for centuries?
Keep the gas cap on your vehicle done up tight. A loose or missing cap could cause up to 30 gallons of gas to evaporate into the air every year. In the state of California, the gasoline vapours that rise from filling tanks at gas stations alone would fill two tanker trucks every day. Yes, every day.

Speaking of tanker trucks, you may want to be careful when passing one of them. Not only is any truck carrying liquid cargo harder to drive than a truck with solid cargo due to a unique form of load shift, gasoline tankers could be carrying up to 4,000 gallons of fuel. That's an energy equivalent worth 200 tons of TNT going off should a collision cause it to catch fire.

While the petroleum industry only got started in North America in the 19th century, the Middle East has been using oil since the 8th century. While the west was in its Dark Ages, the streets of Baghdad were paved with tar derived from petroleum.

In the state of Azerbaijan, the folks in the oil-rich area of Baku used to dig a hole in the ground with their hands, drop in a live coal from a nearby fire and have a new fire with an endless supply of fuel to feed it.

While Canada and the USA dispute which country had the first oil well on the continent, neither country had the idea of using the petroleum as a source of energy for a while. In fact, the industry began slowly because no one seemed to have much of an idea of how to use it. A few enterprising American entrepreneurs saw their chance, bottled the stuff, plastered a label on the glass and sold it as a nectar of health tonic. As many as several hundred thousand bottles may have been purchased and consumed. One way or another, the users are long dead now.

American oil companies have laid down 161,000 miles (about 258,000 km) of oil pipeline within the continental US. That's about half the distance to the moon.

Oil pipeline companies use pigs to inspect their tubes. Not real pigs, of course. These robotic devices have been used as well in two James Bond movies, The Living Daylights and The World Is Not Enough. We'll have to wait until November to see if pipelines and the robot pigs that inspect them are used in the next Bond thriller, Quantum of Solace.

The biggest supplier of oil to the world's greatest user of petroleum products, the United States, is Canada. Alberta's oil sands (aka tar sands) has enough to last for another century at the present rate of usage. When the US government refers to it's own oil reserves, it includes the oil in Canada's oil sands because the North American Free Trade Agreement gives the US first dibs on Canadian oil.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to grow children who get what they really need to assist with their development, instead of the haphazard system we have today.
Learn more at

[Primary resource: Discover, July 2008]

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

We Should Be Thankful For Today's Censors

A censor is a man who knows more than he thinks you ought to.
- Granville Hicks, American novelist, educator, editor (1901-1982)

First of all, censors are no longer just men in western countries. Women comprise half of most censor boards.

In Canada, film censors watch three films per day, with usually a break between the first two and a lunch break before the third.

Some refuse to have a meal before their final movie of the day in case what they see in the last one causes them to lose their lunch.

Very seldom is anything censored in Canada, that is, removed from the list of items which may be sold to or viewed by the public, forbidden from public scrutiny.

There are those who oppose any kind of pre-screening of anything going before the public. Generally speaking those people are idealists who have little idea about what the censors actually have to take in. It's not just "dirty movies" and books about sexual encounters any more.

Censors usually only last a few years, at most, on their respective boards. By then, so a few claim who have spoken out publicly, their minds have become so enured by a constant assault of movies where people abuse each other that their lives are changed forever. They leave to try to recover what they once had, some semblance of respect for the vast majority of their fellow countrymen who are not abusive.

While most of us would rather not have anyone scrutinize what we see or read, we must admit that some people produce print or film material that is abusive to the point of being illegal if the people involved in the films could be caught. When one has seen many such movies or read many novels of this type, they tend in one of two directions. Either they become desensitized to the welfare of their fellow humans (in which case they no longer care if someone is abused) or they become abusive themselves.

Censors do not become abusive because they undergo psychiatric and psychological tests before they begin their service and once or more each year to check their reactions to certain shocking human motivators. Average citizens (who may not be so average in their lack of social and emotional well-being) often do not have the support systems that prevent them from straying off-centre into anti-social behaviour if they subject themselves to anti-social material repeatedly.

Once an already unbalanced person comes to accept that a certain kind of anti-social behaviour is acceptable within a particular context (the film or book), that person may stray too far from what is generally accepted and chose to use some of the abusive methods he has seen or read about.

Censorship today is not about "protecting" God fearing citizens from shameful sexual exposures. It's about maintaining a level of respectability beyond which average people don't want to know people do to each other and the police should possibly intervene.

There is no doubt that censors see and read everything that people create that may border on the anti-social or may be intentionally outright anti-social. I, for one, thank them for taking the brunt of the most disgusting stuff that people produce today. I have seen some of the filmed material and I don't want to think that people do that to each other.

In times past, censors prevented average citizens from seeing or reading about sex, something that almost everyone did but no one was permitted to talk about publicly or to show any signs of it taking place. Those were the days when people devised euphemisms to refer to body parts and to sexual activities because saying the words for the real acts was horrendous to some. Today those who "cross the line" in literature, art or film are abusive. Abuse of others has never been socially acceptable.

Countries whose militaries are engaged in wars fairly often have soldiers who return to civilian life and some have trouble adjusting to non-violent ways of solving problems, including their own. Those countries tend to have the highest rates of civilian violence. Just recently a few have begun to offer psychological re-programming and some retraining to returning soldiers so they will be able to fit again into the society they had been working to protect. They got used to violence, now they need to become un-used to it.

We should not need to institute social reprogramming for people who have seen too much abuse in movies that they can no longer fit into society by staying within the bounds of acceptable behaviour.

Remember "Banned in Boston!" It was a surefire way to sell a book a few decades ago. Today kids watch more sex than what was in those book as they watch soap operas on television during the daytime. Sex is acceptable now. Let's hope that abuse of any kind never becomes a common way of life.

Censors do the job that most of us would not want (could not take psychologically) so that the police have something to use as evidence if the producers of abusive movies sell their product to the public. Most of us don't want to contemplate the fact that some people accept money to be physically abused so it can be filmed and shown to the public. Most porn is like sandbox play compared to what the hardcore abusive stuff is producing.

We really don't want to know. Censors protect us and those less psychologically stable than us.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to grow children who know right from wrong and to avoid what will be harmful to them.
Learn more at