Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ardi Shook Science to its Roots

Ardi Shook Science To Its Roots

by Bill Allin, author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to understand all the ways children develop, not just intellectually. People have problems when they don't know.

"From studying Ardipithecus ramidus, or Ardi, we learn that we cannot understand or model human evolution from chimps and gorillas."
- Owen Lovejoy, a lead author of one of the 11 studies of Ardi that appeared in the journal Science.

Science labelled the discovery of Ardi (more accurately, the revelations of study results of Ardi) the biggest scientific breakthrough of 2009.

At this stage, the study of Ardi and the ramifications of the changes of thinking that will come from it are just beginning. This article will add a few important observations to what we in the general public should learn from the whole exercise. Different information to ponder.

First and foremost is that the lead author of a respected scientific study admitted that the theory (that human evolutionary models could be devised from ape models) that was cherished so long it became thought of as fact, was wrong.

As much as we look somewhat like apes, especially so in the case of young chimpanzees, we differ significantly. The theory claimed that our prehistoric and prehuman ancestors lived in trees and only emerged from the African jungle to walk upright, learn to run and hunt on the savannah.

Cats and birds, for examples, live in trees (at least cats are as comfortable in trees as they are on the ground). Cats and birds can hang upside down from a tree branch and their brains will adjust to the orientation so that they can understand the scene as well as if they were standing upright.

Humans cannot. Stand up now, spread your legs and bend your head down so you look between your legs at the scene behind you. It simply doesn't make as much sense as it would if you were standing upright even though you know the components of the scene you are trying to look at. Your brain cannot adapt to what it understands as a scene that is non-conventional, that is not oriented to the way it wants to understand a floor or ground level scene.

Can you not bend that far? Interesting. Cats and birds can do that for their whole lives. Most can also keep their bodies steady and turn their heads almost completely around to face behind them (some can even do it more than 180 degrees). That would be useful for animals that spend a great deal of time in trees.

If you have observed a pet cat--perhaps one climbing on you--then you have likely seen it hang upside down (at least its head would be upside down according to common orientation) and yet have no trouble understanding everything in the scene. Birds can do the same. To a cat or a bird, there is no upside down, only different orientations of the head, to which their brains easily adapt and adjust immediately.

Monkeys and their kin can do the same. You may have seen one in a zoo, on television or in a movie hanging upside by a foot, or even by its tail. They understand the scenes around them no matter what orientation their heads have to view the scene.

We humans can't. No matter how practiced we become, viewing a scene from a non-conventional perspective is always "not right" to us.

Why? If we did indeed once live in trees, we had no reason to lose what was once a critically important ability. We may lose body parts because we have no use for them (prehensile tail of the human fetus that disappears after the fifth month, wisdom teeth that will soon not appear in future generations, useless organs we can have removed and easily live without), but there is no example of humans or other animals losing inherent skills or abilities they once had.

We may no longer be able to do things we once did because our bodies have changed shape or configuration slightly, but we don't lose the skill within our brain should we ever need it. The potential is still there. Yet we still can't understand a scene that is "upside down" to our brain.

Even the reason science gives for humans losing their body hair is lame. The claim is that humans lost their body hair because it would have been too hot to run around the plains hunting in a fur coat. So we lost our fur coats so we could expose our bare skin to ultraviolet radiation from the sun (more direct, thus damaging, in Africa than in temperate zones) so we could contract skin cancer more easily?

That doesn't make sense. Evolution has never been shown to work to create more health risk in any animal. That would be counter to natural selection. Besides, do monkeys not get hot from swinging around in the trees? I would, if I had that ability and strength, hairy or naked. But I don't now and I didn't as a child, though I climbed awkwardly (by ape standards) in some trees.

The claim that hair in the crotch and armpits helps to dispel sweat, which is why we still grow it in those places, would apply as well to hair anywhere else on the body. Sweat would evaporate more quickly from crotch and armpits without hair to slow down the movement of air across them. If not, then women who shave those places today would be sweatier than women who let their hair grow. I'm not an expert, but I have never heard of that being a problem of women who shave.

Why do we retain head hair? To protect us from the sun? That argument should give more reason why we should retain all-body hair, not lose it. We can wash hair and skin (cooling off in the water at the same time), but we can't slough off melanoma.

Why do we like water so much? Never mind that most of our bodies consist of water as that applies to all animals and plants. Archaeologists looking for ancient human habitation almost always look near water. Or they look near where water once was in the prehistoric past.

Why? We can get enough water into our bodies the way monkeys and other animals do.

We also swim differently from most land animals that spend part of their lives in water. A dog swims using the dog paddle (elephants, excellent swimmers, swim the same way). A dog swims this way so easily because its face and nose are, compared to the locations of our own, on top of their heads. A dog doesn't have to lift its head to swim because its nose is already above water as it floats.

That convenient location of the nose and eyes for dogs did not cause them to lose their fur because they hunt and basically live on land. Elephants, on the other hand, are naked, can find food in the water, and they have webbing between their toes like a duck.

It seems highly likely that our prehuman ancestors--in the Pliocene period--spent a good deal of time in the water. There we lost our body hair, retained it in crotch and armpits for warmth and on the head so our babies could hold onto it. Ever held out your finger to a young baby and had it grasp the finger naturally? For more on this see Elaine Morgan's The Descent of Woman.

If the experts that study the history of our own species are so careless, so inexact, so arrogant about teaching theory that doesn't even meet the criterion of common sense examination, as if it were established fact, how much confidence can we place in any scientific claims made with the certainty of experts?

Theory is not fact, by its very definition, though theory is often taught as if it were fact. Even the laws of physics bear questioning. Remember reading about when light was believed to travel in straight lines, when time and space were linear, when the earth was the centre of the universe and when an object was in one place it couldn't be anywhere else? Not anymore. Evidence proves that these "facts" of science were wrong.

We may be wrong to adopt fantastic stories masquerading as religion (my story is always better and truer than yours), but we would be equally as mistaken to accept all statements by science as fact, no matter how confidently and passionately the statements are made.

We humans do not really know as much as we claim we do. We just act as if we know more, as if we are always right. It's called hubris. We teach it to our kids.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to understand all the ways children develop, not just intellectually. People have problems when they don't know.
Learn more at

Friday, December 18, 2009

Big Business Manipulates the Climate Change Debate

Big Business Manipulates the Climate Change Debate

by Bill Allin, author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to grow children who can think instead of simply accepting life as it imposes itself on them.

We allow our ignorance to prevail upon us and make us think we can survive alone, alone in patches, alone in groups, alone in races, even alone in genders.
- Maya Angelou, American educator, autobiographer and poet (b. 1928)

manufactroversy n. (neologism) A contrived or non-existent controversy, manufactured by political ideologues or interest groups who use deception and specious arguments to make their case.

Is the temperature of the planet really warming? No. The dirt and rock are not getting warmer.

Is the average temperature of the atmosphere above our planet warming? That's the core of the debate. Is climate change real and based solely on human activity or simply a cyclical feature of nature? That's the issue.

The arguments for climate change are based on computer models, which are based on sketchy facts from the past and questionable data from the present. Sketchy facts from the past because today's technology was not available more than a few years ago.

Questionable data? A Canadian blogger discovered a simple arithmetic error in the calculations by NASA based on its satellite readings, making the atmosphere seem a fraction of a degree warmer than it actually was. NASA satellite readings form the core of most computer climate model inputs.

Read that story here. But don't expect to find either the correction of NASA's data or conclusions on its web site or an admission that it made the error. You won't.

No one can doubt that the ice cap over the Arctic Ocean is thinning. Travelling by ship through the Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific, through northern Canada, is possible now. That trip that caused the deaths of so many explorers and their shipmates over past centuries of our history has not been possible for over a thousand years. Yes, the Northwest Passage was open in the distant past.

No one can doubt that some countries that usually experience hot seasons are having it hotter than ever, with a few actually desertifying, especially in the Middle East and the Sahel around the Sahara in Africa.

However, ask the people who live in Edmonton, Canada, how much warmer they feel. One Saturday night in mid December 2009 their overnight low temperature was -46.1 degrees Celsius. (At that temperature Celsius and Fahrenheit have almost similar numbers.) That record cold was 10 degrees lower than the previous record cold night. Not one or two degrees colder, but 10.

Edmonton is the capital city of a Canadian province, not a northern territory. It's not sub-Arctic. It's province, Alberta, hit new power usage records in two successive weeks as Albertans tried to keep from freezing. The whole Canadian west was a deep freeze for the first part of the winter of 2009.

Eastern Canada was different. Maritimers had their summer in 2009, but it only lasted three days. The whole of spring, summer and autumn were cool and very wet. The previous two winters had old timers claiming they had never seen so much snow, so many storms, so much rainfall in a single season.

Cool and wet. Exactly what the climate models should predict when the air warms. Warm air collects more moisture from the oceans, which results in more cloud (less sun to warm the earth) and more rain.

In the 1970s the prediction was that we might have a new Ice Age based on the same data being used today, but different climate models. Canada's weather over the past two years would support that claim, though two years can never constitute a trend.

No one can doubt that those who believe in climate change feel strongly enough about it to fight for grants to study climate models and data more than their opponents. No one should doubt that some people, including a number of well respected scientists, believe that climate shift is natural and cyclical. Their work is available on the internet.

Why is there debate? The simplest conclusion is that there is money to be made. From scientific study of climate, not from climate change itself.

While few among us may know that industries puff out half a million different chemicals into the air, we all seem to know that carbon dioxide is the worst culprit for the greenhouse effect that eventually warms the atmosphere. We all know that breathing too much carbon dioxide is unhealthy, may even kill some of us.

We have not put together what we know, let alone figured out the debate most of us can't understand. While we argue over whether or not global temperatures are rising, whether or not our atmosphere is warming, whether human industries and habits directly affect that change or not, industries and government continue to pour extraordinary amounts of carbon dioxide into the air we breathe.

They have no need to spend on changing anything so long as we fight over whether the atmospheric temperature might change by a portion of one degree over a few decades.

We continue to breathe poisonous air. Industries and government owned power plants puff out obscene amounts of poisonous gases into our air. And nothing changes because we are arguing over whether global temperatures are rising or staying steady.

Who wins that scenario?

Those who believe that nothing should change in nature are wrong. History is full of examples. The Mediterranean Sea used to be a plain and the Sahara Desert used to be a giant lake. That's change. Tropical beasts used to roam what is now the north of Canada, Russia and Alaska until the last Ice Age arrived a few thousands years ago. That's change. Changes that happened not so long ago by historical standards.

History should teach us that nature changes by itself. It doesn't need our help. It will change with or without us.

Our own limited knowledge should tell us that we should not be arguing over whether climate is changing while we ignore manufacturing facilities putting millions of tons of poisonous gases into the air we breathe.

No one should doubt that life on earth today is different than it was before the Industrial Revolution. The main difference is not a small change in atmospheric temperature, but a huge increase in diseases that have never before been a problem on earth and the poisonous air we breathe that has caused them since the Industrial Revolution began.

While we debate a small change in atmospheric temperature, we continue to breathe poisonous air. Industries that are fundamentally sociopathic in their quest for profits benefit from our debate because they don't have to change anything.

We continue to get sick. We continue to die. We continue to argue over climate change when the issue is massive poisoning on a global scale.

Who wins? Who benefits while we argue?

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to grow children who can think instead of simply accepting life as it imposes itself on them.
Learn more at

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why Coughing Into Your Elbow Is Wrong

Why Coughing Into Your Elbow Is Wrong

You likely grew up, as I did, being told to cover your mouth and nose with your hand when you cough or sneeze. That has changed.

We are now told to cough or sneeze into the elbow of a sleeve. One commercial currently on television shows a woman carrying a laundry basket and coughing into her shoulder. All in the aid of avoiding the spread of "germs."

Here's the problem. Rather, a combination of them. Let's begin with the objective, confining germs that would normally be spread into the air by coughing or sneezing.

When you cover your mouth and nose with your hand, you prevent most of what comes out of them from reaching anyone else. Witness the fact that sometimes your hand got a bit wet. (I know, the subject is unpleasant, but the title should have warned you.) When you cough or sneeze into your sleeve elbow, a good deal of what comes out of your mouth or nose will miss the fabric.

When you cover your mouth with your hand to cough or sneeze, you can wash your hand. You should wash them anyway, several times a day, so that should not be an imposition. If you have a cold or cough, you can carry disposable tissues.

When you cough or sneeze into your sleeve, it's highly unlikely you will change your clothing until a much later time. What is highly likely is that you will cough or sneeze again and use the same sleeve. When you cough or sneeze, the immediate reflex is to inhale to replace the expelled air. You do that before turning away from your sleeve, which means that you then inhale your own germs.

The whole purpose of using disposable tissues rather than the old style handkerchief was so you could avoid breathing in the same germs you blew into the handkerchief last time. Most of us got that message: don't inhale the germs you sneezed or coughed out last time.

As the saying goes, do the math. Coughing or sneezing into your sleeve causes as much as 90 percent of germs that may exit your mouth or nose to escape into the air around you. Always at least 50 percent escapes.

If you have a colleague who smokes, ask that person to inhale from a cigarette then blow the smoke back out again into their sleeve, as a person would when sneezing or coughing. It may shock you how little smoke sticks to the fabric and how much makes its way into the air. The example isn't perfect, but it will serve its purpose.

People in North America were asked to switch from cloth handkerchiefs to disposable paper tissues a few decades ago to avoid having us breathe our own germs when we coughed or sneezed into handkerchiefs. The same thinking still applies.

The more often a person with a cold or cough expels air into their sleeve, believing that they are doing right by those around them, the more people will catch colds and coughs from them. And the more often those same people may re-infect themselves. The more people get colds and coughs, the more OTC (over the counter) medications the drug manufacturers will sell.

When we learn our health habits from the people who make medicines, we must understand that these companies have far less interest in our health than in our cash, their bottom lines.

We have good reason to believe that coughing or sneezing into our own sleeves may cause more disease than it avoids. Who wins with that scenario?

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, an easy to read guidebook for teachers and parents who want to teach the right lessons to their children at the best possible times to aid their development.
Learn more at

Saturday, December 12, 2009

When The Experts Are Just Plain Wrong

When The Experts Are Just Plain Wrong

'I doubt that the imagination can be suppressed. If you truly eradicated it in a child, he would grow up to be an eggplant.'
- Ursula K. Le Guin, American author (b. 1929)

'You must not change one thing, one pebble, one grain of sand, until you know what good and evil will follow on that act. The world is in balance, in Equilibrium.'
- Ursula K. Le Guin, American author (b. 1929)

If these two quotes give evidence of one thing, it's that just because a person is an expert in one thing does not give him the right to believe that he is on every subject.

By virtue of the needs of his art, a writer must be a thinker. However, there is no requirement that the thinking be clear, orderly, logical or that the material presented must be truthful. We need only follow the spoutings of pastors and politicians to show that.

Members of other professions, experienced with receiving respect for their knowledge and skills within the context of their work, often come to believe that their thinking must be correct on all subjects. Engineers and architects, for example, seldom admit they don't know something. We call it arrogance when they act as if others don't know what they are talking about and hubris when they can't imagine being wrong.

As admirable as Le Guin's writings are, especially her utopian science fiction, I can't help taking issue with the two quotes that began this article. They are based on her thinking, her understanding of the world. On the subjects of education (child development) and ecology, her understanding may be of questionable value to the rest of us.

First, it's true that children do not grow into eggplants. However, many grow into adults with precious little imagination and ability to think for themselves. Consider that the average American, for example, has his television running more than five hours a day. Television, the great stupidifier, encourages people to not think by providing them with whatever the producer wants his audience to know and believe. Viewers are not allowed to think for themselves if they follow the producer's intentions.

Look at the lineup of television programs that grace (or disgrace) the screen these days and you will find faked reality shows, home videos that show people at their absolute stupidest, soap operas that demonstrate the worst in human morals and compassion and advertising designed to convince simple minds that they should become poor and unhealthy by buying the products advertised.

Not eggplants, no. But television is doing its best to bring human intelligence down to the level close to at least a smart eggplant. When the computer is the entertainment of choice, we have YouTube to show us that many people have reached that level of intelligence already.

Ursula Le Guin seems to live in a world protected from the realities of entertainment by the average person. For one thing, she reads, which gives her perspectives that non-readers never experience. Reading stimulates the imagination as television, the internet, movies and video games never can. She can't conceive of people not having an imagination. She is sadly mistaken.

As an educator who has taught young children as well as older ones, I can tell you that imagination has been all but eliminated (at least channeled) in many of them before they leave primary school. As I classroom teacher I found it hard to stimulate children to be creative in non-traditional ways.

As for ecology, Le Guin is correct that the universe is in equilibrium. However, she is dead wrong that nothing should change. Nature itself is the greatest force for change.

When one factor changes or many change as a result of natural disaster or human tragedy, nature regroups and establishes a new equilibrium.

Look what happened after the disaster 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs disappeared. Whether an asteroid struck our planet or climate change eliminated the food dinosaurs ate matters little now. What matters is that mammals succeeded them, and here we are.

Look what happened 225 million years ago when as much as 97 percent of life on land and 85 percent of life in the oceans were wiped out.

Nature adjusts. The universe establishes equilibrium with whatever conditions exist at the time. No matter if we destroyed ourselves, nature would adjust to a new equilibrium.

When Le Guin recommends that we "must not change one thing" for fear of upsetting the equilibrium she fails to understand the concept. In fact, we must change what we do that is destructive, at the least.

We need to consider as many consequences of what we do as we can possibly conceive. We will never know them all, positive or negative. We will always make mistakes and have some successes.

What's more important is that we must not let those who will profit in the future from mistakes we allow to be made today convince us that we are doing the right thing by ignoring the negative consequences of the action. As the saying goes: if something looks too good to be true, it likely is.

US wars in Iraq and Vietnam spring to mind, events costing millions of lives and trillions of dollars. With nothing gained from either but obscene wealth for suppliers of war materials and fuels. Education, meanwhile, suffers as teachers must do without more and more.

Demanding that politicians tell us the truth and the whole truth will never work. The only thing that will work is to educate all people, all children, and to promote diligence and civic responsibility actively.

Doing nothing out of fear of making mistakes and allowing the imaginations of our children to be destroyed through rigid teaching methods and strict control (consider the tragedies of Zero Tolerance, for example) do nothing to make the world a better place.

Denying the truth simply makes it worse. We teach and learn or we suffer the consequences.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to know what to teach children that will help their development, and when.
Learn more at

Monday, November 30, 2009

How Smart Are We Humans Really?

How Smart Are We Humans Really?

Nations have recently been led to borrow billions for war; no nation has ever borrowed largely for education. Probably, no nation is rich enough to pay for both war and civilization. We must make our choice; we cannot have both.
- Abraham Flexner, American educator (1866-1959)

If an alien from a planet unimaginably distant from here were to come to earth with the objective of studying life forms, what do you think he should do?

If he were to study the most abundant life on the planet he would have to look at microbes. We, for example, have more microbes in our own bodies than we have cells we can call our own--that is, that carry our unique DNA.

If he decided to look at life forms more advanced than a single cell he would likely look at algae or plankton in the oceans. If he looked for something more mobile, he would have to study insects. There he would find some well organized and advanced societies if he looked at ants or bees.

Maybe he would want to communicate with another being. For that he might choose a chimpanzee. Or a dolphin.

Dolphins can understand and speak back, especially if given the opportunity to learn a new language. Chimps can't talk because they lack the physiology to form most sounds we consider essential to language.

Why doesn't he study us, you may ask. We live in more parts of the land world than any other creature--at least more than any other large animal, maybe not more than the cockroach. We are certainly the most destructive, which makes us the most powerful.

Surely a being from another world who travelled may light years to reach earth would want to speak with the most powerful creature on the planet. Or would he?

What language would he use? Remember, most of us know only one or a few human languages. Not one of us can communicate more than a few hundred words with any living being on earth other than humans.

We, who seek extraterrestrial life on distant planets, do not have the ability to communicate well with any other species on earth other than ourselves. Our solution to that problem, it might seem to an impartial observer, is to render other intelligent life extinct.

Now that's power.

But why would an intelligent space being admire the power we use to destroy each other and other beings on our own planet? Only 20th Century science fiction had space aliens invading earth to kill everyone or enslave us. It doesn't take much thinking to see that the "destructive space alien" scenario simply doesn't make sense.

Are we really the smartest creatures on the planet? Sure, just ask us.

I'm going to ask you something. Two things, but they're related.
(1) Do you think that if you asked 1000 people you meet randomly on the street in the next few days any of them would admit that they are stupid? Even one?
(2) Have you considered the behaviour of people you have seen and thought they "must be stupid"?

The most intelligent minds among us evaluate how brilliant we humans are, using human testing methods (we haven't a clue how to test otherwise) and human result standards (such as IQ) have decided that we humans are the most intelligent creatures on earth.

Isn't that a bit like asking an Olympic athlete who he believes will win the gold medal in his event? Or like asking a religious person which religion he believes is the best? The results couldn't be more biased.

Assuming we could be shrunk to the appropriate size, could you survive and thrive in a bee or ant colony? Assuming you can swim and even given diving equipment, could you live the life of a dolphin? Or, make it easier, could you fit into a colony of chimpanzees well?

Why not? If we are so smart we should be able to adapt to different living conditions. But we can't. Because there are things--many things--that ants, bees, dolphins and chimps know that we will never know. That we can never know. That we have no way of finding out.

As our quote says, we are the species that borrows billions of dollars for war (trillions in the case of the USA at present), but seldom borrows much to fund our education systems. We borrow money to kill each other, but scrimp when it comes to educating ourselves.

How smart is that? Chimps only fight to see who dominates, not to kill each other. Dolphins squabble over mates. No, wait, we don't even know that much about dolphins. They may be smarter than us, we would never know. No, they live in the water, so they can't be as smart as us.

So we say.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to know what to teach children to aid their intellectual, social and emotional development and when to teach it.
Learn more at

Sunday, November 22, 2009

You Need It To Live, But Too Much Will Kill You

You Need It To Live, But Too Much Will Kill You

Seldom in history has a product worn the horns of the Devil and the wings of an angel at the same time. Loved and respected because it provides the energy we need to work, to play, even to breathe, sugar is so important to our diet our bodies take several things we eat and convert them into sugars.

However, eat too much sugar and your body will blimp up and your organs will slowly but surely break down. Never has "moderate consumption" been so important.

But what's "moderate"? How can we tell what's too much?

Let's look at an example.

In our example you will eat 16 teaspoons of refined sugar all in one short sitting. Don't worry, it will be in liquid form. Sound outrageous? That's how much sugar is in a 20 ounce bottle of cola. In every bottle.

In general, if you look at the ingredient list of products before you buy them and see some that end in the letters "...ose" you have various different kinds of sugars. Sugars come with other name endings, but "...ose" tends to be the most common ending in packaged foods we eat. Most of them are complex sugars our bodies break down into simple ones so they can be used to burn as energy.

Sugars, along with starch, are the basic carbohydrates. Inside your gut they all become sugars, ultimately simple sugars. What your body can't use it will expel through your colon or convert to fat for storage.

Because our bodies can only convert a limited amount of sugar into fat at one time, if you are going to eat too much sugar, eat it in a binge. Most of it you will enjoy in your mouth and you will get rid of it in the toilet the next day. Eat a little too much sugar on a regular basis and your body will store it in special cells in your body known as fat cells.

The average American consumes 61 pounds of refined sugar each year. About 25 pounds of that would be in the form of candy. That's just sucrose, though, and the number doesn't include amounts of any other sugars we consume.

Sugar may cause your skin to wrinkle. Called glycation, blood sugar in the skin binds to collagen so the skin loses its elasticity. Cut out excess sugar consumption and your skin may retain its elasticity. No good or easy or cheap method exists today to help skin regain its elasticity.

There's nothing new about the kind of sugar we eat. When Alexander the Great invaded India over 2000 years ago he was shocked at how the people managed to create "honey" without bees.

Sugar cane is a plant of hot climate countries. That's why people who live in the tropics have had it sweet for so long. Andreas Marggraf discovered, in 1747, that the sugar in sugar beets was the same as that in sugar cane. Sugar beets can be grown in much colder climates than sugar cane.

The first sugar beet factory opened in 1802. Over half of the 8.4 metric tonnes of sugar used in the USA this year--no, seriously, make that 8.4 million metric tonnes--will come from sugar beets. Sugar beets are a form of beet with white sweet roots. Only the root is used to make refined sugar.

Getting back to soft drinks, the kinds with artificial sweeteners may contribute to obesity rather than prevent it. A study at Purdue University using rats had one group consuming soft drinks with artificial sweeteners and another with sugar-sweetened drinks.

The group that drank the artificial sweeteners consumed more calories from other foods than the sugar group. The study did not consider the controversial belief that long term consumption of the artificial sweetener aspartame might cause major diseases. Rats don't live long enough.

Like many popular discoveries artificial sweeteners aspartame and saccharin were found by accident. Lab researchers working on projects having nothing to do with sweetening mixed some test compounds and decided to taste them.

Ask yourself what kind of researcher eats his own experiment.

The artificial sweetener Splenda came about in an even stranger way. The scientists were looking for a new insecticide. [I'll just wait here while you process that thought. Prepare yourself for the next part so we don't have to pause again.]

A lab assistant had been asked to "test" the compound, but he thought he had been told to "taste" the compound. Remember, they had been looking for an insecticide. [Good thing you prepared yourself for that.]

Table sugar certainly isn't the sweetest taste around. A compound called lugduname is actually 200,000 times sweeter. [Do you wonder where the lab assistant is today that tasted that stuff?]

Sugars are compounds of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. The simplest (simple sugars) are most commonly known as glucose, fructose and galactose. Table sugar (a complex sugar) consists of one glucose molecule and one fructose molecule fused together. Other complex sugars dance with different partners.

We don't want to avoid sugars totally because they are carbohydrates, by far the most common organic molecules in all living things. [Unless you consider minerals to be "living," which is a whole different discussion.]

An eight-atom sugar called glycolaldehyde has the ability to react with a three-carbon sugar to form ribose, a major component of RNA (ribonucleic acid), which does the real work in living things while DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) takes all the credit.

Who cares? Glycolaldehyde has been found in an interstellar gas cloud near the centre of the Milky Way. [Stay with me here.] Glycolaldehyde may therefore be a precursor of life on our planet. If it's in space, it might have been here.

That same gas cloud, by the way, contains ethylene glycol, which most of us think of as antifreeze. Which is sweet, but lethal, as many animals have learned when they licked up antifreeze leaks.

These are complex sugars. In deep space. We must at least hypothesize that they were synthesized in space. We haven't yet guessed how that could happen.

Sugar can be used as more than a fuel for your body. Burn table sugar (sucrose) with some corn syrup and a bit of saltpeter and you have a popular amateur rocket fuel.

It's also sometimes prescribed by doctors. Yup, you pay a dispensing fee to buy a product called "Obecalp," a sugar pill made to FDA specifications. It may be prescribed for mild problems with a variety of symptoms but no clear therapy. [Spell the product name backwards.]

Not only is the "placebo effect" surprisingly real according to recent studies, the sugar itself may actually help clear up symptoms. Glucosamine works as an immunosuppressant (drug that lowers the body's normal immune response) in mice.

Immune system suppression is a mixed blessing because while it can go crazy sometimes, such as with allergies, it also protects us from viruses and bad bacteria. The sugar alcohol xylitol can be used to prevent ear infections in children.

You better have a dose of Obecalp and think about this.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers, parents and grandparents who want to grow children who are healthy in all developmental streams, not just intellectually and physically. It's a great gift.
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[Primary resource: Discover, October 2009]

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Still Waiting For The Light To Change

Still Waiting For The Light To Change

We should try to be the parents of our future rather than the offspring of our past.
- Miguel de Unamuno, writer and philosopher (1864-1936)

Sometimes all we can do is to roll with the punches, deal with the circumstances life throws at us, and look for the chance to enact change.

Many would call that powerlessness. After all, when your choices in life are outside your control, you can't be said to have control of your life.

Do others have control over your life? Many times it seems that way, that if only someone else would do what you want or what they promised to do, life would be better. It's hard to wait for someone else, especially when you know that the other person is giving your promised work low priority but its very important to you because you can't progress with several other things in the meantime.

I confess, I allow disappointment to creep into my life sometimes. It's always a disappointment with people. The vagaries of weather (no one's is stable now, likely never was), the ups and downs of politics (the few honest ones get shot down more often than the crooks), illness, even being the next person in line after the last item on a great sale was sold don't bother me.

That's life. If I expect to find great pleasure in the good things about life, I must be prepared to accept the things that really suck. Without one, I couldn't appreciate the other. The good looks good only by comparing it to the bad. "No pain, no gain" may not be true for athletics and exercise, but it's true for emotions. The more and worse you experience that bad, the greater your opportunity to appreciate the good when it comes.

People who promise something but don't deliver really get to me. The guy who delighted me when he said he could fix my tractor--he unstuck a valve and replaced a spring--has kept the parts at his place for weeks because he is too busy with his own projects to put my tractor back together. The computer expert friend who may have been able to help me avoid having a rootkit destroy my hard drive if he had given me the necessary advice in a timely fashion has kept my computer out of commission for weeks because he's too busy to help, even though he has promised to do so several times.

I bought a snow blower for my tractor. I asked if the man could deliver it because I had no way to get it home. He said "No problem" and I paid him. He phoned that evening to ask how I planned to get the 750 pound blower off the back of his pickup truck. I reminded him that I had told him ahead of time that I had no way to get the blower down from a truck. He forgot. Now he has my money and my snow blower, because he forgot he couldn't deliver what he said he could.

These people were not intending to lie when they made their promises to me. They simply didn't organize their thoughts and plans to the extent necessary to avoid conflicts. They didn't plan ahead. They got too busy to get all the work done they promised to others, but didn't extend the courtesy of telling the others when they might be able to get to their needs.

Sometimes just coping with the problems life throws your way--whatever their nature--is all you can do. It's called survival. When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. It's always painful at first. Eventually, if you keep looking, you will find a way to circumvent what may be severe consequences of a problem.

Some say God doesn't give us more than we can handle, though they wish God didn't trust them so much. Some call it courage or perseverance or strength of character that people can get through their lives with burdens far greater than the average. It's not really any of that.

Life is tough. Those who have it easy and don't appreciate what they have waste their lives because they don't accomplish much of real value. Those who slog their way through what seem to be incredible trials and tribulations, always looking to a brighter future find ways to enjoy life more because they appreciate the contrast between the bad and the good.

Moreover, the survivors act as role models for the rest of us. If it weren't for them, our species would never have survived the long process of natural selection.

We literally exist because those before us--at least many of them--survived rigors of life far worse than we can imagine. We don't owe them anything. We do owe it to ourselves and to those who will follow us to survive and to improve.

Those who don't struggle with life don't improve because they don't know how. They have never had to work their way out of problems and difficulties that might have destroyed them. The survivors know how. They learn as they struggle.

As individuals and as a species, we inherited much because of those who struggled and survived before us. It's our job to struggle and survive so that future generations will know it can be done.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to teach their children the skills of coping, of surviving and of thriving in a struggling world.
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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What A Relationship Needs To Succeed

What A Relationship Needs To Succeed

"If we were endowed with the same biological mating pattern as the [pair-bonding] goose, there could be no polygamy, no promiscuity, no celibacy, no harems, no group marriage, no trial marriage, and no divorce in any human community in any part of the world." and "The gibbon's 'very low sex drive' is a reminder...[of the fallacy] that pair-bonding is based on sexual attraction."
- Elaine Morgan, The Descent of Woman, Bantam 1972

The article title refers mostly to male-female relationships, though the first reason could apply to any relationship, including friendships. Let's examine that first reason.

Why so many relationships fail is simply that few people know what makes a relationship work. A large part of that has to do with the fact that living conditions for most people today are so different from those in the past.

In my country, Canada (numbers for the US are similar), a century ago 85 percent of the population lived in the country, in rural areas. That left only 15 percent in cities, despite what we hear and read about lots of people in cities in those days and very little about those who lived "off the land." Those numbers are reversed today.

Today 85 percent of North Americans live in urban areas, have access to everything cities have to offer, but miss out on so much that was good about rural life. Country living is simply not available to most people, for reasons beyond their control. More importantly, what was good about rural life in the past has not been replaced sufficiently by the good of city life today.

In agricultural areas and in areas where most people made their living from resources in the past, people had few enemies. They needed each other. Everyone people knew had value. No one knew when they might find themselves at the side of the road with a broken wagon wheel, homeless (or barnless) because of a fire, in need of someone to fetch the doctor in town but unable to get there for having to look after a sick child, or any of uncountable possible emergencies.

Rural people often needed someone else to help them. They couldn't afford to alienate others they may need to help them one day. Few rural people had money to spare, so volunteer help meant drawing on the goodwill of friends and neighbours, who were often one and the same.

Kids learned in their families how to get along with others because they had to. Sure, they had fights, many physical, far more than today. But they learned to make up after a fight and get on with their lives. Friends were often combatants of the past who made up so they wouldn't have to live as hermits without any friends in areas with few other people around. Grudges were rare because people couldn't afford to have enemies living nearby.

Today people in cities believe that most of their needs can be satisfied with money. We hire people to do whatever we need done. Friends are often workmates, fellow church parishioners or other people life brings together frequently. We may know our neighbours little more than on a nodding acquaintance basis.

Friends tend to be those from whom we can derive some benefit, such as people where we work or fellow club or church members. When it's clear that these people can no longer provide us with any benefits or potential benefits--they or we change jobs, one leaves the club, one moves some distance away--the friendship dissipates with the disappearance of the potential for mutual support. Friends have become another form of object in the throw-away society. There are always more people become friends with in a city. Of course this generalization, like all generalizations, is not true of everyone and not necessarily entirely true of any one person.

Because of this impression that anything we need can be bought, we have allowed ourselves to lose the feeling of needing others in times of tragedy. In the process, over a period of decades we got out of the habit of teaching our children the skills of making friends, of keeping friends through all adversities, of knowing what makes a friendship work. Again, that's a whole society, not necessarily true in every family.

Though most of us now see more people in a day than our ancestors of a century ago saw in a month, we tend to have fewer close friends, people we can count on when the going gets rough, when worse turns to worst. We no longer teach relationship skills because they were not taught to us. We don't know what to teach because most of us don't even realize there are great gaps in our knowledge about relationships.

To make a friend, you have to know how to be a friend. To find a good mate, you have to know how to be a good mate.

The second reason most relationships fail is that we don't know our obligations in a relationship. We know what we want from others, but we give little or no thought to what they may want or need from us to maintain a healthy relationship. As relationships are two way affairs, when one person feels no great commitment to the other, the relationship fails or wanes away at the first crisis.

For any relationship to succeed, each person must believe that they contribute more to the success and health of the relationship than the other. The perception of an imbalance is usually not real because we don't fully appreciate what the other contributes. But if we perceive that we contribute more to a relationship than we receive and we can be comfortable with that, the relationship has a chance.

The best examples of why relationships fail is demonstrated by the staggering divorce rate in western countries. A husband or wife believes that the other is not giving what they used to, that their own needs in the marriage are not being met, that the spouse is "not the person I married." It's usually true. However, what most people fail to appreciate and understand is that their own commitment to being a devoted spouse may be equally weak.

You can't be a good husband or wife if you have very little idea of what is required of a good husband or wife. Ironically, we all seem to have pretty good ideas about what is required of the other, our mates, even if we don't know what is required of ourselves.

The third reason why relationships fail has to do particularly with male-female relationships. Especially the requirement of fidelity in a marriage or common law relationship. If there is one thing we have taught each other and our children about marital and marriage-style relationships it's that each partner should be monogamous.

The trouble with that is that there is nothing in our natural or evolutionary history to support that. Humans, like all the great apes, are genetically and hormonally programmed to spread their genes as widely as possible. That means that men are genetically programmed to want to bed as many women as they can. And women are programmed to find as many healthy males with whom to procreate future offspring as they can.

Many people will find those last two statements offensive. But why? Nature didn't teach us to be monogamous. Religions did. Religions even decry (in some cases even threaten death to participants of) male-male and female-female relationships. Why? Because those who formed the religions knew that most gay men are still capable of passing along their male genes to fertile females, just as most lesbians have the ability to give birth to children, can be impregnated by healthy males.

Religions, in the past, wanted desperately to expand, to enlarge their congregations, to increase their power as unelected bodies of social influence. That meant, in addition to sending out missionaries and conquering other cultures and nations by war, encouraging their own followers to have as many babies as possible. The financial ability of parents to raise children, the likely health of the children and the knowledge of parental skills held little importance compared to the lust for expansion. What was important was numbers.

As a result, homosexuality was forbidden and banned, while having large families was encouraged. To keep order among the families of congregations, religions dictated that families should consist of one adult male, one adult female, and the only other adults allowed would be those who could help to tend to the children while the parents were busy creating more or working to support the ones they had. Polygamy and infidelity were considered sinful because the resulting "families" would be hard to manage, to control.

Science doesn't care much for the word monogamy. It likes "pair-bonding." You have heard of animals that pair-bond, that stay together for life, through thick and thin. Like geese--most examples of pair-bonding are birds, including northern gannets and penguins. However, the only pair-bonding along our branch of the evolutionary family tree is the gibbon. Though gibbon mates are totally devoted to each other, they are comparatively anti-social. They have little to do with other gibbons or other animals of any kind. They keep to themselves.

Gibbons, like other pair-bonded animals, have low sex drives. Not an attractive characteristic for us humans. In fact, sex is of so little importance among pair-bonded animals that some gibbon couples are homosexual and some heterosexual couples do not engage in sex. Do we really aspire to pair-bonding for ourselves? We should see pair-bonding as it really is in other examples in nature.

Let's switch back from the term pair-bonding to monogamy. Monogamy, while a charming and attractive concept in certain contexts, is fundamentally unnatural for us humans.

If monogamy is unnatural and many people insist that they could never live with a mate who is "unfaithful" (i.e. not monogamous) then the marriages and marriage-like relationships that depend on monogamy will likely fail. Estimates in the US of infidelity among married men range around 85 percent, while most estimates of infidelity among married women range between 65 and 75 percent.

A priest commented to me recently that it's up to each member of a couple to fulfill the sexual and other needs of the other so he or she doesn't need to go looking elsewhere. Good idea in theory, doesn't work in practice.

If a marriage depends on monogamy, that makes sex the most important component of the marriage, literally the tie that binds. There are two things wrong with that. One is that a marriage must be based on much more than sex or it doesn't have enough to sustain itself. The other is that few people with a lower sex drive than their partner feel compelled to engage in sex and its accompanying gestures and procedures if they don't feel like it. They may not want to have sex, even if their partner does, but they also don't want the "needy" partner to go out and have sex elsewhere.

It may not be the actual act of infidelity of a partner that results in the breakdown of a marriage, but the attitude of the mate that feels "cheated on" who feels the partner should be something he or she was not naturally programmed to be.

Few "unfaithful" partners want to break up their relationship. They just want to be fulfilled in ways they can't get at home. Nature tells them to find it somewhere else.

A wife who says "You may be the perfect husband in all other ways but you can't be faithful to me, so you must get out of my life" (even though she can't give what the husband needs sexually)--reverse the gender words if it applies--can be the partner who makes the marriage fall apart. If doing what nature dictates and what all other primate animals do causes a marriage or relationship to fail, then the marriage was not well founded in the first place.

We humans have the ability to use our intellect to overcome our natural inclinations. Few of us use that ability. Every war that ever was, most murders, almost every person behind bars in a prison or jail and almost everyone in a mental institution or on mood altering drugs give an abundance of evidence that we tend to give in to nature much more often than we overcome it using our intellect.

When following what comes naturally to us causes a relationship to fail, there is something wrong with how the relationship is constituted. That is, we don't know what a close human relationship is, what it should consist of.

When you don't know what you're doing, expect something to go wrong. It will. If you want a relationship to succeed, you need to learn what the other person needs and how you can fulfill that.

A successful relationship means two people each committed more to the welfare and happiness of the other than they are to their own. That's hard. But no one ever said it was easy.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers, parents and grandparents who want to give their children what they need at each stage of their development, rather than leaving it all to chance.
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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Your Life In A Day

Your Life In A Day

With the passage of time, all such actions or lack of them, appear less significant. And anyway, since the cells in our body die and are renewed, replaced by different ones, we do in a literal sense become difference individuals. The connection I have to the boy I once was is now so fragile that it requires an act of conscious 'faith' to maintain that we are in any significant sense the same person.
- Sebastian Faulks, Engleby, Vintage Press (Random House), 2008

Today ain't like it used to be. But then, you aren't either.

As Faulks suggested in the quote, our physical self changes every day. In fact, there is no part of your body that still has the same cells as it had 15 years ago. Over that period you have been completely rebuilt.

In a world obsessed with the shape and appearance of the human body, that might seem disappointing. Especially as strings of genes in our DNA don't always and forever reproduce themselves exactly. Over time, they tend to lose code at their tail ends. Even our replacement parts don't reproduce exactly.

So what is the real you? Your body changes over time, completely replacing itself repeatedly over your lifetime. Your brain's memory contains all the same stuff it did 15 years ago, but it has added 15 years worth of learning and experiences to itself. If you attempted to count the new information your brain has added over the past 15 years it would be so staggering you wouldn't be able to count it if you took the rest of your life. Your brain has changed markedly over the past 15 years.

Your personality has changed. Sure you retain many of the same habits, relationships, values and so on, but if you could meet the you of 15 years ago today you might not recognize yourself. You don't even look the same in the mirror.

What identifies you as you? How do you know you are the same person?

Let's add a little perspective. Do you remember a movie or television program you watched over the past week or month? Was it real? Was there a real program you saw or maybe it was just a memory? In fact, you can't prove you even saw it. Memory proves nothing, as the recall of witnesses in recent court cases has shown. Some memory has been altered over time, some is purely invented.

For that matter, you can't prove you existed yesterday, or that there even was a yesterday. As shocking as it may seem, maybe today and the world you know about today came into existence when you gained consciousness this morning. If you believe that someone can create a movie in which you participate as viewer and in which you find yourself thinking that it's really happening at the time, then why could it not be possible that a whole past, an entire history, was created when you woke up today?

I know, it's not the way you have been taught to think. It's not what you have been lulled and trained into believing.

You have family members, loved ones, neighbours, work friends who aren't with you now as you read this. You can't prove they even exist, at this moment as you sit reading this. You trust that you can move from where you are to some other place and you will find them where you expect.

You may be right. But you can't prove it. When you move to one of these places, you change your own reality. You change from the present NOW to another NOW. Once there, what you are doing in this NOW will be equally as unprovable. It might be just a created memory, like your memory of that movie or TV program. What we know as memory and history could be entirely self-created memory.

The only reality you can depend on is this one, the one you are in. If you hope to be remembered by someone in a future NOW, then you had better act in ways that will cause you to be remembered. If what you do in this NOW only benefits you, then others will have no reason to remember you later. Why should they? They will be busy with their own NOW of the moment.

That may give you some insight into what you do with your time, the time you think of as NOW, as your own. Do you want to be remembered or not? Memories of people who think only or mostly of themselves don't last long. People remember (or create memories of their NOW moments) others who helped them, who cared for them, who showed them that they mattered.

If you believe that your body, your own personal NOWs, are all that are important, you have no reason to believe in a God. God serves no purpose if all your NOWs will eventually vanish and be forgotten. If there will never be anything left of the YOU you know when you die, then there is no need for God, no afterlife. Not even any purpose to what you are doing in this NOW. If nothing of you will continue to exist after you die, then life has no purpose. Does that make sense, that everything around you has no purpose?

Look around you. Does it seem as if all this could have happened by accident? The moon is as old as earth, as are the other planets in our solar system, yet they have nothing remotely similar to the reality of NOW you live in. Why? Cosmologists and science fiction writers claim there are likely many other civilizations out there somewhere in our universe, but they have absolutely no evidence to support their claims or speculations. No one has any evidence that the NOW you live in is anything but unique.

Does everything change constantly or does it all remain the same? Or do--gasp!--some things change constantly while others remain the same? Sorry, that last statement doesn't make sense to a thinking person. It's inconsistent, unlike anything in evidence around you. Everything you know changes, though some things change slower than you can detect so it seems as if they remain the same. Rocks change just as surely as the universe itself changes. We have evidence. At least we have memories of evidence we believe we read.

Your body changes when you die. Many of the bacteria that cohabit your body with "you" today--there are more of them than of cells in your body--may live on in other environments when the life that was your body has dissipated. Your body cells may separate into various atoms and molecules, but they won't disappear. Even if someone were to burn your body, the matter would change into energy, as Einstein proved. Remember e = mc2

Does that mean that when you die you are gone, or not? Are you comprised of your body and nothing else? Every atom that was your body remains and becomes something else. Does the part of you that you think of as "me" disappear? In nature, nothing disappears. It's the natural Law of Conservation. Why would the "you" that you spent so many years creating disappear? That's assuming you believe there is something more to you than animated cells.

If the "you" you created disappeared at your death, that would defy nature's laws. It would defy everything you have come to believe is real. Stuff doesn't disappear, it just changes.

You created something. You created you. Maybe you didn't create everything you know as real, but you created something. Does that make you a Creator? Does that make you God? Well, sort of. For that to be strictly true then there would have to be 6.7 billion other Gods on the planet. That doesn't make sense.

What makes more sense is that you, as creator, are part of a larger Creator, a system. You can't hold the whole system together. But you can be a component of it. You can't be God. But you can be part of God. God can be part of you. This isn't a religious lesson, it's an exercise in logic.

Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of Christianity and the figure believed even by Muslims as the Son of God (Jesus and his mother are both mentioned in the Qu'ran), taught that. Read the Gospel of John. Read it straight, not filtering what you read through what you have been taught. If you grew up in a Christian family, your beliefs were more those of Paul, not so much of what Jesus taught. Paul, a Greek, taught what he believed and attributed it to Jesus and God. That's what inventors of religions do, they never give themselves credit or their followers wouldn't believe them. Read the actual words of Jesus, not their context because the Church of Rome doctored up the context of the few words of Jesus that were recorded.

Jesus taught that God is within each of us, not up in the sky somewhere. He said that we could find God within ourselves. We just have to look.

Having read this far, you have had a peek at possibilities relating to existence, your own and that of the world you know. Look further. Never mind the crap you have been taught by others. (Sorry, that was rude. I detest being asked to "have faith" in something for which there is no evidence when real evidence of something different is all around us.)

God, the purpose of life and the continuance of you after the death of your body are not subjects about which you need to "have faith." The evidence is all around you. Nature gave you some of it. Your brain can now give you more. If you want to know what life is about, study your surroundings and think it through.

What is real may not necessarily be what is around you. NOW is like that movie you saw and remember. Reality is much more significant, more grand, much superior to what you see in advertising or hear in your place of worship. Or to what you see as you look around the room you are in.

Look for it. Start now.

One final point. While you are creating you, create something worthwhile, something worth enduring. Keep in mind, if you want to be remembered, don't be too generous at helping yourself because selfish people aren't remembered fondly.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to grow children who can think for themselves as adults, who will pay attention to what is real instead of advertising disguised with smoke and mirrors.
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Sunday, October 04, 2009

Our Own Shame

Our Own Shame

The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.
- Oscar Wilde, writer (1854-1900)

This would apply today to television and movies as well.

Instead of doing what we must to see that our countrymen avoid behaviours we consider shameful, we complain about the books, movies and television programs that show everyone who and what we really are.

We complain about what is wrong, but we don't change our system so that we teach what we believe is right and good.

Changing our education systems would be easy, literally as easy as the stroke of a pen. We have lots of good people in every community that live the kinds of lives we consider ideal in a moral sense. They are the source for new curriculum material for schools.

And it's cheap because teachers would not need new books, AV materials or computers to teach it. Teachers already know this stuff. They only need the authorization to teach it. All teachers would need is material provided in a curriculum guide.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to enact change in their education systems to address problems that run rampant in their communities and even in their homes.
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Friday, September 25, 2009

The Journey: Yours, Mine, Ours

Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.
- William James, American psychologist and philosopher (1842-1910)

The Journey: Yours, Mine, Ours

Join me on a journey. An unusual journey in that it will be one of the mind, prompted by my words and filled by your imagination.

Yet not unusual in that every experience we have is of the mind. The rest of the body has no means of recording or evaluating experiences. The brain records but has no inherent ability to critique, nor reason to do so, unless it is prompted by other experiences of the mind.
Our lives are of the mind, not of the body. Come along to learn more as we travel.

Our journey will take place over water. We will travel together, more or less, but each in separate boats. We may link together our watercraft, some of us. From time to time we will separate from each other, then link with others. Some of us will grieve the separation, others welcome it. We will all welcome the company of others, though some may not know how to show their pleasure in social interaction because they simply don't know how. They may remain alone more often than not.

So many of us will be on this journey that we will never meet everyone. Some will say that the ones we don't know are bad, stupid, simple, or evil, will plot against us given the chance. We don't know. The more we realize how little we know about the others we don't know and have never seen, the more likely we are to believe unfounded rumours about them. In all likelihood, they are just like us, but why take the chance?

We will meet relatively few others on our journey, compared with the total of us. We'll base our opinions and thoughts about them and what they are like on our own experiences with the few people we know. Many will not realize that if we think they are like us based on our experiences with those we know, it doesn't make sense to believe the people we don't know are any different from the ones we know.

Some won't like us. They will judge us based on their opinions about our boats, the looks, the component materials, the shape, the paint job, our own attire for the trip, our apparent ability to pilot where we want to go. There will always be people to tell us we should go another way, their way, even though they don't know where they are going either.

We're not sure of our destination. Some will say the destination doesn't matter, that we should make the best of what we have on the trip. Others will say that we should deprive ourselves on the voyage so that we will have an abundance once we reach our destination. Oddly, many who recommend depriving ourselves here believe that we will have abundance when we get to our destination. It may not make sense, but it's human nature. Still, nobody knows for sure what our destination is.

Some say that if we don't conduct ourselves on our voyage the way they say, our destination will surely be dire and tragic, eternal tragedy. They claim that if we follow their path the destination will be glorious. Strange how people who don't know a thing have the insight for forecasting what anyone's destination will be like. "It's in the book," they will say.

Some say they know the way and the destination because they heard of a man who had done it before and reported back. Others will say that man never existed. Many will admire the life that man led, according to reports they have read and heard, and will pay homage to the advice he gave. But few will actually follow that advice because it doesn't make them happy.

Many we meet along the way aspire to be happy. They haven't a clue about how to actually be happy, but they have read about their right to pursue happiness and it sounds really good. They will keep trying to buy and trade with others what they have for happiness. They will get thrills. The thrills pass, a bad period follows, then they will try again to buy or trade for a new kind of happiness. Like a good drug trip followed by a bad recovery. But they keep trying as if the routine will change by itself.

No one is sure what happiness is. So many hold happiness up as the greatest goal of life. They keep chasing happiness, but they can't ever achieve it because they can't buy it or trade for it. Yet they have been told that hard work and wealth buys happiness, and they believe it to a large extent.

What they know how to do best is to buy and trade their efforts for bargaining power. Acquiring, they have learned, is the way to happiness. That lesson, reinforced by every medium they know, has been taught to them since childhood. What you get and what you do will make you happy. That's the lesson.

Yet each joy or thrill passes. Happiness, it seems, never wants to stay.

A few people seem to enjoy some sort of joy that stays with them. They don't seem to necessarily be happy, just content all the time. Some say these people are delusional. Others that they are emotionally unbalanced, socially not "with it."

They are suckers by the standards of most. They spend far more time helping others along the voyage than they do acquiring for themselves. They don't seem to understand that they can't give and get at the same time. If the objective is getting--and almost every social norm suggests that's what is desirable--then they will never be happy because they keep giving so much they can never build up a sufficient treasure to be happy. Still, they seem to mysteriously enjoy life far more than most people. They don't experience as many thrills though.

Only the delusional, unbalanced, socially "different" people who give to others, who help others, who work with others along the way, seem to have some kind of inner joy that lasts, that stays with them no matter what trouble they endure along the way. The "suckers" can't be happy because that's not how most of us define happiness.

Some will look around and see multitudes of others in nearby boats, yet still feel lonely. They think that the others want to ostracize them or they feel isolated from the others because of something social abhorrent about themselves, while the others simply ignore them because they act invisible. They may just lack the social skills needed to make friends. Or they may be looking too much for what others can and (they believe) should give them while not concerning themselves about what they can give to others.

Some will be sick, weak, lack body parts that allow them to move through the water like others. Somehow they manage to move along the same route as the rest of us. We don't know how. They must have some scary secret remedy or formula that allows them to manage when they aren't "whole" like most of us. Most of them can't afford the same thrills as the wealthy ones. But they don't experience the same depressions either. Weird.

Some won't seem mentally "right" at times. They get angry, act out, get into battles with others. Some have periods of depression. Others periods when...they act strange. We try to ignore them. We may have something they need. We may even be able to help them. But we don't know what it is they need or how to help them. It's easier to ignore them, to pretend they don't exist for a while. Best keep them at a distance.

Some beg from others. They gain such skills at begging--they may call it by some other word--that we wonder why they don't apply the same devotion and effort at learning skills that will better benefit them so they can be more self sufficient. They won't learn. They admire their own skills at begging.

Some believe they are totally alone, with no one to help them. They move through the water by paddling with their hands while leaving the oars within reach sitting unused. They can't see what is obvious to us. We don't point this out to them because they are likely stupid and we don't want to seem socially intolerant. One must be correct, mustn't one?

Many will wonder what the purpose is of the voyage. "Why are we even doing this. All we ever see is the same old water." When told by the old ones that they once left solid land to make this voyage, they will be suspicious. When told the purpose is to learn something that will help them once they reach the new land, they will be suspicious. All they can remember seeing is water.

Maybe water is all there is. Maybe there was no land we once left and there will be no land to establish a new life after we reach a new shore. Maybe it's just water, water, water. What can you do with water? Better get as much as we can from others to make this endless voyage bearable.

Some will believe there never was land. Some that there never again will be land ahead. Some will say that land is a myth, that the only true way to define anything is according to the conditions of the present. If they can't see it, feel it, touch, smell or hear it today, it doesn't exist.

They will say that having faith that something existed in the past and will exist again in the future is self delusion. They ignore the argument that water must be supported by land underneath it, instead claiming that only what they can sense and "prove" today actually counts, actually matters.

Here's the Catch-22 of this story. Now that you are on the voyage, you must stay on it. Sorry, I kind of forgot to mention that earlier, before we launched.

Oh, and I have to leave you here because I promised to join with others away from here. I hope you don't mind. You will have to figure out the rest of the voyage for yourself.

You can do it. Think it through. Remember the kind of future you want so that you don't get stuck dwelling on the endless water around you. The better you plan the rest of your voyage, the likelier it is that you will reach the destination you hope for.

It's a voyage. Voyages end eventually. That's how they work. What may differ is the destination you reach. There are many to choose from.

But plan where you want to get eventually. If you don't, you may spend eternity paddling around in this same old water.

Good luck! See you around.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for people who want to know how to make their lives and their communities better. It all begins with teaching children what they need to know, when they need to know it.
Learn more at

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How Public Schools Fail Us Tragically

How Public Schools Fail Us Tragically

"The social, emotional and spiritual are part of a child's connection with the world."
- Mary Paradis, director of development at the Vancouver Waldorf School

Why doesn't every child deserve the kind of education kids get at some private schools? The schools I refer to--Waldorf and Montessori are among them--teach the whole child, not just curriculum dictated facts and skills.

Children develop along four main streams: intellectual, physical, emotional and social. Mainline school systems address the intellectual and physical needs of their children, but curriculum seldom leaves time or room for social or emotional/psychological development. At that, intellectual development follows strict guides and physical development varies hugely from school to school and among various districts.

What would those strict guides be that schools follow? Education systems, in general, are designed to produce future employees who can do the jobs that big employers such as industries need to be done. And they produce consumers who will buy, use, throw away, then buy more of the products those industries manufacture.

Schools produce employees and consumers. The evidence is so glaring that those who argue against the claim have difficulty finding evidence of support. In fact, those who argue that schools are not designed to produce employees and consumers of the future delude themselves and try to persuade others so they don't feel so alone. If you doubt, just look at what topics fill school curricula and the young adults the schools produce.

Ironically, many of the leaders of the industries that employ public school system graduates themselves attended private schools. Is this true irony? In fact, no. Private schools, in general, prepare children to be leaders in their communities, not followers as public school systems do.

Providing "the right thing at the right time" in a child's learning development is the key to teaching to the whole child, according to Ryan Lindsay, president of The Waldorf Association of Ontario. Public schools, on the other hand, provide indoctrination of facts and skills in the employee-consumer model at the time most child have the ability to manage them. Those who are not ready fail--emotionally, if not by repeating school years--drop out when they reach the minimum age, often believing that they are too dumb for school. They try to work for large companies so they can depend on a steady income.

"We make sure we focus on teaching children how to think and not what to think," according to Lindsay. "We like to think we are laying the foundation in a more thorough way so that when children get to a certain age the approach aids their intellectual development."

Casting aside the lack of expertise you may feel regarding the topic of education as a whole, if you attended a public school do Mr. Lindsay's statements ring a bell about how you were taught? From what you know of adults today, do they know how to think, not just what to think when they make purchases?

We must keep in mind that private schools have the same number of teaching hours in their days as public schools. They don't have eight-day school weeks. Private school students are in class roughly the same number of hours as public school students the same age. Sometimes less if they have special assignments that take them outside the classroom.

What's the difference?

Some may claim that public schools have many more problem children to deal with than private schools. From my personal experience as an educator, I can see that argument having some merit. I also know that classes I taught in public schools had far fewer "problem children" than many of the other classes in the same schools.

In my teaching years in public schools, it was the teacher in my classes who kept getting into trouble, not the students. In my case I kept wanting to deliver to my kids what they needed and wanted and were desperate to take in and develop, not just what was on the curriculum. I believe my mission was to grow whole people, not just adults who were ready to be employees and consumers. I did. Administration often objected.

In general, classes with "problem children" do little to address their emotional and social needs. Consequently their problems tend to be emotional or social in nature--bullying, depression, fighting, shyness and so on. Where children have intellectual development problems--slow learners--very often the slowness of intellectual development relates back to emotional or social problems of the past.

And often to emotional or social problems of the present. How efficiently can we expect a child to learn if he or she has problems with a drunk or abusive parent at home, with a classmate or neighbourhood child who bullies them to and from school or on the bus, with a parent who does not provide a home atmosphere that supports what is taught at school, or even with the results of a recently broken close friendship?

For a child, emotional and social problems always take precedence over intellectual challenges in school. Always. It's how we are built. Emotional and social problems are related to our individual ability--our basic instinct--to survive. For our ancient prehistoric ancestors, intellectual development and learning took place when survival and personal safety and comfort were not at stake.

Most private schools address the social and emotional needs of their students. "I could never say enough good things about the value of community in a school," says Karen Murton, principal of Branksome Hall, a private school for girls in Toronto.

If a child can't get enough help with social or emotional development at home and his school doesn't have the time or the authority in its curriculum to address these needs, where does he get it, where does he turn to fill in the blanks he knows inherently he must fill? Television. Movies. Video games. Rumours picked up in casual conversations with peers. "Information" gleaned from overheard adult conversations behind closed doors and at parties.

Please consider that list carefully. Your child, or at least many of the children in your community, derive most of the emotional and social development information they receive from these same sources. Are they the sources you want young people to take as models? Think about their content.

Public schools could provide factual input, but most don't. They have the same amount of time with their students as private schools, but public schools spend their non-curriculum time dealing with created problems rather than teaching what the kids need to know to prevent them from happening.

One kind of school deals with kids who may already be broken. Another teaches what kids need to avoid breaking.

As astonishing as it may sound, addressing the emotional and social needs of children would not be a costly change for public schools. Most teachers already know this stuff and just need some direction, guidance and the authority to teach it.

If private schools can grow men and women who can lead major industries, professions and governments, public schools should easily be able to grow men and women who can think for themselves, who are more than mere automaton employees and consumers who work and buy as they are told.

If you believe what you have just read, then your family, your community, your world needs you to speak up about it. Only by speaking up will you find how many others think like you so that we can all work together to make life better for the future.

If we don't talk about this, we leave industries to manipulate their way into the lives of every student of every public school.

That's simply not acceptable.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents, teachers and other interested people who want to know what children need to learn and when, not just what industries want them to be taught and how.
Learn more at

Monday, September 14, 2009

Interesting Stuff About Movies

Interesting Stuff About Movies

No, despite what many believe, Thomas Edison did not invent the movie projector. He "bought" invention rights.

The first celluloid roll film came into being at the hand of Episcopalian minister Hannibal Goodwin, of Newark, New Jersey, USA. His great idea didn't go far because he couldn't figure out what to do with it.

Edison's company developed the first movie camera, the Kinetograph, which had the ability to make use of Goodwin's invention, in 1891. But the company and Edison himself still could not project images from the film so that a mass audience could see them. They tried to invent a machine to play back what had been recorded on film, but had no success.

Being the enterprising fellow he was, Edison bought the manufacturing rights to a machine called the Vitascope. An interesting clause to the deal gave Edison the right to claim that he had invented it. By the way, Edison didn't invent the light bulb either, he just took someone else's invention and developed a commercially viable bulb.

The Vitascope and its successors found a ready market at fairs and certain commercial establishments where customers lined up to pay to peer into a visor device where they could see the first early movies, still without sound. To make what customers saw more attractive, the movies often included what were known at the time as "cooch" dancers, creating what thereafter was known as a "peep show," as peeping Toms watched scantily clad women strut their stuff.

Another film loop (the projectors didn't need a projectionist--the films were short, from 30 seconds to three minutes) showed the reenactment of the execution by decapitation of Mary Queen of Scots, arguably the first horror film.

Peep shows on the Kinetoscopes in movie parlours ended in 1908 after complaints in New York City about indecency. Having developed a taste for seeing women without their bustles and long dresses, the Peeping Toms moved elsewhere, thus providing another example where politically correct advocates caused laws to pass which resulted in development of an industry of Blue Movies. We know them today as porn movies.

Sound came along later with a film short showing two men dancing as creator William Kennedy Laurie Dickson played a violin. Dickson synchronized the sound with the film, arguably creating the first sound movie. The first widely recognized "talkie" came three decades later with a full length feature, The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson in a 1925 Broadway musical released on film in 1927. George Jessel had signed to play the role until he learned he would have to sing on film. The "talkies" ended Jessel's film career the way it ended other silent movie careers of such greats as Rudolf Valentino.

Sound movies required so many different sounds not required in live theatre that new techniques had to be devised to have some sounds simulate other sounds. Radio, the most popular entertainment of the day, benefited from sound effects as well for their dramas. Need the sound of crunchy snow? A boot pushed into ice layered with corn starch did the trick. Flapping leather gloves provided the sound of birds in flight.

Sound effects people had no end of tricks for creating the illusions they needed. A horror movie needing a human head being squished had the sound man squashing the frozen head of lettuce behind the scenes. Sometimes a sound effect worked simply because it went with the visual presentation and viewers believed what they wanted to believe. How many coconuts died in the cause of making the sound of galloping horses in cowboy films?

Some sounds need the real thing as no substitutes work. People talking in crowds, for example. "Walla" is the term for crowd murmur. A few people standing well back from a microphone, each saying "walla, walla, walla," sounds like a crowd. So does repetition of "rhubarb." However, this is not as simple as it sounds. People must say their own "walla, walla, walla" at a different rate than everyone else or it turns into a chant. People naturally synchronize their voices with those of others, given the chance, resulting in a choir-like chant of "walla, walla, walla."

Of course black and white film came first, with the much more expensive colour film only becoming popular when movie budgets became much larger. One early attempt at colour simulation, Kinemacolor, had a black and white movie played through rotating green and red filters. As artificial as it sounds, remember that people's brains will fill in the blanks or correct what they believe are errors in their own visual clues coming from their eyes.

Film creators have become masters of illusion. In The Ten Commandments, for example, movie makers filmed water pouring into a huge tank, then reversed the film to give the effect of the waters of the Red Sea parting for Moses. With digital effects, more illusion than ever is possible.

In The American President, for example, the scene with the Michael Douglas character entering the House of Representatives to deliver the State of the Union address showed the president shaking hands with members of Congress. The scene was shot with extras in place, clapping with the arrival of their leader, then the faces of the extras were replaced digitally with the faces of real congressmen. Crowd scenes and battle scenes can be shot with a handful of real people.

Some things about modern movies can be a tad too real. When the movie Earthquake, with bone-rattling Sensurround, premiered the seats shook so much that one patron cracked a rib.
Shaking may not be the worst thing in a movie theatre. Pick yourself up a large popcorn with butter and you could pack in 1,600 calories in a single serving. Diet cola with its heavy dose of aspartame (its long term effects on disease risk and possible genetic impact are under study) may not be the best choice of beverage.

Action films often depend on fire scenes (cars loaded with gasoline exploded, buildings bombed) for effect. For stunt actors, fire protection can be a chilly job. They coat their skin first with a fire retardant gel--a chilling experience in itself--then add layers of Nomex underwear saturated with the same gel. The top layer consists of flammable rubber cement (they have to appear to burn, remember).

Fire scenes are usually shot in as few takes as possible. The risk of getting singed by flames all over their bodies aside, inhaling rubber cement fumes ranks right up there with the most unhealthy parts of their job.

Funny things happen in making movies. At least they're funny after the problems are solved. In Jaws, for example, the mechanical shark did its own share of acting up. At one point its hydraulics had rusted so badly from the salt water that director Stephen Spielberg had to adapt quickly or waste a fortune on lost time. He chose to shoot the remaining shark scenes from the shark's point of view.

Four enterprising young Canadians aspiring to be film moguls had great ideas for the IMAX concept, but insufficient cash. After inviting Japanese investors to a meeting in their "offices," they quickly rented office space, furnished it in classy style with rented stuff, then entertained as if they had everything they needed. it worked. The Japanese wanted in. Fuji Bank bankrolled the whole venture.

Then the boys had to put their ideas to the test. They created a system with film ten times the size of 35 mm celluloid and camera(s) and projectors to boot, enough to fill a screen six stories high. With a screen that curves around the sides slightly, IMAX movie goers quite rightly have the feeling of being "in the movie."

The IMAX projector weighs as much as a male hippo, costs about $5 million. It's bulb is so bright that if pointed toward the sky it could be seen by astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station.

Speaking of the ISS, what sorts of movies do they have for the viewing pleasure of the space dwellers and their $10 million a shot civilian visitors? As you might expect, Apollo 13 and Armageddon are available. Around the World in 80 Days as well.

And So I Married an Axe Murderer too. Do we really want to know who chose that one?

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 kids need to learn and when, not just what ivory tower curriculum writers think teachers should teach.
Learn more at

[Primary source: Discover, June 2009]

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Living Beyond Your Life Today

Living Beyond Your Life Today
It's the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance.It's the dream afraid of waking that never takes the chance.It's the one who won't be taken who cannot seem to giveand the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live.
- Lyrics in The Rose, Bette Midler artist, Amanda McBroom composer

As often as my heart has been touched by Bette Midler's singing of The Rose, and today when I heard composer and American chanteuse Amanda McBroom sing it, I have thought that I must write something about fear dominating people's lives. But I didn't write. I was afraid that what I wrote would not be as perfect as the song. Note the irony.

Realization of my own fear and how it has affected my reluctance to write about fear became my motivation to write this.

Fear is much more than an emotion, more than an enhancement of the instinctive caution native to each of us. Fear instructs our lives. It dominates the lives of many of us. It shapes us as individuals, as communities and as nations.

Along with everyone else I have watched business and investment leaders charged, convicted and imprisoned for lying out of fear. True, they embezzled millions of dollars from shareholders and investors. But why? They were afraid to tell the truth, that they had failed. They delayed admitting their failure by lying, which ultimately resulted in their incarceration.

Along with everyone else I watched the American public being hoodwinked by their president so he could finish what his father failed to do, and line the pockets of his benefactors with gold in the process, by taking his country into a second (simultaneous) war, this one in Iraq. The USA will be lucky to avoid the fate of its former rival, the former USSR, that went bankrupt and dissolved into chaos in the 1990s. Why would Americans allow themselves to be lied to, to go into an unwarranted and extraordinarily costly war? They had been taught to be afraid that a dictator who could barely hold onto power in his own country had international connections that would wreak havoc on US soil.

Americans believed they should be afraid, though they had no evidence other than the lies of their president. Fear is on the curriculum in every US school, those it is given various other names.

Having moved to the Miramichi area of New Brunswick, Canada, in 2008, I saw how apparently comfortable my new neighbours were toward the possibilities of losing their jobs and having to start over. In my native Toronto, some people would commit suicide or turn to addictive behaviour--at the least start toking marijuana--at the prospect of losing their job. Not because they knew they couldn't start over but because of the fear of public recognition of their job loss as a personal failure. Miramichiers expect to lose their jobs at some points in their lives and they accept no stigma about it--and offer none against others--whereas people of Ontario fear the public disgrace.

The fear of losing their reputations as well as their jobs causes many people greater fear than the prospect of finding another job. That fear affects their lives, how they conduct themselves every day of their lives. Collectively, the fear of many people impacts whole communities and countries.

People become afraid to speak to each other on elevators or when passing on the street, likely because they fear ending up on the front pages of newspapers as victims of murder, mugging or rape. They fear letting their children out of their sight because they might be charged with neglect, that fear resulting in children who never grow out of their dependence on mommy or a mommy figure in adulthood.

In every case, fear is unwarranted. In every case, fear is taught by those who have something to gain and learned by those who will provide that gain. Fear is a way for a few to control the behaviour and lives of many others. How many Germans in the 1930s and 1940s followed Hitler, becoming murderers and traitors in the process, because they were afraid of Hitler's power? How many wars have been fought--virtually every war has some association with religion--because the people of one side were made to fear people of the other?

The cosmetics--and to a large extent the pharmaceutical--industry exists solely because of the fear they have created in people, in individuals, that they are not perfect. The OTC (over the counter) supplement industry is booming because people fear becoming ill and disabled as they get older. Some will overdose and harm themselves in the process of trying to protect themselves.

Returning to Amanda McBroom's lyrics, "it's the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance." How many people fail to find love in their lives, or mess it up if they do, because they fear a relationship breaking up? Media reports of marital breakup rates are ceaseless, while education systems never address the problem that people don't know how to have successful relationships. People who avoid falling in love because they fear breaking up miss an important point about life. Falling in love and breaking up is part of how a person becomes complete, how a person learns to do it better next time. Taking chances is instinctive, while avoiding them is done out of fear of failure. It's fear that's not natural.

"It's the one who won't be taken who cannot seem to give." By not trusting others out of fear that they will fail us or steal from us we become closed up emotionally. We become the kind of people that others don't want to trust. People don't want to trust others who don't trust. Trusting another person with our emotions may be risky, but not trusting anyone with our emotions but ourselves generates much greater risk of poor mental, emotional and even physical health (suppression of the immune system).

"The soul afraid of dying...never learns to live." The person who fears death becomes afraid of life. Everyone accepts that death is part of life: birth, death and taxes (thanks to G.B. Shaw). However, many fear death because they have no idea what to expect afterwards. They have rejected the obviously fictitious guesses of traditional religions about the hereafter, but have nothing to replace them with.

If you plan to go on a hike into a wilderness area or national park where you haven't been before, you go prepared. You take a compass or GPS, some form of shelter, you scout topographic and place maps, you take more food and water than you expect to use. You know where you are going, even though you haven't been there before. Then why not do that with the afterlife: prepare.

Are you afraid of dying and as a consequence you don't know how to live? Living well is your whole purpose for being here. If you are afraid of dying, you become selfish, as all fearful people become. They think of themselves because they tend to fear what others may introduce into their lives. That's the complete opposite of what living is about.

Every animal and plant we know has the instinct for survival. We humans have it too. But if we depend on our survival instinct to give us direction for our lives, we live a life no different from that of any other animal or plant. Certainly no greater. And we can expect what happens on our death to be similar to what we expect happens to grass and oak trees, gerbils and frogs when they die.

If you want to live, you must not fear death. Death is simply the end of one phase of your existence before you move on. Prepare yourself for your death by living your life to help others. That is the only way you can be different from any other animal or plant. Only people help their own kind, more than simply to avoid starvation.

You have nothing to fear about death unless you allow yourself to be deceived by those who just don't "get it." People who believe that only what may be detected and manoeuvred by the senses really exists have put themselves into a box at which they are the centre. They may lead peaceful and self-fulfilling lives, but they do little to help others because they can't see outside their box. They are, in effect, intelligent ants with only two legs.

Nothing in nature suggests that life ends with death. In nature, every atom that ever existed still exists today, unless it has been transformed into energy, which is simply another state of existence. Conservation of Energy and Matter is the rule of nature. Why should it not be the rule for life as well.

However, you must live your life outside the box. You must be more than other animals and plants or you can expect only to be reformulated as one of them at death. You must create a persona for yourself that is distinctive from that of any other person, while seeking to work with others for the greater benefit of our kind. Nature conserves what exists, so create yourself into something worth saving on the death of your cellular body.

You should not expect your aches and pains and earthly troubles to pass with you into a future life. Why would you want them? Yet how you deal with them while you are here will determine what kind of persona you create for yourself.

Don't be afraid. Every other animal and plant on earth is guarded about its safety, about its existence in the future. They expect the end of their lives to be the ends of who or what they are.
You don't have to be afraid. Fear requires too much selfishness, too much energy and too much life-time.

Live your life as if you want to continue with the next phase of your existence after you die and you will have created something worth conserving after you die. According to everything we know about nature and the "real world" we know now, what you create will continue after your body quits.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to teach their children how to live life without fear, but with powerful and effective guidance about how they should live their lives.
Learn more at