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Atma’s LA Voting Guide – 2012

A virtue driven analysis of election day options

What goes into choosing sides? To begin with it is important to acknowledge the need for opposing views. Debate and discourse on matters of societal importance are important. Deliberation provides the opportunity to strengthen good ideas and exposes weakness and flaws in the logic of bad ones. A robust exchange between philosophies that are left, right, and center is also a prophylactic to fascism and totalitarianism.

With that in mind how might one go about deciding what side they are on?

  • Should we side with those who have the most passion? Perhaps not since passion could be attributed to good acting and not necessarily wise counsel.
  • Should we go with what feels right? This is probably a bad idea since it assumes that our cultural conditioning, and the state of our nervous system (source of emotions) are the best arbitrators of political science. They are not and history has proven this (think National Socialist Workers Party, or Cultural Revolution).
  • Should we rely, as the cliché states, on the courage of our conviction? The problem with that is life is so complex and changes so quickly. This fast pace of changing life usually out paces the rate at which personal convictions can change.When we fall behind intellectually we are left with the irrational ideology of ‘believing in what I believe’; a very poor substitute for clear thinking.

In order to rise above all this we must in the words of William James, be dedicated to the obstinate pursuit of clear thinking. This is a multifaceted practice. It requires courage (which involves being comfortable with the discomfort of not knowing). Courage or fearlessness will allow you to question your assumptions. Assumption questioning is the super-human feat that breaks down barriers, spurs innovation, expands consciousness and empowers both the individual and the collective to succeed.

In evaluating the politicians and propositions I will combine face reading, game theory, and historical antecedents. Face reading is a means of arriving at a psychological diagnosis based on the way a subject has reacted and interacted emotionally with his or her environment.  Game theory is a method of studying strategic decision-making. Historical antecedents are a review of what has happened before in similar situations or with similar people. In this way I hope to build on psychological, logical and philosophical evidence.This is how I have attempted to evaluate the options facing my fellow Los Angelenos.

In addition to this I have used virtue as a standard for valuing the merit of an idea. This is not a black and white process. It is more like a hierarchy of ideas. Some ideas are better than others. So if you agree that compassion is a better idea than selfishness, honesty is a better idea than deception, and courage is a better idea than anxiety, you will most likely appreciate my suggestions. To put it another way, “It is the thinking person’s job to be on the side of the exploited.”

Atma’s Voting Guide –

United States President – ?!
In this case I cannot offer a suggestion between Barack and Romney. After evaluating them both against all standards of virtue they both fall way short of being likely to bring this country to its full potential and secure the rights  of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all Americans.  Although between the two Mr. Romney scored lower on most aspects of virtue (particularly in sincerity and compassion). Obama also failed on a number of points (he shouldn’t have killed innocent kids or diminished the rights of US citizens). Although he is the lesser of two evils, I cannot vote for him in good conscience.  Because I reside in California I can have the luxury of a protest vote (most likely will go to the Green or Peace and Freedom). For people living in swing states I understand they may not feel comfortable with that option. But California will certainly go blue.

U.S Senate – DIANNE FEINSTEIN
I’m not a huge fan, but her opponent is a flawed, inexperienced candidate with a very muddled thinking process.

Proposition 30 (taxes for education)  – YES
Whether this one passes or 38 passes the majority wins – it means more money for education

Proposition 31 (more power for bureaucrats) – NO
This one is a poor idea to increase government authority without insuring the best interests of all.

Proposition 32 (curbs political spending) – NO
This is too little-too late in the fight over business spending on politics. First we must undo the effect of the Supreme Court’s ‘Citizens United’ disaster and then work our way down. This is simply an anti-union effort.

Proposition 33 C(car insurance discount) – NO
The car insurance industry scam. This is a most disingenuous plan to reform car insurance. It could also add a financial burden to young drivers, poor drivers, and new drivers.

Proposition 34 (death penalty) – YES
In a utopian society the death penalty could be a karmically justified. In these United States it is an instrument of injustice aimed at the poor, and the dark-skinned. California should drop it.

Proposition 35 (anti-human trafficking) – YES
Kind of hard to say no to this. I did take a look at the proposition and it is very poorly written and worded. Laws like this can become a slippery soap. But still… hard to say no.

Proposition 36 (fix the 3 strikes law) – YES
This was long over due. We do not want to live in a state where a person could be sentenced to life in prison for stealing a piece of pizza (it happened).

Proposition 37 – YES
My friends would all be upset if I said no to this. But I read the proposition and it is very poorly written, and will not fully accomplish what everyone promoting it is hoping for. Still, who wants to be on the same side as Monsanto.

Proposition 38 (higher taxes) – YES
Similar to prop 30, the money goes to schools, while this will not solve our educational and economic problems in California, it won’t make them worse. (If both props pass the one with the most votes goes forward, not both of them.)

Proposition 39  (the Amazon tax) – YES
This makes national companies that do business in CA pay up for the right. We deserve the money and it may help the local economy.

Proposition 40 (redistricting)  – YES
The issue was settled by the state supreme court, but you can still vote yes and send the message that a voter-approved citizens commission was a good idea.

US House District 33 – HENRY WAXMAN

Los Angeles County District Attorney – JACKIE LACEY
She is so much better a person than Alan Jackson.

LA County Measure A (county assessor) – NO
Let’s keep it democratic.

LA County Measure B (condoms for porn stars) – YES
If nothing else just to mess with an industry that degrades women and nurtures pedophillia

LA County Measure J (better metro/subways) – YES
The caveat here is that we also need a bill to ensure that bus riders would not be negatively affected by this bill

So there you have it. I am not doing this because you are not smart enough to figure it out for yourself. I am doing it because I thought you might like the benefit of my 25 years of analyzing politics, media, and policy making.(And maybe you were too lazy to do all the research 😉  next year start out earlier O,o)

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On Raising Kids – an east-west view

A Perspective On Child Care Blending Eastern Philosophy and Western Science

Emotions make the environment 

I’d like to share with you what yoga psychology has to say about child rearing. It turns out that it is aligned with much of what western psychology has to say on the subject.  The foundational idea is that the early years (0-4) are like a continued gestation period with a brain that is only ¼ developed at birth but will triple in mass by age 4. Consequently, the environment must provide the necessary emotional support to allow the child’s nervous system to develop. Everything in the environment has the potential to imprint on the child. Whatever fears, anxieties and frustrations are present in you or other members of the child’s environmental community will become part of the child’s emotional experience.

Therefore, it is not enough to just feel and display love and support to the child, you have to manage the entire emotional ecology surrounding your child.That is a very tall order and requires planning and practice. What follows is a list of issues to consider in this process.

In Utero

According to the Vedic Model the time in utero is primarily stressful. The quarters are cramped and even frightening. Increasingly Western science is proving that the experience in utero can have a lasting impact on the baby. The first order of importance is the mother’s emotions.

The more balanced her nervous system the better. Getting stuck in either a stimulated state (angry, frustrated, nervous, anxious, fearful, keyed up…) or a depressed (parasympathetic) state (sad, lonely, depressed, fatigued…) can create an in utero environment that inhibits healthy development of the foetus. The more time the mother spends in a stable, content mood the better.

Learning to manage emotions is key to this process. It is important that emotional management be honest and not based on any type of repression as that will result in a disruptive influence on the child. Repressed emotions leak or spill out in an unhealthy manner and the baby feels what the mother feels, whether she is willing acknowledge it or not. You can’t lie to an embryo.

The next most important factor is diet. The goal is to share a diet in the mode of goodness (Sanskrit – sattvic). A sattvic diet is plant-based with limited amounts of refined simple carbs (white flour, white rice, white sugar.)  The ideal is to consume whole foods, complex carbs (whole grains, legumes, vegetables certain fruits), health fats (avocado, nuts, flax..). This type of balance of complex carbs and fats will provide sufficient protein.  Eating regularly (smaller amounts more often is better as it prevents hunger or over eating related mood swings.) Additionally, it is important to pay attention to the emotional state in which food is prepared and ingested. Be sure to check with a holistic-prenatal nutritionist for additional advice specific to your needs.

The next element to control for is the mother’s voice. Reading out loud or speaking out loud to the gestating baby is very valuable. While the sounds the mother hears are important to the extent that they influence the mother’s mood they do not directly impact the baby. What the mother speaks (or sings) on the other hand is the most perceptible sound the embryo will experience. So skip the headphones attached to the belly and instead pick a book and read out loud. As for choosing Dr. Seuss versus Shakespeare or Rumi, it is not going to matter to the baby as much as the mood it puts the mother in. So choose subject matter (or songs) that provides a positive effect on your mood. (Mantra chanting is an excellent pastime for mother and womb inhabitant),

0-2 years

Attunement is the emotional dance of reciprocation. This is all about being emotionally available without bringing your own needs or expectations to the process. Your child must feel that you are always emotionally present on their terms. If they are happy, then you are present with matching joy. If they are aloof or distracted you are patient. If they are grumpy or colicky you are present without demands or frustration, simply demonstrating support. This is very challenging, as it requires you to be emotionally engaged without being drawn into the child’s moods.

1 -3 years

In the early years, it is important to not admonish them with anger. Nonetheless, correction is crucial because it is for their benefit. Consequently, it should be done with emotions ranging from aloof-detachment to loving-engagement, but not with anger, fear or frustration. This is another reason emotional management is such an important skill for parents. The trick is to understand that emotions are both spontaneous and mechanical. In other words, if the anger and frustration you feel is spontaneous you can’t always stop it before it erupts. You can, however, choose to experience the frustration internally and display a different more constructive emotion externally.

This is a little like rubbing your belly and patting your head. It is hard at first but with practice you can learn to take responsibility for your frustration and anger by feeling it and acknowledging its presence in your body and then choosing to smile inwardly into the challenge. Then you can decide to experience and express a more productive emotion for the benefit of the child. I repeat my warning from earlier, this must not be just an act of repression. You must be honest with yourself about the frustration you feel, and that is not easy. It is a practice that requires courage. But in practicing the courage needed to feel difficult emotions on the inside, you model an important virtue for your child.

1-18 years

Do not feed them dead animals. Science is clear humans do not require meat to flourish. Omnivores are not carnivores. We can eat meat if we have to but we are not meant to. Children who are never given meat will not develop physiological dependencies on it. One of the great gifts of modern culture is that we don’t need to eat meat any more. It is a healthier, environmentally sound, humane choice.  Additionally, it instills a greater degree of empathy and virtue in those who do not choose to participate in snuffing out a life for their own sense gratification. The path to finding  deep happiness is difficult when we are bringing unhappiness to other sentient beings.

2-5 years

Don’t reward them emotionally for what they produce; reward them for simply being. Let them feel important because they exist, not because they must do something to earn your love.

5-10 years

After the age of five they should learn self-discipline and pranayama. Self discipline is based on learning to do what the body and mind do not want to do. This is a great art to teach. It cannot proceed too slowly as the principle will not be learned, or too fast as the child might be harmed. Rewards have to be used lightly because the real benefit of self-discipline is in having it for its own sake rather than as a result of external rewards and outcomes. This helps teach the important principle of being focused on their actions rather than their outcomes.

Pranayama provides the ability to manage their emotional experience of life. They must learn and become experienced at controlling their own nervous system. This technique alone will improve the quality of their lives. In order to teach them pranayama you must first be experienced and proficient at it. This is not difficult but it does require practice. Your personal practice can be a simple as controlled counted breath.

Allow them to make mistakes in an environment you manage. Create opportunities for them to create and fail. Learn to apply the principle of controlled chaos in allowing them to learn the decision making process. You do this by giving them chances to make choices and allowing them to experience the consequences.

Teaching kids to be simultaneously present and detached

They are not the roles that culture and society impose upon them. The question and the goal is how do you get them from identifying too deeply with these roles? How do you teach them that all the world is a stage and we are just players? And, how do you teach this without risking that they become sociopaths? One clue is that the difference between the sociopath and the enlightened being is intention. This brings the focus to the development of character and virtuous intentions. The additional challenge here is how to develop real character without simply superimposing a superficial notion upon those kids smart enough to simply mimic it for the sake of getting rewarded?

For them to be secure in who they are they have to be ok with the insecurity of not knowing who they are because that is the human condition. Anything else is just reinforcement of the ego, which is the source of prolonged suffering. So focus on the development of virtue and character.

Father’s role

The father’s role should not be overlooked in all this. If the mother provides more nurturing and support than the father, their identity and gender awareness may be impaired. It is just as important that the father practice attunement, emotional management, and the ability to be lovingly present without expectations.

Catch-22

So here’s the catch – if you consider the full range of your responsibilities and the magnitude of what can go wrong in the raising of your kid you can reasonably expect to be overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. At the very least the weight of your responsibility will be stressful. Persistent parental stress has been shown to be a predictor of developmental disruption for children. So the more you worry about raising your child the more you put her or him at risk. What to do?

Embrace the impossibility of life…life is not a game you win; it is an event you experience, either positively or negatively.  Life becomes more positive when you emphasize experiencing life over understanding life and self-forgetting over self-love. The key to being an experiencer of life and an in the moment self-forgetter is in your willingness to embrace and appreciate the mystery, the paradox, and the impossibility of life.

Consider the paradox that children represent: for all the joy and hope associated with the birth of your child you have simultaneously condemned a human being to pain, disease, and a non-commutable death sentence. These are the inevitable realities of human life. Do you reflect on these facts? Have you enshrined these truths along with the dreams and well wishes you have for your child? Can you allow the good will you have for your child to coexist with the reality that despite your best efforts you cannot control the way your child will turn out?

You might choose to ignore the negative side of raising a child but that would be unwise. Resisting or ignoring the darker aspects requires a type of emotional repression. You would have to be unwilling to be present and to experience reality. This impoverishes you as a human and leads to unconscious stress; a stress that will impact your child’s development.  The challenging and all-important solution is to choose to live in the impossible paradoxes created by life. You can if you wish choose to feel everything. This gives you tolerance and resilience. This gives you the ability to be present. This allows life to flow around you in all its mystery and variance. It doesn’t make the unpleasant or difficult moments of life disappear but it makes you a stronger more balanced person and you will be modeling this to your child.

So you must live with the catch-22; raising a child is stressful and stress must be minimized when raising a child. The more you learn to enjoy and have a positive emotional experience of the challenges of raising a kid the better the environment you will create for them.

Have fun loving 🙂

Obama does Osama

This is why I didn’t vote for Obama and why Hollywood scripts should not guide foreign policy

First two personal assertions:

1)      Barack Obama is not the pathetic and intellectually incurious enabler of criminal doctrine that his predecessor G.W. Bush was. And he is certainly not the dark and Machiavellian spook that Bush senior was.  Cleary Obama is more affable and intellectually competent than GW.

Consequently, I prefer him over Bush the way I prefer a cautious panther to a rabid hyena. In other words, I find Obama potentially dangerous, albeit more reserved. After all in voting record and substantive policy practices Obama is not widely different from his predecessors. And he is arguably not bucking the status quo and putting us on a more humane and compassionate path.

2)      Neither this article nor any of my convictions have a disparaging attitude against soldiers who risk their lives to protect the lives of the innocent. It has always been my hope to use my research and work in industrial psychology and stress management to support and improve the way in which the warrior class is trained up. A class I believe will always be needed even in the best of times. But there are rules to war  and the way we abide by them defines us as people.

That said I can make the unpopular suggestion that the raid against Osama Bin Laden is nothing to cheer about. Yes, he was a bad man. Yes he deserved to be punished for exploiting religion to justify violence and murder. But there is a reason why we don’t approve of other governments illegally assassinating unpopular personalities. It is because contrary to the hormonally stimulating depictions in many Hollywood films, we as Americans (at least an overwhelming majority of us) do NOT believe in the doctrine that might makes right.  We want to be the land of the free, not the home of the Stasi or the KGB.

Each time we surrender to the emotionally appealing but ethically destructive lure of the ‘might makes right’ mentality, we take a step on to a slippery slope that ends in the destruction of the humane and uplifting fabric that if not in practice at least in principle has always been our defining value as country.

The concept that might makes right is central to any totalitarian regime and anathema to the land of they who would be free. It is the foundation of all racist movements and almost always leads to oppression and then genocide.

What makes us strong and free is our ability to be just and fair by resisting the emotionally easy displays of violence as a means to solve our problems. Destroying your enemies is understandable.  Destroying your enemies without becoming them is venerable.   This is why we win when we put off revenge for justice, and overcome rage with wisdom.

Remember we were the country that put off Stalin’s show trials and Churchill’s summary executions and brought the perpetrators of the Nazi regime to stand relatively bona fide trial in the city of Nuremberg. We set an important standard in that era, we were not afraid to be better than our enemies.

When we rally around the simplistic devices of a Hollywood action film as a means for assuaging our political fears we do not become stronger, braver or freer. Instead we are diminished; reduced to cowering animals that lash out at what they fear. Courage requires compassion or else it becomes just a subterfuge for despotism. This is why assassinating Osama was wrong and capturing him would have been the far more American thing to do.

As a people we should remember that (at least) philosophically we have always championed the opposite of might makes right. We are Americans and we have a duty to be the best example of all the important virtues; courage, kindness, and wisdom.

As Abe Lincoln said, “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it”

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