Tag Archives: Skillful Living

Recycling (2nd)

Concerning Glass

In the late 1980’s, someone noted that yearly, we throw away enough glass bottles and jars to refill the original twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center every two weeks.

That’s a lot of waste.

Recycling is an obvious alternative.  But how to get started?

A checklist:

What to keep for recycling—all glass bottles and jars.

What not to keep—light bulbs, window panes, anything Pyrex.  These are made from a different process and can’t be combined with scrap bottle and jar glass.

Zero waste—All recycled bottles and jars are used to make more glass.

Less pollution—Glass decomposes slo-o-o-wly.  No joke—A discarded beer bottle could still be trashing the planet ten centuries from now.

Pollution, again— Making glass entirely from raw materials, (white sand, soda, lime), produces a certain amount of air and water pollution.  Use of recycled glass in the mix reduces this pollution by 20% and 50% respectively.

Energy—Use of recycled glass reduces energy consumption ¹ by approximately 32%.  Because we produce a lot of glass year by year, that energy savings is no small matter.

Preparation—includes setting up a convenient home routine.  A cardboard box hidden in a closet, a plastic trash can somewhere outside.  Sort bottles by color: clear, green, brown.  Remove lead collars, corks, and any metal caps that can’t be removed magnetically.  Don’t worry about paper labels. Time expenditure after set-up = 20 minutes a week.

Rinsing—Sometimes recommended, isn’t rigidly required.  Check with the recycling plant.

$$$$—Does your recycling plant pay for glass?  If so, you could maybe do a little fundraising for a favorite institution.

Go mildly political:  Support so-called “bottle bills” which require consumers to pay a deposit for glass bottles, refunded when bottles are returned.  States which already have such laws on the books report 90% compliance with accompanying 50% reduction of litter.

Become a wonk:  Glass Packaging Institute ² offers free pamphlets on glass recycling.

We ‘re interconnected with everything.  Everything we do/don’t do affects everything else.

Separation or isolation is an illusion.

Our humble choices, person by person, have large cumulative effect for better or worse.

Big problems are solved most cost effectively at the grass roots level, as each private citizen does his/her bit.

It’s similar to the ways of an army ant colony—having common purpose, army ants can consume a six-ton elephant down to the bone.


Each individual ant takes a few little bites.

¹ Using all new materials, 7600 BTUs of energy are needed to produce a single pound of  glass.

² 1801 K Street NW, Washington D.C. 20006


An Unsuspected Deadly Weapon

Mass releases of balloons are a popular way to celebrate special events.

What could possibly be “deadly” about that?

Lets talk.

In the mid 1980’s, a female sperm whale died on the New Jersey coast.  Marine scientists, examining the corpse, found a swallowed, indigestible balloon blocking its intestinal tract. Unable to digest food, the whale had starved to death.

For reasons yet unknown, schools of squid, a sperm whale’s preferred food, like to hang out around pieces of plastic.  The hungry whale swallows the balloon with the squid, thus setting the stage for another disaster.

Balloons don’t just rise and later fall locally.  They can travel great distances.

In one test, a balloon released in Ohio took just two days to reach the South Carolina coast.

Balloons falling into the ocean quickly loose color. And with ribbons, strings, or streamers attached their appearance easily fools sea turtles into thinking they’re eating jellyfish, their favorite food.

With their intestinal tracts blocked by the indigestible balloons, they, like whales, starve to death.

For most of us, fair questions are:  “Who knew?”  and  “What to do?”

First, let’s not release our balloons.  Let’s hold onto them, pop ’em and trash ’em.

Second, if our groups are planning mass balloon releases, let’s (politely) make sure  folks know about the hazards.


Ancestors (3rd)

Our Ancestors—Safe When They Walk The Streets Of Our Minds?

Most of us believe we’re much more “advanced” than our “crude” ancient ancestors.

In my opinion we’re quite unnecessarily self-congratulatory—consider this simple chart:

Ancient Classical Elements

Fire                          Air                      Water                 Earth

Modern Physics—States of Matter

Plasma                     Gas                    Liquid                  Solid

Modern Earth Science

Magnetosphere      Atmosphere      Hydrosphere      Geosphere

We’re quick to point out what we know that our ancient ancestors didn’t know.

Nevertheless, the above chart suggests that, while none of them would qualify for a job at NASA, they were far from ignorant and could be brought up to speed faster than we might think.

After they added our store of knowledge to theirs, (some of which we have lost, forgotten, disregarded, or mocked), would teaching then be strictly one-sided?

When considering the abilities and achievements of our forefathers and mothers, is it fitting to approach the subject predisposed to arrogance and smug self-assurance, or with respect and humility?


Styrofoam—A Pain In The…Environment

“No man made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.”—Edmund Burke


Its made with benzene, a known carcinogen, which is converted into styrene, which is then injected with gas to make it “foamy.”

Gases used are: CFC’s which damage Earth’s protective ozone layer, or HCFC’s,  which, although 95% less harmful, still do damage. Alternatively, pentane or butane may be used.  These are components of urban smog.

Styrofoam is completely non-biodegradable, so its possible the stuff will still be lying around in original form 1000 years from now.

Stryofoam is dangerous to marine life.  Lots of styrofoam winds up in the ocean.  Wave action breaks it into pieces that look like food. When eaten, it can clog an animal’s system.

Then it starves to death.

Paper cups, plates, egg cartons, etc. are biodegradable, and are therefore our products of choice.  Whenever possible, lets politely insist on them.

Every earth-friendly choice slows or reduces pollution.

Its a mathematical certainty.

Recycling (1st)

is what I intended to discuss, but somehow it became a written exercise in free association, chasing various rabbits round the meadow.

Why do we wait for information to be spoon-fed to us by “experts”?

Experts screw up.  They’re human—they’re no better than all us non-experts.

A case in point: IBM was once convinced that random access memory, (RAM), would always be “scarce and expensive”—limited to 64 kilobytes.  Talk about getting it wrong…

Another grim example:  The Challenger disaster.

Also, we all know the Titanic was built by expert nautical engineers in a crack shipyard, while Noah’s ark was built in the middle of nowhere by nomads who had never built so much as a rickety raft in their entire lives.

Regarding experts telling us about recycling, (recycling….finally);  What’s stopping Joe (or Josephine) average citizen from snooping in the Yellow Pages for recycling info?

Things they might want to know:  Is there a local recycling center? Is it a drop-off  site or do they collect?  If the latter, what do they collect and when?

No local site?  They could call 1-800-CALL-EDF.  Ask the Environmental Defense Fund for help finding a nearby site.

And now, returning to the rabbit chase…

Calling city hall to ask about recycling, pointedly but politely asking “why not?” in case they’ve done nothing to promote recycling can serve notice that recycling is a matter of increasing concern to local voters.

Politicians set the political agenda only in the absence of our input.

The ultimate reason government gets away with ignoring voters except at election time is because we’ve let ourselves be reduced bit by bit to apathy and conformity.

We’ve come to wait for experts to decide something, and then to tell us what is to be done, assigning us our role(s).  We’re not being compelled.  We let this happen.

Politicians use these “experts” to lend credibility to their agendas, which may not square at all with our best interests.

This is not real democracy.

We should be setting the agenda(s).

By “We” I mean real people, born of a biological process, with souls, not legally constructed “pseudo-people”, whose “birth certificates” are really corporate charters.

A related post : Politics (3rd)

Ancestors (2nd)

Ancient Technology—Useful or Useless?

To the extent that we ignore ancient technology, we rob ourselves.  Our ancestors’ motivation to avoid pain, sickness, poverty, old age, and death was at least as intense as ours.

There having been no structural change in the human brain in the last 100,000 years, its a statistical certainty that ancient human populations contained a number of outright geniuses.

Granted, their science database wasn’t as lush as that presently available to, say, a recent MIT graduate.  On the other hand they generally possessed comprehensive awareness, acute and subtle ¹, of the natural world.

Add to that creativity and desire to survive and thrive and its likely they achieved much that’s lost to us without digging, (often literally), for it.

Researching ancient ways has already revealed that our ancestors were sometimes better than us moderns at solving certain problems, performing certain tasks.  We should keep digging, and put to good use as much as possible.

¹ That we moderns have been divorced for quite a while from an “acute and subtle” awareness of the natural world is well illustrated by the following:

North American white hunters were after wolves.  They were assisted by an Eskimo tracker, who at one point casually informed the hunters that one of the wolves was rabid.

The white hunters asked how he knew this.

His answer: Rabies caused tension in the wolf’s body, which caused change in the way it placed its feet, which the tracker detected by noticing subtle differences between the rabid wolf’s paw prints and those of its healthy pack members.

Not bad for a supposedly “ignorant native.”

Ancestors (1st)

Their “Toolbox” Contains Useful Surprises

A while ago western scientists and Tibetan Buddhist monks somehow found themselves in discussion of quantum physics.

Though dealing with a considerable communications problem they got down to business.

The physicists thought they would be bringing backward monks up to speed.

They were astounded to realize the monks, who had never attended a modern university, and had no other access to training in modern math or science, nevertheless had  a grasp of quantum physics and thought it no big deal that they did.

Well, how?


The knowledge came from within—through meditation.  All faiths have a meditation tradition, but a specific religious orientation isn’t prerequisite to practice.

Our ancestors, it seems, learned much by “going inside”.  Through the centuries it has been said repeatedly that within each of us there exists a “living book of revelation”, constantly available.

All we have to do is learn to quiet the mind.  ¹

The possibilities are endless.

¹  For a simple, non-sectarian introduction to one type of meditation, check out 8 Minute Meditation,  by Victor Davich, listed on my Reading List page.


Politics (3rd)

“One of the best arguments against a democratic form of government is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” —Sir Winston Churchill 

Talk relieves our tension. We feel so much better. We’re even self-deluded into believing we’ve achieved something.

From the viewpoint of self-serving politicians, that’s just fine because we’ve done nothing to disturb their daily activities.

Have you ever heard the proverb:  “Talk is cheap.  Deeds are dear?”  Or the ancient warning of metaphysicians, to the effect that unless we put wheels under our beliefs they profit us nothing?  More recently, Thomas Carlyle said, “Conviction is worthless unless it is converted into conduct.”

Blah, blah, blah. We rant, rave, scream, and decry.

After which, what changes?


With some exceptions, we are detached from a practice of “civic virtue.”

Simply defined, civic virtue = taking a gentlemanly / gentlewomanly interest in the conduct of government officers, making sure we’re knowledgeable about their conduct, public utterances, voting history, and the like, and making sure, politely, that they know we’re knowledgeable.

Here’s a pop quiz on civic virtue:  How many of us know, (without first being pointed toward a preferred target of lobbyists, or of TV talking heads), the names of our state representatives, state senators, anything whatsoever of their voting histories, the addresses of their hometown offices, their yearly salaries, email addresses / telephone numbers of their hometown or state government offices?

More on our general competence as citizens / voters: How many voters can name six of the ten amendments composing the Bill of Rights?  While we’re at it, how many of us have read the complete text of The United States Constitution even once in our entire lives?

Is it fair to say,  (once again with some exceptions),  that we are mentally lazy couch potatoes who prefer to “veg out” before a TV or telephone screen allowing talking heads or internet scribes to stuff our minds with their preferred propaganda, in preference to doing our own homework to learn what’s really happening?

Regarding the latter, how many of us believe doing our own homework is even possible?

How many of us prefer our favorite TV programs, favorite video games, or even favorite drugs to a minimal practice of civic virtue?

Democracy won’t give us what we confidently expect to receive as sons/daughters of  “The Almighty”,  (however we understand that latter phrase).

Democracy is like farming.  Cultivate carefully or shut up about the weeds.

Said more crudely, we receive from democracy only that for which we get off our dead lead butts and work—(in the process of  which, let us remember this tidbit of wisdom from the pen of St. Thomas Aquinas:  “We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject, for both have labored in the search for truth, and both have helped us in finding it.”

“The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.”

               —Various sources, among them Andrew Jackson

“The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by an elite.”

               —Thomas Jefferson

“The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”


“Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

               —Lord Acton

“The only limit to the oppression of government is the power with which people show themselves capable of opposing it.”

               —Enrico Malatesta

“Only power can check power.”



Young people, note well…

Your relationships with your brothers and sisters are among the most durable you’ll ever have.

They will outlast your relationship with your parents.

You may never marry, or your marriage may end early by divorce, disease, or other calamity.

In old age, your relationships with siblings may be all you have left of relationships.

Therefore, don’t neglect these relationships.

Now, in the days of youth, “while life flows fresh and free”, cultivate good relationships with brothers and sisters.

Pseudo-Religion Versus Pseudo-Science

Who’s Kidding Who?

On one hand—pseudo-religion with its un-provable dogma.

On the other—pseudo-science, the idea that science is the only way to obtain valid knowledge, coupled with the claim that scientific knowledge = the whole of reality.

Religious dogma can’t be subjected to objective testing. ¹

Science can hardly comment on subjects like life’s meaning and purpose.  While we’re at it, how does science measure feelings, dreams, visions?  Assuming one could isolate a dream in a test tube, is the entire significance of a dream limited to what can be learned there?  Dreams have always had great psychological / spiritual significance.

When certain scientists get too big for their britches, they can be put in their places by requiring them to show scientific proof that science is the only way to obtain valid knowledge on all subjects. ²

There is not now, and won’t ever be, any such proof.

¹ Attempting to prove the validity of dogma with references to holy writ doesn’t constitute proof as science (or law, for that matter), understand proof.  Such “proofs”, in my view, are really exercises in faith, which has a legitimacy all its own.

² Fundamentalist Christian children and their parents…please note!

A Meditation

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”

O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom thou hast given the earth in common with us.  We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty, so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to Thee in song, has been a groan of travail.  May we realize that they live, not for us alone, but for themselves and for Thee, and that in their own way, they too love the sweetness of life.

                                                                                                  — Based on the Liturgy of Saint Basil

“Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.”

                                                                                                  — Albert Schweitzer

Skillful Living

What’s That?

At a minimum it means staying out of prison and the morgue.

But what else is involved?  Becoming rich?  Perhaps.  A British prime minister once said that while there was no shame in poverty it certainly was “damned inconvenient.”  Most of us would agree.  But some of us human beings deliberately embrace narrow economic circumstances.  These people aren’t stupid or insane.  They give practical reasons for choosing a simple or even spartan style of life.

Frequently, contentment is mentioned as a primary result of this choice.

Contentment is as good a goal as any.

If you are genuinely content, what else do you need?

Pushing The River

How Not to Live Life With Skill

Native Americans understand that attempts to force a situation to move at one’s preferred pace, or to coerce a desired result regardless of who might suffer, are naive, frequently dangerous.  They gently mock the absurdity of such behavior, calling it “pushing the river.”

Nowadays many seem to revel in deliberate disregard of this old wisdom.

W. C. Fields, a famous and frequently drunk actor, is reported to have lurched unsteadily past his rose bushes one morning, snarling at them as he passed, “GROW! DAMN YOU!”

So many of us are addicted to being in control.

We regard life as a competition for scarce material blessings, with definite winners and losers.

“The one who dies with the most toys wins!”

We fight hard to be “winners”.  “Nice guys finish last!”  OMG, we just can’t be last!

It’s not merely, “What will people think?”  The underlying terror is, “What will people, (who think like us), DO to us?”  We go so far as to think, speak and act as if the “losers” in this competition are arrogant to expect compassionate treatment.

I’m (very) loosely describing characteristics of Social Darwinism, which, carried to its logical extreme position, requires the losers to die of whatever combination of social, psychological, political, and economic abuse, plus malnutrition and disease, afflicts them, and to do so very quietly, mind you, so as not to disturb the good time the “winners” are self-righteously enjoying, (and that the winner-wannabees are striving so hard to begin enjoying).

Social Darwinism is popular with some of the fat-wallet set, who find in it a justification for their accumulation of wealth and simultaneously, for their condescending or even sneering attitude toward the “losers”.  And this despite the fact that capitalism inevitably produces a certain number of such “losers”.

Layoffs, plant closings, downsizing, hostile takeovers, out-sourcing, mismanagement resulting in bankruptcy, etc., all produce some number of “losers”, who are frequently characterized as inferior, parasitic, or morally torpid because they can’t deal effectively with such events, and need a social safety net to stave off disaster.

Little is said about the glacially selfish, and/or stupid, and/or feloniously illegal conduct of  some owners, managers, brokers, bankers or speculators who created crises for these so-called “losers” in the first place.  These people believe they have gotten away with something.

Here’s the catch:  Appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, we all have functioning consciences, preprogramed to accept cooperative, compassionate conduct and to reject exploitative conduct.

The latter produces fear, guilt, and shame, which contribute to poor health, additional psychological problems, and self-destructive behavior aimed at silencing guilty consciences.

Attempts to silence guilty consciences don’t work.  Period.  End of story.

People with clear(er) consciences are free(er) of fear, guilt, and shame.  Thus they generally live longer, have better health, and are happier more often than their fear-, guilt- and shame-laden counterparts.

Which is worth more: being at peace with what we see in our mirrors, or attempting to silence rowdy consciences by, (among other practices), claiming that the “losers” are at fault, never the “river-pushers” who created the problems in the first place?

Care to share your thoughts?

Politics (1st)

The complex problems we face won’t be solved by “bumper sticker debates”.

Likewise, we should abandon the notion that a single legislative act can permanently deal with any complex problem.

Impatient children think like that.  They want solutions now—right now!

Adults understand that a carefully planned, step-by-step approach to solving a complex problem is oftentimes the only thing that works.

“A journey of three thousand miles is begun by a single step.” — Laotzu

“Patience obtains all things.” —  Egyptian proverb


“Do what you can, with what you have, wherever you are.” — Teddy Roosevelt

Helping Mother Earth to survive the onslaught of pollution of air, soil, and water might seem to be a task beyond the might and means of the lone individual.  But by substituting ingenuity and a “can-do” attitude for feelings of helplessness, substantial results can be obtained, and its worthwhile to do so, for as we all know, Mother Earth is our only home.

Destroy her and we destroy ourselves.

So, where to begin?  Let’s start with fresh water, the primary human nutrient, increasingly in short supply as population increases.  Conserving what we have makes sense, ¹ but how can the lone individual make a difference?

Here is one simple way:  Save a one-quart plastic bottle and cap.  Remove the label.  Rinse out thoroughly.  Refill with clean sand or small stones.  Recap it.  Place it in your toilet tank in the corner farthest from the mechanism.  It will stay in place, displacing one quart of water.  In other words, each time time you or someone else in your home or business flushes the toilet you save one quart of water.

The bottle costs nothing extra.  You paid for it when you bought whatever it contained.  It uses no power.  It has no moving parts to wear out.  It doesn’t corrode.  It just sits in your toilet tank, unmoving because of the sand or pebbles with which you filled it, saving one quart of water each time the toilet is flushed.

A family of four, each flushing a toilet, say, three times per day, saves twelve quarts, or three gallons, per day.  Per year:  (3 gallons per day) x (365 days) = 1,095 gallons of water saved per year.

This is not my idea.  I first read about this and put my “toilet bottle” in place several years ago.  As you can see it was quite a while later that I realized this was a two-step process: First, install the bottle.  Second, talk it up so others can do it.  There are many cheap, simple ways to save a little water.  When you find one, don’t take as long as I did to spread the word.  Of course you don’t have to start blogging.  But somehow share the ideas.

Our ingenuity and a “can-do” attitude.

Saving water needn’t depend on the supposed superior abilities of “experts” or on some expen$ive government program.

We can do it!

This post is dedicated to the yet unborn.

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.”

—African proverb


¹ The United States uses more than 450 billion gallons of water every day.

Law and Morality

“Do you think you can separate law from morality?”

A defense lawyer was questioning me, “prospective juror no 64,” during voir dire.  That question produced bad gut feelings.

I felt that question was somehow wrong, but because I was a prospective juror in a court of law, (not of morality), I felt it was my duty to say I could.  I didn’t want to, and was relieved when I wasn’t chosen to serve.  That day, and from time to time thereafter,  I reconsidered that scene, remaining dissatisfied with my fantasy answers to the lawyer’s question.

A few years later I happily came upon the following line of reasoning:

1)  All morality can be summarized in one word—”reciprocity.”

2)  Reciprocity can be defined as, “put out what you want to take back.”

3)  Two rules derive logically from the moral principle of reciprocity.

1st rule  –  Perform all that you promise.

2nd rule – Do not encroach on other persons or their property.

4)  The above are the basic ideas underlying contract law and criminal/tort law, respectively.

5)  Therefore law derives from morality and cannot logically be separated.  Law is morality’s servant, providing application of the principle of reciprocity to specific situations.

Personal comments follow –

Laws passed in disregard of the principle of reciprocity may be called “Special Interest Laws.”

Said another way, such laws are “To-Hell-With-You-I-Want-What-I-Want-Laws.”

Each time the people permit passage of  Special Interest Laws, they get screwed.

Just now we need frameworks to help us make sense of all that’s happening in our world, and how to decide who has  better judgement, or a history of good, better, or best behavior.  Using the line of reasoning described above, it’s easy to gauge the morality of any act of a private person, of business, the government, the police, or the military.

Also, comes voting time, we’ll be less easily confused by all the slick professional psychological “manipulation of perception.”

Less comfortably for us, it enables facile evaluation of our own conduct.

What do you think?




Playing Chess With No Kings

How do we win the  “game of life”?


Is it by dying with the most toys?  If we can’t take it with us, why waste time in frantic acquisition?

Is it by serving some deity who, usually described as omnipotent, is therefore not in need of our service or anything else we might offer?  Why bother?

Is life a sort of school?  If so, why must we attend?  Who’s teaching what?  Do we “win” by graduating?  Then what?

Is the game of life unwinnable because life is no game, but merely a meaningless succession of sunrises and sunsets in which we find ourselves trapped, with no idea how we got here, how we are to use our time, or what will become of us when our days end?

Does it sometimes seem that nothing in life makes any sense, and that we’re all doing something ultimately purposeless, like playing chess with the kings removed from the board?

We all like to feel that we’re “in control” of life and that we’re “getting somewhere”, but is that ever true?

If the answer to that question is “no”, then what?  Do we relax and enjoy life, or do we freak out and redouble our efforts to assert control and to “get somewhere”?

What do you think?