Monday, August 31, 2009

Layer 186 The Inner Voice, Film Noir, Meditation, Spiritual Intelligence, a Japanese Revolution, and the Silence of the Left

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Film Noir

There was an interesting documentary on TV last week about Film Noir. Wikipedia says this:

“Film noir is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize moral ambiguity and sexual motivation.

Crime, usually murder, is an element of almost all film noirs; in addition to standard-issue greed, jealousy is frequently the criminal motivation. A crime investigation - by a private eye, a police detective (sometimes acting alone), or a concerned amateur - is the most prevalent, but far from dominant, basic plot. In other common plots the protagonists are implicated in heists or con games, or in murderous conspiracies often involving adulterous affairs. False suspicions and accusations of crime are frequent plot elements, as are betrayals and double-crosses.

Film noirs tend to revolve around heroes who are more flawed and morally questionable than the norm.

The characteristic heroes of noir are described by many critics as "alienated" . . . "filled with existential bitterness." Certain archetypal characters appear in many film noirs - hardboiled detectives, femmes fatales, corrupt policemen, jealous husbands . . .

The city is presented in noir as a "labyrinth" or "maze." Bars, lounges, nightclubs, and gambling dens are frequently the scene of action. The climaxes of a substantial number of film noirs take place in visually complex, often industrial settings, such as refineries, factories, trainyards, power plants . . .. In the popular (and, frequently enough, critical) imagination, in noir it is always night and it always rains.

Film noir is often described as essentially pessimistic. The noir stories that are regarded as most characteristic tell of people trapped in unwanted situations (which, in general, they did not cause but are responsible for exacerbating), striving against random, uncaring fate, and frequently doomed. The movies are seen as depicting a world that is inherently corrupt.

The tone of film noir is generally regarded as downbeat.  Influential critic (and filmmaker) Paul Schrader wrote in a seminal 1972 essay that "film noir is defined by tone," a tone he seems to perceive as "hopeless.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_noir



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In other words, take all that's nasty and vile in human beings and make a film about it.

Throw in plenty of sinners, predators, liars, killers, and femmes fatales that are beautiful and sexy but dangerous and interested only in material gain. Make sure that nobody laughs, nobody loves and nobody trusts. Fill it with coldness and manipulation, violence, power relationships and exploitation. Add some dashes of psychosis and plenty of psychopaths. Avoid intimacy and tenderness. Add corruption, sleaze, venality, callousness, cruelty and cynicism. Flavour it with gloom, pessimism and evil.

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At this point I'm going to avoid any temptation to make cheap jibes about South London. Or Westminster. But it must have been hard work making those films. I guess they're still being made. I guess the world in general remains the same. Substantially lacking in emotional, social, and particularly spiritual, intelligence.

Why focus so hard on the brutish side of human nature? Maybe because some people don't even realise it exists so starkly in certain areas, certain cities.

Maybe 'noir' is  a kind of glamourisation of a certain sort of macho 'toughness'. Maybe it helps 'normal' 'sinners' to feel better about themselves, since no matter how harshly they might judge themselves it's clear they're nowhere as bad as they could be - compared with the characters in those films.

You could show a young person any of those films and say, “That's what spiritual and emotional intelligence is NOT”. It's learning to recognise malice and evil in order to learn to be something far better.

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Neither Is It This

Last year I wrote about how Noel Gallacher would be better off without his dope of a brother in his band. Well it's going to happen. (see Layer 98 – Looking Back In Anger, in which the words 'drunken', 'yobbish' and 'uselessness' appear.)
Oasis bust-up blamed on booze
(Monday August 31, 2009 09:26 AM) YAHOO News

http://uk.news.launch.yahoo.com/dyna/article.html?a=/31082009/364/oasis-bust-blamed-booze.html&e=l_news_dm

The vicious fight between Oasis brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher that ripped the band apart on Friday was sparked by an argument over the frontman's drinking, according to report.
Guitarist Noel sensationally quit the band after a ferocious bust-up with singer Liam just minutes before they were due onstage at a music festival in France.

The star subsequently came out and blamed his brother for his decision to leave, insisting life in the band had become "intolerable."
Noel also mentioned the band's axed headline slot at the V Festival in Chelmsford, England last Sunday, hinting the cancellation was not down to Liam's throat virus, as had been previously claimed.
He wrote, "I can only apologise - although I don't know why, it was nothing to do with me. I was match fit and ready to be brilliant. Alas, other people in the group weren't up to it."
Now new reports claim Liam's boozing became an issue between brothers throughout their US tour this year and sparked the final fight in France after the frontman allegedly turned up to the gig drunk.
A source tells British newspaper The Sun, "Liam has been drinking heavily for the duration of the tour and regularly got very abusive and personal. He has taunted Noel's girlfriend Sara, other band members, and the crew. People have been frightened to go near him. He is one very angry man who needs to sort his issues out."

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Sorting Out Our Issues

Synchronicity again – having mentioned in the last Layer the need for alcoholics to look within and give voice to their observations about what they see there -

“It’s also why alcoholics need to stand up and be counted, and admit certain things to themselves, and others.” - Layer 185

Thinking about the benefits of meditation in its broadest sense, it occurred to me that meditation might be understood by starting with meditation that's specifically on walking and breathing, and generally  considering the state of one's body.

When you go for a strenuous walk you begin to notice your breathing, and your cardio-vascular level of fitness. You begin to notice your muscles, your joints and your stamina levels. Thanks to these sensory inputs you begin to consider how you feel about what you're monitoring. Happy? Worried? Puzzled? Maybe determined to do more to take care of your body?

The activity itself causes self-monitoring, self-assessment, and decision-making with regard to how to live in the future. You know instinctively and intuitively that any improvements in physical wellbeing will have benefits mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Balancing these elements is key to wellbeing.

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Now consider non-walking meditation. Sitting still meditation.

You can still monitor your breathing. Slow and steady? Deep or shallow? What does it say about your state of relaxation, or agitation? Are you able to affect the way you're breathing?

And now your mind. Your thought-streams. Slow and steady? Deep or shallow? Relaxed or agitated? Are you able to control them, slow them down, etc?

Consider what's within those thought-streams. What's dominating them? Don't try to figure out why - just be aware of what IS. Become aware of what's filling your mind, and affecting your spirit.

Positive thoughts and feelings? Or negative? Happy? Anxious?

Can we become more determined to do more to take care of our souls and spirits?

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Prison meals 'better than hospital' 

Unbelievable.

http://uk.news.yahoo.com/21/20090831/tuk-prison-meal-better-than-hospital-6323e80.html

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Japanese opposition hails election victory

http://uk.news.yahoo.com/4/20090831/twl-japanese-opposition-hails-election-v-41f21e0.html

“As votes are still being counted, one Japanese broadcast network has predicted that the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has won 300 seats in the 480-seat lower house, ending 50 years of almost unbroken rule by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP.)
Prime Minister Taro Aso said on Sunday that he took responsibility for the defeat and would resign as head of the LDP.

Japan is suffering a record 5.7 per cent unemployment and its economy is struggling to emerge from the recession.

The DPJ has said it will shift the focus of government from supporting corporations to helping consumers and workers.
In a news conference following their win, Democratic Party leader Yukio Hatoyama said: "We have been saying that people's livelihoods are the most important thing. Unfortunately, the politics to date did not realise that. I would like to bring about a Japanese society that will care about each and every one's hearts and where everyone can find a place to be and a place to work."
Bloody hell! A society that will care about each and every one's hearts! The radio reporter this morning was talking about the Japanese being excited about their 'revolution' - and if it's really the winners' intention to start taking more care of people's 'hearts' then it really will be a revolution. At least they have the horrible example of Britain to learn from and to use - to make sure they don't squander their fantastic landslide and their overwhelming majority after so many years of being out of power. GO people! You have a MANDATE! Don't fuck up!

According to The Guardian,

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/aug/31/japan-elections-yukio-hatoyama?CMP=AFCYAH 

“Questions are already being asked about his government's ability to end the bureaucracy's stranglehold on economic policy and to focus on the interests of consumers rather than those of powerful corporations.

"It has taken a long time, but we have at last reached the starting line," Hatoyama told reporters at his home in Tokyo. "This is by no means the destination. At long last, we are able to move politics – to create a new kind of politics that will fulfil the expectations of the people."

“The party has vowed to end wasteful spending and invest heavily in welfare, to introduce a child allowance and to raise the minimum wage while keeping the consumption tax unchanged at 5% for the next four years.

But despite disquiet about Hatoyama's recent attack on "unrestrained market fundamentalism", business leaders offered him a cautious welcome.

Fujio Mitarai, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, said the DPJ had made a "genuine transition of power" possible for the first time in Japan's postwar history.

Kaoru Yano, president of the electronics firm NEC, said the result was "an expression of the people's call to break out of these tough economic and stagnant social conditions".

The US president, Barack Obama, said he looked forward to working closely with Hatoyama, who has promised to end Japan's "subservience" to US foreign policy.”
Bloody hell! Go Japan GO!

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Foreign Policy

Afghanistan strategy must change, US commander McChrystal says


http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/aug/31/general-mcchrystal-afghanistan-bull?CMP=AFCYAH
A leading counter-insurgency expert said Afghanistan's government must fight corruption and deliver services to Afghans quickly, because Taliban militants were filling gaps and winning support. The Taliban were already running courts, hospitals and even an ombudsman in parallel to the government, making a real difference to local people, said David Kilcullen, a senior adviser to McChrystal.

"A government that is losing to a counter-insurgency isn't being outfought, it is being out-governed. And that's what's happening in Afghanistan," Kilcullen told Australia's National Press Club.

A radio report this morning made it (McChrystal) clear that McChrystal had said, “It's not just about winning territory – it has to be about winning the confidence of the people.”

So these military guys really do learn lots of sophisticated stuff in their military academies. How many lessons were learned after Vietnam, we ask ourselves. Back then the buzzwords were winning the 'hearts and minds' of the indigenous people. Then, as now, the more intelligent military guys took a good look at the situation and decided that the real answer to the unwinnable war, apart from winning people's hearts and minds, was to replace American forces with indigenous soldiers, prior to getting the hell out of the place.

We also learned today that it will be another three years before they will be able to train enough Afghani recruits to take over the tanks and the guns.

Surely these people must remember that after achieving 'Vietnamisation' of the armed forces in South Vietnam, and pulling out the American military, it was only a matter of time before the guys they'd been fighting against for all those years took over anyway.

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Discipline has given way to the silence of the graveyard

Jackie Ashley's column in The Guardian bemoans the fact that there are no voices on the left speaking out with bold statements, big ideas and a coherent alternative ideology.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/aug/30/labour-government-leadership
Who can now say that the iron discipline of New Labour MPs during the boom years was such a good thing? If it meant that there was very little probing of the City and banking practice, wasn't that a mistake? Where there was real dissent, such as over the Iraq war, and the limitations on freedoms produced by the so-called war on terror, we can only wish there had been more of it.

The great argument inside Labour now seems all about which individuals should be in which positions before and after the expected election defeat. And yes, it matters, a little. But Labour seems internally unargumentative and worryingly uninterested in big ideas. Has the party really understood how the state works? Does it need to rethink the reform of public institutions? What about the euro? What about Afghanistan?

Labour does not have enough bold people asking bold questions.

Too many thinkers on the left are outside parliament, and even outside the party. Question: if Zac Goldsmith is an acceptable Tory candidate, why is it impossible to imagine Labour allowing Monbiot to stand for them?

Here's the final irony. Just as Cameron contemplates his growing and articulate awkward squad, Brown's Labour party has gone quiet. Government spin-doctors try to turn this into a positive thing, by attacking Tory splits and gaffes, but it isn't working.

Voters know that argument and dissent are signs of life – and as long as the arguments are serious and creative, people respond. Once, Labour seemed in danger of falling apart. Then it learned discipline. But it learned silence and discretion too. Just now, it sounds like the silence of the graveyard. Let's remember the value of the shockers – and have a little more noise on the left.
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Oxzen said this on Comment Is Free:

@peitha
Labour, rather more than the Tories, decided to go down the route of professional 'career' politicians creating a class of MPs who won't step out of line because if they do their career will be over.

Very well said.

Jackie Ashley says, "Let's remember the value of the shockers – and have a little more noise on the left" - but she's surely not suggesting that the kinds of MPs that New Labour has recruited into its ranks and into this Parliament are even capable of holding, articulating or daring to voice radical and intelligent views that might be useful at this time. If so, they'd surely have done so by now, given the provocation of what's happened in the world and within Westminster in the past year or two.

On the subject of intelligence, ElliottCB commented, "being intelligent just makes most people better at being stupid. Stupid is not a level of capability but a set of choices," - but even this misses the point that being intellectually able is not the same as being intelligent. Those who are intelligent in the sense of what Buddhists and others would call enlightened also need to have well developed emotional, social and spiritual intelligences, which includes capabilities such as empathy, intuition and sound instinctual intelligence.

The problem with many so-called intellectuals is that they're sometimes very low in, or completely lacking, other intelligences that give balance and grounding to mere intellect, often through no fault of their own. This is a profound issue that our education system is very far from dealing with, and will probably never be able to deal with, given the types of people who hold the power, create the policies and the targets, and make the decisions in our dumb politics.
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Friday, August 28, 2009

Layer 185 Voices and Silence

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I seem to have come across quite a lot of things in the press recently about the concept of individual ‘voice’, which interests me greatly. Finally, nearly 30 years on from when I first started thinking about individual 'voice' (in connection with developing children as writers - having read things by Donald Graves, Lucy Calkins, the Rosens, and the CLPE project group) - there seems to be some sort of general awakening happening.

It’s interesting, and shocking, that so many adults never find their own ‘voice’. How many of us never discover the personal voice within us that’s uniquely ourselves, and become aware of what it has to say, and what it thinks and feels - what it cares about, what makes it feel angry, what makes it laugh, what makes it sad?

It’s the opposite of the bloke in the bar in The Fast Show, who parrots what he hears from his mates, what he reads in the newspaper, what he sees and hears on the TV and radio - the guy who has no considered opinions of his own - who just says things because he wants to be one of the crowd or the gang, and could never stand up for or defend a particular viewpoint, because he has no beliefs or convictions of his own.

To have a personal voice and to stand alone as an individual are obviously fraught and potentially risky things to have and to do. In any case - how do we ever really know what we ourselves really feel about things, as opposed to what we think we think, and feel, as a result of reading, seeing and hearing others give voice to their thoughts and feelings?

Conditioning and brainwashing go on from the time we’re born. We ingest the prevailing culture and its norms and beliefs without even knowing we’re doing it. In our teen age we may experience a reaction and a rebellion, as part of our wanting to become an individual in our own right, as part of the breaking with our parents’ and with society’s rules and dictats - but it’s an immature and ill-considered rejection, on the whole. More often than not, societal and parental values aren’t really replaced with anything more valid.

It’s often hard to challenge cultural and societal, as well as religious, orthodoxies, especially if we haven’t gone deeply into alternatives. Sometimes we pick up alternatives second-hand, as it were, and grab those views, and wear those clothes, because we think they suit us better, without ever having discovered why WE ourselves are rejecting cultural norms, without having discovered what WE think is ‘the truth’ from within. In such ways people become cult members, for example, or switch wildly between extreme political standpoints. “It seemed to make sense at the time”, is often our explanation or defence.

In matters of metaphysics and spiritual belief this becomes even more important. Things we can’t explain by logic or concrete testing and observation can ONLY be intuited. When we think about things like God and the spirit and ultimate reality we can only arrive at our own standpoints through personal reflection and meditation, through examining our innermost thoughts with utmost concentration, and by letting those thoughts rise to the conscious surface after gestating in our subconscious.

In order for that to happen we need lengthy periods of familiarising ourselves with our inner realms, and in order to do that we not only have to avoid outer distractions - we have to clear our minds and our spirits of inner clutter and ‘noise’. This takes time, and opportunity, which many of us feel we don’t have. What we may also lack is inclination. Why bother? What’s the point? Is it worth it anyway?

Well, you’ll never know unless you try - unless you take on personal responsibility for going down that road towards enlightenment, just as the Buddha did all those hundreds and thousands of years ago. After which he didn’t say, ‘Think what I think. Believe what I believe. Do what I say. Worship me and my divinity.’

He said only, “These are my truths. These are my beliefs. This is my enlightenment. Now set out on your own journey and seek your own.”

How many of us consciously do this, or even consider the need to do so?

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All of this, of course, has huge implications for schools, and for parents. I’m writing this now because I have time, and opportunity, and motivation. I know what I know and what I think because I’ve become practiced in doing so. Children don’t, on the whole, develop that practice unless they receive encouragement, and have time and opportunity.

Ask any child to write down their thoughts and feelings and they may baulk at it, and fail, because they may not have the language, the thinking skills, the habit of reflection, and the ability as a writer. Additionally they may not know what they know and feel because they’ve not been given enough time to stop, to sit, and to reflect. Writing anything meaningful to order is nigh on impossible for most of us, and certainly for most children.

Maybe this is why most teachers don’t do it. They don’t see the need, and it’s not in the National Curriculum. Nowhere does it say that children need to find their own voices, as speakers and writers. Yes - they sometimes are asked to ‘discuss’ things, but mainly these things are external to them, and of a purely factual or a purely imaginative nature. “Why did William decide to invade England?” “How would you have felt as a member of William’s army?”

It’s never, or rarely, about things that really matter to the students, things that are affecting them from day to day, things that really bring them sadness, or joy, or fear, or elation. Expressing inner ‘truths’ may be too painful, as well as too difficult. For all of us.

And yet, having transcended life’s day to day frustrations, and challenges, and difficulties, we usually find that life is indeed full of awe and wonder, full of mystery and love and sometimes indescribable pleasure. Though it may sometimes take years before we come round to seeing the glass as half full, instead of half empty.

And as I reminded my dear old mum yesterday, life’s not so bad, when you consider the alternatives. Thankfully, she agreed with me. Just about.

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Zazen IS meditation. Sitting quietly, doing nothing, as the Taoists also say. Gathering our thoughts, becoming aware of them. Examining them, and then letting them free again, to go their own way. Dark thoughts, when brought into the light, usually disappear.

Children have lots of dark thoughts and imaginings. When brought to the surface, or when allowed to come into the daylight, they also disappear. Left to fester within the prison of the individual unenlightened mind or spirit they often take on a life of their own.

Just as good and positive thoughts and feelings, left un-noted and unrecorded, tend to disappear and leave us empty. We need to hold on to them by sharing them with ourselves and others. We need to practice this virtue, and make it a habit. I guess this is what Quakers do in their meetings. It’s also why alcoholics need to stand up and be counted, and admit certain things to themselves, and others.

The most important sharing, however, is with oneself. Of course we can go to meetings and force ourselves, through doing so, to share. But the most fundamental sharing is when we meet with our true selves, naked, all alone with our unadorned thoughts and feelings.

We need to listen to our innermost voices and recognise what our souls and our spirits wish to communicate. And beyond that, we need to find a place of pure silence, and pure grace, where words alone are inadequate, and impoverished, and unnecessary.

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I had this from a friend today, which I'm going to use without permission:

"In the Guardian's Comment Is Free today, in the thread asking for topic suggestions, someone is asking for more contributions from working class people. They actually mean yer actual working class people. Not 'unemployed middle class people', but the real McCoy.

How do they know there isn't a whole throng of working class people already posting? How would you judge? Grammar? Spelling? Having racist views? Being sexist, homophobic?

Breathe. Just breathe. Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmm
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Monday, August 24, 2009

Layer 184 Ashes, Auras, Theosophy, Blavatsky, Steiner, and Krishnamurti

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The End of an Aura

So England have won back The Ashes. Is this important? No.
Was it enjoyable? YES!

And there's no question that the retirement of Australia's two outstanding bowlers – Warne and McGrath - brought about the end of an era, as well as an aura. [This is a kind of in-joke for cricket-loving anoraks and saddos.]

http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2009/aug/23/andrew-flintoff-ashes-test-farewell

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Auras

“The Buddhist flag, first hoisted in 1885 in Sri Lanka, is a symbol of faith and peace used throughout the world to represent the Buddhist faith.

The six colours of the flag represent the colours of the aura that emanated from the body of the Buddha when He attained Enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. The horizontal stripes represent the races of the world living in harmony and the vertical stripes represent eternal world peace.

The colours symbolise the perfection of Buddhahood and the Dharma.

The Blue light that radiated from the Buddha's hair symbolises the spirit of Universal Compassion for all beings.

The Yellow light that radiated from the Buddha's epidermis symbolises the Middle Way which avoids all extremes and brings balance and liberation.

The Red light that radiated from the Buddha's flesh symbolises the blessings that the practice of the Buddha's Teaching brings.

The White light that radiated from the Buddha's bones and teeth symbolises the purity of the Buddha's Teaching and the liberation it brings.

The Orange light that radiated from the Buddha's palms, heels and lips symbolises the unshakable Wisdom of the Buddha's Teaching.

The Combination Colour symbolises the universality of the Truth of the Buddha's Teaching.

Therefore, the overall flag represents that regardless of race, nationality, division or colour, all sentient beings possess the potential of Buddhahood.”

The flag was invented in 1880 by an American journalist, Colonel Henry Steele Olcott. Olcott was a fascinating character. A former soldier and lawyer, he set up the Theosophical Society of New York. He arrived in Sri Lanka with the renowned spiritualist Madame Blavatsky on 17 February 1880 - a day which was subsequently celebrated as Olcott Day in independent Sri Lanka. He founded the Buddhist Theosophical Society, devised a Buddhist catechism, encouraged Buddhist versions of Christmas carols and cards, and inspired the founding of Buddhist schools and and the YMBA - the Young Mens Buddhist Association. There are six colours in the flag, but the human eye can see only five. They are described in the Scriptures as emanating from the aura around the Buddha's head.

Olcott felt that local Buddhists in Sri Lanka needed a symbol to rally around. His flag acheived that: it became the emblem of the international Buddhist movement and is flown today worldwide in Buddhist buildings and at Buddhist celebrations.

http://flagspot.net/flags/buddhism.html

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Theosophy

Theosophy is a doctrine of religious philosophy and metaphysics originating with Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–91). In this context, theosophy holds that all religions are attempts by the " Spiritual Hierarchy" to help humanity in evolving to greater perfection, and that each religion therefore has a portion of the truth. Together with Henry Steel Olcott, William Quan Judge, and others, Blavatsky founded the Theosophical Society in 1875. - Wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theosophy

As far as I can see Theosophy tried to be a movement whose aim was to show that all religions were basically attempts to say something important about the metaphysical aspects of the human condition, in terms of the existence of spiritual intelligence, as I'd call it.

Obviously they were on to something, but created a rod for their own backs by proclaiming their beliefs as some sort of a new pseudo-science, and making the whole thing over-complicated and untenable for people of either a) a religious persuasion, or b) a complete lack of interest in such obscurantist and esoteric views. Keep it simple, dudes!

“Rudolf Steiner created a successful branch of the Theosophical Society in Germany. He focused on a Western esoteric path that incorporated the influences of Christianity and natural science, resulting in tensions with Annie Besant (cf. Rudolf Steiner and the Theosophical Society); these were seriously exacerbated by Steiner refusing members of the Order of the Star of the East membership in the Theosophical Society's German Section. Steiner was vehemently opposed to The Order of the Star of the East's proclamation that the young boy, Jiddu Krishnamurti, was the incarnation of Maitreya (who was believed to have "over-shadowed" Jesus Christ).

(Krishnamurti later repudiated this role and left the Society to pursue an independent career of spiritual teaching.) In 1913 Steiner founded his own Anthroposophical Society; the great majority of German-speaking theosophists joined the new society, which grew rapidly. Steiner later became most famous for his ideas about education, resulting in an international network of " Steiner Schools," also known as Waldorf schools. Other influences of anthroposophical thought include biodynamic agriculture, anthroposophic medicine and the acting techniques of Michael Chekhov.

Theosophy was closely linked to the Indian independence movement: the Indian National Congress was founded during a Theosophical conference, and many of its leaders, including M. K. Gandhi were associated with theosophy.

The present-day New Age movement is to a considerable extent based on the teachings of Blavatsky, though some writers have described Alice Bailey as the founder of the "New Age movement". However, the term was used prior to Bailey; a weekly Journal of Christian liberalism and Socialism called The New Age was published as early as 1894. James R. Lewis and J. Gordon Melton, in Perspectives on the New Age wrote, "The most important - though certainly not the only - source of this transformative metaphor, as well as the term "New Age," was Theosophy, particularly as the Theosophical perspective was mediated to the movement by the works of Alice Bailey."

Mahatma Gandhi met Madame Blavatsky and Annie Besant in India in about 1889, shortly after Besant had joined the Society. He declined invitations to join, but said the meeting induced him to study his own background in Hinduism. He mentions this, and his further study of Theosophy during 1903 as published in his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth (1927–29).

L. Frank Baum , a notable member of the Theosophical Society, wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), which some see as an allegory of theosophical tenets. Many of the story's oft-cited parallels to mysticism—the rainbow and the ruby slippers, for example - actually originated with the 1939 MGM musical adaptation. There are Theosophical elements in all fourteen Oz books, with Tik-Tok of Oz (1914) particularly strong in Theosophist symbolism.

Van Morrison's song "Dweller on the Threshold," has Theosophy concepts at its core. He also mentions Theosophy in the song "Rave On, John Donne".

Artists and authors who investigated Theosophy, aside from the musicians listed below, include Aldous Huxley, Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Franz Kafka, William Butler Yeats, George William Russell (Æ), Owen Barfield, and T. S. Eliot.

Steiner

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_Steiner

Rudolf Steiner (25 or 27 February 1861 – 30 March 1925) was an Austrian philosopher, literary scholar, educator, architect, social thinker, playwright and esotericist. He gained initial recognition as a literary critic and cultural philosopher. At the beginning of the twentieth century he founded a new spiritual movement, Anthroposophy, as an esoteric philosophy growing out of European transcendentalist roots with links to Theosophy.

Steiner led this movement through several phases. In the first, more philosophically-oriented phase, Steiner attempted to find a synthesis between science and mysticism; his philosophical work of these years, which he termed spiritual science, sought to provide a connection between the cognitive path of Western philosophy and the inner and spiritual needs of the human being. In a second phase, beginning around 1907, he began working collaboratively in a variety of artistic media, including drama, the movement arts (developing a new artistic form, Eurythmy) and architecture, culminating in the building of a cultural center to house all the arts, the Goetheanum. After the First World War, Steiner worked with educators, farmers, doctors, and other professionals to develop Waldorf education, biodynamic agriculture, anthroposophical medicine as well as new directions in numerous other areas.

Steiner advocated a form of ethical individualism, to which he later brought a more explicitly spiritual component. He derived his epistemology from Johann Wolfgang Goethe's world view, where “Thinking… is no more and no less an organ of perception than the eye or ear. Just as the eye perceives colours and the ear sounds, so thinking perceives ideas.” A consistent thread that runs from his earliest philosophical phase through his later spiritual orientation is the goal of demonstrating that there are no essential limits to human knowledge.

Krishnamurti

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jiddu_Krishnamurti

Jiddu Krishnamurti or J. Krishnamurti (Tamil: கிருஃசுணமூர்த்தி ) , (May 12, 1895–February 17, 1986) was a renowned writer and speaker on philosophical and spiritual subjects. His subject matter included: psychological revolution, the nature of the mind, meditation, human relationships, and how to enact positive change in society. He constantly stressed the need for a revolution in the psyche of every human being and emphasized that such a revolution cannot be brought about by any external entity whether religious, political or social.

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Phew!!!

Well – you have to do something whilst listening to TMS and the climax of the 2009 Ashes.

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School of Rock

This feel-good little gem of a movie was repeated last night. The review of it in Wikipedia really fails to get to grips with it or to do it justice.

For a start, Jack Black is wonderful. As are the kids.

And it says important things about the purpose of schools, about approaches to teaching and learning, about motivation for learning, about art and creativity, about respect for children, about the attitude of fee-paying parents, about pressures on school management, about having reasons and real purposes for learning, and developing every aspect of the self. It says things about the power of collaboration, and teamwork, and cooperation instead of competition, where each one uses their special gifts and talents for the good of the group.

In a moment of triumph Jack tells the swatty girl that she can have 8 gold stars, and she replies, “ I didn't do it for the grades!”

The scene where Jack takes the head of the school to a bar and she gets somewhat sozzed on half a glass of beer is excellent. She says, “I've never been to this side of town before”, and you can feel something awakening, or re-awakening, in her. She says, with real feeling, “I wasn't always like this, you know. There was a time when I was fun! I was funny! Those parents! That pressure! I can't afford to make a mistake!”

Jack puts a song on the jukebox - “Edge of Seventeen”, by Stevie Nicks, which he knows is going to do things to her, and for her. It's a rocking song, great rhythm, and she goes with it, back in time to when she was young, and real, and passionate, and she sings along . . . connecting with something buried deep within . . .

Just like the white winged dove...
Sings a song . . .

The music there it was hauntingly familiar
And I see you doing what I try to do for me
With the words from a poet and the voice from a choir
And a melody . . .
Nothing else mattered

And the days go by...
Like a strand in the wind...
In the web that is my own...

Can she change herself? Can she change her school? Can she change the parents?

Right at the end, the little band they've created is getting ready to rock, and Jack tells them which song he thinks they should perform – one that the kid who's the guitarist has written. And then he says, “But that's just my opinion. This isn't my band. This is OUR band”.

The kids have a right to their opinions, and to adults' respect for their opinions. Learning and creating together – they all have a voice, and a say in what they do.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_of_rock
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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Layer 183 Grace, Character, The Basics, All the Intelligences, and a Force to be Reckoned With

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Tweet

Today I is mainly listening to pre-1950 jazz, on Spotify.

Yesterday, listening to the old buffers on TMS twittering on with great enthusiasm about Twitter, I think I finally got it. Twitter, I reckon, is a kind of blog for the kind of people who find writing a whole 160 character text a real challenge.

It's also a means for certain sorts of people to cultivate their egos and satisfy their existential longings by claiming to have hundreds and possibly thousands of 'followers' - “I have followers, therefore I am.” It's similar to having hundreds of “friends” on Facebook, I guess.


A Game of Grace and Character

This blog is not, and never will be, concerned with sport. Therefore it has absolutely nothing to say about Australia being skittled out for 160 in the Ashes decider, and nothing at all to say about England smashing their way to a lead of well over 500 in their second innings yesterday.

What it will say is this: what admirable temperaments were shown by the bowlers Broad and Swann whilst taking all those wickets, and how pleasantly, calmly and decently they showed their pleasure in such success.

It should also be remarked that Trott showed an incredibly mature and unruffled temperament for a guy grafting his way to a century in his debut Test, and in such an important match. We already knew that Strauss possessed such personal qualities, and he's also (again) been magnificent in this match, in both innings.

The less said about England's middle order the better.

But what joy, grace, fun and fluency there was in the bowlers playing so well as batsmen – Flintoff, Swann and Broad taking on the opposition with some controlled and mature aggression, and some great shots. Very entertaining.

On recent evidence both Broad and Swann should now be considered genuine all-rounders. Swann has Test averages of 35 and 30.34, and Broad is not far behind with figures of 31 and 35.22. These compare with Flintoff's 32 and 32.62. Shane Warne, incidentally, only averaged 17 with the bat in Tests. Botham did 34 and 28.4. Kapil did 31 and 29.65. Kallis, the king, 55 and 31.09.

http://www.cricket365.com/0,18276,,00.html

It's also important to say again how impressive Ponting has been in his conduct and his attitude. He obviously learned some hard lessons during the last series in England - about showing grace under pressure - and he's shown real maturity and intelligence in his actions and his words this time around. That's really good to see, and a very good example of how adversity can positively help to shape character.

He had a ball smashed in his face during yesterday's play, and managed to carry on regardless. He's even risen above, and endured without complaint, some ludicrous booing and baiting by some very unsavoury England 'supporters'. The man has developed into a leader who's decent, intelligent, accomplished and modest, and a real model for young men to consider.

Thankfully he received a standing ovation when he went out to bat today, on what may be his last appearance in an Ashes series in this country.

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Spotify

Incidentally, cricket lovers should take a look at this Spotify playlist – very funny, and more have been added on the actual Spotify site, which you can click on at the bottom of the list:

http://sharemyplaylists.com/lovely-cricket/comment-page-1/#comment-2772

This is a great website:

http://sharemyplaylists.com/

“Welcome to the online music community that allows you to share Spotify playlists as well as getting your own music blog, finding friends with the same musical tastes and discovering great new music.”

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The Dalai Lama – How To Practice

Chapter 1. The Basics

Spiritual qualities [can] be constructed [in] a great variety of ways. However, the mind must be developed by you alone. There is no way for others to do the work, and for you to reap the results. Reading someone else's blueprint for mental progress will not transfer its realisations to you. You have to develop them yourself.

Cultivating an attitude of compassion and developing wisdom are slow processes. As you gradually internalise techniques for developing morality, concentration of mind, and wisdom, untamed states of mind become less and less frequent. You will need to practice these techniques day by day, year by year. As you transform your mind, you will transform your surroundings. Others will see the benefits of your practice of tolerance and love, and will work at bringing these practices into their own lives.

In order for the wisdom of special insight [intuition] to remove impediments to proper understanding, and to remove faulty mental states at their very roots, we need concentrated meditation, a state of complete single-mindedness in which all internal distractions have been removed. Otherwise the mind is too fractured.

Concentrated meditation must precede wisdom.

Single-minded meditation involves removing subtle internal distractions such as the mind's being either too relaxed or too tight.

To do so we must first stop external distractions through training in the morality of maintaining mindfulness and conscientiousness with regard to physical and verbal activities – being constantly aware of what you are doing with your body and your speech.

Since it is through sustaining mindfulness that you achieve a calm abiding of the mind, the practice of morality must precede the practice of concentrated meditation.

Looking at the three practices – morality, concentrated meditation, and wisdom, - we see that each serves as the basis for the next. Therefore all spiritual progress depends on a foundation of proper morality.

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Punt Wars

Here's a little story that pretty much sums up what's wrong with Britain in the 21st Century. What could be more civilised that gently punting on the River Cam, in and around Cambridge - one of our loveliest and most serene County towns, and a pre-eminent university town? Nothing? We're still a sick, uncivilised, amoral, spiritually barren society, at our very core.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/aug/21/cambridge-punt-wars-river-cam?CMP=AFCYAH

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Yesterday's Guardian carried an interesting story by Jon Henley, under the heading,

A Force to be Reckoned With.


http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/aug/22/women-police-officers-climate-camp

The Metropolitan police have announced a new strategy for next week's Climate Camp – putting women officers in charge of the operation. Will this avoid the violence seen at the G20 protests?

The last team Inspector Liz Owsley of the Metropolitan police worked on, not so long ago, happened to have just one woman. All the rest were young male PCs. There was a moment, she relates, when a bit of a situation was starting to kick off with a bunch of yobs in a courtyard. A constable was getting overly verbal with one of the lads, trading insults: a real slanging match.

"So the woman officer just turned to him and said, quite gently, 'You're not helping,'" Owsley recalls. "It was only a small thing, tiny really, but it was classic. Women police will always want to resolve a situation with the least possible upset. Their question is always, can we do this without confrontation? Is it possible without conflict? There just isn't that same kind of macho aggressiveness you can get from the men. We're better communicators."

After the public outrage and official brickbats heaped on the Met's handling of G20 protests in London in April, during which a newspaper vendor, Ian Tomlinson, died after being hit by a police officer, news this week that both senior officers controlling tactics at next week's Climate Camp will be women has been broadly welcomed as evidence that the force may be trying to adopt a less confrontational approach to policing demonstrations.

Superintendent Julia Pendry – who once took Scotland Yard to an employment tribunal before settling her sexual discrimination claim out of court – has been named "silver" commander for the operation, and was quoted as saying she selected her deputy, Inspector Jane Connors, because she was "reasonable, sensible and able to communicate".

Perhaps the most noted American researcher into gender differences in policing, Joseph Balkin, observed that "policemen tend to see police work as involving control through authority, while policewomen see it as public service". In some respects at least, he concluded, "women are better suited for police work than men." But can the Climate Camp protesters really expect a different experience to the unpleasant, even brutal one many of them encountered in the City earlier this year, simply because the officers in charge are women? Certainly their management style is likely to be different, believes Jennifer Brown, a professor of forensic psychology at the University of Surrey who has spent the best part of 20 years researching gender issues in policing.

"The police service has been thinking a lot about leadership styles, about the difference between transactional leadership – 'This is what I think we should do' – and transformational leadership, which is more consultative, 'negotiative'," Brown says. "As a generality, the way in which women police approach leadership ... is more likely to be: let's sit down, let's think about this together, let's hear what everyone has to say."

That would seem to be borne out by at least one study published in a leading US police journal, which concluded that female police executives tend to be "more flexible, emotionally independent, self-assertive, self-confident, proactive and creative than their male counterparts." Male police executives, on the other hand, were "more authoritarian and prejudiced".

Several promising preliminary meetings have reportedly already been held between the Met and the event's organisers, who have also been assured that the more controversial policing methods used at last year's Climate Camp at Kingsnorth power station in Kent – placing a "ring of steel' around the camp, for example, and depriving protesters of sleep by playing loud music through the night – will not be repeated.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

There is now, based largely on extensive US research, a mounting body of evidence indicating that women officers do indeed behave differently on the ground to their male colleagues, especially in potentially difficult situations. "Women police officers rely on a style of policing that uses less physical force, are better at defusing and de-escalating potentially violent confrontations, and are less likely to become involved in problems with use of excessive force," write, unambiguously, the authors of one report. "In addition, women officers tend to possess better communications skills than their male counterparts, and are better able to facilitate the co-operation and trust required to implement a community policing model."

Brown confirms that "for the most part, men are more likely to get themselves into trouble through the use of force. The number of complaints against men is proportionately higher. Women are less likely to resort to batons, pepper spray or quick cuffs to get out of trouble, and more likely to use negotiative skills to talk someone down."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The authors of Men, Women and Police Excessive Force: a Tale of Two Genders conclude that the average male police officer in the US costs from 2.5 to five times more than the average woman officer in compensation payments for excessive force; is nine times more likely to have an allegation of excessive force upheld against him; and is three times more likely to be named in a public complaint over the use of excessive force.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

In short, women officers are not necessarily reluctant to use force, but they are far less likely to use excessive force. "Excessive use of force takes a serious toll on the individuals involved," say the report's authors, who include the centre's director, Margaret Moore. "But excessive force incidents [also] severely erode the trust between the police and the public. Every sustained allegation undermines the confidence the community places in their police, and limits the police's effectiveness to fight crime and serve the public. When the community comes to mistrust the police, they withdraw the co-operation that is essential for police to perform their job."

That argument presents a convincing case for putting many more women officers on the streets. There are others: studies in the US and elsewhere – summarised in a report, Hiring and Retaining More Women: the Advantages to Law Enforcement Agencies – show that in terms of overall competence, effectiveness and productivity on patrol, there are no meaningful differences between male and female officers, and (a tough chestnut, this one) that physical strength and aggression are not determining factors in either general police effectiveness, or the ability to successfully handle a dangerous situation.

Others have it that women officers are far more in tune with the aims of "community-oriented policing", the generally accepted modern approach to policing which is based more on communication and co-operation with the public. Women police have been found to be the target of fewer insults than their male colleagues; to be less cynical and more respectful of members of the public; to have a beneficial influence on the behaviour of their male colleagues and a community advantage over men in several areas, "including empathy towards others and interacting in a way which is not designed to 'prove' anything".

You could almost formulate the question this way, says one female officer who asked not to be identified: "It's not, can women make good police officers. It's why should so many unsuitable men, with the way they respond to so many situations, the way they so often have to prove who's biggest, be allowed to try? Any policewoman could give you a dozen examples of male colleagues getting it wrong."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

There is an acknowledgement within the service here, says one study supervised by Brown, that it needs to "reconsider its style and priorities ... and create a model of policing that is more consultative. The model that has evolved takes on initiatives having the appearance of a more feminised style."
The overall trend, the study's authors say, has been "a shift towards interpersonal and communication skills away from the physical skills pre-eminent in more traditional models of policing."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Brown – who cautions against generalising, and notes that it is perfectly possible for male police to have "a more feminine way of doing things", and vice versa – puts it this way: "There's still a culture that if you're not dedicated to the job 24/7, you're only half a copper."

But the benefits, to police forces and the public, of having more women officers are now unarguable, Owsley says: "The real issue is changing the culture. Things could be changed overnight if the Association of Chief Police Officers wanted them changed."

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To save readers the trouble of looking it up, here's Oxzen's comment on CiF:

It's incredible we're still carrying on such a debate in terms of 'masculine' versus 'feminine' qualities and sensibilities, when clearly what's at stake are emotional intelligence, social intelligence and spiritual intelligence, which senior police officers, as well as their juniors, may or may not possess in abundance.

Daniel Goleman's book 'Social Intelligence' begins with a very illuminating anecdote about the way in which a 'socially intelligent' commanding officer in Iraq dealt with an angry mob when confronted whilst out on an operation with his small group of soldiers. Needless to say, the answer did not lie in the violent use of brute force.
In such high pressure situations people (both men and women) reveal the extent to which they possess aspects of intelligence such as empathy, intuition, wisdom, compassion, morality and anger management skills.

The key questions that should concern us are how these qualities and intelligences can be developed; why they're so under-developed in so many of us; and what can be done within schools and through in-service training in the professions etc to develop them.

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How bizarre that there wasn't a single reference in this otherwise interesting and informative article to the concepts of social, emotional and spiritual intelligence.

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Crimes Against Humanity and Global Justice

There's been a huge interest these past few days in the release of the Lockerbie bomber, and the part that the Prince of Darkness may have played in it following secretive discussions with the Libyans when he met them in Corfu. Many people are clearly outraged that our government may have influenced the decision on account of wanting to improve Britain's prospects for increased trade with Libya. Or was Manglebum's meeting just coincidental?

Two opinions worth reading are those of Geoffrey Robertson QC and AC Grayling – both people whom Oxzen has massive respect for.

'We should be ashamed that this has happened'

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/aug/22/lockerbie-bomber-megrahi-release-debate
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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Layer 182 Responsibility, Humanity, Teenage Violence, Peace, Spiritual Intelligence, and a Health Service.

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How To Practise

Yesterday's quotes from the Dalai Lama's book, The Way to a Meaningful Life, ended with:

"The desperate state of our world calls us to action."

The latter part of his Introduction continues:

Each of us has a responsibility to try to help at the deeper level of our common humanity. Unfortunately, humanity is too often sacrificed in defence of ideology. This is absolutely wrong. Political systems should actually benefit human beings, but, like money, they can control us instead of work for us.

If with a warm heart and patience we can consider the views of others, and exchange ideas in calm discussion, we will find points of agreement. It is our responsibility – out of compassion and love for humankind – to seek harmony among nations, ideologies, cultures, ethnic groups, and economic and political systems.

When we truly recognise the oneness of all humankind, our motivation to find peace will grow stronger. In the deepest sense we are really sisters and brothers, so we must share one anothers' suffering. Mutual respect, trust, and concern for one anothers' welfare are our best hope for lasting world peace.

Creating Harmony

Harmony and friendship cannot thrive in a climate of mistrust, cheating, bullying and mean-spirited competition. Success through intimidation and violence is temporary at best; its trifling gains only create new problems.

We can only solve our problems through truly peaceful means – not just peaceful words but a peaceful mind and heart. In this way we will have a better world.

Is this possible? Fighting, cheating and bullying have trapped us in our present situation; now we need training in new practices to find a way out.

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Teenage Violence

G2 last week reported (again) on teenage gun crime, violence and killings. As usual, with such reports, there were far more questions raised than answered in this feature.

Of course there should be massive investment in work and projects that aim to “break the cycle of violence” - through dealing directly with the susceptible teenagers and gang members themselves. And of course there must be massive investment in tackling bad housing, unemployment and lack of recreational and socialisation opportunities.

But a much better long term investment must be made in ensuring that young people do not grow up without social, emotional and spiritual intelligence. In which case schools must be massively empowered, encouraged, and even directed to make these areas of learning central to pupils’ experiences in schools.

Since many homes encourage the maintenance of the culture of violence and retaliation, then it’s often only in schools that pupils can learn how to cope with destructive emotions and begin to understand human values. If schools fail to educate vulnerable pupils in more enlightened ways of coping with problems and challenges then nobody else will be able to reach them. Only the fortunate few will reach a stage in their lives where greater personal maturity plus experience of life’s harsh lessons will be enough to help them see through the madness and chaos of what passed for normality in their world.

If schools don’t even attempt to pre-empt teenage pressures to join gangs through giving vulnerable Primary age children greater insights into those pressures, then those children are unlikely to figure out for themselves more productive ways of living, and more purposeful ways of spending their time.

Do schools currently have such a focus? In America and Britain, of course not. They focus almost entirely on attaining high marks in academic tests and exams. Whilst no-one would suggest that maths, literacy, science and the rest aren’t important, it must be obvious that the pursuit of academic excellence will normally be an impossibility for pupils who lack motivation and who don’t possess high degrees of social, emotional and spiritual intelligence.

Our government’s central and driving belief is that “driving up standards” will enable more working class pupils to gain A-levels, to enter university, and thereby gain the paper qualifications that will enable them to move into high paid employment and move out of violent neighbourhoods and lives of poverty. If only life were so simple. The papers this week are full of outrage about grade inflation and the fact that this year there are thousands of pupils with A levels who can't get university places due to lack of government funding.

The reality is that for hundreds of thousands of working class kids this dream of university and a life of prosperity is virtually never going to happen, unless the individual is unusually ambitious, determined and persistent. The rates of graduate unemployment alone are sufficient to deter a lot of smart kids from being the first in their family to go on to ‘higher education’ unless they have a particular aptitude, unless they enjoy writing essays, unless they are set on entering a profession that requires a university degree, and unless they can cope with the idea of running up huge debts.

The majority will continue to live in the areas where they grew up and where they will earn their living as shop assistants, as bar staff, as butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, plumbers, carpenters and electricians, (OK maybe not candlestick makers) – and for these people the important skills they will need will be based on a strong foundation of social, emotional and spiritual intelligence. The other key attributes they will need to do well in life will be creativity, curiosity, self-confidence, communication skills, Internet skills, empathy, intuition, etc.

It’s increasingly apparent that spiritual and emotional intelligence are also desperately lacking in many Members of Parliament, bankers, city financiers, businessmen, journalists, media personalities, footballers, middle managers, bureaucrats, teachers, accountants, etc. Such people are frequently lacking in anger management skills, humility, honesty, humanity, etc. A little less academic learning and a lot more emphasis on social, emotional and spiritual intelligence would serve them well.

Does anyone seriously think our middle classes are LESS susceptible than the working classes to alcoholism, coke-snorting, relationship breakdown, neglecting and abusing children, nervous breakdowns, obesity, low self-esteem, loneliness, anxiety, depression and existential angst? Are they really any happier, even when wealthier?

The fortunate children acquire a strong foundation of personal, social, emotional and spiritual development in loving and caring homes and extended families that protect them and teach them through personal example, and through discussions about human values and spiritual values. The majority of young people in good homes, both working class and middle class, positively do not want to live their lives in ways that vex and displease their elders.

A very significant minority of pupils, however, will not live and learn in positive households. They may choose not to attend school, or they may turn up physically but not in mind or spirit. They may know or strongly suspect that they won’t be the ones getting 5 A-C’s in GCSEs, let alone A Levels. They may be the ones for whom drug taking and drunkenness, knives and guns and domestic violence are a day to day reality. They may be the ones for whom street violence seems as natural and inevitable as eating and drinking. They may be the ones who will kill, if necessary, to ‘protect’ ‘their’ ‘territory’.

Of course the National Curriculum doesn’t cater for the needs of these pupils. It was never designed to. It was always intended to dominate the school day, and it prescribes academic study as the dominant pursuit of each child’s school day. It was never about learning to learn, learning to enjoy learning, learning to be creative, learning to be expressive in a variety of ways, or learning to manage destructive emotions.

To create an edifice of academic attainment without attending to the other intelligences is like building on sand, and sooner or later there’s a very real chance of collapse. Unless there are strong and durable foundations of social, emotional and spiritual learning young people may do well academically, and even professionally for a while, without ever finding lasting happiness, fulfillment, or even lasting achievement. (see Layer 181 – yesterday – the Dalai Lama) Is this what we really want for our children?

With children whose lives are violent and chaotic any attempt to teach them for examination success without also offering development in the other key intelligences is like building on a bottomless pit of quicksand or a flowing river of red-hot lava.

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“Why the American right make me sick”

I don't normally rate Simon Hoggart as a writer, but he's right on the money with this post:

“There are few tribes more loathsome than the American right, and their vicious use of the shortcomings in the NHS to attack Barack Obama's attempts at health reform are a useful reminder.

I was thinking of this during a visit to my 91-year-old dad who is still in an NHS hospital after three weeks, recovering from a broken hip. He has had fantastic care, including a new metal hip, blood transfusions, different antibiotics to match every aspect of his condition; all administered by nurses who remain cheerful even when asked to perform tasks on men – the lethal combination of pain and old age makes some in the ward exceedingly grumpy – that I would not want to do for £1,000 a time.

If he was in an American hospital he'd be using up half his life savings to get that standard of care, and few ordinary Americans could afford the insurance that would provide it. (This is because health insurers spend a large part of their income on PR against the "socialised medicine" and on sending pro forma letters explaining why your policy doesn't cover actual illness.) All over the US there are people whose lives are being destroyed for lack of proper health care provision, and there is no sight more odious than the rich, powerful and arrogant trying to keep it that way.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2009/aug/15/simon-hoggarts-week

This past week or two has been incredible for the mad-dog attacks on Obama's proposals to set up a decent health service in America that will provide a safety net for all, regardless of income or prosperity. Not only do his opponents, in their town hall meetings, on talk radio, and on TV, continually attack Obama's proposals – they are cranking up their personal abuse to the point of absolute hysteria. They're continuing to insinuate he's 'non-American' – i.e. he's 'an African', with no birth certificate to prove otherwise. They're continuing to accuse him of being a 'socialist', which in their book is the same as a communist, and therefore un-American. The degree of anger and hatred is truly appalling. Those of us who want the American people as a whole to be better off, better provided for, more enlightened and much happier, can only look on with pity and a horrified fascination. Especially now that these lunatics have started to mock, ridicule and traduce our NHS, aided and abetted by various scumbag Tory MEPs and MPs.

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End of the Beginning

The Dalai Lama concludes the introduction to his book by saying that the book aims to

“Introduce the three aspects of spiritual practice – morality, concentrated meditation and wisdom – which are the book's principal themes.”

“I describe two types of morality: reorienting physical and verbal deeds so as to cause no harm to others, and cultivating deeper concern for others.

“In [the section on] Practicing Concentrated Meditation I describe how to achieve mental focus and how to restore calm in stressful situations.

“Practicing Wisdom . . . addresses the difficult but fruitful topic of dependent-arising and emptiness.

“These discussions on morality, concentrated meditation and wisdom flow into . . . Tantra, which presents a special yoga practice combining the three.

“The concluding part, Steps Along The Way, presents an overview of the path of practice from its beginnings right through to enlightenment, a state wherein mind and body are fully developed in order to be of service to others.

“From beginning to end, our focus is on developing a good heart and mind through a moral attitude and an understanding of reality, empowered by concentration.

“Think of morality, concentrated meditation and wisdom as a blueprint for enlightenment, reminding us of the highest aim of practice – a transformation of attitude towards peacefulness, compassion, calm focus, and wisdom. Understanding the blueprint is itself part of the path, drawing us toward the destination.”

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Not a word wasted there, and not a word concerning God, or anything about heaven, hell, angels or devils.
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Friday, August 21, 2009

Layer 181 A Meaningful Life, How To Practice, The Dalai Lama, and Lessons from History.

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Thanks to feedback from readers, who have let me know that certain pages of Oxzen's blog act as useful reminders of what spiritual intelligence consists of, I'm reminded of the value of posting the thoughts of the great spiritual masters from time to time. Whilst there's also value in considering negatives – such as examples of what spiritual intelligence is NOT – it seems obvious that the greatest good is in constant reminders of How to Practice.

This is the title of a book I came across last year, written by the Dalai Lama, which has the sub-title, The Way to a Meaningful Life.

In the foreword, written by its translator and editor, Jeffrey Hopkins, we read about how the Dalai Lama lectures on the stages of the path to enlightenment.

“He speaks with great speed and clarity . . . presenting the full range of practices leading to enlightenment, often juxtaposing topics that others leave in isolation – all this with the depth of a philosopher. The same dual voice of poet and philosopher is present here in this book . . .”

“He offers suggestions on how to practice a spiritual path that will lead to mental clarity and emotional transformation. In this way, he shows how life can be made meaningful.”

“The embodiment of these practices [is] the very core of his being. It is important for us to recognise that this insightful, compassionate, humourous, and often marvellous person rose from Tibetan culture. We need to value that culture as one of the world's great wonders.”

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Introduction – by the Dalai Lama.

The Need for Peace and Kindness

"Human beings share the same basic goals: we all seek happiness and do not want suffering.

There are two ways to create happiness. The first is external. By obtaining better shelter, better clothes, and better friends, we can find a certain measure of happiness and satisfaction. The second is through mental development, which yields inner happiness.

However, these two approaches are not equally viable. External happiness cannot last long without its counterpart. If something is lacking in your perspective – if something is missing in your heart – then despite the most luxurious surroundings, you cannot be happy.

However, if you have peace of mind, you can find happiness even under the most difficult circumstances. Certain people may have acquired wealth, a good education, and high social standing, yet happiness eludes them.

On the other hand, some people who have less money to worry about enjoy more peace. They sleep well at night. Despite being poor in a material sense, they are content and happy. This shows the impact of a good mental attitude. Material development alone will not fully resolve the problem of humanity's suffering.

In this book I offer you, the reader, valuable techniques from Tibetan [Buddhist] traditions which, if implemented in daily practice, lead to mental peace. As you calm your mind and your heart, your agitation and worry will naturally subside, and you will enjoy more happiness. Your relationships with others will reflect these changes. And as better human being, you will be a better citizen of your country, and ultimately a better citizen of the world.

Human Potential

Animals and insects also want happiness and do not want suffering, but they have no special ability to consider how to achieve deeper happiness or overcome suffering. As human beings, endowed with this power of thought, we have this potential, and we must use it.

On every level – as individuals, and as members of a family, a community, a nation, and a planet – the most mischievous troublemakers we face are anger and egoism [exaggerated self-centredness]. No one claims to feel happy while being angry. As long as anger dominates our disposition, there is no possibility of lasting happiness. In order to achieve peace, tranquility, and real friendship, we must minimise anger and cultivate kindness and a warm heart ['loving-kindness'] This can be achieved through the practices I will describe in this book.

Developing a warm heart ourselves can also transform others, [who also] experience less anger. They will become more warm-hearted, compassionate, and harmonious. The very atmosphere becomes happier, which promotes good health, perhaps even a longer life.

You may be rich, powerful and well-educated, but without these healthy feelings of kindness and compassion there will be no peace within yourself, no peace within your family – even your children suffer. Kindness is essential to mental peace. As you will see in the pages ahead, the central method for achieving a happier life is to train your mind in a daily practice that weakens negative attitudes and strengthens positive ones.

The big question is whether or not we can practice kindness and peace. Many of our problems stem from putting ourself first at all costs.

To train the mind, you must exercise the patience and determination it takes to shape it. With patience, and practice, and time, change will come.

Interdependence

Today it is impossible to remain isolated, so if nations do not have mutual respect, problems are bound to arise. Economic rifts can be healed by a stronger sense of global interdependence and responsibility. The people of one nation must consider the people of other nations to be like brothers and sisters who deserve progress for their homelands.

The sale of weapons . . . by manufacturers in big countries fuels violence, but more dangerous than guns or bombs are hatred, lack of compassion, and lack of respect for the rights of others. As long as hatred dwells in the human mind, real peace is impossible.

We must do everything we can to stop war, and to rid the world of nuclear weapons. When I visited Hiroshima . . . my heart was deeply moved. How much pain and desolation nuclear war creates! Yet look at how much money is spent on weapons of mass destruction. It is shocking, an immeasurable disgrace.

The only way to achieve lasting peace is through mutual trust, respect, love and kindness. The only way.

External peace is impossible without inner peace. It is noble to work at external solutions, but they cannot be successfully implemented so long as people have hatred and anger in their minds. This is where profound change has to begin. Individually we have to work to change the basic perspectives on which our feelings depend. We can only do so through training, by engaging in practice with the aim of gradually reorienting the way we perceive ourselves and others.

The desperate state of our world calls us to action.”

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Action Man – Spiritual Intelligence -NOT!

One man who's definitely called to action in world affairs is our very own Minister for Defence, the Right Honourable Bob Ainsworth, MP.

The war in Afghanistan is "winnable", the defence secretary, Bob Ainsworth, insisted today, as new figures showed that more British soldiers have been injured in the country this year than in the whole of 2008.

"The troops know that we've made progress in the last few months, and I still firmly believe that Afghanistan is winnable," Ainsworth told the BBC during a round of interviews this morning to argue the case for the campaign, amid an apparent growing mood of public scepticism in Britain as the death toll among British troops reached 204.

Ministry of Defence statistics showed that 94 soldiers were injured in action in Afghanistan during July, more than double the number in June. Twenty-two soldiers were killed in July, compared with four in June.

So far this year, 236 troops have been hurt in the fighting, compare with 235 during all of last year.

With a poll showing yesterday that two-thirds of British people believed UK forces should leave the country, the government faces pressure to explain why the sacrifice is necessary. The task has been made all the more difficult by an outcry over a new Afghan law allowing some men the right to deny their wives food if sexual demands are unfulfilled, among other restrictions on women's rights.

There would almost certainly be more British deaths, Ainsworth warned this morning.

"When we are suffering the kind of losses that we are we cannot afford to be complacent," Ainsworth told GMTV. "I will do everything I can to support our troops with the best kit but what I can't do is promise to make the operation in Afghanistan safe. This kind of operation is intrinsically dangerous, the enemy is smart and they are studying our methods."

“Winnable”, eh Bob? Clearly this man is refusing to learn any lessons from history. From what happened in Vietnam, for instance – another fine example of politicians of a particular ideological bent feeling certain that they could defeat the so-called primitive enemy who were fighting for their country's right to self-determination and independence.

He might even consider the history of Afghanistan itself, and what happened to the Russian army and airforce when they attempted to combat the Afghans who resented Russian interference in their internal politics. And how clever were the Americans then to give sophisticated armaments and training to the very people who would later turn against worldwide American imperialism? The guys the Americans, and we British, are now trying to root out of Afghanistan!

Our Minister of Defence may be some kind of amiable old boy who's just trying to make the best of a fucked-up situation that his job requires him to tackle, but he's also reactionary to the core and an unquestioning supporter of the kind of stupid politics that can only harm the world and make it a more dangerous place, not safer.

Sadly he's a bit of an egocentric idiot. Power seems to have gone to his head, and it's now impossible for any alternative thinking to penetrate his thick skull. He's New Labour personified. Not that the New Conservatives will be any better. We're doomed!

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/aug/17/afghanistan-defence-secretary-military-deaths?CMP=AFCYAH

“General Sir Richard Dannatt, the outgoing head of the army . . . speaking at the official opening of an army recovery centre in Scotland, added: "It's a war about the people in Afghanistan. In particular we need to persuade the people in Afghanistan to support their government."

So here we have it – the people of Afghanistan don't support their 'government', and they need OUR persuasion that they should do so! Or maybe our bribes. And our propaganda. And our bombs. Just like the Vietnamese needed such 'help'.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband was on Radio 4 this morning still banging on about “the badlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan” and the need to combat terrorism. Militarily, of course.

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To end on a positive note, with some positive thoughts, have a look at this website -

http://www.thebigview.com/buddhism/

About Buddhism

The greatest achievement is selflessness.
The greatest worth is self-mastery.
The greatest quality is seeking to serve others.
The greatest precept is continual awareness.
The greatest medicine is the emptiness of everything.
The greatest action is not conforming with the world's ways.
The greatest magic is transmuting the passions.
The greatest generosity is non-attachment.
The greatest goodness is a peaceful mind.
The greatest patience is humility.
The greatest effort is not concerned with results.
The greatest meditation is a mind that lets go.
The greatest wisdom is seeing through appearances.

Atisha (11th century Tibetan Buddhist master)
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Monday, August 17, 2009

Layer 180 Woodstock, Hendrix, Political Egos, Religion, Faith and Humour.

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Woodstock

This weekend was the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. On Saturday night the 'Director's Cut' of the movie was shown on TV, and it was quite difficult to watch. The whole thing, apart from some of the music, was quite a shambles. Now that I stop to think about it I realise that a) I never bothered to buy the album of the event, and b) I didn't even enjoy the Woodstock movie when it first hit the cinemas - just as the era of peace and love (and anti war demos) was drawing to an end.

My outstanding memory of the film was the Santana section – full of pulsating music from a band that was at that point unknown in Britain. Superb throbbing bass guitar, thundering drums, pounding percussion and wailing Hammond organ. And of course the incredible Carlos and his brilliant guitar.

As for the rest of the event . . . That ridiculous chain-link fence that was so easy to break down or climb over! Sheer amateurish idiocy on the part of the organisers. The rain, the appallingly muddy ground, the lack of food and water, the incessant tannoy appeals to share food . . .

It seems completely incredible that Jimi Hendrix didn't get on stage till the Monday morning – till it was all over, and all that remained in front of the stage were a few bedraggled, wet and stoned stragglers, squelching through the mud and the piles of garbage.

I wonder what Jimi thought of that, as he cranked out his electric blues version of the Star Spangled Banner, which remains stunning to this day in its sonic invention, its painful intensity, its emotion, its sheer audacity and its implicit judgement on a country that was still embroiled in a war in Vietnam that continued to shock the rest of the civilised world for its barbaric conduct, its incredible cost, and its determination to impose the American state's wishes and authority on the people of a small country, all in the name of fighting Communism.

By sheer coincidence my ex-wife is currently enjoying a two week holiday in Vietnam, and the daughter of a friend has recently returned from an activity holiday in Vietnam, learning how to scuba dive. Had a great time, apparently.

According to Wikipedia, “Hendrix got into trouble with the law twice for riding in stolen cars. He was given a choice between spending two years in prison or joining the Army. Hendrix chose the latter and enlisted on May 31, 1961.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimi_Hendrix

Imagine that – two years in prison for just riding in a stolen car – not even stealing it. Two years, mind you. Either that or incarcerate yourself in the army. Jimi chose the army. The army threw him out after less than a year.

Check out three different versions of 'Machine Gun' on Spotify. Also Star Spangled Banner. Play it loud.

And 'All Along The Watchtower'. The greatest song by the greatest songwriter, played and sung by the greatest musician, ever recorded. I've said it before and I'll say it again - get some good headphones, and crank the volume right up.

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Minister of Defence.

Mr Ainsworth says, “I can't keep helicopter crews permanently in theatre. I have to bring them home. I have to train them.” If it were me, I'd train them beforehand.

This kind of language reveals perfectly the mind set of our current politicians. Egocentric and elitist language. I, I, I. Me, me, me.

Check this. WE have to do certain things. WE have to look after our armed forces personnel. WE have to train them. He's doing what he does on behalf of US. It's US that matter. Not him. We're still SO far away from having a government that understands ministers are public servants and do things for US, on OUR behalf.

They may be political leaders, but they still need to understand that they lead in the directions that WE want to go in, and work for the benefit of all, including non-voters and children.

I've just discovered an excellent website that monitors the actions and views of MP's -

http://www.theyworkforyou.com/

It also reports on MPs' 'interests', their voting record, their expenses, etc.

It seems Mr Ainsworth, MP for Coventry North East:

Voted strongly against a transparent Parliament
Voted very strongly for introducing ID cards
Voted very strongly for introducing foundation hospitals.
Voted strongly for introducing student top-up fees.
Voted very strongly for Labour's anti-terrorism laws.
Voted very strongly for the Iraq war.
Voted very strongly against an investigation into the Iraq war.
Voted very strongly for replacing Trident.

I think this gives a pretty clear impression of where he stands on the political spectrum. Pretty much four-square with the Tory party, and, of course, the leadership of New Labour.

“In the 2009 Parliamentary expenses scandal, in which some MPs were criticised for their expense claims, it was revealed that, in 2007-8, Ainsworth had allegedly claimed the maximum permissible amount of £23,083 for second-home allowances, making him the joint highest claimant in that year.” - Wikipedia

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“Religion is of the soul. Faith is of the spirit.”

This is a quote by someone taking part in a Sunday TV programme yesterday, and it's the first time I've heard the divide between religiosity and spirituality expressed in this way. This may well be a cliché in religious circles. But still, I think it's true – if we equate religious needs and religious tendencies with emotional needs and desires, and if we agree that emotions emanate from the soul, then religion is of the soul.

To belong to a religion, and to let your life be directed and shaped by the rituals, beliefs and dictats of a priestly caste and 'holy' scriptures, must be because you feel the need for a set of simple (or complicated) rules to abide by, because you feel an emotional need to put yourself and your life in the hands of some 'Superior Being' (or beings), and because you don't trust yourself to be able to grapple alone with life's challenges and a search for meaning and purpose.

'Faith' is an interesting word. To have faith. Mmmmm. How, exactly, does that work? Self-hypnosis?

On a different programme about religion yesterday the leaders of the major 'faiths' in Britain were asked how they knew that God existed. “It's faith”, said the Hindu guy. You take it on trust. You believe it because you believe it. Or not.

Interestingly, there were no interviews with any Buddhist leaders. Surely that can't be just because Buddhists don't believe in God?

When asked what God actually IS, the Archbishop of Canterbury said, “Something greater than I can conceive of, or put words to.” So that's fair enough then. He can't imagine what God is, and he can't describe God either. That's not what's called copping out, is it?

Apparently Hindus also believe there's one Supreme Being, but they also like to have lots of little Gods as well. Why not? The more the merrier.

There's an exhibition on at the British Museum at the moment called Garden and Cosmos. Don't bother going to it unless you really, really like Hindu art, or you don't mind parting with £8 just out of curiosity. The pictures on the website pretty much do the job for you. Check out painting number 9. What's that guy going to do to all those women with that strange-looking instrument?

http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/all_current_exhibitions/indian_summer/garden_and_cosmos.aspx

The most interesting part of the exhibition for me was about the Naths, whom I'd never heard of, and who use hatha yoga and meditation to become like the “great perfected beings”.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nath

"Our aims in life are to enjoy peace, freedom, and happiness in this life, but also to avoid rebirth onto this Earth plane. All this depends not on divine benevolence, but on the way we ourselves think and act."

Here's an interesting blog, which I've just had a quick look at.
http://www.nathsociety.org/lalitas-blog/

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My Big Decision
BBC Three

From the website of Love Productions:

“This series follows girls, on the cusp of womanhood, on the brink of making huge decisions. Each week two girls wrestling with the same issue embark on a road trip across the UK. There's just one catch... They're taking their mums and grans with them. A week of family "bonding" is the last chance for the older women to influence their daughters' decisions.”

In fact this week's (repeated) programme was about just one young woman, her long-suffering mother, and her mum's mum. The young woman is not so much 'wrestling' with an 'issue' as living a lifestyle of binge drinking, casual sex and terminal selfishness.

She says she loves her mum, and she clearly does, but it's obvious to viewers that her over-tolerant and loving mum is desperate for some respite from her daughter's “evil” attitude and constantly obnoxious and challenging behaviour.

After a lifetime of being unable or unwilling to say 'No' to her daughter, this mother, who's clearly a lovely woman in every way, is considering the downside of giving and desiring 'unconditional love'. This seems to be something that a lot of women, and a lot of mothers, need to think about. As well as 'tough love' and 'anything for a quiet life love'.

After a week of activities such as observing alcohol casualties in A & E, talking to the victims and parents of victims of drunk drivers, and talking to long-term alcoholics, the girl has to decide whether or not she will change her lifestyle, in response to the pleas and urgings of her elders.

Three months later the film crew go back to interview the family and find them completely changed. Everyone looks happy and positive. It's like someone's waved a magic wand and filled young miss with emotional, social and spiritual intelligence. She's only been out on the town drinking and partying on one occasion, and she's had no casual sex. She's cut right down on the alcohol too. She's started speaking to her mother respectfully, considerately, and appreciatively.

It looks like her week's 'road trip' has worked a miracle, and she's been brought to her senses by her experiences, and her reflections on her 'issues'. And then the voice-over casually mentions the fact that six weeks ago she met a young man and started seeing him regularly. Er . . .

So she now has an intimate, affectionate and loving relationship with a guy she seems to spend a lot of her time with. They go shopping, they talk, they hold hands, they go for long walks, they gaze into one another's eyes and they experience hitherto unknown natural 'highs'. Or at least we can assume they do, if we've been there and done that ourselves.

Question – what does this tell us about the real needs of teenagers and young adults?

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How to explain to my Japanese friend the stuff on a repeat of The Fast Show?

Anna Gestapo, on 1970's 'Spanish' TV?
Surgeons snogging whilst carrying out a transplant?
“This season I are wearing mostly no pants.”
“Drill Bit” perfume, by Taylor Woodrow, 'for particularly manly men'. What's funny about an Africaaner perfume sales lady?
The Twelve Ronnies, on Spanish TV?
Ron Manager on 'Match of the Day'?

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This week's Celebrity Wife Swap featured Ron Atkinson and Tessa Saunderson. After spending a few days with Tessa's husband, Ron's wife finally 'got it', and was subsequently able to explain to Big Ron why it was really, really unacceptable and inexcusable to call someone a “fucking lazy nigger”. On or off microphone.

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Heard on radio -

“Richard Prior said it took him 15 years as a comedian to really find his 'voice'.”

What lessons are there here for our education system, and the need to enable our young people to find both their spoken and their written voices? If we value self expression, self-knowledge, authenticity, etc, that is.
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