Google maps the oceans

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

WE HUMANS are air-breathing landlubbers and that shapes the way we see and treat the world. We don’t think much about what’s underwater or underground. So we’ve been dumping garbage into the oceans and taking what we want from them for years without considering the consequences. We’ve never had to look at any of it – until now.

We’re starting to see what lies below the surface and it’s not always a pretty picture. We see massive islands of plastic and other debris swirling in gyres around the world. We see 9,000-year-old, glass sponge reefs off the coast of BC that, until recently, were torn apart by trawl nets dragged across the ocean floor. We see the effects of climate change on Arctic sea ice and on the animals that live under the sea.

We’ll be able to see even more, thanks to a recent initiative by Google, along with National Geographic, the BBC and scientists and other partners from around the world. Google is adding the world’s oceans to its extensive Earth mapping. In a phone conversation with David Suzuki Foundation staff, John Hanke, director of Google Earth and Maps, admitted, “We had really overlooked two thirds of the planet.” Partly because of prodding from oceanographer Sylvia Earle, the company has embarked on a massive project as part of Google Earth 5.0 to map the oceans using sonar imaging, high-resolution and 3-D photography, video and a variety of other techniques and content.

Although the emerging picture is sometimes bleak, there’s a positive side. “If we can just see enough soon enough to pull back and give these areas a chance to recover, that’s my greatest hope,” Dr. Earle told us.

Mr. Hanke and Dr. Earle, who is explorer in residence at National Geographic and the founder of the Deep Search Foundation, said the project will allow us to learn more about human impacts on the Earth’s oceans. Dr. Earle noted that we have explored only about five percent of the ocean’s depths and protected less than one percent, yet the oceans cover more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface.

“Some of these treasures are being destroyed before we even know what’s there,” Dr. Earle said, adding that often as soon as people find out about an ocean resource, they exploit it. Part of the idea behind Ocean in Google Earth is to show people what we have and what we stand to lose if we don’t smarten up. “People will be aware of not only what’s there but what’s been lost,” Dr. Earle said. “People don’t seem to widely appreciate how important it is to protect the systems that give us life.”

And the oceans do give us life. Half of the world’s oxygen comes from the ocean. In the process of photosynthesis, phytoplankton release oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide that would otherwise contribute to global warming. And when phytoplankton die, they sink to the bottom of the ocean… The phytoplankton are also an important food source for ocean animals ranging from small fish to giant whales, which, in turn, feed other animals up the food chain, including humans.

That’s just one example of how important our oceans are and of how everything in nature is interconnected.

We can only hope this new endeavour will lead to more concern for the state of the oceans and of the need to protect them. The glass sponge reefs, for example, are being considered for formal protection, and public support could make the difference. As Dr. Earle noted, “You can’t care if you don’t know and this a new way of knowing.”

Part of what makes it exciting is that it’s not just a tool for scientists and academics. “It’s going to be a lot of fun for adults and kids to learn about the oceans,” Mr. Hanke said, noting that the free program, which includes multiple layers of content and information, will continue to expand as more data from scientists, explorers and others is added.

We can no longer afford to be blind to the state of our oceans. Let’s hope this will open our eyes before there’s nothing left to see but destruction.

Take the Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

How the mind works

by Paramahamsa Nithyananda

IN LIFE, we constantly create either shafts of pain or joy. Once you create a shaft of pain, you try to break it. In the same way, if you create a shaft of joy, you try to elongate it. But you don’t understand that you can neither elongate the joy shaft nor break the pain shaft – simply because the shaft itself doesn’t exist.

I would like to share with you an interesting learning from my days of spiritual wandering. In the forests of Northern India, the hunters use a trap to catch birds. They tie a rope between two trees. In the middle of the rope, they secure a wooden stick. This is actually a hunter’s trap for birds.

You may think, “How can a bird be trapped with a small stick? How is it possible?” Actually, all they do is just hang the stick between two trees using a rope; that’s all. When a bird comes and sits on the stick, the bird’s own weight turns the whole stick upside down; it turns topsy-turvy. The moment it turns upside down and loses its sense of balance, it feels totally shaken and tightens its grip on the stick. It simply holds on to the stick as if its life depends on it. Because it is hanging upside down, it thinks, “If I unclutchfrom this stick, what will happen? I will fall and die.”

There is no record that any bird has ever fallen and broken its head. But the bird does not have the intelligence to realize this. It keeps hanging on. By not letting go, not only does it lose its freedom, it loses its life too because ultimately the hunter traps it.

Just like the bird, you don’t realize that if you just drop your mind, that very moment you can be liberated. You can simply start flying.

The same fear that the bird clinging to the stick had, you have now. Your fear and the bird’s fear are one and the same. The bird believes that it can’t let go; if it does, it will die. Similarly, you hold on to your mind and feel, “I can’t let go. If I start trusting that I am unconnected, unclutched, independent… I might be lost.”

After four or five hours, the hunter comes leisurely, takes the bird, puts it in the cage and leaves. Now the bird neither has the freedom to fly nor the stick to balance. The foolish bird doesn’t know that if it had just let go of the stick, it could have simply flown away.

In the same way, you hold on to whatever you think is your identity and security – your education, your mind, your life, your relationships or your bank balance. Death ultimately comes to remove the stick – your identity. Then you are neither a liberated soul, nor are you able to hold on to your identity. You will neither have the freedom, nor will you have the stick of your identity that you are clutching because the stick itself is an illusion.

If the bird lets go and relaxes, it may take one or two moments to balance itself, but it will never fall and die. When it leaves the stick, maybe for a few seconds it will fall, but then it will adjust itself and start flying. Just let go and you will never fall and die. You will only become liberated to your full potential. All you need to do is trust that you are unclutched even if you don’t trust that it is still the truth.

When we unclutch, the first thing that will happen to us will be an inner healing effect – a deep silence and peace in us. Second, that inner healing will start radiating as physical well-being, which is our health. Third, naturally it will start radiating in our relationships also. Fourth, because these three are going beautifully, we will be creative and productive.

An instant meditation

You can try this technique of unclutching at any time, whenever you remember. The moment you see a thought coming, do not give meaning to it. You give it meaning only if you connect it with your past. Without giving meaning to it, just remember to unclutch and see what happens.

The moment you remember, “Let me unclutch from this thought; let me not give meaning to it,” for a few seconds there will be a small, silent gap. The moment you are aware that there is a silence, it will become one more thought. Then unclutch from that thought also. Then again there will be a gap of a few seconds. Then one more thought will come: “I am in silence” or “I am unclutching.” Unclutch from that thought also. Just the gap or the silence should become longer and longer. That is the whole idea.

Paramahamsa Nithyananda visits Vancouver March 10-16. For a schedule of his free talks and to register for his workshops, visit www.LIfeBlissCanada.org or call 604-628-4479. Nithyananda is recognized in India as one of the great spiritual teachers. His meditations, yoga and life solutions techniques are popular with more than two million people. (See www.YouTube.com)

Forgive for good

A proven presciption for health and happiness

by Frederic Luskin, Ph.D.

I AM A SENIOR consultant for the Vaden Health Center at Stanford University where I teach people ways to manage their stress and to live lives of greater satisfaction. I do this to reduce their risk of disease and to help their bodies and minds remain strong and resilient. A funny thing happened to me in the midst of doing this work. I started to research the effect that forgiveness had on physical and emotional well being. Towards that end, I developed a simple process of teaching people to let go of the grudges and grievances they carried around. As I started to teach forgiveness, I discovered that an unexpectedly large number of people responded to this work with fascination, confusion, enthusiasm and mistrust. Almost no one knew for certain exactly what forgiveness was and why it might be useful to study.

My work as director of the Stanford Forgiveness Projects has shown that learning to forgive helps people hurt less, experience less anger, feel less stress and suffer less depression. My research also shows that, as people learn to forgive, they become more hopeful, optimistic and compassionate. As people learn to forgive, they become more forgiving in general, not just towards one particular person who did them wrong. Our research has also shown that forgiveness has physical health benefits.

People who learn to forgive report significantly fewer symptoms of stress, such as backache, muscle tension, dizziness, headaches and upset stomachs. In addition, people report improvements in appetite, sleep patterns, energy and general well being. Finally, one research project showed that angry people with high blood pressure showed a decrease in both anger and blood pressure when they learned to forgive.

If forgiveness is so good for us, why do so few of us choose to forgive when people hurt us? First, no one has taught us how to forgive. The religious traditions usually tell us to forgive, but do not offer the practical steps as to how. We live in a culture that prizes the expression of anger and resentment more than the peace of forgiveness. And most people are confused about what forgiveness is and what it is not. Because of this, too many do not take the opportunity to heal themselves, sometimes from great emotional pain and the physical consequences that result.

First, forgiving an offence such as an adulterous affair does not mean you condone the affair. I am reminded often that we can only forgive that which we know to be wrong. Your partner’s affair was wrong, but you do not have to suffer indefinitely because you were betrayed. Secondly, forgiveness in no way means you have to reconcile with someone who treated you badly. If you were the recipient of childhood abuse or are in a harsh relationship, you can forgive the offender and, as part of that choice, make the decision to end or limit contact. Forgiveness is primarily for creating your peace of mind. It is to create healing in your life and return you to a state where you can live capable again of love and trust.

Another misconception about forgiveness is that it depends on whether or not the abuser or lying person apologizes, wants you back or changes his/her ways. If another person’s poor behaviour was the determinant for your healing then the unkind and selfish people in your life would retain power over you indefinitely. Finally, you can forgive you ex-spouse for their insulting speech and even for abandoning you and your children… but forgiveness in no way means you do not take the ex to court to make sure your children get the support payments to which they are entitled. Forgiveness and justice are not the same. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same. Forgiveness and condoning are not the same.

What I have seen time and time again is that people have the capacity to make peace with their past. They regain their ability to trust and love and stop blaming other people for their emotional distress. They take more time to count their blessings and less to complain about what went wrong. They understand they need to look more at who they are becoming and less at what has happened. They grasp that each day they wake up with a fresh start no matter what happened to them yesterday. They learn to forgive and heal in both body and mind.

Nine steps to forgiveness
Forgive for Good

1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a couple of trusted people about your experience.

2. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else. No one else even has to know about your decision.

3. Understand your goal. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that upset you or condoning their action. What you are after is to find peace. Forgiveness can be defined as the “peace and understanding that come from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally and changing your grievance story.”

4. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes – or 10 years – ago.

5. At the moment you feel upset, practise the Positive Emotion Refocusing Technique, a simple stress management technique to soothe your body’s flight or fight response.

6. Give up expecting things from other people, or your life, that they do not choose to give you. Recognize the “unenforceable rules” you have for your health or how you or other people must behave. Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, friendship and prosperity and work hard to get them. However, you will suffer if you demand these things occur when you do not have the power to make them happen.

7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met [other] than through the experience that has hurt you. I call this step finding your positive intention. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt, seek out new ways to get what you want.

8. Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you.

9. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the power you have to create a better story, one where you can let go of the need to be a victim.

Dr. Fred Luskin is the director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects, a renowned researcher, author and expert in forgiveness. He presents “Forgive for Good: 9 Steps to Forgiveness” at the Justice Institute of British Columbia (Theatre), New Westminster, BC, March 26, 9AM-3:30PM. Call 604-528-5590 or 1-877-528-5591to register

Back room drug deals

 

DRUG BUST Alan Cassels

“The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society and we are, as a people, inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. ”

– John F. Kennedy

ARE YOU familiar with the line, “If you’ve nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear?” That’s the slogan often used to attack those who express concern about personal privacy – the ones who say they’re worried about the proliferation of surveillance cameras, databases and other data-collection devices that track us like bloodhounds, recording our every encounter with the legal, commercial, educational and medical systems. Where is all that information kept? How correct is it? Who is using it? Can it be used for purposes for other than which it was intended? Will it ever come back to haunt us even if we have “nothing to hide?” Scary thoughts indeed.

While personal privacy is an issue that gets a lot of attention, leading to a growing level of public concern about exactly how personal data are being used, there’s another side to the secrecy issue. And that’s the fact that many decisions, especially vital decisions that affect healthcare, are made in secret, not open to the sunlight of public scrutiny. Most people would find it astounding that, in Canada, millions are spent on healthcare decisions made behind closed doors. Even if these decisions are being made by well-meaning policy makers fully preoccupied with advancing the public interest, secretive decision-making, by its very nature, means there is no way for third parties to verify whether or not the public interest is best served.

One example on my radar, although details are sketchy, is the way different provincial drug plans cut deals with drug companies about listing their drugs. These so-called product listing agreements allow companies to get their new drugs on the formulary – the list of drugs the province will pay for – without having to reveal how much or how little they are paying the government. They also don’t have to reveal how much more patients and private insurers may have to pay outside the government plan for the same drug. The public may be getting a real steal on a certain product, which just might be providing incredible value for taxpayer money, but the name of the game is secrecy; no one is supposed to know.

Let’s say a company wants its new drug listed on the Ontario Drug Plan and it asks the Ontario government for a certain price. After negotiations about the number of doses and the number of patients likely to use the drug, the product will be listed. If the company sells more of the drug than it projected, it might be required to pay back some of those additional costs to government. These agreements may have research requirements built into them to better monitor how the drug is being used in the general population. This is all conjecture, of course, because the deals are made in secret. What actually happens within a product listing agreement is a big, black box and no one, except the government negotiators and the manufacturer, knows what kind of money the drug is costing the taxpayer or the consumers who are not covered by provincial plans.

Are these fair agreements? Should they be made in the open? That’s my default opinion, but without knowing the specifics of these deals, it’s necessary to withhold judgement. Hopefully, given all the pressure exerted on governments to keep costs down, such secret deals are actually resulting in maximum value for the dollar.

Let’s broaden this question and ask ourselves if we’d welcome governments secretly negotiating on our behalf for other public goods. Would we allow the building of a new Port Mann Bridge or a new Sea-to-Sky Highway to be negotiated in secret? What would we say if prospective builders got together with government officials and hammered out financial deals where the public couldn’t know how much money is changing hands?

Some say the secrecy is necessary because of the way the drug industry and the different public pharmacare programs are structured in Canada. For instance, Quebec has a “most favoured nation” clause that requires manufacturers to provide the Quebec government with the lowest price among all the provincial plans. Maybe doing deals in secret is the only way any other province can get the fairest price. It’s hard to tell, but a recent paper published by Aidan Hollis, an economist in Alberta, found that BC carried out a sole-sourcing contract with a drug company that involved secret rebates to Pharmacare. The problem he saw was that the alleged price reductions for Pharmacare recipients meant higher prices for everyone else not covered by Pharmacare. Hollis concluded: “A tendering process with secret rebates is not transparent, nor is it fair to impose high costs on those patients whose purchases are not covered by Pharmacare.”

“Transparent.” That’s the word that seems most antithetical to the word “secrecy” and one that pharmaceutical companies absolutely love to fling at governments for being secretive. In fact, if you’ve been listening to the comments from drug lobbyists and their favourite disease groups about public agencies that critically evaluate drugs – Canada’s Common Drug Review and UBC’s Therapeutics Initiative, for example – the word “transparency” is thrown down like a gauntlet. Why aren’t these organizations more “transparent” they ask?

Am I the only one to notice the faint whiff of hypocrisy when drug companies are cutting secret deals with provincial governments to list their drugs, even as they publicly demand transparency in government-sponsored analyses of new drugs?

The drug companies’ version of the word transparency is simple: these groups want to know who’s at the table and they want to know the name, rank and serial number of the key lobbying targets. They want to know which levers to work, hence demanding greater and greater transparency around the decisions governments make about drugs because the more opaque the decision-making process, the less chance the drug companies have of influencing governments’ decisions.

Fair enough, right? Yet these demands from the pharmaceutical industry lead to some hard questions regarding the industry’s offerings in terms of their own transparency. Sure, they are companies and companies need to keep secrets – proprietary information, ya know – and I can accept that. However, we in the public know almost nothing about what the industry is doing to influence healthcare decisions, such as how much they spend to influence physician prescribing.

Dr. Joel Lexchin, a Canadian expert in pharmaceutical policy and author of one of the best books on the drug industry in Canada –The Real Pushers, New Star Books, 1984 – has estimated that the drug industry in Canada today spends about $50,000 per doctor, per year, marketing its products to physicians, but we don’t know for sure. (With 6,000 practising doctors in BC, that’s about $300 million per year.) Do we know how the money is spent or to what extent it influences prescribing decisions? Of course not. All of that information is confidential, secret and non-transparent.

Another worrisome aspect of transparency relates to the way Health Canada respects drug manufacturers’ requests for confidentiality of unpublished data – that is, the company’s clinical data our regulator examines before it allows a drug to be sold in Canada. We researchers who are interested in what those data show –especially in terms of drug safety – can’t get them. That information is considered confidential and we can only see summaries of the data that support the approval of a drug.

Data on drug safety, data on what provinces pay for drugs and data on drug company spending to influence prescribing are certainly on my menu of what I think needs to be brought into the light of day under the banner of greater transparency.

Yet even while governments in Canada jump to satisfy the industry’s strident desire for greater transparency, they tend not to demand, in return, greater transparency for those things obviously in the public interest. At the very least, we would hope they would strike a balance so that the glare of transparency can shine on both public and private matters. However, the way the companies and governments currently deal with transparency issues reminds me of the slogan used to describe the recent spate of bailouts of private banks in the economic slowdown: “The privatization of benefits and socialization of costs and risks.”

Maybe our democratically elected governments need to say this to the drug companies: “We’ll give you transparency of our decision making processes when you provide us equal clarity on your business decisions. You can’t have us working in a glass house while you work in a batcave.”

Alan Cassels is a drug policy researcher at the University of Victoria and author of The ABCs of Disease Mongering: An epidemic in 26 Letters.

cassels@uivic.ca

 

Bernie, Buddha, and belief systems

Everything I need to know about non-attachment, I learned from Wall Street

by Geoff Olson

I ONCE READ a short story, whose author eludes both my memory and Google’s, in which the narrator discovers his alarmed mother at home, floating up around the ceiling. The poor woman has stopped believing in gravity, with lighter-than-air results. Alexandra Penney must have felt the same way when the ground dropped out from under her feet. Last fall, the 69-year-old artist, author and former editor of Self magazine discovered that her life savings had disappeared, courtesy Wall Street fraud artist Bernie Madoff, who allegedly bilked a total of $50 billion from his clients. On her blogThe Bag Lady Papers, Penney recalls a call from a friend, alerting her to Madoff’s arrest. Wasn’t he the guy who handled her money, the friend asked? One and the same. “Before I reached for a bedtime Tylenol PM, I Googled the Hemlock Society. I wanted to know a painless way to die,” Penney notes.

Madoff’s investors had come to him by “invitation only,” joining a charmed circle of wealthy clients whose portfolios flourished under his guidance. Penney’s investor profile wasn’t quite as toney as the others, however. She had been tucking away money since she was 16 years old. “Not a penny was inherited,” she asserts. “Not one cent was from my divorce. I earned all of it myself, through a long string of jobs that included working as a cashier at Rosedale fish market in New York City in my 20s, and later, writing bestselling sex books.”

After her account with Madoff evaporated, the once financially comfortable Penney had to confront a brave new world of budget motels, pawned jewellery and public transit. In one recent blog post, she writes of buying a $20 MetroCard. Instead of tossing the old one, she threw the new one by mistake into a trashcan on the platform. “It was too tall to reach into and I immediately wanted to turn it upside down and dump the contents to find my card.”

Throughout these humiliating initiations into the underclass, the aptly named Penney doesn’t bother to disguise her understandable loathing of Madoff. “I never even knew what Madoff looked like. But now I obliterate his face when I see it on television. I think he’s a sociopath who said he lost $50 billion for self-aggrandizement when it was probably closer to the bandied-about number of $17 billion.” Throughout the blog, she abbreviates the Wall Street wizard’s name to MF.

Ironically, Penney’s had a lifelong fear of ending up a bag lady, “cold, alone and abandoned.” Over the years, she cleared up her garden variety anxieties through therapy, but her “bag lady fears” were more persistent. Her therapist told her the best way to deal with them was to put her money in a safe place. “Which I did. With the MF.”

Many of Madoff’s more than 13,000 clients invested all their Fabergé eggs in one basket, ironically thinking that one flawless financial genius would diversify their portfolios. When the Ponzi scheme evaporated – Madoff turned himself in saying, “It was all just one big lie” – the Great Oz was revealed as a nebbishy con man clutching a brocaded curtain.

Madoff may seem an extreme case, but his con game wasn’t that far removed from other dodgy financial schemes on Wall Street, such as the “black box” derivatives that accelerated the credit death spiral. But this is hardly anything new. Bank failures, speculative bubbles and their well-heeled architects have a long and lofty history on both sides of the Atlantic. In his novel Little Dorrit, one of Dickens’ main characters is a “brilliant” banker by the name of Merdle, who could effortlessly double the investment of clients. The cream of London society invested in Merdle and lost their life savings as a result. (Merdle sounds like Madoff and Alexandra Penney sounds like a Dickens character herself.)

Margaret Atwood’s Massey Lecture series, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, echoes both Alexandra Penney and the fictional mother who stopped believing in gravity. “I knew from fairy tales . . . that if you ceased to believe in fairies they would drop dead,” observes Atwood. “If I stopped believing in banks, would they too expire?” Marg knows exactly what would happen if we stopped believing in the places where we stash our cash: we’d have a run on the banks. Customers might even discover the awful truth of fractional reserve banking: loans exceed deposits. At any given time, these marbled monuments hold only a small fraction of hard currency relative to money loaned out. Ergo, it’s in all our best interest to keep believing our money is safe in steel vaults, protected from robbers and panicked grannies by large men with guns. But if too many of us believe we won’t be able get our money out in times of crisis, the whole game becomes shaky for everyone.

Since the financial market’s own version of 9/11, the collective belief in free market capitalism has taken quite a hit. Not surprisingly, the professional absurdists have shown more common sense than the business press. “The stock market’s just a consensual mass delusion based on fictitious valuing of abstract assets,” noted fictional news reporter John Oliver on The Daily Show. Yet, even now, financial advisors and business press shills are still humming the same old tune, which might as well be Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’. No matter how bad the financial news gets, the bull market will return one day, we’re told. Two years, say some. Three years, say others – seven years on the outside. Just have faith and buy low.

The central paradox is that bull markets are turbocharged by the very thing that ultimately undermines them: herd behaviour. That’s been obvious ever since the nineteenth century when Charles Mackay penned Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. The author outlined John Law’s ruinous sale of Louisiana swampland to the government of France, and the “Tulipomania” of 17th century Holland (in a fit of speculation on tulips, certain varieties of bulbs became more valuable by weight than gold – and next to worthless when the tulip market collapsed).

These ruinous episodes always make for great, rubbernecking entertainment if schadenfreude is your sort of thing. Today, it’s the smackdown of the millennium, as Obama’s tag team of optimism, “Hope n’ Change,” takes on Wall Street’s “Greed n’ Envy.” Yet the new president’s too-little-too-late efforts to get tough with the masters of the universe are not encouraging, especially considering the tulip floggers in his cabinet (like former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Timothy Geithner and former World Bank Chief Economist Lawrence Summers). As noted on bloomberg .com, almost half the people on Obama’s Transition Economic Advisory Board “have held fiduciary positions at companies that, to one degree or another, either fried their financial statements, helped send the world into an economic tailspin or both.”

Barack Obama instituted new rules limiting the hiring of lobbyists into his administration. Within days, the “Optimist in Chief” exempted a number of people from the rule he had just proclaimed. Adding insult to absurdity, Timothy Geithner has hired the lobbyist from Goldman Sachs as his chief of staff.

So once again it’s the foxes guarding the henhouse. Although there’s nothing wrong with Obama counselling his people to follow the “better angels of our nature,” let’s hope America’s angels handle money better than the tooth fairy or Bernie Madoff.

As for Madoff himself, Frank Rich of The New York Times describes him as “a pillar of both the Wall Street and Jewish communities,” who even managed to swindle The Simon Wiesenthal Centre. This smiling sociopath, a former NASDAQ chairman and a trustee at Yeshiva University, turned out to have no academic background in finance. Presumably, his political science degree was a better guide to Machiavelli than macroeconomics.

Madoff never acted alone, critics say. Former investment manager Harry Markopolos tried for almost a decade to alert the Security and Exchange Commission to “the red flags” in Madoff’s dealings. As early as 2000, he supplied the agency with information that he believes should have triggered an investigation. “I gift wrapped and delivered the largest Ponzi scheme to them,” Markopolos told a Congressional hearing in January, according to Reuters. Multiple efforts to alert the authorities were met with a spooky silence and, at one point, Markopolos began to fear for his life and the safety of his family. “We knew that he was one of the most powerful men on Wall Street and in a position to easily end our careers or worse,” he said.

Markopolos was perceptive and brave, but where were the other wise men warning of an impending crash, back when many of us would have pegged Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as characters from The Dukes of Hazard? Not in the SEC or anywhere else in the mirrored canyons of Wall Street. Apparently not around the manicured quadrangles of Harvard or the faculty rooms of Wharton Business School either. If there were whistleblowers, their voices weren’t reliably relayed through the newsrooms of our glorious free press.

This high-flying market crashed on the watch of the best and brightest – the managerial class for the global elite, the top 10 percent of the population that do the work of the top one percent. These polite, educated people showed up afterwards to pick through the wreckage and examine the flight recorder. But they also helped build and paint this screwball contraption in the first place and cheered while it did barrel rolls in a sky, unclouded by regulations. Many of them voluntarily boarded the thing themselves and toasted their ascent as the engines inhaled the last whiff of fumes.

We were all in the scam together to some degree or another. To believe, as most still do, that the gross domestic product can continue to grow faster than the ecology it’s embedded in, is sheer lunacy. But as writer Robert Anton Wilson once said, “There’s a seeker born every minute.” Hundreds of millions of seekers joined in on the global real estate bubble, from subprime-seeking schmucks to home-flipping mini-magnates. These suburban berserkers inspired the making of television shows like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Design Invasion, The Big Flip, Home to Flip, Flip This Houseand Flip That House. Many of those productions are still rotated on HGTV, a channel entirely devoted to real estate and reno-porn

sheep

Now that we’re scratching our heads, wondering what the hell happened with our fractured nest eggs, it might help to ask some deep questions about our desires and why they often get us into trouble. East beats west in addressing this problem. “Release your attachment to something that is not there in reality, but is a perception,” advises Buddhist scholar Khyentse Rinpoche. If that sounds like it might be advice for burned investors, there’s good reason; Rinpoche offered these words of wisdom in the illuminating 2003 documentarySandcastles: Buddhism and Global Finance.

Back in 2003, the makers of Sandcastles had cottoned on to the illusory nature of global capital markets, in which herd behaviour can tank a firm or an entire country in the time it takes to order lunch. How can a system that contingent be “real”? Buddhism holds that the nature of reality is both transient and relational; all things have existence only by virtue of their relationship to other things, none of which are permanent. There is no fixed self, only a stream of continuous perceptions, according to Buddhists. That notion is echoed in the film by sociologist Saskia Sassen: “It’s not that there are $83 trillion (in the global capital markets). It is essentially a continuous set of movements. It disappears and it reappears.” We might as well be talking about virtual particles in a supercollider, or angels dancing on the head of a pin.

Eastern philosophy, however, has little to say about remedying institutional problems or putting shackles on the guys who burned through billions of shekels. This mess wasn’t about a bunch of poor, black homeowners taking down the global economic system. In his revealing study of the market meltdown, former Saloman Brothers employee and author Michael Lewis argues that the subprime mortgages were only the front end of the scam. Some investment banks encouraged short-selling against the subprime-bundled securities, in effect inviting side bets on the failure of the very financial instruments that helped drive the US residential real estate bubble. Why would anyone do such an insane thing? Because, Lewis says, the jig was up on sub primes – the players at the top were running out of suckers in the mortgage loans market to fuel their casino capitalism, but they could squeeze some more bucks out of multiplied bets that hedged on the subprime loans’ predictable collapse.

And that takes us right back to belief systems – or as writer Robert Anton Wilson abbreviated them, BS. The current mess isn’t an aberrant form of capitalism. It’s business as usual. In his crisis of faith before Congress, former federal reserve Alan Greenspan said he now believes he was mistaken to think that financial institutions would self-regulate. Somehow, 83-year-old Greenspan failed to learn anything from Enron, the Savings and Loan scandal and the 1980s HUD scandal, to say nothing of the Great Depression.

bill

Every few decades or less there’s a whole new crop of true believers looking to win big, through tulips, swampland, tech stocks, residential real estate, energy trading, you name it. And with every downturn, there’s yet another massive transfer of wealth from the rubes to the upper tiers of society. Today, the crises are systemic and inherent in the nature of capital. The process of peak and crash is as dependable as a mass death of June bugs. But there are always the gentlemen gaming the system, who have the inside knowledge of how to profit from the inevitable crash. This time around, if it weren’t subprime “tranches” and “black box’ derivatives, it would have been something else.

If the sheeple should have learned anything throughout this most recent fleecing – and we aren’t even halfway through this romp in the pasture – it’s that a little scepticism and a refusal to follow the herd is a healthy thing. Particularly since the shears are getting sharper and the fleecings more frequent.

The rule of law is based on the rational expectation that business transactions can be made in good faith and that legally binding agreements will be enforced by the state. That belief has been deeply shaken in North America and beyond, especially now that millions of jobs are evaporating across North America and the architects of this mess feather their nests with multimillion-dollar bonuses.

Credit comes from the Latin, credo – “believe, trust.” What happens when enough of us in the industrialized West stop believing not just in the stock market and big banks, but also in university economics departments, corporations, law enforcement agencies, the legal profession, government, the mainstream media, public relations departments and organized religion? Not that these entities deserve our unquestioning faith, or ever did. But if enough rubes became refuseniks, what would rush in to fill the vacuum – a “failed state” scenario or a revolutionary chance at what philosopher Morris Berman calls “the reenchantment of the world”? If we start to think of our social construction of reality as no more real than a Hollywood film set, will the ground disappear from beneath our feet? Would it be like no longer believing in gravity and finding ourselves floating weightless in the air? Perhaps after immense disruptions to society, we would discover who we really are as human beings, once we rule out who we really aren’t.

On her blog, Penney describes herself sitting in a small kitchen, “writing with lunatic speed.” She hops out a couple of times a day “to drive around the ‘hood trying to pick up a wireless signal on my laptop so I can email out to the world. No phone, no ‘net, no cable – it’s my new way of life.” Perhaps she won’t be out on the streets after all. Her blog efforts have paid off with a book deal, but she continues to wonder how the rule of law went sideways in the case of Madoff, who’s now confined to the swank New York penthouse that’s in his wife’s name.

Penney’s words could be a coda for the continuing lack of accountability for the market collapse on Wall Street and Washington: “Once again, I ask, can somebody please tell me why the Mother of all [#@&!@%] is still not in jail????”

www.geoffolson.com

The face of future media

INDEPENDENT MEDIA by Steve Anderson

On February 17, hearings that could well decide the future of Internet broadcasting in Canada will begin in a small room in Gatineau, Quebec. There, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will decide whether or not to roll back its 1999 decision to exempt Internet content from regulation.

Some of the questions the CRTC will consider include: What is “new media” (read Internet) broadcasting? What might its impact be on the Canadian broadcasting system? Which regulatory measures and/or incentives are needed to boost Canadian broadcast programming on the Internet? The answers to these questions could well shape the future of Canadian broadcasting both on and offline.

A definition for the future of media

Defining exactly what comprises “new media broadcasting” will be tricky. The new media broadcasting definition could have huge implications for online, independent media in Canada. For example, many of the independent outlets that publish this column could have access to an independent “Internet Broadcast Fund” if the CRTC provides a relatively flexible definition.

The definition of new media broadcasting will also have broader implications for Canadian content production. The definition should prevent conventional broadcasters from bypassing their current obligations when using the Internet to distribute videos. However, licensing new media producers and mandating that they follow Canadian content rules is a step too far. Such a heavy handed approach would stifle online innovation and user generated content production.

Canadian production under threat

Canadians generally watch American TV programs and Canadian programs are, in large part, financed through the advertising revenue and subscription fees viewers pay to watch those programs. If people gain direct access to those American programs, outside of the regulatory systems designed to put some of that revenue back into the production of Canadian programs, the result could be a disaster for Canadian program production.

It’s not that Canadian producers make programs nobody wants to watch. On the contrary, audiences for Canadian programs are currently at an all time high and growing. It’s simply that American programs generally pay for themselves in their home markets and, thereby, are sold at huge discounts to Canadian broadcasters. As heavily advertised and marketed American programs flood Canadian markets, it becomes increasingly difficult for Canadian programs to attract audiences and generate revenue.

Because American programs enjoy such an economic advantage in Canadian markets, broadcast regulation is designed to ensure that Canadian programs have space in the schedule and that there is money to pay for them. But as more and more foreign – mainly American broadcast programs – are available over the Internet, this delicate balance could be lost. Big broadcasters have the privilege of using the public airwaves and enjoy access to public support mechanisms. Imposing a limit on repurposed American content should be the minimum requirement.

American programs enjoy the same economic advantages on the Internet as they do in cable and satellite markets, and, as such, production funds like those available for these traditional markets will be necessary. But where, exactly, will the money come from?

One likely source of funding is the windfall profit from telecommunications carriers. Just as the companies that distribute broadcast programs now pay into a production fund, the telecommunications carriers that provide access to the Internet might also be expected to contribute to a fund through a telecom levy.

To be clear, the telecom levy would be applied exclusively to the large carriers (Bell, Telus, Rogers, Shaw and Videotron). Independent ISPs that purchase wholesale bandwidth from the major carriers should be exempt so as to avoid eroding their market share and to further encourage competition and investment in the Internet service market.

Ensuring that regulation will encourage both innovation and a Canadian presence on the Internet should be the priority for the CRTC in these hearings. To that end, the Internet Broadcast Fund should be used as a mechanism to support independent and community media, which are in need of sustainable revenue streams and vital to supporting a democratic culture in Canada.

Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He contributed to Censored 2008 and Battleground: The Media, and has written for The TyeeToronto Star, Epoch Times and Adbusters. Reach him at: 
steve@democraticmedia.ca
www.FacebookSteve.com
www.SteveOnTwitter.com

Veggies for vitality

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina

The scrumptious aroma of potatoes baking in the oven on a winter afternoon. Minestrone soup simmering, bringing an invitation from onion, garlic and herbs. The vibrant reds, greens and purples of a rainbow-hued salad. The explosion of flavour when you bite into an avocado and tomato sandwich.

If the word “vegetables” doesn’t conjure in your mind sensations of colour, fragrance, delicious flavour and bountiful health, it’s time to update your attitude about these amazing foods. When we have a savoury soup and salad for lunch, and build our dinner around veggies, we consume a wealth of vitamins, minerals and other nutritious compounds.

More than any other group of foods, vegetables have proven their worth as cancer fighters and as our powerful protectors. This is a great time to make the acquaintance of new members of this family of plant foods and also to discover what powerful allies they can be in supporting your health.

One of the best things that veggies have going for them is an abundance of protective phytochemicals (plant chemicals). These substances provide many of the colours that make the produce aisles so attractive and vibrant. Veggies also give you more bang for your buck, in terms of providing vitamins, minerals and protection against disease, per calorie and per mouthful, compared with any other group of foods.

The recipe shown is from our newest book, The Raw Food Revolution Diet*. This bean-free hummus has all the flavour of traditional Middle Eastern hummus and is full of nutrients, including bone-strengthening calcium. It’s tasty with raw veggies. To expand your horizons about which veggies you can eat raw, here are a few ideas: asparagus tips, broccoli florets, carrot sticks, cauliflower florets, celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, cucumber discs, green onions, green pea pods, jicama sticks, parsnip sticks, peppers (red, yellow and green), snow peas, zucchini strips or circles.

The Raw Food Diet Revolution

A trend that is sweeping North America is the raw foods movement. Some people are motivated by a concern about their bulging waistlines, others by the abundance of protective antioxidants and phytochemicals in plant foods. Many are inspired to increase their intake of uncooked veggies and fruits without adhering to an entirely raw diet. Are raw diets nutritionally adequate? What are the potential pitfalls? Are they good for children? Can a raw or mainly raw diet form the basis for a successful weight loss plan? I will be delivering a seminar entitled The Raw Food Diet Revolution at The Wellness Show. See information below.

Vesanto Melina delivers The Raw Food Diet Revolution seminar at The Wellness Show, Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Ctr, 999 Canada Place, Sun. Feb. 8, 12:30pm. Drop by the Book Publishing Company booth (620) and say hello.

www.thewellnessshow.com 
www.nutrispeak.com
*Authors: Cherie Soria, Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina (The Book Publishing Company, 2008.)

Attend a free presentation by Vesanto, “Rx for Healthy Eating” in Langley’s Walnut Grove Library, Wed. Feb. 11 at 7 pm


Zucchini Hummus

Makes 1-2/3 cups (5 servings)
Serve hummus with raw veggies or as “Romaine Boats” on the inner leaves of a head of Romaine lettuce, topped with diced tomatoes and alfalfa sprouts.

1 small zucchini, peeled and chopped (1 cup/250 mL, firmly packed)
3 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. flaxseed oil or olive oil
1-4 cloves garlic
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cumin (optional)
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1/2 cup sesame tahini
1/3 cup sesame seeds, soaked 4 hours and drained

Place in a blender the zucchini, lemon juice, oil, garlic, paprika, salt, cumin (if using) and cayenne. Purée. Add tahini and sesame seeds and purée until perfectly smooth and creamy. Store in a glass jar or other covered container, refrigerated, for up to four days.

Note: This recipe can be made in a food processor, although the mixture will contain whole sesame seeds, rather than being smooth. Alternatively, you can replace the seeds with 1/3 cup more tahini plus a little water.

Vesanto Melina is a BC-registered dietitian and co-author of the following nutrition classics: Becoming Vegan, the Food Allergy Survival Guide andRaising Vegetarian Children
www.nutrispeak.com

Five-year food security plan

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

I spent a full year searching for a property where I could grow as much of my own food as possible. From the moment I stepped foot on the land we bought, I started visualizing my new garden 10 years down the road. Amazingly, it only took five years to achieve year-round self-sufficiency in fruits and vegetables. Now I know that urban gardeners on Vancouver Island could achieve food security with their own five-year plan. It could look something like this:

Year one: edible landscaping. Year two: fruit and vegetable gardening. Year three: winter food gardening. Year four: seed saving for future harvests. Year five: four-season production using local seed banks.

We are beginning the ninth year on our property so I thought I’d share what we did on The Garden Path with you:

Amending the soil: With 15 feet of clay fill to work with, this was a no-brainer! How to change a cracked substrate with no earthworms into a fertile organic loam in a few months? First, Maverick Excavating came to break up the clay and then we mulched like mad, with what I refer to as “The Four Secrets of Successful Soil Building” – compost, manure, leaves and seaweed. By adding six-inch layers of these organic amendments in the fall, we were able to turn compacted clay into friable soil, with good tilth and teaming with earthworms by April the following year.

The best part is these organic soil amendments are free and freely available and are often regarded as waste. If urban gardeners linked with rural farmers and used their manure, we could easily solve a big waste disposal problem. If gardeners kept their leaves and fed them back to the soil, we would save a lot of money by the city not having to pick them up and we wouldn’t have to drive to the works yard to buy the leaves back as mulch. There’s a good joke here.

Building a greenhouse: I chose a glass and metal frame model, but there are other options. Due to erratic weather, I now grow seedlings for transplanting whenever possible. If you don’t have the luxury of a greenhouse, you can improvise with cold frames and cloches.

Designing the garden: Maverick Excavating dug up a 50 sq. ft. area, which was divided into four quadrants with a circular bed in the middle. This layout works well for crop rotations, which break the lifecycle of pests and diseases.

We grow food year round in the main garden because in our temperate climate there’s no need to leave beds empty from October to April; there are 50 varieties of different vegetables that can be harvested throughout winter.

The “Berry Walk”: I planted a 50-foot-long border with raspberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries and Josta berries, all of which were under-planted with “Totem” June-bearing strawberries. They thrive in the same conditions.

The fruit orchard: A small orchard of 10 trees was planted in the second year. Dwarf and semi-dwarf saplings of apple, pear, cherry and plum trees were planted 15-feet apart in two rows of five because I visualized an avenue of trees with a canopy of fruit, providing shade for summer banquets.

The arbour: In year three, we scoured the forest to build a 50-foot-long arbour for kiwis, grapes, climbing berries and thornless blackberries. The berries are very ornamental as they ripen from red to black.

Seed saving: Over the years, more garden beds were added for seed saving. Plants adapt to the conditions in which they grow, which is why using organic seed is best when you are an organic gardener. Local seeds also have an edge in that they become adapted to the local climate conditions.

Willows and bamboos: These are useful, renewable resources for the garden. In future years, the bamboos and willows I have been planting will provide material for obelisks, arbours, trellises, screens, fences and teepees.

The native edible plant walk: next on the list – I’ll keep you posted.

Carolyn Herriot is author of A Year on the Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide. She grows her certified organic “Seeds of Victoria” at The Garden Path Centre where she blogs The New Victory Garden online.

From illness to enlightenment

THE POWER OF NOW by Eckhart Tolle

If someone is seriously ill and completely accepts their condition and surrenders to the illness, would they not have given up their will to get back to health? The determination to fight the illness would not be there anymore, would it?

Surrender is inner acceptance of what is without any reservations. We are talking about your life – this instant – not the conditions or circumstances of your life, not what I call your life situation. We have spoken about this already.

With regard to illness, this is what it means. Illness is part of your life situation. As such, it has a past and a future. Past and future form an uninterrupted continuum, unless the redeeming power of the Now is activated through your conscious presence. As you know, underneath the various conditions that make up your life situation, which exists in time, there is something deeper, more essential: your Life, your very Being in the timeless Now.

As there are no problems in the Now, there is no illness either. The belief in a label that someone attaches to your condition keeps the condition in place, empowers it and makes a seemingly solid reality out of a temporary imbalance. It gives it not only reality and solidity, but also a continuity in time that it did not have before. By focusing on this instant and refraining from labelling it mentally, illness is reduced to one or several of these factors: physical pain, weakness, discomfort or disability. That is what you surrender to – now. You do not surrender to the idea of “illness.”

Allow the suffering to force you into the present moment, into a state of intense conscious presence. Use it for enlightenment. Surrender does not transform what is, at least not directly. Surrender transforms you. When you are transformed, your whole world is transformed because the world is only a reflection. We spoke about this earlier.

If you looked in the mirror and did not like what you saw, you would have to be mad to attack the image in the mirror. That is precisely what you do when you are in a state of non-acceptance. And, of course, if you attack the image, it attacks you back. If you accept the image no matter what it is, if you become friendly toward it, it cannot not become friendly toward you. This is how you change the world.

Illness is not the problem. You are the problem – as long as the egoic mind is in control. When you are ill or disabled, do not feel that you have failed in some way; do not feel guilty. Do not blame life for treating you unfairly, but do not blame yourself either. All that is resistance. If you have a major illness, use it for enlightenment. Anything “bad” that happens in your life, use it for enlightenment. Withdraw time from the illness. Do not give it any past or future. Let it force you into intense present-moment awareness and see what happens.

Become an alchemist. Transmute base metal into gold, suffering into consciousness, disaster into enlightenment. Are you seriously ill and feeling angry now about what I have just said? Then that is a clear sign that the illness has become part of your sense of self and that you are now protecting your identity, as well as protecting the illness. The condition that is labelled “illness” has nothing to do with who you truly are.

When disaster strikes

As far as the still unconscious majority of the population is concerned, only a critical limit-situation has the potential to crack the hard shell of the ego and force them into surrender and so into the awakened state. A limit-situation arises when, through some disaster, drastic upheaval, deep loss or suffering, your whole world is shattered and doesn’t make sense anymore. It is an encounter with death, be it physical or psychological. The egoic mind, the creator of this world, collapses. Out of the ashes of the old world, a new world can then come into being.

Adapted from The Power of Now, copyright 1999 by Eckhart Tolle. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA, 800-972-6657 (ext. 52). Visit www.eckharttolle.com.

Transcend judgement

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

Nothing is more precious than peace. Peace is the most basic starting point for the advancement of humankind.

– Daisaku Ikeda

A ubiquitous quality among humans is the tendency to judge others, regardless of age, culture or geographical region. Of course, this is the work of ego. Interestingly, the judgment of others is always relative to the one doing the judging. That is, others are judged to the extent that they differ from the one judging.

The vegetarian may judge the meat-eater, who in turn judges the vegetarian. The abstainer judges the drinker for his indulgence, while the drinker judges the abstainer for his unwillingness to indulge. The person of faith judges the non-believer, while the non-believer judges the faithful. Such examples are endless whether we are looking at inter-personal relationships or more global perspectives.

Significantly, the one judging always believes he or she knows the way things ought to be. This “truth” becomes the standard against which others are judged. Those judging feel justified in their criticisms due to their conviction that their beliefs are the right ones.

It is no wonder there is so much conflict amongst individuals, groups and countries. Whenever there are two sides with differing viewpoints and both believe they are right, conflict is inevitable. This is the essence of polarity and it is the way in which ego keeps us stuck in its old, primitive ways.

As we evolve individually and as a species, we come to see that differing perspectives are the norm and that no one’s “truth” is more true than another’s. We come to respect the viewpoints of others and see they are as valid for them as our views are for us.

We cease telling others they are wrong and insisting we are right. This opens the way for genuine dialogue and understanding. We seek to understand one another rather than fighting each other.

Once there is understanding, it is possible to work together to find or create solutions. This leads to cooperation and collaboration rather than crisis and conflict. This seems so simple and self-evident, yet it remains the exception rather than the rule in human interactions. If we understand the concept, why is it so difficult to live it?

The desire for peaceful, harmonious relationships and way of living is the natural inclination of the soul. When the soul looks at others, it sees that which is common to all. It sees with love and compassion and desires that no harm come to anyone. Soul sees that we truly are all the same; it is only the packaging that is different and that sometimes confuses us.

Ego, on the other hand, is much like the two-year-old who can only see what it wants and has no ability to perceive a situation from the perspective of another. It keeps re-iterating its own position over and over again, growing increasingly frustrated at not getting its way. It wants only for the other to adopt its own viewpoint and give it what it wants.

In such a situation, there is but one criterion that determines the outcome. The one with the most power wins out. However, being most powerful does not mean your outcome is the best for all involved or serves the highest good. Outcomes based on power create resentment and often an escalation of power on the other side.

So on the one hand we have ego that champions its own perspective and belief in its “rightness,” ultimately resorting to power to get its way, and then we have soul, which views differences with compassion and understanding, seeking wisdom as a guide to peaceful resolutions and harmonious outcomes.

As always, the choice is ours. We can continue unconsciously allowing ego to chart our path and colour our lives or we can step up to soul awareness, carrying ourselves and others to a higher level of being human.

Gwen Randall-Young is a psychotherapist and author of Growing Into Soul: The Next Step in Human Evolution. For more articles, permission to reprint and information about her books and “Deep Powerful Change” personal growth/hypnosis CDs, visit www.gwen.ca