Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bhagavad Gita for Christians

Last night I came home from choir practice,walked to my bookshelf, pulled out the Bhagavad Gita, and read for awhile. Why in the heck is a Christian like me drawn to this ancient holy book of the Hindu's? Simple. It's good.

I have a popular translation by Stephen Mitchell. He's translated other religious books, too, and he's very talented. I recommend it highly.

OK. What is it that I love about the Bhagavad Gita? First, the initial scene, which finds Krishna (God) educating Arjuna, the prince. Arjuna faces a terrible dilemma: how can he kill his enemies, since they too are men with homes and families? Arjuna concludes that he would rather die than fight, but Krishna convinces him that, for him, fighting the battle is the right thing come what may. It's an interesting argument that you need to read for yourself.

Secondly, the Gita defines God better than any other book. If you want to contemplate God, chapter 7 of the Gita will take you to another place of awe, adoration, and comfort. "All worlds, all beings, are strung upon me like pearls on a single thread." "Those who know me, and the nature of beings, of gods, and of worship, are always with me in spirit, even at the hour of their death."

Last, the Gita has a unique analysis of human nature. What is wisdom, what is freedom, why is selfish desire to be resisted? How does one find peace? I find the answers illuminating. "He who is pure, impartial, skilled, unworried, calm, selfless in all undertakings - that man is the one I love best." The Gita calls us to a lives of purpose and positive action, but as acts of worship rather than a striving for outcomes and pleasure.

Like other religious books including the Bible, the Gita has cultural influences that moderns see as strange. The most noticeable is the strong support for a caste society even though the Gita also sees equality in humankind. It's a paradox. Yet this one area of oddity is far overshadowed by the incredible wisdom within its pages.

Try the Gita when you have the luxury of some quiet time and you feel relaxed and contemplative. It's one more of the many ways God has tried to reach us folks - even us Christians.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

It's Bambi Time Again!

The American whitetail deer is an elusive critter. Even though there are millions of them in the northeast, and often several in my back yard, they have been bred for millions of years to be elusive, fast, and, thank goodness! TASTY!

Today marked my fourth day in the woods this year. All day last Monday, then Thanksgiving morning, all day Friday, and half a day Sunday. I have one small doe to show for many hours of marching through brush or sitting quietly in the cold. It was 25 degrees when I went into the woods on Friday morning, but, thanks to modern techology, I was relatively comfortable. Tonight, as I write this post, both index and middle fingers are still numb from today's hunt. It was a little colder than I felt!

My #1 hunting buddy scored a first yesterday - three deer at once. He was stationed above the end of a large, wooded gully that three drivers were pushing deer toward. He got the second first, the first second and the third last. As I sat about 200 yards away, a deer passed behind me, making noise that got me to spin around and see her disappear into the bush. I later field dressed one of my friend's rare "triple".

My only kill was on Friday afternoon - a button buck spooked by another hunter several hundred yards away. It ran right past me at full speed, coming from my rear, too fast for me to do anything. I watched it stop quite far from me, turn and move toward some other hunters in another area of the woods. I alerted them with my radio. A minute later I saw the same deer running back the way it had come, then, amazingly, it turned 90 degrees and came blazing down its prior path directly at me. I leveled my shotgun as it came, and at about 20 yards distance fired straight at its oncoming chest. It dropped at the spot and did not move again. There must be "deer highways" in the woods that are perceived only by them, and it died because it could not leave the road.

As an Appalachian Trail hiker, I know a lot about long and often painful days of vigorous effort. Hunting in cold weather in dense and hilly terrain is equally demanding. But the reward is a wonderful kind of "tired" and, sometimes, many packages of beautiful meat in the freezer. The season has two weeks to go, and I have two more tags to fill. I look forward to the effort.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Longing for Leadership

It's easy to be pessimistic about America. Both our country and our society have been muddling along for a few years.

The Bush administration's "accomplishments" have been generally negative but - even more important - they've been done with a minimum of popular support. Can you remember even one Bush speech that aroused the citizenry to action? Yet Bush's negative accomplishments were possible because there was no leadership in the opposition. Sadly, congress's ratings are worse than the president's.

Society-wise, we seem to be focused on our own entertainment, on celebrities' antics, and on staying ahead of the bill collectors from the credit card companies. Nothing seems to excite us as a populace - not global warming, nor illegal immigration, or the Iraq war, or even gas prices over $3.25 a gallon. We're not happy about anything, but we seem to be placidly accepting whatever comes to us or is done to us.

Unfortunately, merely laughing at John Stewart's comedy is not an active response to the problems in our government or our society. What we need is some vision and a good kick in the pants, and that is what effective leadership is all about.

Good leaders create a vision by comparing "what is" with "desired state", and then develop a step-by-step plan for moving toward that state. The populace must either accept the desired state goal on their own (it's obvious!) or be educated to see its importance. Once the desired state is accepted, the step-by-step process is communicated and sold, one step at a time. Since almost all choices involve trade-offs, the pain required for each gain must be justified. Thus, a vision is useless without constant, effective communication. Absent a clear emergency, only a great leader can marshall a significant majority of citizens to follow a vision for the time needed to achieve it.

As the next election nears, I'm hoping that several clear voices will emerge to "talk turkey" (a very obscure expression) to all of us. Of all the current candidates, Ron Paul appears to be the most plain speaking and results oriented. Maybe Obama is showing a little straight-shooting as well. If we're going to get a true leader as our next president, we should see that leadership ability during the campaign. So far, none of the front runners have shown me much. I'm longing for leadership. Without it, America will be little better off in the post-Bush era.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Another Course Completed!

Good Witch and I just finished "Sensation, Perception, and the Aging Process" from The Teaching Company - 24 lectures, 30 minutes each - covering how each of the senses work and how the brain processes the input from them. Fascinating! Our senses and brains are nothing short of miraculous in their complexity and power.

We learned that we have a "kinesthetic" sense that I was previously not aware of. It turns out that our muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints have sensors that continually tell the brain what they are doing and also get input from the brain. That's how we judge the weight of things and the angles of our joints, among other things. Top athletes have far better kinesthetic senses that us normal people.

We also learned how important it is for infants and toddlers up to age three to get continual verbal input in order for them to acquire language skills - pay attention, parents! Also, since each language group has different "phonomes", people who hear a different language as a child have a much greater ability to learn that language as an adult.

These "Teaching Company" courses are the best thing since sliced bread for those of us adults who are interested in improving our understanding of just about any topic.
Take my word (another unpaid commercial) for it! You won't be disappointed.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A "Funny" Emergency

Yesterday was not a routine day at Pittsford Volunteer Ambulance, where I was the medic for the morning shift with my driver, Dave.

Late in the morning we had a true emergency - an SUV rollover with five teenagers in the vehicle. It was not as bad as it might have been, and all five are with us still.

But my first call was a gem. I got a bit worried when the 911 dispatcher called over the radio, "Pittsford, a call for a man in a garbage truck, screaming for help."

Most of you know that garbage trucks use powerful hydraulics to lift and crush trash, so my mind was processing scenarios of mayhem as we rushed to the scene. (It's not true that experienced EMT's desire tough calls; every one we don't get is a blessing.)

A few firemen were standing around the garbage truck, looking somewhat bemused, when we arrived. I pulled my medic bag from its compartment and walked quickly to the side of the garbage truck, calling out "Are you in there." A voice replied, "I'm in here." I asked, "Are you hurt?". He replied from somewhere, "I'm not hurt. Just get me out!" He then explained the controls on the side of the garbage truck.

Like a good EMT, I waited for the fire rescue truck to come and extricate the unfortune man, which they did with their ladders and reinforcing chocks.

Once out of the garbage truck bed, the man explained. "I put in recycled items, then I tried to close the clamshell but it stuck. So I got inside and pulled out the paper that had jammed it. I didn't realize that the pressure was still on the hydraulics, so the clamshell then closed and trapped me inside. Fortunately, a homeowner heard me yelling and called you guys."

I took the happy garbageman into the ambulance for a quick check-up, then released him back to his work. Thank heaven that some "emergencies" bring a little levity into the often sad job of a lowly EMT!

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Truth of the Dollar

The American government is holding out on us. It is not telling us the truth about the state of our currency and what that means. It does not want us to know that truth, because the truth is an indictment of those who we have elected to lead us, and also an indictment of ourselves.

In 2001, the EURO was worth $0.84; now it's worth $1.36. What a great investment it would have been to just buy EURO's and bury them in the ground. But buying and burying dollars in 2001 would have been a disastrous investment. What has caused this dramatic fall in what our currency is worth around the world? It's us, and our government, both of whom have been irresponsible from a financial standpoint.

Why us? Because we don't save. In fact, we live on credit, owing money we've yet to earn. And we spend that money on imported goods. The truth is that our national credit is only as good as the sum of our personal credit. If we have a serious recession, most of us have nothing to fall back on and our economy will tank. Why should anyone want our currency when it is so subject to devaluation due to our own failure to protect it?

Why our government? Simply because it owes far more than the sum of its current reserves and its expected future revenues. When you combine our current debt with the unfunded entitlements for Social Security and Medicare, and then add the current deficits that the Bush administration and congress are allowing, our credit deteriorates every day. Any rational observer of our government's spending habits should be racing away from our currency, since it will likely be worth even less each year.

What is the result of all this? Everything we import is going to cost more - oil, toys, electronics, flowers, you name it - if it comes from overseas, the price will go up because we are paying in increasingly cheaper dollars. Our standard of living will go down because we get less for each of our dollars.

Some say that the devalued dollar is a U.S. government strategy to pay back our huge foreign debt with cheaper dollars. That may work for a short time, but we will still need to borrow from foreigners since we don't save enough ourselves. This will force interest rates up to compensate for our deteriorating currency. These higher interest rates will affect all of us by increasing our government's interest costs and by raising the rates at which we can borrow on credit. There is no free lunch.

What can we do about this? The answer is painful. We need to save more and borrow less. We need to cut back on growth in government entitlements - smaller increases in Social Security outlays and higher prices for Medicare coverage. Our government needs to balance its current budget, or even generate a surplus. All of this will reduce the growth rate of our economy and force wages down. People will have to work for less and spend less if our nation is going to survive over the long run. At the same time, we'll need to rely less on migrant labor that sends much of its earnings across the border - Americans need to do the work currently performed by these people, even if the work is unpleasant. And lastly, we will need to improve educational performance across the board so that we can compete more effectively in the world economy down the road. The answers are multifaced and not easy, but we have no choice.

Will our politicians ever start telling the truth about our dollar? Its deterioration is a direct reflection of the confidence others have in our country. Are they right? Absolutely. If America - that's all of us - doesn't get serious about controlling our economic future, then it will be a bleak one. It's time to get started!