Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Flirting With Anarchy: My Path to Understanding The Need For Good Governance: Part One.

NOTE: This was written a few years ago. I am publishing it now, after Trump's victory, because I believe that once we truly experience how a businessman runs the US economy, people are going to come to understand the need for government involvement in our lives.

During the 60s many people in the US were exploring many different ideologies and anarchism definitely struck a chord with many hippies. My father was a hippie and being raised by him gave me a unique introduction to Anarchism and an interest into Libertarianism. US history has seen many different movements that were influenced by libertarianism and/or anarchism. I have always been quite confused by the two ideologies.  During my years of trying to understand them, I have found that there are only slight differences between the extreme right and the extreme left. Anarchism is generally considered part of the left and libertarianism is generally with the right. The major difference between the two is that anarchism doesn’t not believe in a nation state at all where as the extreme right believes in one to protect the individual’s freedom. I know it is kind of weird to see the extreme right and extreme left being so close ideologically. It gets even weirder especially when you find out that liberalism is a term for fiscal conservatives but progressive liberals believe in increasing government intervention in business and fiscal conservatives and Christians that want to increase government’s role in limiting freedom when it comes to a women’s decision about abortion and whether people can be married and they want to continually make a drug like marijuana illegal when it is much safer than Alcohol. But let’s stick to the point. I am happy to know that many true libertarians, including Ron Paul want to legalize all drugs because the government doesn’t need to be regulating people’s behavior.

When Punk rock was just beginning to become popular I dropped out of college after deciding to be an artist and follow an anarchist way of life. I didn’t want anyone telling me what to do, especially not some faceless bureaucrat. I was young, strong, and smart, I could do anything.  With that attitude, the only job I could get was for a moving company, ironically named, Starving Students. When customers asked if we were actual students, we all answered, “students of life.” We were students of the school of hard knocks. Back then many people would have called me a radical but they probably couldn’t quite nail me down. I had this all too common American mix of libertarianism and anarchism and a definite distaste for socialism. My chosen path led me to a hard job. I worked there for two and half years and saw many people come and go, some people never showed up again after one day of work. So it was no surprise that I got injured while lifting a large upright piano up a few, very curvy, flights of stairs with only one other person helping.

My introduction to the US health care system began in 1994, with my boss at the moving company yelling at me for putting in a workman’s compensation claim. Then sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for what I thought would be a “visit,” but turned out to be me watching him write a prescription for painkillers. I was out of his office so quickly I am still not sure if we actually exchanged words. While I sat there wondering what the hell had just happened, he was back to his colleague discussing his golf form. I know that image is a trope but it really happened. However, those experiences were nothing in comparison to dealing with the insurance claims. I found that when you change jobs, you lose insurance coverage. When you get a new job you get new coverage after a six-month waiting period and when you submit a claim on the new account it gets denied. So you call a customer service rep and they say they “accidently” overlooked the new account and put it under the old one. This happened to me so many times I believe it was not simple mistakes by these clerks, but an orchestrated way of delaying payment.

It wasn’t long before I turned to alternative medicine, as so many in the US do. I had some amazing experiences but was still a little skeptical because the logic wasn’t adding up. None-the-less, I continued passionately seeking alternative care. In fact, my recovery went so well I was soon in the best shape of my life, and found myself wanting to become an alternative medicine practitioner. As I began researching careers and teaching Tai Chi, I wondered why these alternative practitioners were not fully integrated into the health system.

After experimenting with almost every type of alternative care in the US, my wife and I decided to embark on a life-changing trip to Asia. We went to India and Thailand for about 3 months. We sold our car put everything in storage and wandered around Asia. We received Ayurvedic treatments and Thai massage from different practitioners. It was amazing to experience traditional medicine practitioners in an ancient culture. I was in awe of these traditional practitioners with their natural cures. One highlight was when an Ayurvedic doctor brought me to Deepak Chopra’s family house in New Delhi, which was turned into an Ayurvedic medicine facility.  

However in India, my anarchist leanings started to waiver. Many in the US flirt with the idea but in India, at that time, there was little government control with scarce infrastructure. Electrical wires hanging on everything, everyone trying to get enough electricity for himself, by any means necessary resulted in daily power outages. Moreover, there wasn’t any kind of garbage collection service so people would dump their garbage in the streets for the wandering array of animals to glean nutrients from. Cars driving on the wrong side of road are a frequent occurrence and traffic accidents are one of the leading causes of death there. I could go on and on, but basically, I had seen enough of anarchy in action and began to see that there was a place for government involvement. Today, India is a great example because their laiseez-faire ways have raised their country’s prominence on to the world economic scene, however their Achilles heel is still infrastructure. The government is now investing heavily in this but whether it is enough to sustain growth remains to be seen. Many people in the US Romanticize less government because it seems more direct and they are tired with the red tape but they haven’t seen its application.  

If India opened my eyes to the pitfalls of minimal government involvement, Mississippi perfectly illustrated three major flaws in our health care system. Fresh from India and Thailand, I was ready to teach Tai Chi and Qigong and I soon found a job as an activity director in an elderly facility teaching Qigong to the residents. My wife and I moved there to find jobs with meaning, instead of becoming corporate drones. I began to see with my own eyes how elderly people’s dependency was a by-product of the health system. Since it is the case that the US health care system does not focus on prevention of chronic disease, it actually delivers what is called secondary and teriary prevention. Secondary prevention is making sure the patient doesn’t get worse or die from a disease they ready have, and tertiary prevention is when you have a long term illness and your treatment is focused on increasing quality of life. The focus is not curing or preventing disease in the first place. Many nights I laid awake wondering why are we not preventing the disease from entering the body in the first place. This type of prevention is known as primary prevention. It is the kind of prevention everyone wants but few achieve.

The second problem was that most of the resident assistants or RAs are paid around $7-10 per hour to clean bowel movements, assist the nurses and do whatever else was needed. Many were single moms and couldn’t afford health insurance. The irony here is the rich, mostly conservative, all white residents were always complaining about the quality of care but couldn’t see the connection to lack of funding of education in the US and certainly didn’t care that they were uninsured. Many of the RAs were afflicted by back problems because of lifting residents out of bed or on and off the toilet. Forget, for a second about any moral issues, just from a pure quality of care issue. It is most likely you will grow old and odds are really good you will probably end up in one of these places. Because you will not want to burden your children with your care, especially while they are trying to get the grandkids into good schools. So it seems obvious that it is in our own best interests to have healthy educated people helping? Do you think if you supported affordable health care and education that it would directly affect the quality of your end of life care?   

Thirdly, I saw by what means private care stays solvent. If your residents can’t pay they get kicked out. It was always a sad day when we had to drive one of our residents who ran out of money to the public nursing home. So it is easy to blame public care for poor quality or inefficiency when they do not turn anyone away.

The one question no one every asks Libertarians, fiscal conservatives on these television interviews is “What kind of society would we live in if we threw people on the streets?” “Do you really believe that is the kind of society that is healthy and good?”

After realizing the sum total of these experiences I began to have serious concerns about health care in the US, and I hadn’t even read any journal articles or even gotten involved in any political party. In addition, I certainly didn’t draw any connections to the huge conflict between libertarian ideals vs. socialist ones. I simply thought even if you were the most selfish person on the planet you would want a system that educates and provides health protection to even its lowest status citizens. I saw that it was inevitable that one day you will have to rely on them in and/or work with them.  Ironically, this is the exactly kind of probing that John Rawls did when he wrote about social justice.

And of course, we haven’t even discussed morality, I can’t believe that anyone thinks that the US has a great medical system when it has the highest infant and maternal deaths than any developed nation and that some middle income nations are doing better than us. I wonder what kind of measure those proponents of our system are using?  

Finally fed up with privately run eldercare, I headed back to college. I had done some community work and I thought I could figure out a way to prove that Tai Chi has what it takes to prevent chronic disease. I became a psychology major and absorbed as much knowledge of research as possible.  With years of research and statistics courses, my critical thinking was raised to high level. After a more than a few social pyschology courses I started to understand the placebo effect and the power of authority. From there I went to Canada to study public health. I figured it would be there that I would finally be able to create my ideal public health program that changes the medical paradigm. I written about Canada’s excellent health system (here) and when the debate about US health care reform began to focus on our neighbor I was shocked at the outright lies being propagated by the conservative media.

In three years I lived in Canada, I never had heard of anyone having any of the experiences purported by these commentators and personally, I had to wait for one of many appointments, while every other interaction from the birth of our second child to many checkups was of a higher quality with less out-of-pocket cost than any experience I had within the US health system.

My experiences also made me look into the benefits of a single-payer, government run health care system and if you look at them from cost of healthcare and overall health indicators e.g. infant mortality, and life expectancy you can see that a single payer system is clearly the most efficient and viable option for providing health care for all. But the main substantial point of libertarians is that once the government tells you to buy something, or forces you to wear a seatbelt it can tell you to do anything. For them this is their driving motivation or the road to serfdom. They feel that the “gimme people,” the “slackers” and the poor will drive the economy in to ground and that they, the hard working, risk takers will be forced to give their hard earned money to people who made poor choices in life. But once again, there is a serious lack of evidence. If we look at most Northern European countries where there is strong government involvement in healthcare we don’t see a slippery slope. They are not slaves. To the contrary, the middle class is thriving in those countries with higher wages, longer lives, longer vacations and less out-of-pocket healthcare expenses, and most importantly, less people bankrupt by healthcare debt.  

I still enjoy an occasional punk rock song but the movement itself has led to a dead end. Some Libertarian ideas are good for a nation but there is a point where it doesn’t provide the solutions a nation needs to prosper. Once people come to understand the literal Libertarian end game and not the fantasy of some country where rational self-interest and freewill create the best steel and the best of everything. The single-payer system is inevitable just like gravity because just like every physical object has to obey its force. I predict Libertarianism will end up with the other litter of impractical ideas to heavy to lumber on in the long journey of history.  

In Part Two, I will go into how this decision to take this path affected my life on a personal level.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Sometimes it takes a death to slap you in the face

October 17, 2016, my father, passed away shortly after midnight!

A couple of days before I was sitting in my backyard. Sun shining and sun bathing; vitamin D being absorbed. I can feel it like a dry sponge getting moistened by water.

My backyard excavated, laid open feels the sun too. Water evaporating, photosynthesis and the great transformation happening with all the 5 elements of nature mutually supporting each other.

My father in hospice. No pain, but no immune system either. Chemo sucked the Chi out of his body. Sometimes your body can’t handle the pound of cure, hence ancient wisdom is nothing to ridicule.

My father never spoke his feelings. He never laid them bare. His heart never opened; nothing to absorb, nothing to let out. No evaporation, no mutually supportive cycle; NOT in tune. Only death lies ahead.

Sometimes it is indeed too late! Sometimes people do not feel how the earth works. Not necessarily the science of it but the intrinsic art of the cycles that communicates a tune higher than its individual notes.

I am no better. I didn’t even get the idea to go into the sun on my own. My cute, not even one year old puppy did it and I saw him absorbing and deep down I knew it was the right thing to do. I listened! I listened to my dog from the pound. I listen to all I can and take notes.

The fall of man is not knowledge itself but the belief that we are separate from nature. I know Noah saw it that way, he listened.

My father thought he could heal himself and he failed miserably. Not because he tried but because he closed himself and no longer listened.

Many people think they are beyond nature, in fact, America often promotes the idea that we defeated nature. What arrogance! That is the fall of man.

The one truth I follow is gravity and nature’s cycles are buried deep within me and my mind often obscures this fundamental truth. I wrestle with my mind’s illusions and delusions to lay myself bare to nature and woe to those who do not take heed.

This is why my beliefs sync up with Pantheism and Taoism, more than other belief systems. More on this in future posts.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Some People I Admire

Morihei Ueshiba 1883 - 1969
“Those who are enlightened never stop forging themselves. The realizations of such masters cannot be expressed well in words or theories. The most perfect action echo the patterns found in  nature.” 
To me, O'Sensei is the person I admire most. He is the epitome of never giving up. He persisted and developed himself until the end. 

Wang Zhang Zhai 1885 - 1963
Wang Xiang Zhai, brought standing meditation into the modern age. He was once asked to demonstrate his martial art in public; he just stood there and said this it it. 

Tuvia Bielski 1906 - 1987 
“Our revenge is to live. We may be hunted like animals but we will not become animals. We have all chosen this - to live free, like human beings, for as long as we can. Each day of freedom is a victory. And if we die trying to live, at least we die like human beings.”
Tuvia might seem like a weird choice but I can't think of anyone who fought against the Nazis and saved many people. After the war he came to NY started a moving company and taxi service. To think thousands of people got a ride by him never knowing he waged a serious resistance against the Nazi forces. You can see Daniel Craig play him a dramatization of his life called, Defiance

John Snow 1813 - 1858
Through his own intellectual desire about the 1854 cholera outbreak, he created epidemiology, John Snow tracked down all the cases of cholera in his neighborhood on his own time, he was an anesthesiologist at the time. He also created a dosage scale for the use of choloform and ether as an anesthetic. Pure genius!  You can read about him in the book Ghost Map

Leonardo Davinci 1452 - 1519
“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” My grandfather told me about Davinci when I was a child. We often revere names like Gandalf and Merlin but truly if there real wizards Davinci would be one. 

Barak Obama 1961 - 
During the 2012 debate with Romney, Barak encouraged Romney to attack a point of that he made. After patiently waiting he totally did an intellectual Aikido move and turned it around on Romney.  I knew at that moment he would win the election. Some of Obama's best lines can be seen here. Republicans tried to tear this guy down, and time and time again they failed. He outclassed them.

“I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas.... I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slave owners-- an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins of every race and every hue scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.”

Charles Darwin 1809 - 1882
“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that  this or that problem will never be solved by science.” Darwin's persistence and drive to understand nature changed the world. 

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simon 1475- 1564
"If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all." He is here because of his love of the human body. Looking at his work you can see he had an amazing view of humanity. He also hauled his own stones, made his own tools and hid in the caves when political fanatics went against his patrons.  

Constantine Brancusi  1876 - 1957
“They are imbeciles who call my work abstract. That which they call abstract is the most realistic, because what is real is not the exterior but the idea, the essence of things.” He made absolutely beautiful sculptures and taught me about universal beauty and the importance of relativism.  

Paul C├ęzanne 1839 - 1906 
“One had to immerse oneself in one's surroundings and intensely study nature or one's subject to understand how to recreate it,” and “With an apple I will astonish Paris.” Cezanne didn't have a show until he was in his late 50s. I love his paintings but most of all I admire his commitment to understanding nature. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Spanish garlic soup: healthy, hearty and perfect for a fall day

Almost a decade ago my family and I flew to Spain and had a hellish plane trip. We arrived in Madrid at midnight starving. After we finally got our rental car we drove to the first place that looked like it had food. When we arrived we searched the menu I remember seeing the words GARLIC and SOUP in the same dish. Even though I never had anything like it before I had to go for it. When the waiter brought out the dish I was blown away, tons or garlic, bread and poached eggs. I still remember the smells. You gotta love that amygdala.  Although it is called Spanish garlic soup I feel eggs are the star of the dish, those poached pillows of awesomeness ooze the golden protein into the broth. All I can say is amazing, restorative and delicious!  

Another great thing about this soup besides amazing taste and heartiness is that it is very easy to make. 



Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Dreaming and Meditation

Upon entering the house after a night time meditation that invoked the yin power of the full moon into my body,  I realized that summer is fading fast. Then a quick blur of all the projects I had completed since turning 50 this spring spiked in my brain. I have accomplished a lot of projects that I had been wanting to do for years and I challenged myself more than ever.

But the twisty logic I received during my meditation is that my growth isn't from the things I have done it is more about the things I have not done. For years, I have been carrying projects and plans for things that have little chance of materializing due to a number of factors.

So I am not about to pontificate on how growing is about killing your dreams and I am not saying don't have any "pie in the sky" dreams. Dreaming is fun but it is important to focus more energy on the ones you truly want to pursue. You can spend a lot of time dreaming and not producing anything and more importantly not being present in your life. One of the reasons why I meditate often is because it helps inform me about which of my dreams are more doable and more importantly closer to my true self.

Meditation does that because it teaches you the preciousness of energy. Thus helping you clarify what feeds your energy and what depletes your energy. When I started meditating in 1998 in Seattle its effects were immediate. I became more drawn to nature and less drawn to frivolities. So dreaming about something that you truly do not want is more of a drag on your energy than a benefit.

Your friend in the Tao, 


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Pay it forward

In my last post, I told the story of my first step on the martial path. I also explained that I am still on that path today. That means that I have been practicing for about 34 years and along the way there were many great teachers who have spent time explaining and revealing the martial path.  Learning martial arts has helped me a great deal in so many areas of life that an obvious next step is to want to "pay it forward." 

I finally had an opportunity to a few years after moving to Mississippi. In 2003, I started teaching a kid's kung fu class at a community center. I had a handful of students among them were these three brothers, who were pretty small for the their age. The fact that they were playful and funny made them a joy to teach. Their father was a small business owner and had them in all kinds of after school activities, like tennis and such. So I was really surprised to have them in my class. I figured they or he would value more mainstream activities. Never-the-less they enthusiastically embraced the class and attended regularly. The classes were seasonal with long breaks in-between trimesters and subsequent classes became less attended. 

A year later, the oldest of the three brothers saw me eating at a restaurant and approached my table and said, "you know, that stuff you taught me it came in handy." He thanked me for teaching and walked away. I was really blown away. There are only a few times in life when you get to really help someone and see the results. Having received that kind of acknowledgment was really special. Additionally, it reinforced how important it is to "pay it forward" and reveal the secrets of the martial path.  

Monday, July 13, 2015

My First Step On The Martial Arts Path and The Fallen Idols

In the early 70s, my family of five moved to a suburb of NYC from Brooklyn, NY. It was a small town made up of mostly white working class people. I didn’t know it then but that town was a haven for white people fleeing school re-districting. My father had a long beard and long hair; he was a hippie. My parents made hand sewn leather jackets. My father, also did Tai chi, smoked marijuana and was into organic gardening. We clearly did not belong there. 

My parent’s were raised Catholic but never brought us to church. In Brooklyn I remember kids asking me what my religion was and I answered “public.” I guess I thought they were wondering what school I went to as some of the other Italian-American kids on our block went to Catholic school. Being hippies they made every effort to keep our mind’s open. They took us to the Museum of Natural History and MOMA often. My father had Salvador Dali books on the coffee table, along with a copy of the I-Ching and Mother Earth News was always visible. Not going to church or anything created an emptiness in me. I felt left out. I felt like I had no identity. 

As the 70s progressed the pressure to conform wore on my parents. In a few years, we went from no sugar cereals and no TV, to eventually having a TV, and occasionally getting a box of Fruity Pebbles. We were all really excited to own a TV.  I remember my father often practiced Tai chi in our living room. He tried to get me to stand in a Tai chi posture and he would test my balance by pushing on me. I would topple easily. Along with feeling identity-less I also felt physically unstable. I was an insecure kid. 

After dinner, we would all go and sit on my parent’s bed and watch a few shows on TV. In those days there was only one small TV in our house and it was in our parent’s room. My father would watch the show Kung Fu with David Carradine and explain some of the principles illustrated in the show. 

I became enthralled with Kwai Chang Caine. The intro to the show showed Caine dodging spears, fighting an old blind man who can listen to grasshoppers. It also showed him as a vulnerable boy struggling to learn the ways of the Shaolin Temple. The superheroes on TV seemed too ridiculous to take seriously but Caine was someone to look up to. My father loved the show, which only increased its awesomeness and the show also supported his Tai chi and eastern philosophical interests. Without a religion or any other thing to call myself Caine quickly filled a void as a role model. I still can see in my mind specific fighting scenes from episodes and I also tried to reenact them with my younger brother. In one scene Caine fights a man with a long handled ax but holds it closer to the head for better leverage, which my father took time out to explain (maybe that is why it is such a clear memory). During this period my father actually participated in the family. 

Things soon started to change. The times were changing. Every morning all the school kids walked to the bus stop, gathering together to talk about all kinds of stuff and see who would be made fun of and who would fight. Back then we all had to fight. One day some older boy brought an adult magazine to the stop. There was a series of photos of David Carradine, the actor who played Caine, having sex with a woman on the dirt in what appeared to be a teepee with candles all around them. It was a pretty freaky image for 9 or 10 year old to see. I was quite disturbed by it. He was a real hero to me. He was the one that saved people. He healed them when they were sick, counseled them when they were troubled and fought for them when they were being unjustly attacked. I needed Caine now more than ever. 

As we crept closer to the 80s, my father cut his hair shorter, quit Tai chi and tried to be a yuppy. My parents even stopped sewing jackets. The only thing left over from the hippy days was marijuana and solo albums by Lennon and McCartney. My father became quiet and withdrawn. Life changed. Our family changed. I never fit in at school and was always made fun of. The kids at school were quick to point out that my parents didn't look like all the other parents and one kid told me that my parents were witches. As I went on to middle and high school, people thought I was Puerto Rican or Jewish. No one ever considered me white, and many kids often used the words weird, fag, and gay to describe me. As the kids grew older verbal abuse turned into violence and since I was very gregarious I was often the one who they sought out to publicly humiliate. 

The football team made it their mission to beat me down any moment they could. When the teacher turned his back in class or when I went to the bathroom, or just walking down the hallway they would be there smacking me in the head, kicking me in the back or just choking me until I screamed. They just couldn't deal with me, they didn’t know who I was. I belonged to nothing. I tried running away from home a few times but that didn’t help. I pleaded to my parents to help me and take me out of school. They made an appointment with the principal to discuss the bullying. They tried but I knew things would get worse because of that and they did. 

When I began high school I was extremely nervous. I knew it was going to be hell. It was 1979 and I had already dreamed of revenge and would often cry alone in my room. I often thought of showing up at class with a gun and shooting them at their desks. One day, the biggest guy on the football team followed me into the bathroom with a group of about 5-7 other boys. I can only see his face all the rest were a group of blurry laughing faces. He commented on my new white sneakers and peed on them right in front of everyone. I was devastated that was worse than the actual beatings. I didn’t know what to do.

Not long after that horrible episode, I went to a movie with a few friends. Some older guy recommended we see this movie called Game of Death, starring Bruce Lee. I had never heard of Bruce Lee prior to that and I had totally forgotten about Caine. I remember sitting in the theater and being totally amazed at how the 5' 7" Bruce Lee knocked down the 7' 2 Kareem Abdul Jabbar with a flying side kick, and by the blinding speed of his nunchakus in his fight against Dan Inosanto, a filipino martial artist. To say that my mind was blown was an understatement. I went home and broke apart a wooden red chair in my bedroom to make the red nunchakus Bruce wielded. I began twirling them and knocking my head multiple times because of my poor understanding of the proper knots to make them fly smoothly. 

With a whole football team against me, my father withdrawn into a pot smoking zombie and nothing to belong to martial arts rescued me. Thinking back I have to say that making those red nunchakus was my first step onto the martial path. 

It is now 2015 and although it is technically true that I have never stopped practicing martial arts, I have to also admit that I wandered off the true path often and I still struggle to stay on the path. My father is a bitter old man who still smokes pot everyday. David Carradine died in 2009 from some weird sexual fetish and here I am struggling to keep true to the path. Still not belonging to anything but martial arts. Martial arts truly saved me multiple times from those stupid bullies in middle and high school, some angry people on the street and most of all from myself. My own self destructive behaviors often got the better of me. 

We are all fallen idols in some way. One by one from my father to Carradine to Bruce Lee they have all fallen. It is a difficult thing to grasp because we want something pure and unadulterated to give us hope. Unfortunately, time and time again we see our heroes fail and we see ourselves fail. I have failed so many times and I still fail but I have learned to accept that it is part of the process. 

The most important advice I can give to someone is that they will inevitably fail, and their idols will fail but despite that heartbreaking reality they must get back on the path.