Saturday, February 7, 2015

Love is alive and well!

Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham

We each have a unique and wonderful path to traverse through life if we simply make the effort to find it and work hard being present each moment of our lives to ensure we remain on it. I consider myself quite fortunate to have found a wonderful sanctuary that supports me in that task. It welcomes all faiths and exposes me to love and light in so many forms and religions. When I go there I usually come away more educated of beliefs from many cultures. It helps me better understand and practice my belief of "ONENESS". It is called Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham and all are welcome.

During this wonderful time of equality for Alabama, the church has stepped up in offering information and services.

Marriage Services

Rev. Lone's Interview

Help with applying for a marriage license

Speak up!

In a time and area where the LGBT community struggles to find LOVE and SUPPORT, I can personally vouch for this organization. All are welcome. Give it a try!!1

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Incarceration: Humanity or Inhumanity?

The following article that a friend posted made me realize I was missing an opportunity to discuss an issue that is very personal to me.

Preying on the Poor: For-Profit Probation

I particularly liked the title because when you say "Prey" out loud, you might think "Pray" and I believe that is a part of the issue as well as a solution. I often wonder what access inmates have to their own religious texts for all beliefs like they do when they are free.


Listen with your heart, especially when following links to articles and videos I reference. I don't agree with everything in them and I bet it will be the same for you.

We have given a certain amount of responsibility for our safety and welfare to the government and the responsibility for carrying it out or failing to do so should remain with them. That includes the complete responsibility for doing it and budgeting the money for every program needed to break the cycle of returning to jail instead of breaking the person.

I respect law enforcement and they have treated with me respect in my own encounters. I hold them in my heart and am grateful for their protection and the hard job they do.

I do believe it is a very dangerous job to police inmates and law enforcement officials have a right to protect themselves and use their best judgment to decide what force is necessary in every situation. That is a HUGE responsibility and a hard one to maintain when you are also trying to stay alive. Most people don't understand this and some of the examples that follow show how biased news agencies and individuals can be.

For example, jump to 3:12 in the video "Torture in American prisons". It is an attempt by the creator of the video to sensationalize a short clip to make the police look bad. The clip shows inmates fighting and police attempting to break it up. If you jump to 18:00, the interviewer implies using lots of man-power was uncalled for.

I disagree with the interviewer. I think it's one of the most courageous ways to diffuse this situation. The inmates were already fighting. Instead of the police standing back and using their weapons, they risk their own lives and physical injury by simply wrestling the inmates to the ground. More guards help to restrain arms, legs, and heads. They were very courageous and no weapons appeared to be used.

Another example, at 16:55 in the same video "Torture in American prisons", listen to part of the discussion on using pepper spray. You get the feeling that even pepper spray is wrong.

The narrators imply no force should be used and that's just ridiculous. The police have to have tools to protect themselves and resolve problems AND the good judgment to know when, what and how much is enough. Again, a lot to do on top of simply staying safe and alive!!!

Image from the purple oasis.

So let us hope it is a minority that feels it is important to punish them even further than taking away their freedom or subduing them. Those that punish can be very cruel in their activities, , from humiliation to physical abuse, overcrowding, dirty quarters or simply lack of a good night's sleep (for fear of attack or death), as well as unhealthy maggot-filled food or other forms of starvation to name a few. When we determine who has failed in their jobs, they should be removed with no chance of working in that system again, however high or low their position and power.

Supreme Court of the United States.

Take a moment to close your eyes, quiet your mind, and seek your higher self of LOVE. We all struggle with dark desires to judge and often a worse desire to make others suffer from a false notion that we are not simply more wise than the incarcerated but MOST WISE.

Forgiveness is a good start but we must then raise others up by reaching down and offering a bit of charity in the form of a helping hand to those less fortunate.

Every person deserves a certain amount of respect.

We should not profit off of, make destitute, or make our citizens feel crime is the only answer. If a person has no money, they should be helped through the WHOLE process including their attempt to start over.

Our goal should be to realize we are in this together, one tribe. When we help another, we all benefit. So don't suck them dry of what little they have with probation-related issues such as court fees, drug test fees, and inflexible times to meet those demands. Holding a job and paying bills is hard enough. Take that money away and make them miss work and you are guilty of pointing them back towards that life of crime, no matter how much, deep down in their soul, that divine spark in EVERYONE desires something better.

Find ways to foster their spirit and encourage positive change. As an example, the Angola prison in Louisiana mentioned in "">Preying on the Poor" seems to doing a lot of humane things and seeing positive results.

Here are organizations that can help you do more: "Stop Prison Abuse", "Southern Center For Human Rights", "Equal Justice Initiative", and "Southern Poverty Law Center".

I watch a show on Netflix called Orange is the New Black. It tries to inject humor into a very non-humorous situation. It reminds me how easily any of us could wind up in jail. I also identify with Crazy Eyes who you might be surprised to see when not incarcerated. My point being, I imagine that is what being behind bars would do to any of us, even myself, in the best of conditions. And I know it is much worse in certain situations.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Palm Oil - You're not going to like it...

I recently went looking for Palm Oil in an effort to try my hand at making soap from scratch (instead of spending $4 to $5 for specialty bars). Short of going to hobby stores (a hot topic on its own!), I hadn't found a reasonable source yet. In the meantime, I got the Birmingham Zoo's "Animal Tracks" which contained an article and links about Palm Oil.

I'd read about it before at the Orangutan exhibit but since it had popped up again, I figured it was time to look a little closer.

There are two island countries, Borneo and Sumatra (below China and above Australia). My geography isn't good so I thought I'd give more well known land masses for others like myself.

I have to admit, I hadn't realized that Orangutan's habitats existed ONLY on these two island nations! They are also considered to be some of the smartest of the ape family.

So the issue is that corporations are more interested in destroying their homes to make way for highly-profitable Palm Tree plantations and Americans are the largest consumer of this product.

The picture above is from one of the adults (the mother, I believe) in the Orangutan exhibit at the Birmingham Zoo. Look closely at the picture. I'm not sure the solution to destroying their habitat is to put them in a cave with mostly artificial trees. Granted, our zoo did finally provide a skylight but for arboreal (living mostly in trees) animals, a cave without a single living tree seems more cruel than death. Just look at the picture, an adult ape clinging to a blanket, sleeping and ignoring it's child, and turned away from the glass and it's obvious it's not just unhappy, it's depressed.

If we weren't using so much Palm Oil, they might still be in the wild. Until we can provide a better artificial habitat, we should try to buy products from companies that are members of the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil). Here's a list and you can get an app to determine if a product contains palm oil.

For me, finding other alternatives are a lot easier. At least until we've lost the battle, put all the apes in caves, and done away with that annoying "natural habitat" all together. Yeah, I'm a cynic. A realistic one. Capitalism and corporations rule even "so-called" democracies nowadays. Does the natural world really have a chance anymore?

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Living End

When I first came out, I got a chance to spend two weeks up in Canada with my boyfriend.

We went out to see the premiere of a new movie, "The Living End".

We saw it in a regular theater with over a hundred mostly GLBT people. There were many couples and it was my first public display of holding hands and acting like a regular couple. I was giddy. I felt as if everyone were my friend and since no one knew me, I had no fear of some ackward encounter.

The movie itself was interesting in that I was just coming out. I had only been out a little over a year in 1992, age 29. I didn't have many friends in the community and had few encounters with HIV+ people, having lost only one to AIDS that I knew at the time.

Everyone else had many stories and many losses. You could feel it and see it and I felt like an outsider or someone that hadn't paid their dues yet but I was grateful I hadn't gone through it. I could tell there was so much pain and anger and loss and suffering and frustration.

I think that's why even this low-grade movie had an impact. I felt some of the outrageious things they did were things we all thought of doing but didn't want to dare. Seeing them on the screen was a sort of release.

I've lost dear friends since then but I am thankful so many more remain healthy. I've been surprised by the predators that are out to infect others. Saddened by the boys infected early and dying. Angry at the families that hide it like something to be shamed of. And proud of the ones that lead the fight openly as HIV+ educators and fund raisers and those that simply make it part of their life, nothing more or less.

We need to remember this battle still continues and remain hopeful. It was nice to revisit this show on Netflix and remember a very special time in my coming out process. I'm very thankful to still be here and healthy. I hope we all remain so.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Poor Man's Raman

Yes, I know it is spelled "Ramen". It's a play on words. Today is my sister's birthday and though she passed on in 2004, I talk to her often still. I also talk about her a lot, especially to her children. We both enjoy reminiscing, whether it is about the good times or the bad. It helps us forget about our own worries for a little while.

Today I am quite aware of my own isolation, with no children, my parents, sister, and partner gone, I spend a lot of time thinking about the past.

My nephew, Almon, recently called me and we talked for a long time, always feeling better afterwards. Both of us. He's the only one that calls me and it means so very much when it happens. It's like he knows. I know he's calling to lift his own spirits or ask for computer help or some other such advice but I find my own spirits lifted tremendously.

And then of course, there are the stories. We both tell tales that the other didn't know about his mom, Arlene, my sister.

A recent story centered around money, a subject we often talk about. We somehow got on the subject of food (a favorite of mine!) and Almon mentioned that his mom use to get him to sell ramen noodle soup packs at school for 50 cents. That was probably a quarter profit on each and I don't recall how many he sold each day but it did emphasize how tight money was for them.

My parents were the same way. My mom actually lived for a time without electricity and got water from a stream. I don't recall where or when this was but it made a lasting impression on her. My dad was more fortunate but he too wanted my life to be better than his had been.

They always encouraged me to do well in school in the hopes of getting a good job. My mother often told stories of how poor they were and gave what she could to those in need. She hardly ever TOLD me I should do this, she just did it and by example, I did too.

Since my sister was 16 years older than I, she wasn't around long and we soon moved to Saudi Arabia and left my sister on her own. Her boyfriend (and future husband) was a hard worker and they did well early on. Eventually they split and my sister struggled to care for the kids on her own.

There were times when I've had to struggle too and that's where so many things came together. I had always liked Ramen noodle soup and in those times when I've had to watch my pennies, I've learned to make even the simplest meal, like Ramen soup, tasty and cheap.

Someone had commented on a big container of mushrooms I had purchased and it made me think of a meme I had seen.

Did that person think that box of mushrooms was a meal or did they realize how many ramen soups it would be spread across? We often see others on a limited budget and begrudge them the enjoyments we may take for granted.

I realize that if you're on a limited budget you need to be careful with your money. It may take you years to save for something another buys in the blink of an eye. But we all are entitled to as much happiness as we can squeeze out of life and I remind myself of that when I find myself judging others.

Instead of harsh words, I try to find more words of kindness and encouragement. It isn't easy in a world where the successful have NO IDEA of the struggles of the poor. People make mistakes and once on the bottom, it is so terribly hard to get back up. I see some of my friends post the cruelest things while they are up on top. It would definitely change if they had to walk in someone else's shoes for a day.

So, here's to all the poor folks that kept going. I am not sure if I could have had the same strength!

This is a picture of my sister on the last visit I had with her at her daughter, Elia's house.

Since I didn't see her often, I brought all kinds of gifts for her to enjoy. She was in a wheelchair and didn't get out of her house much so I tried to find things that were very personal. She liked electronic gadgets and that's one of those electronic pets you carried around on a keychain. You can see how interested in it she was! The box of chocolate covered cherries is already opened, something I use to get her almost every Christmas we lived near each other.

In the background is a jar of pennies. She loved doing things like rolling money and cashing it in. I never carried pennies so I put them in a jar for charity. What better charity than my sister? After she passed, I started saving my change for the Ronald McDonald House and dropped it off at McDonalds.

This became one of my charities because my sister had had a daughter that was in the hospital a lot and she did not get to see much of her before her daughter, Elisia passed on. It was my way of giving to folks who might be in that same predicament.

I understand now Sister. I wish I had done more. I LOVE YOU WITH ALL MY HEART!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Charity, The Other side of suffering

As I listen to one of the "Conversations With God" music CD's, the voices begin to clamor for attention. The signs inundate my senses and I often find myself talking back, getting annoyed at their urgency, so afraid a thought or action that is so important will be forgotten.

Disc 1:

My mom is up there with them now and I often think of the "Calvin and Hobbes" cartoon she loved so dearly because she said I was SO like him and Hobbes with my own teddy bear (and yes, at age 50, Teddy still is at my bedside). One of her favorites was posted at her work place. You know the one, where Calvin looks frazzled and quite annoyed and says “God put me on earth to accomplish certain things. Right now, I’m so far behind, I’ll never die.”

When it gets that way, I tell them all to shut up and go away! I laugh or cry afterwards and apologize and tell them I'm sorry and welcome them back. It's quite a scene really. Most folks believe in the afterlife but attribute such conversations to simply "talking to themselves", the mind's inner musings. I don't. I DO believe, truly BELIEVE, in the afterlife AND our ability to continue to use our senses to communicate with it in more powerful ways than science would have us do ONLY with what they have yet verified.

Call me "Crazy Ivan" and I'll usually smile nowadays and direct you here:

But I digress (I get lost in that blissful music!).

Disc 2:

Lately, I have shared their urgency as never before. I know where the future is pointing and I'm not sure I am up to the task appointed to me (and agreed upon) previously (a bit of light reading for the open-minded:

There are still the small day-to-day things I can do in the meantime, like this blog.

When I got up this morning, I went into the kitchen and my thoughts lead me back to a visit as a young child to the house of a friend of my parents. I don't recall who the family member was but we went into a bedroom to also see a bedridden family member who had polio. He was wasting away and I hurt inside to see him. The room smelled and I wanted to get away so very bad.

I am not sure why my parents took me in there, perhaps knowing how terrible it was and how important it was to show that man he was still loved and important and not forgotten but it was imprinted upon my mind very strongly. I wanted so bad for him to just BE BETTER.

So when I began searching all the many causes that were important to me, I realized how very small I was, how very poor I was, and how very great the needs of this world I love so much are. Where to start? Everywhere! What to give? Everything! When to do it? Always!

Of course, if you listen to those voices, you may find you've left the house with a pocket full of money and come back a pauper. Each and every day, until it is all gone. I have had days like that and those that depended on me in the past were not happy when I got that way, but how could I deny the power of THAT voice?

Disc 3:

It is not always easy but I do try to find a balance nowadays. So when I questioned the Source for something dear to me and it fell in my lap, I was quite astounded I hadn't thought of it myself.

I smiled, thinking fondly of the money I spent last night. It was for a friend's birthday as well as for the work of the Sister's of Perpetual Indulgence ( or on the net: but how fun is it when both the birthday boy and myself win prizes simply playing bingo to raise money for those affected by HIV and AIDS and other such charities?

Give until it hurts y'all!!!

Blessed be and Namaste.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Convergence and the Second Sight

If you have ever read "The Foundation Series" by Isaac Asimov, then you are already familiar with the ability to see into the future. For the right computer, this is an easy task. Just look at the programs used to do this in the stock market and you will see a real world example where we are doing better but still have many variables to model before this becomes obsolete.

I read an article in a magazine (Popular Science, Time, or something like that) about the sophistication of the software used in some banks and places with a high possibility of terrorist activity that could now analyze people to determine if there appearance or activity indicated the possibility that they intended some harm to the bank or other area.

From the simple ability of facebook to recognize a face pretty well in the jumble of a picture, AI (Artificial Intelligence) software is becoming much more human-like in its abilities! As a programmer, this is a most amazing ability still (AI was never a strong-point of my studies) and the mathematics of time (Calculus) was also a struggle. These are two of the most powerful abilities of our own brain that we can also use to model the future.

This is what the weather man does when he shows you what the weather is going to be like, sometimes with impressive accuracy, a week or more into the future! There is of course, only a certain amount of computing power and variables that we are currently able to understand and model.

When a hurricane begins to form, even the best minds (human or other) have difficulty modeling such a convergence of possibilities to see into the future clearly. And yet, using many of these "other" modeling computers, even these complex events are often predicted correctly by these simple machines.

So with our sophisticated, organic systems, whom we claim we only utilize about 10% of the brains processing power, could we not be trained to produce some pretty impressive results?

Have you ever planned out a trip to the grocery store? What percentage of the time do you get pretty close to the results? Some might dismiss this ability but I can tell you from my own training, it is something you can improve and use to your advantage.

For me, it is something that fails if I attempt to over-think it. I do well to allow it to work in the realm of intuition, a sub-process of the mind that works best when not directed, pulling from all senses and data to come to the most logical conclusion. Left alone, it can work miracles.

Occasionally though, I become so alarmed at a piece of data that I attempt to direct the process. To force the answer, calling upon some of the very esoteric systems to KNOW with as much certainty as possible, that things will be okay. In essence, to go beyond simple prediction and use what ever abilities I had to CHANGE the future.

You can't blame a person for trying to avoid an accident. But sometimes you've seen the warning signs for a very long time, been given many opportunities to avoid disaster and still sit back, ignore the warning signs, and hope you will just be lucky and keep cruising on that luck.

If you push too hard to see or change the future too late in the game, you can find yourself in a very scary place, having gone too far, considered too many possibilities, and used tools you just don't have the training to understand the use or results of properly.

I can tell you that you have no one else to blame but yourself. You can continue to simply make excuses with your head stuck up your...stuck in the sand and the accident will still occur, with results that you didn't predict and might possibly be much worse that the original probability.

So here's a word of caution. Just because today seems easy to predict, don't take it for granted. The best systems in the world still fail at their tasks occasionally, organic and inorganic. Live life like a warrior, attacking each moment as if it were your last, for we truly never know with absolute certainty, what is around the corner. And love with that same ferocity and the same possibility, as if each moment is your last.