Seinfeld and Shows About Nothing

I have recently started watching Seinfeld again. The show still makes me laugh. Now, having a teenage daughter, I get to enjoy the series this time through her eyes.

All great comedy shows and writers have the ability to see something in culture and make fun of it. Given that the Seinfeld  show is now close to twenty years old, I find it so interesting that she laughs at the same jokes I use to laugh at.

The humor in the show revolves around four main characters who are forever trapped in adolescence. All of them are completely self-absorbed with seemingly no potential for growth. None of them are married, have good jobs and or any inclination to help anyone but themselves. Yet the situations and predicaments they put themselves into precisely because of their self-centered natures are really funny.

The show was a big hit and lasted for ten years. The final episode concludes with the four characters locked in a prison cell over a crime they committed: they were witnesses to a crime and failed to help stop it. As the four of them are locked away, they begin in the usual banter which made the show so famous… to which the character “Elaine” chimes in and says, “Haven’t we already done this before?”

The scene is a reference to the great play by Jean Paul Satre, No Exit, where three people are locked into a room. They  are dead and salvation can be had, but only through growth and the mercy of the others. Alas, they are incapable of such acts and are, therefore, forever trapped in Hell for eternity. Forever there, to torture and inflict pain on one another with salvation possible but never attained because of their flaws.

The root of Seinfeld’s humor is despair. Its made fun of, poked at and eventually succumb to. At the trial ,they are locked away for good as the judge hears a litany of crimes they committed against humanity. Because they are hopeless and indifferent to the plight of others, they are locked away, removing their deficiencies from society.

Oddly enough, during the 1990’s when Seinfeld was originally filmed, economic prospects were better than today. The country was not at war.  The outlook was generally more sanguine.  Yet the message of self-centeredness existed and took root. How else could Seinfeld have been so popular if, at its core, it did not touch upon and reveal some sense of a universal truth?

Since then, we’ve been in two major wars, had a tech bubble burst, a housing crisis and a tripling of our national debt. Add to that an enormous  student debt bubble which has the capacity to enslave an entire generation to indebtedness… and I would argue that times are much more dire now than when the show was written.

A central tenet of Larry David’s vision for Seinfeld was that the show would have “no hugging and no learning.” The characters were written and drawn to get a laugh. But the show is closer to the truth than he realized. The characters in Seinfeld are no longer caricatures. They are us.

If you think I am wrong take a look at this video:

For many who live in the U.S., we have no sense of history, no sense of the laws that govern us or the underlying principles that shape our country. Because so many are so self-centered, we no longer take the time to understand our relationship to the country and the society that we live in.

Maybe Seinfeld’s brilliance was not in its comedy; but, in its ability to see where the country was headed and what type of people we were becoming.

 

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

Mexico And The Border Wall

Given all the discussions about the border wall to be built, it is amazing to see how many people are up in arms about the idea. The border is just a line that demarcates one piece of land from another. In reality a difference in a few miles should mean very little, but the fact is that border means a lot.

That little plot of land that separates two countries in reality separates two ideas, two ideologies. Those differences in thoughts that get transmuted into laws and systems of governance have profound affects. Don’t believe me, go into any border town that separates Mexico and the Unites States and you can see with your own eyes what I mean. The contrast is stark. On one side of the border you have 50 million people living in poverty, while on the other side you have massive wealth.

All countries in the world have a border. And if you have ever travelled for any length of time you will notice that at every country that you enter there is a border agent to check you in. The fact is most countries worldwide realize it is good policy to see who enters your country.

The current upheaval in Europe is due to large part of the mass immigration from foreign countries without any proper vetting.Germany and many of the other European  countries have allowed millions of immigrants into their country with mindsets and religious outlooks completely different than their host country. They have let in millions of people into  countries that they do not respect or want to assimilate into. The only reason they are there is because the economic prospects in their own country is worse.

I lived in Australia in the late 90’s and one of their major concerns was illegal immigration. Given the land mass is as big as the U.S but with only a fraction of the population, 20 million at the time, many Australians were very afraid of losing their culture via illegal immigration. The Australians knew that small changes in their country could potentially have devastating changes on their cultural and political landscape. They knew their “Australian Culture” could be wiped out if they did not assimilate the new immigrants into Australian culture.

So yes it is important to vet people that come into your country. No sane country wants to bring in criminals, terrorists, or the infirmed into their country. It is irresponsible and reckless to do so. In addition it is equally risky to bring in people into your country who will never assimilate our contribute to the well being of the country.

Many of the planned proposals being offered by Trump seem sane and reasonable but for many on the left, the whole notion of restricting immigration has people up in arms especially as it relates to Mexico. But even Mexico does not have an open border policy when it comes to immigration. For example here are some of the Mexican immigration laws:

  • immigration authorities have a record of each foreign visitor
  • foreign visitors do not violate their visa status;
  • foreign visitors are banned from interfering in the country’s internal politics;
  • foreign visitors who enter under false pretenses are imprisoned or deported;
  • foreign visitors violating the terms of their entry are imprisoned or deported;
  • those who aid in illegal immigration will be sent to prison.

So even Mexico which has no problem exporting their people to the rest of the world is very conscious of vetting people who want to come into their country.

The reason that Mexico exports so many people is because the country is a mess.  Currently one out of four Mexicans now live in the U.S. With a country of over 120 million people , 50% of the people live in poverty.  The economic policies in Mexico just do not help its people. Even after N.A.F.T.A which now has 60 billion dollar trade deficit with the U.S.- all this money that has flowed into Mexico has not helped the average Mexican.

The question always asked me the media and the immigrant rights groups is how it possible that the U.S can be so cruel to the plight of these Mexicans? But the question remains why isn’t this same question asked of the Mexican government? Why is the Mexican government not asked how can they be so cruel to their own citizens that they would allow half of its population to live below the poverty line and allows 25% of its population to live overseas?

The fact is Mexico exports its poor and oppressed to the U.S which finds them employment. The Mexicans who live outside the country then in turn  remit over 20 billion a year  back to Mexico. Even with all of this money coming back to the country, Mexico still can’t raise its people out of poverty.

Where is the outrage! Mexico fix your country! If you fixed your country your people would not leave.

I have met many Mexicans who would have gladly stayed in Mexico if there was more opportunity. Many of these poor people who come here  are so desperate that they are willing to trek through the desert risking their lives for the chance of a better life. In addition many come here not knowing the language and essentially are living in a culture where they can’t even read or write English.

The fact is the Mexican economy is so bad that the people have simply given up. They believe their government is ineffective and corrupt. When I see illegal Mexican immigrants protesting against the U.S. for its immigration policies, it makes me cringe. The outrage is misplaced. They should be screaming at their own elected officials, not ours.

Since they are not citizens here , they have no rights. They are protesting against people who have no connection to them nor do they represent them. If they attacked and demonstrated as loudly as they do here maybe their leaders would have enacted policies to help them.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

We Are Broke

We are broke. The nation is broke.

The national debt is at twenty trillion and counting. That number does not even include all of the additional unfunded liabilities which, when included, add trillions more.

For the most part know, the average person knows nothing of this. We live in an era where we are told to carry on and move forward as if this mind-numbing debt means nothing.  Most of the stories being reported today are about the overreach and abuse Donald Trump is inflicting on America through proposed cuts; but, the fact is many of these cuts are desperately necessary and overdue.

This same scenario played out a few years back in New Jersey. There, governor after governor used taxpayer funds to aid public sector unions. When Chris Christie became governor and began changing policies that affected many of these programs, there was tremendous backlash accompanied by calls to throw him out of office.  Christie responded in a speech before the state legislature as follows: “Year after year governors have lied to you, administrators have lied to you; but, when I come in to tell you the truth about the status of the states finances, I become the bad guy. Shouldn’t the people who lied to you for years be treated as the bad guys and not me?”

Trump has been given the unenviable task of governing a nation completely buried in debt. He said he plans to cut many government programs because of the debt and, predictably, the Left is outraged. Some of the programs rumored to be cut are:

  • National Endowment for the Arts (eliminated entirely)
  • National Endowment for the Humanities (eliminated entirely)
  • Corporation for Public Broadcasting (privatized)
  • The Minority Business Development Agency (eliminated entirely)
  • The Economic Development Administration (eliminated entirely)
  • The International Trade Administration (eliminated entirely)
  • The Manufacturing Extension Partnership (eliminated entirely)
  • The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (eliminated entirely)
  • Violence Against Women Grants (eliminated entirely)

What’s most fascinating about the Left’s outrage is how it sees the role of government. The Left argues that the monies the government generates from tax revenues should be spend it wherever there is a need. For example, for the Left, many rural communities only have access to the arts through government grants given to local artists.  Therefore, spending government money on this is a worthy cause.

For those who are politically Right or Libertarian these programs as wasteful. The government’s role in society should be safety (the police), strong defense (border security, and enforcement of laws (courts and contracts). The Right does not, or cannot, understand the outrage in response to Trump’s attempt to de-fund many programs because, again, the government should not be funding these projects in the first place

Take for example Public Radio…commonly known as NPR. Taxpayers fund this network even though today technology provides us with radio, satellite radio, streaming radio  and podcasts.  You would think there would be no complaint about cutting NPR radio given the multitude of readily available and easily accessible resources. The market would not miss NPR because there are enough alternatives existing elsewhere.

Similarly, public television. We live in an age where people are daily cutting and limiting  their subscriptions to cable companies because there are so many other ways to access this medium. Apple TV, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu are leading the charge into this world of “on demand” customized content. In addition, free media is available all over the net these days… especially with sites like YouTube which provides free access to all of its content.  So, again, in a day where T.V is ubiquitous, why do we still need the government involved?

Finally, do any of these programs matter at all when you have no money or capacity to pay for it?. Has the public lost its collective mind and sensibility?  The nation is broke. Even if we saw a need for it, we no longer have the ability to pay for it. 

Doesn’t it logically and rationally follow that there is the need for cuts?  The same way a family will cut back when it needs to tighten its financial belt, the government should as well.

Ronald Reagan once quipped there are only a few certainties in life: death, taxes and a government program. Donald Trump is beginning to realize how hard its going to be to cut funding or eliminate these programs. For many in the private sector, industries grow and die all the time. For the displaced, they have to learn new skills and adapt to meet the needs of the marketplace to find work again. Only in government does this natural process fail to occur. Good ties…bad times…government jobs are forever.

This is the reason for the outrage.

A government job is about as good as it gets. A steady paycheck and no competition.  Its why all of the private suppliers who sell to the government are upset with the new changes. They know all too well the best client in the world is the U.S government.

We are long overdue for a reality check and cuts in the public sector…now made more pressing because we no longer have the ability to pay for unnecessary programs.

As with Chris Christie, should we be mad at Donald Trump for exposing the cuts that need to be made or the politicians who lied to us for years about the status of the country’s finances. Shakespeare had it right. Read your Henry V.

“Don’t shoot the messenger.”

 

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

Student Loans- The Next Bubble

The say the ticket to success is an education unless it bankrupts you along the way.

In case you’re unaware, a student loan bubble is brewing that’s set to explode. The crisis is looming large in terms of outstanding debt and is beginning to worry a lot of people.

Currently, there is $1.4 trillion in outstanding student loans which are growing at about 20% per year. This debt is greater than the national debt of many countries.  By our own government’s metrics, roughly 1 in every 3 loans is either not being serviced or is in outright default!

Presently, at more than 1,000 schools (representing about one-quarter of all U.S. colleges and other schools) over  half of its students have already defaulted or failed to pay any amount toward these loans within seven years of leaving school. In other words, according to the government’s own data, at least 40% of this debt – representing more than $500 billion – will never be paid.

Even more alarming, much of this debt was packaged up, “securitized,” and sold to investors around the world as “good” debt. Given the “implied guarantee” of the U.S government for these loans, global investors bought them up. Once again,   they will go bust just as the loans guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac went bust.

If the economy was as good as the pundits claimed, and education as valuable as the universities claim, these students would all have jobs and payback on these loans would not be an issue. But, my countrymen and women like to believe in fantasy and so they believed in the tale Obama and the media told them.

The tale?  All is well in the U.S. economy.

Adding insult to injury, student debt cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.  So, even if the former student has no job and thus no way to pay back the loan, he or she will be forever be obligated to pay it back. There will never be an escape from the indebtedness.

In times past, there existed debtors’ prisons, where people who could no longer pay back their debts were incarcerated and put to manual labor until their debt was paid in full. As our society advanced, sane people recognized that this was no way for a rational society to resolve an economic problem. Bankruptcy courts were set up, the discharge of debt, in whole or in part became common practice.

To the contrary, the student debt problem harkens back to ancient times as these people will never be able to discharge their debt.  While they will not be imprisoned, at least not for the moment, the looming debt and the pressure to pay it off will seem as if they are. Furthermore and perhaps most disturbing, is that should government and its agencies of enforcement continue to grow in size and in power, a crisis (economic or otherwise) puts an indebted person in the weakest possible position…and the least autonomous.

Bankruptcy, the settling of debts and forgiveness of loans, is quite common in America. Businesses as well as frequently  use the legal process of bankruptcy to settle up with creditors or wipe the slate clean to start again. President Trump, by way of his corporations, has used the bankruptcy courts on numerous occasions to “settle up” his finances.

One of the main reasons that the U.S. is so successful in the business world is how we view risk, failure and success. We inherently understand that life is risky, business life particularly so in a free market, and so we  have mechanisms in place to deal with failure. Failure is never final. We can begin anew. In other cultures, such as Japan, failure is so avoided and its reality so disgraceful, that people so “afflicted” choose to commit suicide as the rightful end to failure. That culture even has a name for these individuals: “evaporating people.”

In U.S. tech world, the purview of private equity investment, the risk is that only about 10% of those companies will ever make any money.  When the odds on happens, investors don’t come screaming and threatening to put the company’s founders in jail; they don’t try to relegate them to debtors prison. They know life and business is inherently risky and failure happens.

Failure: We all dislike it. Prefer to avoid it. Don’t plan for it…but it happens.

What makes the pending student loan crisis even more sickening is that it is penalizing the youngest and most vulnerable segment of our society. The ones we have convinced of the lie that a college education is imperative to their future success no matter what the cost. These students are coming out of college with a bill due of over $37,000 and with, at best, uncertain job prospects. The debt for those coming out of graduate and professional schools is multiples of that number.

We have two massive problems on our economic horizon: 1) 1.4 trillion dollars of mostly uncollectible debt and, 2) a weak labor market yet to be addressed. There are currently over 95 million unemployed Americans. You are deemed to be in the “labor force” if you have a job or are looking for one. You are counted part of the participation rate if you are in the labor force. But we have 95,000,000 Americans no long in the labor force! They don’t have a job and/or have stopped looking for one.

Both of these critical issues need to be faced and reconciled. If not, the U.S economic recovery will continue to falter even following the miracle Obama recovery I must have blinked through.

 

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com



Donald Trump And The Media

Donald Trump was just sworn in as President; yet, the opposition continues, fueled by a media that presents the news in a manner suggesting we are about to be ruled by a dictator.

The media, and certain specific Clinton-backed-Soros-funded organizations  are trying to weaken Trump even as he takes office. They are pushing two narratives to effect that end: 1) Russia meddled in our elections thus causing Trump to win and 2) Trump lost the popular vote and, therefore, has no mandate.

The argument that Trump won because of Russia’s alleged meddling is laughable. Elections are run at the state level not the national level. It is the states that receive and tally votes, first broken down by county then precinct then polling stations. So for Russians to hack an election, they would have to go precinct by precinct to do so.  Additionally, the majority of voting machines in the U.S. are still manual. Not being connected to the internet makes them impossible to hack.

In fact, Jill Stein, Green Party candidate, was so influenced by this accusation that she launched a recount in three states only to find that Trump actually won more votes than initially counted. The conclusion? There have been no verified findings that prove voters who cast their votes for Clinton somehow had their votes switched to Trump.

The second narrative being sold is that since Hillary won the popular vote, she should be president. It’s as if the whole media complex forgets we live in a Constitutional Republic not a democracy. This is U.S. Civil Procedure 101!

What has happened to our “journalists” and “reporters” that they don’t even know the fundamentals of our system of governance?

Donald Trump campaigned to win the electoral college vote not the popular vote. That is why he won. Had the election been a straight popularity vote (as in a democracy…mob rule…) he likely would have campaigned differently to win those votes. And, based upon his penchant for winning, I suspect he would have won that election as well.

The Founders set up the Electoral College specifically for this reason. They did not want mob rule. The whole point of a national election with an Electoral College was to decentralize the process so that voters in less populated states had some recourse to petition their government.  If the popular vote had been the determining factor, Hillary Clinton would have won based upon the preferences of two states: California and New York. That would have negated consideration of the preferences of the other 48 states!

Part of this continuously fed outrage stems from the fact that so many of our citizens trusted the media as their source for information. That “source” never had Trump ahead in the polls. Either they did not want to believe the phenomenon or they did want to report it. The net result was that for many in the general public they never considered a Trump win remotely plausible. Hence, their shock, awe and outrage!

Had the media been more transparent about the campaign and the economic disaster of the Obama presidency, the general populace would have been more aware of what was happening here in the U.S.

For example, look at some of the economic numbers that occurred during the Obama administration:

  • $19.9 Trillion: The Staggering Mountain Of Debt Obama Will Leave Behind On January 20, 2017. (“Daily History Of The Debt,” U.S. Department Of Treasury, Accessed 12/23/16)
  • $9.2 Trillion: The Increase In The National Debt Since Obama Took Office. (“Daily History Of The Debt,” U.S. Department Of Treasury, Accessed 12/23/16)
  • $1 Trillion: Tax Increases In ObamaCare Over A Decade. (“ObamaCare: Trillion Dollar Tax Hike That Hurts Small Businesses,” U.S. House Of Representatives Committee On Ways And Means, 3/31/16)
  • $870.3 Billion: Estimated Economic Cost Of All The New Federal Government Regulations Finalized Since Obama Took Office. (“Regulation Rodeo,” American Action Forum, Accessed 12/27/16)

If some of these numbers had been reported, Hillary Clinton probably would have pushed a much more aggressive economic growth plan to help alleviate some of the voters’ concerns resulting, in all probability, of her having received more votes.

Since the press did not want to report the reality, nor did they want Donald Trump to win, they reported the news as if Hillary winning the presidency was a foregone conclusion. Had they been more objective in their reporting, Hillary Clinton probably would have worked harder, and campaigned more heavily in the battleground states that Donald Trump ultimately won.

The point being, the unqualified, unverified support for all things Obama and Hillary actually hurt Clinton’s chances of becoming President. Whether on her own, or simply her swalloing the media narrative whole, she never grasped the real understanding of the popularity of Trump and his message.

Many on the Left love Obama for the things he did: universal health care and legalizing gay marriage. They are forever reminding us of these accomplishments. Yet, why didn’t the media report that he added 10 trillion dollars worth of debt, about $66,000 dollars for every person in the U.S.? The answer: Because it probably would have changed what people thought about him and the truth just doesn’t fit the Left’s political agenda and long term goal: Socialism American style (a/k/a Progressivism).

Take Obama’s biggest accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act. Everyone was supposed to be covered. Really? I don’t have health insurance for my family because it costs too much ($2,000 per month). When I talked to a health insurance company about my situation, they specifically told me not to get it as it was too expensive!  Yet, I am forever reminded by the media that everyone is covered…everyone except me, my wife and 6 children apparently.

Even with Obamacare, millions of people still don’t have insurance. It solved nothing!

The whole focus of pushing these two narratives was and is to weaken Trump and rewrite history. In the book classic 1984, by George Orwell, one of the main jobs of the government was to control the press. The manner in which this was accomplished was through the stories published by the press. Whenever the government wanted to change public opinion, new stories, new versions of the truth, were written to sway and change the minds of the people.

As Diane Keaton says to Jack Nicholson in the movie Something’s Gotta Give, “The truth doesn’t have versions.”

One of the main reasons Trump won is because most people hate Washington, its politicians and the media that support the incestuous relationship between them. What the media is trying to do is to weaken Trump and send a warning shot to other potential candidates outside the system.

Wanted: President. Job reserved for insiders only. Outsiders need not apply.

 

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

Obama And Biden Award Themselves Medals

Ricky Gervais a few years back hosted the Golden Globes Awards and he joked to the audience about the uselessness of awards “Remember if you do win tonight, no one cares about that award as much as you do. Don’t get emotional, it’s embarrassing. That award is, no offense, worthless. It’s a bit of metal some nice old confused journalists wanted to give you in person so they could meet you and have a selfie with you, okay? That’s all it is!” Ricky Gervais had won three of these awards for his past performances and yet he thought so little of the award that they were used as doorstops in his house.

The joke is funny because it is true. Because over time, the majority of awards and titles mean nothing to the general public. They only matter to the people who receive them.

Which leads me to President Obama and Vice President Biden who awarded themselves service medals during the last few weeks in office. President Obama awarded himself the Distinguished Public Service Medal for his own appreciation as his time as Commander in Chief while Vice President Biden won the Medal of Freedom award, the nations highest civilian award.

Many pundits were incredulous at the awards. And on many of the comment feeds on the articles have likened the awards to a much maligned “participation medal” and many others were even more skeptical of Obama giving himself a medal.

In Latin America the practice of the government awarding themselves participation medals is quite common. It is not uncommon to see a general in uniform stacked with medals and ribbons This is especially bizarre given none of them have seen any combat in generations. So self deluded with power and aggrandizement they award themselves medals to let people know how important they are.

Not all medals and awards are useless. Take a look at any serviceman who won the Medal Of Honor and you will get a glimpse if what real heroism looks like. I know many combat veterans here in the U.S who were actively engaged in combat operations and by ways of medals, have very little to show for it. The point being these awards were meant to really mean something.

For example in Mel Gibson’s latest movie Hacksaw Ridge about a Navy Medic, Desmond Doss, the movie depicts the heroism of Desmond as he saved countless lives on the battlefield. For his actions, he won the Medal Of Honor and I can guarantee you that every man in his unit will be forever thankful and indebted to Desmond for his actions and truly honored for him to win such an award.

Contrast this to President Obama winning his award for being an excellent Commander and Chief, the whole sordid notion reeks of desperation. Military awards are always given by their superiors to their junior leaders to recognize their efforts. Being that he is the most senior military leader, he nominated, recommended and awarded himself the award. President Obama winning that award is comparable to a mid level employee at Apple giving an award to Steve Jobs for his leadership abilities. That is how pathetic this whole thing is. In the military a junior officer can never recommend or award his superior an award, it is not the protocol and it is not conducive to good leadership.

The whole ceremony reminded me of the the famous line from Shakespeare: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks” from Hamlet. The saying  has been used as a figure of speech to describe someone’s overly frequent and vehement attempts to convince others of some matter of which the opposite is true, thereby making themselves appear defensive and insincere.

These two must know how desperate this whole scenario reeks of so they award themselves medals to hide their incompetence.Since no one else will give them the credit they so rightly deserve, they award it to themselves. They really really want to let people how good, heroic and noble they were. And yet we have Benghazi.

During an attack on a U.S embassy in Libya, the president and his staff would not support Americans actively engaged in combat during the firefight where Ambassador Stevens was killed as well as four other Americans.The participants on the ground repeatedly called for help and even though there were Marines ready to go in, they were denied. We as a country had no problem putting Americans lives in harms way, and yet the Obama administration would not protect them when called.

With the Benghazi story as the backdrop of how not to behave in combat, during the invasion of Iraq, I remember reading a story about a Marine General who was relived of his duties during the attack quite simply because his units were moving too slowly causing other units in the attack unnecessary risk. I called my former Company Commander to see if he knew the story and if he could add clarity to the article. My former Company Commander said it was a highly unusual move for a commander to be relived of duty during combat operations as the General’s honor would forever be destroyed. He said “Most marine commanders would rather commit suicide than to face the eternal shame of failing in combat.”

His comments did not shock me as they rang true.For many not acquainted with military culture, this is exactly how mature military leaders think, and yet when President Obama had the chance to help fellow Americans in combat, he reportedly slept through the night.

Add this to his recent pardon of Bradley Manning who Obama commuted the sentence of a solider who went into a war zone, stole tons of classified files, and gave them to WikiLeaks. Manning released hundreds of thousands of secret documents relating to national security, during a time of war, with no regard to how it would undermine our war efforts and put lives at risk.  In any other time, Bradley Manning would have been shot for treason.

The whole thing is so outrageous that words don’t do it justice. The pardon of Manning along side his own award for leadership stand as juxtaposition of a man gone mad. A truly despicable finale to his presidency.

 

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

The Price of Excellence

I met Donovan Waite when he was in his mid-30’s

Donovan was single and supported himself by giving Aikido classes to other students. He lived in the “dojo” where he paid rent for a tiny, spartan-like room yet with with no real privacy.

His back story was that he had achieved the level of black belt by age 14 and spent the next ten years mastering his craft before moving to the New York Aikido dojo.  He then spent 5 to 7 hours per day training at his craft. Aikido is hard, arduous and time consuming. Injuries are common. Bones are broken, knees are decimated and backs are wrenched yet over a 25 year period he never missed one day of practice.

He would show up before practice began and stretch for thirty minutes then stay after practice to do the same. I know this first hand because I used to copy his stretching routine.

He was a paradox: violent yet humble. If pushed, he could be violent. Yet he always adjusted his training to meet his partner’s ability so as not to harm them .

On one occasion, a former student came in and was bragging that he had recently completed Navy Seal training and how hard it was. Donovan walked up to him gently and asked if he could use him in the next class to demonstrate a few techniques. Donovan moved to the front of the class, affording him use of the entire length of the dojo. Within minutes,  he began throwing the Navy Seal from one side of the room to the other!   He repeatedly “launched” the seal over 10 yards in the air until the Seal was spent.

The point had been made. Stay humble.

He and I weren’t friends; but, by watching and training with him I learned more about personal excellence than anyone else I’ve ever met.  Never have I met any as proficient in their field of endeavor as Donovan was in Aikido. I have read books on Warren Buffet and the single minded vision that he had. But for me, Donovan was a  something first hand experience that exemplified a focused and unwavering commitment to a goal. He sacrificed his youth, finances, family, personal health and well being for one goal: to master aikido.  And while I practiced aikido for many years, and was good, I was never jealous of Donovan’s ability. He made sacrifices I was simply unwilling to make.

Interestingly, in aikido these is no end. For Buffett, the tangible gain of his massive effort was wealth. Donovan would never get to experience that. There are no riches on the other side of the  aikido rainbow. There is no payday when he could expect reward. Donovan pursued excellence pure and simple. Nothing more.  In fact, I’d be surprised if he ever made more than $1,000 a month during the 10 years he spent at the dojo.  Today he travels the world and runs his own dojo. I’ve heard that, with age, he now occasionally takes a day off. But, even as he ages, his Aikido techniques are a thing of power and beauty.

I am happy to have trained with him. I took with me 10 things I learned from Donovan Waite:

  • Practice Every Day.
    • Not only did he practice every day, he worked out for multiple hours at a time.  He showed what it means to be a professional.
  • Stretch every day.
    • His stretching sessions were lengthy. He stretched to take care of his body so that it would not get hurt. That preparation made him stronger and more flexible…able to affect throws that most men would never attempt.
  • Push yourself every day.
    • He was forever challenging himself. He would work out with men much bigger and stronger to refine his technique. Alternatively, his practice was slow and deliberate as he tried to break down every part of the move so he could later put it back together…at twice the speed.
  • Teach every day.
    • Donovan took many classes during the day, but he always taught. The teaching helped him become a better student and he used teaching to help him better understand the intricacies of techniques.
  • Clean every day
    • Every day the students in the dojo had to wash the mats. It was a ritual and never missed. A messy and sloppy environment was not conducive to training or excellence!
  • Adjust your technique every day
    • He knew Aikido so well that each and every move had a different and varied adjustment he was able to make. Never satisfied, he was forever experimenting, tinkering and playing with technique.
  • Be a good Ukemi.
    • Ukemi is the art of being a good partner. In boxing, they are called sparing partners. To learn a technique requires someone to receive and take your blows so that you can see if your strikes are effective. In Aikido being a good ukemi is also meant to help you protect yourself from other combatants.
  • Be relentless
    • He never quit. He always showed up and was always on time. He was was always “here.” He was fully present for the task at hand. Some people can do something hard for a few months or even a year. Donovan trained hours, every day, for years.. If he was hurt, he would work on techniques to protect himself or train very softly, but he always trained.
  • Never give up.
    • By the time he was thirty, Donovan was already one of the greatest Aikido practitioners in the world with hardly a peer. He could easily have gone off on his own. But he continued to push to bring his skill set to a place unseen before in Aikido
  • Be willing to sacrifice everything for greatness
    • He gave up everything for mastery. All of his time and all of his resources were spent on one thing: to be great at Aikido. By the time I met him, he was already great; but, he kept on pursuing.

If you are ever in New York City,  try and visit one of his classes because they are truly inspiring. A small part of you will be forever uplifted by seeing something so graceful yet powerful.

Excellence crosses all disciplines. It’s attainment and ultimate achievement require the same steps regardless of the goal. I  strive to apply what I’ve learned to many aspects of my life, not just Aikido.

For this priceless wisdom I am forever grateful to Donovan Waite.

 

Steve Clark

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

I Only Film What I Can See

In my opinion, there are two things that can absolutely not be carried to the screen: the realistic presentation of the sexual act and praying to God.” ― Orson Welles

 

Orson Wells believed praying like sex where two profound activities that could not be captured by film, in other words something deeper was talking place that could not be captured by the naked eye.

But alas, any show nowadays is awash with sex. I am no prude but it seems any good show on t.v now includes a gratuitous sex scene wether it is needed or not. It’s as if all the directors in the film world got together and decided that it was a prerequisite for any tv show.

 

Lately I have become am a bit more annoyed with this trend especially after watching the first episode of Orphan Black.

The TV series focuses on a woman named Sara who assumes the identity of one of her fellow clones, Elizabeth , after witnessing Elizabeth’s suicide. Seeing the uncanny resemblance between the two, Sara embarks on a journey to find out who this person was. At first, Sara did not know she was a clone so she digs into the origin of her story and how she came to be. The show raises issues about the moral and ethical implications of human cloning, and its effect on issues of personal identity and what it really means to be human. Truly a fascinating premise.

After watching it for a few minutes I was  hooked me and wanted to watch more. But, half way through the show, there was a scene in which we are shown two men cleaning up after sex followed by Sara having sex with a man she just met. Not sure how theses two scenes were suppose to meant to advance the story, but nevertheless they were added.

The director must have felt he was losing the audience so he added these scenes to make sure they stayed engaged. The additional scenes reminded me a book my teenage daughter wanted me to read a few years ago. The premise of the book was that the earth had split in two after a cosmic hurricane that caused 90% of the population to be wiped out and caused complete chaos on the earth, but the story was about to get worse because of a great rain that was coming. It wasn’t enough that the earth had split in two, it was the rain that was suppose to cause the real excitement of the book.

And just like in Orphan Black, the whole concept of cloning and its moral implications were not enough, the sex scenes had to be added to really spice up the show.

Yet our culture is truly saturated with porn which is totally free and ubiquitous. It has pervaded all aspects of entertainment and web content. Any and all explicit sexual acts are free and easily accessible to be viewed at any time. And yet even on the most random shows that we watch, the artistic community feels compelled to feed us more sex.

Because sex is so ubiquitous,I would think an artist these days would have more freedom to show the ideas without having to include a sex scene. The reason people watch a show like Orphan Black is because of the premise The viewer is not tuning in for more sex.

I think the truly avant-garde show of today would be to show  a series solely based on ideas, story and dialogue. Sex scenes, pre 1960’s, were alluded to but never shown. If the director wanted to make the point that the couples were about to have sex, a fade to black or a closing of the bedroom door was enough for the audience to get the message

But today in many films,  even bodily functions are filmed. Yes we are all human, so yes we do have to respond when nature calls but is it really something necessary to be filmed? In the great film Panic Room with Jodi Foster, she was filmed going to the bathroom, but for what reason? Art in its best form is meant to inspire and bring out the best in man. In this present day art form it seems we are more concerned on how low the human condition can go.

Viewership in all of the traditional media channels is in serious decline being replaced with on-demand devices. Audiences in all media  is a fraction of what they used to be- and maybe the cause is the decline of quality programming.

Years ago I heard an interview with Sherwood Schwartz who was the producer of The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island. In many ways both shows are quite simple and can be easily dismissed as novelty shows of their era. The disk jockey, although not disrespectful of his work did not seem to appreciate Schwartz work or his shows.

Schwartz said that all of his shows have been in syndication for years and there is a constant demand by the cable companies to air these shows. “Take the show Gilligan’s Island about a group of people stranded on an island. The show had a cross section of people; the rich, the famous, the fool, the farmer, the scientist and the captain. All as different as can be and yet all coming together to work on a common goal. And so  for many they see a simple show, yet what I created in my small way was a show about struggle and about mans search to make his lot better even when stranded with little hope for rescue.”

“The reason why people still flock to watch that show is because in my own way I tapped into those feelings about what it means to come together and work for something greater than oneself. You might laugh, but my audience and cable companies still buy and watch that show because they know the message rings true.”

Our shows no longer even strive for this optimistic message any more as the anti-hero has displaced the hero in todays culture. People so flawed we find repellent- think Walter White or Don Draper. The sex we see on shows today is not meant to uplift but rather to debase us. To remind us how flawed we all are, and for that we are all worse off.

 

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

A Chain of Events

One anchor. One person. One person was responsible for bringing in thirty people legally into the United States.

How did it happen? By one act of kindness.

Was it good for America? Not at all.

Magical World

My father was an entrepreneur who started many companies. Some failed while others did very well. And over his life he employed lots of people and helped create a lot of wealth for them One of his employees was families had immigrated from Colombia.

She was a lovely lady who cleaned the office and helped around wherever she could. In her later years she helped my father and mother at their home.She did not speak English and first came here illegally. Since my father did not want any problems with the authorities, he paid for a lawyer and got her a green card. And over time  she got all of her documents, paid her taxes and became a U.S citizen.

Yet having lived here her entire life, she never learned English. Never took the time to learn the culture and never fully integrated into American life. She always lived as an outsider within the American system. And she knew her life was far better here than it ever could be in Colombia.

So now as a U.S citizen with full rights, she helped bring over her entire family from Colombia.. Her sister, daughter, husband, and nieces all immigrated here. And even today, she continues to bring over her extended family, all legally.

I always had a good relationship with Lydia and it became closer when I married my wife Rocio. When I moved back to N.Y, Lydia and my wife hit it off since they both spoke Spanish. And as I had children, Lydia helped me with my kids.

Lydia was the first person that opened my eyes to an America and a system that I never knew existed and would never be part of. It all happened when one of my daughters got sick and I had to take her to the emergency room. When Lydia saw the bill I had to pay, Lydia was first shocked that I paid and even more dismayed by my naïveté for paying the bill.

Lydia seeing how I overpaid for my daughters medical bills and other such things began to educate me informed me there are many ways to go to the emergency room and not have to pay the bill. In fact she began to teach me about the massive government system of services that are free to almost anybody, a system that I had no idea that existed.

It reminded me of a Lydia who skit done years ago on Saturday Night Live where the black comedian Eddie Murphy dressed up as a white man in a  comedy and goes out to what it was like to live as a white man in America.

In the first scene the white Eddie Murphy enters a newsstand is not allowed to pay for the newspaper by the white owner, and as he surmises “I guess white people give each other things when black people are not around.”

In another scene, Eddie Murphy is on a bus which breaks out into a grand party after the last black person departs. Finally when Eddie Murphy goes to a bank to get a loan and is rejected by the black banker because he had no i.d, no job and no collateral, he eventually gets a $50,000 loan in cash, when a white banker intervenes on his behalf .

The skit is hilarious in that it was clearly over the top and yet when I began to see how Lydia lived, it reminded me of that skit. Comedy works because it touches on the nerves of truth. We all know that there are diffrent experiences people have that we will never be part of  because of our race, color or gender. It is normal. However, comedy of  my association with Lydia I was able to get a glimpse into the world of government programs and assistance that the majority of Americans have no idea they existed how they operated

Lydia had none or practically  no medical bills (Medicaid). She could go a Doctor at virtually no cost.She had access to free food (food stamps, E.B.T program). She received several monthly checks from a smorgasbord of government agencies that helped her pay for her housing and other miscellaneous expenses. She was set.

Although these programs and doors are supposedly open to all Americans, I would never be able to access them. They were never meant for people like me. They were not meant for “Normal Americans”. Think I am wrong? Take a look at how veterans are treated with sub standard care at the Veterans Administration Hospitals. These are the types of the because government programs normal Americans receive. It was designed that way.

A few years back I went to a finance conference where one of the panelist argued how efficiently the government operated. The panel laughed at her comments, but she continued “The money in government is by being inefficient. For example many companies can bid on a government contracts- and for many  they will never win the contract nor ever be able to complete the application. But with the right contact (and payoff) within the government, you will actually get your application completed and win the job.” That was my epiphany. The government is actually quite receive efficient if you know how to pull the right levers.

The reason why Lydia had great benefits and veterans have terrible ones is because Lydia and her ilk know how to bring the votes. The communities Lydia lives in know how to get people elected and keep them in power and because of that the government responds to people like her. Veterans don’t vote as a uniform block and because of that, they are recipients of an inefficient government.  Minority communities generally speaking  live close to each other (think Chicago, NYC) which makes it easier to concentrate their power. While veterans are spread out all over the United States.

Lydia did what any rational person would do, she told her family about the amazing benefits she received and tried to bring in as many of them as she could.And now as a U.S citizen she continues to live off the government.

As a country we are worse off having allowed Lydia into our country. It pains me to say it but it is the truth. The people she brought over came here to consume and better their own lives and their received but not the country which has given them so much. The irony was that my father was a veteran who never once took anything form the government and yet has helped many others to do so.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

Death By Injection

A good friend of mines son named Jacob died recently. He was only 20.

heroin

He injected heroin into his veins and died a few hours later.

He was a good kid. I liked him. I had not seen him in a years but I had met when he was a boy. He was a sweet person. He was one of those adorable kids you remember because of the goodness that oozes out of them.

He went to school, had a job and a girlfriend. And like most of us he was trying to better his lot in life. From what I understand he did not have a drug problem but did use drugs recreationally.

On this one instance, his occasional drug use cost him his life. His parents and friends will forever be saddened by this needless loss of life.

When I was in my teens, the recreational drugs that circulated were marijuana and some times cocaine. That was about it, because that was about the only thing that was accessible.

But as I have gotten older, it seems the amount of drugs available have skyrocketed. I would argue that it all changed in the late 1990’s with a change in the law.

If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that I write quite a bit about politics, because  even the slightest changes in the law affect us all. Even though you might think changes in laws don’t affect you, they inevitably do.

I believe the genesis of the heroin boom began in the late 1990’s when drug companies were given the green light to start making new pain medication drugs. At the time, there were no real alternatives for patients who suffered from chronic pain. That is not to say there was no pain medications available, but there was not enough variety for the many ailments people suffered from. Some long time pain sufferers had no real recourse to alleviate their suffering and had lived it with it for years.

Lawmakers had been reluctant to open up the markets for new pain killing medicines as they were worried about the real possibility of an increase in drug addiction. But given the pressure by their constituents and the drug companies, a new industry was created.

One of the drugs that hit the markets in the mid 90’s was Oxycontin an opioid type medication similar to heroin. Both drugs are chemically similar, they are equally addictive, and both drugs are considered very difficult to withdraw from. Yet one was legal.

Drug companies and doctors benefited immensely by prescribing OxyContin as there was lots of money to be made. But there was a nasty side effect to the business, the patients got addicted. Doctors were happy to prescribe them to a point but once they started noticing that there patients were now addicts they had to cut them off. Doctors liked the money but were smart enough to know that they could lose their license if they started prescribing too much of it.

Desperate for their fix, the patients started buying the drugs in the black market and in Florida, pill mills started popping up to fill the need. A  pill mill is an operation in which a doctor, clinic or pharmacy pre- scribes and/or dispenses narcotics without a legitimate medical purpose. These doctors used their pre-scription pads to flood their communities with illegal narcotics.

These mills started booming all over Florida and became the epi-center for the drug trade. Patients, now cut off from their doctors found ample supplies through these pill mills. And when the addicts could no longer afford them they turned to heroin for their fix. Given the similar nature between these two drugs, the heroin market took off.

Clearly taking a pill is preferable to the alternative of heroin which is injected by a needle into the vein, but given that heroin is cheaper, people flocked to heroin. For example an 80 mg OxyContin can cost $60 to $100 a pill. In contrast, heroin costs about $45 to $60 for a multiple-dose supply. So many normal people” would never would have thought of injecting something onto their veins began to do so regularly did so because of their addiction and the cheapness of heroin.

Unlike Oxytocin where the doses and amounts are closely monitored, heroin is unregulated and manufactured in the black market. So when someone injects heroin into their veins, that person is literally in the hands of the drug dealer who made that batch. Growing up it was unheard of anybody who did heroin. It was the stuff of the hard drug users. But not anymore. Heroin has come to middle America. This is how a sweet kid, from a solid family with good economic prospects ends up killing himself. He used heroin because it is cheap and available and widely used as a drug of choice for many now. The stigma of heroin now longer exists.

This is how a change in law from 20 years ago can have major consequences many year later It was widely reported that during Donald Trumps campaign, he was  astonished by the amount of people that came up to him asking for help to solve the scourge of heroin. Drug use was not one of his main policy points but given the amount of sad stories he heard, he actually began to address this issues at many of his stops.

Now with marijuana being made legal in many states, who knows what future awaits us twenty years down the line. Living in Texas I have meet many recent Colorado transplants who have told me the main reason for leaving the state was the widespread use of marijuana. So we have already begun to see people take action due to this new law.

Right now, 3,999 American children die every month from an accidental overdose of heroin. That’s right, 129 people a day die from an overdose. This is the impact of laws. This is the impact of politics and this is how one change in law can affect us all.

Rest in peace Jacob. You will be missed.

Steve Clark

sleeclark@gmail.com