The Dead End of Justified Means

In a recent conversation about AI, a business acquaintance told me why, in his opinion, Elon Musk will not succeed. “It’s because Musk allows his beliefs and ethics to enter into his business,” he said. “Musk doesn’t like AI and so he is not pursuing its implementation to the extent he should.” My reply was that as I understood it, it isn’t that Musk doesn’t like AI but rather doesn’t trust it given the insufficient moral parameters being established around its development and implementation. His response? “Well, when consumers see the benefits and ease of products and services that utilize AI they won’t ask or care about the morality or ethics.”

That’s when I decided to end the discussion.

Convincing a 39 year old businessman otherwise, who actually thinks that ethics and morals are irrelevant to AI or should be, is more energy that I wanted to expend. After all, he’s pretty cooked at his age. It doesn’t mean I was not surprised and slightly appalled by his perspective. It just means that if you don’t understand the connection between a culture lacking  ethics in business that has also run amok with sexual harassment in the workplace… you’re probably way down the road of no return on the relationship between ethics and AI. In fact, his final words to me on the subject were “AI will be our slaves.” To which I replied, “Or we will be theirs.”

Perhaps I come from an old school. I am willing to own that accusation. I remember a world where everything wasn’t instant, people didn’t have tech sex with virtual strangers and where they actually cared what others thought about how they behaved and the consequences of their actions. Maybe I am a cultural dinosaur. But I am not alone. I talk to plenty of other creatures from that “cultural  Jurrasic period” where values and principles mattered and people sought out and knew how to have personal relationships.

What is so disturbing is that people like the entrepreneur I spoke with about Elon Musk are in the majority not the minority. Ethics be damned. They slow things down. They get in the way of progress. Think of how high that tower could be…why it could go all the way to the sky…if we didn’t have to consider the consequences of building it in the first place. Oops. We did that one, didn’t we?

I like that Elon Musk is bothered by the potential of an AI world absent ethical and moral considerations. I am bothered by the fact that Google isn’t.  Large tech giants like Facebook and Google have already proven themselves not to be beyond crossing all sorts of ethical lines…or at least not past using mind control and preference mapping…to reach their profit driven ends. At least Musk has a conscience and isn’t afraid to make that known or stand by what he believes in.

And maybe, just maybe, that’s what is all comes down to. Belief.

We seem to have stopped believing in anything beyond self-satisfaction. Don’t misunderstand me. I think we humans are in charge of our own destiny and can choose to find joy even in the hard times. We deserve to be happy. But in satisfying one self, a total disregard for our connection to all living things and especially to a higher power that is essentially good, self-satisfaction soon morphs into self-absorption which, in an AI-virtual world, ends in addiction and enslavement: if not to a government then to a machine that anticipates our every need and fulfills our every desire.

Live long enough and you learn, hopefully, that joy and satisfaction come as much from living within certain ethical and moral parameters as from hard work, patience and forgiveness. Absent those parameters anything goes. Given our human propensity to abuse power and self-destruct in the doing, we are more likely to devolve then evolve. If memory serves me, we’ve done that before as well. I wonder why we can’t seem to get this one right?

Carole (contact@carolegold.com)

Not All Money Is Green

I use to be part of a team that sold emerging market bonds for a bank. We consistently made millions of dollars annually. Yet, in many ways, our team was not well respected. In fact, there were other traders and sales people who made less money, contributed less, and were paid more.

It always use to bother me that even though my efforts created more value for the bank other people were paid more. It was as if the money I made was not “green enough” for the bank. I came to learn that in corporate America, pay is not only dependent on technical skills but on political skill as well.  Given the clients I handled I had no political power.

The golden boys at my firm had gone to the best schools and were groomed by the bank to handle the biggest accounts. Their careers would typically start out having them act as back up traders for large accounts and, as they matured, take over those accounts and even larger ones. To their credit, those guys were super smart, worked super hard and did well for their accounts.  In turn, the firm loved them because they maintained a steady flow of income for the banks.

What they did was not particularly hard. They were given the keys to the kingdom. Their real job was simply to not mess up.

My colleagues talked and traded with PIMCO, Fidelity and Soros. They traveled to California and played on some of the best golf courses throughout the U.S.  Meanwhile, I was shlepping around the streets of Bogota, Colombia visiting local brokers trying to successfully close small trades.  The search for those deals had me traveling to some pretty remote places. My hunch had been that there were a lot more deals to be done with some of those financial institutions because they were not being properly engaged and serviced.

The compliance department, the traders and management hated me for bringing these accounts. It was simply outside their wheelhouse and comfort zone…not to mention lacking in the requisite social standing. I traded with family offices in Venezuela, pension funds in Jamaica and trust companies in Trinidad.  Then, after a few short years, I was doing some of the largest trades in my firm with, admittedly, the oddest account list. That’s when I got noticed. It took me years but the money I was earning suddenly became green.

My story is not unusual.

If you study the historical development of the Jewish community in both the legal system and on Wall Street, you see the same story play out. The reason there are so many Jewish lawyers working in mergers and acquisitions on Wall Street is due, in large part, to the fact that early on those positions were looked down upon. None of the banks, or golden boys, wanted to do the grunt work in the legal space. This resulted in that market not being served. Given that many Jews could not get into the top investment banks, they were left with covering the scraps of the “fine print” on deals. Guess what happened?  As that area became in high demand, the only firms that could service the deals were Jewish law firms. (If you want to find out more about this evolution, check out Malcolm Gladwell’s, David vs Goliath).

Even in my current business dealings, I witness firsthand how people are looked down upon when they are perceived to lack the right pedigree. Just recently, I was in a meeting with some pretty high powered people for a capital raise and, by far, the wealthiest man in the room was the most humble and least ostentatious. The manner in which he spoke and his attire suggested that he did not have the means to even be in that meeting. During a discussion round table following the capital presentation, a banker asked this unassuming attendee if he was familiar with a certain well-respected and high ranking bank in the city in which the humble man lived. His reply was, “I am that bank. I own it.”  You could have heard a pin drop as the room went silent. Suddenly, a man who had been previously humored for his questions and comments was the authority in the room…whose every word had the undivided attention of all those present.

After the meeting, I asked him what had driven him to own a bank. He proceeded to tell me that earlier in his career he had lost everything because the bank he used would not extend him credit on the real estate deals he had done. Their refusal   forced him into bankruptcy. He vowed it would not happen to him again. With whatever funds had survived bankruptcy, and what he was able to bring to the table, he bought one of the worst banks around for a fraction of its worth and grew it into what it is today: lucrative, well-respected and top rated. In a room full of lawyers, wall street financiers and tech whiz kids, this man was by far the most successful and least assuming. How had he done it? He saw potential, embraced what others judged as worthless, and then did the hard work.

The famed real estate developer Frank McKinney, who builds only million dollars homes on speculation, got his start buying apartments in the worst parts of Florida. The locations were dangerous and his margins small; but, over time, he grew and transitioned his talents to high end real estate. His success stemmed from the fact that he was willing to do the job no one else wanted to do. When he told his peers about his low end real estate deals he was looked down upon. I would characterize their reaction as “his money wasn’t green enough.” But the experience he gained doing jobs that others would not do propelled him to the heights of his profession.

These stories have a common thread and timeless moral.  Career capital was amassed from a series of unusual opportunities…opportunities shunned by most for their “appearance sake” yet ultimately the source of enviable value for those who could see past appearances and who were willing to do the heavy lifting.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

Perspective Is Everything

The Second Coming, alien invasion or the end of the world? No matter which you believe (or perhaps you have some alternative theory) everyone knows something is happening. Why? Because everywhere you look things are falling apart.

Or are they?

I read an essay by the former Chief Rabbi of England, Jonathan Sacks, in which he tells the story of diarist Samuel Pepys who, in 1663 paid a visit to a Spanish synagogue in London. Worship there had been banned since 1290 but Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, lifted the ban. The synagogue was actually a private house accommodated to function as such. Pepys had been in the house one time previously for a memorial service for its deceased owner. Upon entering the then newly sanctioned synagogue, Pepys was shocked and repulsed by what he saw which he described, in part, as follows:

“Their service all in a singing way, and in Hebrew. And anon their Laws that they take out the press (Torah scroll) and are carried by several men. …Whether it is that everyone desires to have the carrying of it I cannot tell. Thus they carried it around the room while such a service is singing…But, Lord! To see the disorder, laughing, sporting, and no attention, but confusion in all their service, more like brutes than people knowing true God would make a man forswear ever seeing them more….” [Emphasis added].

What Pepys did not know was that he had entered the synagogue on the biblical holiday of Simchat Torah, the service that celebrates the end of the annual cycle of reading the Torah. It is a celebration that can last for hours, marked by joyous dancing and singing as the Torah scroll is carried about the congregation.

Pepys expected the solemnity of traditional worship. What he encountered was unbridled joy. Lacking context, he formed a misguided opinion of an entire religion and its people.

Perspective is everything.

It is likely that many, if not all, of the people you meet these days think we are in dire straits.  After all, in every direction you turn there is chaos, deception, division and corruption. Regardless of in which “camp” you define yourself as standing, most would agree upon this fact. Most. Not all.

I have a different perspective.

Calm and order are not the historical norm of humankind. In fact, periods of relative calm are the exception rather than the rule. Human history is a timeline of long periods of upheaval followed by relatively brief periods of stability. Because we just transited one of those relatively stable periods (1950 – 2000) makes the present upheaval particularly difficult to adapt to…especially for those old enough to have lived through, at least part of, the preceding period of stability. It is why it’s so easy to think we are going to hell; but, what if we are actually moving closer to “heaven?”

I look at the unmasking or exposure of the deception, division, corruption and simultaneous chaos as a really good sign. It means there are no longer sufficient ways in which to conceal destructive behavior.

The saying “there are no accidents” is predicated upon a belief that everything happens for a reason. It is frequently cited when an event (or series of events) seem(s) to provide necessary meaning to an otherwise meaningless set of occurrences. For example, take the news.

The investigation into possible U.S. election tampering by a foreign entity is turning out to expose a deeper level of corruption and deceit than thought to exist; an entire entertainment industry (and perhaps others as well) is being exposed for its repetitive use of sexual abuse; individuals profiting from the manufacture and excessive distribution of addictive opioid medications are being exposed for their complicity; corrupt politicians are either being exposed for their deceit or leaving politics altogether rather than face such exposure; the former Prime Minister of Qatar has gone public to expose the U.S.-Saudi-Qatar connection and cooperation in arming ISIS and al-Qaeda in attempting to effect regime change in Syria; courts and municipalities allegedly with the “best interest of children” as their mantra are being exposed for giving full, joint parenting rights to rapists and, in Nevada and other states, we’re exposing fraudulent guardianship programs allowing corrupt individuals to kidnap legally competent senior citizens in order to steal their assets and real property.

This is all good news. Why? Because it’s exposing the ways in which we have lost our way and you cannot find your way home unless and until you realize you are lost and decide to do something about it.

Personally, I prefer the explanation for all this exposure to be simply about energy. The right use of energy. Here’s the analogy: if you use energy wrongly it’s destructive. Plug a 110v appliance into a 220V receptacle and you will short the circuit and likely blow your appliance. That’s why when traveling to Europe with an appliance made for U.S. use, for example, you need to take a converter to plug into the outlet in Europe.

We are energy. That’s what we humans are. Giant packets of energy. Use it correctly and all is well. Use it wrongly and…well…if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor, likely blow the society.

For quite some time, we have been in denial about our misuse of energy. We have simply reached the point where failure or refusal to recognize the misuse is resulting in destruction. It need not be total destruction. However, in order to avoid it we are in desperate need of a “converter.”

I find words enlightening and believe their true meaning has often been hijacked by some to control others. For example, take the words “righteousness” and “converter.”

It you remove the letter “o” from the word righteousness you’re left with right-eus-ness…as in the “right-use-ness” of energy. What you need to affect the right-use-ness of energy in an environment different from one in which you have been used to applying it is a “converter.”

At critical times in our conscious evolution, we giant energy packets have been gifted converters. Abraham, Moses, Hillel the Elder and Jesus to name some of the more effective ones. They have always shown up shining light upon darkness born of the misuse of energy. It’s the resulting light that exposes and reveals the effects of that misuse.

So, here we are. I am confident that there is a converter in our midst supporting us in the right-use-ness of energy. This is reason to feel joyful. Like I said, perspective is everything.

Carole (contact@carolegold.com)

The NFL, The Owners & Kneeling

The NFL still has a problem.  Players continue to kneel while some are not participating at all. Others have added raising their fists in protest.  At first, the owners did nothing as the repercussions were minimal. However, once President Trump came down strongly on the side that players should stand, the whole topic moved center stage.

I find it fascinating that it was President Trump’s comments that spawned subsequent action by the American public. After all, the “controversy” had started a year prior without any real decline in ratings. Fans had neither boycotted nor expressed their displeasure over the kneeling. But when the President said out loud what many people had been thinking and feeling, it provided the impetus to finally turn off the television sets and stop going to the games.

The NFL has shifted into damage-control mode and is doing everything it can to make this story go away. Their attempts  now include allowing players to remain in the locker room instead of protesting on the sidelines.

The owners’ positions fell apart and turned around once they realized that a majority of paying customers opposed the players antics. The operative words in that last sentence were “paying customers.”  These owners are billionaires and know perfectly well how to finance deals; however, most of these stadiums are funded by public financing.  The casual fan has no idea that it’s his money paying for the stadium. Fans not only get charged for attending the game, they also gets taxed at work for the stadium they build. Adding insult to injury, they have to sit and watch the country they love be disrespected by the owners’ employees (a/k/a/ players)!

Given that it is 1) a public stadium; 2) funded by taxpayer dollars and 3) a public event, there should be no issue for the participants to engage and show proper respect for the public ceremony. Some may argue that going to the NFL is a private event; but, Congress created the NFL monopoly. Such legislation allows NFL members huge advantages, including taxpayer funded stadiums. Therefore, they are public events. Common decency toward the nation via the flag is a reasonable expectation under the circumstances.

There are two major points that have been obfuscated.

  1. The players do not have a right to protest. This is not a First Amendment free speech issue;
  2. A property owner has the right to do what he/she desires to do with his/her property.

I have worked at plenty of companies, and in situations, where I was bound by applicable rules. For example, in the military, it is prohibited to speak to the media about politics. Such commentary has the potential to undermine the system. I could express my misgivings personally but not in a public forum. Having taken civics in the sixth grade, I knew that property owners’ rights are virtually unlimited as long as they do not violate the Constitutional rights of one’s employees.

Demanding that your employee-players not take a knee isn’t a violation of anybody’s Constitutional rights.

Admittedly, workers have rights as well. In a free society, a worker has the right to quit his job any time he wishes to do so. In my own case, I could have subsequently left the military, started a magazine bashing the military and nobody would or could have stopped me. Personal opinion expressed publicly on my own time.

If NFL players feel so repressed, or oppressed, they can quit and take another job any time they so choose.

What I think the protests are really about is attacking the culture. At the heart of every culture is a generally accepted code of conduct without which no culture can survive. This is why the NFL protests are a big deal. In previous generations, there were manners and ways to address your concerns while heeding the culture’s code of conduct, protocol, symbolism, and traditions.  Those used to include respecting the flag.

Our Founding Fathers established a culture that made the “experiment” called America the greatest and most liberty-focused society on earth. There are countless benefits to being born here. These benefits are memorialized within our founding documents and have been maintained, in no small measure, by the sacrifices of life made by prior generations. Take a look at the citation for a Medal of Honor Winner. You will come away with profound insight into the depth of anger felt by so many Americans towards NFL players and owners who perpetuate and allow this behavior.

Nobody wants to see the rights of the players infringed upon; but the venue they are choosing is neither the time nor the place to exercise those rights. Discretion is the better part of valor.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

Bitcoin and The Banks

Over the last few weeks Jamie Dimon, Chief Executive of J.P. Morgan, has been leading the charge against bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.  Given that J.P Morgan had revenues of over 90 billion dollars last year, it at first seemed odd to me that Dimon would be so vocal in his opposition. Yet he has repeatedly gone out of his way over the past few months to trash bitcoin, even going so far as saying it should be banned. Dimon is no fool. He knows bitcoin has the potential to upend the banking industry. This is precisely why he is trying to kill it before it gets even close.

Banks work as a depository of information. In order to open an account, you have to go to a bank and give them the requisite information. Once that’s done, the bank is able to track all of the transactions that you conduct. For example, when I buy gas at Shell Oil, Shell’s computer system talks to JP Morgan’s computer system and verifies my information. It, Morgan, verifies that I have sufficient funds in my account to approve the transaction in question.

Governments like banks because of this central ledger system. It allows government as well to go to one “location” to track all of an individual’s transactions. So, if the I.R.S. wants to freeze my accounts and garnish my wages, all they have to do is go to the bank and direct the bank to do so.  The courts love it as well because in bankruptcy cases and civil judgements  there is an easy mechanism for freezing and seizing assets.

Enter bitcoin and its not so easy. Allow me to explain.

The underlying software behind bitcoin is called “block chain technology” which is a radical breakthrough in software technology. Information is spread out and stored in various locations.  To conduct a trade in bitcoin requires the use of a “distributive ledger” as opposed to banks which operate with one central ledger. Obtaining information via bitcoin requires accessing multiple distributive ledgers.

Picture a wall full of books with a single book at the center of the wall. All of the other books around it support each other and are linked to each other. If I were to remove that one book, every other book around it would be impacted and would have to agree to the move. It is the same way with bitcoin. When I pay someone in bitcoin, a signal gets sent out to all of these ledgers that have to agree that I actually own this bitcoin. Once verified, I am able to “send” this bitcoin to where the transaction is verified and another “block” is built…which is verified by all of the other ledgers.

An additional benefit of bitcoin is that the individual’s  identity is masked. There are no name associated with the amount of bitcoin you own. If someone were to look at a bitcoin transaction, all they would be able to see is “xys456 paid 26xgjky.” Without names, neither you nor anyone else can determine who owns these bitcoins.

Given 1) anonymity and  2) a distributive ledger bitcoin ownership has exploded. The fact is bitcoin and the block chain technology are going to move ahead with or without approval of the U.S. government with the banking industry exposed to  the potential of being left behind. Think internet in the 1990’s: banning it would have been pointless and not getting on board would have made you the equivalent of a technological dinosaur.

What most people don’t realize is that the U.S. has the most to lose with the advent of bitcoin because we have, by far, the deepest and strongest capital markets which force people to use the U.S. dollar. In addition, all commodity transactions are priced in dollars with the most important one being oil.  Given the enormity of these markets, there is always a demand for dollars as well as government bonds. Our economy literally “sucks in” dollars from all over the world and our power is based on the fact that we are the reserve currency of the world.

Because there is such a demand for U.S. dollars we have the ability, through banking sanctions, to cut off countries from those dollars. Those central ledgers that banks control have allowed the U.S. to act as the global policeman. Look at Cuba. It was shut off from the global economy with debilitating result.

Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and block chain technology have the ability to upend the global banking system and U.S. dominance of it. This is why Jamie Dimon is bashing bitcoin.  Its worth noting that Goldman Sachs, one of J.P. Morgan’s biggest competitors, has seen the light of this new technology and now employs more people in its technology department than Linkedin or Twitter.

Block-Chain technology will change and impact our lives  in ways not yet imagined. Bitcoin offers an economy outside and irrespective of the U.S. dollar. It ends U.S. dominance of the world economy. This is the banking sectors greatest fear…and the terror of those who have disproportionately profited from that system.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

The Answer

Want to know why you’re fed up and feeling lost?

In what will surely be known as the Age of Data Collection, we know virtually nothing about the Las Vegas shooter.  The Clinton’s got away with their “Foundation” profiting to the tune of $145,000,000 in donations from Russian sources while Secretary Clinton approved the sale of 1/4 of the U.S. uranium supply to Russia. Sex trafficking in children is at an all-time high and some of the worst perpetrators are here in the U.S.  Pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies are the monthly purveyors of millions of illegal opioids while Americans grow more and more addicted. Then there is Harvey Weinstein and all of those complicit and silent, for decades, in Hollywood’s sordid saga.

We are not a dying a culture. We are a dead one.

This isn’t about politics. Politics is the distraction. It’s the “look over here so I can keep you from looking over there.” No thinking person can conclude that any politician, regardless of party, can or will save us. Politicians have been corrupt as far back as recorded history. This includes the politicians who disguise themselves as religious leaders and attempt to control and enslave millions in the name of God.

For as long as I can remember, I have instinctively known that you cannot legislate morality. Morals and ethics are internal commitments by individuals who have a conscience and a sense of higher purpose. Such knowing cannot be externally imposed and it certainly cannot be forced upon others through legal enactments. Morals and ethics may be discussed intellectually, laws can be passed in an attempt to express a society’s opposition to certain behavior, but in the end it is individuals acting voluntarily in accordance with a personal commitment to higher principles that define a culture.

Our culture, in the second decade of the twenty first century, is experiencing the ugly truth that it is devoid of such principles.

A society’s culture is a complex adaptive system that needs tending to. Because each of us is a contributor and functional part of that system, our individual actions matter and affect the whole.  Each of us needs to be aware when we are out of balance and take the necessary steps in returning toward equilibrium. Make no mistake. For too long, we have turned a collective blind eye to deceit, corruption, abuse, and limitless greed. Like an untreated bacteria or virus, we allowed these pathogens to infect us and go untreated. They have made our culture toxic. They have eaten away at our foundation and left us wandering and lost in the void.

What matters now is what we do about it. There is little time to waste and less time than that to beat our chests wailing “woe is me.” Energy abhors a vacuum. Something is going to fill the void. Blame is not helpful. We are all at fault, each in our own way. If we cannot face how we’ve abdicated free will and personal responsibility then we are surely doomed. We must reclaim both and use them wisely. If not, the fear mongers who live off of the pathogens, will prevail.

Each of us has the power of creation at our fingertips. All that is needed is to reach out and claim it. This is accomplished by the realization that, like morals and ethics, all wisdom resides within. No one and nothing external to you is the source. Your power is the wisdom within you combined with trust that you are directly connected to the highest Source there Is in order to be the best you can be. It is really the essential message of all true religions…once you strip them of their politics and politicians.

No one wants to hear that “it all rest on you.” But the truth is there is only one of us and so it does. We are united in our hearts if temporarily at war within our minds. What can provide comfort as we seek to find our way out of the void is the oldest message in the universe: the heart prevails.

Be the light, shine your light and watch what happens to the darkness. Something is going to fill the void. What will your contribution be?

Carole contact@carolegold.com

 

 

 

The Much Needed Opioid Conversation

A much needed conversation has emerged from the tragedy in Las Vegas. It’s about opioids, prescription drugs (in particular anti-depressants), addiction and withdrawal. It’s a topic I can speak to with authority as I tried to commit suicide at age 23 after coming off of prescription anti-depressants.

I have spoken much and often on this topic over the decades since. I have gone into high schools and spoken on depression and suicide. I have been interviewed for both print and radio on the topic as well. In fact, following the overdose of actor Heath Ledger (of “The Dark Knight” fame) in 2008, I did an extensive national radio interview sharing my thoughts on all aspects of this national epidemic.

While it is unlikely that addiction and withdrawal to/from prescription (or illegal) drugs was the sole cause of the detailed planning and execution of the Las Vegas shooting, awareness of the perpetrator’s apparent reliance upon such drugs at least brings to the forefront, once again, a national nightmare that continues to grow due to our refusal to address it head on.

We have been over-medicating our population for decades. More accurate to say we have been willing participants in over-medicating ourselves for at least that long.  While it’s easy to blame either pharmaceutical manufacturers or physicians, we have a responsibility to behave not as sheep but rather thinking, free-willed humans.

No one forces us to go the route of popping a pill for every discomfort or ailment. No one makes us medicate our children similarly. We choose to follow that option rather than looking into and applying our efforts to slower and less facile remedies.  We want to be numbed, sedated, narcotized and relieved instantly of anything that is an inconvenience or causes pain.

But pain is meant to bring us present. Whether emotional or physical…it’s an indication that we are out of balance in either our emotional, physical and some would say spiritual selves. We are lacking something we need or overindulging in something we do not. Deaden the pain and lose the opportunity to know the root cause.

Part of our preference for instant pain killers evolved along with our desire for instant everything: news, success, fame internet, access…every form of gratification. We have lost the ability to just be with ourselves and work through the challenging situations that life presents. We have lost all semblance of patience. Which brings us to where we are: “safe spaces” demanded so as to not even rattle one’s minutest sensibilities.

But here’s the thing. Life is uncomfortable, at times unsafe and periodically painful. All efforts to avoid this messy fact ultimately leave us deadened to life itself.

Walking and deadened.

When I didn’t die after my attempted suicide, I made a decision. If I was going to try and live my life then I had to accept all of it, the good, the bad and the ugly. I couldn’t spare myself only the parts I wanted to avoid without also costing myself the parts I wanted to enjoy.

They are the flip side of the same coin.

My detailed thoughts on the proliferation of drugs can be heard here in the radio interview I did following Heath Ledger’s death. But in short, we are responsible for the choices we make. Long before we die, we have to choose how autonomously we want to live and then take responsibility for that autonomy. This means we cannot blame anyone else for our decisions…and this includes drug manufacturers and physicians. It means rejecting so-called expert opinions before thinking through and analyzing problems for ourselves. It means accepting that pain has a purpose, as does fear, and when we try and suppress either we wind up missing every opportunity to grow that life has in store for us. And since life is change and change is intended to beget growth, it means missing life. Period.

Carole carolegold8@gmail.com

 

 

Taking The Knee

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides as follows: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” [Emphasis added].  This includes football players “taking the knee” to the national anthem and the President of the United States calling people, who do, “sons of bitches.

The First Amendment addresses freedom of speech. It says nothing about stupidity, arrogance or a total lack of dignity. The last three describe both the players and the President.

Political protest is as old as politics itself. Nothing new here. How such protest manifests itself is as varied, and effective, as human imagination and determination. Lately, in a nation as deliberately divided as ours, professional politicians and moneyed individuals, with their own agendas, have been stoking the fires of political dissent. While their endgames may differ, they have one thing in common: methodology. Theirs is to incite the average citizen who gets his or her news in “10 second or less” snippets and thereby jack them up into rage. When that approach is less than successful….well, then they just pay protestors to show up and rail against what may or may not be fact… and against what the protestors themselves may or may not understand.

What matters is the rebellion and resulting chaos, not the truth of things.

So in a nation now convinced that we are racist, homophobic, misogynistic, Islamophobic, gender-phobic and heaven knows what other-phobic, many have reached the point where complaining about a lack of “safe spaces” and taking a knee is the new heroism.

Never mind that the concerned students lacking safe spaces are attending costly universities where they are taught revisionist history, study majors that have no realistic possibility of ever getting them a job sufficient to pay off their student debt and are coddled by parents and faculty alike to stay children for four more, irresponsible years.

As for sports figures earning millions (and often tens of millions) of dollars for throwing and catching a ball (yes, I know they get tackled and suffer concussions but our young men and women serving in the military suffer far worse consequences for a pittance) think the playing field (not the pen and paper or keyboard) is the place for them to make their displeasure known while disrespecting the very country that is making it possible to for them to earn tens of millions of dollars throwing and catching a ball. Such hypocrisy.

At the same time, we have a President of the United States calling those players “sons of bitches.” It’s hard to call such behavior anything but classless and immature. In fact, his choice of words and delivery style inadvertently gave class to the equally classless taking of knees by the very people he was railing against.

What have we come to? Chaos, confusion, division and hatred. We have chosen up sides without stopping to realize that the very act of choosing sides is precisely what we have been manipulated into doing. 

People who know me often hear me say, “There is only one of us.” What I mean by that is we are all connected. Whether it’s a biblical perspective or a genetic one, we all started out from the same place, even if we differ regarding where that “place” was. And like the single-celled amoeba on the ocean floor, it was not likely a safe space. It was likely fraught with dangers and conditions hostile to our survival. None-the-less, in our limited consciousness we moved on and, by joining forces when necessary, figured out how to survive.

Our success at survival has always had two key components: determination and an inherent knowing that we cannot do it alone. Yes, we each bring something unique to the table; but it is in our fundamental connection to others that the many manifests outcomes that transcend the limitation of the individual.

I am a Jew, but there was something really profound in Jesus saying…”Whenever two or more of you are gathered in my name.” I can’t speak to the “in my name” portion. But what he certainly knew is that what can be done in unity and harmony far exceeds what one can do alone. And there is no stopping the power of love.

This is precisely why so few have now set out to divide and cause dissonance among so many. They know the power of unity and harmony and are, if you’ll forgive the pun, “Hell bent” on keeping us at each other’s throats.

So whether it’s a classless and inarticulate President, sports figures taking a knee, or just angry citizens paid to get out and create chaos for the sheer thrill of it …let’s wake up and wise up.

We have real issues to face: the long-term effects of Artificial Intelligence, an escalating Middle East crisis, social media execs spoon feeding us selective information tailored to manipulate and control us, a bogus economy like a ticking time bomb, an opioid epidemic… and that list is not exhaustive. Let’s stop dancing to someone elses tune.

Ask yourself, “When was the last time I personally witnessed racism, homophobia, misogyny, Islamophobia (is there such a thing anyway?), gender-phobia or any other blatantly uncivil behavior. And because I suspect you answer is either 1) never; 2) not for some time; or 3) I can’t recall, then put away the righteous indignation, stop humoring others who feel the need to express theirs in ways that are divisive and get on to living a life based upon what really matters: Love, Unity, & Harmony. Sound a bit too corny? What’s the alternative? Fear, Separation and Discord? How’s that been working out for us?

Step By Step

We were in Quebec and I ordered water in French. You should have seen the shock on my daughters’ faces! They had no idea their father spoke the language. I first learned French in grammar school and then again in high school. I retained enough basic vocabulary to get by in limited situations. But having a rough understanding of French has always gnawed at me because, while I could understand parts of conversations, it wasn’t enough to make me even close to fluent. I was stuck in a sort of “no man’s land” of comprehension. But with the advent of some great apps and programs I knew I could get over that hump.

A few years ago I decided to become a bit more serious about re-acquiring my skills in French. I began practicing five minutes a day on an app called Duolingo. Then, I added an app called  lingvist .  By doing both daily, I have became confident that I can and will master the language. I study 40 words a day and, slowly but surely, I have noticed that I am becoming much more adept at it.

 

Generally speaking, it takes about 500 hours to become fluent in a language.  Since I have a head start because I studied it earlier in life, I know I can cut down that time in order to master French.  Oddly enough, most people who take language in high school never become fluent. Most high schools treat it as a basic requirement but don’t really demand the students learn the language. I can  guarantee you that if high schools required that you had to actually learn a second language sufficient to speak and write it in order to graduate, it would be taken much more seriously.

The reality is that just knowing one other language in my life, Spanish, has helped me immensely. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me their stories of regret for not having learned another language when they hear me speaking Spanish, at which I am fluent. In fact, here in Texas, there are many second and third generation Mexicans who don’t speak Spanish because their parents never taught them! Many of them feel a sense of embarrassment for not having learned their native tongue…especially when it comes to the family gatherings.

What many of those more recent generations of Mexicans don’t realize is how much closer they are to learning the language compared to others. They have been around it for years. They have heard their parents and other family members speak it. Their ears, not to mention their brains, have been trained to what the language should sound like. All that is required now is a formal plan and the discipline to put in the study hours. Nothing more.

When I was in my twenties and hadn’t spoken Spanish in years, I bought some language CD’s and studied them for about a year. It was not a huge time commitment by any stretch; but, I faithfully studied the material for thirty minutes a day. At year’s end, I had become fluent once more! I was again confident in my ability to converse in the language. That skill was a major reason I was successful at being offered a very good job. All from daily practicing Spanish.

Once I saw my success at learning a language, I created daily rituals in other areas of my life for things I wanted to master. Today, I do these things every day without fail. Most of them only take a few minutes. What I love about them is that these daily disciplines tend to “compound” exponentially over time. For example, since I know Spanish, French is actually easier to learn. There are many words in the two languages that share commonality in origin; thus, it is easier to figure out certain words…one from the other.  Just by knowing Spanish, my learning curve for French is less.

Another one of my daily habits is reading. I have Kindle installed in my iPhone.  I literally have a book with me at all times. When waiting at the checkout counter or a Doctor’s office, I use those five or ten minutes (or longer!) to read.  As a result, I read much more quickly now and so acquire knowledge at an ever increasing rate. On average, I read about five books a month. There was no magic secret to my getting to this place…just establishing a daily ritual.  An added bonus: my ever-increasing and deepening  understanding has made me a better husband, father and businessman.

Perhaps you will let this post provide you with the bit of inspiration you need to accomplish some of the things in life you’d like to master.  In case you get hung up and start thinking any one of them is just too big to tackle remember the saying, ” How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

One Simple Act of Love

Yesterday was a bad day. One of my worst.

I heard news that devastated me. It was, quite literally, as if I had been punched in the stomach and couldn’t recover. But, as a parent, I had to carry on. It was teacher conference day at the kid’s school.  As soon as I arrived I knew something was wrong. It turns out I was a day early.

Since I didn’t have my car, I had to wait for my wife to pick me up. I waited and waited but she didn’t come. My phone battery died so I couldn’t call Uber or a taxi.  After waiting as long as I could, I decided to walk home. What I didn’t know was that my younger children were at home and they were getting worried. I had been away for too long and they left their rooms to wait for me by the door.

When I finally arrived home some four hours later tired, depressed and frustrated, I walked in the house to see my four- year-old sound asleep on top of a chair with his head pressed against the window. He had been looking out and waiting for me when, exhausted, he just fell asleep.

That scene of him asleep on top of the chair broke my heart but in so doing it made it bigger.  I have a friend who likes to say “there’s more room in a broken heart” and now I know what she means.

All day I had been wallowing in my problems feeling super depressed about my current predicament and the bad news I had received. Then, I was confronted with that expression of my son’s love for me. My absence had troubled him so much that he feel asleep looking out a window.

When I asked my nine year old daughter why they were waiting downstairs for me she said, “We could tell you were really upset and were very worried about you.” I was blown away. I had tried to mask my situation from my kids but they had sensed something was wrong and showed their concern in the only way they could… by waiting at the front door for me. So with iPhones, iPads and computers at their disposal to pass the time or distract them from their anxiety, they had abandoned all of it to sit and wait for their Dad.

Children are amazing. I have been blessed with six. We even wanted more but my wife had a few miscarriages along the way.  So even though raising them is time consuming and makes no economic sense, I wanted more. Children have the ability to reach us and connect us in ways adults simply cannot. There is something magical about a child’s love and innocence. About their awe for things we adults tend to miss or dismiss. They have the ability to inspire.

So, even after a day when I felt like a total failure, my children reminded me of my value and importance. They let me know that no matter what, I am worthy of love and consideration and they showed it by waiting for me at the front door…and falling asleep with a head pressed up against a window.

Thank you, Lee and Amelia, for thinking of me. Right back at you.

Dad

sleeclark@gmail.com