Corrupt Hollywood Accounting

There’s an old joke in the movie industry about the 1997 movie “Titanic” which was the highest grossing movie ever made.  The joke goes something like this: “Titanic was the first movie in Hollywood to have ever made any money.”

You see, Hollywood movies never make money…at least not on paper or in what is reported to the government.  Of course this must be a mistake since cinema is a multi-billion dollar business. However, for accounting purposes, movies lose money.

Mel Brooks, the famed director and Broadway producer, actually wrote a play about it. “The Producers” follows a Broadway producer whose star is fading. He stumbles onto the fact that a terrible play can actually make more money than a great one and so proceeds to write the worst musical comedy ever.  The scheme fails because his play actually becomes a surprise hit leaving him in financial ruin.

This whole notion is explored in detail in a fascinating book,  “The Hollywood Economist” which delves into the accounting practices of movie making. The write-offs, tax breaks and deals in which everybody gets paid but nobody makes any money is laid out for all to see.  Further, the book explores the political correctness that pervades everything in today’s society. It points out that big business is the only “enemy” that has no lobbyist fighting on its behalf.

Then there’s the irony and paradox: Hollywood loves to make movies about the evils of capitalism and the many ways businesses rob and hurt the little guy. Here is just a tiny sample of famous movies where big business was portrayed by Hollywood as pure evil:

*Wall Street – Michael Douglas plays the ruthlessness of a Wall Street financier.

*Avatar – Sigourney Weaver battles a ruthless corporation that tries to mine minerals on a distant planet.

*Erin Brockovich – Julia Roberts takes on the malfeasance of an energy company and the damage done to the environment.

The “chutzpah” of making of these types of movies is unbelievable! A Hollywood director making a movie about the evils and greed of big business while financing it in such a way that is completely unethical and deceitful… for the purposes of evading income tax obligations.

If you think hedge funds are ruthless, “The Hollywood Economist” cites numerous examples of how Hollywood’s power brokers fleeced many a hedge funds through chicanery. Even these masters of finance were unaware of the depths of corruptions that exist in Hollywood. Yet, these same power brokers make films and TV shows about how hedge funds fleece the American public while they themselves fleece the hedge funds! Most recently, check out “Billions” on Showtime.

This “entertainment economy” reminds me of the famous painter M.C. Escher whose paintings made it hard to distinguish which way is up. In his painting “Relativity” a maze of stairs interconnects, each with a different orientation to gravity. The paths wind and intertwine. There is no “up” or “down.”

Filmmakers making movies about corruption while financing movies in a corrupt manner make it hard to tell which end is up.

Ironically, you would have thought Hollywood to be one of the best places to work given the abundance of films about championing the underdog. For decades, those protectors of women and gays wore their righteous indignation for all to see and applaud; yet, it t urns out Hollywood is engulfed in sexual harassment scandals that objectified women and gays during those same decades. What hypocrisy!

Famed producer Harvey Weinstein, who produced some of the biggest hits in Hollywood, seems to be the poster boy for everything wrong in the industry. For years he was lauded for his contributions to the Democratic Party:  “Party of the Oppressed.”  All the while his disgusting behavior was apparently well known, documented and joked about. The entire industry was complicit.  One of the most powerful actresses of stage and screen , Meryl Steep, once compared Harvey Weinstein to God. Yet she had no problem denouncing Donald Trump for his poor behavior towards a man with disability (later found to be untrue) or rally to support women who allege harassment by him.

In 2013, TV producer Seth McFarlane read the list of female actresses nominated for award recognition and actually joked  (on live T.V.) that the real award was that that “they no longer had to sleep with Harvey Weinstein.”  How do Meryl Streep and other powerful women in the film industry claim they had no knowledge about his predatory ways?  If Streep had real courage she would have spoken about what she surely knew. But she didn’t. Why? Because it would have hurt her career and her income. Rather than take the truly courageous step and expose the abuse she weighed her options, reviewed her finances and remained silent

Good art is meant to challenge us. It serves a purpose by mirroring society in order to challenge conventional wisdom, shine a light upon the oppressed and, hopefully, elevate the human condition. Having been a connoisseur and champion of the arts, I feel saddened by the great lengths members of the film industry have gone to amass their fortunes and cover-up the exploitation of women. The arts (not unlike the press) have their roles as critics of society. When it comes to Hollywood, the claim to have been there fighting the battles all along belies the truth that they were silent and complicit.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Lutheran Pastor who sought to bring down Hitler, said “Not to speak is to speak. Not to stand is to stand.”  Hello? Meryl?

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

The Reality of Jerusalem

One of the most eye-opening lessons of having been a divorce attorney for close to 15 years was the realization that most, if not all, clients know the truth of their relationship even if they choose not to believe it. This means that whatever the reason turned out to be for the failed marriage, the underlying truth of the deficiency was known but ignored. Sometimes the reason “for looking the other way” was financial; sometimes it was because it was easier to stay the course than brave the unknown…but an awareness of the underlying truth was none-the-less present. It made me acutely aware of our propensity to see only what we want to see and only what supports our current belief system.

This propensity isn’t limited to our personal relationships. It’s starkly evident in our politics. You either hate Donald Trump, seeing everything he does as evil, or you love him, believing he can do no harm. Yet, truth is not so clearly defined.

Donald Trump is human and, therefore, flawed. This means that he sometimes makes good decisions and sometime bad ones. It means he can be emotionally arrested at, perhaps, some adolescent stage of development while at the same time being intellectually competent and able to strategize with a high degree of success. There is no incompatibility in the co-existence of such facts even if the combination of them if less than ideal. He is who he is.

I try and make my evaluations of the President’s behavior not within the context of the “love him or hate him model” but rather upon the wisdom, or lack thereof, of each individual action. This allows me to sometimes stand with him and sometimes stand in opposition to him.

This brings me to where I stand on his decision regarding Jerusalem.

As I stated at the outset of this post, we humans have a hard time with reality when it flies in the face of what we prefer to believe. So, the wife who denies that her husband is having an affair, even when all the evidence points to the contrary, has much in common with the person who denies Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, even when all the evidence points to the contrary.

The evidence was factually and succinctly set forth in President Trump’s announcement of the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel:

It was 70 years ago that the United States, under President Truman, recognized the State of Israel. Ever since then, Israel has made its capital in the city of Jerusalem — the capital the Jewish people established in ancient times. Today, Jerusalem is the seat of the modern Israeli government. It is the home of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, as well as the Israeli Supreme Court. It is the location of the official residence of the Prime Minister and the President. It is the headquarters of many government ministries.  For decades, visiting American presidents, secretaries of state, and military leaders have met their Israeli counterparts in Jerusalem, as I did on my trip to Israel earlier this year.

Facts are pesky things to those who deny their existence. But denial of fact does little to diminish its existence.

As an American Jew, you might think I have a dog in this hunt and maybe I do. But as a lawyer, I can tell you that many a juror has a vested interest in some aspect of a case they may be seated in deciding. But we ask such jurors if “despite your feelings or experience, do you think you can hear the facts of this particular case and make a fair and impartial decision based upon the facts?” When the answer is “yes” we seat that juror.

Having an interest does not necessarily translate into having a bias.

In the instance of Jerusalem I cannot comprehend why any American, especially Jewish Americans, cannot put their political lens aside and simply examine the facts as set forth by the President in his decision-making process. The capital of Israel is Jerusalem whether you are a Democrat or Republican…unless, of course, you are first-and-foremost a single issue, political creature rather than a human who discerns and accepts facts, distinguishing them from agenda or wishful thinking.

My way of analyzing President Trump is a balanced approach which allows me to see the totality of the man while at the same time distinguishing between his weaknesses and his strengths. It allows me to be repulsed by the way he has referred to women or demeaned his opponents; yet, it also allows me to take great comfort and pride in his courage to speak truth to power and stand for what is right by recognizing Jerusalem as the legitimate capital of Israel.

Carole

(contact@carolegold.com)

What Binds Us

The other day I was listening to the Bill Simmons podcast where he talked about an old  skit on Saturday Night Live. It was about the Brady Bunch meeting the Partridge Family. He remarked how funny it was back then and how that same skit could never work today because, as a society, we no longer have common cultural experiences. In other words, not enough people would get the jokes. He theorized that in our current society there is no one thing that we all share and understand. A mere thirty years ago, everyone in my generation watched those two shows, knew the characters and “got” the inside jokes.

Today, there are no longer common cultural events and national traditions which bind us together. With the advent of cable T.V, YouTube, Netflix and Amazon there are no longer shows we all watch and, therefore, experience together. Today T.V shows, books and movies are created to target niche consumers.  There are few cultural events, aside from sports or politics, where we have a reference point that helps us understand the culture at large.

The ongoing scandal within the NFL where players are “taking a knee” highlights for me the disparate views of what I clearly thought was a cultural norm: standing out of respect for the American flag. A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece on my current thoughts about the NFL and its players kneeling.  I argued they should stand. The response I got blew me away. Some people loved the post while others called mea plantation owner for harboring such thoughts.” The vitriol spewed my way was eye opening.

Part of what shocked me was the divide. There was no consensus. We have come to the point where, as a nation, we are no longer able to agree that standing for the national anthem is the right thing to do.  Perhaps it is the result of growing and entrenched regional biases. I actually understand this possibility better than most. I grew up in the liberal northeast and now live in Texas. The opinions of these two regional groups of people could not be more different. With few exceptions, I can generally gauge in advance where each will stand on most issues. Yet, this prospect saddens and depresses me as I watch this divide grow with passing time.

These divisions are slowly ripping our nation apart. Ironically, I believe many of the problems that we now suffer are similar to the dissolution of a marriage.

In the Catholic faith, when a couple gets married, the priest utters a line that says “…and the two shall became one.”  On a physical plane it is impossible for two peoples’ bodies to morph into one, so the church is referring to something deeper that happens on the spiritual plane where souls merge. A few years ago a friend of mine got divorced. He told me that he experienced such trauma over the issue that he was in immense pain for quite some time. He prayed about it and had a dream where he saw a sword cutting apart he and his former wife with whom he had been “joined.” The sword was cutting the one body into two separate beings. The pain that he was suffering was due to the trauma of cutting away one’s flesh.

Nationally, we find ourselves divorced from the principles on which the nation was founded. How else can you justify the candidacy of Bernie Sanders who campaigned on a socialist platform while living in a capitalist country? Our culture no longer has any shared values. Blue states believe in one America while red states believe in another. There is no common ground.  This post began identifying how even in our expression of entertainment we no longer share a common culture.  Today, the majority of skits on “Saturday Night Live” are focused on politics (always a divisive issue) precisely because there are so few subject matter skits that an entire audience would get.

Sadly, I realize that I no longer live in the same country as my fellow Americans. The country founded upon a document declaring we have unalienable rights from our creator co-exists with one which believes there is no God.  We have become a country where a significant amount of people believe there is no such thing as a man or woman; there is no objective truth; only that with which we “identify” or what gives credence to our preferences. Babies aren’t babies they’re tissue and the definition of marriage is dependent upon what a legislature decides.  The ever changing tide of popular opinion is now what defines and moves our nation, not principals.

If you believe everything is fine and the things I’ve cited here are no big deal I wish I could experience your delusion. I wish I could crawl into that bubble with you… but I can’t. The forces shaping our country are leading us to ruin. We no longer have sufficient commonality to bind us in a meaningful way.  We are a collection of isolated states that happen to occupy a piece of land called America.  We are no longer united.

Over 2000 years ago the Greek storyteller, Aesop, said it best: “United we stand, divided we fall.” If that’s too far back in history for you, then turn over that dollar bill in your wallet.  “E pluribis unum“, adopted by the Founders in 1782, translates as “out of many, One.”  So whether 2000+ years ago or 235…we have turned this principle of standing united on its head. The current mantra of the United States of America is best expressed as “out of One, many.”  Since the past is often instructive, perhaps its worth more than a moment’s reflection on Aesop’s warning: divided we fall.

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)

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?

Drowning in Content

There is a famous story in Hollywood about a young director who approached a seasoned Hollywood producer for advice on how to complete a movie he was working on. The producer said, “Live for ten years and then do the movie.”

Most young people have no stories to tell. They have no context to shape stories and no depth to give them life. How could they? They haven’t lived long enough. Are there exceptions? Sure.  Wendy Shalit, who wrote her seminal book “A Return to Modesty” about sexuality, is impressive given that she was in her early twenties when she wrote the book. Or, Ryan Holliday who, at age 20, wrote his expose on the media in, Trust me I’m Lying. Its insight into the tricks used by the media to manipulates the public. However, Shalit and Holliday are the exceptions not the rule.

Generally speaking, lasting creativity require years of living and introspection to mature. Steve Martin’s autobiography “Born Standing Up” provides great insight into the journey of a comic and how Martin became a master of his craft. He spent years living in motel rooms while doing stand-up routines all over the country. He reworked and refined his jokes while performing in thousands of venues before he finally made it. When the public finally heard of Steve Martin, they called him an “overnight sensation” after appearing on Saturday Night Live. What they did not see were all the years of dedication, trial and error to hone his craft.

Most great work and analysis takes time. Yet, given the advent of the web, there is an increased demand for content the likes of which we have never before seen. Newspapers, blogs, media sites must produce insightful and relevant content for eyeballs, clicks and advertising dollars. I suspect that the administrators of these sites are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content they need to come up with on a daily basis. Combine this with an educational system that focuses more on political correctness than facts… and you have a recipe for disaster. An insatiable  demand for content, a Left leaning educational system and a lack of general history is the baseline for the content we see.

The pressure and rush to create content sublimates the need for truthfulness and accuracy. It does irreparable damage and is making us a less civil society.  Check out these three reports that got it wrong:

Story 1

A  few years ago, CNN reporter Erin Burnett did a huge story on the Catholic Church’s opposition to gay marriage and the resultant decrease in church attendance as a result. Burnett’s position was that people like her would never join the church, and its former members would never return to the church, unless it became more modern and adapted to the prevailing culture. I guess in CNN’s mind it was a valid viewpoint and worth the resources to develop.

But Catholics with any religious foundation understood the juvenile approach to Burnett’s perspective. The Church does not endorse gay marriage because it believes marriage is a sacrament where a man and woman are joined in matrimony for the creation of life. It’s that simple. The Church has taught this for over 2000 years and continues to do so. Erin Burnett thought she had hit upon what reforms the Church needed to enact to become more relevant. Instead, what she displayed was a total lack of understanding of the Catholic Church. The Church does not care about change. It cares about teaching the Word of God. For the Church, the truth is not determined by polls or popular opinion, it is self-evident and found in Scripture.

Story 2

The last eight years was filled with reporting on the “do-nothing” Congress under former President Obama. The story was highlighted every day, ad nauseam, how handicapped Obama was due to Congress’ obstructionism. The obstruction got so bad that Obama’s only real piece of legislation, Obamacare, was passed only when he had control over both houses. Even then, the bill was never reconciled in the Senate.

To those who prefer to forget, Scott Brown was elected Senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts solely for his promise to cast the one vote that would stop reconciliation of the bill. But Brown was never given the chance. Obama passed the bill by circumventing the legislative process.

The actual reason President Obama was barely able to pass any bills is because that was how the system was created over two hundred years ago. It had nothing to do with President. The Founding Fathers so mistrusted the political class, and career politicians, that they designed a system that gave all of its power to the people…not the politicians. Anyone with a basic understanding of civics knows this. However, the media did not report it as a systemic fail safe because they wanted Congress to capitulate its role and give in to Obama whose political agenda synced with theirs. For eight years, the media tried to convince the American public that Congress was at fault. To the contrary, under our  Constitution, the Executive branch simply failed to bring along the Legislative branch for consensus.

Story 3

We have seen the complete removal of the Confederate Flag from our national history. Southern war heroes, as well as Confederate solders graves, have been desecrated. The media has a narrative, lacking in subtly, that the Civil War was fought by the North against the South over slavery. Southerners were racist, had slaves and wanted to keep that way of life intact. Northerners were noble, pure and thought the cause was important enough to fight the South to abolish it.

The Civil War occurred between 1861-1865. Slaves in the North were not freed until 1863, or two years after the war had started. If the North thought it was so important, why didn’t they free their slaves prior to the war? The fact is that although slavery was a major issue,  it wasn’t the only issue that drove the Civil War. The South wanted to secede from the North over taxation and other states’ rights issues, including slavery, and the North was not going to let that happen. The Civil War was a manifestation of the ongoing debate over states’ rights versus a centralized government. That debate, which began in the 1700’s, rages on today. The issues affecting the Civil War are complex; but, the false narrative promulgated by the media pushes the narrative of a racist South while never shining a light on the culpability of the North.

Our youth are most vulnerable and easily manipulated because they lack the necessary perspective and critical thinking skills that come from an understanding of history tempered with one’s own life experiences.  When Al Gore tells young people, “There are some things about our world that you know that older people don’t know,” Why would that be? Well in a period of rapid change, the old assumptions sometimes just don’t work anymore because they’re out of date,”  is no different than handing democracy to a nation that has spent hundreds of years or more under dictatorship. You need a period of transition and perspective. Without those, a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

Such is the damage done by a media driving people to civil unrest through revisionist history and misinformation. We are more connected than at any other time in human history. It is ironic that content for its own sake lacking truthfulness and integrity is doing as much harm, if not more, than when we knew less.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

Houston: Tragedy and Opportunity

I believe in God. If that offends you, or makes you question my sanity, read no further. But if you’re open to the possibility, or you already get it, then it’s worth hearing me out.

People who know me will tell you that for at least six months I have been saying “We are about to experience a natural disaster.” Why? Because I find the Bible instructive, if not literally then figuratively, as a means for understanding how the world works. This includes people as well as nature.  So, as I observed the disintegration of our values and confusion amid our priorities it seemed to me that God, in the form of nature, was about to intervene.

When we humans so lose our way that a return to our highest selves appears to be almost an impossibility, nature has a way of grabbing us by the throat and screaming, “Yo!”

Enter Hurricane Harvey.

Believe me, this is not to make light of the tragedy that continues to occur in Houston. I live in Austin, just outside the range of devastation and havoc wreaked by this storm. My heart is pained by the suffering and loss of both human and animal life. I cannot imagine the horror of trying to, literally, stay afloat as water rises waist high and beyond or the terror felt by those who are incapacitated or elderly and reliant upon rescue.

Now think about Confederate flags and statues.

How much time, energy and resources have been spent on issues that divide us? How long have the Democrats and Republicans been battling it out? How long has the news media been manipulating you and reporting lies as truth? How angry and violent have a sufficient amount of extremists become, on both ends of the spectrum, to have actually engendered talk of a civil war? How many hours do you spend on your iPhone, iPad or computer? How much of your life is lived on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram? How hard are you working to make ends meet at the expense of time spent with your family or cultivating human relationships?

Disintegrating values and confused priorities.

Pharaoh had a similar problem as did the Israelites. So did Noah’s neighbors, residents of Lot and the builders of Babel. The lesson we are to learn from those “stories” is that when we humans get so far off track that we are no longer willing to find our way home, God steps in and uses one of the many tools at His disposal. Plagues, locusts, darkness, pestilence, blood, hail, fire. These and others are the means by which we become focused and redirected back to the path we are intended to travel. It’s the path of compassion, sacrifice, service, and love.

Such is the opportunity presented us in Houston. It is the moment when we are turned back to our highest selves. It isn’t pretty. It isn’t painless. It’s just necessary.

Look at and read about the individual acts of heroism. The selfless acts of giving. The outpouring of love and compassion that we are hardwired to perform. They all reminds us, albeit by way of suffering, that we are in this together and without one another we do not survive.

This week, the petty political agendas and false idols (media) have been exposed to reveal themselves for their malice and the divisions that they foster. Houston can and may be a turning point if, and only if, we realize that hurricanes are but one example of what God is capable of when we devolve into our lower selves and abdicate living lives that exemplify our oneness.

God began with turning the Nile into blood but it was only the beginning. It took nine more acts of nature to get everyone’s focused attention. Let’s not go there.