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)

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

The Power Of Change

David had blood on his hands and he knew it.

He had gotten his friend, Betty Van Patter, a job as a bookkeeper with the Black Panthers. Betty needed work. Although David had heard rumors that the Panthers were rough and violent, that did not dissuade him. He thought the rumors were just meant to discredit the organization; but he was wrong. The Black Panthers murdered Betty Van Patter over discoveries she made regarding the pilfering of funds by certain members of the Black Panther organization.

That murder took place in 1974. It turned David’s world upside down, causing him to rethink everything he had learned and in which he thought he believed. In the end, he discovered that had been driven by a flawed ideology and that ideology that got his friend killed. As a result, David went through a massive personal crisis and completely changed his life.

David Horowitz tells the complete story of his journey in the book “Radical Son.”

Horowitz re-examined all areas of his life. Raised and ideologically infused by his parents, two card carrying Communists, he had to undo his belief system and his sense of self that was tied to that ideology.  He forged a new identity in the Conservative Movement and became known as someone who had “been there” and truly saw the dark side of the Left’s ideology.  The changes he made cost him everything…his job, friends, reputation and all of his contacts. Even after he forged his new identity, his old enemies from the Conservative side looked at him with disdain. They did not believe that such a person could ever change their stripes.

Change is hard.

Not everyone goes through such cataclysmic change in their lives as did David Horowitz. However, each of us in our lives is confronted by change and, if up to the task, embraces it. In my own life, I have had to reinvent myself time and time again. When I was in college I ran a t-shirt company and produced a calendar for my university to help finance my studies.  After college, I spent  four years on active duty as a Marine Officer. I changed tracks again leaving the service and started trading commodities. That led me to brokering bonds followed by trading bonds. Now, full circle, I am again an entrepreneur

Each change required massive effort to learn new skills. Many times I was on my own in a new city or country with no contacts or resources. I had to figure it out all on my own.  In each of those endeavors I was, at first, a failure.

Along the way I learned Aikdio. It taught me the most valuable lesson of all. To get good at anything you first have to be really bad at it.  The only way to get good at Aikido, or anything new for that matter,  is to be able to endure how bad you are going to be in the beginning. I take that lesson everywhere in my life because I know it is part of a process. Most people are not open to being so vulnerable because there is no denying it can be embarrassing.

Even with my children, I notice at an early age that they are scared to try new things because they don’t want to be embarrassed. My youngest daughter plays on a club team and is considered to be quite talented for her age. The coach always likes to play her in only one position as it gives the team the best chance to win. I always battle with him and ask him to play her in a variety of positions because she still needs to learn much more about the game. The coach is always reluctant to play her in other spots because as he puts it “She just is not as good in other positions.” I agree with him. She isn’t as good in other positions. There’s the conundrum: in order to be good at another position you have to first let her be bad for a while. Many coaches nowadays specialize too much and focus too much on winning such that they lose sight of the bigger picture that all things in life take time to flourish.

If we only gravitate to what we are good at then we will never really know what we are capable of. In my own life, in my own small way, I challenge myself with the material I read. I usually have one book that I am reading that is easy and one that is hard so that the material requires real effort on my part. One of the books I finished in the last few years was called The Prize, which is a masterpiece that chronicles the history of oil. It was grueling to read! I was lucky to read ten pages a day. Yet, the book left me with a much deeper appreciation for the history of economics that I never would have had if I had not challenged myself. The result was that this incremental improvement in my understanding of the oil markets has opened up a new business opportunity for me.

So even within the confines of what we do know, there are deeper levels of understanding that one gets only by change and challenge. Frank Shamrock, the legendary fighter, say that his recipe for success is to train with someone better than you so that they can teach you, someone who is at your same skill level so that they can challenge you, and someone beneath you so that you can teach them. This recipe will always be challenging your abilities and changing the way that you fight.

William Pollard, Quaker writer and minister, said “Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.” Most of the change that I’ve encountered in my life was thrust upon me. However, as I get older, I actively seek out and explore new experiences that will challenge and cause me to grow.  The only real certainty in life is change so its best to embrace it rather than resist it.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

Should Mnuchin Resign?

 

Yesterday I received the following message from someone at my high school:

“To my fellow Riverdale Country School alumni. I am inspired by Yale alumni asking Mnuchin to resign in protest of President Trump’s support of Nazism and White Supremacy. I believe many of Mnuchin’s fellow Riverdale alumni feel the same. I’m collecting feedback from this post. Looking to see if there is interest–or if anyone has any great ideas on how to get a message through.”

Steve Mnuchin went to my high school and is the current Secretary of the Treasury appointed by President Trump. He also went to Yale and his University is asking him to resign. Now, alumni of our high school are asking him to do the same as a sign of protest over Trump’s comments and lack of response to the Charlottesville violence.

I wanted to post the following on my friend’s timeline: “I must have missed Trumps quote , can you please provide the quote that Trump supported the Nazis and white supremacist groups.” But, before I did, I was stopped by an old friend. He is a very outspoken black conservative radio host in Atlanta. He told me, “Steve, the real crazies are the ones we grew up with back home in NYC (Northeast Liberals). Even I wouldn’t ask that right now. The Left is totally unhinged.”

The argument over Trump’s statements are not that he did not condemn the protestors; but, that he did not do it forcefully enough. Therefore, he must be a racist.

During the same period, ESPN pulled an Asian announcer from one of their  football broadcasts because his name is Robert Lee.  Apparently, ESPN is worried that some people may confuse Robert Lee the football announcer with Robert E. Lee, the Confederate General who has been dead for over 100 years. This is insane. But, it won’t stop. Even NYC Mayor de Blasio has said he may pull down a statue of Christopher Columbus because of his dubious past. Columbus Circle, where the statue stands, is the epicenter of New York City. It stands at the cross roads of Central Park and is at the intersection between the East and West sides of New York.

ESPN, De-Blasio, and others are merely following the same path that the pitchfork mob has set. There is no logic and no reason driving their behavior and it won’t stop until we collectively all stop.

The Left and Progressives are getting on the band wagon to remove our history. The first thing that being assaulted is free speech. The reason I did not comment on the post was because all of the people on that thread would have targeted and called me a Nazi sympathizer for asking a simple question: “Please show me the text of Trump’s comments supporting the Nazi’s and White Supremacists.” The Left marches on….erroneously claiming the high ground while tearing down a public forum for civil debate.

This is not the first time I have experienced this type of silencing.

A few years back I had a similar experience when I  was invited to comment on a friend’s “entertainment lawyer’s” blog regarding the stance of the Catholic Church on contraception. (I was invited because of my understanding on Catholic doctrine so as to foster a robust debate.) What I wrote on that blog was only two sentences long explaining church teachings. Yet, within minutes, I had hundreds of comments and direct messages calling me the most vile names for those two sentences. I literally had to block numerous agitators who would send me threatening messages for weeks on end, all for stating the church’s teachings. The Left did not want to hear the rationale. What they wanted was  to silence and intimidate me.

This whole movement is an exercise in power. Power by the Left to control society.  While free speech may be first, they have larger goals in mind. The destruction and annihilation of our history followed by a new society unconstrained by our Constitution. In a relatively short period of time, the Left has been able to remove the confederate flag, southern iconic statutes and now the desecration of confederate soldiers’ graves.

This is only the beginning.

The Left does not seem to understand that, in the end, all revolutionaries eventually eat their own. There is never anybody remaining who is pure enough. It is a standard no man can meet. Look at what happened to the leaders of the French Revolution. They were killed by same the movement they started.  So what started out as removal of confederate generals’ statues could end up with the removal of the Washington Memorial and worse.

If you are a new reader to this blog you know I work in conjunction with Carole Gold. On the face of it, the Left would immediately label us as two white people who write this blog and thus our opinions don’t count. Yet, Carole is female and Jewish. I am Latino and Catholic with an immigrant mother. By all traditional definitions we are part of that special cabal called “minorities.” Yet in the Leftist world, our opinions have no value since we are “white.”

Pamela Geller, the Conservative activist,  has warned her readers for years about the cultural march by the Left. Geller has warned that our silence in these matters only emboldens the Left. She believes we are in a culture war on the verge of a civil war and that those on the Right will no longer be able to remain silent. In the future we will no longer have that option. We will have to choose sides. So I write this blog and post my articles on Medium so as not to remain silent.

In the end, I opted not to post on my friend’s feed, because the truth of the advice I was given hit home: the Left has become totally and absolutely unhinged. They have lost the ability to reason. They would not have been able to read my comments as thoughtful and provoking but rather as an attempt by another “white nationalist” defending Trump.

The Left has gone insane but marches on. God help us all. Yet as I write that last sentence I know that we must stand for what we believe in and help ourselves or there will be no Divine assistance. God is back-up for the correct use of our Free Will to stand and be heard for what is in the highest good for all humankind and not be intimidated by the violence of a few.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

 

Less Is More

The place has not changed since 1950. It was clean and had a spartan feel to it. It was old and dated and yet we were proud of it.  It was to be home for the next six months. It was the training  dorm of The Basic School, the Marine Corps campus for training officers.

We learned quickly that every service of the military had nice facilities. Except the Marine Corps. Money that is allocated in the Marines is meant to supply fighting Marines; everything else is secondary. The Marine Corps is the only government department that returns money every year to the U.S. Treasury and tries to make due with 90% of its allocated budget. The main reason for this approach is to instill the ethos that “less is more.”

From the very moment you become a Marine the attitude is always to look for ways to make due with less. For example, even as a second Lieutenant making less than $20k a year, I had to buy my own uniforms. This cost me close to three thousand dollars. The Marine Corps did not care about the uniforms. It cared about the point: make due with less.

This philosophy has served me well throughout my career. When I worked in sales for a bank I was given a territory that had been abandoned by everyone who worked it before me. The consensus feeling was there was no money to be made with that particular region. As salesman retired, my peers inherited the best accounts while I was given the dregs. So, every two weeks I traveled to far out places all over the world  in search of bank deals. On one particular flight I was stopped by the flight attendant and warned about flying into  my destination city given the dangers. But, as I traveled I made good connections and, within a few short years, I was one of the top performing sales people on the desk. I had succeeded from  an area that “had no money.”

The “less is more” philosophy has also been the creative spark for some of the best businesses in the world.

In the book Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, the author goes to great lengths to explain how Jobs first started building Apple computers. Jobs had no money to pay anyone. So, he would enlist family and friends to help build the computers by hand.  It wasn’t just the assembling of computers. This philosophy of less pervaded everything Jobs and Apple did. One of the reasons Apple computers have no fans is because there was no place into which to put them. Jobs also hated the noise fans made so he contacted an engineer who figured out a way to keep the circuit boards cooler. They discovered that by having the circuits work quicker they could could shut down quicker, thus reducing heat buildup. This philosophy of less enabled Apple to become one of the leading computer companies of all time.

But the “less is more” philosophy is also prevalent in the arts.

The acclaimed film director Robert Rodriguez made his directorial debut with the movie El Mariachi. He filmed it with family and friends on a shoestring budget. Upon completion, Rodriguez made a trailer and pitched it himself to movie studios. The executives were impressed that he was able to make such a good trailer with only $7,000 dollars! Since he was so new to the business, he was afraid to tell them that the whole movie had cost him that amount. Because he had made such a good movie for so little, offers poured in to make more movies and his career was launched.

Marie Kondo, author of The Japanese Art of Decluttering, writes of the benefits of having less. She is paid to go into houses and, literally, throw way stuff.  As she states, “People accumulate so much stuff during their lives that they have little time for anything else.” Her clients are not hoarders but rather have become dysfunctional in their lives due to clutter.

There is an old saying, “Be careful of what you own because in the end it might own you.” I witnessed this first hand when my parents got older and owned a large house in the country. They became like slaves to the place. They had to constantly work to maintain it leaving little time for anything else. Similarly, when I traveled to Europe, I witnessed the same thing. It is not at all uncommon to travel throughout European countries and see large castles and chateaus in states of ruin, all because they were too big. Too big to own and too big to maintain.

Yes, one of life’s paradoxes is that having less can lead to a richer life.

Although millennials have gotten a bad reputation, they appear to have forgone the “bigger is better mantra” preferring rather renting smaller homes as opposed to owning larger ones. In addition, the tiny house movement can also be traced to their wishes to own more affordable and potentially mobile housing. The millennials seems to understand that experiences, friendships, and memories are the basis for a truly blessed life…things our ancestors knew but we have forgotten.

Religions teach the same message. The New Testament warns, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”  Why? Because the material world is very seductive and the more you possess the more you are enslaved to your possessions.  Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism teaches that when you see something you want to purchase, never do it until you have walked away, thought about it, and returned later to make the purchase…if you still feel you need or want it. Otherwise it owns you.

True wealth, and success that matters, can’t be purchased. The Marine Corps has it down. The best of religion has it down, too. Try and take an honest look at your life and its “things” in order to reevaluate whether you are free or enslaved. It the latter, all you have to do is let them go. Now that’s freedom.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

 

Tapping The Source

I have read the novel “Tapping the Source” numerous times. The novel is a fascinating read into the dark side of man’s misuse of Free Will. Its never received the acclaim it deserves. Perhaps it strikes too close to home for comfort.

The setting is Southern California in the 1980’s and revolves around the youths living within a certain beach community.  The place is beautiful with warm weather, sandy beaches and some of the best surfing in the world. Tucker , a young teen has come there to find his sister who has disappeared.

At the outset,  Tucker falls in love with the beaches, the women and the parties; but, after a few months, he becomes disillusioned with the whole scene.  This seems odd to him because he cannot seem to understand how someone could tire of such a place. Yet he does.  As he begins to peel off the veneer of the whole scene, he notices that the overall environment is run by a group of men who are living exactly as he has been living:  working menial jobs, getting drunk, chasing girls and spending the rest of the time surfing.

These men prey on youngsters who are new to the scene. They bully the young boys, seduce the young women and control the activities of the community. He observes that,  like him, they are disillusioned by it all yet cannot seem to leave.  They are, quite literally, forever stuck here, ensnared by its seductive beauty yet unable able to get the original “high” they once had from the place and the lifestyle.

Life moves on while they remain trying to “Tap The Source” of the pure pleasure the place once gave them. As the book unfolds, Tucker begins to notice the darkness that engulfs everyone and everything. In trying to tap this vein of pleasure, the older surfers have become corrupted, twisted and evil.

The notion of capturing beauty, forever locking it in place, has always fascinated me. Perhaps because it is impossible to do. Life always moves and changes. Nothing stays the same. Its akin to the drug addict who chases one more hit to recapture the high that never comes.

In economics there is a term for this. Its “The Marginal Declining Utility” which states that there is a decline in the marginal utility that a person derives from consuming each additional unit of that product. Think of it this way: for coffee drinkers, there is nothing like that first cup of coffee. Yet, each additional cup lacks a little more and tastes a little worse to the point you can’t drink it any more.

Personally, I have experienced this idea of trying to capture or recreate the past. When I first finished my training as an Infantry Officer, the Major who commanded the unit suggested that none of us go back home or see our old friends. He cautioned that what we had become was no longer compatible with our former settings. Only years later did I fully understand what he had meant, Today, the friendships from my youth are no longer the same. Most of them stayed where they were, figuratively and/or literally. They never assumed a new identity. In fact, the city I grew up in and loved now feels strangely foreign to me…just as he said it would.

But “Tapping the Source” takes this element of recapturing beauty and pleasure into a new realm.  Pleasure, in and of itself, is not a drug. However, the author proposes the notion that when pleasure is experienced exces­sively, for its own sake, it takes on some of the characteris­tics of an addictive drug. The characters in the story are pleasure-seekers and, as they sacrifice more and more for the sake of pleasure, they find themselves completely spent. In the end, they are drained of both health and happiness while left morally corrupted. The only thing that sustains them now is a weird, evil perversion of pleasure that has, quite literally, destroyed them.

As the story goes on, the older surfers delve into darker and darker material…pornography, sex trafficking and, finally, snuff films. Once Tucker realizes what happened to his sister, he exacts his revenge then leaves the beach community before it  happens to him.

I lived in a beach community for years. It seems that there is always a seedy underbelly that infests these towns. As in the novel, that infestation is populated by its older members who have stayed in the community too long. The contribute nothing but remain in search of the promise of the pleasures that beach life can offer.

Perhaps its human nature to seek pleasure and, as with everything else, it can do no harm in moderation. But when we forego the responsibilities of adulthood, resisting change in order to be no more than partakers in self-gratifying behavior, then we sow the seeds of our own destruction. As it was in art…so it is in life.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

What is Friendship?

I have a friend who lost everything. I mean everything. His business, marriage and his apartment. I believe he lives out of his car now and he has been living this way for years.

Most of his wounds were self-inflected. He spent too much, was too arrogant and lost a lot of people’s money in a business deal that went south.  Now as a result, he is totally alone and on his own. His father passed away and the rest of his family lives overseas, so he no longer has a support system he can count on. He still lives in the N.Y.C. area, which is one of the most expensive places in the world to live, because he wants to stay close to his daughter.

He and I grew up together in N.Y.C.  Most of his closest friends still live there and most of them are financially well off.  Some even have multiple homes. Yet, nobody offers him a place to stay. Most of them know his situation, and from what I can gather, not one of them has offered to take him in.

His predicament got me thinking long and hard about what it means to be a friend. Is a friend just someone who we have a lot in common with and talk to frequently, or does it mean something more?

The city we grew up in is very liberal. There are numerous charities and programs to help the less fortunate. In fact, most of the people in our social circles give lots of money to charity and think of themselves as good people. And yet, when faced with actually doing something personal, like allowing him to stay in their homes, they all have punted. I think their actions say a lot about who they are.

Yet, I don’t believe their actions are any different than what most people’s would be under similar circumstances.

I believe that a true friend is someone that borders close to what we call family. Someone who would give the short off their back for you. The Japanese definition of friendship is likely the appropriate one. They have a term, kenzoku, which translated literally means “family.” The connotation suggests a bond between people who’ve made a similar commitment and who therefore share a similar destiny. It implies the presence of the deepest connection of friendship, of lives lived as comrades from the distant past. 

There is an interesting video in France wherein a reporter asks people on the street about the immigration crisis, the lack of housing and the effect it is having on the nation. Most of the citizens are quite welcoming of the immigrants. When asked if they would be willing to open their homes to them they all responded positively; yet, when presented with an actual immigrant who needs their help, they all decline. Check out the video to see what I mean.

The video is great at pointing out the fallacies and foibles of we humans. You see, we all tend to think of ourselves as humane, noble and kind; but, when truly given the opportunity to act in such a manner we decline. It is easier to give lip service than to actually be noble.

I know I’m no different and this pains me. Their are, however, exceptions. My wife used to pick up kids from the street in Ecuador and have them eat in her house. She has changed diapers and bed pans for the old and infirm.  I also have witnessed a friend of mine who, after divorce, took in her ex-spouses elderly relative to live with her. I am not sure I would have the spirit of heart to do something like that but she did. When measured against these people, I truly fall short.

This leads me back to my original question of what does it mean to be a friend? If we are only going to be there for the good times…the laughs… and only for the occasional inconvenience what is the point? Why have friends at all?

The fear of abandonment and failure scares us all. The Huffington Post ran an article that 70% of all Americans fear being homeless. The fear is real and felt by many. Yet, within my close circle of friends, we know someone who is homeless and nothing is being done. This is a tragedy. Its what’s underlying the despair and fear so many feel because we know if we ended up in his same predicament there would be no help. My friend now knows that he is on his own and must fend for himself. The tragedy is that all his friends know it too.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

 

Loneliness and Virtual Reality

In N.Y.C. its not uncommon to live alone. I know because I lived there for many years.

The city is packed with people but many of them live lonely lives. In apartments and condos, its not uncommon for 40% or more of the residents to be single and living alone. Its understandable, since most apartments in N.Y.C. are 1 or 2 bedrooms. People who want to build a family inevitably move out. So, those remaining are single and live solitary lives.

I always thought this problem was more prevalent in N.Y.C. but Japan has struggled with the problem of solitude and loneliness for quite some time. “Nearly 1 in 4 men and 1 in 7 women in Japan were yet to be married at age 50 in 2015 in a clear sign that Japanese are increasingly shying away from tying the knot.”

It’s almost the result of the age in which we live. Although we have created many more ways for people to connect loneliness has actually increased. In the West, cultural markers such as marriage and birth rates are steadily in decline. Its as if, on some level, we’ve given up. Yet, as if that thought was not disturbing enough, I think things are going to get worse.  The advent of virtual reality, combined with porn, is a deadly and self-destructive mix. It will wreak havoc on relationships as well as how we function as a society.

Delivering porn by way of virtual reality will enable people to have entirely new experiences all within the confines of their mind. Human contact will no longer be needed. The virtual porn experience will be able to meet all of an individual’s sexual expectations.

The way virtual reality works is similar to the way visualization works. Part of the reason elite athletes use visualization is because they know that the brain has a hard time differentiating between something imagined and something real. Listen closely when a runner is interviewed following a winning race. He or she tends to say things like “the race went just like I envisioned it would.”  Visualization techniques are powerful; yet, they pale in comparison to what virtual reality can do to the mind.

This combination of porn and virtual reality will be the equivalent of a nuclear blast that will destroy whatever remains of the best of our culture. Even the medical field has begun to look at the damages of pornography. Dr. Judith Reisman called porn an “erototoxin,” theorizing that the brain itself might be damaged while watching porn. She speculated that future brain studies would reveal that the surge of neurochemicals and hormones released when someone watches porn has measurably negative effects on the brain.

When a reporter from Mashable went to test out a virtual reality clip from a porn distribution company, this is what he had to say: “Even though I was conscious that the two porn stars weren’t actually there and that the guy’s body wasn’t really mine, I still thought they were real. [emphasis added]. The more the porn girls jiggled their breasts in my face and rubbed their butts against me, the more I internalized being the VR porn guy. I felt my face get flushed as they showed me their, ahem, skills. Things got really weird, that’s all I’m going to say. I’m an advocate for all new technologies that push video mediums to the next level, and after trying out VR porn, I don’t think anyone who experiences it will be able to go back to 2D porn. It’s that realistic.”

Oddly enough the topic of addiction and the damage that virtual reality can inflict was explored in the 90’s film Strange Days where people bought and sold illegal virtual reality tapes of sex, murder, and rape with some of the tapes being so toxic that they had the ability to “fry” the brain. The lead character, played by Ralph Fiennes, spends countless hours reliving the sexual encounters with his former girlfriend, perfectly mirroring the behavior and mannerisms exhibited by a drug addict forever needing to get a fix. It is amazing to realize that a film so prescient was created before virtual reality was developed yet addresses the moral implications and destructive effects of the misuse of technology.

I am a firm believer that what most plagues our culture today is the destruction of the nuclear family. With the proliferation of virtual reality porn, whatever remnant of the nuclear family remains will be finally destroyed. Many males will elect to completely drop out of relationships, and therefore society, addicted to the thrill-on-demand of subservient and compliant virtual “women.”  (The data shows the majority of porn viewers are men.)

The widespread solitude and loneliness that is now so prevalent in our society will grow exponentially as people have the option, via their v.r. devises, to opt out of the complexities, demands and responsibilities attendant to human interaction. What will be gained is technologically-induced self-gratification. What will be lost is our humanity. As a former Wall Street trader, it seems like a bad trade.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

Conversation- The Lost Art

We have destroyed a five thousand year old tradition. For all that time, we humans passed along information through conversations among ourselves and within groups whether those groups were a tribe, town, neighborhood, school, family gathering or the dinner table. In the West, that’s over. Discourse and conversations, if they can even be termed that, now happen through advanced technology and digital media. Human to human exchange is gone..replaced with human to human by way of digital media and rapidly evolving technology.And yet, with all of the digital media content out there, radio and podcasts still have a massive grip on the consumer. Why? Because we’re HUMAN and the spoken word with its corresponding human emotion will always hold our attention. Its how we’re wired.

The longevity of radio is a testament to the power of words as well as the ability to educate and entertain. Some of the highest paid entertainers and talk show hosts in the world are on radio. The incomes of Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck verify this fact.

In some ways this result is odd because people on television have a huge advantage over radio due to better distribution systems, higher production quality and larger staffing. Yet they can barely hold on. Further, they have the ability to use and manipulate their audience with images. None-the-less, those “celebrities” or media darlings still can’t command the size audience that a great radio show can. Rachel Maddow is one of the highest rated cable TV shows, with an audience of four million viewers and the power of NBC behind her. Yet Rush Limbaugh, essentially a one man show, consistently pulls in over 25 million listeners a week.

A radio host has only his or her words to convey their message. Because of this, radio hosts are forced to be concise, clear and on-point at all times. In radio all faults, foibles and illogical statements are exposed as they occur. Radio hosts debate listeners and adversaries alike to get their point across which is why only the best speakers thrive in such an unforgiving medium.

Both of us listen to talk radio, especially Conservative talk radio.  We see why so many of the hosts are successful. They have the ability to converse, influence and explain very complicated matters in easy-to-understand terms. At first glance it  appears they are uniquely qualified to speak on these matters or have some special talent that allows them to.  The reality is that most benefit from having had a family structure where conversation and discourse was encouraged and enforced.

Take the case of Rush Limbaugh. He was an unremarkable student in the lower grades and did not go to college. He does not have a law, or any other, advanced degree. Even his employment history leaves a lot to be desired. For the most part, he had mid-to-low-level jobs at which he toiled for years. What Limbaugh did have was a stable family and an inquisitive father who took the time to educate his children. His father was a lawyer and judge.  Meal times were a family affair where hour long conversations about politics took place. His father would discuss many of the cases he worked on and how those cases, and their outcomes, related to society at-large. Civics, history and Constitutional Law were common topics of conversation and were so detailed that Limbaugh felt he received the best education just sitting at home! Although he was not academically gifted, what he did have was a love of radio and the ability to speak well. His ability to make an argument, explain the basis for his position and defend his ideas were challenged and refined every day of his youth at the dinner table.

Michael Savage is another example. A radio host with a vast following, Savage has said on numerous occasions that his time around the dinner table is what trained him for his career in radio. Although he has multiple degrees and is highly educated, Savage says that what fine-tuned his views on life were the hours spent with his mother.  She was a Russian immigrant who would gather with other women from the community and talk well into the night. As a child, Savage was not excused from these gatherings but instead was “forced” to hear them every night. These conversations helped shape him and his ability to critically think. He began to understand and view America from the eyes of immigrants: the hopes and dreams of what the United States offered from their perspective. A window into the world that other Americans could never understand.

Think about it. Two of the most influential men in radio and political analysis got the majority of their training around a dinner table! Not through textbooks, universities or television. Such is the power of family and spending time together engaged in meaningful and thoughtful conversation in a safe but challenging environment.

Today, as a father of six, I (Steve) know my kids benefit immensely from hearing my wife’s stories about growing up in South America. Latinos have a vivid way of speaking that sparks the imagination. Their stories are imbued with faith and mysticism.  I’ve worked in sales but my wife can tell a story much better than I ever could! I thank God our kids are reaping the rewards of hearing and seeing this county (as did Savage) through the eyes of an immigrant whose stories drive home   the truly extraordinary possibilities and benefits available here that can be found nowhere else.

As a mother, lawyer and former talk radio host, I (Carole) was raised in a home such as were both Limbaugh and Savage. Our dinner table was where heated and diverse opinions were shared and challenged. I learned early on to think critically and to be articulate if I hoped to be taken seriously. In many ways, it was the foundational training ground I needed to go on to both the practice of law and talk radio.

The technological advances have helped our children in many ways. But those raised with it, in the absence of sufficient human interaction, will be the first generation educated primarily by a digital medium rather than the spoken word. Our world has always been shaped by ideas. As a culture, we tend to move in the direction of the ones that are most convincing  not necessarily best.

In the recently released book, “Stealing Fire” authors Stephen Kotler and Jamie Wheal analyze “The Flow…that part of the brain where creative problem solving resides. Whether using meditation, prayer or drugs (Silicon Valley execs are now daily taking LSD and mescaline to enhance flow), time spent in that state exponentially enhances, by as much as 500%, creative thinking; but, it also shuts down the prefrontal cortex where critical thinking occurs. Since the power of great oratory has the ability to also move the masses into the flow (think Jesus, Hitler, Martin Luther King) it simultaneously causes critical thinking to shut down…which is why oratory must be accompanied by an intent to do good by the speaker as well as be critically evaluated by the listener.

It isn’t that our future will not be peppered with great orators. The danger lies in the capacity and developed ability of generations, raised without the benefits of intellectually challenging family life and reduced human interaction, to be able to discern between a well-intentioned leader and a despot.

sleeclark@gmail.com   contact@carolegold.com