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

These Truths Are Self Evident

In Catholicism we believe in certain truths. These truths define our faith.

In fact, at every mass we recite The Apostle’s Creed  which lays out the tenants of our faith: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty…” Each time we go to mass we reaffirm this belief. Given what we know today by way of breakthroughs in technology and science, many critics scoff at this creed finding that it refers to a time when life was more simple. It is therefore ironic that while many Liberals and Progressives mock the Church for its stands and its creeds, the Left has its own creed. It’s just packaged differently. This whole notion of creeds came to my attention when a friend of mine blasted this out to all of his email contacts:

  1. If you believe that tax cuts for the rich benefit the poor or middle class, please de-friend me.
  2. If you have less than $15 million in net worth and still call the estate tax the “death tax”, please de-friend me.
  3. If you don’t believe the earth is warming due to greenhouse gases, please de-friend me.
  4. If you believe everyone in the USA should have health insurance, please de-friend me.

It was a fairly aggressive stance.  He was saying that if you don’t believe what I believe then we should no longer be friends. Imagine if a Catholic lay person sent this out to his friends! I can hardly imagine the scope of rebuke and criticism.

You see this list that my friend sent out is part of the “Leftist Creed.”  The difference in creeds is that the Catholic one is inspired by God and deals with the relevancy of God presence in our lives; the Left’s creed is created by man as the foundation and pillar of government as its basis and support system.

For Catholics, the creed is a statement of faith, hope and our undying faith in Christ. Something greater than us. For the Left, faith and hope are placed in the bureaucracy of government: the belief that government is good and has the power to alleviate suffering.

I harbor no allusions regarding government. I detest and loath it. I am an American with strong Latino roots. Latinos know all too well from experience how corrupt politicians are. Just look at Venezuela, Ecuador and Cuba. This distrust of all things related to politics is quite common in Latin America. Less so here in the states. Barack Obama and FDR are two politicians who come to mind, both of who governed and believed that the power of the State could solve all of society’s ills.

Given my friend’s myopic belief in the Leftist Creed, he is willing to forgo friendships over it.  I wanted to address his points, if not with him directly then here.

  •  Taxes: The State and the establishment (teachers, media, etc.) always take the high ground, arguing over the moral correctness of paying taxes. They habitually sight the worst case alternatives when arguing for higher taxes. The homeless mother who would live on the streets if not for government housing; the lunch program for children who would otherwise starve. By claiming the high ground, all others who don’t pay their fair share are labeled as “cheats” and “tax evaders.” For me, taxes are government sanctioned theft. The State is claiming a right to your wages simply because you live here. Theft is to take someone’s property against his will, i.e., by force or fraud. If I don’t pay my taxes, I will end up in jail. How is that any different than being robbed by a mugger who will harm or kill me if I don’t turn over my wallet? In the first case, the Left argues my funds are being used to take care of the poor; but, how is that different than the robber who will using my funds for the same thing? The Left claims the high ground to coerce and manipulate people out of their money. It uses these arguments by saying government will allocate and distribute the money more efficiently and equitably than private institutions. In the end , all taxes do is fund government jobs and grows the State assuring the need for yet more taxpayer money.
  • Global Warming: There is this blatantly repeated mantra that the science on global warming is “settled.” When is anything in science settled? Consider these once settled items: the earth is flat, the planets revolve around earth and earth is the center of the universe. Remember, the question for the Left is not so much whether there is any warming but whether human activity is the major contributing factor to such warming. The fact is human beings do have an effect on the planet. And, yes we have done terrible things to it including the annihilation of numerous species. I would argue humans do have a big effect on climate change given all of our industrial production; but, so could a myriad of natural phenomena such as weather, solar flares, hurricanes, and/or earthquakes. There are other factors with greater magnitude and historically documented impact than what we humans can do. The threat of global warming/climate change disaster is about fear, manipulation and profit…all being used by the political class to collect more taxes and power to support their one-world, Socialist agenda.
  • Health Insurance:  I don’t think anything owes anybody anything. I can’t outsource my health. Its my personal responsibility to be mindful of  what I eat and maintain my body so that I don’t get sick. We have been conditioned and trained to run to doctors to cure us when, in reality, they should be in place to support disease prevention, not as station of last resort. For example, car insurance works because it supports the right behavior. If I need new tires or an oil change, I pay for it myself with many companies competing for my business. But if I get into an accident or cause major damage, I use my car insurance. Similarly, I would gladly pay for catastrophic health insurance that would only cover emergencies such as cancer; but, that option is not available here in the U.S.  Inexplicably, the Left was ecstatic over the passage of universal healthcare under Obama. They knew veterans have been covered by that plan for years and the V.A. is widely recognized as an total failure and abomination.  Had healthcare been allowed to evolve under free market principles, medical costs would have collapsed the same way the cost of televisions have collapsed as quality improving exponentially over time.

We all need basic principles and values to provide a framework for living our best lives. This is what a creed does. So, you can choose between a creed, such as the one I follow, that assures me of my inherent divinity as a child of God and worth His benevolent guiding hand or you can choose the Leftist Creed that assures you that without government intervention you are doomed to poverty and destruction of the planet.

Free Will. You choose.

 

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com

Calling All Writers!

If you’re an aspiring writer…blogger, novelist, columnist…there is no better advice than what this successful, published author shared in his recent shout out to all who yearn to see their work in print.

“The key to getting your book written, says Pulitzer Prize-winner Stephen Hunter, isn’t talent or luck or inspiration. It’s the act of sitting down every day and writing.”

Read the full article here:  http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/05/27/if-you-want-to-write-a-book-write-every-day-or-quit-now?via=ios

Prison Time

A good friend of mine was recently released from prison after serving three years for a fraud conviction.  He had proof of his innocence but wasn’t allowed to enter it into evidence. As he put it ” The District Attorney and the police conspired together to convict me and they succeeded.”

He told me his story and shared the inadmissible evidence. I personally know this guy and his character. I believe him. But, we live in an age of rules, regulations and laws that make it difficult for even the most honest of people to stay within the law. And, of course, we have different laws for different people. (Hilary Clinton serves no time).

Naturally, my friend was more than concerned about finding a job following his release. Surprisingly, he found one fairly quickly. Today, he is back on his feet. He does not feel stigmatized. In fact, according to him, his story now makes great dinner table conversation! The response that he gets from colleagues and peers, once they found out about his prison stint, is, curiously, indifference.

Why?

We now live in a society where everyone knows the system is rigged.  There is no stigma attached to having been in prison because the general public knows it can happen to anyone. Well, almost anyone. (Remember Hillary Clinton?). Simply stated, people no longer trust our police or the legal system.

When I was in high school, I took Russian Studies and learned about the Russian Revolution and the horrors of the Gulag. The Gulag was established by Joseph Stalin. It was a work camp that existed from  the 1930’s to the 1950’s and imprisoned around 14 million people. The writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote many stories about the horrors of the Gulag and his books describe the terrible circumstances that innocents suffered. The Gulag became a prototypical symbol of an out-of- control-government and a warning of what could happen to you on its whim. Later, schools taught students about the Gulag to warn others about the perils of an overzealous government forcibly condemning its people to imprisonment.

Remarkably, the United States penal system has has now surpassed the Gulag in terms of the sheer number of those imprisoned.  What is more shocking is that our prison population has reached an ominous milestone over the past few years. The number of Americans who were in jail and prison, including former inmates, is approximately 19 million people as of 2010. This number exceeds the 18 million people who endured Soviet Gulag incarceration between 1929 and 1953.

The Conservative media seems to gloss over this story. I listen to quite a bit of Conservative talk radio on a daily basis and all I hear from the pundits is how free our country is. But how free can a country be when we have the highest incarceration rate in the world?

I have both traveled and worked in other countries. I can state firsthand that we are not, in many ways, the freest country in the world. I have been amazed by how much easier it is to do certain things in other countries. For example, I found the medical care and dental care in Australia much more affordable and accessible than here in the U.S… without all of the paperwork. I was amazed how easy it was to do business in Hong Kong. The city is now considered the best place in the world to start business. Take a listen:

When I worked in banking in the U.S., I had to be licensed and regulated. My emails were continually monitored. My conversations taped. Anything we sent out was vetted by lawyers. Americans have become so enslaved and yet we think all this monitoring is “freedom.” If I had broken any of those myriad of laws and regulations, I could have easily ended up in prison…like my friend.

Our ever-increasing laws are complex and arbitrary, which greatly reduce our freedoms and daily ensnare more and more of us.

For example, Martha Stewart was convicted and went to jail for making money on a trade (“insider trading”) that harmed no one. Yet Stan O’Neal, who bankrupted one of the largest financial firms in the world (Merrill Lynch), causing the loss of billions of dollars and thousands of jobs, walked away unscathed. No jail time, millions of dollars in personal profit and the unfettered ability to start over again. When most Americans hear this injustice they siply shrug. We have come to expect these inequities and unequal application of the law.

There is no longer fairness in our justice system.

The increasing incarceration rates and resulting diminution of our freedoms is partially caused by the move to criminalize all manner of activity; but especially drugs. Whenever the U.S. has cracked done on drugs, it understandably worsened the problem. Alcohol provides the classic example: It wasn’t much of a problem before the enactment of Prohibition in 1920, and it hasn’t been one since its repeal in the 1930’s

The Prohibition of the ’20s turned the Mafia from a small underground group of disconnected individuals into centralized big business. It turned citizens and businessmen into criminals. “The War on Drugs” has done the same thing for drug dealers. Its turned petty drug dealers into kingpins. (As an aside, “The War on Poverty” has created more poor people. You’d think we’d stop making war).

Making a product illegal artificially turns both users and suppliers into criminals. The illegality makes the product vastly more expensive than it would otherwise be and opens the black market floodgate that draws in not only more seasoned criminals but also entices those who alter the substances with deadly fillers in order to maximize profit.  Crime becomes a health crisis as well.  In addition, many users who become addicted are driven to crime to finance their habits. Because of the risks and and reduced supply, profits for suppliers are huge and, therefore, attract the most greedy and ruthless people to run these organizations.

When you combine corrupt law makers with a corrupted justice system then add prisons and illegal activities run for profit, you create a dysfunctional and deadly incentive to arrest and imprison people. Such is where we have arrived.

Welcome to the Land of the Free.

Steve

Confession of A Baby Boomer

I’m depressed. Is that politically incorrect to share? I’m sorry.

 

Would you rather I post puppy photos or an inspirationally uplifting poster on Facebook? Would that not offend your sense of well being as much as having to deal with my momentarily dreary reality? You know, Facebook, where everyone is either celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary or thoroughly delighted with their total acceptance of the solitude and peace that they’ve attained in their non-relationship life?

Am I the only person willing to publicly share a less than stellar moment of my life? Well, if I’m not the only I’m certainly among a dwindling minority. Depression, or circumstances that lead to it, is one of the last truly taboo subjects. You can come out of the closet and beat your chest while proudly proclaiming you are one of the 61 “gender” possibilities that Facebook lists but you better not say you’re in a slump.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not always like this. In fact, I teach motivation and inspiration. Its just that in the real world, not the fake worlds of social media or virtual reality, people get depressed, sad, even dare I say, angry. Not being able to speak to this fact just makes it all the more difficult. In fact, it makes people feel isolated, alone and as if there is something wrong with them that others do not have similar periodic misfortunes.

Nonsense.

Everyone suffers…we just all do it differently. Some suffer silently and others cry out like a coyote at full moon. But suffer we do. So where’s the shame? In fact, a society that makes someone feel shame for having a slump and daring to share is has lost its compassion. I think we’re there and I blame two things: the absence of God and abundance of technology.

Every generation has its challenges and difficulties with the upcoming generation and the technological advances biting at its heels. But in the past, what was true that is no longer is that change occurred within a framework of basis principles and values that were commonly held and time tested: God, family, friendship, neighborhood, charity, compassion and national pride. Think about those. They’re all gone or so grotesquely distorted as to be unrecognizable.

Now, when I or anyone else comes upon a rough patch, there is no real world embrace to hold us. We can have 580 friends on Facebook but, in a pinch, none of them can hug us. We can’t even be sure any of them would if they were close enough to be given the chance. So aloneness has become an emotional, as well as physical, fact of life.

As if my personal challenges were not enough (a recently damaged nerve in my ankle that kept me sofa-bound and on crutches for a month…oh, sorry, was that more “negativity” than you wanted?) there is North Korea, Democrats and Republicans at each other’s throats, black lives hating white lives, sanctuary cities, a government in denial about unemployment and inflation the middle class is suffering, measles outbreaks in U.S. Syrian immigrant communities and…and…and…

So, I’m having a bad week or two. I know all the positive, self-help things I can say or do to deny how I feel. I know how to practice Transcendental Meditation. I know how to listen to my daughter when she tells me “Mom, go do laps and swim it off.”

I simply choose not to.

I am a real person and real life has its ups and downs. Fake life…Facebook, Instagram, e-harmony and all the others do not. But that’s it, isn’t it. They’re not real. You and I are. So, if you’re having a bad day, month or year you’re not alone.  I’m here.                     

Carole…contact@carolegold.com

Movie Review: The King’s Speech

I may be a bit late to the party but last weekend I (Steve) watched “The King’s Speech” for the first time. I was blown away. The acting was extraordinary, the story true but more importantly, the life lessons profound.

The story is set in England just prior to World War II. It revolves around Prince Albert who would later become King of England. Albert has a speech impediment, a severe stammer, which causes him to be withdrawn and not at all eager to perform public duties. However, since he has an older brother Edward, Duke of Windsor, Albert takes comfort in knowing he will likely never be King.

At the same time, Hitler has risen to power within Germany and its army is on the march to conquer Europe.  The stammering Prince must face the emergence of radio as a means of communication. His stammer is now for all the world to hear. Undeterred, Albert gives speeches as best he can, often so terrified he freezes up during their presentations. He has hired and fired a variety of speech coaches to help overcome the problem but to no avail. Nothing seemed to work. None-the-less his wife, Elizabeth I, remains intent on helping him and stumbles upon an Australian speech therapist who looks promising. This is where the movie begins.

Colin Firth plays Prince Albert and Geoffrey Rush the part of, Lionel, the speech therapist. Lionel is a self-possessed man who is not intimidated by the Prince. He sets the terms and conditions of therapy and demands the Prince come to his office.  He says within those walls the two would be equals. Lionel calls Albert “Bertie,” a family nickname. It infuriates Albert as do many of Lionel’s methods. Lionel acquiesces to but one of Albert’s demands: that therapy be limited to vocal exercises and breathing techniques with no delving into personal matters. This despite Lionel’s certainty that they would eventually have to get at the emotional trauma that caused the stammer to begin with, as was the case with all stammers.

Somehow, during the process of therapy, an unlikely trust and friendship develops between the two men.  Such that when their father, King George V dies and Prince Edward ascends to the throne, the unlikely becomes Albert’s greatest nightmare. His brother abdicates the throne to marry an American divorcee. Albert visits Lionel at his office and the two share a cup of tea and the soon-to-be crowned King reveals his past. A nanny who deprived him of food, inflicted physical pain and favored his brother. Further, parents so disengaged that it took them a year to notice he was emaciated. There was the origin of the stammer. Finally revealing this long buried shame, Prince Albert becomes King George VI.

There are two remarkable messages from this movie that can serve us all. Carole and I share them both here.

Steve

Motivational speaker Tony Robbins speaks at length about working on oneself. For example, he has had many clients who made fortunes only to lose them. When Robbins probed to find out why some achieved great success only to lose it, he discovered that he could teach them techniques but if the client did not make the deep and lasting changes in their thinking, success would be temporary. One example was a client would repeatedly make money only to lose it a short time later. Robbins discovered that his client had grown up very poor. Making money made him uncomfortable so he reverted to what was comfortable and what he had been, poor.

George VI knows the stakes are huge. Hitler’s Germany is on the march and many lives will be lost if the King is not able to rally his people. He must address the nation on the eve of war. Faced with the challenge of his life, George succumbs totally to the speech therapist’s direction.  He does the necessary deep work and discovers where his stammer originated. He takes to radio and inspires a rapt nation. Humility and courage. These are the tools of greatness.

Carole

Helena Bonham Carter plays Elizabeth. The supportive strength that Queen Elizabeth provides her terrified husband cannot be overestimated. While Albert, as both Prince and King, wants to throw it all away, give up or run and hide, it is his wife who shares her own fears and secrets that give her husband the will to prevail.

The most poignant scene between the two occurs the night before Albert is to appear before the counsel of Lords to assume the naming of him as King George VI. Prince Albert slumps at his desk weeping over how little he knows of kingship and its responsibilities. He says he was not “meant to be King”…his brother was. Elizabeth wraps her arms around her troubled husband and shares that she, too, never wanted a public life. She says that falling in love with him caused her to wonder if she could survive such a marriage. But she reveals that she took comfort in the fact that he had “such a lovely stammer” she would never have to worry about the likelihood.  Elizabeth was showing him that she, too, was about to face an unintended life but face it, none-the-less, with grace.  She was his rock.

Much is made of the “divine feminine” aspect of God; but, much of it misses the mark. The divine feminine is that aspect of creation that supplies nourishment in every aspect of life. It is not just about child bearing or motherhood.  Whether in the bedroom, boardroom or corridors of government, the divine feminine is the support and counterbalance to the divine masculine. It is power not force. It is compassion not pity. It is the courage to be “love in action.”

Both of us

The “King’s Speech” received 12 Oscars. It deserved them all.  Of greater and more lasting importance are the life lessons learned from from two people faced with circumstances they preferred not to encounter. Courage and humility go a long way in conquering the unanticipated and the unknown. They go even further when true power is used as it was intended: as unconditional love in action.