We should call it April Critical Thinkers Day….

April Fools Day is only funny or interesting in a world where the baseline intelligence isn’t that of a moron. Since the baseline intelligence is moronic (at least in the US where ‘the majority’ elected a billionaire liar as a populist reformer) we should call it something else …maybe April Genius Day or April Critical Thinkers Day or possibly even April Moderately Intelligent Day …and the big joke could be that we all act like we have the ability to pay attention for more than a soundbite or maybe we all read a whole chapter from a book that isn’t about vampires…

Book Reviews Books and Writers

What I’m Reading #2 – Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

Yesterday, I finished reading (for the 3rd time) Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. It’s a worthy book and recommended for anyone and everyone – even if it sometimes goes pretty far afield.

I read this book in my teens and then in my late 20s and recently had it recommended to me by an older man who has achieved some measure of success in the world – where success is measured with wealth – so I picked it up again and gave it another read. First a little background – the book was commissioned by Andrew Carnegie, America’s first billionaire. Napoleon Hill, the author, interviewed 500 of the most successful people in America in doing research for the book and then composed a formula that any person could use to achieve monetary wealth. Among those interviewed were Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Wilbur Wright and every other luminary of the gilded age you can think of (not this gilded age, the one that led to the Great Depression). His book has sold 70 million copies and Hill managed to make several fortunes (and to lose them) with his work.

Hill’s focus on a ‘burning desire for money’ is an annoyance, but it makes sense. His book is the original “Secret” and the best selling self help book of all time. I’ll tell you right now – Hill comes across as what he probably was – a shyster and a confidence man. There are no records that he actually met with all the people he claimed to have met with – in fact, all records (Hill claimed) were burnt in a fire. Hill was convicted of creating a sort of fraudulent ‘Trump Academy’ and then try attempting to sell shares in it using an illegal valuation (Blue Sky Laws). From what I can tell, Hill actually met with Carnegie but the rest may have been imaginary meetings with famous men. A type of meeting which he details in later chapters of his book when he meets with famous men who were long dead.

So, all of that being said – the book is a worthy read. The book shared the spotlight with the book I wrote about yesterday The Art of Thinking by Ernest Dimnet during much of the 1930s -1950s. People were hungry for achievement during this time, but Think and Grow Rich was born of the self help books which started appearing in the late 1870s – Emerson was the best known of these writers, but I’ve come across many – together they are referred to as the New Thought writers.

There were a few very valuable takeaways from Think and Grow Rich which deserve mentioning. The first is the idea that true success can only be achieved by working harmoniously in co-operation with other individuals or groups of individuals and thus creating value and benefit for them to create sustainable achievement for oneself. Hill refers to this as building a Master Mind Group – and other writers I’ve read, notably R. Buckminster Fuller take the idea even further – Fuller states that unless what you are doing will benefit EVERYONE, than you will not succeed.

Another idea which deserves mentioning from Think and Grow Rich is the idea of “transmutation of the sexual emotion” into energy to create wealth with. This idea by itself could probably turn half of the population from failure towards success. Imagine if all of the energy that goes towards getting laid were focused on financial or other achievements? I would have been a millionaire by the time I was twenty, probably a few times over.

The book is worth reading – all of it- even the out there parts or the parts that sound like they are a lecture from Trump University – but for me, I would say the most valuable section came towards the end when Hill details the impediments to success and the symptoms which arise – his insights here are profound – the fear of poverty, fear of ill health, fear of what others think – these are what truly hold people back – it may sound funny that a fear of poverty keeps one from becoming wealthy, but after reading this, I think it is probably the number one reason why people do not succeed.

To sum up, this seems to be the gist of the book: Find an idea you are passionate about, write it down, create a burning desire to achieve it, obsess about it, don’t let fear stop you, trust your instincts, never give up.

Book Reviews

What I’m Reading – The Art of Thinking by Ernest Dimnet

I don’t read as much as I used to, but I still usually have about a dozen books going at a time – they just don’t turn as frequently as they used to. It occurred to me that not only might it be useful to my readers to share what I am reading and any insights gained from particular books or authors – but it will probably be useful to me as well. Now that I don’t have Facebook to remind me “We care about you and what you share, this is what you shared on this day..blah blah blah” it makes sense to share more of the things I learn and think about here – which is what I’ve been doing more of lately.

Last week I picked up The Art of Thinking by Ernest Dimnet – I really enjoyed this book! It is a small volume packed with insights that pretty clearly define the problems of our world – and it was written in 1928 – when the problems were far less severe than they are today. Take this quote from Chapter 6 which is titled ‘Thought Weakened by Life’

Over against the calmness, security and concentration of the life of a Spinoza, set the existence of the people we know. They speak of themselves, rich or poor, as driven slaves, drudges, who “cannot call their souls their own.”

Dimnet, an educator and priest goes on in this section to describe how the life has been sucked out of us, both rich and poor – and to his credit he smashes the ridiculous myth that rich people have more cares than the poor by pointing out that golden cross large enough to be crucified upon can be melted and sold to solve the woes of many.

This little book provides a wealth of information about how to use your brain more effectively for what it was made for – thinking – and how to escape the many irrelevant detours that ‘modern’ human existence have blocked our path to thinking with.

Dimnet defines genius as ‘primarily power resulting in ease’ especially in regards to thinking. He advocates not spending time on the objects which require the greatest amount of study, but instead to focus on those that we handle with a combination of the greatest ease and the greatest enjoyment. Genius lies in doing what one loves to do and would not be willing to forego – and as an example, he points to Newton, who for seventeen years worked ceaselessly to develop what we call Newtonian Physics – not work, but a labor of love and obsession. An enjoyment.

Granted, there is a near-hatred and disdain for those who read pulp novels – and today, no doubt he would enlarge that to include trash-tv, tabloid news, Facebook, most of the internet and more. In the first part of the book, he tackles the obstacles to thought and this passage struck me “…our mind is peopled with more incipient obsessions than ideas, and their presence is largely the cause of our impotence.”

Here are a few more notable insights from the book – in Greek the words ‘to see’ and ‘to know’ are one and the same. The word ponder actually means ‘to weigh’, logic and speech are the same word as are idea and image! Which allows Dimnet to bring the reader to the realization that thinking is actually a process of watching an inward cinema – or every cinema in a multi-plex at the same time. Our brains do not ‘think’ in sentences, the sentences are similar to the five minutes it takes to explain a 30 second scene that someone else missed and all that you miss while you do so (which, along with the multi-plex, is my analogy, not Dimnet’s).

It would be a better world if everyone in it could take a week off to read this book and learn to think. On a personal note, Dimnet clarified something which I have long wondered about – he provided me with the reason why I arrive to appointments far too early, get to the airport early, enjoy long train rides, and generally don’t mind being made to wait – this is time that belongs completely and totally to myself. I am expected to be where I am (the waiting room, the airport lounge, the train) and there is no expectation that I should be somewhere else or doing something else. This is thought time. It is the time that my brain is allowed to fully engage with books, thoughts, images, ideas, or just to exist. Just to clarify, I hate waiting in lines, but once I am through the lines and seated somewhere, a stranger, alone and waiting, that is my paradise time. It turns out that I love purgatory.

I should note that at times Dimnet (who was American but had immigrated from France) places French culture upon a pedestal – often for what I would call the wrong reasons – and on a more disturbing note, he seems to have a great admiration for Benito Mussolini – but since the book was written in 1928 before the onset of WWII, I think that history will forgive him for misunderstanding a fascist monster.

America Education

People’s Voices in Our Heads

We all have them. Not the crazy type of voices, but the voices of people we know and the things they say that just stay in our heads bouncing around. Sometimes the voices of people we met in passing or heard on the TV or radio. Those voices – they have a lot of power – and most of that power comes from the fact that we don’t stop and consider just who that voice came from, what they might possibly know, and in what context it was said.

Here’s one that has been with me since kindergarten – a little girl’s voice that said to me “You’re a storyteller!” in an admiring tone. This one little 5-year-old girl’s voice saying something on the playground as we played on the jungle gym might be exactly what propelled me to write, to tell stories, to aspire to greatness in the field of telling stories. Imagine if she had said to me “You’re a preacher!” or “You’re a doctor!” or a thousand other things…did her utterance lead to my current reality – I’m pretty sure it did and the fact that her voice is still clear in my head makes me fairly certain of that. I’m grateful she didn’t say “You’re a loser” or “You’re a retard” – which was the word kids used back in those days for kids who had to wear football helmets in school. I’m lucky. I’m lucky that I didn’t die when I fell and broke my skull shortly before starting school and I’m lucky the kids in my kindergarten class weren’t cruel to me for having to wear that helmet all the time.

There are lots of voices in our heads – all of them real people who said real things – or in some cases fictional characters who said real things. I was a stock broker at one point in my life and on a bad day a client said “You should quit and go buy a guesthouse on the Bosphorus” – his voice bounced around in there and a few years later guess where I was? I was managing a guesthouse on the Bosphorus in Turkey. In the late 1990s when I was living in my car, my brother said “You should go to China if you think you got it bad” – much to his surprise and mine – not a year later, I was backpacking through China – almost certainly because his voice was bouncing around in my head.
Does it mean I’m susceptible to suggestion? I’m sure it does – but here is the thing – we all are.

It wasn’t until these past several years that I’ve become self-aware enough (and still a long way to go) to recognize that many of the thoughts I think are my own – were actually voiced by someone else – and then bounced around in my head until they came out and I thought they were mine. I witness this on a regular basis in other people too – I’ll be present during a conversation where one party says something. A good deal of time will go by, maybe months, maybe years, and then I’ll hear a different party who was taking part in that conversation say the same thing but as if it is an original thought or idea which they have come up with. I’m convinced that they have no conception that they are plagiarizing – and we all doing it. And, get this, if we are not aware of where these thoughts or ideas come from we are in danger of thinking they are our own – and when we think they are ours, we tend to associate ourselves with them.

This is how misogyny, racism, and bigotry of all kinds is built. These voices don’t just turn you into a writer, send you on a trip, or make you think you are more clever than you are (or that someone else is worthier than they are) – these voices are dangerous. And in our world, this brave new world of mass media in every pocket and on every screen and in our ears and brains at all times – dangerous ideas are more dangerous than ever. It’s more than just a meme or an ear-worm – it’s potentially a weapon of mass destruction. Be on your guard – when you hear a thought – try to look at it, try to discover the source, and be as critical as you would be if it were coming from someone else – because most likely it is.

America Technology

Before-Digital and Post-Digital Ages

I’m fairly certain that at some point in the future, the dividing line between ages will be BD and PD- much like the dividing line we use for BC or AD (Before Christ or After Death was what I learned in school – which was wrong but sticks in my mind anyway). So yes, we will have the years where not much is known – the years when there was no digital photographic or audio recording technology and the years where everything was captured. A good example of that rose to my attention last night – in the 1960s the teleplay Man of LaMancha aired on TV. There are no recordings of it because at the time there were not video recorders (which were linear but close enough to the digital tech age that much of what was captured on linear data devices has been translated to digital and saved). There is a gray area where this linear tech exists – roughly from 1960-1990 – when things like records, audio tapes, video tapes, photographs, and even hand written or typewriter written documents were still the norm but were transferrred to digital technology with the aid of scanners, digital recorders, DAT, etc. Not all of these captured moments have been digitized, but enough that there will always be a clear picture of the transition from non-digital society to digital society. By and large, we can say that the generation that grew up from 1960-1990, my generation, Gen-X, was the last non-digital generation and the first digital generation. The way of life that existed during our childhood and adolescence will never be foggy, like that of the generations that came before us, but it will never be crystal clear like those who follow. I’ve already noticed that Hollywood is mining this treasure trove of light mystique and that trend will only continue.

It’s funny to think of how difficult these changes have been – we are still going through them. Our world is as different from the world of 1989 as the world of 1989 was from the world of 1589. Yes, we’ve gone through 300 years of change in just 30 years. The age of flight was nothing as compared to the age of digitalization. A man from 1589 could have been normalized to the world of 1989 – yes, there were planes but Davinci had proposed flight and French balloonists were flying close to his time of 1589. A car might have been shocking, but ultimately it is a carriage run by a combination of mechanical processes that could be easily understood with explanation – even in 1589. But a digital camera? A cell phone? The internet? A smart phone with a camera, a virtual assistant, the internet, phone capability, digital music, and Google Earth – try explaining that to someone alive today – let alone to someone from 300 years ago. It would be a stretch to explain that to an adult from 1959. But, you probably could explain it to someone who came of age in the 1970s or 1980s – at any time.

I feel fortunate to have been alive at this time. To have borne witness to this change of epochs. To be clear, I think my generation got the worst of both worlds – we got the shaft because we will not get the full benefits of the mature technology that will emerge in 10-20 years and we did not get the 300 year security that our parents were born into. The magnitude of this shift won’t be clear for a long time – at present – most people aren’t aware of it at all.

America Work

The Thoughts and Questions That Plague My Mind

Is this the best that we can do?

That’s the first one. It’s the most depressing one. Humanity has failed. Not only is it not the best we can do, it’s not even in the top 90% of what we can do. We have failed on so many levels that it is impossible to list them all. Here are just a few with no statistics because I’m sure the statistics would be even worse.
Child Starvation
People with no access to healthcare
Hate crimes
Addiction in all of it’s forms
Environmental degradation
Mass Extinction
Homelessness (while speculation homes sit empty)
I could go on…and on…and on…and on. We have failed. This human civilization is a complete and total failure. We have failed each other and we have failed ourselves in the process.

So that’s the first question that plagues my mind. And it brings me to the next question which is more personal “Is this the best I can do?” and the answer to that is no too. My ego wants to give me all the excuses in the world – starting with blaming this human culture I am forced to live in. Ultimately, I want to do more, but I fail. I’m like the old woman with $1 who donates half of it to charity. It’s 50% of what she has and it doesn’t make a difference. 100% of what she has wouldn’t make a difference. I’m like that – unless she can do something to get a much larger sum of money – her charity won’t matter a bit – and neither will mine. I have to scramble, duck, and roll and focus my energy non-stop in order to take care of my family and keep myself in a position to do so. And that excuse sounds pretty good – but the truth is I am not doing the best I can do and I don’t know exactly why that is.

Love is the answer. I’m pretty sure that’s true. However, I’m so filled with anger and rage at the injustices of the world that it is sometimes impossible to give a stranger so much as a smile. Especially if I’ve just read about a child being separated from their parents and the stranger is driving a $50,000 truck with a Make America Great Again sticker on it. Man, those awful baby boomers – they’ve made the world a thousand times worse than it was before them. All the wars in history before them didn’t do as much damage to the planet as they have done in their lifetimes with their greed and hypocrisy. And they’ve tightened the chains around those who followed and reduced the chances for us to achieve any sort of real meaningful freedom besides death.

I’ll tell you what hell would be – to die and wake up surrounded by all the baby boomers. It’s hell on earth and it would be the worst sort of eternal hell. I’ve never been scared of death, but that thought makes me want to cling onto dear life with a death-grip. The soldier-hippie boomers of the 60s, the disco boomers of the 70s, the awful yuppie boomers of the 80s,the disgusting bootstrap-upper management boomers of the 90s, the foul early retirement boomers of the 2000s, and the RV-downsized-still-most-selfish-generation-but-now-need-to-be-taken-care-of boomers of the current decade. God, I want to puke. So, yeah, love may be the answer but I can’t love them because I don’t have Stockholm Syndrome.

What the kids today need to do is have a Lord of the Flies party where take out everyone who is already an adult or who thinks like an adult in the world today and then re-create society. Lord of the Flies would be messy and I don’t want to be killed by gangs of tweens, but for them it would be a better solution.

I wish I could tell you I have an ideology that would make things better – but I don’t. All of the ideologies are bullshit. The ideologues are assholes. And of course, money is the problem – I’ve been to Sardis where the first money was produced and while it was a beautiful ruin – I’ve never been somewhere that so completely emanated evil – although the Pentagon has the same sort of vibe and when I’ve visited concentration camps – those have a similar aura. Do you want to understand money? I wanted to. It’s part of what led me to Sardis in the first place. Money makes slavery possible. Without money, slavery is impossible. People like my sister – who work hard and study and stay on course and spend their lives working working working (but rarely at what they are passionate about) talk about working hard for a purpose – that purpose is ‘buying their freedom’. They want to be free someday – which tells you the truth – they are not free. And if you are not free you are either a prisoner or a slave.

I am a slave to money. I admit it. I do what money needs me to do. I do what money tells me to do. Sometimes it is fun – usually, I feel like a prisoner forced to labor.


The Indignity of Being Forced to Tell Lies

If there is one thing I have always resented about the culture I live in, it is the indignity of being forced to tell lies. But wait, no one forces you to lie…no, but try telling everyone the truth for a few days and see how far it gets you. We lie about who we are, what we like, how we feel about our jobs, how we feel about our neighbors or relatives or coworkers and more. It’s no wonder that we’ve put the biggest liar in charge.

Sometimes it feels damn good to tell someone “I just don’t like you” – and it’s good for that person too because then they know and they have to deal with the fact you don’t like them. But most of us can’t do that for one reason or another. Mostly though, we lie for money. To make the sale, get the job, keep the job, build the relationship, or get the job done.

The truth will set you free…is what they say. But the truth really leaves you unemployed, friendless, alone, and probably injured or dead. And if it is an inconvenient truth you might end up worse than that.

So swallow that dignity and keep on lying America.

America Education Environment Family

2017 World Happiness Survey – Thoughts on Happiness

There are a lot of very short news stories about the Global Happiness Survey – most of them read something like “Norway is the happiest country in the world” – and then they talk about the top ten countries and the places and the place of the USA and the bottom two or three countries and maybe how countries shifted from the last survey. When you read the actual report, there is a lot more to it. Here is the link to the full report:

On page 122 of the report (yes, it is nearly 200 hundred pages long) what I consider to be the most revealing chapter begins – it is titled “The Key Determinants of Happiness and Misery” – it begins with this:

This chapter is directed at policy-makers of all kinds—both in government and in NGOs. We assume, like Thomas Jefferson, that “the care of human life and happiness … is the only legitimate object of good government.”1 And we assume that NGOs would have similar objectives. In other words, all policy-makers want to create the conditions for the greatest possible happiness in the population and, especially, the least possible misery.

Which sounds great but which is obviously not true. Policy makers in 2017 want money and power for their financial backers. The problems with the world are well known and easily solved – if that were what those in control wanted to do. They do not. And to prove that point the last paragraph of the chapter:

To conclude, within any country, mental health explains more of the variance of happiness in Western countries than income does. In Indonesia mental illness also matters, but less than income. Nowhere is physical illness a bigger source of misery than mental illness. Equally, if we go back to childhood, the key factors for the future adult are the mental health of the mother and the social ambiance of primary and secondary school. The implications for policy are momentous.

If we wanted to have a better world filled with happier people, we would be focused on taking care of mental health, ensuring that mothers (and fathers) had the support they need to be good parents, and that schools were creating the type of atmosphere which brings about psychologically healthy and confident individuals – instead of factories that create workers filled with fear, anxiety, and depression. Simple. Business does not create happiness, nor does war/defense, nor do jobs, nor do any of the other things we spend trillions of dollars on. Security in childhood, healthcare, and education. That’s it.

This report is a treasure trove of information about creating a happier planet like this:

The effect from the increase in the numbers of people having someone to count on in times of trouble is by itself equal to the happiness effects from the 16-fold increase in average per capita annual incomes required to shift the three poorest countries up to the world average (from about $600 to about $10,000).

From my point of view – this fact alone shows why the two working parents, dog-eat-dog, get out when you are 18, take care of yourself, ‘sorry, I can’t help you’ society of capitalism in the USA is leading to unhappiness, stress, anxiety, overeating, alcoholism, and drug abuse/overdose. We can’t count on each other here. People give lip service to being there for their families, but in my experience (in my awful family) when it comes time to put their actions where their mouth is, Americans turn selfish. My wife’s family in Morocco mean it when they say you can stay as long as you want or need to, they mean it when they tell you that their home is your home, they are there for you in whatever capacity they can be – without excuses. They are not rich – they work hard to survive – but I know for certain that they would never turn away a dear friend or family member even if it meant they had to work harder. When I think of them in comparison with myself or my family, I feel ashamed – and I should. They are poor and they suffer in their poverty, but they are happier than most Americans I’ve met.

And…one last quote just to drive home a point

Overall, the chapter concludes that falling American happiness is due primarily to social rather than to economic causes.

Movie Reviews

Satan Deserves An Oscar for his role in Beauty and the Beast

2017 is a strange world for this kid who was raised in the hippie christian 1970s and bizarro mega church 1980s. I never thought I would see a movie where Satan played the male romantic lead without having to even change his appearance. But there it is, Satan, Baphomet, the horned beast with goat hooves – sweeping the village beauty off of her feet. Now, look, all that christian mythology isn’t my thing. I’m a Buddhist and not the kind that prays to Benihana – but this is pretty trippy. America is a bizarre place where poor people elect a ‘populist’ who has a gilded toilet seat (and who may actually have sold his soul to the devil (Putin)) or might actually be the devil himself – and the highest grossing movie of the year is about Satan – the poor misunderstood sweetheart that will lock you in a cage but then sweep you off your feet. All you have to do is love Satan and then you can have your own Mar el Lago Resort and a new Ivanka Trump line of clothing.

All that being said – it was a great movie. I enjoyed it. And as far as Satan goes, good for him for finally getting the role he always wanted – the poor, misunderstood kid who did terrible things but only because of his awful father – not because he was bad. And, he looked handsome even with his horns and goat hooves. My daughter asked the logical question “How come he never wears shoes?” My first answer was that he didn’t have a cobbler, but hey, it’s a magic castle and someone is making those huge jackets he is wearing after the first act – so I didn’t really have an answer except – Hooves are harder than shoes.

So, that’s that. Nice work Satan. You deserve the Oscar. Emma Watson too.


Fear and Hesitation

At the moment – this moment – as I look at my daughter, I feel a moment of fear and hesitation about all that I am planning for us. an older man said to me recently something like “When you have children, especially small children, it’s your job to stay in one place and provide a stable and safe environment for them.” He’s right. I know he is right – except I also know that it is just not that simple. Safety is not something we can be sure of – especially in the United States right now at this very strange point in 2017. I don’t know when or where the next school shooting will be, but the odds are very much stacked towards it happening in the United States and a bunch of innocent children being killed. As I think about that my eyes tear up as I remember Newtown and all the other tragedies and my guts wrench as I think about the American society of hatred where guns are more populous than people. So if I want to provide safety for my daughter than it makes sense to not live in the United States or North America for that matter. Stability is another thing – is there stability in a society that doesn’t know whether there is a government to care for us, one that we can trust – or one that is chipping away at our freedoms and turning us into slaves – and that can turn on us at any moment and lock us up, arrest us, or change the rules without notice. Yes, children need stability, but the only stability they really need is the stability of love, caring, respect, and the constancy of parents and other adults around them who love them, nurture them, and help them to grow into the best possible version of themselves. It’s hard to provide that when both parents are slogging away at stressful jobs 40+ hours a week and then tuning into the television and internet (at best) or drugs and alcohol (at worst). That is what I see when I look at the radioactive American Nuclear Family…and all it leads to is despair and instability in the personality of the child. As for staying in one place – I suppose that would be a good idea if you were in a place where you could provide stability and safety to your child – but I am not. I’d like to find that place, but what I can provide is being a person that is in one place – psychologically. My child is precious – as every child should be to her or his parents. I make no decisions without considering the effect on her. My moment of fear and hesitation has passed, but there will be more.