Friday, July 31, 2009

Thoughts on Creation

I was thinking about Creation today. I had recently read some material about Creation in a book about the Kaballah that seemed to make a lot of sense. I decided to Google creation myths and see what I could learn. There were only 1,920,000 entries. I read a few and then realized that if I read them all or even a small part of them I would have no time to do anything else. Let me recount some of the things that stood out.

1-There are an incredible amount of creation myths. Every tradition, every tribe in North America and Africa, every religion, every culture, and thousands of individuals have attempted to explain how we got here.

2-Those that are responsible for these myths do not believe they are myths. They believe they are sacred accounts or revealed wisdom that are accurate descriptions of the Creation. I'm sure that the originators of all these Creation stories did not believe they were literal. Some probably viewed them as the best possible way to explain a process that could not be explained by words alone, but needed to be contemplated or studied to get the deeper meaning.

3-There seems to be three general categories plus the scientific view. The first category views Creation as a process of something coming from nothing (ex nihilo if you are interested). This can be seen in the Judaeo-Christian-Islamic view of God creating the heavens and earth. There is no mention of who created God or where he came from.

The second category explains Creation as process through which God or some other supernatural being rearranged a substance like water or an animal or energy or formless matter into the world as we know it. This type of thought is usually found in the beliefs of the American Indian or African tribes. The Masai from Africa, for example, believe that humanity was fashioned from a single tree which split into three. The Iroquois and Cherokee believe that in the beginning on the earth there was just water. There were creatures in the sky though, who came down and settled the earth. There are many creation stories that describe beings or entities from the sky descending down to the earth to begin life on this planet.

The third category believes that there was no starting point. The universe is eternal, no beginning or end. The Mormons believe that there is no starting point, that all physical reality has always existed. This idea solves the problem of when did everything begin and what came before the creation but doesn't satisfactorily answer how did it happen or why did it happen.

The Kabbalistic view that interested me is that before the actual creation all that existed was pure energy or light. This light always existed. The light had a consciousness to it or you might say it was pure consciousness. The light wanted to share itself which in one sense does makes sense. If you were pure consciousness and by yourself you might want something else to share what you have or to keep you company. The light created a vessel that it could fill with its light.

The vessel could only receive the light. It could not return anything to the light. This seemed a little unfair to the vessel. The vessel wanted to share also. It had nothing to share with. The vessel decided that in order for it to share it had to restrict the light. It had to separate itself from the light. This act of restriction, according to Kaballah is what caused the creation of our universe. The vessel broke into two parts. Each part contained all female souls and all male souls.

Now that I have written this and read it back to myself it doesn't seem to make as much sense as it originally did. I think I like the views of the Buddha better. When asked how was the universe created the Buddha replied that this was not a good question. We don't know. We can't know and there are better ways to spend your time than thinking about this subject. This seems to make the most sense to me.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Meeting with My Teacher

Once every few months for the past 27 years I have been meeting with a group at a restaurant at 9th Ave. and 23rd St. in Manhattan. I started going with my first wife. I now go with my second wife. We sometimes meet my first wife there. The group is led by a women, a former psychologist in the New York City school sysem. We discuss philosophy and spiritual issues. After lunch we take a walk, go to a museum or art exhibit, and then we go to dinner where we continue our discussion.

I look forward to these days. Our discussions are very motivating and energizing to me even though I often do not understand what is being said. I have brought a number of friends with me over the years to introduce them to the group and try to get some feedback regarding the quality of the information and the ideas that are presented. I am curious about what others think because I have never been sure whether or not these discussions are crazy or extremely valuable. I must admit that at this point I feel they are valuable, although most of the people I have brought with me are not as convinced. Matter of fact, 99 per cent of people would have no interest in these conversations or think that our teacher was totally whacked out.

We probably spend four to five hours or more talking about the nature of reality. Sometimes we discuss the problems or issues of one of the group members, although personal matters are usually discussed in private with the teacher. Over the years she has given me excellent guidance in regard to business, relationships, and child-rearing . Her advice is extremely practical, straightforward, and in my mind have exemplified an excellent intutitive sense about people and life situations. All of our group value her opinions about ordinary life and have benefitted greatly from her recommendations. I would say we are fortunate to know her. She never charges or requires payment for any of her teaching or guidance although lately we have been chipping in to pay for her meals.

In regard to her spiritual thoughts, this is a little more confusing. She makes a distinction between ordinary life which she calls "the horizontal" and spiritual work which she calls the "vertical". In her opinion what happens in "the horizontal", what happens in our ordinary life is influenced by the "vertical". Matter of fact, our ordinary life is not at all what we think it is and its sole purpose is to serve the "vertical".

The "vertical" or spiritual world is ruled by a hierarchy. This hierarchy consisits of seven separate ashrams or schools. Each school is ruled by an avatar and is responsible for a specific energy. The ashrams work together to help maintain our planet and our universe. When we work on ourselves, when we strive to become more conscious, we are aligning ourselves with the vertical and usually with a specific ashram or sub-ashram.

I'm not sure how much more I should reveal about this teaching, or whether I have revealed too much, or even whether what I have revealed is true or makes any sense. What I will say is that after 27 years of very long conversations I have been given an incredible amount of information. It has affected my thinking and subtly influences the tone and ideas of my blogs. I will have to talk to my teacher and ask her what she thinks.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Thoughts on Meditation

Someone who read my blog asked me a question about meditation. I think I'll use today's blog to give some of my thoughts on this subject. First of all, from my experience, meditation is very useful. I believe meditation saved my life.

I was in a car accident. A volkwagon bug I was driving was broadsided, although it probably was my fault since I pulled out into a four lane highway without paying full attention. Unfortunately, meditation didn't help my driving. I have a vague recollection of being in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. What I remember is that I was repeating my mantra while I was unconscious. After surgery, that removed my spleen, the doctor visited me in the intensive care unit to see how I was doing. He told me that I was very lucky. It seems that I had not lost as much blood as the degree of my injury would have indicated.

Meditation slows down your heart rate, breathing, and blood flow. I believe that after I had been hit I automatically slipped into my meditation mode. I think that this helped reduce my blood loss and saved my life. I really believe it. Why would I have automatically started meditating at this crucial moment? Maybe some self-preservation instinct kicked in. I'm not positive, but I always was thankful that I had been meditating at this time in my life.

There are definite scientifically proven physical, psychological, and spiritual benefits from meditation. Plus, when you meditate you begin to actually experience a state of being that is a doorway towards a new level of consciousness. What was once theoretical and a topic for discussion becomes tangible. There is a big difference between reading, studying, and talking about spiritual work and doing it.

I meditated twice a day for twenty minutes for ten years. I hardly missed a day. It drove my wife crazy because no matter where I was or what I was doing I would take time out to meditate. This is the most important part of meditation, the discipline to do it for an extended period of time.

Meditation is not complicated. There is nothing especially difficult about doing it one time. It is difficult to do it conscientiously every day for years and years. There are those who make it sound like it is an inaccessible practice available for the holy of the holy. This is not true. Anyone can learn to meditate in five minutes.

There are different forms of meditation. If you are serious about learning meditation, I would recommend learning Transcendental Meditation. This is very simple and easily accessible. All the religious accoutrements that may be attached to it are irrelevant. Matter of fact, check out to get the basic principles of TM.

Other good sources for learning about meditation are anything by Joel Goldsmith, especially "The Art of Meditation" and the "The Infinite Way." Chapter two in "Kaballah and Jewish Mysticism" by Perle Besserman may also be helpful.

I have taught the basic principles of meditation to many people throughout my life.
The only one who actually used them was my father who is an atheist and doesn't beliieve in anything mystical. Meditation is not a serious thing. It is not a heavy thing meant for those who are spiritual or religious. It is a practical tool for those who want to enjoy life, have more energy, like to travel (to different physical and mental places), and are willing to put some effort into self development. I would recommend it highly.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Who Can We Trust

The stock market boomed yesterday. The Dow was up 250 points. The stated reasons were the better than expected earnings from Goldman Sachs and Intel and the overall sense that the economy was improving. While this was happening Chief Justice nominee Sotomayor was being grilled about her opinions on abortion. She refused to give a straight answer. I don't blame her. Most people respect the analysts who comment on the rise of the stock market but are skeptical of Sotomayor who was hesitant about stating her opinions.

We live in a society in which having an uneducated or biased opinion is considered better than admitting that you don't know. The way you present yourself is much more important than what you have to say. Dressing for success qualifies you as knowledgeable. Having money especially signifies that what you say is valuable. Most of us won't admit how much we are influenced by financial success and attractive appearances. The consequences of this are that we elect good looking, wealthy politicians to most of the important positions in our country. Fortune 500 companies are run by tall, good looking, smooth talking, well groomed, Ivy League graduates.

I'm not sure if this was the case before television. Abraham Lincoln was not known for his looks. I don't think Benjamin Franklin was especially dapper or rich. John Adams was on the short side. Teddy Roosevelt, if I remember wasn't especially handsome. Neither was Herbert Hoover or William Howard Taft. In the post TV era though we had presidents with movie star looks, Kennedy, Reagan, and Clinton. The Bushs' had old money and connections.

It doesn't seem that we are going to be able to solve our problems until we put a greater emphasis on intelligence and especially wisdom. We need leaders who actually can think and are willing to admit weakness. Obama is a charismatic character with a good looking wife, cute kids, and a pleasing appearance. He, at least, has a sense of humor and seems willing to show humility.
The big question is whether or not he will have the courage to recognize when he makes mistakes and be able to correct them before they cause too much damage. I also wonder whether he will be able to see the degree to which government controlled businesses and projects are wasteful and inefficient.

It is one thing to have a good idea with a worthwhile goal. It is another to execute successfully. From what I have personally seen in the mortgage modification programs, the small business programs, and the energy conservation initiatives, things are way out of control. It is going to take a major effort to get them back on track. I find myself in a difficult position. I feel those who criticize Obama are not objective but neither are those who support him. I want to believe that Obama can make a difference but I have not yet seen any evidence that he has what it takes.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Beware of Experts Especially Yourself

It is always interesting to me to observe people who think they know. They speak as if they are experts about matters that are oftentimes subjective or more complex than they realize. Politics and sports are two subjects that come to mind. Walk into any bar or drive in a taxi in any large city and you will get opinions cloaked as irrefutable truths about why Obama's stimulus plan is ruining the country or why A-Rod isn't really a great hitter and hurts the Yankees.

There is no shortage of so-called experts on abortion rights, what is best for Israel, how to handle terrorism, health care reform, proper nutrition, investment strategies, and how to deal with men or women in relationships. There are those who are very accomplished at appearing to have deeply considered whatever viewpoint they are expressing. There are others who express their opinion with an impressive passion and conviction that is quite captivating. Matter of fact, I have always had an attraction for fanatics, whatever their belief, as long as it does not promote violence.

Unfortunately it is rare to find someone who really does know and is worth listening to. For the most part we must settle for not being bored or if we are lucky entertained by someone pretending or maybe even sincerely believing that what they are saying is the "god's honest truth."

When we do find someone that actually does know something of value we should consider ourselves fortunate and take advantage of it. I want to emphasizie that finding a "real" teacher or someone who has a deeper insight into any subject is not the same as reading something in a book or on the internet. Direct communication from someone who really knows is a gift that should not be taken lightly. I remember wanting to learn about juggling, I practiced and practiced and read whatever information I could find. I luckily met a guy from Israel who could juggle seven objects, unf--kenbelievable, who spent a few minutes giving me some pointers. It really made a different in my progress.

I've met a few people in my life who have had an impact on me, who have taught me something that has made a difference in my life. I am always on the lookout for anyone who really knows anything. I have found that they appear in unexpected situations and that you can't be overly judgemental when you meet someone who looks or acts a little strange. Two of the most influential people I have ever met seemed like street bums when I first saw them. Also, anyone who has real knowledge of any subject usually is not conventional. They have no interest in conforming or impressing anyone with what they know. To really know something in depth requires a level of commitment and focus that doesn't allow for wasting time on appearances.

We can't always seek out those who really know. They are often hidden. What we can do is be discriminating and not accept as true what we hear in ordinary life from "so called" experts. More importantly what we can do is not pretend that we really know or be under the illusion that our opinions or beliefs are truth. This is more difficult than it seems but it prepares us to be more open to real truth when it finds us.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Should We Take Life Seriously?

From my point of view it's not a good idea to take anything too seriously. I'm very serious about this. Consider these facts. All physical matter in the universe is made up of atoms. Atoms are 99.99% empty space. If you condense all the real matter of, say, an average kitchen table by removing all the empty space, it would be invisible to the naked eye. I read once that all the matter on the planet earth could be condensed into a basketball.

What gives objects the illusion of solidity is that the atoms that compose them are traveling very fast. They appear to be everywhere at once, like the rotors of a fan. When the rotors of a fan spin very fast they create the illusion of a solid sphere. Our entire world is an illusion created by our five senses to enable us to survive and communicate. In reality, we are living in a world of infinitesimally small objects traveling at incredible speeds. The world in which we live is in reality a creation of our minds, a construct of our consciousness.

Those that believe in a supreme being feel that our purpose is connected to whatever it is that this supreme being had in mind for us, his creation. Those that take a more scientific point of view do not attribute any grand purpose to mankind. They are not sure whether or not there is any reason for our existence other than survival and growth. Neither of these points of view is very convincing. The meaning and purpose of life (MAPOL) remains a mystery to me.

What does make sense, although it is very hard to understand the mechanism through which it operates, is that we create our own reality. Thoughts are things. Thoughts, through some unknown process, cause the reality of our world to exist. It is only because of our processing of electrical impulses and transforming them into images that matter and substance take the forms that are so familiar to us.

When you think about this, if you care to waste your time on such matters, you begin to see the world and your life a little differently. It is very encouraging to believe that you can create the life you want through transforming your thoughts into physical reality. In order to do this you need to be able to focus and visualize. You need to be able to be present in the moment and not be daydreaming about the past or future. This is why the root of all "real" spiritual traditions is meditation or prayer. These are not ways to connect to God. They are exercises that train your mind to be capable of proactively impacting your reality.

What is concerning, though, is that the world that we live in is a result of the collective thoughts or consciousness of everything that produces thought and consciousness. It might be that there are influences greater than man in this process. It may be that we have more control or less control than we imagine. We don't really know how much impact we have. We continue, though, to live our lives as if we are in soap operas taking everything that happens personally and seriously. I don't think that's such a good idea. There are much more enjoyable ways to live our lives.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dostoevsky, Roulette, and Visualization

I've always had respect for Fyodor Dostoevsky He was a brilliant writer and a deep thinker. His "Notes from the Underground" is an especially powerful insight into the mind of man and the causes of suffering. What has attracted me to Dostevsky and especially this book is that his thinking is multidimensional. He simultaneously sees that man is out of control but also capable of great courage and nobility. He rejects materialism but does not see spiritualism as the answer for man He is above all, a pragmatist. He tries to see life for what it is, not what it could or should be.

Dostoevsky was a sick gambler. He constantly lost all his money and lived his life in debt, struggling and writing under the most difficult conditions. What interested me about his gambling was his belief that although the laws of probability in the long run will bury you, there are times when these laws are suspended. There are moments where the world does not behave as it should. It is in these moments that you can win.

For years I have searched for these moments. I have come to see that there are times in gambling when the improbable does occur, that heads turns up fifteen times in a row, or there is a four hour role at the dice table. Unfortunately these improbable streaks fall into the laws of probability and it is impossible to tell when they will occur.

Can you win at gambling? I don't think that you can outsmart the laws of probability. I have had two unusual experiences in routlette, though, that have kept my mind open to the possibility that you can win. In both cases, the security guards at the casinos came up to me to question me and try to determine whether or not I was cheating. The first case occurred in Atlantic City. I picked four consecutive numbers. This is a 1.5 million to one shot. I think it was just luck.

The second case though occurred in Puerto Rico and was a little different. I arrived at my hotel around midnight. I was not tired and decided to try my luck. I was feeling very alive and upbeat. I had been day dreaming about gambling throughout the entire plane ride. This was not unusual for me since I hate flying and do whatever I can to distract myself. I must admit I also think about gambling when I am not flying. So I am not sure whether this was unusual or not.

What was unusual was the degree of confidence I had when I approached the roulette table. I decided that I would close my eyes before each roll, visualize the ball spinning around, and see it in my mind land on a number. I would then bet that number. I started off betting about ten dollars on each spin, two on the number and two each on a split bet between the number I visualized and the numbers surrounding it.

I started winning immediately. Within 10 minutes I was up over five hundred dollars and had now increased my bet to twenty-five per spin. I felt like I was in a trance. I kept visualizing and winning. Before long I had thousands of dollars in chips in front of me. It was surrealistic. I felt like I was in a different world. I wasn't excited or nervous. I was very relaxed and comfortable. I had no thoughts about what I was doing. I just kept visualizing, placing my bets, and winning. I finally noticed that there was a crowd of people behind me cheering. My spell was broken and I started to lose. I got up from the table and cashed in my chips. I had won nearly three thousand five hundred dollars.

When I look back now I do believe that there was something special that happened in that moment. I don't believe it was a suspension of the laws of probability. I believe that I had experienced the power of visualization and its ability to influence reality. I don't understand it and it has never happened again. It has cost me a lot of money though trying to recreate that moment. I do believe that there is something to visualization as a way to impact your life, but I don't think gambling is the best vehicle.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Fire Marshalls and Chimney Caps

I'm not sure what bother me more the degree to which everyone around me is out of control or the degree to which I'm out of control. It depends on my state of mind in the moment. I'm a little weak at anything that has to do with repair, remodeling, refurbishing, redesigning, assembling, or use of tools. This constantly creates problems for me.

For some reason the Fire Marshall of Brigantine drove past my house a few months ago and noticed that my chimney did not have a cap on it. I never noticed that chimneys have caps. Anyway he gave us a summons for violating a fire code. We had to repair it immediately or risk further fines. I wasn't sure who to call or what to do. I actually ended up speaking to a roofer, a plumber, two handymen, and a chimney company. Since we have a gas fireplace it was a little more complicated than I could have imagined. There were many different options proposed depending on whether or not we wanted to use the fireplace and or the degree to which we were willing to risk fire, inhaling poisonous gas. or permanently damaging our roof, chimney, fireplace, and housing structure.

Not knowing what to do and not wanting to think about it, I sent a letter to the Fire Marshall asking for more time. I stated that we had contacted a number of people and that none of them could do the work immediately and that it was a more expensive project than we could afford at the moment. He agreed to postpone any further action for an undefined period of time. A few weeks ago, we received a letter stating that we needed to appear in court for violation of the Brigantine fire code.

I asked my wife to call the Fire Marshall and explain that she had been laid off, that we were a little short of cash, and that it was more complicated than we thought. He was sympathetic, but said it was out of his hands and was now in the hands of the court system. He recommended though that we probably would be better off if we had the work done before we appeared in court.

I asked my wife to handle it. I was a litle tied up with some important items and she wasn't working. She called Chimney Doctor and a few other guys who handle chimneys. Chimney Doctor came over, looked at the roof, looked in the fireplace, and stated that it would be minimum of $960.00 if we wanted to do the job right. The problem was deeper than it seemed. There was leakage in the fireplace which could escalate into a bigger problem. The best solution was some type of high tech metal that would prevent further erosion and last forever. The guy seemed sincere and knowledgeable My wife wanted to do it and end the problem and aggravation. I was in the middle of some important work and did not want to make an immediate decision. I told her to tell him that we would call him back.

The next guy came over with a ladder, climbed up on the roof, and came down with a Polaroid showing that the chimney did actually have a cap on it. It was a flat cap. It could not be seen from the street. No one, including the fire marshall, had actually climbed on the roof to get to the truth about the situation. Typical.

I immediately went to the Fire Marshall's office to show the photo of the cap and hopefully get the court appearance cancelled. He wasn't there. He was on vacation. Typical. His secretary said that she didn't think anything could be done since it was already in the court system and the fact that we actually had the cap wasn't relevant at this point.

I know that I could have handled this better I was out of control throughout the process and unwilling to deal with the situation and now I am even more frustrated and out of control. But, hey, I'm not the only crazy one here. I'm waiting for the Fire Marshall to call me. I'm not optimistic.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Successful Negotation Thoughts

In response to an appeal to lower my Real Estate taxes I got a call from a lawyer last night. He was representing the city of Brigantine. He was calling to tell me that the value of my house was assessed at $425,000.00, down from $515,000.00.

I asked him, "How did you come up with that number?"

He said, "We used the price that you paid for the house."

I said, "We bought the house in October 2007. Haven't prices come down since then.?"

He game me some miscellaneous BS answer that I can't remember.

I then said, "Let me ask you a question." Are you working for the city to try to get the most money for Brigantine or are you trying to be fair?"

After hesitating a moment he responded, "I do work for the city but I am trying to be fair."

I said, "I'm not sure you answered my question."

He then spent another few minutes trying to explain why his assessment was reasonable. It was a half decent effort.

I then told him very directly, "Look I feel my house is worth about $379,000 in today's market." I will agree to an assessment of $400,000.00 as a compromise."

He said, "I don't know if I can do that."

I said, "What do you mean you don't know. Can you or can't you.?"

He didn't say anything.

I said then, "I want you to be my advocate. I will agree to whatever you decide. The fair number if $400,000.00. Call me back with your decision. I will accept whatever you say. However, I want you to promise me that you will present my point to whomever makes this decision and not tell them that I will agree with whatever is decided."

He said, "OK"

He called me back later to tell me that the $400,000.00 was accepted.

One of the unfair things about life is that if you negotiate you get better deals than if you don't. And if you are a good negotiator you even get better deals. The question is what is the best way to negotiate.

I have studied this question about negotiation for many years. I started and sold a business whose primary purpose was negotiating lower prices for major corporations. I have read countless articles on the subject and have had many conversations with knowledgeable and successful negotiators.

The tricky part about this question is that a successful negotiation oftentimes is not what it seems to be. It is not always about getting the lowest price or getting your way. Many people think they are great negotiators because they are constantly haggling and hammering whoever they speak to about anything and everything include sex, money, control, and boundaries. What they don't realize is that the outcome of the negotiation is often not decided in the moment but unfolds over a longer period of time.

You can't beat the system. It might seem like there are those who get away with stuff, but over the long run I believe whatever you do has consequences. This is something that you can't accept on faith. You need to verify it for yourself. The way to successfully negotiate is:

1- Determine what you want. Be precise.

2- State what you want as clearly and directly as possible. Don't beat around the bush.

3- Listen carefully to the response for your offer. Don't accept BS responses. Point them out without irritation or annoyance.

4-Make a decision that you feel good about or walk away.

I keep practicing. I am getting better at it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Am I Communicating?

I have noticed that since I have been writing this blog my communication skills have improved. Now that I wrote that statement and look at it I have to ask myself, is it really true? Have my communication skills improved or am I imagining that they have? How do I verify whether they have improved or not.?

First of all communication of ideas is very difficult. Communication of facts and basic information necessary for day to day survival is much easier. Most people are decent at getting through each day and doing what is necessary to take care of themselves and their family. They are not as good at expressing their innermost thoughts and feelings. I believe that expressing my thoughts without censorship or wondering or worrying how they will be received has enabled me to practice at being more clear. This practice has improved my overall communication.

Success in business or relationships is enhanced by better communication skills. Many people assume that successful communication is about convincing others that their ideas or viewpoints are correct. I don't agree that this is the highest or the most effective way to communicate. It seems to me that what is more important is to be able to sincerely state what you believe to be true. Once you have become skilled at communicating what you believe is true you can work on improving your ability to deliver your truth in a kinder and gentler way.

What hinders our communication at times is our desire to be polite or not hurt someone's feelings. Political correctness oftentimes results in mixed messages and lack of real communication. We tell people what they want to hear or what we assume will present ourselves in the most favorable light rather than what we really believe. Some of us have never had a real conversation in our lives.

We are constantly being told that the most important part of communication is listening. Listening is important but the listening must be done in a special way to have real value. You can't just evaluate the words that are being spoken but must look beyond the words and try to glimpse the real intent.

In order to listen you can't be concerned with what you want to say next or allow yourself to be impacted by the words that are being spoken to you. This requires real effort, objectivity, and non-attachment. Although listening is important you can't control what others say, you can only control how you respond. Your response is both how you are impacted by what is said and what you say in return.

I can't verify for sure whether I am communicating better or not. I can only continue to work at it.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Freud, Consumerism, and a Collapsing Economy

I heard a TV analyst remark that the economy is not recovering as quickly as anticipated. DUH!
It's like saying that the 900 pound woman who lost 150 pounds is still struggling with her weight. Or that the 30 year old man raised in the deep jungle from birth by wild gorillas is finding it difficult to adjust to life in suburban Philadelphia. I mean what do you expect. After almost ninety years of overspending and rewarding creative ways of marketing meaningless products we can't really believe that things are going to return to the way they were.

We take it for granted that our economy will grow and that our material world will continue to progress. We can't imagine going a few years without a new car, an updated cell phone, a more advanced computer, a more hip wardrobe, or a more exotic vacation. We get bored easily and need constant stimulation to maintain our interest in life. Many of our identities are based upon not only what we have but on our ability to keep getting more and more. How did this happen?

On one hand you could trace our financial problems to the time when we left our caves and began creating ,what we now call, civilization or to the moment when money was invented. You might even blame the "industrial revolution" or the invention of the automobile or the rise of the financial superstars (Rockefeller, Morgan, Vanderbilt, Kennedy). However, the degree to which our financial system got out of control cannot be the result of a specific event or a few individuals. In my opinion it is a result of a mind altering process whose origins can be traced to the 1920's.

What happened in the 20's was not a fundamental change in our nature. What happened was the creation of a new industry, public relations. It seems that a nephew of Sigmund Freud, Edward Bernays, decided to apply the ideas of his uncle to business and especially to marketing.
Bernays believed, like Freud, that we were controlled not by our conscious thoughts but by deep-seated drives within our subconscious. If these deep desires could be tapped people could be motivated to act in ways that would benefit business owners. Check out the BBC video, "A Century of Self" for a detailed and brilliant account of how we have been controlled by the manipulation of our

One of Bernays' earliest assignments was to convince or manipulate women to smoke. Prior to Bernays entering the picture the cigarette market was almost entirely men. Bernays appealed to women's blossoming desire for equality and independence and doubled the cigarette market. He also created the modern clothing industry. Prior to his PR campaign most people had two or three outfits. Women had one for work and one for going out. Bernays designed a campaign that presented clothing as a way to express our individuality and changing moods. What had been an industry of necessity was changed into one where the average person could now express his sense of self.

These ideas of appealing to the subconscious and impacting the behavior of the masses evolved into our present advertising industry. The offshoots, including market research, consumer behaviorism, and modern day political science have also been shaped by the psychological theories of Freud and his earliest counterparts. For the past ninety years we have been bombarded by messages, both subliminal and direct, telling us what to think and how to behave if we want to be happy.

This has created our existing consumer mentality. The problem is it got out of hand. Even more than the development of life ending weaponry and the abuse of our environment we have gone over the line in our dependence on material things as the source of happiness. Plus, as we progressed, the degree of excesses especially in the banking, insurance, and, brokerage businesses have created an economic mess for which there is no easy solution.

This is not going to be a simple matter to correct. It is especially difficult because so many of our businesses and jobs are dependent on people continuing to buy things they don't really need. On one hand we can't continue to support behavior based on brainwashing. On the other hand for many of us our livelihood is dependent on continued and increasing consumer spending. I don't have the solution. I just believe we need to at least see the problem clearly.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Baseball and Poker

To my way of thinking baseball and poker are very similar. We have now reached a critical point in this blog. Probably if I had not mentioned it, the reader, if there are any in this virtual internet world, would not have noticed it. And now that I did mention it, I wonder why I write this blog, when there are so few readers. The truth is, though, that I get pleasure from doing it and a sense of accomplishment after I complete each blog.

Let me explain, though, why there was a critical point after the first sentence. It has to do with the main themes that run through these blogs. This blog, if it is anything, is an exploration of my thought process and my interests and observations about life. The first sentence made reference to two points. The first point is my way of thinking. The second point is the similarities between baseball and poker. I could have spent the entire blog explaining what I meant by my way of thinking. However, I am not in the mood to discuss that subject. I think I'll write about baseball and poker.

Baseball and poker are both fundamentally American games, although they have recently become more global. There was a time when the best poker players in the world were either from Texas or Jews from New York. Today poker is popular throughout Europe and Asia. Many of the best players are Vietnamese. Baseball has also expanded from an American pastime to an international sport attracting great players from Latin America and Japan.

Baseball and poker have a similar rhythm. They both require patience, strategic thinking and are slow moving most of the time. The ultimate outcomes are not decided in one inning, or even in one game, but after long grueling seasons or sessions. In both games there are intense turning point moments when the pressure mounts and the outcomes hinges on one pitch, one card.

The major similarity is that the long term enjoyment in both games is centered in mathematics. No one can be considered a true baseball fan unless they are immersed in the statistics of their favorite teams and players and have studied the all time leaders and record holders in the major categories: home runs, batting average, RBI's, wins, ERA, and strikeouts. In a similar vein, all poker devotees know the important odds of drawing to inside straights, making flushes, and flopping three of a kind. They also must have a good feeling for probabilities and instantaneously or intuitively be able to calculate the relative value of calling, folding or raising, in all situations.

Baseball and poker both have undergone changes in recent years. Poker, has gone from underground to mainstream and now attracts a wide range of personalities from all segments of society. Baseball has also changed, especially in its use of pitchers. Consider the case of Ralph Terry.

Terry was a pitcher for the New York Yankees in the sixties. He is most famous for having given up the winning home run to Bill Mazeroski in the seventh game of the 1960 World Series enabling the Pittsburgh Pirates to defeat the Yankees 10-9 after the Yankees had totally buried the Pirates in their three victories while Pittsburgh squeaked out their three wins.

Terry was back in the spotlight in the seventh game of the 1962 World Series. He was the starting Yankee pitcher and had pitched eight shut out innings. Today he would have been taken out for a closer, no matter how good he was pitching. He started the ninth by giving up a bunt single to pinch hitter Matty Alou. He then struck out the next two batters, including Matty's brother Felipe. The following hitter Willie Mays doubled to right field. Aware of Roger Maris' great arm they held Matty at third making it second and third with two out. This brought up Willie McCovey one of the great left-handed sluggers of the day. Today they definitely would not have let the right-handed Terry pitch to the left-handed McCovey. With a right-hander Orlando Cepeda, on deck, today they would have at least walked McCovey or pitched around him. Anyway Terry did pitch to McCovey, who lined a shot, that he later called the hardest ball he ever hit in his life, to second baseman Bobby Richardson, and the series was over. I was sickened by the Yankee victory. This whole scenario could never had happened in the world of baseball today.

Ralph Terry is not a baseball legend. He just happened to be involved in two great baseball moments. What is interesting to me, and is part of my personal baseball history, is that in 1967, after Terry was traded to the Mets, I was waiting outside their clubhouse for autographs. Terry was one of the players I approached. He did not give me an autograph. He did give me his pencil. I later tried to sell it. I needed money to play poker.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

War, Survival, and Increasing Consciousness

I want to continue to explore the question that I raised in my last blog regarding the causes of the struggles that exist in the world today. I mentioned that our major battle was not between religions, or countries, or ideologies, but was a race between the forces of higher consciousness and the forces that control the thinking and actions of ordinary man. The main issue concerning the world today is whether or not we will kill ourselves, either through an unspeakably horrible war, or through the destruction of our environment, or will we learn to live in a more peaceful and balanced way.

First of all we must understand that war has been an integral part of the history of mankind. There has never been an extended period of peace since the beginning of recorded history. In a Nubian cemetery dating back 12,000 years 50% of the bodies showed evidence of violence. It has been estimated that 90-95% of all civilizations have engaged in some form of warfare. There have been over 150 conflicts and 600 battles in Western Europe in the last 150 years. What is different today is that, for the first time in the history of mankind, we have the potential to destroy our planet through the use of nuclear and/or biological weapons. Very simply the risk of war is no longer acceptable.

There are a number of theories about the causes of war. There are psychological theories that believe that man is basically aggressive and inherently violent. He cannot control himself and war is inevitable. There are theories that believe that war is not a result of the nature of the average man but is primarily caused by power hungry leaders who have no regard for human life. When a society is struggling these leaders use their superior motivational skills to rally the masses behind some dream or belief system that offers hope of a better life in this world or the next.

There are economic theories which see war as a constant struggle for resources and riches
especially when there is scarcity or inequality in the distribution of material wealth. Marx believed that war was a result of competition for resources between imperialist countries and would not end until there was a world government. Thomas Malthus believed that war was a result of expanding populations and limited resources. When the population increased to a certain point it had to be whittled down by war or famine or some other major catastrophe.

A recent theory has been named the "youth bulge theory. This viewpoint attributes war to the existence within a society of too many men ages 16-30 and not enough jobs or productive outlets for their energies. These men need a way to spend their time and channel their testosterone. War is one of the possible ways that can satisfy their needs for action, adventure, and sense of accomplishment.

All these theories have one element in common. They are the result of a level of consciousness whose primary motivation is self-gratification. They are the result of a desire to get more for oneself or one's family or one's country. You might say this is the way man is and their is nothing we can do about it. I agree that this is the way man has been in the past and the way most man are today. However, this way of being is no longer what is required for survival. This is the big difference in the world today.

If we accept the idea that the primary instinct of man is for survival and that evolution has been a result of perfecting man's ability to survive, then we must also accept that for man to continue to survive he is going to have to evolve to the level where he will not engage in activities that are self-destructive. In other words we will learn to get along and recognize that our planet's survival is mutually beneficial or we will go the way of most of the other species that have existed on the earth. It doesn't make sense to bet against us.