Monday, March 30, 2009


"We shall stand or fall by television-of that I am quite sure" - E. B. White, 1939, One Man's Meat, essay Removal

I was discussing Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 with a friend today. I've read the book a few times, and always thought it was a meaningful, entertaining book. I learned something new today though (always a good feeling of a day well lived). I had always been taught that the book was about the evils of censorship.

But, the friend I was discussing it with, sent me this small Wikipedia bit

"Bradbury has stated that the novel is not about censorship; he states that Fahrenheit 451 is a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature, which leads to a perception of knowledge as being composed of "factoids", partial information devoid of context, e.g., Napoleon's birth date alone, without an indication of who he was."

I'm not writing this blog right now about the evils of television. I like television as much as the next guy, and watch probably too much for my own good.

I'm writing because that little bit of information gave me a chill, given the proliferation of a new kind of shrill television entertainment.

Back on August 1, 2008, I wrote my own piece about this type of new "media" (

"I believe that the proliferation of shows like Limbaugh, etc prove just how shallow we've become as a people, and despite how much we say we want to debate and understand the issues, we really just want to make all the issues a simple x = y event.

If "x" happens it is because of "y". And so much the better "y" is black, Latino, an immigrant, on welfare, or whatever.

We are in deep trouble as a country. Watching Fox News or listening to Rush Limbaugh will not help us solve our problems which are extremely deep and widely systemic."

That is just as true today as it was back in August 2008. Maybe more so, given the continued deterioration of the economic situation.

I believed then, and believe now, that this is the main purpose of the Hannity's, the Limbaugh's, the Glenn Beck's and the Lou Dobbs (and, to be fair, some on the left as well - to sow fear about their fellow Americans on the right side of the spectrum):

"Fear is their stock and trade, and fear is what they want to sow. Oh, they wrap it up quite righteously saying they only want to "spread the truth". But at the bottom, it's fear they want to spread.

For there is power in making people afraid."

There is amazing power in fear. There are also great ratings, and a LOT of money to be made.

What constantly amazes me is that people will sit at home and watch these shows (mostly middle, working class people), or listen to them on the radio, and actually believe these "talking androids" have something in common with them, or that they think like them, or that they somehow have their interests at heart.

If you make $10 to $20 million dollars a year and wear $1000 dollar suits to work, then, yes, they probably do have your interests at heart.

They seem to always "magically" know what their viewers or listeners are thinking. That is not because they necessarily believe in these issues deeply (or understand them at all).

It is because they have great demographics people, and great production people. It is because they pander like the slickest politician to their audience for, you guessed it, RATINGS.

I still believe what I wrote back in August, with regard to the solution:

"The final solution is to turn them off and ignore them. Read a book. Talk to your wife and kids. Go to the library. Love your neighbor as yourself as Jesus taught us.

Anything but feeding off of those parasites."

How about actually talking to your neighbor, even though he may be diametrically opposed to what you believe in? How about reading a book about ideas that are diametrically opposed to those you believe in.

A few years ago, I read Senator Paul Wellstone's Conscience of a Liberal. At the time I read it, I agreed with almost nothing in the book and several times I wanted to quit reading it, or set it on fire. But over the next few years, the ideas worked on me, and I thought about them a lot. I'm nowhere near as Liberal as Senator Wellstone was, nor do I think I ever will be. But, I got an understanding of some things I didn't have an understanding of before.

To turn the TV off and work on something that is not passive was sound advice then, it is sound advice now, and it will be sound advice tomorrow.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I just finished The Thoreau You Don't Know: What the Prophet of Environmentalism Really Meant by Robert Sullivan

I have always been a fan of Walden and Thoreau's other writings. I first read Walden in high school, and have read it once or twice as an adult. I have also read a few biographies of Thoreau over the years.

In 1991, I visited Walden - it was a pretty neat experience. Nothing spiritual, or life changing, but, it did mean a lot to me. Sullivan writes about his visit to Walden towards the end of the book (basically the last section, after he is done recounting Thoreau's life and work). To me, this part of the book seems contrived - it was not my favorite part, and I think he could have worked snippets of his visit in the book - but, that's just me.

Lately, as I have mentioned I have been reading a lot of Emerson. This Thoreau book was interesting in that it had a lot of information on Thoreau's and Emerson's relationship, as well as information about Emerson. At times Thoreau worked for Emerson. At times, Thoreau's writing style exasperated Emerson. As Thoreau got older and more established, their relationship became strained.

One thing that was EXTREMELY interesting, was the cultural, political, and financial situation during the time Thoreau came to prominence. Sullivan discusses the panic of 1837 (which becomes a full blown depression), then recounts another economic downturn in 1857. The descriptions of these downturns sound eerily like our current day downturns. Emerson and Thoreau both wrote during those times, and the conditions had to color their writing and thinking.

I was also interested in the discussion about HDT being, what amounted to the CEO of his family's pencil business. He was an innovator at the time with regard to pencils - now, they'd be featuring him in Wired or Fast Times magazine. I was also interested in his well respected work as a surveyor. And of course, I was interested in the discussion of his development as a writer.

In reading the Amazon customer reviews of this book, you get your typical Thoreau "experts" who downgrade this book (I think maybe they are mad that Sullivan is trying to make Thoreau more palatable to popular consumption, and taking him out of the realm of the experts who are constantly dissecting his life and writing. I also suspect they don't like it because it's not a "scholarly" biography - which, the author makes quite clear that it is not to be) - they recommend in some reviews reading a "real" biography, Robert Richardson's Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind. It is a good book, but it is NOT a quick read (dry, academic), overly interesting read like this one.

Overall, it didn't really change any of my opinions about Thoreau. I had learned when I was younger that Thoreau was not a recluse at Walden, nor did he live a monastic cloistered life at Walden. He spent time in town. People liked him, and I think for the most part, he liked people.

Thoreau has always seemed to me to be an eccentric, or someone, to paraphrase his classic line, who marched to the beat of his own drummer.

I think these days we need more eccentrics who know how to think in patterns and can see relationships. We need people who are keen observers and reporters, which, Thoreau was. We need men (and women) who can think differently about the world, and articulate their feelings about it in an inspiring way as Thoreau did.

Maybe we wouldn't be in the mess we are in.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


There has been a lot of positive economic news lately. A lot of people have been thinking and feeling that the recession will end sooner than later.

But, as I have been writing about in this blog, what happens if the recession ends tomorrow? Or a month from now? Or Summer? Or late 2009 or early 2010? Did we learn anything? Are we going to be any different, or live any differently than we did before?

When crisis passes, instead of doing a "lessons learned", and being humbled, we tend to go back to the bad habits. We tend to take on an air of hubris and invincibility. We tend to perennially believe that we are above the cycles of history and that these kinds of things can never happen again.

I happen to love the writing and thinking of Robert K. Greenleaf. Greenleaf was the coiner of the term Servant Leadership (and a GREAT introduction to Greenleaf's life and thinking is contained in Robert K. Greenleaf: A Life of Servant Leadership, written by Don Frick, as well as Greenleaf's book of essays Servant Leadership, A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness)

In his seminal essay The Servant as Leader, written in the 1970's, Greenleaf has a section called "Foresight-The Central Ethic of Leadership".

There is absolutely NO question, that the situation we are in is due to a direct lack of Foresight (and Leadership), by several, including those in Washington, in the companies that melted down, those in regulatory agencies, and others (i.e. The Fed, World Bank, etc).

Listen to what Greenleaf says about Foresight:

"The failure (or refusal) of a leader to foresee may be viewed as an ethical failure, because a serious ethical compromise today (when the usual judgment on ethical inadequacy is made) is sometimes the result of a failure to make the effort at an earlier date to foresee today's events and take the right actions when there was freedom for initiative to act."

Those who did have the foresight to predict the consequences of the risky behavior of the banks and other institutions (and they WERE out there), were often called negative, or pessimistic, or the implication was that they didn't know what they were talking about. The good times, in essence, were going to roll on forever.

As we move forward, we need to start thinking about the next trap doors and pits that we could fall into. What is the next "bubble"? What will crash next? Where are the holes and weaknesses in the economy, and in capitalism in general that need to be looked at and fixed?

Certainly what happened at AIG, Bear, Lehman, Freddie and Fannie, etc, can NOT be allowed to happen again. But there again, we need to strike a real balance between absolute iron fisted control, and the fostering of the entrepreneurial spirit.

Greenleaf, gives us a prescription as to how we are to look at these things:

"One is at once, in every moment of time, historian, contemporary analyst, and prophet-not three separate roles. This is what the practicing leader is, every day of his or her life".

Perfect. How many of us know how to do that? How many of us are taught to do that? How many of us even think about that?

In the final analysis, we know that there are a LOT of problems in America that will need to be tackled. Problems with infrastructure. Problems with health care. Problems with education. Problems with the growing gap between the richest and the poorest. These are huge problems that are going to take innovative solutions, and dynamic leadership from the type of leader with Foresight that Greenleaf imagines.

Perhaps the best "mission statement" moving forward comes from Greenleaf's very definition of those that Servant Leaders are leading (a lot might think these things are "Utopian" and would never work in the "real world" or in the "rough and tumble world of business". For those, I suggest you check out, and, and, and while you are at it take a look at this seriously impressive list of projects:

"The best test, and difficult to administer, is this: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?"

Moving forward, I'm optimistic. I'm filled with hope for America. I think we can do this.

I'm excited to start. Tomorrow. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:34 (a passage which has virtually carried me forward over the past several months), "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Wow. This is something

I read this piece in Newsweek today:

It was titled "The Biggest Thing to Fear Is Fear, American consumers are in better shape than you think.

I have been thinking along these lines for quite some time. It is OUR turn to decide what the economy does. Not Wall Street. Not the big banks. Not the Government. Those are the facts.

The only reason we don't believe that is that we've been beaten down and convinced for so long that someone else is in charge. Someone else HAS to be in charge, or else it just won't be right.

No one is in charge. YOU are in charge of your own life. Isn't that what living in a FREE country is all about? It should be. Are you really free?

I posted in December 20, 2008:

"When the economy does recover (and it WILL recover eventually in some form - but maybe not with huge annual growth from here on out), what will we have learned? Anything? At the end of it all, will the banker still have the power, or will ordinary Americans have taken back the power?

Let's hope it's ordinary Americans."

I posted on January 10, 2009:

"I said in my last blog, when talking about Peter Maurin, that it was time for us to take back the economy. WE decide whether we get to have hope. WE decide whether we get to spend money again. WE get to decide whether people are hired or not. Not exclusively the government, not the media."

Now, today, look at the quote from this piece:

"Looking to Wall Street to lead the recovery is ludicrous; its confidence is shattered and its balance sheets are in turmoil. Even looking to Wall Street to identify the recovery is asking too much; its analysts are hysterical and they are legitimately fearful for their future employment. That means this time markets may lag behind the recovery. Instead, real economic activity, and the steady, gradual spending recovery of Main Street will lead the way."

Wall Street is not going to go quietly of course. For a long time, they've been able to dictate the specifics of the economy. They have been in charge. They believe they still are. I do not believe this. A lot of the time now, to me, they are acting like a spoiled, whiny child, not getting his way in the toy aisle of the Target Store. Look at MEEEEEEE!!!!! Pay attention to MEEEEEEEE!!!!!!

I have this delicious fantasy. My fantasy is that some brave Americans are taking counsel of their fears and are out there deciding to buy things. Hire people, etc. Taking the attitude that a few of my friends have taken, that they are "not going to participate in the recession". Taking the attitude that some other people I've met have taken that they are going to live their lives with hope and not fear and anxiety.

Then, when the economic indicators hit, and they show improvement ( is a great place to see some of these measurements in a somewhat systematic fashion), Economists are "puzzled" and wonder if the improvements will be sustained.

Some of that is happening now.

I'm starting to realize that one of the great blessings of my life is having two parents that were older than all of my friends parents. Both my parents lived through the depression (my Dad was born in 1919, and my Mom was born in 1925), and my Dad served in World War II.

I saw that they and their parents and siblings lived through so much. They had nothing to start with. Then, the depression and the war came and they had less than nothing. And, compared to them, we've been through really, not much of anything.

Yes, the pain is real. Yes, the loss is real. I don't mean to dismiss that or demean that. But to look at the "Greatest Generation" is to see that you CAN come out on the other side.

How will the history books judge THIS generation, when our time of testing came?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Freedom from Fear - Aversion to Recession

On June 28, 2008 I posted Freedom from Fear - Aversion to war, and 6 points I was going to try to live by.

On the whole, I don't think I've done too bad in following these 6 points. My last point was:

"6. I will try not to lose hope. This is the hardest thing of all. The economy is tanking here at home."

I wasn't writing that time specifically about the economy, but understood then, as now, that everything ties together. There is not a "war box" or an "economy box". It is all one box.

I wanted to write Freedom from Fear, Part 2, and in this particular installment of Freedom from Fear, I wanted to commit myself to not be fearful about the economy.

That is a whole lot easier said than done. The media is striving to fill 24/7 on several outlets with depressing economic news. I believe they should report the news faithfully, but in other economic downturns there was not as much news - back in the 70's and 80's you read your local newspaper and watched the evening news, and that was pretty much it. Now you can literally be exposed to bad economic news everywhere you look.

On the other side of the equation, there are a lot of people who seem to be trying to do the same thing that I've done. For instance, I have been reading this guys blog for awhile now (The Good News Economist). I don't always agree with him, and the guy is not a "real" economist - although, "real" economists have not particularly distinguished themselves in making accurate predictions regarding our economic troubles:

There are several other people I know who are saying that they are "not choosing to participate in the recession" (if only it was that easy - but the point is well taken that we need to believe we have more deciding power than we think we do).

I do not really find any particular reason to start giving any more trust to a Harvard, or MIT trained economist, as well as any economist from the Fed. I would be as inclined to trust a chimpanzee throwing darts at a board to make predictions as accurate as they have.

For the past few months, I have read a lot of Emerson. Some might even say an unhealthy amount of Emerson - but then I think that reading a lot of Emerson has to be better for my psyche than watching a lot of CNN or reading a lot of MSNBC.COM.

I like what Emerson says in Self Reliance - I think this has a lot to say about deciding for ourselves how we feel about the economy. WE decide whether we have confidence about the economy. Not the government. Not the Fed. Not some Harvard, Yale or MIT educated economist. We decide when it's time for us to take the economy back. We even get to decide whether we scrap the economic systems we have now and design new ones.

If we believe that we don't get to make the decisions, that some office in Washington or on Wall Street gets to do it, then we are in deeper trouble than I thought.

Emerson says:

"At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friends, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door and say, - "Come out unto us". But keep thy state; come not into their confusion. The power men possess to annoy me I give them by a weak curiosity. No man can come near me but through my act"

I'm not saying to be a Pollyanna or to deny there is bad news - certainly people facing economic disaster are not "trifles".

But, there are times when it is appropriate just to shut off the TV and do something else.

Reading the scriptures might be a good place to start. We claim to be a "Christian nation". I have, of late, found great comfort in the 6th chapter of Matthew's gospel (verses 25-34), quoted here in full from the New King James Version of the bible (it's a long passage):

25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? 28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

I do not know what tomorrow will bring for me - it might even be financial ruin. But, my desire is to own my fear, and create my own hope. No one can make me be afraid. No one can make me lose hope. The only person who can do either of those things to me is ME.