The Donald Takes On the Terrorists

GOP Presidential front-runner Donald Trump today issued a comprehensive plan for defeating ISIS terrorists. The first step, he announced at a campaign stop in Iowa, is finding the country called Syria.

“We will find these monsters and bomb them to smithereens. Early reports indicate they hail from a land called ‘Syria’. When we locate this hideout, we will annihilate them,” He shouted to cheering throngs of mouth breathing, semi-literate morons.

Trump advisors have narrowed the search for Syria to this region. Their efforts remain ongoing

Trump advisors have narrowed the search for Syria to this region. Their efforts remain ongoing

With this goal in mind, national security advisors to Trump are actively scouring top secret maps and atlases and consulting with experts who specialize in the region, apparently referred to as “The Middle East.”

“Our investigations have revealed Syria is a country north of Africa and south of Russia,” reported Michael Stone, Trump’s top security advisor, ”However, it’s still not clear Syria’s location relative to Iraq or New York City. We’re still digging.”

In his speech, Trump admitted the identity of the ISIS terrorists behind the attacks in Paris remain cloaked in mystery. Trump expressed frustration about the disappointing lack of information but promised to be “tireless in our search for Syria.”

“We don’t know who they are, what they want, or where they live. Apparently they also speak a language that is not American,” shouted Trump while wearing clothes that made him look like he just stepped off a 300 foot yacht, “Totally different alphabet, looks like scribbling.”

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Knoxville, Tennessee November 16, 2015. REUTERS/Lisa Norman-Hudson

GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump announces his “Search For Syria” plan during a campaign rally in Knoxville, Tennessee November 16, 2015. REUTERS/Lisa Norman-Hudson

The second course of action in Trump’s plan, after locating Syria, is extending his proposed wall between Mexico and America to wrap around the entire eastern seaboard to prevent terrorist infiltration.

“It’s the only way,” he stated. He noted this wall, that will extend from the southern tip of California to the northern corner of Maine, will not, in fact, cost taxpayers a dime and will be achieved through a judicious use of tax cuts. A long term plan for the wall includes extending it along the coast of California, Oregon, and Washington, to prevent the entry of “the wily Chinese.”

Trump’s comprehensive anti-terror plan has secured him a strong standing among white supremacist voters, who share his difficulties in locating areas outside of U.S. borders, and vaulted him to the top of the polls among GOP candidates. Trump currently stands at 32% and is trailed by Marco Rubio at 8%. It is widely believed this noted deep thinker and reality TV celebrity will soon be the most powerful person in the world.

The Wheel of Fortune, Character, and Thanksgiving

Say the words “Wheel of Fortune” and most Americans immediately think of a game show. In the game, contestants take turns spinning an enormous wheel, guessing letters, and attempting to solve a word puzzle. Success involves some word skill but a lot more luck. The wheel at the center of the show that determines each player’s winnings is totally random. Contestants can only spin it and hope for the best.

This is interesting to me because it represents a huge break from what “Wheel of Fortune” used to mean. Back in the Middle Ages, “The Wheel of Fortune” was thought of something, like the game show, that controlled our fate but, unlike the game show, was the exact opposite of random. Rather, it followed a very predictable path.

It went:

Humility -> Patience -> Peace -> Prosperity -> Pride -> Impatience -> War -> Poverty

According to the framework, all human beings were tied to the wheel and typically moved along all eight points during the course of their life. As you can see, it was not random. One did not go “Bankrupt” and lose all their money based on one bad spin. Rather, one went bankrupt because they entered a state of war.

Notice the circular pattern in this, where the end state of “Povery” leads back to “Humility.” I speak from experience, nothing delivers a dose of humility faster than losing everything you have. But also notice the inflection point in the Wheel, where things go from the ultimate high of “Prosperity” and start drifting downward: “Pride.”

That’s the first step on the way to ruin and the meaning behind Proverbs 16:18 from the Bible. We know that one as as “Pride goeth before the fall” but the original quote is much more poetic. It reads, “ Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

I like this conceptualization of fate better than the game show’s, although the game show is more entertaining. The Middle Ages version of the Wheel of Fortune means we have some agency and control over our own lives and are not mere pawns at the mercy of arbitrary forces and blind luck. Our destiny is instead determined by the actions we take.

If someone was religious, like the Middle Age thinkers who devised this wheel, this framework kept them grounded. It reminded them when they prayed to God, they were not asking for divine favor and gifts like a subject pleading with a King. Instead they were asking God to grant them the strength to be a good person, humble and patient, to keep them on the road to prosperity.

I was reminded of the Wheel of Fortune when I read David Brooks’ book “The Road to Character” recently. Brooks is sometimes known as the New York Times resident Republican, a conservative to provide some counterpoint to the dominant liberal thought on the Times Op-Ed pages. Despite the fact that I am a left winger in the mold of Paul Krugman, I actually like Brooks. He’s a good writer, has some interesting insights, and he’s not an obnoxious race-baiting buffoon like GOP front-runner Donald Trump.

Brooks covers a lot of ground in his book but it mostly centers around a singular concept – something he calls “The Big Me” to describe our current era. “The Big Me” refers to the spread of a narcissistic mindset where all things that happen revolve around Me. In this viewpoint, I am the center of the universe and all events and people are defined, by me, by how much impact they have on my life. Those who believe in the Big Me are bent on achievement above all else.

In Brooks view, this mindset has taken over in the past 70 years. It’s been prodded along by a number of factors including technological advancement. For example, while we used to take pictures of other people to remember them, now we take pictures of ourselves. We snap “selfies” and post them on Facebook for others to admire. We do this ostensibly to share our achievements but, viewed another way, it’s a form of boasting, saying, “Look at me! Look at me! Look at the cool thing I did.”

Brooks is good in that he’s not a catastrophist. He doesn’t interpret the rise of the selfie as an opportunity to lecture us about our evil ways or make damning judgments about us. In his view, the rise of narcissism was partially good in that it urged people to make something of their lives, to achieve things. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself. Posting selfies on social media is not the end of the world. Don’t interpret it that way.

But Brooks wonders if we’ve gone too far. The thing about narcissism is it’s insatiable. No matter how much one acquires or achieves, it’s never enough. Behind all the accolades, social media likes, and praise, it’s empty. There’s a great spiritual longing in narcissists. In Zen, it’s called “having a hungry ghost.” This emptiness can never be filled by external forces. When one is constantly seeking validation from others, it’s a sign they lack an inner core.

Also, this overweening pride in one’s own achievements, as shown by the Wheel of Fortune, is the first step towards downfall. Brooks is not chiding us but rather offering a needed corrective against taking a bad step. The U.S. is the wealthiest country in the world, we hit the “Prosperity” step on the wheel a long time ago. Maintaining our position here means staying vigilant against becoming too proud.

What is the antidote for this excessive pride and narcissism? Brooks offers a number of suggestions and profiles people like Dwight Eisenhower, Frances Perkins, St. Augustine, Dorothy Day, and Samuel Johnson who led lives in healthy contrast to “The Big Me.” These people were selfless, humble, and guided by a sense of mission. They weren’t devoted to fame and personal glory above all else. Rather they committed themselves to helping others, gaining control and insight over themselves, and maintaining a sense of dignity and grace.

But I’d like to offer a very quick cure for excessive narcissism and we’re about to celebrate it this Thursday. Before it became a holiday largely devoted to eating a turkey dinner with your family, Thanksgiving was about gratitude.

This Thursday, take a break from saying, “Look at all I have acquired, look at I have achieved”, posting it on Facebook, and boasting. Instead say, “I am so fortunate. Thank you so much for giving me so much.” Take time to appreciate all the things you have been granted because doing so will remind you that not everyone is so lucky. Doing so will also help keep you humble, patient, peaceful and prosperous.

Common Cognitive Disorders

Are you depressed and/or angry? Does it feel like you are stuck and have no way out? The first step in getting better is learning to examine your own feelings critically and without judgment. Going through this list can be a big help.

All of them are from Robert L. Leahy, Stephen J. F. Holland, and Lata K. McGinn’s “Treatment Plans and Interventions for Depression and Anxiety Disorders” (2012) as cited in this article from The Atlantic:

1. Mind reading. You assume that you know what people think without having sufficient evidence of their thoughts. “He thinks I’m a loser.”

2. Fortune-telling. You predict the future negatively: things will get worse, or there is danger ahead. “I’ll fail that exam,” or “I won’t get the job.”

3. Catastrophizing.You believe that what has happened or will happen will be so awful and unbearable that you won’t be able to stand it. “It would be terrible if I failed.”

4. Labeling. You assign global negative traits to yourself and others. “I’m undesirable,” or “He’s a rotten person.”

5. Discounting positives. You claim that the positive things you or others do are trivial. “That’s what wives are supposed to do—so it doesn’t count when she’s nice to me,” or “Those successes were easy, so they don’t matter.”

6. Negative filtering. You focus almost exclusively on the negatives and seldom notice the positives. “Look at all of the people who don’t like me.”

7. Overgeneralizing. You perceive a global pattern of negatives on the basis of a single incident. “This generally happens to me. I seem to fail at a lot of things.”

8. Dichotomous thinking. You view events or people in all-or-nothing terms. “I get rejected by everyone,” or “It was a complete waste of time.”

9. Blaming. You focus on the other person as the source of your negative feelings, and you refuse to take responsibility for changing yourself. “She’s to blame for the way I feel now,” or “My parents caused all my problems.”

10. What if? You keep asking a series of questions about “what if” something happens, and you fail to be satisfied with any of the answers. “Yeah, but what if I get anxious?,” or “What if I can’t catch my breath?”

11. Emotional reasoning. You let your feelings guide your interpretation of reality. “I feel depressed; therefore, my marriage is not working out.”

12. Inability to disconfirm. You reject any evidence or arguments that might contradict your negative thoughts. For example, when you have the thought I’m unlovable, you reject as irrelevant any evidence that people like you. Consequently, your thought cannot be refuted. “That’s not the real issue. There are deeper problems. There are other factors.”


Bob Lefsetz writes:

“Don’t overestimate Adele’s power. If she never put out another record the business would survive. Hell, the Beatles broke up and music marched on. People died and music marched on.”

Reminded me a of an anonymous poem Dwight Eisenhower carried around with him:

“Take a bucket, fill it with water,
Put your hand in – clear up to the wrist.
Now pull it out; the hole that remains
Is a measure of how much you’ll be missed…

The moral of this quaint example:
To do just the best that you can,
Be proud of yourself, but remember,
There is no Indispensible Man!”

It’s only with this understanding that one can improve things for others, not just themselves.

Working For Yourself

It’s sometimes said an entrepreneur is someone who will gladly work 80 hours to avoid working 40 for someone else.

A year ago I got into freelance writing and I can attest to this. As a one-man operation I’m responsible for everything – sales, marketing, invoicing and accounting, estimates and project management, and the actual writing. When you add it all up, I’m working more hours than I ever did.

The difference is – I love it. It is a wonderful feeling to have control over my own time. No longer do I have to fill out a ‘vacation request form’ or avoid my boss’s look of disapproval for treating myself to a long lunch. Because I work from home I can do things like finish my work early to go watch my kids swim practice.

But I worked in corporate for a long time and I don’t think the “avoid working 40 hours for someone else” portion of the saying holds true any more. Look at the number of hours people log working corporate and it’s clear the days of working 9-5 are long over.

At many of the companies I worked at if you were in at nine and left at five, you were viewed as a slacker. Some companies were so bad that taking a break for lunch was viewed with disdain, workers were expected to eat alone in their cube. One manager got upset because I was out for a week on jury duty. I don’t think he realized I was legally obligated to serve on it.

In this type of corporate environment, the only measure is number of hours logged. It rewards a brute force method of working – the person who is in the office longest, wins. Which is stupid because what we should reward is working more efficiently and innovating. The winner of a race doesn’t win by flapping his arms and calling attention to all his hard work, he wins by running more efficiently and more powerfully than the others.

In our modern era, the saying might have to be updated to “An entrepreneur is someone who will gladly work 80 hours to avoid working 80 for someone else.” And once that is the case, it no longer makes sense to work standard corporate at all.