A Chihuahua Haunting

Have you ever seen a ghost? Or maybe experienced something that couldn’t be explained with words? I once saw a little girl in a mirror upon waking – it still gives me the willies today. I believe certain people are more in tune with the “other” realm and they are more apt to experience ephemeral encounters. IMG_0561Children are prone to “seeing” ghosts or talking to rooms that are completely empty; maybe because of their innocence or even openness to the unknown. This logic can be extended down the tree of life to my idiotic Chihuahua – Max. There is no creature that is more innocent and open minded than Max – his outlook on life is an eternal Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory Tour. I imagine him waking up to the world each morning with a complete erasure of memory; only remembering his “chocolate” surroundings when he hears me dishing out his daily allotment of tortilla chips. Hence, this complete innocence is why Max can interact with all sorts of paranormal activity. It is not uncommon that he barks to an empty room; or stares eerily at the vacuum cleaner; or evenIMG_0543 throws up nasty green stuff as if possessed by a demon. A chihuahua is the boiled down version of all our fears – everything is a potential poltergeist. Like Max, we all to a degree fear the unknown and search for answers to unexplained phenomenon. For these reasons, I read one of NPR’s great reads of 2016, Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey.

America has a myriad of supposedly haunted houses, commercial buildings, ruins, cemeteries, and even entire cities. Dickey lists several examples but there are a few that stand above all others. One is the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California that was built bImage result for winchester mystery housey Sarah Winchester – the heiress to the Winchester Gun fortune. It is over 20,000 square feet and has 160 rooms which are discombobulated to confuse spirits. There is also the Lalaurie Mansion in New Orleans, the previous host to slaves who were punished with crude experiments, starvation, prolonged chaining, and dismemberment. Head over to Pennsylvania to take a tour of the Eastern State Penitentiary with its formidable facade and even more foreboding interior to hear the cries of long dead inmates. Better yet, search around the city of Detroit for an evil-red-dwarf known as the Nain Rouge – said to be responsible for all of the city’s calamities. Go back west to the hotel that inspiredImage result for eastern state penitentiary Stephen King’s The Shining. The Stanley Hotel, located in Estes Park, Colorado is an isolated building that throughout the years has seen its fair share of ghost sightings. Suffice it to say, no matter where you are in America, you are not far from a haunted place.

 

Is there any truth to these haunted places? I believe there is an underlying mystery to these locales because of their histories but many times the stories are twisted for a specific purpose. For example, many haunted places are connected with Indian burial grounds. TheImage result for slaveryse “backstories” are usually completely erroneous and are added to give merit to the “spiritual” activity. We use ghost stories to sanitize history which goes counter to our modern idea of a “Just America.” Whether it is a black slave left to wander the plantation or a young girl who was killed in cold blood – a haunting helps us interact with a past that just doesn’t fit with our worldview. Of course, many times these haunted places are passed off to the public for the sake of money. Ghost tourism is a booming business  -especially in haunted cities like New Orleans.
Image result for nain rougeCapitalism is a strong harbinger of the dead and it does a great job of perpetuating half truths and whole lies. The modern day ghost story is a caricature mirrored after images that the public expects: from big screen movies to the Haunted Mansion ride in Disney. Humans are always in search of answers and we project our current beliefs into the past – today more than ever we are disconnected from the idea of “death.” Just like Max, the ghost stories of today can either be explained as just another mistaken bump in the night or an actual murderer lurking outside. To me these places are haunted – they are haunted by the living who can’t let go of their fear of the unknown. Do ghosts exist? Look in the mirror.

Theodore Roosevelt vs. Donald Trump

The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life.

-Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt is my favorite president by far because he accomplished so many unbelievable feats during his lifetime:

-Preserved 150 national forests, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments.
-He busted up 44 monopolistic corporations and enforced railroad regulations.
-Passed the Meat Inspection Act along with the Pure Food and Drug Act.
-Secured the Panama Canal and negotiated the end of the Russo-Japanese war.
-Conducted two major hunting expeditions to catalog animals for the Smithsonian.
-Published over 35 books and read over 10,000 books.
-Posthumously won the Medal of Honor.
-Was the youngest president in American history.
-He preemptively strengthened the Navy before WWI.
-Negotiated a major coal strike.
-Gave Cuba back to Cubans.
-Invited the first black man ever to dinner at the White House.

Added to these accomplishments is the fact that Roosevelt was an easy going guy who treated everyone with fairness; he was a loving husband and father; and he was passionate about making life for all Americans better. Theodore Roosevelt along with Abraham Lincoln are my two favorite Republicans because they were light years ahead of their time in championing social, economic, and racial equality.

Fast forward to today’s Republican Party. What use to be a party that represented disenfranchised blacks, immigrants, and conservationists is now the party that represents primarily whites who don’t believe in global warming but do believe in xenophobia. The Republican’s main man is now Donald Trump. I am not a fan of Trump because he is in many ways the opposite of Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt spent most of his life in public service while Trump spent most of his life expanding his father’s real estate business. The first 50 years of Teddy’s life could be summed up as a non-stop push to make America better. The first 50 years of Trump’s life could be summed up as a non-stop push to inflate his pockets and ego.  Here in lies the greatest difference between these two men-motivation. Roosevelt was a gentleman that treated his opponents with dignity and those who were disenfranchised with respect. Trump is a business man who uses derogatory language and authoritarian philosophies to make deals that increases his net worth regardless of the consequences. Some examples of these consequences include two divorces, four bankruptcies, and a mouth that vomits ridiculous material:

-“I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”
-“You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”

-“The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.”

-“I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”

-“The point is, you can never be too greedy.”

-“My IQ is one of the highest — and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure; it’s not your fault.”

-“My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.”

This is the current state of the Republican Party. Trump will not be remembered for his list of accomplishments but rather for his list of stupid comments. Teddy won the Nobel Peace Prize.What will Trump win as President? A spot on Comedy Central’s Roast of Hillary Clinton. Lincoln and Roosevelt would not even fit into the Republican Party of today and I’m sure Trump would find pleasant things to say about the immigrant lover and tree huger. We need a President who embodies the attributes of these two great men-not the attributes of a misogynistic-xenophobic-demagogic-school yard bully.
If you liked this article read Abraham Lincoln vs. Donald Trump for another comparison.

Lehman Brothers: From Superb Cotton to Sub-Prime Mortgages

Does the Financial Crisis of 2008 make you want to punch someone in the face or maybe go run to your cat for a good cry? I would like to punch the bankers, responsible for the world’s most recent economic collapse, right in the man sack. In 2008 I was 18 so naturally Wall Street’s meltdown was not on my radar screen. I have read a couple of books, including Lehman Brothers, 1844-2008: The Last of the Imperious Rich by Peter Chapman. My parents bought me this book for Christmas mainly because it was 70% off (similar to the Lehman Brothers stock in 2008) but I was appreciative because I knew very little about the storied history of this particular investment bank.

Henry Lehman came to America in 1844 from Bavaria and settled in Montgomery, Alabama where he ran a store that sold various goods. His brothers, Emmanuel and Mayer Lehman would join him and in 1850 the store was given the name Lehman Brothers. During the 19th century, cotton was king and the Lehman Brothers would many times accept cotton as a form of payment for their goods; eventually, through this practice, they became brokers-buying, storing, and selling cotton to interested entities. This cotton brokering led them to New York where most commodity trading was taking place. With one foot in the South and one foot in the North they were well placed to invest in both agriculture and industrial operations. This benefited the brothers greatly during and after the Civil War. The Lehmans eventually moved their entire operation to New York in 1870 and continued work in the commodities business until 1906.

In 1906, Phillip Lehman (Emmanuel’s son) brought Lehman Brothers into a new realm of business when he partnered with Goldman Sachs to make General Cigar a public company. Lehman Brothers would go on to underwrite several well known companies: Sears, Studebaker, Woolworth, Gimbel Brothers, Macy’s, Endicott Johnson, Goodrich, etc. Following in Phillip’s footsteps, his son Bobbie Lehman, beginning in 1925 would take the company in the direction of venture capitalism. Lehman Brothers survived the Great Depression by underwriting the first television manufacturer, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), Halliburton, and the first commercial airlines. The company saw great success through Bobbie’s leadership and had a focus on family partners throughout the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. Bobbie died in 1969 which began the era of non-Lehmans running Lehman Brothers.

The 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s showed promising growth for the firm with a transition from underwriting companies to complex trading through newly introduced computers. By the 90’s Lehman Brothers was among the biggest traders on Wall Street and had been bought by American Express. The tangible commodities of the past were replaced in the tech age by extremely complex-virtual stocks. One of Lehman Brothers favorite investments were in bundled sub-prime mortgages. Lehman Brothers would end up leveraging almost all they had on these toxic investments and in the end they would fail because of them. In 2008, Lehman Brothers stock would plummet 90% and they would file the largest bankruptcy in history-613 Billion Dollars. This would, in large part, become the cause of the Financial Crisis of 2008 and send the world into a recession that is still felt today.

American Justice: The Divide Between Rich and Poor

In 2008 I was 18 years old and a senior in high school. During that year I was chasing girls, shaving for the first time, lifting weights, getting ready for college, and trying to endure my last bout of public education. Life was good and I had no idea what was going on in the world around me. Besides randy teenagers, most people were aware of the financial crisis that was taking place in 2008. This collapse in our economy was arguably the second worst financial disaster in United States history-second only to the Great Depression. In only a year, this financial crisis wiped out 40% of the WORLD’S wealth which equated to trillions of dollars of loss. Huge banks like Lehman Brothers imploded while lucky others like Bank of America and Chase were bailed out by the government. What caused the Great Recession? This question was explained to me in the amazing book, The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap by Matt Taibbi. Go read this book! This is one of the top 5 books I have ever read and honestly it has changed my perspective on the world. With that said, the book contrasts the Financial Crisis of 2008 with the current state of how the poor are treated in America. The juxtaposition of stories about the rich and poor classes is eyeopening in respect to the unfairness of the current judicial system. This blog post only scratches the surface of this books details, points, and moving anecdotes.

The 2008 Financial Crisis was first and foremost caused by illegal activity on Wall Street. Leading up to the crisis, major banks and lending agencies were addicted to subprime mortgages. A subprime mortgage is a home loan for individuals who have bad credit, have little to no down-payment, and limited knowledge of interest rates. The banks specifically targeted poor individuals to take on these high interest loans even though their financial history was dismal and their likelihood of paying the loan was extremely suspect. These loans were obviously a disaster waiting to happen but the real kicker is that the banks bundled these as secure AAA investments for other institutions (including the government) to invest in. This toxic combination lead to a housing market collapse and subsequent banking collapse because these institutions were leveraged based largely on the subprime mortgages. In the end, these fraudulent practices by America’s leading institutions destroyed countless pensions, wiped out retirement savings, and initiated the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next five years. What was the punishment for the people who caused this collapse? NONE! No single person was brought to trial or prosecuted. Banks were fined but none were forced to admit that they did anything wrong. Added to that, the banks’ fines amounted to such small amounts that they recouped their losses in a matter of weeks.

This total lack of justice for the ultra wealthy has become the norm in America. There is a ridiculous amount of evidence against bank executives which is not being pursued by the justice department. This is contrasted in the book by the ridiculous police methods being enforced on poor individuals. New York has search and seizure laws that essentially allow police to detain anyone (almost always blacks) for no reason at all. The nation as a whole has laws that don’t allow immigrants any due process of law and the right to hold these individuals indefinitely. Welfare recipients have forced home searches where officials can rummage through all their belongings to ensure they are actually poor enough to receive benefits. If you are an immigrant or poor, the American justice system looks much different then if you are a rich bank executive on Wall Street. Of course we all know this to some degree but the author’s point is that our country’s justice system has to be in a vacuum; treating rich and poor alike. We roll over and let the ultra-rich get away with crime while systematically imprisoning more people (mainly poor) then any other country in the world. This injustice needs to be addressed and we need to at least try to change the system for the better. Again, this book is a must read and goes into these topics in much greater detail. America is currently an oligarchy that is run by very wealthy individuals and institutions. Does this mean we should role over and take it? No. It means we need to be aware of the injustices of the system so we can slowly bring back the balance of equality. Success doesn’t come over night but the sum of small efforts overtime can make America a great place no matter how much is in your wallet, no matter where you live, and no matter what you look like in the mirror.

The Human Paradox

How does philosophy and marine biology relate? This question was answered, to my surprise, by John Steinbeck in The Log from the Sea of Cortez. Steinbeck is my favorite author and my college roommate, Chris O’Brien, recommended that I read this quite eclectic memoir. The memoir is a true account of Steinbeck, his marine-biologist friend, and a boat crew who took a 6-week journey around the Baja California Peninsula to collect marine animals from tidal zones. I was not expecting this type of book from Steinbeck and I had no idea he had interests in tiny invertebrates with obscure Latin names. Steinbeck is first and foremost a philosopher and he uses storytelling to translate his worldviews-obviously seen in his most famous works. What I loved most about The Log from the Sea of Cortez, was that Steinbeck took a quite banal subject of collecting samples of invertebrates and related it to philosophical thoughts on human behavior.

There is a strange duality in the human which makes for an ethical paradox. We have definitions of good qualities and of bad; not changing things, but generally considered good and bad throughout the ages and throughout the species. Of the good, we think always of wisdom, tolerance, kindliness, generosity, humility; and the qualities of cruelty, greed, self-interest, graspingness, and rapacity are universally considered undesirable. And yet in our structure of society, the so-called and considered good qualities are invariable concomitants of failure, while the bad ones are the cornerstones of success. A man—a viewing-point man—while he will love the abstract good qualities and detest the abstract bad, will nevertheless envy and admire the person who through possessing the bad qualities has succeeded economically and socially, and hold in contempt that person whose good qualities have caused failure. When such a viewing-point man thinks of Jesus or St. Augustine or Socrates he regards them with love because they are the symbols of the good he admires, and he hates the symbols of the bad. But actually he would rather be successful than good. In an animal other than man we would replace the term ‘good’ with ‘weak survival quotient’ and the term ‘bad’ with ‘strong survival quotient.’ Thus, man in his thinking or reverie status admires the progression toward extinction, but in the unthinking stimulus which really activates him he tends toward survival. Perhaps no other animal is so torn between alternatives. Man might be described fairly adequately, if simply, as a two-legged paradox. He has never become accustomed to the tragic miracle of consciousness. Perhaps, as has been suggested, his species is not set, has not jelled, but is still in a state of becoming, bound by his physical memories to a past of struggle and survival, limited in his futures by the uneasiness of thought and consciousness. (pg 80 para 2).

We are in constant battle within ourselves when it comes to survival and morals. Sadly, our society uplifts the pursuit of money, status, and selfishness while the pursuit of consciousness is only given credence when it benefits the latter pursuits. Which child would parents brag about most? One who grows up to have a high-paying career but luke-warm ethics or a child who grows up to have a low-paying career but strong ethics. Humans, in a sense, were taken out of the primordial oven before all of our consciousness was congealed. We have sentience but at the same time we have the survival instincts of a sea cucumber. The sins of survival are all around us; in the sense of personal survival there is the relentless pursuit of money and status; in the sense of generational survival their is the obsession with sex. The key to completing the “baking” process is being conscious of our limited consciousness. How can we gain consciousness? I believe it is best done by acquiring knowledge, learning from the mistakes of our ancestors, and looking at the world with an open perspective. Realize what you really need to survive—food, water, shelter, access to modern medicine, security—and once you have obtained those things focus your efforts on—”wisdom, tolerance, kindliness, generosity, and humility.” We will never reach perfection but at least we can point our feet in the right direction.

The Problem with America

To be honest, I think most American’s are mindless sheep that are constantly shepherded around by media, consumer culture, and politicians. A poll by Newsweek found that among 1000 Americans… “Seventy-three percent couldn’t correctly say why we fought the Cold War. Forty-four percent were unable to define the Bill of Rights. And 6 percent couldn’t even circle Independence Day on a calendar (Reference).” My opinions concerning Americans are harsh because I am an extremely patriotic American who wants his country to prosper and be the best it can be. I love American History and have pride in how far America has come in advancing her citizens and the world in general. When asked what my nationality is I usually say that I am “American.” My love for my country led me to read Glenn Beck’s book Common Sense: The Case Against An Out-Of-Control Government, Inspired by Thomas Paine. I am not political and Glenn Beck wrote this book trying to be non-partisan. Glenn is a very outspoken guy when it comes to government power and throughout the book he has a heart attack over federal debt, the confusing tax-code, corrupt politicians, and the “cancer” of progressivism. While reading the book, I felt a mix of approval and disgust with Beck’s views on how to fix America. I agree with his views on reducing the national debt, reforming the tax code, and shortening politicians’ careers. I disagree with his views that global warming is a hoax and that progressivism is a cancer. The progressive movement is essentially a push by Republicans and Democrats to have the government control more of our money and redistribute it to state funded programs. Think Obamacare for Democrats and the military for Republicans.

The manner that Beck goes about explaining his common sense is by misrepresenting history and saying “Wake Up People” several times. First, he talks about the founding fathers and how they wanted small government and respected the constitution. In truth, Washington wanted a more powerful government and he was regularly accused of trying to become a king by wig wearing versions of Beck’s early ancestors. Also, he took several measures of executive action with the idea that the constitution didn’t have all the answers. Secondly, he bashes on my favorite president, Theodore Roosevelt, as an evil progressive-constitution hating man who set the country on the course of its current destruction. Roosevelt was president in a time when corporate greed was destroying America’s workers, environment, and political system. Without his progressive reforms we would not have any national parks, workplace safety, or corporate regulations. 

Beck doesn’t have it all wrong and besides him bashing Teddy I think he has the best intentions in trying to help America. The thing is, his approach is all wrong. Common sense is not to blame the government or corrupt politicians. Common sense is to blame the Americans who elected those politicians. Americans who think that political parties are out to help so they vote straight ticket. Americans who constantly reelect the same politicians who are a part of a congress that gets nothing done. Americans who don’t read or seek out information other then the nightly news and Facebook. Americans who think that one political party is completely wrong and that one political party is completely right. Americans who would choose material possessions and status over a healthy waist line and a critically thinking brain. Our screwed up government is just an extension of our complacency in this country for sloth and avarice at the individual level. The only thing you can control is yourself and by fixing yourself you can then extend help to others in your life. Ghandi said it best, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” That is my common sense and I think that we first need to have a foundation of morals, ethics, and wisdom before we can expect the same in our government. Don’t be a sheep, use your brain, and care for your country.