Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Daily "Near You?"

Brasov, Romania. Thanks for stopping by!

"The Dumbest Idea I’ve Heard in My Adult Lifetime"

"The Dumbest Idea I’ve Heard in My Adult Lifetime"
by Umair Haque

"One of the fun parts about someone who essentially thinks for a living (hey, I didn’t say I always did it well) is that I spend time combing through and poring over ideas. Headlines, tweets, books, articles. Ideas, ideas, ideas. Good ones, and bad ones. The middling ones  -  easy to discard. The good ones go in my little mental file. What do they mean? What values and perspectives shaped them? What are they really trying to say, reveal, offer?

And then there are the bad ones. The ones that make me gawp and chuckle and drop my jaw. Most of those, these days, come from America. Arming teachers? Letting hedge funds raid pensions? LOL  -  those are just the medium grade bad ideas. Try obsequiously profiling fascists as brave free-thinkers and bold renegades, like the New York Times now specializes in.

Bad ideas are interesting in a different way. Those examples prove that what I think of as bad ideas aren’t often the ones many people do. What does it take for an idea to be so catastrophically foolish that, in these fractured times, we can reach something like a consensus on it? Let’s talk about a really bad one.

Allow me to introduce you to the most foolish idea I think I’ve ever heard. So far, anyways. I know, that’s a high bar. But as I reflected on it, sipping my coffee, trying to write about something else, a little voice in my head kept saying to me: “Wait. There’s nothing dumber than this  -  nothing. This is the dumbest idea you’ve ever heard.”

Arizona* has a plan to pay people to withdraw their kids from public school. How much? $4,400 precisely. That’s about a month’s income, on average. Courtesy, of course, of a band of politicians so extreme they make the Taliban look like Gandhi, crackpot economists, and pundits who’ve never read a book that wasn’t on the bestseller list at Faux News. This isn’t a “school voucher”  -  in a classic Orwellianism, it’s the very opposite: you can’t choose, say, different public schools within a district and so forth  -  only private ones. Writ large, across America, it would basically mean that public schools cease to exist, at least in many places, and certainly as we know and think of them.

Remember when I said the ideas I think are bad aren’t usually the ones many of you do? I can see plenty of you objecting now  -  “What’s wrong with that? I’ll save money! And I can educate my kid the way I want, too!” And then there are those of you who’ll be quite naturally repelled at this strange and bizarre proposal. What other country would be so laughably, hilariously backwards, ignorant enough, to pay people not to send their kids to school? Many countries on the planet, poorer ones, are trying to build schools, and send kids to them, from sweatshops, for heaven’s sake. Has America still really not learned that stability, democracy, and prosperity are made of progress  -  not medieval regress?

Who’s right? In some things, my friends, there is no right and wrong - maybe if we’re writing a song. But in some matters right and wrong do exist - and one of these matters is educating children. One way will lead to more wrong, more bad, more ills of the bodies economic, social, and politic - and one to more good, more expansion and realization of human possibility. So let’s think about  -  LOLWTF - paying people not to send their kids to school is a bad idea. Now, you might object to my phrasing  -  “paying people not to send their kids to school”, versus “paying people to withdraw their kids from public schools.” Unfortunately, I’m speaking in simple but lethally accurate terms. Let me prove it.

American incomes have been stagnant since before I was born. Costs have exploded. Hence, the average American too often falls for the stupid and foolish thought - one which doesn’t much thought in it, to be frank - that he can “save money” by paying “less taxes.” The result is that he ends up paying capitalist not just a little more, or even twice as much, what he would paid his fellow citizens - after all, that is all government is - for the very same things: he pays an order of magnitude more.

Take the example of insulin. It costs pennies, maybe pounds, in countries which have public healthcare. It costs Americans thousands. The same is true across every single sector of the economy, more or less. Without working public retirement systems, the average American pays Wall St a fortune for the privilege of “managing his money”  -  if he has any, that is - when he could just put it an index fund himself, and save, over a lifetime, enough to buy a new car, maybe a house. And on and on. Everywhere, Americans have been duped by capitalism into paying an order of magnitude or more for the very same things which public goods could provide them best and cheapest of all.

These economics are, though, are never so true as in education. A surgeon might just save your life. But a child will receive much the same education in a public school as he will in a private one  -  in fact, he will probably receive a much better one. He will read the same books, and study the same theories, and solve the same equations. Only in a public school, he will learn something more than all this  -  what it means to be a civilized person, rubbing shoulders with children from all walks, of all colors, practicing all creeds. Public schools are not the cosseted bubbles private ones are  -  and one of the great keys to building a successful society is to invest in public education.

Investing in world-beating public education has been just fine for every other rich nation to vastly outperform America in nearly every regard - longevity, happiness, trust, democracy, equality. Because America invests the least, by a long way, it also has decrepit schools, subpar curricula, and grossly underpaid teachers, who try to correct, bravely, for just the above. The solution to this problem is obvious  -  pay teachers more, and spend more money on schools. Let every neighborhood and country have the kind of shining high school equipped with a cutting edge physics lab and theater and music studio that rich ones have. A prosperous society is built on those things  -  not billionaires and hedge funds versus GoFundMes and gig economies.

Hence, in economic terms, we’d say that strong investment in public education has significant, society-altering externalities  -  its uncounted benefits far exceed its costs. It breaks apart old hierarchies. It fosters norms of equality, decency, respect, truth. It generates trust that cuts across social strata and groups. It undoes the ill effects of inherited power and privilege. It creates something like a truly level playing field for a society’s children  -  who are, of course, its future. And yet all these things are what are badly missing in America today, aren’t they?

So good  -  robust, equitable, accessible  -  public education socializes children into being intelligent, critical, thoughtful citizens of functioning democracies, and you only have to look at America to see what a deficiency of investment in public education cheats a society of: a functioning democracy. That’s not to say “charter schools are bad!” Not at all. But is to say that without functioning public education  -  not attacks on it  -  a modern democracy cannot really function as one, because it sets a floor, a unifying standard, norms, values, it is a civilizing mechanism. Nor is this idea really about “vouchers”  -  it is about destroying public education  -  Arizona’s system loads the “money” people are paid “back” onto debit cards, which can be spent only on…capitalism, because the condition is they cannot send their kids to public schools anymore.

Consider for a moment there are people who simply pocketed the money, and didn’t send their kids to school at all. But should we blame them, in a society where making ends meet has become an ordeal? Yet there are many things people should not have the choice to do if we are all to live in a civilized society. I don’t have the choice to shout slurs at you on the street, without paying a price. Nor should I have the choice to teach my kids that bizarre superstitions and rank misinformation are true  -  let alone that racism, fascism, bigotry, and hate are OK  -  because that way, I am not just cheating me, or them of democracy: I am cheating you, too. And if enough people want that  -  that way, my friends, lies the abyss. Madrasas which indoctrinate, authoritarian youth leagues which control, instead of schools which educate. I am reneging on my social contract to you if I don’t invest in public education.

So now let’s think about what happens if enough people in a society take their kids out of public school. What happens next? LOL  -  capitalism does. But just like capitalism has no incentive to provide you decent healthcare - only to take you for all you’re worth, while delivering the lowest quality and most subpar standard of care at the highest imaginable price, even if it’s staggering, amoral, unethical, and beyond belief, like hundreds of thousands for that drug which used to cost mere hundreds  -  in exactly the same way, capitalism has no incentive whatsoever to educate your kids well, thoroughly, or even at all.

Instead, capitalism will probably build something that looks like a cross between a McDonald’s and a theme park, where you drop your kids off, as they scream with excitement. There, it’ll give them the lowest common denominator at the cheapest possible cost  -  probably something like iPads with YouTube videos on them. Nobody will care, and nobody will be watching, because nobody will be paid enough, to check if they’re not clicking on weirdo fascist videos instead. “Ah - but then they’ll fail the tests!” you cry. In fact, since the capitalist are also in the business of making the tests, they’ll probably pass with flying colors  -  even if they can barely read a book.

And when it comes time to bill you for all this? Well, prepare for a shock. The first year, it’ll be cheap, and you’ll be happy. Five years in, you’ll frown  -  that’s what you used to pay for public school, isn’t it? A decade in, and the price will have skyrocketed to something like a college tuition. Why? Because by now, private equity funds will have “rolled up” all those school companies  -  made a monopoly of them, and that monopoly, just like all the other ones, will laugh while it jacks up prices to levels that would have made the moneylenders Jesus kicked out of the temple staggered in awe. Isn’t that exactly what happened in every other privatized industry - healthcare, finance, retirement, and so on? It’s not a coincidence - it’s how economics, specifically the economics of capitalism, work. You’ll have panic attacks at night, lying awake and wondering how you’ll send your kids to school. College? Forget about that  -  now it’s just about eighth grade.

Only you’re not really sending your kids to school. You’re sending them to a McDonald’s crossed with a theme park, where they watch YouTube videos, while no one really looks after them. They’re not students, and they’re not even customers  -  you’re the customer, and they’re the raw material to make a product. Since you’re the customer, maybe you’ve chosen a school where they’re taught dinosaurs walked the earth in living memory, or maybe one where exterminating the weak is perfectly fine, or maybe one where, secretly, there are no dirty, filthy immigrants allowed.

You’re sending them to capitalism, not school. In other words, because you’re the customer, and you’re paying through the nose for the privilege, capitalism will give all kinds of ways to miseducate and misinform your kids. Those theme parks crossed with McDonald’s will soon enough become something more like madrasas crossed with Hitler Youth leagues. They’ll teach your kids any kind of folly and stupidity and ignorance - as long as you pay them to. But teaching someone to be ignorant is not teaching at all, really, is it?

(Now, the richest will probably happily take the money they’re being paid not to educate their kids, and spend it on private schools. It’s the poorest who’ll suffer most, as public education crumbles and withers, and capitalism begins to laugh, sneer, and bite down.)

At this point, desperate just to save money, maybe you think - “I’ll just send Little Johnny back to public school!” So down the avenue you drive. Unfortunately, the local public school is now a boarded up wreck. Why? Because it takes a critical mass of people to fund schools, which of course depend on economies of scale. Together we can afford a dozen teachers much more effectively than we can if we are all reneging on our social contracts to one another. If we don’t invest together, soon enough, public schools will close - just like healthcare systems, hospitals, pensions, and so on did. Too late: now you have made an irreversible choice. You can decide to unmake public goods, like education  -  but when you need them, suddenly, they are not there, because they take time, effort, and investment to build. They don’t reappear by magic, after all.

What is the product capitalism was really selling you, to lead you down this path of folly? Hate, my friend, hate. “If I take my kid away from those dirty, filthy subhumans, he will have a better chance! If only little Johnny doesn’t have to learn these strange, dangerous theories of evolution and gravity and the earth being round!” The only reason, really, that a person would assent to being paid to take their kids out of school is if they do not believe in the idea behind education itself  -  which is that learning, knowledge, trust, and decency are all forms of public goods. Things which inhere to the benefit of all. You do not care about all. Just some  -  yours, your tribe, your color, your caste, which must rise supreme. Therefore, a true education, and the greatest of ideas it carries, that civilization rests upon public goods, is something you must repudiate and reject. “Little Johnny must secure the future of my people!!” But it is thinking about everyone else, in moral, social, and historical terms that makes Little Johnny an educated child.

Capitalism is soothing your fears away, by telling you your kids will be separate and safe, a different caste and stratum. You are the customer, your paranoias, anxieties, fears are the need, and the product is hate, to put it simply. The result, eventually, probably, a little child who contains all that, too. One who, like his parents, hopes for a triumphal future for his own  -  but not for anyone else. That is what happens in countries that choose sectarian ideology, superstition, and folly over education, the madrasa and the youth league over the school  -  do I really have to name them?

So now, growing up, such children will probably just recapitulate all the hate, blindness, and folly of the past, won’t they? After all, that is what they’ve been taught  -  or made ignorant enough  -  to do. And that is the problem. In the infinite regress of capitalism eating away at people’s decency, intelligence, and wisdom, democracy is hardly likely to survive. It might not in America anyways. And that rises the question: how do you even  come up with an idea so amazingly, brain-meltingly, shatteringly stupid as paying people not to send their kids to school?

Remember when I said this was the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard? It’s because all the other dumb ideas  -  fascism, ecocide, the notion that violence can solve our problems, that hate will make us great again, that clawing others down can lift us up  -  are born from even more foolish ones like this. They are results of all that, too  -  but in the real world, the causality goes the other way. If you want to make an idiot, an ignoramus, or a fool  -  I repeat myself - don’t send a child to school. Take the money and run. If you want to make a society, or even a world, collapse  -  there’s no better method than that."
* Arizona? Having lived here for 15 years, why am I not surprised?
After all, look at who writes the laws...
"Arizona State Senator Sylvia Allen (R) says Earth is 6,000 years old."

"Ignorance Is..."

"How It Really Is"

"62% Of All US Jobs Don't Pay Enough To Support A Middle-Class Life"

"62% Of All US Jobs Don't Pay 
Enough To Support A Middle-Class Life"
by Michael Snyder

"We just got more evidence that the middle class in America is rapidly disappearing... According to a shocking new study that was just released, 62 percent of all jobs in the United States do not pay enough to support a middle class life. That means that “the American Dream” is truly out of reach for most of the country at this point. Today, Americans are working harder than ever but the cost of living continues to rise much faster than our paychecks are increasing. Earlier this month, I went and looked at the latest numbers from the Social Security Administration, and I discovered that 50 percent of all American workers make less than $30,533 a year. But that is just above poverty level. In fact, the federal poverty level for a family of five is currently $29,420. Most families are just barely scraping by from month to month, and most U.S. workers are just one major setback away from falling out of the middle class.
Click image for larger size.
It wasn’t always this way.  At one time, America had the strongest and most vibrant middle class in the history of the world.  But now this latest study has discovered that “it’s only 38 percent of people who get the middle class life or better”: "When wages are weighed against the cost of living in the largest 204 metropolitan regions across the nation, 62 percent of jobs don’t pay enough for a dual-income household with children to meet the definition of ‘middle class,’ according to a new ‘Opportunity Index‘ developed by Third Way, a Washington D.C.-based think tank. ‘We were shocked to find out it’s only 38 percent of people who get the middle class life or better,’ said Ryan Bhandari, a policy advisor for Third Way, in an interview with"

It is no wonder why so many people are shopping at Wal-Mart and the Dollar Tree these days. For many Americans, those are the literally the only places they can afford to shop.
When I was growing up, it seemed like literally everyone else around me was “middle class”, but now those days are long gone. Here is a breakdown of some more of the numbers from this latest study:

 •30 percent of jobs are “hardship jobs,” meaning they don’t allow a single adult to make ends meet.

 •32 percent are “living wage” jobs, enough to get by but not to take vacations, save for retirement or live in a moderately priced home.

 •23 percent are middle-class jobs, allowing for dining out, modest vacations and putting some money away for retirement.

 •15 percent are “professional jobs,” paving the way for a more comfortable life that includes more elaborate vacations and entertainment and a more expensive home.

It sure must be nice to be in that top 15 percent!
And the definition of a “middle class income” changes based on where you live.  As the study noted, it is much cheaper to live a middle class lifestyle in the middle of the country than it is to do so on the west coast. The following comes from the Daily Mail: "For example, a worker in San Francisco – one of the most expensive housing markets in the country – must make a minimum of $82,142 to achieve a middle class lifestyle. By comparison, workers in Cedar Rapids, Iowa can achieve middle class status in a job paying $40,046 or more per year.

So many of us have run ourselves ragged doing the things that we were “supposed” to do, and we assumed that a middle class life would be the reward at the end of the trail.

Unfortunately, that reward has never materialized for millions of hard working Americans. USA Today profiled one of those deeply frustrated workers in a recent article: "Esther Akutekha, who lives in Brooklyn, New York, has a good job as a public relations specialist that pays more than $50,000 a year. But because of the $1,440 a month rent on her studio apartment in the Prospect-Lefferts Gardens neighborhood, she never takes vacations, dines out just once a month and scrapes together dinner leftovers for lunch the next day."

Can you identify with Esther? I sure can. It can be soul crushing to work as hard as you can only to realize that your goals are now farther away than ever. At this point, Esther is not even sure that she will ever be able to afford to have children“I’m frustrated with the fact that I’m not going to be able to save anything because my rent is so high,” says Akutekha, who says she’s 30ish. “I don’t even know if I can afford” to have children.

We have been told that the economy has been “booming” in recent years, but the truth is that it has only been booming for people at the very top of the pyramid.

For most Americans it is as if the last recession never ended, and things just seem to keep getting worse: “There’s an opportunity crisis in the country,” says Jim Kessler, vice president of policy for Third Way and editor of the report. “It explains some of the economic uneasiness and, frankly, the political uneasiness” even amid the most robust U.S. economy and labor market since before the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009. But is the economy robust? Or are we being fed a line by the mainstream media? The middle class is not thriving, and increased regulations and higher taxes make it difficult for people to branch out on their own and create their own business.

We definitely need to make it much, much easier for people to start small businesses, and this is something that I have written about extensively.  Small business creation has traditionally been one of the primary vehicles for upward mobility in our nation, but right now the rate of small business creation is hovering near all-time lows.  We desperately need to get that turned around if we ever want to have any hope of restoring vitality to our middle class.

If we continue on the path that we are on, we are going to continue to get the same results. Tonight, more than half a million Americans are homeless, and the ranks of the poor are growing with each passing day. America needs a strong middle class, but currently our middle class is disintegrating at a startling pace. If we are not able to reverse this trend, what is the future going to look like for our society?"

"This is as Close to “Ringing a Bell” As You Can Get From a Chart"

"This is as Close to “Ringing a Bell” As You Can Get From a Chart"
by Phoenix Capital

"Today is the final day of October. It has been a brutal month for fund managers. So expect them to do anything and everything in their power to ramp stocks higher so they can end the month with the best possible returns. After that, it’s game over.

The monthly S&P 500 chart has violated its bull market trendline for the first time since the 2009 low. This STRONGLY suggests the bull market is OVER.
We also have NEGATIVE divergence on the monthly chart for the S&P 500’s RSI. And its monthly MACD is on a Sell signal.
Just one of these signals would be trouble, but all three taken together (broken trendline, negative divergence on RSI, MACD “sell” signal), this is as close as you can get to “ringing the bell” at the top. Will we get bounces and rallies? Yes. But unless you’re a nimble day trader, they’re going to be VERY hard to catch."

 "Bottomline: we are officially in a bear market, 
and stocks are going to collapse in a BIG way."

On that note we just published a 21-page investment report titled Stock Market Crash Survival Guide. In it, we outline precisely how the crash will unfold as well as which investments will perform best during a stock market crash. We are giving away just 100 copies for FREE to the public. To pick up yours, swing by:

Gregory Mannarino, "Post Market Wrap Up 10/31/18"

Gregory Mannarino, "Post Market Wrap Up 10/31/18"

Free Download: Henry Hazlitt, “Economics In One Lesson”

"The Truth Behind the Latest GDP Report"
by Brian Maher

"Today we return to bedrock economics… and consider “the seen versus the unseen.” The latest government report claims third-quarter GDP expanded at a 3.5% rate, annualized. Combined with the second quarter’s 4.2%, the results are the strongest consecutive quarters in four years. In all, Commerce Department data reveal the U.S. economy has expanded at nearly 3% since April last. The Wall Street Journal attributes nearly half the GDP growth rate to greater government spending - defense spending in particular:

A stark pickup in government spending, particularly in defense, has helped fuel a broad acceleration in U.S. economic growth in the past year and a half, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Commerce Department data. Faster government spending accounted for nearly half of the acceleration. All told, government spending accelerated 2.5% in the second quarter and 3.3% last quarter.

But like a Hollywood movie set… a false set of teeth… or a smile on Hillary Clinton’s face… the GDP numbers are not as they appear. They are fake. 

The Government Has no Resources of Its Own: We proceed from a basic premise: Government commands no resources of its own.  Before it can lay out one slender dime for guns, butter or circuses, it must first draw upon two pools of resources - taxes or credit. Absent these revenue sources, government lacks all force. It is a cat without claws, a shark without teeth, a cop without a nightstick.

Government seizes its dollar in tax by sticking a gun in the citizen’s ribs. But the same circumstances obtain with a dollar the government borrows. It is merely a robbery delayed, a theft at one remove. It is true, the dollar borrowed appears more benign than the dollar taxed. The government does not directly assault the citizen. It rather appears before the credit markets with an empty hat, requesting money.

But do not forget, the borrowed dollar must be repaid - with interest. Who stands behind the government’s promise to repay? And what stands behind him with a gun in its hand? The citizen once again must raise his hands… and surrender his dollar to service the debt. That is, he pays now in taxes or he pays later in taxes. Either way... he pays.

Who Decides the Best Way to Spend a Dollar? Assume the taxed or borrowed dollar funds the nation’s defenses, as in the case at bar. It goes toward the purchase of new ships, new planes, new tanks. These are visible... You will see the new destroyer sliding down the ways. You will see the sleek new fighter jet drilling holes in the bright blue sky. You will see the new tank at its paces.

Here is what you will not see: The ways in which the private citizen would have put his dollar to use - if it had not been taxed away from him. He may have saved it against the rainy day. He may have invested it in the hope of profitable return. He may have spent it at the local coffee shop.  His dollar may have gone toward the purchase of a sandwich for the corner bum.  That is, this fellow’s dollar would have served a private want or need… and added to GDP in some small way. 

The bank may have loaned his dollar to a promising business. The dollar he invested today may have yielded him $2 in the future. The coffee man may have spent the dollar on a gift for his wife. The sandwich man may have put the dollar toward hiring help.

But the dollar presently under consideration has been conscripted into national service. It is unavailable to meet these private wants.  The Pentagon’s shining new playthings you can see. The sandwich for the homeless fellow you cannot… because it was never made. Multiply our theoretical tale by millions and the meaning of “opportunity cost” becomes clear enough.

The Seen Versus the Unseen: Thus we come to the central theme of Henry Hazlitt’s classic Economics in One Lesson - the seen versus the unseen. To drill his point through, Hazlitt employs the example of a tax-financed bridge: "It has come into being through the magic of government spending… The country would have been just that much poorer without it. Here the government spenders have the better of the argument with all those who cannot see beyond the immediate range of their physical eyes. They can see the bridge. But if they have taught themselves to look for indirect as well as direct consequences, they can once more see in the eye of imagination the possibilities that have never been allowed to come into existence. They can see the unbuilt homes, the unmade cars and radios, the unmade dresses and coats, perhaps the unsold and ungrown foodstuffs."

But the mass of men lack the eyes of the imagination: "To see these uncreated things requires a kind of imagination that not many people have. We can think of these nonexistent objects once, perhaps, but we cannot keep them before our minds as we can the bridge that we pass every working day. What has happened is merely that one thing has been created instead of others."

Just so. But how about a grand national project like the Norris Dam, constructed by the Tennessee Valley Authority during the Great Depression? It gave needful employment to thousands of souls… and provided power to an entire region. Certainly it was worth the taxpayer’s sacrifice. 

Hazlitt: "We must apply the same reasoning, once more, to great projects like the Tennessee Valley Authority. Here, because of sheer size, the danger of optical illusion is greater than ever. Here is a mighty dam, a stupendous arc of steel and concrete, "greater than anything that private capital could have built"... the most often used symbol of the miracles of public construction, ownership and operation. Here is a whole region lifted to a higher economic level, attracting factories and industries that could not otherwise have existed. "

But once again, we must use the eyes of the imagination to glimpse the unseen: "But this time we need a special effort of the imagination, which few people seem able to make, to look at the debit side of the ledger. If taxes are taken from people and corporations, and spent in one particular section of the country, why should it cause surprise, why should it be regarded as a miracle, if that section becomes comparatively richer? Other sections of the country, we should remember, are then comparatively poorer."

In conclusion: The thing so great that "private capital could not have built it" has in fact been built by private capital - the capital that was expropriated in taxes (or, if the money was borrowed, that eventually must be expropriated in taxes). Again we must make an effort of the imagination to see the private power plants, the private homes, the typewriters and television sets that were never allowed to come into existence because of the money that was taken from people all over the country to build the photogenic Norris Dam.

Hazlitt does not argue a case against necessary public spending. Nor do we. The bridge must be built. The dam may justify the public wherewithal that funded it. If the new ship, the new plane, the new tank are vital for the national defense, then let us have them.

But let us go into it all with open and knowing eyes. The publicly funded bridge, dam, ship, plane and tank must not be regarded as agents of economic salvation. We must use the imagination's eye to view the countless goods and services denied existence because of them… and the human needs unmet as a result. The seen versus the unseen - it is a lesson the nation would do well to recall."

Freely download “Economics In One Lesson”, by Henry Hazlitt, here:

Musical Interlude: Medwyn Goodall, "Invocation 2"

Medwyn Goodall, "Invocation 2"

"We Are All. Free. To Do. Whatever. We Want. To Do."

"We are all free to do whatever we want to do,” he said that night. “Isn’t that simple and clean and clear? Isn’t that a great way to run a universe?” “Almost. You forgot a pretty important part,” I said. “Oh?” “We are all free to do what we want to do, as long as we don’t hurt somebody else,” I chided. “I know you meant that, but you ought to say what you mean.”

There was a sudden shambling sound in the dark, and I looked at him quickly. “Did you hear that?” “Yeah. Sounds like there’s somebody...” He got up, walked into the dark. He laughed suddenly, said a name I couldn’t catch. “It’s OK,” I heard him say. “No, we’d be glad to have you... no need you standing around... come on, you’re welcome, really...”

The voice was heavily accented, not quite Russian, nor Czech, more Transylvanian. “Thank you. I do not wish to impose myself upon your evening...” The man he brought with him to the firelight was, well, he was unusual to find in a midwest night. A small lean wolflike fellow, frightening to the eye, dressed in evening clothes, a black cape lined in red satin, he was uncomfortable in the light.

“I was passing by,” he said. “The field is a shortcut to my house...” “Is it?” Shimoda did not believe the man, knew he was lying, and at the same time did all he could to keep from laughing out loud. I hoped to understand before long.

“Make yourself comfortable,” I said. “Can we help you at all?” I really didn’t feel that helpful, but he was so shrinking, I did want him to be at ease, if he could. He looked on me with a desperate smile that turned me to ice. “Yes, you can help me. I need this very much or I would not ask. May I drink your blood? Just some? It is my food, I need human blood...”

Maybe it was the accent, he didn’t know English that well or I didn’t understand his words, but I was on my feet quicker than I had been in many a month, hay flying into the fire from my quickness. The man stepped back. I am generally harmless, but I am not a small person and I could have looked threatening. He turned his head away. “Sir, I am sorry! I am sorry! Please forget that I said anything about blood! But you see...”

“What are you saying?” I was the more fierce because I was scared. “What in the hell are you saying, mister? I don’t know what you are, are you some kind of VAM-?” Shimoda cut me off before I could say the word. “Richard, our guest was talking, and you interrupted. Please go ahead, sir; my friend is a little hasty.” “Donald,” I said, “this guy...” “Be quiet!” That surprised me so much that I was quiet, and looked a sort of terrified question at the man, caught from his native darkness into our firelight.

“Please to understand. I did not choose to be born vampire. Is unfortunate. I do not have many friends. But I must have a certain small amount of fresh blood every night or I writhe in terrible pain, longer than that without it and I cannot live! Please, I will be deeply hurt - I will die - if you do not allow me to suck your blood... just a small amount, more than a pint I do not need.” He advanced a step toward me, licking his lips, thinking that Shimoda somehow controlled me and would make me submit.

“One more step and there will be blood, all right. Mister, you touch me and you die...” I wouldn’t have killed him, but I did want to tie him up, at least, before we talked much more. He must have believed me, for he stopped and sighed. He turned to Shimoda. “You have made your point?” “I think so. Thank you.”

The vampire looked up at me and smiled, completely at ease, enjoying himself hugely, an actor on stage when the show is over. “I won’t drink your blood, Richard,” he said in perfect friendly English, no accent at all. As I watched he faded as though he was turning out his own light... in five seconds he had disappeared.

Shimoda sat down again by the fire. “Am I ever glad you don’t mean what you say!” I was still trembling with adrenalin, ready for my fight with a monster. “Don, I’m not sure I’m built for this. Maybe you’d better tell me what’s going on. Like, for instance, what... was that?”

“Dot was a wompire from Tronsylwania,” he said in words thicker than the creature’s own. “Or to be more precise, dot was a thought-form of a wompire from Tronsylwania. If you ever want to make a point, you think somebody isn’t listening, whip ‘em up a little thought-form to demonstrate what you mean. Do you think I overdid him, with the cape and the fangs and the accent like that? Was he too scary for you?”

“The cape was first class, Don. But that was the most stereotyped, outlandish... I wasn’t scared at all.” He sighed. “Oh well. But you got the point, at least, and that’s what matters.”

“What point?” “Richard, in being so fierce toward my vampire, you were doing what you wanted to do, even though you thought it was going to hurt somebody else. He even told you he’d be hurt if...”

“He was going to suck my blood!” “Which is what we do to anyone when we say we’ll be hurt if they don’t live our way.”

I was quiet for a long time, thinking about that. I had always believed that we are free to do as we please only if we don’t hurt another, and this didn’t fit. There was something missing.

“The thing that puzzles you,” he said, “is an accepted saying that happens to be impossible. The phrase is hurt somebody else. We choose, ourselves, to be hurt or not to be hurt, no matter what. Us who decides. Nobody else. My vampire told you he’d be hurt if you didn’t let him? That’s his decision to be hurt, that’s his choice. What you do about it is your decision, your choice: give him blood; ignore him; tie him up; drive a stake of holly through his heart. If he doesn’t want the holly stake, he’s free to resist, in whatever way he wants. It goes on and on, choices, choices.”

“When you look at it that way...”

“Listen,” he said, “it’s important. We are all. Free. To do. Whatever. We want. To do."
“Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah”
by Richard Bach
“Born in 1936, Richard Bach is an American author who has written many excellent books. His quotes are inspirational and motivational. “Jonathan Livingston Seagull;” “Illusions;” “The Bridge Across Forever;” to name only a few of his books.

Notice: This electronic version of the book has been released for educational purposes only. You may not sell or make any profit from this book. And if you like this book, buy a paper copy and give it to someone who does not have a computer, if that is possible for you.

FREE download of "Illusions", in PDF format, is here:

"Combating Emotional Vampires"

"Combating Emotional Vampires"
by Dr. Judith Orloff

"Relationships are always an energy exchange. To stay feeling our best, we must ask ourselves: Who gives us energy? Who saps it? It's important to be surrounded by supportive, heart-centered people who make us feel safe and secure. It's equally important to pinpoint the emotional vampires, who, whether they intend to or not, leech our energy.

To protect your sensitivity, it's imperative to name and combat these emotional vampires. They're everywhere: coworkers, neighbors, family, and friends. In Energy Psychiatry I've treated a revolving door of patients who've been hard-hit by drainers- truly a mental health epidemic that conventional medicine doesn't see. I'm horrified by how many of these "emotionally walking wounded" (ordinarily perceptive, intelligent individuals) have become resigned to chronic anxiety or depression. Why the blind spot? Most of us haven't been educated about draining people or how to emancipate ourselves from their clutches, requisite social skills for everyone desiring freedom. Emotional draining is a touchy subject. We don't know how to tactfully address our needs without alienating others. The result: We get tongue-tied, or destructively passive. We ignore the SOS from our gut that screams, "Beware!" Or, quaking in our boots, we're so afraid of the faux pas of appearing "impolite" that we become martyrs in lieu of being respectfully assertive. We don't speak out because we don't want to be seen as "difficult" or uncaring.

Vampires do more than drain our physical energy. The super-malignant ones can make you believe you're an unworthy, unlovable wretch who doesn't deserve better. The subtler species inflict damage that's more of a slow burn. Smaller digs here and there can make you feel bad about yourself such as, "Dear, I see you've put on a few pounds" or "It's not lady-like to interrupt." In a flash, they've zapped you by prodding areas of shaky self-worth.

This is my credo for vampires: Their antics are unacceptable; you must develop a successful plan for coping with them. I deeply believe in the merciful message of "The Lord's Prayer" to "forgive people their trespasses," but I'm also a proponent of preventing the unconscious or mean-spirited from trespassing against us. Taking a stand against draining people is a form of self-care and canny communication that you must practice to give your freedom legs.

What turns someone into an emotional vampire? First, a psychological reason: children often reflexively mimic their parents' most unflattering traits. A self-absorbed father can turn you into a self-absorbed son. Early modeling has impact. Studies of Holocaust survivors reveal that many became abusive parents themselves. The second explanation involves subtle energy. I've observed that childhood trauma- mistreatment, loss, parental alcoholism, illness- can weaken a person's energy field. This energy leakage may condition those with such early wounds to draw on the vitality of others to compensate; it's not something most are aware of. Nevertheless, the effects can be extreme. Visualize an octopus-like tendril extending from their energy field and glomming onto yours. Your intuition may register this as sadness, anger, fatigue, or a cloying, squirrelly feeling. The degree of mood change or physical reaction may vary. A vampire's effects can stun like a sonic blast or make you slowly wilt. But it's the rare drainer that sets out to purposely enervate you. The majority act unconsciously, oblivious to being an emotional drain.

Let me tell you the secret of how a vampire operates so you can outsmart one. A vampire goes in for the kill by stirring up your emotions. Pushing your buttons throws you off center, which renders you easier to drain. Of all the emotional types, empaths are often the most devastated. However, certain emotional states increase everyone's vulnerability. I myself am most susceptible to emotional vampires when I feel desperate, tired, or disempowered. Here are some others:

* Low self-esteem.
* Depression.
* A victim mentality.
* Fear of asserting yourself.
* Addiction to people-pleasing.

When encountering emotional vampires, see what you can learn too. It's your choice. You can simply feel tortured, resentful, and impotent. Or, as I try to do, ask yourself, "How can this interchange help me grow?" Every nanosecond of life, good, bad, or indifferent, is a chance to become emotionally freer, enlarge the heart. If we're to have any hope of breaking war-mongering patterns, we must each play a part. As freedom fighters, strive to view vampires as opportunities to enlist your highest self and not be a sucker for negativity. Then you'll leave smelling like a rose, even with Major-League Draculas."
The above is an excerpt from the "Combating Emotional Vampires" on-line course. If you would like to take the entire course, click here:
"How To Frustrate A Vampire"
by cryominute

"Jung believed that the vampire image could be understood as an expression of what he termed the “shadow,” those aspects of the self that the conscious ego was unable to recognize. Some aspects of the shadow were positive. But usually the shadow contained repressed wishes, anti-social impulses, morally questionable motives, childish fantasies of a grandiose nature, and other traits felt to be shameful.

Defenses against emotional vampires:

• Develop healthy boundaries for yourself.
• Never give them personal information– respond to their questions with your own questions.
• Keep yourself focused upon your own positive creativity. “Idle hands are the vampires workshop.”
• Never engage with these people. Remain aloof.
• “Cut off their head”– since they live in their heads, having no heart connection, this is the source of their power. Example: Questioning their intelligence
• Stay conscious! These people are stopped in their tracks by the Light of Consciousness. Show them what they are. Respond that you are feeling drained by them.
• Go for the heart! Example: When you feel drained by a person, a class or a speaker, just get up and walk away. This is staying conscious."

"What Would They Have Left?"

 “People don’t want their lives fixed. Nobody wants their problems solved.
 Their dramas. Their distractions. Their stories resolved.
Their messes cleaned up. Because what would they have left?
Just the big scary unknown.”
- Chuck Palahniuk

"Why Is Social Media So Toxic?”

"Why Is Social Media So Toxic?”
by Charles Hugh Smith

"It seems self-evident that the divisiveness that characterizes this juncture of American history is manifesting profound social and economic disorders that have little to do with politics. In this context, social media isn't the source of the fire, it's more like the gasoline that's being tossed on top of the dry timber. My thinking on social media's toxic nature has been heavily influenced by long conversations with my friend GFB, who persuaded me that my initial dismissal of Facebook's influence was misplaced.

Our views of all media, traditional, alternative and social, is of course heavily influenced by our own participation / consumption of each type of media. Those who watch very little corporate-media broadcast "news" find the entire phenomenon very bizarre and easily mocked, and the same holds true for those who do not have any social media accounts: the whole phenomenon seems bizarre and easy to mock. As for alternative media, many people accustomed to traditional media have never visited a single blog or listened to a single podcast.

Part of my job, as it were, is to monitor all three basic flavors of mass media, and do so as objectively as I can, which is to say, seek out representative narratives and commentaries across the full political and social spectra of each media. So why is social media so toxic to healthy dialog and tolerance, and to those who live much of their lives via social media? I think we can discern several dynamics that direct the entire social media space.

1. The feedback loops within each "tribe" strengthen the most divisive, toxic narratives and opinions. In the anti-Trump tribe, for example, those calling most vociferously for Trump's head on a stake are "rewarded" by praise from other members of the tribe via "likes" and positive comments on the "bravery" of their extreme language. Others note this feedback and are naturally drawn into trying to top the extreme language: I want Trump's head on a stake, and then let's set it on fire, etc.

In the real world, expressing such extreme views soon draws negative or moderating feedback from those outside the social media's claustrophobic "tribe." More reasonable people will politely suggest that such extremism isn't very helpful, or they will start shunning the frothing-at-the-mouth firebrand. But in the social media world, there are no moderating feedbacks. Anyone who dares question the extremism being reinforced by the "tribe" is quickly attacked or ejected from the tribe. Attacking moderate voices increases the potential "rewards"/likes from tribal members.

2. All human social interactions have a potential impact on the perceived relative status level of the participants, and jockeying for higher status is embedded in social animals such as humans. So naturally we're drawn to organizing our participation in social media around the implicit task of improving our status/upward mobility.

In the real world, it's relatively arduous to increase one's social status, especially as the widening wealth/income gap effectively disenfranchises an increasing percentage of the populace. In the real world, increasing one's social status depends on one's class, i.e. who we hope to impress. Raising one's status usually requires some expenditure: a trip abroad to an exotic locale that few other social climbers have visited; a new fully loaded pickup truck, another graduate degree, a trip to Las Vegas, etc.

In the social media world, increasing one's perceived place in the pecking order of "likes" (or views), number of "friends", etc., depends less on conspicuous consumption / bragging (without appearing to brag, of course) and more on pleasing the tribe in ways that garner more "likes" and "friends."

In the real world, to raise one's status, we need to flash the diamond ring, show off the new luxury car/truck, flash photos of the exotic locale, display the graduate diploma, etc. But online, there's very little in the way of verification: we are who we present ourselves to be. As opportunities to upward social/financial mobility fade and downward mobility becomes the norm for a great many individuals and "tribes," the appeal of a cost-free way to increase one's status increases proportionately.

3. The expansion of the number of "tribes" one can belong to in social media. In the real world, jockeying for higher status is limited to one's immediate circle of family, friends and colleagues, and to a lesser degree, wider circles in membership organizations such as alumni groups, trade associations, etc. It's hard to impress the wider world because very few of us have any access or exposure in traditional media.

But in social media, we can become "known" and "liked" in Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. or within specific online communities within the social media world. In other words, if we can't "be somebody" in the wider world or the real world, we can still "become somebody" in a smaller (but still very real and important to its participants) group online. The desire to improve our social standing is natural. What's unnatural is the toxicity of doing so through social media.

If we put these three dynamics together, it's little wonder so many people are drawn to living a major part of their lives online, and modifying their behaviors and views to increase their social standing / visibility online by whatever attracts more view, "likes" and "friends."
These dynamics help us understand why social media is intrinsically toxic to civil society: being civil doesn't raise one's status, while reaching for new extremes is rewarded by the "likes" and "friends" all humans crave as manifestations of our social status.

"How It Really Is"

“The Stuff of (Disturbing) Dreams”

“The Stuff of (Disturbing) Dreams”
by Dr. Michael J. Breus

“Dreams are one of the most fascinating -  and least understood -  aspects of sleep. Though science has offered possibilities, we don't yet understand the purpose of dreaming. Dreams can encompass a dramatic range of emotion, and subject matter. Some dreams seem plucked directly from our everyday lives. Most of us have had the experience of waking up shaking our heads at the odd and sometimes amusing circumstances that unfolded while dreaming.

Dreams can contend with deep emotions, dealing with loss and reunion, anger, sorrow and fear. Bad dreams and nightmares are among the most startling and emotionally potent of remembered dreams. Even a partially remembered disturbing dream can linger in our waking minds. But what do we know about this phenomenon of disturbed dreaming? And what's the difference between a bad dream and a nightmare?

Much of the research into disturbed dreaming has focused on the neurological activity of these dreams, as a way to investigate the function and purpose of dreaming. Other research has focused on the connections between disturbed dreams and psychological conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety disorders. Less attention has been paid to the content of disturbed dreams, in particular the disturbing dreams that occur as a normal aspect of sleep life among a broad and varied population. We know that nightmares and bad dreams are common experiences -  but we don't know much about what these dreams contain.

What distinguishes a nightmare from a bad dream? One common theory is that nightmares are more emotionally disturbing and intense versions of bad dreams, a more severe form of the same essential phenomenon. One way nightmares are often distinguished from dreams is in whether the dream causes a person to wake -  whether out of fear, or to put an end to the dream.

New research investigates the content of disturbed dreams, in an effort to gain a better understanding of what emotions, triggers and themes propel these dreaming experiences, and also to help further illuminate potential distinctions between bad dreams and nightmares. Researchers at Quebec's Université de Montréal recruited 572 volunteers, both men and women, to keep daily dream reports of all remembered dreams -  good and bad -  for anywhere from two to five consecutive weeks. The reports included details about dreams' narratives, the emotions present and their level of intensity, as well as the presence of sleep terrors -  brief, highly intense periods of fright during dreams, that are often accompanied by actual screaming or movement like sleepwalking. Researchers considered episodes of sleep terrors to be distinct from nightmares.

They collected nearly 10,000 dream reports on dreams of all types. From this collection, researchers identified 431 bad dreams and 253 nightmares, experienced by 331 participants, which met the criteria for evaluation. Researchers excluded dreams that were too vague to analyze, as well as dream experiences that seemed to be sleep terrors. They also excluded nightmares and bad dreams experienced by people who reported having only these two types of dreams. Researchers used the result of waking from the dream as the distinguishing characteristic between bad dreams and nightmares: nightmares resulted in awakenings, and bad dreams did not.

Researchers defined several themes for volunteers to use in identifying the content of their dreams. The themes covered common territory for disturbed dreams, including physical aggression; being chased; interpersonal conflicts; accidents; failures and helplessness; evil presences; disasters and calamities; apprehension; worry; and health concerns. Volunteers were allowed to identify both primary and secondary themes.

They also established emotional categories to further define dream content, including fear, anger, sadness, confusion, disgust, guilt and frustration. Researchers used scales of both rationality and "everydayness" to evaluate levels of bizarreness in disturbed dreams. Their results give insight into the complex emotional and thematic landscape of disturbing dreams, as well as new possibilities for delineation between bad dreams and nightmares:

• Nightmares occurred more rarely than bad dreams, according to results. Of a total of 9,796 dreams collected, nightmares made up 2.9 percent, while bad dreams accounted for 10.8 percent of all dreams.
• The most common themes in both bad dreams and nightmares were physical aggression, interpersonal conflicts and failure or helplessness. More than 80 percent of nightmares, and more than 70 percent of bad dreams contained one or more of these themes, compared to 38.2 percent of non-disturbing dreams.
• Fear was the most common emotion reported in both nightmares and bad dreams. Among nightmares, 65.1 percent contained fear as the main emotion, as did 45.2 percent of bad dreams.
• Fear was not only more common in nightmares, it also took a larger proportional share of emotional content in nightmares than in bad dreams.
• Though fear was the most prevalent emotion, nearly half of all disturbing dreams had primary emotions other than fear.
• Volunteers reported nightmares having significantly higher intensity than bad dreams.
• Nightmares contained more aggression, more frequent experiences of failure, as well as more unfortunate and negative conclusions, than bad dreams. Nightmares were also more bizarre.
• Physical aggression was 1.5 times more frequent in nightmares than in bad dreams. Evil presences and experiences of being chased were other commonly reported themes of nightmares.
• Bad dreams overall contained a wider range of themes than nightmares. After physical aggression, interpersonal conflicts and failure, bad dreams also included themes related to health concerns and apprehension and worry.
• The thematic differences between nightmares and dreams suggested to researchers that nightmares are more likely to contain threats to basic physical security and survival, while bad dreams are more apt to grapple with a broader range of psychological anxieties.

Researchers found some interesting differences between men's and women's dreams. Both men and women dreamed about the same basic range of thematic and emotional content. But men's nightmares were more heavily populated with themes of disaster and calamity, while women's nightmares were more than twice as likely to contain interpersonal conflicts.

One particularly unexpected finding? Researchers compared the presence of negative events and outcomes in everyday dreams to disturbing dreams. They found nightmares and bad dreams contained more aggressions and misfortunes, and contained fewer positive, friendly aspects than everyday dreams. However, bad dreams and nightmares contained less failure than everyday dreams. This suggests, says researchers, that our disturbing dreams deal less often with issues of competence than more ordinary, less overtly upsetting everyday dreams.

Fascinating stuff, isn't it? These results give further credence to the theory that nightmares are a rarer, stranger and more intense form of bad dreams, but that both types of disturbed dreaming are versions of the same basic experience. It's not clear what purpose these dreams serve, or what relationship the content of our disturbing dreams may have to issues and concerns in our waking lives. But these findings should make scientists -  and the rest of us -  eager to discover more about our dreaming lives. Sweet Dreams...”
Michael J. Breus, PhD, The Sleep Doctor® 
“9 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Dreaming”